I hitched a ride in Jack’s pink Mercedes. I’d stood in one place, putting out my four fingers rather than a thumb since both had been amputated. Maybe that’s why Jack pulled up. He hoped to write another novel based on a man without thumbs. He gave me an exquisite squint. He had used a telescope to make sure I had four fingers on both hands before giving me a ride.
“Rides are scarce these days,” he said. “Drivers hate thumbless hitchhikers. You’re not giving me the finger, are you?”
“I lost my thumbs,” I said. “Smoking marijuana will do it to you every time.”
“I lost both thumbs but champagne grew them back,” he said.
“Thought you drank Tokay.”
“That, too. Ah elixirs. And that coward, New York City’s Mayor LaGuardia, wanted to bite my thumbs off.”
“You knew him?”
“Sure as hell I did. A damn nice fellow. We had an argument over a swell gal. We lived in his swank office. Politicians excite me. After I got Fiorello pregnant and paid for the abortion, he chawed off my thumbs. He wanted a child so badly the irrational took over.”
“I heard he’s holed up in the jazz club, Village Vanguard,” I said.
He tweaked the cap with his thumb and sallied forth. “It made me lose my pencil after that.”
“The trauma from losing a child.”
“You know what they say — Tokay puts lead in your pencil.”
“I hate sex talk,” I said.
“Here,” he said, pulling out a number nine pencil. I saw how he gnawed on it.
“You love graphite?” I asked.
“Chewing it keeps me up for days,” he said. “I’m in love with anything with no thumbs. When I flapped the eight fingers, I flew a bit but always plummeted onto meteorite surfaces.”
“I stood on one for three days, waiting for a ride.”
Jack vomited into his cap, placed it back on his head, all the while driving without killing us.
“I see you’ve got thumbs now,” I said.
“They grew back after I bought this car from Elvis Presley. I dig him.”
“How hard do you dig him?”
“Harder than diamonds,” Jack said.
“Don’t hand jive me,” I asked.
“Than dang blasted meteorite highways.” For a moment I wanted to kiss him. He looked adorable when angry.
He ate celery as he drove, popping sunflower seeds into his mouth, fingers nicking off the shells.
“The last major league baseball game I saw, Fiorello and I sat in box seats. He wouldn’t let me get off his lap, my 200 pounds seated on his gimpy knees.”
“You sure can spin yarns,” I said.
“That’s it,” he said, “No more. I’m not going to hang from my knees so blood flows into my head to stop writer’s block.”
This Jack looked different from his photos, though the bare-breasted Barbra Streisand tattoo on his shaved chest put me at ease and let me know this was the authentic JK.
“Once I escaped from a mental hospital,” he said, and fingered the cap’s brim, eyeing the doorman’s badge on my Peter Pan collar. “Bellevue’s a nice place. Fiorello was bonkers when I met him there. What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the badge.
“Haven’t you heard? People work.”
He blushed, startled at my comeback.
“I ran over a flamingo. ‘Use my name,’ the chatty flamingo said before it croaked. It faked death,” Jack said.
“How do you know?”
“That’s the second one I ran over.” He paused, screwed his cap on straight, then said:
“Back in Winnemucca, one told me, no matter where, I’d always drive the Mercedes perpetually through a massive McDonald’s. It covers me like a moveable dome.”
“Have you gone Pleistocene on me?” I trilled, recalling I sang with JK in a Southern Baptist choir. I tried singing in the Mercedes, but he told me to shut up.
Silence for miles. If it wasn’t for that cap, I’d bitch-slap him. Four-fingers, if you cocked them right, could lay a man out as if he inhaled too much nitrous oxide.
Finally, my destination: my mother’s house.
“Hey, pal, that’s not your mom, she’s all mine,” he said, taking the cap and battering my head with it. Ever get cut by a cap and bleed?
“I’ll prove it to you,” I said. I raised my skirt, worn for hard traveling, and showed him how my mom’s uterus circled my groin.
“Hell’s bells,” he said. That cap smelled ultra-bad as sex-sweat and blood tossed together in a meat stew turned pink, vile, and sluttish.
He let me off and I saw him stop for Hannah Arendt. Guess she was more appealing to him. “We’re headed for Winnemucca. Please don’t bother me again.”
“No chance of that,” I said. “Watch out for prostitutes. It’s legal there.”
“You calling Hannah a whore? Better not. She’s a swell dame.”
“Do I hear wedding bells?” He smirked and said:
“I’ve got thousands of baseball cards in the trunk. Hanna and I will get rich.”
His cap flew off his head as he slammed away. I picked it up. I was wise enough to sweep the exhaust and fumes into the cap. Now it had provenance, a collector’s item.
But I changed my mind and gave it to Mayor LaGuardia. He wept.