Cher Public

BASTA: Only God can make a tree

“Hello there. Hey?”

No response.

“Hey. Sorry to trouble you. I was wondering if I could have a word with my client. He’s just been booked, I think.”

“Name?” The surly cop at the 54th Street police station’s front desk—a burly, rubescent tyro named Sondra—hardly looked up from her computer screen to greet Ingmar Anastomos, Esq. If she had, she would have seen that the attorney was visibly shaken, thrown off course by the evening’s startling chaos at the Algonquin Opera.

Still wide-eyed from an hour of handling sudden inquiries from reporters, friends, and his pesky aunt Martha de la Banane, Anastomos had, at 11pm, already tired of uttering his client’s name.

Everyone wanted to know what exactly had happened and why: what had led disgraced Algonquin Maestro Jerold Offerman to commit an act of attempted, if uniquely unfocused, aggravated assault with a pipe wrench against the entire cast and crew of the season’s blockbuster revival of Lucia di Lammermoor.

Oh, how Anastomos wished he had answers.

“Offerman. Jerold.”

Sondra sighed as her phone started ringing off its cradle. “Hang on, sir.”

Over the next five minutes, as Sondra dictated an entire binder of clerical statistics over the line to a muffled interlocutor, Anastomos checked his cell, rocking impatiently back and forth on his heels, drummed his fingers on the desk.

Scores of missed calls, a new push item from the Metro Times (“Offerman Stages Futile Attack on Algonquin Stage”), frantic text messages from the Algonquin press office. It all seemed so interminable.

“Okay, sir. The name again?”

“Jerold Offerman, please.”

“Oh yes, here he is. Your relation?”

“Lawyer. My name’s Ingmar Anastomos. I’m his attorney. I’d like to have a word with him.”

“Well, you won’t get him this evening, and I don’t see any bail posted here. Looks like he’s been detained for aggravated assault. That’s a serious felony, sir.”

“Aggravated assault?” Anastomos couldn’t believe it. “With a pipe wrench? And my client is handicapped; he fell out of his wheelchair. If I could just speak to—”

“Well, I’m sorry, you can’t.”

“Could I at least place a call?”

“I’m afraid not. You could wait here and see if anyone turns up in the office. I could also see if my supervisor’s still awake—sorry, around.”

“Yes, please do that,” spluttered Anastomos. “You’re right that this is absolutely serious. My client is a celebrity. I promise you’re going to have a situation on your hands if I don’t speak to him soon.”

Sondra grunted, and picked up the phone, pecking out a number.

“Harry. Hi baby, it’s Sondra. Can you get me Frankie? Oh, okay. Bye.”

She turned to the lawyer. “Not in. Listen, why don’t you take a chair and see what happens? You look like you could use a second to cool off anyway. Maybe a time out would help y—”

Anastomos shrieked. “Cool off?! Time OUT??! I could use a second to see—”

Before he could finish his complaint, a set of frosted glass doors to the right of the receptionist swung dramatically open, and out rolled the man he was looking for.

“Jerry!” cried the attorney upon espying his client. He clapped his hand to his mouth. “Oh, thank goodness. Are you okay?”

Offerman’s eyes were all pupil, that rare obsidian gaze of the morally deformed. He was drained, and listlessly staring into space.

“He’s just out to sign some forms,” explained the beleaguered woman in uniform pushing his wheelchair. “We’re taking him to the hospital for evaluation. Who are you?”

“I’m his attorney. Look, can I have a word with…” The counsel trailed off, it suddenly occurring to him that such discourse with his client might not be terribly productive. “Can I, um, at least follow you out to the hospital?”

“I don’t see why not.” The woman sniffed. “But you should know that you’re not the only lawyer meeting us there.”


“Yeah, we also have a Mr. Pierce Franklin waiting at St. Savonarola for questioning.”

Pierce? What on earth…? Anastomos knew the Algonquin general manager’s lawyer well. “What’s he got to say to Jerry?”

“Confidential stuff. But maybe you can figure it out for yourself. I will say that he’s not here to speak to us about your client.”

“Well, then, who’s he there for?”

“Sir, we’re headed out now. You can come along if you wish.”

That Sunday, Jesús Halévy could be found speeding along I-80 West in his rental Ford Mustang, the best Enterprise could do for him for a same-day pickup.

It was pouring out, and the wipers clawed furiously at the windshield, keeping a steady metronome to the La Donna del Lago aria he’d linked from his bluetooth. As Joyce DiDonato bleated over the speakers, Jesús would think of the uncomfortable conversation that lay waiting in store for him.

He was Akron-bound, off to the apartment address his cousin’s Ohio-based son Tony had given him. That’s where he’d learned he could find Consuela, his estranged sister. That’s where he could tell her everything about Shmuely, their father, and his recent rebirth as Shmuelina.

What the fuck I going to say? Jesús would ponder. Just be normal, Jesús. Just give it to her straight. Tell her you need her to come home.

But how could he be “normal” when everything felt so topsy-turvy? His older sister, now apparently working the poles at El Gatito Galoso, was a lost cause, a vain fruitcake who’d cut off contact with the family three years prior after a fight with her mother over some boy she was seeing.

In honor of his new identity as Shmuelina, it was Jesús’ father’s wish that she be talked to, informed of the transition, then retrieved from Akron for a family reunion. Shmuelina had entrusted these three tasks to his son, the responsible enfant prodigue of the Halévy clan.

Jesús didn’t feel so responsible; nah, he felt lost. He would soon run out of toll money and have to turn off near the Moshannon State Forest in Pennsylvania in search of an ATM. And he would feel so super lonely, since his best friend Evan Ingersoll was preoccupied, apparently too busy with BASTA to tag along.

