Killing time, Eric skimmed the list of U.S. military contractors declared dead in Afghanistan, stopping at Chauncey Castlegarten IV. No further information.
The summer after high school, Eric had lived in a dilapidated row house on Erie Street with Chauncey Castlegarten IV, called Chip.
Eric, now a corporate lawyer, gripped the back of his neck.
Back then, time moved differently. Eric and Chip idled about, reckless and extravagant. They watched increments float by and waved sayonara. Unconcerned, almost unconvinced of the future.
Their apartment’s managers lived in the basement: the wife couldn’t walk because of her heart; the man was practically deaf. Eric bought sinsemilla. He and Chip sold some but smoked more on the steps, imitating Mrs. Dempsey bellowing from the basement, “MISTER DEMPSEY!” They pitched their voices like pennies, trying to match her.
They worked at a pizza place, smoked pot, and yelled “MISTER DEMPSEY!” whenever Mrs. Dempsey did. Soon, a notice for RENT DUE appeared on their door every Friday.
The Chicago Cubs were winning that summer. Eric and Chip sat in the bleachers: Ciao pizza place.
Eric didn’t remember doing laundry. They got Cubs T-shirts or caps or athletic socks free at the ballgames. Long white socks that looked really goofy with their cut-off jeans. They pointed at each other and fell down laughing, they looked so stupid. Then they sat on the stoop yelling, “MISTER DEMPSEY!”
They wandered around Rush Street’s nightlife scene. Glittery people snickered, “Dumb and Dumber,” before Eric and Chip realized their get-ups were identical. Down to their blown-out basketball shoes. So freaking hilarious.
Before long, RENT DUE notices appeared every day. They sold pot for cash as necessary and smoked the rest. Eric suggested they apply for jobs at Walgreen’s. Stock-boys for two weeks. They combined paychecks and bought more sensie. Sold some, smoked some, and after work, imitated Mrs. Dempsey.
Then the Cubs played the Mets for four straight days. Adiós Walgreen’s. Saturday morning, they were sitting on the steps yelling, “MISTER DEMPSEY!” when he suddenly yanked their arms. Evicted.
“For three months late? You’re kidding.”
Mr. Dempsey shoved them. “Get packing!” They laughed until the police arrived. Then they handed over their keys and carried their stuff onto the sidewalk.
That afternoon they lounged outdoors on the couch. When dusk settled, some winos sat in the chairs. Eric got the TV tapped into a streetlight. Someone brought a bottle. When the night grew chilly, Chip stood up and stretched. “The weather’s better in California. Care to join me, Mr. Dempsey?” Wasted, Eric laughed him off.
Now he stood up, confused, until he realized that the cold clamp at the back of his neck was his own hand.