Part One: Hunting at the Serengeti Bar and Grill
Glancing at the massive boss of Cape Buffalo horns above the entrance, Harold Savitt ducked inside the restaurant like a thief on the run, thinking: I hope nobody from work sees me. Besides, only nerds go hunting at the Serengeti armed with a rolled up New York Times.
A dashiki-clad hostess escorted him to a simulated leopard-skin booth lit by a spotlight. Harold unrolled the newspaper carefully, intending to indulge a favorite pastime of skimming the headlines, but first looked expectantly toward the mirrored bar where bobbing heads silhouetted against shining rows of bottles and glasses.
Above the bar the vast golden-hued Serengeti Plain spread out on a forty-foot photorealistic mural: zebra and wildebeest grazed amid clumps of flat-topped Acacia trees; a pride of lions crouched in tall grasses; the snowy peak of Kilimanjaro loomed in the distance. Bird cries, muffled roars and the thumping of distant drums arose from speakers imbedded in broad-leafed shrubs spaced throughout the restaurant.
Harold was about to order a drink when he spied the item: “NYPD, FEDS Suspect Chinese Gangs in Subway Murder. A Chinese gang member is suspected of having thrust Mary Shun, 50, a worker at the CAM Chinese American Museum, under the wheels of the Q train early Wednesday morning, according to a spokesperson for a Joint Task Force investigating Tong and Triad criminal activities. Onlookers reported seeing a martial-arts kick delivered to the back of the victim, which propelled her onto the tracks. The fleeing suspect was described as Asian and wearing a maroon hood.” The remainder of the one-column piece described the mission of the museum and gave a brief background on Mary Shun along with her picture.
Harold blanched as he envisioned the grisly event. That poor woman! He remembered briefly meeting Mary at its previous location in Chinatown. Harold had planned to visit the renovated CAM, but now that prospect was subsumed with horror and fear. He admired much in Chinese culture, such as face reading and Kung Fu. A responsible Black Belt, it angered him that martial arts were misused for murder; his cinema heroes Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan had fought only in self-defense.
To quell his agitation, Harold ordered a double Martini. He pulled off his soup-stained paisley tie and stuffed it into a side pocket of his rumpled tweed sports jacket. Sitting back, he tried to appear blasé while stealing looks at passing women. Soon, the server, with a conspiratorial wink, delivered a cone-shaped glass brimming with the icy liquid.
Five ounces of Grey Goose Vodka and thirty minutes later, a primitive part of Harold’s brain began to perceive the bar patrons as animals milling around the water hole: pursuers and pursued, predators and prey. In his 80-proof hallucination, they became slow-motion caricatures playing out an existential drama: nervous pawing at hair; tentative smiles dissolving into fearful grimaces; furtive glances searching for clues of intent; trembling mounds of flesh arousing blood lust in carnivorous eyes.
Then, Harold’s attention locked onto a nose—a tapered, well-proportioned nose that seemed to fit its female face: oval, with roundish eyes and a flirtatious, upward-curving mouth. A perfect nose, Harold thought, among the thousands he had seen—and collected, along with mouths, eyes, foreheads and chins– illustrations in antique texts of physiognomy collected since his Columbia College days.
Back then, he and chums, usually drunk, would play the timeworn game of rating women’s looks on a scale of 1-10. Admittedly, this was sophomoric and a loser’s game; winners got the girls; they didn’t need to ratethem.
But Harold declined to analyze his own face, thinking, when it came to other faces, I’m a researcher; looking at myself, I’m a narcissist. In fact, Harold’s eyes were deep-set, elongated ovals; his pupils, hazel; the nose was straight, with a slightly roundish tip; chin, square and slightly protruding; a broad brow and forehead was topped by thick, curly chestnut brown hair—looks he considered ordinary.
An only child, Harold had gone to high school in the Long Island suburbs. He’d been a good student, engaged in many activities, but never felt popular. His father was an ophthalmologist who’d expected Harold to also become a doctor. His mother had often fixed him up with friends’ daughters. He’d liked a few but saw himself swimming in a fish bowl of family scrutiny and always managed to wriggle off the hook.
These days, having reached his thirties, Harold was still frequenting places like the Serengeti. And now, suddenly smitten by a nose, he made eye contact and pushed through the crowd toward the object of his affection. She was sitting at the bar dressed in a casual but expensive looking black jacket over a white silk blouse.
“This is not a line, but…” Harold froze.
“…No? What is it?”
“Well, believe it or not…it’s your nose.”
“What’s wrong with my nose?”
“Nothing, it’s perfect.”
“It must be, the way you plowed through that crowd.”
“Not just that, but, your eyes…”
“I’ve been told I have a good nose, but what about my eyes… or my mouth?”
“Th…There’s nothing wrong with your eyes or mouth!”
“Now there’s a compliment!”
His face fell.
“Relax,” she said, “I’m just messing with you. By the way your eyes are really something. Have you seen them lately?”
“Pretty red, huh? I guess they give me away.”
“Too trashed to lie convincingly and the evidence convicts you.”
“Guilty as charged. What are you, a lawyer?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I don’t practice law but sometimes use it in business.”
“What business would that be?”
“I’m a fashion consultant.”
“That’s interesting. Seriously, how bad are my eyes?”
“They glow in the dark. But you don’t seem as drunk as you look.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Maybe I’m just drunk enough to be honest.”
“Now why do I expect the next line to be a lie—as in You Lie, the TV show?”
Harold laughed an apology. “I’ve seen the show, and yes, faces and body language tell the truth. But I make a specialty of noses. Eyes and mouths are the moving parts, and get all the attention. Noses are overlooked, unless they’re very good or very bad. Seriously, books make a system of it. But I’m more into the pure esthetics.”
“Are you an artist or just a snoop with a college education?”
“I’m no artist but, yes, I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of female beauty.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. But there’s another French word to describe it—voyeur.”
Harold’s brows knitted in earnest. His head was swimming from the Martinis. “Seriously, people are attracted by certain faces. It’s instinctive, like a sixth sense drawing you to the right partner. My grandmother used to say: “For everybody there’s a somebody.”
“You keep saying seriously and I won’t believe a thing you say.”
Harold managed a nervous laugh. His eyes flitted to noisy revelers occupying an imitation zebra- skin banquette.
She continued, “It’s not men’s features, per se, that interest women, it’s what they express. Men usually tell women they like their looks or they’re pretty. You’re the first I’ve met who analyzes the component parts.”
Harold tried to clear his head, ignoring the swirl of waitresses in form-fitting dashikis and patrons waving glasses imprinted with dancing monkeys. “By the way, I’m Harold Savitt.”
“Not to go on about your nose, Trish, but you have what the Chinese sages would call a Mountain Root Nose—according to the Mian Xiang. You know, men may not mention it, but noses are actually more important than they let on. Seriously…”
Trish’s faux frown seemed to mirror the fierce ebony masks glaring down from the walls.
“I…I mean, honestly,“ blurted Harold. “I think guys would take bad eyes over a bad nose, every time.”
“Now my nose is a Mountain? On that note, the conversation with this mouth is over. Just kidding. I’ve really got to run. I will say, as a fashion person and as a woman, if you must get into people’s faces, pun intended, the eyes do have it—windows on the soul, that sort of thing.” Her face softened. “Women like to be admired but not ogled like a specimen. And,” she said with a friendly smile, “Don’t take yourself so seriously.”
Harold laughed weakly. Trish arose and left. The room was spinning. He hadn’t asked her last name. Bloodshot and shot-down, he decided to call it a night.