He became aware that something stank, and what it smelled like was destiny
Sully shook his head in wonderment, as he often did around Rub, who couldn’t get laid in a whorehouse wearing a thousand-dollar bill for a rubber. Rub had once confessed to Sully that even his wife, Bootsie, had stopped extending him conjugal privileges. (p. 37*)
Something was terribly wrong with Rub’s nose, Sully was certain. Rub could stand hip deep in the overflow of a ruptured septic tank as pleasantly as if he were in the middle of a field of daisies. This made him invaluable to Sully who, while not overly fastidious, could distinguish between the smell of shit and that of daisies. The downside was that Rub couldn’t smell himself either, and when he was ripe his own personal odor greatly resembled what he stood in. (p. 55*)
“I don’t see how you can work with somebody who smells like a pussy finger.”
“I keep him downwind when I can.”
“Wouldn’t it be simpler to tell the little fuck he stinks?”
“I have,” Sully said. “He thinks I’m kidding. He says if he stunk that bad Bootsie would mention it.”
Carl shuddered. “That’s what I should do when I get horny. Think of Bootsie.”
“I thought you wanted to fuck the ugly ones,” Sully reminded him.
“Not that ugly,” Carl conceded. (p. 125*)
[...] Sully took a seat on the porch steps next to Rub, who continued morose. “I wouldn’t sit here too long,” Sully advised. “The tip of your dick’ll freeze to the step.”
Rub glanced down to see if this were possible.
“I forgot,” Sully said. “Yours doesn’t hang down quite that far, does it.”
“Yours don’t either,” Rub said, grinning sheepishly now, too happy to have his friend back to hold a grudge much longer.
“That’s true,” Sully said, nudging Rub hard. “I fold it so it won’t.” Rub slid away, out of easy nudging range.
“You want to know how many times I have to fold it?” Sully said, nudging Rub again, since he hadn’t moved quite far enough to be out of nudging range completely.
“It would hurt if you folded it,” Rub said, imagining.
“Not mine,” Sully assured him. (pp. 376-377*)
Like recently hatched birds, Rub’s wishes were too new to the world and too clumsy to sustain extended flight. They liked the nest. (p. 385*)
Rub’s wishes, when you totaled them up, meant simply that he’d have preferred a different sort of world, one where he got his share—of money, pussy, food, warmth, ease. Sully’s job, as he perceived it, was to defend the world they were stuck with, a task made infinitely easier by Rub’s presence. (p. 403*)
Beryl Peoples, “Miss Beryl” as she was known to nearly everyone in North Bath, had been living alone long enough to have grown accustomed to the sound of her own voice and did not always distinguish between the voice she heard in her ears when she spoke and the one she heard in her mind when she thought. It was the same person, to her way of thinking, and she was no more embarrassed to talk to herself than she was to think to herself. She was pretty sure she couldn’t stifle one voice without stifling the other, something she had no intention of doing while she still had so much to say, even if she was the only one listening. (p. 13*)
One of the problems of being eighty was that you built up a pretty impressive store of allusions. Other people didn’t follow them, and they made it clear that this was your fault. (p. 26*)
They have a big salad bar, and Mrs. Gruber likes to try everything on it. Snails even.”
“Snails are good, actually,” Sully said, surprising her.
“When did you ever eat a snail?”
Sully scratched his unshaven chin thoughtfully at the recollection. “I liberated France, if you recall. I wish snails were the worst thing I ate between Normandy and Berlin, too.”
“It must be true what they say, then,” Miss Beryl observed. “War is heck. If you ate anything worse than a snail, don’t tell me about it.” (p. 33*)
Miss Beryl stood, then sat back down again when the doctor, who was sitting across from her, did not get to his feet. “You fellows are like the police. You’re never around when you’re needed. If you’d been at my house at six o’clock this morning you could have had the blood you wanted, and you wouldn’t have required a syringe to get it either. You could have used a salad bowl. Now you want more.” (p. 380*)
Hattie was an institution in Bath, and besides, everybody romanticized old people, seeing in them their own lost parents and grandparents, most of whom had bequeathed to their children the usual legacy of guilt, along with the gift of selective recollection. (p. 39*)
“With her alive and making everything impossible, all I could think of was all the places I could go, all the things I could do if only she’d die. Now I’m not so sure it was her.”
“Give yourself time,” Sully said for something to say. Actually, he shared her doubts. He’d imagined the world would be a better place when it was rid of Big Jim Sullivan, but it had remained pretty much the same place, with just one less person to blame things on. Though Sully had solemnly pledged to keep blaming things on him anyway. (p. 433*)
At the door, as Sully struggled into his heavy coat, he became aware that something stank, and this time it wasn’t either a clam or the proximity of the men’s room. What it smelled like was destiny. (p. 504*)
Until he hurt his knee, Sully had been much envied as a tenant by the other widows along Upper Main. Many of them tried to work out reduced rent arrangements with single men, who then shoveled the sidewalk, mowed the lawn and raked leaves in return. But finding the right single man was not easy. The younger ones were forgetful and threw parties and brought young women home with them. The older men were given to illnesses and complications of the lower back. Single, able-bodied men between the ages of forty-five and sixty were so scarce in Bath that Miss Beryl had been envied Sully for over a decade, and she suspected some of her neighbors were privately rejoicing now that Sully was hobbled. Soon he would be useless, and Miss Beryl would be paid back for years of good fortune by having to carry a renter who couldn’t perform. (p. 33*)
“How’s my favorite cripple?” he wanted to know.
Sully plopped down in one of the room’s fake leather chairs. “In the world’s worst fucking mood,” he said. “I’d like to toss you right out that window just to see what you’d land on.”
Carl smiled. “I’d land on my feet.”
