When he was done reading to them Görbe would grumble and rub his eyes like someone forced out of bed too early, which was funny because he was never available before one o'clock, and I always guessed (wrongly as it turned out) that mornings were when he did his writing and drawing. Then he'd bite his cigar and look at me and ask if I was up for a "girlie drink," which was the term he used for the awful cocktails he ordered. I think he discovered most of them in antique bartending manualslike many children's authors he was drawn to things discarded or forgottenconcoctions such as Sherry Cobbler, Pisco Punch, New Orleans Zazerac. The bartenders looked at him as if he was totally insane.
Once we were in the barany bar, though mostly we hung out at a tiny place in the East Village called Lotusanything could happen. Görbe's mouth was too big. He purposefully said things to outrage people, and most of the customers in the bars knew him on sight. He was a good fighter with fists as well as wordsthere was a lot of weight behind each punch, he was slow on his feet but able to withstand punishment, and only needed to connect once to knock you down. "You're right," he said to me once. "New York is a deserted city." He looked at the bartender. "You're a writer so you've probably seen it in the Timesthat trembling subtext where the critics complain that writers have failed to properly commemorate the tragic"he winked at me"event of six years ago." He called to the bartender for another Philadelphia Fish-House Punch, then continued: "What they're really bothered by is that it didn't have the effect they wanted it to have. Except for a few months of public tears and outrage and the constant refrain by writers trying to prove 9/11 was of enormous significance, the only difference I see is that people around here go shopping even more than they did before." He raised his voice and looked around the room. "It was significant to the friends and relatives of the deceased, of course, and to everyone else for a little whilea shock to the privileged and entitled who thought such a thing could never happen to them." He looked back at me. "But go out on the street now," he said. "Do you see any effect, really, out there? It passed right through them as if they were intangible." He sipped his drink. "Once in a while someone tries to write something profound about it, and they always fail, and the critics are always angry that they didn't do it justice. And all I can think is: Oh, New York, get over yourself!" He adopted a stage whisper: "What they can't face, none of them, is its insignificance. People died in an act of war. Wow! How unusual!" He said the last three words so loud I jumped off my seat. "It's terrible" he pretended to wipe away tears "now, can you please give me directions to the Louis Vuitton store?" Görbe snorted, staring back at the bartender. "It passed through them like they were ghosts," he said. "As it should have." He nodded. "As it should have."
Görbe grunted and shifted on his stool and for a second I thought I saw something there, a break in the front he was putting on. "Listen, I lived through events a million times worse in Hungarythe war, the siegelike a lot of people. It wasn't one day, it was six years, and, believe me, it didn't lead to any great spiritual awakening!" He waved his hands in the air. "It happened. It was bad. And afterwards? Well, it will happen again. And in between you forget. You go back to your entertainments and schemes and obsessions and carry on. And that," he said, "is all there is to say about it."
Görbe rose drunkenly from his stool and bowed this way and that to the regulars, who didn't know whether to applaud or tear him apart.
Excerpted from Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy. Copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dobozy. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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