"I Get a Kick" 2: Night Ride on the Ferry

Some get their kicks from cocaine.
I'm sure that if I took even one sniff it would bore me terrifically, too:
But I get a kick out of you.
"I Get A Kick" by Cole Porter
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
...And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
The sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
"Recuerdo" by Edna St Vincent Millay


I looked up. It was Egon—not that that was a surprise. I'd know his voice if I was dying, and I'd recognize his step from a block away. "Yes, Egon?"

He settled almost delicately on the corner of my desk, pushing a stack of invoices out of his way and unconsciously straightening them up as he did so. We could drive each other nuts, I think, if we didn't love each other so much—I thrive in Chaos and he in whatever the Greek word for Order is. But opposites do attract—look at him with Dr. V, who's got to be Chaos personified.

Of course, in this job, it didn't do to have thoughts like that. CP might show up. I knocked on wood.

Egon raised an eyebrow but didn't ask me what I was doing. For a guy who made his living—his lifework—chasing spooks, he wasn't very prone to the commoner, casual superstitions. He never said anything to me about it, though not because he didn't think I was smart enough to figure it out. It was a boundary he didn't cross. He was like a big cat, some ways, so delicate.

Anyway, he was smart enough to have figured out a long time ago that neither one of us really wanted me to answer him sometimes.

"You're here late," he observed.

"Got some stuff to finish up," I answered. We were both such sparkling conversationalists it killed me sometimes, it really did. On the other hand, we didn't need to make conversation with each other, and that was nice. It was sort of like with my family, except that Egon was a human being, and I'm not sure about all of them.


"Paying bills," I answered, indicating the top sheet on the stack he'd moved. It was from Ray's electrical parts supplier over in Brooklyn.

He smiled, suddenly, his long face transformed from its habitual solemn cast. He wasn't, really, it was just the way his face was put together; his eyes told anyone who had eyes of their own that here was a man with a lively sense of humor. "That's why you're staying late, then?"

I smiled back. "It's much easier to do this when Dr. V's not around," I agreed. "And if I leave all the checks for Winston, he makes sure they get signed."

"Of course, that way we have to listen to him complain about spending money," Egon said, his deep chuckle doing funny things to my insides.

I shrugged. "You guys are the partners," I said. "I'm just the hired help, and I can guarantee I'm not getting paid enough to go through that every couple of weeks."

He smiled again. He didn't tell me I wasn't 'just' anything, the way Ray would have; he knew what I meant and that I was comfortable with it. He sat there quietly and watched me go through a few more invoices, moving them from my left to the stack next to him as I finished. The silence was nice, companionable, not strained. We'd managed to get past that a long time ago, being silent because we couldn't say what we wanted to, would never hear the other one say what we wanted. Or the opposite, for him. Somehow, we'd managed to find a way to not say things and be happy with nothing said. I didn't ask and he didn't refuse and maybe it was harder on him, some ways, but he'd told me, in so many words and in that tone that meant he was swearing on the Grand Unified Theory, that he didn't mind and in fact enjoyed my company.

He thought it was harder on me.

I just wished it was harder... I wished he was happier. And he wished I was. It was kind of funny, really.

I'm laughing inside.

But I'm not unhappy. Who'd have thought, that day I walked into this lunatic asylum, that I was about to find not only the most interesting job I could ever hope for—no two days even remotely the same—but one of those things people are always talking about in novels, a "family of the heart"?

Winston—he came later even than me, but he was always there for any of us: practical, solid, reassuring, so full of caritas he was just like Juliet, the more he gave the more he had. When he was around, you just flat felt safe. He was our older brother, the one who took care of all our scrapes and walked us to school and helped us with our homework and told us our braces weren't so bad and taught us to drive. We all loved him just to pieces. Like we did Ray, but really different. Ray—I know he's older than me, but he feels like a younger brother, a nice younger brother, mind you. He's sweet and a little goofy, and he loves everybody. Not like Winston does, with that underlying lack of surprise when people act, you know, like people; Ray really does think everyone is his friend, or would be once he got to know them. He's exhausting but he's a lot of fun to be around, and he really does brighten up the world.

When I'm in a bad mood, I sometimes think Ray's the only thing Egon and Dr. V have in common. It's not really true, but I'm not sure how they'd have gotten to be friends without Ray there.

Dr. V, now... well, he's like a brother, too, but like that wise-cracking older brother who makes your life miserable until the day your first boyfriend dumps you, and then he's right there to punch the guy out and make you feel like a fairy princess again. Till tomorrow, anyway, when he's back to what passes for normal. 'Cause that's the secret about Dr. V: he's passing. Not for normal, exactly, because he'd rather die, but for that flip sarcastic Casanova that most people think he is. I'm not entirely sure what he's like underneath, and I'm not sure he is, for that matter. I do know he's smart and a helluva lot kinder than he wants anybody to think he is.

