Ike Duckworth–Chapter 6

Déjà vu moment this week as the company I work for has decided to try out using Revit as they grapple with a large project on a tight deadline…. Has anyone seen my plastic Godzilla?

Chapter 6

Kicking It Off

 

“Remembering that looking is loving is something. Remembering that anyone looking has been loving is something.” – Gertrude Stein

 

The week had done its damnedest to arrest time altogether, yet the harrowing experiment ended, allowing Friday to arrive. Ike had been reminded (aka forced) to sign up for one of the company’s Progress Initiatives, which meant he’d spent the last hour and a half listening to more jargon than in all the presidential debates put together. “Maverick!” he’d wanted to cry out in a shrill, outré accent, to break the monotony, but his earnest colleagues were trying to get ahead by contributing to the organization, which tended to short-circuit their sense of humor.

 

Not that Ike was an iconoclast, quite the opposite; he’d been schooled, both by athletics and the family business, to be the ideal team player. He wanted to contribute and had tremendous pride in being selected after graduation by so prestigious a firm, but—and it is the but in the equation that counts—it had never occurred to him that most of what he’d seen of the company was press and marketing, form without substance. AKA bullshit. The FKRS that the greater world knew and the FKRS endured by its staff were Jekyll and Hyde versions of each other.

 

Perhaps that was an exaggeration, but almost four months after he started, numb with shock, truthfully, Ike hurt at heart.

 

His dad would say he was being a sissy and needed to wake up to the real world, but there are—there had to be—studios and practices in which building and design mattered, where work was communal and the effort of pulling together to accomplish good ends built genuine caring and companionship. Provided they stayed away from jargon, kept their eyes on a craftsman’s approach to the work and provided they ignored the press they received for their successes, a truly rare entity might arise: a company with a heart, an almost living entity that rose above the mere mortals who empowered it, vibrant with an energetic spirit all its own.

 

This was the ideal that had glowed in Ike Duckworth’s eyes when he submitted his qualifications to Franklin Krasnoski Radner and Sykowitz. Because he was breathless before the published work of the firm, a few of which he had visited as if a pilgrim to a shrine, photographing and sketching for hours, he had assumed that process and product were one. Regrettably, this was not so. Not 9-to-5, anyway.

 

If the jam had been the stuffy office culture alone, it might have been endured; but the process itself was crippling. Praxis, as Fred would say, was painful at FKRS because of the nature of long-distance projects, because the increased speed of technology allowed increased demands in the pace of the work, because of the scheming business of wheeling and dealing. Ike had woken to a supreme disillusionment; suddenly, Fred started making sense. Except that Ike didn’t want to be a farmer, and this made him think—in moments like these of daydreaming in the dead calm of 3:30 pm with the sun blasting its glare on his monitor whether it was possible to revolutionize the daily life of architecture, whether there was a place outside the Spectacle to make a life in design and building. He wasn’t reaching any conclusions.

 

The reason he didn’t go mad in the midst of such soul-crushing disappointment, or rush off to get an MBA in order to rake in enough money to annihilate his soul properly, was the people he worked with. In spite of team-building exercises, in spite of the musical chairs approach to seating assignments that shifted employees continually in order to “open new vistas of skill-building and communication,” people still managed to make their own friends, build cliques and support groups in the very midst of the hierarchically-manipulated power structures. Shared suffering was a strong bond.

 

Late hours even at FKRS, aside from being exhausting, could be a ball. Gordon would load the fridge with a case of beer, they’d order in pizzas on Ray’s dime—who was less of a stiff and more one of the guys at times like this—Willie blasted music and there’d be a good spirit in the crew, a lot like studio had been. It wasn’t corporate or the latest pop-up managerial strategy or even personal ambition; it was practically a sport. This is what held the place together and got the jobs done on time and on budget. Why didn’t management get it?

 

The good news was that it was Friday; even if they had to work late, there’d be Gooski’s, beer and pool waiting at the end of the day. Only two more hours and he’d be free.

 

Ike heard Gordon gallop down the stairs. In his wake was Frank, the project manager on the gigantic new sports complex in Dallas, and both stopped at Ike’s chair.

 

Ike pulled off his headphones and looked up at Gordon, a throwback to the 1920s in his retro natty threads.

 

“Ray’s loaning you to Frank for a few days to help them with their deadline push,” Gordon said. “Frank’ll get you up to speed.”

 

“Sure thing,” Ike said, trying hard not to smile too much.