“Sorry, can’t,” Evan had texted the night before. “Lasso rehearsal for Bison Don’t Cry all day tomorrow. Gonna rope me a MAN, man.”

Interrupting his bluetooth transmission, Jesús’ iPhone went off with a number he didn’t recognize.

“Hello?” he answered, swinging into an exit with a broad sign promising a service location.

“Hey asshole.”


“I said asshole. You deaf now, too?”

The voice was unmistakable. Consuela had found Jesús before he’d found her.

Meanwhile, with its premiere of Zack Wedgie’s third opera Bison Don’t Cry now just a few weeks away, the Big Apple Singing Theater Company was pushing its supernumerary rehearsals forward at an accelerated clip. The whole thing rendered Evan Ingersoll exhausted; sometimes he felt flummoxed.

Day after day of dancing, mock-fighting, learning to “chatter” quietly on the sidelines during the rousing Act I choral number, “Brawls are Bustin’ Out All Over.” Everyone, from choreographer to director to the brassy costume designer Eugenie Puant, seemed ready for a full night’s rest.

“Okay, guys, that’s good, very good,” said director Joey Piccata to the supernumeraries at Porky’s rehearsal space around 4pm on Sunday. The boys had been lassoing all morning, then dropping and rolling over each other as a weary rehearsal pianist thumped and bumped his way through the score on an upright Yamaha. “I think… I think we can go home now!”

Evan went to fetch his sweatshirt and umbrella from the rack, and was trailed by Gus Rippon, another supernumerary who’d become a buddy.

“Where you headed, Evan?” Gus asked, cocking his leg. “Wanna grab some dinner?”

“Nah, I’m good. I’m just gonna head home I think.”

“Aw, kid, you break my heart. It’s always ‘no’ with you.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I just need some alone time or something. I’m gonna stroll.”

“Stroll?” came a sturdy voice, approaching Evan from behind. Evan knew it right away to belong to fellow supernumerary Nixon Ben Mahmoud. Loins tautened.

“Yeah,” said Evan, turning indifferently to his bearded colleague. “It’s not raining anymore, so I was gonna walk a bit before catching the subway.”

“Oh,” said Nixon. “Want some company?”

“Well, I—” Evan glanced at Gus and widened his eyes. “Gus, you come with?”

“Are you kidding? I have a date with my dermatologist. This show is RUINING my pores.”

“Looks like it’s just us,” laughed Nixon. “Just promise me you won’t stab me like last time.”

“I’ll do my best.”

It was still plenty warm when the two stepped outside, but slick and wet, as though the concrete were perspiring. Evan, a seasoned Hell’s Kitchen bar-back who usually knew his way around men, felt nervous as the two made their way north toward midtown: Nixon wasn’t much of a talker at first, though he didn’t seem disinterested, just shy.

“Wanna go in?” Evan asked as the two hit Central Park.


“We could even walk to Belvedere Castle if you like.”

“Sounds good to me.”

The two snaked through the gravel. Spring had fully come. The trees were pollinating, and Evan could hear the distant drone of mating insects as he and his companion passed the hummocks and playing children.

“So where are you from, Nixon?”

“From Chicago originally, but my parents are actually Tunisian.”


“That’s East Africa,” Nixon laughed. “Tunisia’s far north, on the Mediterranean. It borders Algeria.”

“Oh, I know. I meant you. You’re a gorilla.”

“All gorilla!” A smile. “But what does that make you?”

“I’m obviously a squirrel,” replied Evan saucily. “I bite at things. Nuts especially.”

“Ha, I like squirrels! And where is this squirrel from?”

“Eastern Mass, Provincetown.”

“Oh, interesting. I’ve never met anyone from Provincetown. Been twice, though.”

“How’d you like it?”

“I did. I wasn’t out either time I went, but I definitely appreciated how gay it was.”

“Ha!” Evan chuckled. “But do you appreciate how gay this is?”

The two had just reached The Ramble, a woodland area in Central Park beloved for its birdwatching and cruising opportunities. Admittedly, Evan had never been.

“You come here a lot?” asked Nixon, sizing up a couple of bears walking toward them hand in hand.

“Never. Pretty, though. I love the trees.”

“Me too, some great sycamore around here. And see that one?” Nixon pointed at a medium-sized shrub bearing little phallic fruit that slightly resembled artichokes. “Cucumber magnolia.”

“You a horticulturalist?”

“This gorilla loves trees,” Nixon shrugged. “I’m big into wood in general and its potential, what it can do, where it can go. I work for the Architecture Museum uptown.”

“Yeah, you said that when we met, I remember,” said Evan.

“And how about you? You got any side-interests, bar guy?”

“Bar-back. And I like to write.”

“Write? About what?”

“Oh, just little reviews here and there. Mostly about opera singers, people I like.”

“And where might I read these reviews?”

“Oh, I never publish,” Evan confessed. “For myself, for now. But my friend Jesús says I should put myself out there. I guess I just don’t know where I would.”

“Well, this is New York. Lots of venues, right? Just shop your work around.”

“Yeah, well… I’ll get around to it.”

Evan cleared his throat, not loving the talk about his writing, which felt to him overly vulnerable.

Better shift to body.

“Shirts off?” he asked.

Nixon paused, searching Evan’s face for a pause. Then he winked and pulled his blue tee over his head. Evan couldn’t believe the torso: graceful, like a jaguar’s. He dimpled while removing his own button-down.

“Where will you be tonight?” asked Nixon.

“In my room I guess,” Evan replied. “Climbing trees.”

Illustration by Ben A. Cohen