Ecks was lonely, they said. Ecks didn’t think so. He was always busy, doing something that most people thought was doing nothing.
Jay Ecks was 42 and single and this made people click their tongue and make sympathetic noises. In their book, loneliness, or being alone, was not a desirable way to be. In the early days, Ecks would try and correct them. Eventually, he found a way to ignore the noise and go on doing what he was doing, alone as always.
The only person who didn’t care whether Ecks was lonely or not was Howie. He would greet Ecks every morning as Ecks sauntered out to hail his morning cab.
“Morning, Mr. Ecks. Off to make another movie? What’s it going to be today? Love story? Body lotion commercial?”
“Dishwashers”, said Ecks.
“Ah well, someone’s gotta tell the world what they do, eh, so may as well be you.”
Howie said almost the same thing every morning except weekends. On weekends, Ecks wouldn’t come down till almost noon. He lay in, reading a book from start to finish, then ran a quick 20 minutes on the treadmill, before going back up to have coffee and toast with avocado spread in a mess over it. When the book had particularly annoyed him, he would use peanut butter instead of avocado.
That particular weekend when it all changed for Ecks had started like every other weekend. Done with his morning routine, he stepped out into the street and sniffed the air. The smells of New York City mingled with the sounds of New York City, busy as always, with trucks loading or unloading cartons down the street, cabs and cars mingling with cyclists and avoiding the trucks.
He walked down to Chelsea, a leisurely twenty minute walk in the cool late spring air. Over his head, the sun played with the clouds, his shadow appeared and disappeared as he strolled along. As he reached The Kitchen, the sun disappeared completely. He shivered a bit and went in, as much to get out of the sudden nip in the air, as to reach a destination.
The Kitchen usually had something to interest him. This time, Paulina Olowska was being featured. There were no movies on the board for today. He liked the movies. They allowed him to indulge in flights of fancy away from his day job of carefully storyboarded commercials. Sometimes, he would take ideas back with him and try, usually unsuccessfully, to convince the marketing gurus to modify their carefully planned stories.
He wandered around the exhibits for a bit and decided he was hungry. He walked into Mokbar and took his Ribeye Bulgogi over to the bar looking out of the window into the street. He liked to watch life go by.
As he stirred his noodles, he wondered why he hadn’t opted for the rice.
“Wishing you’d chosen rice, are you?”
“Huh? Sorry, are you talking to me?”
Ecks turned to see the girl who had just parked herself in the chair on his right.
“Here, you can have mine, if you like. I’ll swap. It’s the same except, I got it with rice.”
“Uh no! It’s fine, fine. Don’t worry about it. I was just…”
“Wishing it was rice. What made you pick noodles?
“Noodles are good. “
He appraised the girl. Two dangling gold earrings, a purple gash for lips, the only items of decoration in a pale, almost sallow face. The eyes were smoky black, the eyebrows unplucked. The hair was streaked in purple and pink highlights, tastefully done at the ends. She wore blue jeans and a pink cotton blouse tucked in.
He went back to his noodles, expertly using the chopsticks. He was dimly aware that the girl was just as expertly clicking the chopsticks on the plate as she made her way through her meal. The clicking bothered him. He wished she wouldn’t feel the need to do that.
He finished his meal and sat back.
“How was it?”
“What?”, Ecks swung his head to look at the girl, “Oh good, I’m used to it. I come here all the time.”
“I’ve been here a couple of times before”, she said.
They walked out together. The sun was back and the air was suddenly warmer.
“Well”, she said, “good bye. Maybe we’ll meet again here.”
Ecks made suitably polite noises and went back home.
His phone rang as he unlocked the door to his apartment. He threw his keys into the bowl on the table by the door, kicked the door shut and pulled out his phone.
“Jay, it’s your mother.”
‘Yes, ma, I know.”
“Jay, why can’t get you get a proper phone instead of that cell thing?”
“Ma, I told you. No one has a landline anymore.”
“They cause cancer, Jay.”
“Yes, ma. It’s ok.”
“Jay, I want you to listen to me.”
“Do I have a choice, ma?”
“Now, Jay, don’t you take that tone with me.”
“What is it, ma? I’m busy.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You keep saying you’re busy.”
“When are you getting married? Find a nice girl?”
“Oh, come on, ma! We’ve been through this a million times.”
“Now, you listen to me, Jay.”
“Ma, I told you…”
“Ben, talk to your son. He’s not listening to me.”
Ben Ecks came on the line.
“Now, son, you listen to your mother.”
“Are you doing ok for money? I can send you a check. I’ll send you a check.”
“Dad, I don’t need money. I have a good job.”
In the background, Ecks heard his mother’s voice.
“What did he say? Does he need money. You must send him a check, Ben.”
Shirley Ecks came back on line.
“Now, Jay, your dad is going to send you some money. Don’t worry.”
