I reached into my pocket for the keys to our apartment door, but my small daughter stopped me. She asked to be lifted so she could open the door, so I brought her up to the level of my chest.
She had a set of plastic keys from her doll’s house. The toy house held antique furniture, candelabras, dishware—all visible in rooms with cutaway ceilings. She didn’t know that metal keys were needed for our door, and not just any metal keys, but ones that had been cut, serrated, and notched to fit.
I held her as she stretched out and tried to insert her keys into the locks. “They’re not going to work,” I said.
She understood what I was saying but didn’t believe me. She kept working her keys against the slots, first in the top lock and then in the lower lock.
“Just hold me,” she said.
I held her with my fingers laced beneath her legs. She tried for what seemed a long time, pressing the plastic keys—each a different color—at various angles against the metal plates. She seemed to think the problem was with her technique, but I knew the problem was with the hardware. The toy keys were made for toy locks. Our apartment door had real locks, installed to keep burglars out. “They come in through the front door,” the locksmith had said to me when we moved in.
We were not trying to break and enter. We just wanted to release the bolts that kept the door shut. We didn’t need picks or power tools, but we did need real keys.
When we finally got into our apartment—with my keys—we saw none of the Victorian decorations that were in the doll’s house. Our furnishings were not high priced, and few items matched in color or design. But our ceiling, at least, had not been cut away. It was intact.
Two men who didn’t know each other well were staying in a country house—the older one owned the house; the younger one was his guest. They’d met at a mutual friend’s dinner party in the city. Soon after they’d arrived, the homeowner noticed the water pressure was low, but when he tried to fix it, he cut off all the electricity. The lack of power didn’t matter, at least not during the day. Sunlight came through the branches of the pine trees that surrounded the house. However, water would only trickle from the faucets.
The homeowner set a pot under an open tap. After a few minutes, the pot had collected some water, so he next tried to light the gas stove. He turned a knob and held a match next to a burner, and the gas puffed into a blue flame. He boiled the water and made two cups of tea.
Both men sat a low table and sipped the tea. “Why don’t we leave?” the guest asked.
“We should stay, at least for a while.”
As they sat with their tea, the daylight slowly faded.
“I’m going to pack my things and call a car,” the guest said.
“You can’t call a car here,” the homeowner said. “Anyway, we already have a ticket back.”
“What will we do here?”
“Well, I can fix things. I can put on my tool belt and take out my wrench.”
“I’m not into cosplay.”
The guest zipped his luggage and started to get his coat.
“Let me try the circuit breakers,” the homeowner said.
He went down to the basement with a flashlight. In a closet, he found a metal plate on a wall, unsnapped it, and examined two rows of double-pole switches. He couldn’t tell which ones were on and which were off. So he started flipping them randomly. As he worked through the rows, lights started to come on. He called upstairs, “Is anything working?”
“Yes, the refrigerator is on, and a clock is lit.”
When he threw the last switch, the rest of the lights in the house came on. That was good news, but he still didn’t know what to do about the low water pressure.
“I’m going to do some reading now,” the guest said. He went into his room then and shut the door.
I was visiting a friend in Italy. My friend worked during the day, and when he came home in the evening, he brought out his hashish works. He had no pipe, so he used a pin stuck through a piece of cardboard. He placed a small chunk of hash on the point of the pin, set the cardboard on a table, and held a match to the pellet.
“What keeps the stuff together?” I asked.
“Camel dung,” my friend said.
We set a drinking glass upside down over the smoking dung and let the fumes collect in the glass. We sat on the floor, slid the glass to the table’s edge, put our lips to the space between the glass and the table, and sucked in the smoke. After I’d inhaled, I waited a minute before breathing out. Then I couldn’t get off the floor. I reached but couldn’t latch onto anything. I fell back, raised myself to a sitting position, fell back again.
“Are you buzzed?” my friend asked.
I rolled on the floor, laughing. “You know,” I said, “my father used to call me a giggle shit.”
“I think you’ve had enough,” my friend said. He took the blackened glass, along with the pin and cardboard, and “hid” the works on top of his refrigerator.
I chuckled to myself for a few minutes.
The next day, I was in the apartment alone when the housekeeper, named Picci, arrived. She spoke only Italian. I tried to avoid her, but she found me. She was carrying the hash glass. “Brutto,” she said.
She shoved the glass toward me. “Molto brutto,” she said.
I tried to ignore her, but in the evening I said to my friend, “Picci found our smoking glass and called it brutto. What does that mean?”
“It means ‘ugly,’ ” he said.
“She said it was molto brutto.”
“ ‘Very ugly.’ ”
Picci had disposed of our hash works, so we had to use a different glass. Fortunately, Picci hadn’t found the stash. There was a black chunk the size of a fist in a plastic bag in a drawer. The block was hard—the camel dung was like glue. We cut off small pieces for heating on the point of a new pin, under a clean glass. We got on the floor and sucked in the smoke.
I started to laugh silently, but I couldn’t keep the sound down. I put a hand on my stomach and hacked. Quickly, I sank to the floor lay there, fetus-like, laughing.
“You are a giggle shit,” my friend said.
The next morning, my friend talked to Picci before he left for work. During the day, I had nothing to do; I was on vacation. I planned to go out later to a cultural site, but before I left I saw Picci. I had thought she spoke no English, but when she caught my attention she said clearly, “Giggle shit.”
DEAR MR. CHALAMET,
I don’t know if I can call you Timothée, since we haven’t met, but Timothée seems easier, more comfortable, than Mr. Chalamet. After all, I’m much older than you. Still, I wouldn’t expect you to call me Mr. Rutkowski. Anyway, here, in this letter, I’ll most often call you “you” and myself “I.”
Although we haven’t met, I saw you once on the street. I didn’t notice you, because I didn’t know who you were. I wouldn’t have recognized you, even if you were standing next to me. But I was with my daughter, and we were walking up a street from a park. We’d been sitting on a bench, trying to have some time together but not saying much of anything. We were coming up the street, and we both saw a skinny young guy crossing in front of us. “That’s Timothée Chalamet,” my daughter said, but I didn’t know who she was talking about.
“We made eye contact,” she added.
By that point, you had crossed and were on the sidewalk heading west, and walking rather fast, at least compared to how I walk. I saw only the back of your head, but the hair was distinctive, as I later learned. My daughter followed you, and I followed her. She took a couple of photos of your back with her phone, presumably to post on social media. You didn’t turn around, and it was soon clear that we had no reason to keep following, so we stopped and went home. We lived only a couple of blocks away.
The idea here is our daughter and I had a shared purpose, even though it was short, less than a minute. While we had little to discuss when we were trying to talk in the park, now we had something. Almost instantly, I forgot your last name, but I remembered your first name, Timothée. That was enough to identify you. “We saw an actor on the street,” I said to my wife. “His name was Timothée something.”
“Oh,” she said, “you mean Timothée Chalamet?”
“Yes,” I said, and I started learning about you. You aren’t much older than our daughter. You went to an arts high school, where some of our daughter’s middle-school classmates went. They must have known you, or known who you were. Their brush with fame might have been like my experience in college, where I kept hearing about Christopher Reeve. I never saw him—he was a couple of years older than I was—but I knew where he’d lived on campus. It wasn’t far from where I lived. This made my college experience a little more exciting, knowing that Reeve had been there. Everyone knew who Reeve was; no one knew who I was. But maybe someday they would know me, because I’d lived close to where Reeve lived. Of course, that in itself was no reason to know who I was.
THADDEUS RUTKOWSKI is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.