 

Frank grimaced back. “We’re getting the team together to discuss strategy and assign work. Come on up and join us.”

 

Ike grabbed a notebook and a mechanical pencil, and followed Frank back up the spiral stair.

 

He sat at the lunch room table between Lynn and Allen, who started filling him in on the project background. He already knew some of it from lunch time gripe sessions, but he didn’t mind hearing the production details. Frank welcomed Ike to the table and let everyone know he was a temporary addition, highly recommended by Ray, then launched into the plan to meet next Wednesday’s deadline.

 

Ike began to think that maybe FKRS wasn’t so bad, maybe it was just the way Ray ran things. The assignments were distributed: Allen was on wall sections, Jude was handling the plan changes for the first basement level and the press box, while Lynn rendered the seating plans. All the way around the table, people got assignments and took notes.

 

“Ike,” Frank said, lifting his eyes to the newcomer, “we’re counting on your efficiency to get through all the toilet partitions.”

Ike nodded, his head dropping low over his notebook. Nothing ever changes.

 

 

Gooski’s was a dive bar up in Polish Hill, sort of mixed crowd, eclectic, punk watering hole, known for its loud bands and cheap drinks. Pool and ping-pong in the back, pierogis, haluskis and wings, beerof every variety, bands, and lots of smoking. With its black and white linoleum floors, grafitti’d walls and faux Persian rugs hung up as art, the ambiance said “I don’t give a shit,” perfect for inaugurating a weekend meant to bury the week before it.

 

Six guys headed out to Gooski’s, though only Ike and Fred went there more or less directly from work. Ike grinned from the moment he walked in the door. Drenched in the red light flooding the bar, they ordered their beers along with something to eat to act as foundation for the night’s debauch and settled in to observe the unfolding scene. Gordon and Lewis were talking at the other end of the bar, Lewis thoughtfully chewing through pretzel sticks; Willis, decked out in a black cowboy shirt and dirty jeans was making a bid to dominate the jukebox for the next hour and Allen had already corralled a woman into a booth. What an operator…

 

While demolishing quite a large plate of food, Fred was elaborating on the fact that today, October 3rd—if he was not mistaken, which of course he was not—was the Festival of Dionysus in ancient Greece. Seemed about right, the way Ike was feeling now, content with the world he found himself in, but after a time, he noticed that Fred had grown strangely silent.

 

“Something on your mind?” Ike asked, well below the half way mark on his second beer.

 

“Less so the mind,” Fred intoned.

 

Ike followed his eyes to a dark-haired woman watching a pool match in the back. She seemed to be interested in the play of the tall woman currently running the table.

 

“Wanna head back?”

 

In answer, Fred got up and strode toward the pool table with a surprisingly sophisticated confidence. Ike wandered to the far end of the group to study this Amazon who was tracing out complex angles on the red felt. Fred had not even pretended interest in the game, merely smiling slightly at the girl as he approached.

 

Girl, indeed. She looked young; dark-eyed with a crown of black curly hair, an arching nose and full lips that smiled back at Fred.

 

“Hey, yourself,” she said, before he’d spoken a word. Strings of lights twinkled behind her where the stage was being set up. She wore a light V-neck sweater that allowed the merest glimpse of ample cleavage. Now that he was close, he saw how petite she was, her curls barely making his shoulder.

 

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked. She didn’t seem to have one.

 

“Mine is over there,” she indicated the empty on the edge of the pool table with a tilt of her chin.

“Will you share yours?”

 

He handed his over to her, assuming that if she was telling the truth, she was legitimately over 21.

 

“Hoppy,” she said, licking her lips and handing the glass back. “I’m Constantia. Andreolakis.”

 

A strange smile expanded slowly across Fred’s features as something unusually electric shimmered up his spine. He scented the turn in the road of destiny lying just ahead, and inhaled the pungent ozone deeply.

 

“Frederick Fuchs,” he said, bowing to her. “Pleased to be at your service.”

 

She scrutinized him for a moment, conjuring a mysterious smile of her own. Then noise broke out behind Fred after a few dull thuds ended with the drawn out wooden rattle as the last ball fell down the gullet of the table. Constantia laid her fingers on Fred’s wrist for a second, then walked over to congratulate her friend, who was vigorously shaking hands with the long-haired man she had been playing.

 

Ike made his move. As he walked the length of the table, the pool shark turned her sharp jaw toward him, pivoting to meet him as he came forward. His eyes made a quick sweep of her slim frame—tight jeans with a hole at the knee, tank top, no bra, ink running from her wrists up to her biceps —then stopped, arrested by the challenging way she held his gaze. As he reached backward for the abandoned pool cue, she shook her hair from her eyes.

