Arnon Grunberg

Less schmucky


Back in the nineties during summer I used to play chess with my friend John at Dolci on Park. Dolci on Park had an outdoor cafe, which is rare in New York.
One afternoon an older lady was watching our game. When the game was over she asked: “Who won?” And she applauded the winner.
Her name was Natalie, she lived nearby and we became friends. Actually I became her chess teacher.
Natalie was married to Josef, had three children, smoked a lot of pot, and although she was well into her seventies, or sixties I’m not sure, she did have a preference for cycling pants.
John disappeared, Dolci on Park ceased to exist, and also Natalie faded away.
But this afternoon after a long silence she called me. “I have thirty minutes to play with you. Do you want to come over?” I decided to come over.
Natalie was standing in front of her house and was smoking pot. She greeted me with the words: “You look like a sixteen-year old boy, or girl, I’m not sure.” We entered the house. Her husband who can barely walk was having singing lessons.
Downstairs in the kitchen she observed me for a while. “You know,” she said. “You look less schmucky.” We talked and she declared: “You have such an exciting life, and that’s probably why your books are so boring.” She talked about her daughter-in-law. Ten days after the wedding she had told her daughter-in-law: “You are a cunt and you will always be a cunt.” And then she told me what she had often told me before: “I should have been a stand-up comedian.”