It wouldn’t be fair to call Daz a slug. After all, he had been a third team all-conference striker in college, and he was still slim and fleet. However, getting him out of his apartment in the morning had always been a considerable task. There was the ringing the doorbell seven times before going in with my key part. There was the, don’t you remember we have that meeting at 9:30 part. There was the, I really don’t give a shit what your hair looks like part. Then there were the inevitable battles with toothpaste choices (Daz was the only person I ever met who kept multiple flavors of toothpaste in his bathroom), Cap’n Crunch (the only thing he deigned to eat for breakfast), and Power Rangers (which appeared on ABC Family at 8:30 every morning and from which Daz took surprising delight for someone his age).
On most days, by the time I got to his place to pick him up, I’d already read the relevant sections of the Times and theJournal and surfed three or four entertainment, media and business sites on the web. About a year ago, it finally dawned on me that I could sleep fifteen minutes later in the morning if I brought my bagel and coffee with me so I could have breakfast while I waited for Daz to get ready. On certain days I thought it might be smart to bring a lunch as well.
It was this way from our first days in the City. The only difference at the beginning was that we were in the same apartment and Daz sometimes dragged himself out of bed earlier if I made enough noise or if I did something like flick water on his face after my shower.
The other difference was the nature of our living quarters. The place on Avenue B had been only moderately better than sleeping on the street. The lobby was tastefully adorned in crack vials, hypodermic needles, and spent condoms, and our “doorman” was a sixty-something guy with more jackets than teeth who squatted in front of our building. My mother came to visit exactly once, sneered at my decision to live here rather than commuting from a garden apartment in Hastings, and told me that if I wanted to see her in the future, I knew the Metro-North schedule. She didn’t even give me her little faux kiss on the cheek on her way out the door. This irked me until I thought about the possibility of her being propositioned by a male prostitute before she could get a cab out of the neighborhood. I imagined her scandalized expression and smiled.
A year later, when we were recruited as a team by The Creative Shop, we made our first “big move.” It was a walkup in Hell’s Kitchen – not exactly Fifth Avenue, though a huge improvement over what it had been only a few years earlier – but the space was a lot better and a much higher grade of junkie and hooker hung around outside. When we got our first major bonus checks – one of several to come our way in the past few years – we knew it was time to find someplace a little more respectable, someplace where we could have a party and not worry if our guests could make it in and out of the building alive.
It was my father’s accountant who first suggested we consider buying. The thought had never even crossed my mind, though admittedly we did a terrible job of managing the money we made and got brutalized on our 2011 tax returns. He also told us that if we bought, we had to buy separately to get the most bang for our tax deduction bucks. It was an odd thing to think about. We had lived together for eight years at that point and while we knew we’d eventually find romantic partners to move in with, the notion of no longer being roommates for financial reasons seemed incongruous. In the end, though, it really did make the most sense. And with Daz at 89th and Broadway and me at 91st and West End, we were nearly roommates anyway.
“Who do we have a meeting with this morning?” he said, coming out of the bathroom with a toothbrush in his mouth. He had different colored toothbrushes for the different flavors. The gray brush meant fennel.
“It’s just us.”
“Us? Like you and me?” He returned to the bathroom to spit.
“And Michelle and Carnie and Brad and Chess.”
“Sounds like the meeting we had at Terminal 5 last night.”
We’d all gone there to see Beam, an incredible British trance rock band.
“Except this time we’re going to have a serious business conversation and it won’t look as cool if your head lolls back and forth.”
“And what will we be talking about again?” He’d asked this question from his bedroom, where he was almost certainly trying to decide if it was a red flannel shirt day or a blue flannel shirt day.
“Motorcycles, right?” he said, sticking his face out the door.
“Cars. Affordable luxury for twenty-somethings.”
“Twenty-somethings want luxury?”
“They do if it’s affordable.”
“That’s why you’re the word guy and I’m the picture guy. I wouldn’t have a clue how to pitch this.”
“Good thing I’m around then, huh?”
He disappeared back into the bathroom, meaning we were somewhere between eight and fifteen minutes of departure time, assuming I kept him away from the Power Rangers.
I finished my bagel and scrolled through my Twitter feed. Not finding anything to capture my attention, I stood up and walked around the apartment. The morning crowbar exercise notwithstanding, we spent much less time in Daz’s place than we did in mine. This was primarily because I had the better toys – the sixty-inch TV, the foosball table, the multiple gaming systems, the Bang and Olufsen stereo with full theatre sound (the potential of which I never got to exploit because of the co-op rules) – and also because I actually kept food in the place. Daz hadn’t done particularly much with his home space. The obligatory Crate and Barrel couch and coffee table, the Mondrian print squaring off against the Dave Matthews Band poster, the formal dining table that he never explained why he bought (I don’t know; maybe he wanted me to have my bagel and coffee in comfort), the airbed he propped up against the wall next to the couch rather than deflating, and not a hell of a lot else.