 

“Ah, come on, school boy,” she taunted, racking the balls. “We aren’t shooting marbles here. This is a grown-up’s game.”

 

He smirked, chalking the cue, making no reply.

 

“All right, big boy,” she pouted, unwrapping a fresh piece of gum. “Grab your stick and show me what you can do with it.”

 

The biker with the ponytail and the earrings laughed. She played to her audience.

 

“He needs a handicap, doesn’t he, Lance? How ‘bout you break, baby?”

 

“At your own risk,” Ike answered, as she lifted the triangle.

 

In a moment, with a final glance over her shoulder at the crashing violence of the break, Constantia was back.

 

“Hello again, Fred,” she said as she took the glass from his hand, and took a delicate sip. “What do you say, when this is done—“she lifted the glass “—you walk out with me while I grab a smoke? I can’t hear a thing in here.”

 

He nodded compliantly, straining as he was to follow her gentle voice. “If you agree to share.”

 

“Sure thing, professor,” she said. “You are, aren’t you? You look like the Pitt-type. I’d guess history or poli-sci.”

 

Fred leaned in close so she could hear him. “In fact, by profession, I am an itinerant fiduciary.”

 

“In English, please?”

 

“A temp accountant of sorts, a hired man, currently ensconced in closing the fiscal year at Franklin Krasnoski Radnor and Sykowitz, an architectural firm downtown.”

 

“A numbers man.”

 

“As little as I can help it. I am on a quest for $31,315.92—and thus, this little lottery ticket.” He extracted the ticket and handed it to her.

 

“I didn’t know the Lotto paid out that much.”

 

“Correct, it does not. Yet every small step leads to the greater goal. Beyond that, I plan to be a semi-retired gentleman of leisure, working no more than necessity requires, so that I may concentrate upon revolutionary interventions.”

 

“Nice.” She handed the ticket back to him. “Sounds like you don’t like your work much.”

 

“I have a disagreement with late capitalism.”

 

She looked at his serious face, trying to determine if he was messing with her. He finished off the glass and said, leaning close to her ear again: “Let us retire to the—other—smoking room.”

 

He gestured for her to lead, and he trailed behind, admiring the full hips that swung so nicely in the long denim skirt. Ike, now commanding the table from the gum-chewing pool shark, nodded his silent approval as they passed.

 

“Hey, twerp! Eyes on the table, not on the ass.”

 

“Pipe down, Butch,” Ike called back to his opponent. “You’re overdoing the swagger.”

But she ignored him. She was watching Fred and Constantia too, but she did not seem happy.

Outside, at the far edge of the building, Constantia expertly extracted her pack and lit up. After a puff, she twisted her wrist and lifted the cigarette toward Fred’s lips. He leaned in for a drag and then leaned back again.

 

“How are you situated in the scramble to make a living?” Fred said as smoke and breath mingled visibly in the cold air.

 

“I’m a nurse. I like it.” She shivered slightly, stuffing her free hand in the pocket of her jacket; the breeze was brisk and chilly.

 

He pivoted to block the offending breeze. “Indeed! Is this a calling or a way station?”

 

He’d taken a second drag, lifting a hand to signal his satiation.

 

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was a little girl. My aunt’s a nurse, and I’ve just, I’ve always wanted to be one. If you hate accounting so much, how did you end up in it?”

 

“An obsession with financial planning. Lacking any other direction, it seemed reasonable that if I massaged and persuaded numbers for my own cause, I was likely to turn the skill to profit. The schooling requirements were minimal, and the exam, though challenging, was not beyond my grasp.”

 

She was getting used to his odd manner of address. Two could play this game. “And what does the sum of $31,315.92 represent to you?”

 

He smiled the smile of undisguised admiration. “My mortgage, and in its attainment, my early retirement from wage slavery.”

 

“No kidding? How long will it take you to do it?”

 

“With luck, perhaps tomorrow.” He tapped his pocket. “Not really. At the worst, nine years. I want to be able to retire no later than 40.”

 

“You’re amazing,” she said shaking her head with a laugh. Much as she liked being a nurse, the thought of retiring at 40 and laying out in the summer heat soaking up the sun sounded extremely enticing.

 

He smiled, and extended an arm around her shoulders. “And you are freezing. Let us return to the land of the quick and the living.”