And one more thing I know about him. I've been known to say that the P. in P. Venkman, PhD, stands for "Please adore me" or "Pself-Absorbed" (my little psychology joke there), but I don't think he likes himself as much as he lets on. Okay, all I've ever read is The Peter Pan Syndrome and books like that, but they're good books even if they aren't written for PhDs. And I know Dr. V's dad was a real bust. So it's not surprising. It's also not surprising that Dr. V would kill before he'd let anybody think he wasn't this perfectly happy guy he's always pretending to be.

But I've come to the conclusion that Dr. V's not any happier than me or Egon, maybe less in fact. At least we know what we want and why we can't get it, and we have each other to talk to (even if it's sometimes just a bit awkward to talk to what you can't have about why you still want it, if that makes any sense), while Dr. V still doesn't really know yet. The cobbler's children go barefoot, as Ma always used to say, and Physician, heal thyself. I guess, Psychologist, shrink thine own head is more fitting, but it's not gonna happen. He thinks he's happy, so he's just going to keep on doing what he does. And we'll all put up with him, because he makes it worth our while.

And I'd rather die than say so out loud, to anybody but Egon anyway and certainly to Dr. V, but he does. It's not easy to get close to him, because although he surrounds himself with people so he won't ever be alone he holds them all at arm's length at the same time so he won't be hurt when they leave or betray him. (See, that's the thing with him: it's when, not if, they leave...) But if you can get through, he'll never let you go or down, either one.

He's the kind of man Ma used to call more trouble than he's worth. But I think if he ever figured out what he really needed, and then had the guts to go after it, that he'd be worth all the trouble he'd be. Which would be plenty, Ma's not wrong about that. He'd be plenty high maintenance.

But probably high performance...

Oh, Melnitz, you need a vacation. I shook my head and laughed at myself.

Egon, who'd probably been thinking about that conference he's going to at MIT next week, looked at me when I laughed. "Are you finished?" he asked.

"Almost," I said. "Just a couple more. Why?"

"I thought," he said, "you might like to go on a ferry ride."

I'd actually known that was why he was here. And that was actually why I was working late. Dr. V might moan and complain when I paid bills during office hours, but (1) I could ignore Dr. V by now; if it was an Olympic sport I could win gold. And (2) the guys were out of the office during the business day a lot of the time, so he didn't have to be around when I was doing it. But tonight was the 14th, and it was beautiful out.

Yes. That 14th. It was Valentine's Day. Ray was out with his new girlfriend—a sweet photographer he'd met when Time did a story on the guys last fall. Winston was watching his brothers' kids so they could take their wives out for a good time. And Dr. V was out looking for what he needed. In the wrong place, but that was him all over.

And Egon? Yeah. Right.

Everything Egon wanted was right here in this old firehouse—well, not at this exact minute, but in general. He'd tried, I knew he had because we'd talked about it, to find someone else, but he wasn't built for casual relationships. And there wasn't any chance of him falling in love with someone when he'd been in love since college. He stayed the course. It was the only way he knew how to live.

God, I wished Dr. V could figure it out. I wished he wasn't so scared of what people thought. I understood it, I thought, but... well. Egon had known him five times longer than I had and he'd never said anything. I couldn't. It would kill Egon to lose as much as he had.

And it wasn't like I didn't know how that was.

I looked up at him, sitting there on the corner of my desk, as slender and elegant and apparently aloof as one of those lilac-point Siamese cats that woman with the penthouse and the fixed repeater last week owned, all silver and icy white and heart-of-flame eyes. What I wanted. What Dr. V needed. What neither one of us had.

Me because he wasn't mine for the asking. Dr. V because he'd never ask.

"I'd love to go for a Ferry ride with you, Egon," I said.

"Then I'll go and get my coat," he said.

I loved that about him. He never assumed. Of course, if we'd been dating it would have been nicer. And if he wasn't always kind of hoping that I'd have some other plans...

Other plans. I remember all too well what it was like when I did have other plans. Back when I was trying to find someone to replace Egon. What I'd found were guys who I could date, even guys who were interesting or funny or cute or smart or rich (okay, one of those) or even a combination of the above. What I'd never found was someone to replace Egon. And maybe I should have quit my job and found one where I wasn't always being reminded of what I wanted, but I couldn't walk away from the work. Or the guys, any of them. Especially him.

