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Part 5 Chapter 1

It is my last dinner at the dramatist's home. They have just rented a new piano, a concert grand. I meet Sylvester coming out of the florist's with a rubber plant in his arms. He asks me if I would carry it for him while he goes for the cigars. One by one I've fucked myself out of all these free meals which I had planned so carefully. One by one the husbands turn against me, or the wives. As I walk along with the rubber plant in my arms I think of that night a few months back when the idea first occurred to me.

I was sitting on a bench near the Coupole, fingering the wedding ring which I had tried to pawn off on a gar?on at the D?me. He had offered me six francs for it and I was in a rage about it. But the belly was getting the upper hand. Ever since I left Mona I had worn the ring on my pinkie. It was so much a part of me that it had never occurred to me to sell it. It was one of those orange-blossom affairs in white gold. Worth a dollar and a half once, maybe more. For three years we went along without a wedding ring and then one day when I was going to the pier to meet Mona I happened to pass a jewelry window on Maiden Lane and the whole window was stuffed with wedding rings. When I got to the pier Mona was not to be seen. I waited for the last passenger to descend the gangplank, but no Mona. Finally I asked to be shown the passenger list. Her name was not on it. I slipped the wedding ring on my pinkie and there it stayed. Once I left it in a public bath, but then I got it back again. One of the orange blossoms had fallen off. Anyway, I was sitting there on the bench with my head down, twiddling the ring, when suddenly someone clapped me on the back. To make it brief, I got a meal and a few francs besides. And then it occurred to me, like a flash, that no one would refuse a man a meal if only he had the courage to demand it. I went immediately to a café and wrote a dozen letters. "Would you let me have dinner with you once a week? Tell me what day is most convenient for you."

It worked like a charm. I was not only fed … I was feasted. Every night I went home drunk. They couldn't do enough for me, these generous once-a-week souls. What happened to me between times was none of their affair. Now and then the thoughtful ones presented me with cigarettes, or a little pin money. They were all obviously relieved when they realized that they would see me only once a week. And they were still more relieved when I said – "it won't be necessary any more." They never asked why. They congratulated me, and that was all. Often the reason was I had found a better host; I could afford to scratch off the ones who were a pain in the ass. But that thought never occurred to them. Finally I had a steady, solid program – a fixed schedule. On Tuesdays I knew it would be this kind of a meal and on Fridays that kind. Cronstadt, I knew, would have champagne for me and homemade apple pie. And Carl would invite me out, take me to a different restaurant each time, order rare wines, invite me to the theater afterward or take me to the Cirque Médrano. They were curious about one another, my hosts. Would ask me which place I liked best, who was the best cook, etc. I think I liked Cronstadt's joint best of all, perhaps because he chalked the meal up on the wall each time. Not that it eased my conscience to see what I owed him, because I had no intention of paying him back nor had he any illusions about being requited. No, it was the odd numbers which intrigued me. He used to figure it out to the last centime. If I was to pay in full I would have had to break a sou. His wife was a marvelous cook and she didn't give a fuck about those centimes Cronstadt added up. She took it out of me in carbon copies. A fact! If I hadn't any fresh carbons for her when I showed up, she was crestfallen. And for that I would have to take the little girl to the Luxembourg next day, play ............

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