Friday, August 7, 2015

The Sad, Sordid Tale of Bruce Halloran-6

: The address on Philip Tupperman’s driver’s license was for an apartment on Ulloa St. Fortunately, the landlady was there and remembered him. He’d been moved out by a woman claiming to be his mother in the summer of 1992. The old lady also happened to keep excellent records and had an address out in Old Metairie. Forty minutes later Bruce Halloran was sitting outside of the address just off Metairie Road. The house was definitely Old Metairie. So old they still had an actual barn in the back of the property, which went back to the next street. The cypress trees in the front yard are at least 60 years old, maybe older. They cover the entire roof of the house. Here and there upstairs there are window AC units, but none downstairs. It’s constructed like a double shotgun, but only one of the two doors has a screened-in porch. The driveway leading back to the barn has never been paved. All in all, it reminds Bruce of the setting for a cheap Southern gothic horror flick. Still, what other choice does he have?
“If I get to the door and Bette Davis answers, I’ll sleep under the overpass,” he mutters to himself as he turns off the engine.
Halloran pulls his corpulent self out of the car and makes his way across the street, breaking a sweat before he even hits the curb. Beneath the cypress canopy, he maneuvers around the overgrown box hedges lining the walkway, goes to the screened side, and rings the bell. As he waits in the torpid heat, he’s thankful for a light breeze that stirs the air. The cypress cover does a pretty good job of keeping things cool. Still, his perspiration levels are somewhere between rushing torrent and Niagara Falls. Impatiently he pushes the doorbell again, rivulets of sweat absorbing into his shirt and pants, dark marks slowly growing in various places, none of them attractive. At last, he hears the latch on the door, which creaks open a sliver Something like a human eye appears in the crack and says in a numbed tone,
“Yes? What do you want?”
“Uh, yeah,” stammers Halloran, just now realizing he hasn’t prepared for actually talking to anyone. “Uh, I’m...I’m lookin’ for….uh...I was given your...I mean...are you Tupp--er, Philip Tupperman?”
There is silence from the eye for a moment, then the door slowly opens and a slight, average looking man with a distinctive moustache emerges from the darkness. He would look amazed if it weren’t for the fact that his eyes don’t seem to be registering anything. The man slowly walks over to the screen door, and trips the latch.
“I’m Phil Tupperman. Come in, Mister…?”
“Uhm, inside?. Uh, I was...I was wondering if I could talk to you...uhm, thank you.” Opening the screen door, he follows Tupperman into the house, absently letting the screen slam shut behind him. The sound stops Phil in his tracks. Without turning around he says plainly,
“Next time, please don’t slam the screen. And please lock it back before you come in.”
With that, he continues inside, leaving Halloran to wonder if he shouldn’t be looking at apartment ads instead of chasing this crazy train. Being cheap can make a man do many things, even abandon his own cowardice. Halloran re-latches the screen, and ventures inside.
Closing the door behind him, Bruce is now officially certain he’s in Old Metairie. Despite being over 90 degrees outside, the first floor of the house is remarkably cool. Only the windows are open, providing a wonderful cross breeze. Still, nothing can remove the smell of the house. Stuffy with the memories of thousands of meals cooked and eaten, people living, breathing, farting, screwing, dying. And the lingering remnants of White Shoulders perfume. The room is illuminated in the kind of dim amber-sienna light unique to old New Orleans homes. Walking into the parlor, which goes the width of the house, every available horizontal surface in the room is crowded with porcelain figurines. A menagerie of bulls, owls, turtles, rabbits, and a wide selection of intricately clothed Victorian women and apple-faced Hummel children to watch over the zoo. Each corner of the room contained a tall display case fairly bursting with even more molded creations in the same veins. Above the apparently still-used fireplace, an oil portrait of a distinguished woman hangs in judgement of the surroundings. Halloran is instantly disgusted by the sight of her. Exactly the kind of woman he loathed growing up. She was painted wearing a pink Chanel suit like the ones Jackie Kennedy wore. Haughty expression, pursed lips, her jowly face surrounded by what looks like high-end diamond earrings and matching necklace. Her white hair is piled on top of her head in a bouffant somewhere between campy and cretinous. To Halloran she looks like every judgmental bitch he ever encountered growing up. Treading the fine line between Junior League and the Daughters of the American Revolution, looking down her nose at everyone who didn’t marry money, and always used to getting her way. Looking around the room again, he finally spots Tupperman, who has blended into the 60s era beige furniture like a despondent chameleon.
Halloran walks over to the chair opposite Tupperman and takes a seat. Another cooling breeze cuts through the house, catching Bruce in the face and neck. A refreshing break. Looking towards the odd fellow near him, Halloran smiles awkwardly. The guy twitches a bit, and asks monotonously,
“Can I get you something to drink? I have iced tea in the refrigerator.”
Halloran takes the opportunity to have a few moments to think and says,
“Yeah. I mean, yes please.”
Tupperman rises automatically and walks to the kitchen like an amusement park ride on a track. Once gone, Halloran tries to recall everything he was able to learn about what Gary Pitts had done to this guy. Chased away his anonymous lover, used him, Tupperman tried to off himself, Pitts dumped him in a cab for Charity, anti-gay therapy, his mom taking over. Got it. What the hell do I do now?
Before he can formulate further, he hears the even tread of Tupperman coming back. Turning to look, he sees Philip walking evenly and carrying a tray with two glasses and a glass pitcher of iced tea. He looks like the most disturbing Kool-Aid commercial ever. He comes in and places the tray on the coffee table. Pouring a glass, Tupperman turns to Halloran and asks simply,
“How many sugars?”
“Three please,” Halloran says, half smiling. Three spoons of sugar go into the glass, which is then handed to Bruce. Another glass is poured, which Tupperman sets on a coaster near his chair. It is the last time during their discussion he will touch the glass.
Bruce takes a sip of the tea, and sets the glass onto the now-antique Falstaff Beer coaster on the table. Tupperman returns to his seat and begins anew to blend in with the beige fabric on his chair. For a few moments there is nothing but silence between them. The only sounds are the birds and chickens out by the barn, and the vague whoosh of cars speeding by through the neighborhood. Finally, Bruce clears his throat and says,
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here?”
Tupperman looks up and says softly, “no.”
“Really?” exclaims Bruce, somewhat surprised at this. “You’re not wondering what I’m doing here?”
“No,” comes Philip’s reply, still soft and even. “What I was wondering is who are you?”
Bruce stops for a second. Hadn’t thought of that.
“My name is Bruce Halloran.” No response. “And you’re Philip Tupperman...right?”
“Yes, I’m Phil Tupperman. Nice to meet you Mr. Halloran.”
With that, Phil rose from his seat and extended his hand to Bruce. Halloran takes and shakes the man’s hand. It is a handshake in name only. No pressure or resistance from Phil whatsoever. They break and return to their seats. Another long uncomfortable silence. Halloran is about to lose his tongue when Phil pipes up and says,
“Now I’m wondering about why you’re here. Why are you here, Mr. Halloran?”
Took a while to get back on track, but all right, thinks Halloran. Bracing himself, he jumps in.
“Well Mr. Tupperman--can I call you Phil? Phil, I’m here...well, I’m here to right a wrong. A wrong that was done to you”
Phil sits and stares at Bruce as if he’s just asked for the gross national product of Luxembourg. Another pause, it’s like Ibsen in here, thinks Halloran. He’s about to repeat himself when Phil speaks, a little more certain than before.
“What wrong?”
Moment of truth. Time to dive in and get this going. Halloran takes another hearty swig of tea and replies,
“Uhm, OK. Can you tell me about China Imperial and the Lesbian Avengers rally at Charlene’s?”
For a few seconds Halloran isn’t certain that Tupperman has heard him. Then all at once a blaze of life fires up behind Phil’s eyes and his demeanor changes.
“Why do you want to know?”
That’s it, thinks Bruce. I’ve opened the gates to Hell. And they’re going to find my body in Old Metairie.
