Bad Night With a Familiar Haunt
With his big protruding ears, thin face, brushy caterpillar moustache beneath a long nose and no chin, he would have been called a jarhead sixty years ago. Over blue jean shorts and docksiders with no socks, he’s wearing what appears to be a high school letterman’s jacket embroidered with a Middle Eastern airline logo. On his neck is a tattoo of a large rodent – a muskrat? A possum, maybe? having sex with a pig. He’s talking to his two twentysomething companions in a loud, nasal, petulant voice, as if to make himself heard over background noise. Except that there’s none to speak of.
As the lights in the room dim, he and his pals – a woman in a gingham dress with curlers in her hair and wire-frame granny glasses, and a young man sporting the shorts/docksiders/no-socks look – take a few steps back. The mustachioed boy sits down on the floor beside the Man in the Long Black Coat, who’s leaning against the back wall. If the boy was taller, his nose would be rubbing up against the man’s crotch rather than his leg.
See, the Man in the Long Black Coat is sometimes invisible.
He’s especially invisible tonight. Even the waitress doesn’t see him, and he and the waitress are friendly. In fact, he’s so invisible this particular night that for the first time, he was able to make another person invisible. It was a friend’s nine-year-old daughter. Good thing she didn’t realize it, he muses. It would have scared the bejeezus out of her.
Even before the days of the Long Black Coat, he’s had this mysterious power. He could never control it then. These days he can sometimes, but only in certain places – if he’s sober. Tonight he’s full of wine from a party earlier in the day. It was Make Music NY afternoon in Fort Greene: Rose Thomas Bannister played a short, psychedelic set of allusively vengeful Macbeth-inspired songs; an old guy with a thick Russian accent sang funny ditties about science education and Donald Trump. To think I blew off Inti and the Moon for this shit, the Man in the Long Black Coat chastises himself. He could use another drink, he thinks, but he doesn’t want to disturb the waitress.
He didn’t leave the party to see the guy with the guitar who’s just taken the stage, but he is curious about a red-dressed woman who is scheduled to play. The guy with the guitar jokes with audience members – they all seem to know him – and his speaking voice doesn’t allude to anything out of the ordinary. But he sings in a wittoo tiny cowtoonish Elmer Fudd voice. Then he drops the affectation for between-song banter.
Hesitantly and cautiously, he introduces a topical number, but one that doesn’t namecheck Trump or reference anything specific about these “uncertain” times, as he calls them. He’s all gassed about finally having a new vinyl album out. Trying to look modest, he carries on and on about how big his face is on the album cover – and he’s right, it’s larger than lifesize.
Finally the woman in the red dress sits down at the piano. She’s a competent player and can carry a tune, but the love song she plays is prosaic, a diary entry set to an innocuously forgettable pop melody. Then she picks up her guitar and duets with the guy, who still uses the Elmer Fudd voice when he sings harmonies. The crowd is enthusiastic: lots of video is being sent home to family back in Minnesota.
The Man in the Long Black Coat has had enough. As cautiously as the guy with the guitar, he edges his way through the throng of kids fixated on their phones. By the time he’s outside, he can see his reflection in the windows of the cars along the curb. I could REALLY use a drink right about now, he thinks.