Previous chapter: Strad moseys into Gabel’s Table, a funky health food café; he meets Gabel, its gregarious proprietor, and has an unearthly vision that no one else seems to see. Gabel invites Strad to join him on a journey and Strad, spooked, heads for the door.
“‘Like bird in noodle cage, spacey date flies the coop…’ Hey Nina, I think I got your fortune cookie by mistake,” Paul folded the tiny paper rectangle in half, flicked it into the air, belched and passed out, his head hitting the table in perfect synch with the paper fortune’s three-point landing into the dregs of the punchbowl.
Nina looked around. The place was packed with students who had no night and no day, but her crowd—save the self-employed Paul—had to be up early for work. Once they’d figured Strad wasn’t going to show, they begged off, one after the other, until only she and Paul were left.
Nina sighed. She had to be up before dawn to catch the sunrise flight to the coast. She’d had such high hopes for this evening, and now she wasn’t even going to see Strad before she left. Not that she wanted to, after this most recent affront. Then again, despite her mathematical mind, when it came to Strad, ‘logic’ never managed to enter the equation.
She pushed back on her chair to get up and pay the bill, but it wouldn’t move. She swung around.
“Happy birthday to me?”
“Wrong table, Mister.” She turned her back on him, her shoulder-length sheet of black-coffee hair swinging like a curtain closed.
“Nina, I’m sorry. I don’t know how it got so late.” Strad glanced over at the passed-out Paul. “Hey, looks like I missed a good party, at least.”
She ignored him.
He held out a white paper bag. “Look, I even brought us dessert—sorbet.”
Nina slowly turned to face him.
“I’m not in the mood for dessert, and I’ve got a crashing headache thanks to you.”
Strad spun a chair around and straddled it, facing her. “Listen Ninj, I know I’m late, but you’re not going to believe it when I tell you why!”
“Correct. So let’s skip it and go.”
Nina paid the bill and they walked silently out to her car, Strad dragging the semi-conscious Paul behind him. After dropping off their drunken friend into the arms of his doorman, Nina drove the two of them uptown to her place rather than asking Strad where he wanted to be dropped off.
Still barely speaking and wearing a look as sharp as the city lights flickering in through her big picture window, Nina kicked off her heels and padded around the ivory rug of her living room, gathering some last minute items to add to the suitcase still open on her bed. Strad puttered about in her tiny, gleaming kitchen. After a couple of minutes, he showed up next to her, bearing two steaming teacups.
“Tea? At this hour?” Nina said.
“No caffeine. Just herbs from the spice rack. Lemon grass, clove, and,” he winked, “a few grains of cayenne to keep it interesting.”
Despite herself, Nina found this latest of his endless stream of earnest, pointless, creative endeavors endearing. He’d given her the gourmet spice rack as a gift. When she cooked, which was almost never, salt and perhaps a little perfunctory pepper were more than enough spice for her taste. It was always Strad dipping into the small glass bottles like gems.
Strad placed the cups carefully onto her coffee table—even remembering her ‘coasters only’ rule—and plopped down on the couch. Nina stopped her folding and sat down across from him.
“So like I said, you really won’t believe this place I discovered tonight!”
“And like I said, Blue eyes, I really don’t feel like talking about it anymore tonight.”
Strad went on. “I was just a couple of blocks away from you guys, when I saw this very interesting sign…”
Nina stood up, keeping her back to him, and walked over to the dresser. She knew this lilting tone of voice he’d slipped into and—especially lately—she rarely liked what it had to say. She drank deeply of the tea, cupping the mug between her pale, semi-translucent hands as if its warmth might give her the strength to deal with him. Strad followed her, still talking, gesticulating.
“…he brought me up into this amazing space…”
“…it was like an electric blue halo…”
“…some sort of ancient wizard or something…”
She set down her cup, opened the top dresser drawer, and took out her Lycra designer pool ensemble, a matching terry cloth bathrobe and sunglasses, all lime green. As she absorbed his words through her veil of disinterest, it hit her how far apart they really were, how hopelessly irresponsible, self-absorbed and out of touch Strad had become. Of course, she pitied him when his mother had died, and she tried to be patient, giving him plenty of time to rally and get back on the horse. But as the months passed, it became painfully clear that the ‘horse’ had kicked down the barn door, jumped the fence and galloped far, far away.
“…then the old man looked at me—almost like you do when…”
It would be one thing if he was making up the crazy story to amuse her and get himself off the hook for not showing up. That would show he cared. But this clearly wasn’t that. Despite the whole ‘retro-’60s hippie thing’ he’d been obsessed with; she doubted he’d taken anything—he never hid that from her. The only option left was that he actually expected her to believe what he was saying, or…that he believed it himself.
“…just de-materialized or something. Amazing, no?” Angry, frustrated, and feeling a million miles away from wherever he was, Nina whirled to face him.
“Yes, amazing is the word. Amazing that a twenty-five year old man…”
“Twenty-six, today’s my birthday, remember?”
Nina rolled her eyes and continued. “Amazing, that a twenty-six year old man, despite knowing there were five busy people waiting for him to show up, decides to blow them off, stop at a bar, get drunk with a waiter in a parking lot…”
“Hey, wait a minute…”
“…hallucinate, pass out and then amazingly expect me to be thrilled about it all…”
“Yes, truly amazing that someone so self-obsessed exists in this world!”
“You don’t understand…”
“No, little playmate, you don’t understand…” She knew she was going too far, but was too tired and outraged to care.
“I’ve had it. I’ve had it with your copouts, I’ve had it with your stupid excuses, I’ve had it with your ridiculous fantasies, and I’ve had it with you!” She picked up a pillow, annoyed at its childish design. She’d been charmed when Strad first gave it to her but now it was just another example of his juvenile irresponsibility, and its presence mocked her for expecting him to ever grow up. She flung it at him, hard.
“It’s over. We’re finished. Go sleep on the living room couch, or go home, or anywhere else you’d like. I really don’t care. I have to wake up in a couple of hours to catch a plane. I’ll be out on assignment until the beginning of next week and when I get back, I don’t want to even talk to you again until you get real, get a job, and grow up!”
“Nina, you’re tired. I said I’m sorry. C’mon, just forgive make up with me, okay…” He turned to face her but she quickly backpedaled, stomped into her bedroom, and loudly locked the door behind her.
 Nina, unlike Strad, feels comfortable and competent in the material/societal world. Sees others (i.e. Strad) who don’t, as deluded and weak. Yet Strad is also her link to the deeper, spiritual reality that goes beyond everyday concerns, and as such, he awakens a part of her that ‘doesn’t add up’ according to her strictly logical ‘worldly’ calculations. This unnerves her and attracts her at the same time. In a larger sense, this essentially the dynamic between the Jewish People and the non-Jewish world.
Scene formulated, large window, etc., as to avoid yichud issues.