Sully had to admit this was exactly the way it would probably go. “We may have to try it some time, so we know for sure.”
Carl swiveled lazily, grinning. “Sully, Sully, Sully.”
Bad mood or no bad mood, Sully couldn’t help grinning back. Carl Roebuck was one of those people you just couldn’t stay mad at. (p. 51*)
He was pretty sure coveting was wrong in general, and he was certain it was not a good thing to covet another man’s undershorts. And of course there was the specific injunction, etched in stone, against coveting another man’s wife. But what about his favorite mug? Toby Roebuck probably would have made him a present of it if she’d known how fond he was of it. Then again, he wasn’t sure he wanted it, exactly. If he brought it home with him, he’d never use it, would probably forget all about it. Here, in Toby’s cupboard, he got to use it occasionally and regret that he didn’t have one like it. (pp. 77-78*)
The clock on Sully’s dresser said six-thirty, which meant that Carl was watching Wake Up, America, whose aerobic hostess, to judge from her face, had to be in her forties. Her body was pretty remarkable, toned and athletic, but it wasn’t a young body, Sully had noticed. When she danced next to her youthful assistants, she looked merely heroic. Maybe that was what made Sully sad when he watched her. The woman seemed to be dancing for her very life, and Sully would have liked to tell her to go slow. (p. 124*)
It was one of the things wrong with his marriage. Vera had often awakened feeling frisky, an enthusiasm that had seldom survived breakfast. Sully attributed this to her Puritan upbringing. Some girls you just had to catch before they woke up enough to remember who they were. (p. 124*)
His son seemed exactly this sort of man. Angry enough to yell, not angry enough to get out. (p. 173*)
“Go away for a while,” he suggested. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
The suggestion brought a smile. “That’s a funny idea. You looking after anybody.”
“Oh, Sully, don’t go getting your feelings hurt. I know you’d mean to. After about two minutes you’d get sidetracked and forget, and you wouldn’t think of him again until about two weeks after the funeral. You’d be walking down the street and wondering why you hadn’t seen him around.” (p. 186*)
Big Jim Sullivan was the perfect man for a job with few defined duties besides being mean to other people’s kids. He was mean to his own for free, and it suited him fine to be paid for being mean to other people’s. (p. 228*)
Sully didn’t know too many people who got noticeably smarter over the course of a lifetime. Some made fewer mistakes, but in Sully’s opinion that was because they couldn’t go quite so fast. They had less energy, not more virtue; fewer opportunities to screw up, not more wisdom. (p. 248*)
How different Janey’s life would have been, Ruth thought, if she had been pretty. With that body, had Janey been pretty, the boys would have been scared and given her room. It wasn’t that Janey was ugly, just plain, like Ruth herself, and it was that plainness that always gave boys courage. And of course they couldn’t keep their hands off her. At thirteen she’d had the bust development of a twenty-year-old, and at fourteen Ruth had come home late one afternoon to find a boy groping her on the living room sofa, both hands caught underneath Janey’s bra by Ruth’s sudden appearance. To Ruth, her daughter was still that vulnerable teenager whose body was well out ahead of her brain. She wasn’t innocent, exactly. Janey enjoyed the groping, had been enjoying it even that afternoon when Ruth had interrupted. Her problem was that she couldn’t seem to put the groping into perspective. Ruth sympathized. Her daughter came by her limitations rightly. (pp. 440-441*)
“I thought maybe you went someplace you weren’t supposed to go.”
Clive Jr. could feel the other men at the counter tuning in, with undisguised interest, to this conversation. He could also feel whose side they were on. Not his.
“We’ve been through this before,” Clive Jr. ventured. “A landlord has the right—”
“You aren’t my landlord,” Sully interrupted.
“Is the only reason I don’t kick your ass,” Sully finished for him. “Next time you go in my apartment without my permission even she won’t save you.”
Clive Jr. could feel himself begin to shake with rage. And, as always happened in moments of high drama, he found himself outside his own person, one step back, a critical observer of his own weak performance. From this vantage point he saw himself stand with badly feigned dignity, take a dollar out of his wallet, put it wordlessly onto the counter, saw himself pivot like a comic German soldier on television, march ludicrously to the door past the row of silent men at the lunch counter. Maybe they weren’t silent. Maybe silence was what happened when the separation occurred and he found himself outside his own person. Be that as it may, the only thing Clive Jr. heard as he strode out of Hattie’s was the sound of his own voice telling his mother, that very morning, “I can handle Sully.” (pp. 213-214*)
“That boy is already at war. He’s just like his brother was. He’s looking for a car to hit head on.”
Clive Jr., young though he was at the time, had known his mother was wrong. Not in her analysis of Sully’s motives, which, he supposed, might be true. What she was mistaken about was Sully’s ability to wreck himself in a collision. It was the guys in the oncoming vehicle who were not long for this world, in Clive Jr.’s view. Sully might even manage to kill everybody else, but it would be his own personal destiny to be thrown clear of one head-on collision after another, always the worse for the experience but never dead of it.
And his prediction had come true. It was not Sully who had died going ninety miles an hour but rather Clive Sr., going all of twenty.
Still, Sully wasn’t immortal, Clive Jr. knew. He was just a man. A dinosaur of a man, marking time patiently toward extinction. Quite possibly he was dead already and was just too dumb to know it. Clive Jr. would have liked to explain this to Sully, and he imagined an exchange he hadn’t quite the courage to make real. “You know how the dinosaurs figured out they were extinct?” he’d have liked to ask. And Sully would have to admit he didn’t have a clue. “They never did,” Clive Jr. would tell him. “They just were.” (pp. 214-215*)
Richard Russo - Nobody’s Fool (Vintage, 1994)