At that subway station the trains rarely appeared. Coming down the stairs to the platform, shaking my umbrella, I saw a man in front of a poster for Buffalo's pedigree show. He stood erect, his head raised to inspect the two dogs. He wore a brown suit and a red and golden tie; his pants were worn at the knee.
"Which one do you like best?" he asked me.
I answered that I liked the dog without a bow on its head. "The other looks too sweet. I don't like bows."
"You don't like the dog because of its bow?"
"It's not that I don't like it. I like the other one better."
"But it's a beautiful bow, don't you think? It's a beautiful red; it's a rather beautiful bow, well tied." He nodded his head slowly and smiled like children do when they let you in on a secret. His hair was cut straight in front, but wet and slightly tousled from the rain. Though he couldn't be more than nineteen or twenty, his face looked aged, his skin thin and rough. His eyes had red rims, and he shielded them against the fluorescent light as he looked again at the dogs.
"But a bow on the head?" I insisted.
He looked again at the poster to check on my argument. He did it dutifully. He said, "I like both dogs, though not in the same way. I like horses, too. Horses are the most beautiful animals. It's a good bow."
I was new in the city, in which the sky is a wet towel too many dirty hands have used, and he reminded me of a friend I'd had in high school. I put my memory over the man's face and made it fit snugly. The tips of my suede shoes were dark; lifting my toes I could feel the wet leather.
Together with Werner — the guy's name wasn't Werner, it had been my friend's name — I got on the train. Now the dogs were gone and we didn't know each other anymore. I asked him where he lived and yes, I too lived on the Westside. Then I didn't want to talk anymore. I didn't have any conversation for him, there were no new dogs. He had started talking to me, how nasty, he had dragged me into talking to him.
It was a fluorescent white day when I spotted him in the aisles of the Wilson Farms around the corner. Away I turned, but had he already seen me? He had looked lost.
"Hi," I offered. He tried to decipher my face and would have walked past me without my intervention. But now he invited me home.
Werner — we still hadn't introduced ourselves, and I saw no need for it, since I had given him a name — lived a few hundred yards to the left and then again left. The apartment was on the third floor in what looked like a tower.
Friends have white walls, good friends have white walls with posters from "Gone with the Wind," "Blues Brothers," or "Wolfen," and they hang pictures even in the corridor. Werner had put wallpaper on only two sides of his living room; a huge white mirror hung in the unpainted corridor. The whole apartment looked like a man in the streets wearing only his underwear.
"What did you do today?" I asked.
"I had work at Chef's. On Seneca."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm not sure I'll have work tomorrow. I am a host. I am very polite."
He put two bags with groceries on the chair in front of a coffee table, and asked me to sit on the sofa. Then he took the bags off the chair and sat down.
Two rows of wallpaper stuck to the wall behind me, and one more was visible next to a shelf. Four books and a little brass vase, a brush, and a half-dozen small, plastic horses filled one row. The others were empty.
Werner asked me what I was doing and I said I was going to Buff State, but working in a cable factory now. I would become an actor soon, here in Buffalo, on stage, and then I would go to New York or Los Angeles and act in movies, because in the movies you have close-ups. Now I was simply building contacts to get the right connections.
"Don't you want to play something for me?"
"You can prepare in the corridor; I have a few things you could use as props. I have a suit you could wear."
"It doesn't work that way."
"Does it have to be darker?"
"I can't just like that, like a trained monkey."
"I don't like the dark. Stars are falling down that haven't been fixed properly to the sky. I'm afraid of them. Do you want to play some music? I've got a flute."
"I can't play."
"Neither can I. I found it the other day; it's working. I bought it at the Salvation Army. It is beautiful. Here, look."
The flute was brown, very dark, as if from long years of use.
"Do you want to say a poem?" he asked.
"You want me to show you something? I'll tie a tie for you."
"It is a good thing. It is a beautiful performance. It is good to tie the knot."
He walked up to the mirror, and put a tie around his neck. He looked at himself with great satisfaction. Then he turned around to where I sat — weight on my feet in case I had to run for the door. Werner's eyes rested on me; his fingers tenderly held the blue sliver of cloth. It was adorned by white and gray horses, some standing, others galloping.
He walked a little sideways until he blocked the door. He stood against the darker corridor, his legs slightly apart. Then he started his act.
He wound the tie around his neck, put one end over the other, tied them, and, before tightening the knot, made sure both ends had the correct length. All the while, Werner kept his head bowed so I could follow every step.
"Did you like that?" he asked when done.
"Yes," I said, suppressing the urge to stand up.
He undid the knot and showed his act a second time, ending with a smile and straightening out the horses over his chest.
"It is a good thing to be able to knot a tie. It gives me pleasure. I am very satisfied. The knot is very beautiful, don't you think? Would you like to say a poem now?"
"No. I must go." You are always allowed to "have to," seldom to "wish."
"Would you like to eat a Mars bar?"
"No, but thank you."
"A Turkish sultan unfairly punished his guard once, by having them all killed. I think such a man deserves to be hanged, but in a way that he would not have to die immediately but to kick his legs for a while." He paused. "Maybe you want half of it?"
He gave me the whole candy bar, saying "I like eating them."
"Thank you, Werner." I squeezed by him and hurried to the door.
"Name's Kaspar," I heard him saying in my back. "Name's Kaspar." And while I rushed down the stairs, his raised voiced continued. "When you've become an actor, you must play during the day for me. Otherwise I won't see you. I don't like the dark. I want to become a stableman or a professor."
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson