Hundreds of Tiny People by Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons
You once spent the night in David Hasselhoff’s apartment. This is not an achievement, not something to put on your résumé or even as a fun fact in your online dating profile. Not an ice breaker type of story, it’s the tale you keep in your back pocket saving it for party lulls or for when you are feeling insecure about your lack of tangible assets. The story, like the girl you were then, is full of promise and from a far more precious time. Set in New York City, the last holiday season before September 11th, the story has all the mystique of a “Knight Rider” Hasselhoff minus the harsh reality of the Hoff’sdrunken YouTube videos, or getting replaced on “America’s Got Talent.”
The story starts as many of your stories surprisingly do, with your period. Curled up in the fetal position on the floor of the one-bedroom Queens apartment you share with your best friend, Kristen, you moan to her, “Do you think it’s possible to call-in ugly?” Working as a hostess at a restaurant that recently opened in midtown, business is terrible, so your primary responsibility is to stand up front and look pretty while staring out the large front windows at the holiday tourists streaming down Eighth Avenue towards Times Square. Today, you do not look pretty. More than that, if you were able to do so without dying, you would pull out your own ovaries and fling them at strangers.
This not actually being an option, you force yourself to go in. Self-medicating by throwing back countless cups of coffee, until you are so wired you keep slapping the reservation desk and shouting, “We are going to have a great night!” Your work best friend, nicknamed Other Kristen to clarify her from your home best friend, is waitressing. Along with Mike-the-waiter, a short dark-haired guy from Jersey with an accent reminiscent of the street-smart Italian mouse from “American Tail.” You call him Mike-the-waiter for two reasons. The first is to clarify him from the many other Mikes you know. Second is because, unlike the rest of the aspiring actors, up-and-coming musicians, and students staffing this gastronomical purgatory, Mike is the only career waiter. This is his sole aspiration in life and he’s perfectly content.
Living hand to mouth in the actor category, you envy his contentment. You’ve recently returned from the first and only paying acting gig you’ve landed since moving to New York City, touring Texas in a two-person children’s act. Cast as a lightning bug in a safety show for elementary school kids, your character’s arc and very essence boiled down to, “Don’t electrocute yourself, kids!” You spent the fall driving around to dinky little towns all over southern Texas with your tour partner, a short round African American gay man who you probably would have killed if he wasn’t such a good dancer. For three months you set up, phoned in, and broke down the same forty-five minute show five days a week. Sharing an endless string of shabby motel rooms, you took up masturbating in the bathtub as a means of escape. One night in Laredo, Texas, after attending the rodeo, you were responsible for your first earth-shattering orgasm. Lying there, post-quake in the draining bathtub, you stared up at a large water mark on the bathroom ceiling and joked to yourself, “Not my first rodeo.” It’s funny if you don’t think about it too hard.
Back in the city, now you spend your days marking time in this fine dining establishment with its linen covered tables, cozy lighting, majestic oak booths, and severe lack of patrons. You people watch and wait, already wondering what it is exactly you’re waiting for. Some nights, you and Other Kristen go for rides in Mike-the-waiter’s car. He likes to cruise around town, or out to the airports, and convince people hailing cabs to accept a ride from him instead. Sometimes he charges, sometimes he doesn’t. Either way, he finds people are more likely to get in the car if he has cute girls with him. Who wouldn’t? You go along with this because this is what you do when you are young and broke in NYC.
Tonight, still all hopped-up on coffee and Midol, you wholeheartedly support Mike-the-waiter’s plan to rally people out for drinks after you close. Other Kristen suggests you hit up an Irish pub nearby that stays open until 4 a.m. and is popular with the after-hours restaurant crowd. The drinking starts. After midnight Other Kristen’s brother, Russell, and his friend join the party. The boys had been working on the Broadway show, “Jekyll & Hyde,” staring Mr. David Hasselhoff. This is the last night of Hasselhoff’s run with the show and Russell’s last night as Hasselhoff’s personal assistant. You weren’t the one who first called him Russellhoff but once the nickname presents itself – there can be only one.
As rounds of drinks gateway into doing shots, you find yourself sitting on a very lumpy and questionably smelling couch in a hazy corner of the bar. You are not alone. When Russellhoff leans in you notice how strikingly similar his blue eyes are to Other Kristen’s. Pushing this unwanted thought from your mind, you close your eyes to savor the unfamiliarity of his kiss. The slightly salty taste of his tongue. You make that smallooohh sound in the back of your throat, the one which has been proven to excite men further, as you give yourself over. When Russellhoff breaks away, he looks at you with his bright Other Kristen-eyes and executes the single best pick-up line you are ever going to hear.
“I want to show you something.”
“David Hasselhoff’s apartment.”
The Hasselhoffs moved out earlier that evening, leaving it Russellhoff’s final responsibility to clean and finish packing up the place. On the way out of the bar, you snag Other Kristen and eloquently inquire, “Hey, your brother’s not going to chop me up and leave me dead in a dumpster, is he?” She laughs and gives her blessing, “No. He’s a good guy. Go. Have fun.”
Standing at the base of the high-rise building a few blocks up from Lincoln Center you tilt your head back as far as it will go. It’s snowing and white flakes litter your face as you stare up, up but still you can’t see the top. The journey here a blur, your own drunkenness is fascinating. Testing it, the way you poke at a sore tooth with your tongue to confirm it still hurts, you quickly whip your head around to the right. It takes the world a few extra seconds to slide back into focus. Yes. Definitely drunk.
