I peg Mario as a short-timer at the artist studios when he moves in during January. He tells a charming story about his father’s funeral three days before and how he danced with his mom and grandma. It’s shocking, like breathing in toxic fumes, his honesty with strangers.
Mario’s a musician, mostly guitar and piano, and practices a fusion sound with Mariachi influences. In the cold months he comes to dinner and provides a DVD of performers he admires. Old stuff, sorta Latin jazz. What great fun. Paul’s artist discipline was as a concert pianist trained by private tutors. He and Mario talk shop about finger spread and technical terms and styles of expression.
I say, “We’ll make you an honorary senior citizen and you can eat here with Paul and Roger and me.” Roger stares. “What?” I ask. This was before the weight of Roger’s lies reached motherlode.
Mario takes the apartment below me where a former tenant left an upright piano. Paul practiced there some days, classical pieces played with style and intellect, start to finish without pause. Mario plays staccato ditties with repeating refrains and some piano-lessons stuff. In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion– Then I learn he’s freshly divorced with two kids, a well-mannered girl of six and her spoiled younger brother. The daughter was practicing earlier. In the jungle– Wow, Mario’s twenty-four and divorced.
Mario knocks on my door one day dressed in chinos and a dago-T. He’s bony with black chest hair and arm hair against white skin. It looks wrong. He curls up on my recliner proud of his Latin prowess. “I was with Candish and we made love and I pleased her, I think. But now I’ve met someone I want to date and what do I say to Candish?” I assure him that he’s asking the wrong person.
On another day he drops by to borrow eggs because his kids are visiting and expect breakfast like they get at home. “I don’t keep dairy,” I say. He asks if eggs aren’t counted as poultry here in America. “Eggs are offered for sale in the dairy aisle,” I explain. He just stares. What is it about young people; I don’t seem to connect?
Mario launches into a story about performing and all the applause and getting lost after the event but he was rescued by a fan who took him home for the night except her mother asked in the morning who is this and he won her over and they had a nice meal together. Meanwhile, I wonder what the kids are eating downstairs.
In May the rebound girlfriend moves in. I can tell from a mile away that Ann is a user. She gravitates toward Roger and his flimflam hustle. They spend time on the deck while Roger advises her about life and relationships and outcomes, the blind leading the blind.
Paul gets on his high horse with how Mario has no heart and it shows in his soulless music that’s just notes, and how Paul would have to lead any performing group they develop together. He would insist on correct phraseology and hours of practice each day. He’ll clean his studio and get a grand piano and give lessons and shape students and that’ll show Mario. I just sigh. Paul is a decade past his discipline with music. Castles in the sky, that’s what it is; just castles in the sky.
And then it’s summer and Dan and I are fagged out in front of the blower with Final Fantasy on his Play Station. Paul visits and starts in right away about how Mario and Ann had a screaming fight on the sidewalk that Paul heard and inserted himself into with condescending remarks which he repeats several times.
“’Why don’t you rent a hall and sell tickets?’ I asked. That stopped them dead in their tracks.” Paul insists that Mario hates women but pretends to love women so he can control women. Mario just needs to have someone there and it doesn’t matter who and that’s why they fight and Ann’s moving out but she’s made other friends here so…
Dan and I shrug and go back to playing video games. What do we care about Mario’s sex life?
But then it blows up in Mario’s face. I hear the story secondhand, more than once. It seems Paul and Roger and Marty were sitting on the deck late one night discussing politics. They sit outside a lot like three derelicts because their studios are filthy. I’ve been in their places several times and know what-of I speak. Mario’s rebound girlfriend Ann moved out already but drops-by to visit friends and she has joins the discussion group. Roger tells some embellished story about how he saved the day and everybody laughs. “We work hard so you don’t have to,” he claims over the goodwill. Mario passes the deck on his way to throw out some trash and sees them and goes ballistic.
I hear this story with all the imagined motivations, again, when Paul and I visit Rhonda’s new place after Sunday brunch. Rhonda and I enjoy Paul’s rendition more than the story itself. Paul talks about how Mario catches the derelicts talking with Ann and reacts with theatrical surprise throwing his hands back while framed by the lighted doorway. Paul goes to Rhonda’s doorway and pantomimes Mario’s gestures, claiming Mario knew they were sitting on the deck together and took out the trash as an excuse to stage his performance.
Mario had a screaming fit about how dare they talk to Ann because can’t they see she broke his heart and she should be barred from visiting the building. This from the guy who slept with his neighbor Candish, then casually asked other neighbors how to dump her. Paul finishes with, “So I said, why don’t you run it up a flag pole and see if anyone salutes?”
So, anyhow… Now it’s September and Mario’s back from Columbia, South America, and his family’s fine and he wants to buy a place because hacienda living is the good life. Mario and Paul discuss real estate values in Chicago and the suburbs and what to avoid. They can talk cordially on this topic because neither of them has any money.