 

As they re-entered, a few roadies were piling amps and equipment cases on the stage. Constantia tugged Fred’s finger, and pointed her chin toward the TV above the bar. The Daily Number lottery numbers were being selected.

 

The first number, a three, was already displayed.

 

Fred extracted his ticket. That was one right.

 

“–1 —“

 

Two. Constantia was standing on tiptoe, trying to see his ticket.

“and –4. 3-1-4, tonight’s Daily Number.”

“Do you have it?” she said, tugging on his hand. Fred had a bemused look on his face. He did not resist, so she took his ticket. Oct 3, 2008 314 ST $1.00. She looked up at the screen again.

“You’ve won it, Fred! How terrific. You won! Wow. I hope it was a lot.”

 

“Lucky day,” he said shaking his head to clear it. He’d bought the ticket at lunch on impulse when he found an unexpected dollar bill folded up deep in his coat pocket. “That’s never happened before.”

 

He looked down at the happy face looking back up at him. She had a freckle, just one, to the left of her nose. Waste no time then. Fred leaned down, as if he was bowing again, and kissed her.

 

She smelled like Ivory soap and lemons.

The fact that she was kissing him back struck him—well, later when he actually started thinking again—as rather lucky, too. Because he liked her, and that kind of companionability was not to be found on any ordinary day.

 

She pulled away first and tossed her hair back with both hands. “So, what have you won?”

 

“If I remember the table of odds and prizes, this winning ticket should be worth $500.”

 

“Nice!”

 

“It ought to be enough, after the usurious taxes are stolen from it, to host a rather wonderful party.”

 

“Seriously? You won’t buy something? I would. I want a new cell phone.”

 

“Building a joyous community is the foundation for the true revolution.”

 

“No kidding? ‘Come on, comrade, and chug one for the Revolution?’”

 

“Not exactly, though it is in the right spirit. Let me buy another round.”

 

She nodded her agreement, and he bought another Harvest Pilsner. To share.

 

Applause broke out in the back where a small crowd had gathered: Paulette had won again. Ike had held out well; an excellent break, a few balls dropped before missing a called shot. Once she had the table again, she cleared it.

 

“Come on,” Constantia urged. Fred obliged her.

 

“Good one, Pauli,” Constantia beamed at her friend, who accepted Ike’s congratulations and a politely cautious handshake.

 

“Did you see any of it?” she asked, immediately turning her back on him. A few of the guys who had been watching were taking over the table.

 

“I heard the break,” Constantia admitted. “Get another beer and join Fred and me.”

 

Paulette shrugged her acceptance, snapping her gum. Chaperone again. But the night was young… and who should be at the bar, but the kid? She took him for an athlete—it was in the posture, the way he walked—though he had the look of off-off season at the moment. She smiled as she approached.

 

He had just paid the bartender for his beer and had turned to go. “Hey,” he said, acknowledging her as he passed.

 

“Don’t be a sore loser, buy me a drink.”

 

He turned back. “What are you drinking?”

 

“Bass.”

 

He nodded, asked for one from the bartender, who seemed confused since Ike was already holding one. “For the lady,” Ike said, to clarify.

 

She snorted in derision, even as she accepted the beer. They stood there for a moment, looking at Fred and Constantia cozily chatting at a table, as Ike sipped the beer.

 

“That’s your friend, isn’t it?” she said.

 

“Yeah. Fred.”

 

“If he’s an asshole, I’ll kill him. Just so you know,” she said, leaving to join Constantia.

 

Ike followed in her wake.

 

The happy pair looked up as their friends arrived separately, standing awkwardly on the other side of the table.

 

“Are you going to sit down, or what?” Constantia asked.

 

Paulette glanced at Ike, who did nothing, so she sat down, opposite Fred. Ike took the remaining chair, moving it closer to Paulette’s, to be out of the way of traffic.

 

“Home for the weekend, then?” Paulette asked, when Ike had settled.

 

He was a little confused. “I graduated in June…”

 

Kicks were traded under the table. Ike watched this exchange between the women.

 

Paulette leaned toward him, her face propped on her hand, so close that Ike’s hand brushed her arm when he retrieved his beer.

 

“Let me guess,” she purred. “You’re an accountant?”

 

Ike and Fred smirked.

 

“I’m an architect,” Ike said. “Fred’s the accountant.”

 

“You are? Wow,” Constantia exclaimed, eyeing her friend. “So you build buildings?”

 

“We only design them; construction crews get to build them.”

 

Paulette lounged back in her chair. “Yeah, these boys can’t be messing up their manicures, Con.”