Focused on his endgame, Russellhoff takes you by the hand and leads you inside. Intimidated by the bright expanse of the lobby, with its cold marble and black guardian planters holding flowers too beautiful to be real, or fake, you cover your mouth with your hand fearing how purple your tongue and teeth must be from all the wine. Russellhoff nods to the sleepy-eyed doorman and strides confidently towards familiar territory but this is your first trip into this above city. A city hidden from your view as you ride street level in Mike-the-waiter’s car.
In the elevator, Russellhoff kisses you up against the wall running his hand down your leg and back up your inner thigh. Your orgasm shoots off a desperate flare, signaling its desire for rescue from your cramp-wracked body. However, the flare’s heat is quickly extinguished by the dull throbbing of medicated pain and you curse the Gods for their ridiculous timing.
The dimly-lit apartment is disappointingly bland in its perfection. Leather couch, glass coffee table with matching end tables, and huge entertainment unit all rest on wall-to-wall beige carpeting. The catalogue scene is marred only by the sight of scattered moving boxes and drawstring trash bags stuffed with old papers, magazines, and empty dog food sacks. Peeking out of the couch cushions is an abandoned pair of pink zebra-print sunglasses, left behind by one of his daughters? You check around for any other signs of you know who and on one of the end tables, mixed in a scattered pile of white rectangle deli-napkins and take-out menus, you spot a few “Jekyll & Hyde” promotional postcards. The glossy photo on the card features a profile shot of an angelic Hasselhoff looking down demurely as Dr. Jekyll. Alongside this image is another Hasselhoff, a full-on sweaty-faced, wild-eyed Hoff staring up crazily from beneath a black top hat as Mr. Hyde. This is the only real evidence you can find of where you are, and it’s not as if you expected to pull open a closet door and suddenly come face-to-face with KITT’s red scanner light whoom-whoomping at you. Not exactly. But you did want something, something more.
The perfectly square bed, no headboard and stripped down to a stark white tangle of sheets, dominates the abandoned master bedroom. As you make out with Russellhoff, your bodies rolling around in the Hasselhoff’s bed, you giggle to yourself, “Who was sleeping here last night? The Hasselhoffs! And, tonight? ME!” Due to your extenuating circumstances, the fooling around is very PG, PG-13 at best, but in the heat of it all Russellhoff suddenly sniffs your armpit and in an oddly luxurious tone pronounces, “Mmmmmm, spicy.” Boys can be so weird.
The morning sun is inexplicably bright as it slaps you awake. There is a quality to the light that is unfamiliar and impossible to ignore. Drawn by it, you carefully extract yourself from Russellhoff and pad silently into the living room. All the windows in the penthouse apartment have been stripped bare, a fact you didn’t notice last night. But now, oh wow, now you can’t look away from the completely unobstructed panoramic view of a snow-covered Central Park spreading out before you in every direction. You’ve never seen the park from this high up and the snow-blind beauty of the sight sucks away your breath, “O wonderful, wonderful, most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping!” Your mind shouts as you stand in silence smack in the middle of a settled snow globe. You look and look, drinking in all the contentment you can before life shakes the globe back up.
Two months ago, you were on tour and in Beeville, Texas. Staying in a motel that puts out generic frosted flakes and milk you have to pump out of a plastic container into your Styrofoam bowl as their continental breakfast. Finishing the show each day by 2 p.m., at the latest, you and your tour partner watched a lot of daytime television in the afternoons. His favorite program was Rosie O’Donnell. Your last day in Beeville, Rosie interviewed the famous actor David Hasselhoff. He casually chatted with Rosie about how he and his family had temporarily relocated to New York City for his Broadway run in “Jekyll & Hyde.”
Hasselhoff gushed to her about how they were living in a lovely apartment near Central Park, with an incredible view, and how they loved to walk their dog in the park. Sitting on a scratchy comforter, in a motel in Texas where the beds still have “magic fingers,” you watched Hasselhoff pompously giggle with Rosie and thought to yourself, “I’ll probably never even get to see the inside of an apartment like that.”
Russellhoff shuffles out of the bedroom and, standing behind you, also stares out at the incredible view. You engage in some awkward morning-after small talk. He proposes brunch. You accept his invitation. However, you both continue to linger for a moment. Just looking.
“A few days ago,” Russellhoff tells you, “I came in and David Hasselhoff and his wife were standing here like this, looking down at the park. They didn’t know I was there, and I didn’t want to disturb them. It was so amazing watching them in this private moment. Looking down, she kind of whispered to him in this loving voice – look at all those people down there. Hundreds of tiny people. And they all know who you are.”
He gazes out, moved by his memory. You sneak a side glance, but he is not laughing. So you don’t laugh. You look out at all of those people below, hundreds of tiny people. You are one of them, but not today. Today you are above and, two months from now, you could be anywhere.
© Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons, 2012
Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons is a graduate student in Fairleigh Dickinson’s MFA in Creative Writing program and her essay “Eye Strengthening and Other Holy Topics” was recently published in the Serving House Journal. Her play, “All I Want Is One More Meanwhile...” was part of The Brick’s Comic Book Theater Festival and she worked as a screenwriter on the web series, Intersection (www.intersectionseries.com).
Hundreds of Tiny People was read by E.J. An on 11th July 2012