Before his mind completely collapsed, Denny said it was easy. He used a razor blade, cut it away and walked out with the Cezanne rolled and tucked under his arm. He didn’t carry it as a prize or slouch to the door. He said he nodded to the elderly security guard, noticed the finger smudges of other patrons as he placed his palm on the museum’s polished door plate, pushed. Afternoon sunshine streamed through the glass panels and he stepped out. That’s all, he said.
Questioned more closely, we were all a little drunk by then, admiring bathing nudes on the canvas rolled out on his apartment floor. He said taking it was a mind state. He said it was his; it rightfully belonged to him. No one stopped him or disagreed, he said, because it was true to the bone. Invincible knowing.
He talked about philosophy of mind, stimuli arriving to inform the essence that steers us to what we want or need—worldly belongings, like squash soup. He’d taken the squash from the community garden at the senior center and put it in the pot on the stove. Went in, he said, picked out the best one, walked, caught the bus home. He gave us some soup. It was chalky awful, but Denny chewed mushrooms, sipped the soup from a chipped mug, didn’t seem to notice.
“Now, Christmas,” he said, “is unnecessary, you see. Why wait for people to guess what you want or need? Find what you like? Take it. It belongs to you. Most people don’t give a shit or are too stupid to think beyond their twisted nucleus accumbens, brains only wired to jack off and grunt. That’s about it. Think they’ll give you what you want? Or stop you from taking what belongs to you?”
Somebody, a skinny guy sitting on the floor beside a bucket filled with peacock feathers said, “Fuck that.” He explained how he and Denny snuck into the zoo and used a squeaky dog toy to attract the birds, then they’d challenge the cocks, make them overheat and shit their pants. He bobbed his head like a turkey to demonstrate their technique.
“They dropped feathers all over the place, rattled their turquoise asses. We just picked the feathers up and brought them home. They belong to us.”
~ ~ ~ ~
When she pulled the wooden tiles for oxazepam a few years later and scored 392 points, a royal flush in Scrabble, she mentally thanked Denny that she'd ended up in drug rehab in Hollywood, where it was so easy to be a winner. She’d been thinking about his theory of positive thinking and then drew the letters.
Before rehab, she just said oxy, never knew the proper spelling of her drug of choice, not until the counselors at Bright Way Life Center spelled it out. After she won the game and took a shower, she stepped onto Sunset Boulevard. Some kids were selling hot apple cider in front of a church, singing holy Jesus Christmas carols. She took a steaming cup, kept walking. In a mean voice, someone yelled, “God Bless You!”
In front of the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel she paused, looked up at the flags and flood lights, adjusted the Dior scarf she’d just picked up on Rodeo Drive, and placed her open hand on the entry door’s brass plate. A uniformed doorman held it while she passed into the marble foyer where huge vases of red roses glowed under a crystal chandelier. He spoke sounds like a cow; the words made no sense to her. She nodded, moved to the art gallery off the lobby, her hands freezing.
“This is split bamboo position,” the man in the purple ascot said, putting the carved ivory piece into her palm. “A very rare 17th century netsuke of woolly mammoth ivory. If you look, you can see each pubic hair. Exquisite, really.” The figurine was warm and she wrapped her icy fingers around the ivory. It belonged there, twisted passion inside her grasp. She asked to see another carving, one in the arc position. He turned. She tightened her fist and stepped away, walked into the winter-brittle sunshine, knowing.