So then I'd started settling for guys who would go to bed with me. It's amazing, really, how quickly that gets old when there isn't anything else there. Oh, I'm not kidding anyone here, I haven't quit looking around. I just don't expect to find anything worth bringing home. I get dressed up and me and Sadie and Ruth go bar-hopping. But it's not serious. It's just playing around, when, every now and then, I just want some guy looking in my eyes and down my blouse... At least I never went for tall blonds. Sadie always hit on lanky brunets with burning dark eyes, like that creep Nicky Liotta she married. He walked out on her and she's always dragging home guys that look like him so she can kick them out in the morning. That's just not healthy.

So now I go out, sure, and I even get laid every now and then. But I never have "other plans". I mean, really, what's the point? It's not fair.

I remember the last time I'd had "plans". His name was Danny, and he was a graduate student over at Fordham University. He was smart and funny and kind of cute, in a scruffy I-need-someone-to-take-care-of-me way. He was romantic, loved to take walks in the Park and send flowers and eat at little restaurants with candles on the tables. I remember he had these big grey eyes, with a dark ring around the iris and long eyelashes that looked like he owned stock in Maybelline, though I never saw him even notice them let alone do anything to them. He smelled like clover, like Alexander the Great did in that novel Fire from Heaven, but he wasn't a blond, his hair was darker than a subway tunnel in a blackout. He came from North Carolina, or South Carolina, wherever the mountains are, and he had the cutest drawling accent and said things like "y'all" and "reckon" and "cain't"...

I remember lying in bed with Danny. Sometimes I can just close my eyes and call up the taste of his skin and the feel of his angular body against mine. He had long fingers, a little calloused, but his touch was always gentle, right up to the moment when I wanted—no, needed—strength. And then those big hands could grip as strongly as I'd ever known, as surely as I'd ever dreamed... Danny always took his time in bed; even if we hadn't seen each other in a week, and his eyes were frantic and his mouth was eager, God, all over my body, he was never in so much of a hurry that I wasn't putting bruises on his shoulders from wanting it by the time he thrust into me, and we'd both be trembling and holding on to each other when we were done.

And then one night Danny started talking about Chapel Hill, and jobs, and his "folks"... and all of a sudden I'm lying there, all sweaty and entwined with and being taken care of by a guy I... Like I said. It's not fair. Danny was a darling man, but he wasn't Egon. And I couldn't move to North Carolina or wherever with Danny. I couldn't love him. Not like he wanted me to. Not like he thought I would.

I haven't seen Danny in a couple of years. I don't even know if he defended his dissertation successfully. He probably went back to Chapel Hill if he did.

Egon came downstairs. I forgot Danny and all the rest of them, just watching him walk across the floor. He's such a graceful man, not athletic maybe, though running around the city with a portable nuclear accelerator strapped to your back certainly builds stamina. Occasionally he and I end up somewhere where there's dancing, and I can tell you he dances well. What's that song—"I got quite a lot from ballroom dancing"? It's nice.

He sprang for a cab and we went down to Battery Park to the South Terminal. The night was clear and crisp, in the mid-forties I'd guess. Everything was sparkling but not cold. There was just enough wind to make the Bay a tiny bit frothy, not enough to chase us inside. We stood on the deck and watched Manhattan fall away behind us. The City is so goddamned beautiful from the Bay at night. The Financial District is turned into some fairyland of tall spires of light and all the traffic into ribbons of flowing red and white in the darkness. It can break your heart to look at it, even when you know it's not that great when you get there.

Lots of things in life are like that, I guess.

Anyway, I love the Ferry. You can't beat the price, and the view is spectacular day or night, and it's enough different every time to keep your interest, even if the last time you pulled away from the pier was only an hour ago. The only time I don't like to ride the Ferry, recreationally I mean, is in a bad storm. Even light misty rain or drifting snow is good, snow especially. Snow can transform anything into beauty—while it's falling, of course. Lying around on the streets and getting all grungy isn't snow's best work. But flakes drifting down in a night sky over the Bay... I love that.

Egon leaned backwards against the rail, looking ahead towards the Bay and Staten Island. I stood beside him, looking backwards at Manhattan and Brooklyn off to the right falling further and further behind us. There weren't many people up here with us; we might have been alone. That would change on the Staten Island-Manhattan leg, all the couples going into the City for romance, and as the night wore on the numbers would change and people would be going back to Staten or Jersey with their lovers, or whatever, still looking for romance.

All those people looking. The lucky ones were looking together, the unlucky ones were hunting by themselves, even if they were with someone.

And me and Egon? We'd stopped looking altogether. But at least we weren't alone. No matter how long the night was, we'd see the day come in together.

I'll find you in the morning sun, and when the night is through,
I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you.
"I'll Be Seeing You" by Irvin Kahel and Sammy Fain

the end

Part one Part two Part three


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