 

Ike scowled.

 

“You two drew a crowd, must have been a good game,” Constantia offered by way of distraction. Fred beamed at her, adjusting his arm around her shoulder.

 

Ike nodded, glancing at Fred before meeting Constantia’s gaze. “She shoots pool like it’s a trigonometry lesson.”

 

Paulette put her beer down. She needed her hands if she was going to talk. “You had one good shot, anyway.”

 

“One?” Ike abandoned his beer, too.

 

“When you clipped the 6 into the side pocket and spun the cue ball into the two that dropped into the back right pocket.”

 

“Wow,” Constantia exclaimed, but her enthusiasm had no effect. They were still at it.

 

Ike turned in his chair toward her. “What about the one right after the break?”

 

Paulette shrugged dismissively, her fingers flicking the air. “Big deal. Face it, you lost because you called a shot you couldn’t make.”

 

“You gonna bust my balls for that all night? You got a lucky break. You won.”

 

Her right hand, so recently gesturing his defeat, had landed in his lap, her fingertips pressed between his legs. She pouted.

 

“Do I need to kiss it better?”

 

Ike’s breathing changed, but the look he gave her was inscrutable: Constantia saw shock; Fred saw anger. Neither noticed anything else.

 

Paulette got up, one finger tracing up over his fly. “Try not to miss me. I’ll only be a minute.”

 

She flashed a look at Constantia as she headed for the ladies’ room, on the other side of the stage.

 

Constantia grinned as she watched Ike drain his beer and thump the empty glass on the table. Fred gave him a sympathetic look; Con was waiting.

 

Ike stood up.

 

“Either of you want another one while I’m up?” he offered.

 

Constantia signaled yes, watching him go. He glanced at the pool table where a new game was unfolding, walked past the stage—no, he actually was going to the bar. He returned with two more Bass and a Harvest Pilsner for Fred and Constantia.

 

She no longer looked so happy. “God, I want a cigarette now,” said Constantia, though she didn’t light one.

 

Paulette re-emerged about five minutes later, running her hands through her hair. Her face was flushed.

 

Ike stood up as she approached, his hand on the back of her chair, and though she threw him a murderous look, she sat down. He sat after her, his hand remaining where it was. Constantia chatted away, telling Fred about a trip her family took to Florida one year, that Paulette had apparently been a part of. It had begun as a complaint against the early Pittsburgh cold and the longing for a return to summer that ended with a lot of laughter, owing mainly to her dad’s poor planning in taking his wife, little boys and two teenage girls for Easter vacation in Daytona Beach. The band had launched into its first set, and conversation got harder, though it gave Paulette an excuse to direct her attention elsewhere, well aware of the bridging arm that tried to keep her in their circle.

 

Constantia watched her friend getting edgier, so before the inevitable eruption of savagery, she wrapped up her story.

 

“Fred,” she said, close to his ear. “I think I’ve got to call it a night. I may need to cover an early shift tomorrow, so I ought to go.” She pressed a napkin into his hand; a quick glance told him it was her phone number, though when she’d written it, he couldn’t say. “Call me. This was fun.”

 

She gave him a parting kiss, one to remember her by, and stood up. She realized Ike had been watching them, and was getting to his feet, too.

 

“Sorry, Ike, we’ve got to go. It was really nice to meet you.”

 

It was too noisy this close to the band; instead of words, he smiled broadly at her. It was a happy smile, though his eyes were well advanced into beer-induced blur.

 

Paulette was only too happy to be gone. As she cinched the belt of her leather coat, she glanced up, unexpectedly, directly into Ike’s eyes. They were wide and dark in the half-light of the bar, with a lost quality that set off an odd echo under her ribs. He did not have a smile for her. She ducked past him, following Constantia.

“Well done, Wingman!” a deep voice said close by, as a heavy arm fell around Ike’s shoulders, pushing him back into his chair. Ike’s knees gave way without much resistance.

Lewis and Wills, still flying solo, joined Fred and Ike with a pitcher of beer each.

“You owe him, my man,” Wills agreed, addressing Fred. “He took one for the team. She had dyke written all over her.”

“She did?” Ike slurred.

Someone had put another beer in his hand; he’d lost count and didn’t care. He was glad, too, because Fred had found a nice girl and the guys were being cool to him. He thought about that and the music roaring behind him and the beer and decided to forget all about toilet partitions and missed shots and weird women in bars.

He never even thought about Francie.

One thought on “Ike Duckworth–Chapter 6

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