“Ma, I don’t need..”
“Jay, you won’t believe who I had tea with yesterday.”
“Yes. Your Aunt Esther. And you know what?”
“She has a friend who has a daughter?”
“Samuel’s cousin from Albany, was visiting. He runs a clothing store. He has a partner, Ezra Shapiro.”
“And Ezra has a daughter.”
“Jay, don’t be smart with me, young man! You know, it’s time you found a nice girl and settled down.”
“Ma, you call me every weekend to tell me about some girl.”
“Why can’t you be a good son to your mother, Jay? Everyone I know has kids who are married.”
“Now look, this girl Violet, they call her Vi. I think it’s horrid to shorten a lovely name like Violet. Don’t you think so?”
“It’s a lovely name. Hey look, ma, sorry to cut you off, but I have a call coming in. Love you. Gotta go.”
Ecks put his phone down on the counter and flung himself on the couch.
The rest of the weekend went by with Ecks doing what he always did. He read a bit, watched obscure foreign language movies. He usually watched each movie twice. Once with the subtitles off, making notes as he went. He then restarted it with the subtitles on, editing his notes. Once the second run was over, Ecks sat back to read his notes, editing and making comments, circling a phrase here, underlining a word there.
The whole process was interrupted by cups of coffee. Dinner on the Saturday was usually Indian takeout, a spicy mutton biryani. It was a staple for him on the days he stayed in. Even when he had to go out to a party, he ate in before leaving. Saturday’s for Ecks were about the movies and the mutton biryani.
The next Friday, he arrived at Kowalski’s clutching the customary bottle of cabernet sauvignon.
“Hey Jay, come on in.”
“Here you go, Mike, stick this bottle somewhere.”
Mike Kowalski took the bottle from Ecks and shut the door.
“Get in in there and mingle. I gotta go and look at something.”
Kowalski disappeared and Ecks looked around the room. The place was loud, as always, with the chatter of the thirty or so people Kowalski always managed to collect. The music was understated and punctuated by the thud of bass notes. Ecks eased around the chattering artsy group who took no notice of him and headed over the bar.
He took his beer and wandered over to the balcony. Kowalski’s apartment looked over the city and the lights of midtown sparkled below and ahead of him.
“Hi, you look alone.”
He turned to the woman who had spoken to him. She was tall and dark, with long legs encased in tight jeans. She wore a white silk blouse and a smile that showed off even white teeth.
“I am actually. I just got here and I don’t know too many people here.”
“Yes, I was wondering if I would know anyone. Good to know I’m not the only stranger here.”
“I do know some of the folks here. It’s just that there is only so much I can talk about art.”
“Art isn’t too bad. You haven’t seen the right art.”
“Ah, no, you’re an artist. I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m just a complete philistine when it comes to art.”
“And what do you do?”
“Direct movies. Commercials mostly. A couple of documentaries here and there.”
“Hey. That’s art too. Don’t knock art.”
“I guess. I’m Jay, by the way”, he said, sticking his hand out.
“Well, at least you’re not a banker or a lawyer.”
In the cab home, she talked about her trip to Paris and the hours spent at the Musée d’Orsay. He let her in and she accepted his offer of a cup of coffee. She nodded when he held up the bottle of Jamieson’s and he poured it into her coffee. The next morning he made some fresh coffee and she sat at the counter and watched him butter toast and scramble eggs.
They ate in silence. Then she changed and left, with a peck on the cheek.
Over the next two weeks, Ecks worked late everyday and was left cursing clients who made him reshoot scene after scene. The only compromise he refused to make was his Saturday mutton biryani takeout.
Spring had given way to the first days of summer before he visited Chelsea market again. He took his bulgogi with rice and parked himself on the barstool facing the street. He sensed the seat next to him being occupied. He concentrated on his plate.
“I see you’ve switched to rice.”
He looked up and smiled.
“Yes. I did, didn’t I. And you’re having the noodles.”
“Well, bon apetit.”
“Why do you tap the chopsticks on the plate after every mouthful.”
“Reflex, I guess. Does it bother you?’
“A bit, yes.”
“Well, I could move over to the other side of the counter. Would that help? I can’t promise I won’t tap my chopsticks.”
“Ah no. It’s ok.”
They ate in silence. She tapped away. They finished almost at the same time. The girl behind the counter came around collecting plates.
“What was it like today? It’s good to have you have you here every weekend. You’ve become our regular now and always with the bulgogi.”
“Today’s was probably the best.”
“Was it? Must be the special sauce we used today!”
“Yeah, must be! Better keep that handy for the next time.”
Ecks watched the exchange in silence.
“You’re wondering, aren’t you?”
Ecks didn’t respond.
“Violet. My friends call me Vi.”
“Yep. That’s me.”
Ecks gazed at her, his head shaking gently.
“Excuse me. I have to call someone and yell at them. Be back in five minutes.”