Coat Check

Sam Fishman

Headshot Sally with the ponytail opens up our door and says lot of characters tonight. Then she opens her mouth again, to tell me some revealing visual detail that will make me picture someone very clearly, but I stop her. I tell her I don’t want to imagine the life anyone is living.

She climbs in and takes off her t-shirt and puts on her blacks with her back to me. We call her Headshot Sally because she’s an actor with Hollywood aspirations — the ponytail part is my invention, it’s because she has one.

We kill time looking at the patrons we’re about to serve. Like the kid who leaves his mom to accost a rich guy inhaling Peanut M&Ms. He points at his mom and says she doesn’t have any money because taxes.

Headshot Sally with the ponytail snorts when she laughs — she does that now.

I think it would be beautiful to quit right now. I could ask Sally to take five and then pull all my candy and close up shop, even with the big line of people. I could just close the hatch.

I could take off all my clothes and just stand in here naked and stare at my wall. I could get as close as possible to joining the club of objects in this little room.

Sally organizes the number tags to make sure we have two of each — one to hand to the patron, one to keep with their coat. While she is tidying, she asks me about my day.

I tell her that before I entered the theater today I looked up at the sky, and as a joke, I held my arms up and spun around gleefully, like I was in the Times Square that exists the first minute you arrive and then dies forever.

Even though it was a joke, I tell her, looking up was such a brutal reminder that I wish I hadn’t. Everything is either a damaged bird or a helicopter. There is literally no sky left for anybody, let alone me. It’s so full there’s nowhere left for me to even write my damn name.

She organizes the coat tags and says I sound like I’m about to put a gun in my mouth. But after that she touches my sleeve, which she didn’t have to do. It feels like one step towards the trajectory I’ve always hoped my life would take.

Sally hands a patron a Twix and a hearing aid and I take his money. I put the new ten-dollar bill with the old ten-dollar bills and it’s gone forever.

I want to become a beautiful person so badly that I can’t bear the idea of failing. Maybe one day I’ll go drunk driving and hurt enough people to get put away for so long that I won’t have the chance to.

The image that Sally might stand on my grave in her blacks and say, he was going to be mine is so sweet to me. This image is my paradise.

I roll a lint roller up and down my sleeve long after there is any lint left. I ask Sally to tell me, again, how her and her boyfriend broke up. She smiles and says I had strong opinions about his shitty stuff. She’s smiling because this is one of our greatest hits.

Headshot Sally with the ponytail re-folds the dollar bill we put in our tip jar so that it becomes even more voluminous. She calls it bait.

I want to mail her headshots to all of the big studios so that she can get a part in the remake of the movie she always wanted to be in, the one she was watching from her mom’s lap, where she was getting the first ponytail her mom had ever given her.

I have a few secrets but this isn’t one of them: I want to kiss Sally. I feel like when I’m in a really good mood I can easily see how some big victory like that might come my way.

Other times, I think I better get a head-start on feeling okay with a life where I don’t ever get to kiss Sally, where nothing Sally-level-good of any kind happens to me, so that it hurts less when it doesn’t.

Sometimes I don’t even care if I get a Sally-level-good life or not, I just want to know if I’m insane for wanting it. I don’t want to look stupid because of how obvious it is that I only want things I’ll never have. I really don’t want to seem like a fool.

An electronic bell circulates from the loudspeakers of our Broadway Theater. It means the show is going to start momentarily. But for us, it means go-time.

You can imagine our arms as being blurry, that’s how fast we go between the patrons and their desires. Sally whispers make that money in a heavy Brooklyn-Italian accent and a little smile takes shape on my face — eventually I start laughing so truly that my patrons notice my affection. I’m telling you, they believe it was created just for them.