Then Halloran notices a change in Phil’s posture. Suddenly he’s not too far removed from the young guy in the Polaroid. He decides this is progress and continues as best he can.
“Well...I want to know because that’s the best way to start correcting the wrong that’s been done to you. I...well, I...I need some answers from you first.”
Phil stares deeply into Bruce’s eyes, which makes him uncomfortable. Despite his wanting to, he cannot look away from the intensity of Tupperman. He’s reminded of Gloria Holden’s campy glower in Dracula’s Daughter. Except he really can’t look away. It creeps him out even more.
“Are you talking about Jeremy?” Phil blurts the question as if it’s been bottled up for a long time.
Partially out of trying his luck and partly because he hasn't any other ideas, Halloran decides to take the risk and utters a quiet “yes.” The light in Phil’s eyes flickers into full flame.
“How do you know about that? Do you know Jeremy?”
“Uhhhhhhhh….well, no. No, I don’t know Jeremy. I...I only just recently learned his name. But I think I’ve got a good idea about what happened. I just need you to...well, fill in the gaps.”
A shade of uncertainty passes over Phil’s face, and for a second the light dims. But it doesn’t last long. Halloran tries to collect the thousands of thoughts reeling about in his head, then proceeds.
“I’m sorry to have to ask you this. you remember someone named...Gary Pitts?”
The mention of Pitts’ name has a dramatic effect on Philip. An expression of loathing and fear pops out like acne on his face. His breathing is now pronounced, filling and exiting his slight chest like a bear stirred from hibernation. Halloran has seen this happen before with the call center employees at Cox when he tells them they have to work overtime again. He knows what to do.
“Phil, calm down. I’m only asking because it’s important. I have to get all the facts. Just breathe and then answer me, calmly.”
Phil does as he is instructed, not entirely certain as to why but knowing it feels more comfortable to conform to what he’s told. Taking as deep a breath as he is able, he composes himself and says lowly,
“I remember Gary. Too well.”
OK. we’re on the right track. That’s good. What now? Halloran thinks for a moment and comes up with nothing. Let’s hear it for consistency.
“Good. That’s...good. Now, tell me about Jeremy.”
Phil’s head suddenly turns on its side, like a puppy trying to understand a new command. His eyes look away as if seeing something for the first time, then he says,
“I haven’t answered your other question, yet.”
Halloran blinks a bit and says, with cunning wit,
“The question you asked me earlier. Can I tell you about China Imperial and the Lesbian Avengers rally? I can tell you...almost everything.”
Bruce smiles a bit, thinking he’s gotten through.
“What you should have asked is ‘will I tell you?’ And the answer is no.”
Shit, thinks Halloran. It was going so well.
“Phil, listen to me--”
“No,” Phil says with surprising firmness. Standing up, he walks to the foyer as he speaks. “I don’t know who you are or why you’re here. But if you know Gary Pitts’ name, then no good can come of you. I want you to leave now.”
Halloran fights the urge to leave the premises like a big ol’ bar fag and forces himself to rise respectfully and leave in a dignified manner. Stopping just short of the doorway festooned with shelves of oddly menacing porcelain cherubs, Halloran says to Phil’s face,
“If you don’t tell me what happened, I can’t make it right.”
“No one asked you to make anything right,” Phil gasps with dull rage. Halloran looks him in the eye, and says with a tinge of bitchiness,
“Actually, someone did. That’s why I’m in your house. Somebody did ask me to make this right.”
Phil stares at Bruce, as if trying to find the answers in his eyebrows or his pores. Bruce submits to this visual undressing, reminding himself that homelessness is so much worse than feeling like you need a shower. Phil takes a few steps backwards, then stands his ground and says,
“I don’t trust you.”
Bruce looks to the rug then toward the door, drawling,
“That’s probably the best decision you’ve made in years.”
Phil continues to stare at Bruce for a while longer, then breaks his gaze. His eyes dart around, keeping track with what his fractured mind can recall and where everything is supposed to go. He makes his way back into the parlor, holding onto Bruce’s arm for support. Finally seated, Bruce returns to his place and they begin again...This Is My New Orleans.

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