Other than the air hockey table. And the massage chair. The latter was Daz’s first significant purchase once he bought his place. I asked him why he wanted one – he never seemed in need of a massage – and he gestured toward the chair to suggest that I give it a try. Once I did, I understood immediately.
I sat there now and set the chair to knead. I would have loved to have one of these in my office, but one of the unspoken deals Daz and I had was that we wouldn’t spend a lot of money on something the other guy already owned. What was the point? I kicked the massage level up to medium and switched from kneading to tapping. I thought about taking my shoes off to use the foot massager and then checked the time on my phone instead.
“I mentioned that the meeting was today and not in August, right?” I said, my voice vibrating from the thumping my back was receiving.
“I’m done,” he said, walking over to stand in front of me in blue flannel. “Just a quick one-on-one with the Cap’n and we’ll be out of here.”
I turned off the chair and got up. Daz opened the box of cereal and poured it directly into his mouth. “Let’s go,” he said, taking a swig from a milk carton and grabbing his keys.
I gathered my stuff and we made our way out the door. Daz locked the two deadbolts and my eye fell on his keychain – a plastic hot dog that he’d burned with a cigarette lighter in honor of our first (and only) camping trip. He’d toted that thing around for the last ten years.
“I think Michelle and I had a little thing last night,” he said as we walked out onto Broadway to begin our search for a cab.
I laughed. “I was with the two of you the entire time. You didn’t have a thing.”
“No, I think we might have. It was an eye thing.”
“An eye thing as in she saw you and said hi?”
“Don’t be a schmuck. I can tell the difference, you know. I think she kinda likes me.”
“Daz, everyone kinda likes you. See that woman who just stepped in front of us to steal our cab? I’ll bet she likes you. You’re a likable guy. I just wouldn’t get my hopes up about Michelle if I were you.”
“She came to my office just to see my drawings the other day. She’s never done that before.”
“Daz, reachable goals, remember? Reachable goals.”
“I think you might be surprised here.”
“Surprised wouldn’t begin to describe it. Stunned speechless maybe. Or shocked to the point where I needed a defibrillator.”
He regarded me sternly. “Why do you think I couldn’t get a woman like Michelle?”
“Did I say that?”
“Pretty much exactly that.”
“You’re misunderstanding me. I’m speaking specifically about Michelle. A woman like Michelle – you know, gorgeous, smart, clever, burgeoning career – you could get a woman like that. Anytime you wanted, probably.”
“But not Michelle specifically. Translation, please.”
“A translation isn’t necessary. Right now, the only thing that’s important is that we find some way to get the hell downtown.”
Eventually we took a gypsy cab, one of those out-of-town car services that roamed around the City skimming off fares from Yellow cabs during rush hours. I hated doing this – I was very loyal to my city – but at 9:05 on a weekday, it really was the best we could do.
“If we left earlier, we wouldn’t be riding in a fifteen-year-old Impala right now, you know,” I said.
“If we left later, we wouldn’t be doing this either.”
“You know, it’s a good thing you’re an artistic genius. Otherwise you’d be working at Burger King. No, you’d lose your job at Burger King because you’d always be showing up late. Then you’d be out on the street collecting bottles to exchange for cheap liquor.”
“You don’t think so?”
“Nope. Cause you’d be around to drag my ass out of bed so I could keep my job making french fries.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
“Of course you would.”
Yeah, of course I would. If I could be relied upon for anything, it would be making sure that Daz got to work at a reasonable hour. Beyond that, as it turns out, I was lacking in an entire suite of skills best friends were supposed to have. However, he would never be homeless as long as I was around.
We rode in silence for a couple of minutes, bucking and stopping every eight seconds or so as traffic dictated. Then something caught Daz’s eye and he pulled out the sketchpad he always carried in his backpack and started drawing.
“What are you doing?”
“That jogger we passed gave me an idea.”
I hadn’t even noticed a jogger. “An idea for what?”
“For the Space Available campaign.”
Space Available was a custom-built closet company whose account we recently acquired. How a jogger related to this escaped me.
“Let me see,” I said, leaning toward him in the seat.
He pulled the sketchpad back. “Not yet.” He smiled over at me. “I want to show it to Michelle first.”
“She’ll never love you like I love you, Daz.”
“There’s another thing we can all be thankful for.”
He drew for a bit longer, and while I knew there was a very good chance this brainstorm of his wouldn’t produce anything – so many of our ideas didn’t – I was curious. I tried to angle my eyes over without appearing too obvious, but Daz was doing a great job of blocking my view. Finally, he closed the sketchbook and returned it to his backpack, glancing out at the street as though there was nothing to this.
“Traffic’s a bitch today,” he said. “We really should have left earlier. You gotta get on the beam, Flaccid.”