It’s funny, but I feel as though I’ve just run up five flights of stairs and yet I’m certain I took the elevator. But if I took the elevator, why am I out of breath? I’m normally not this nervous. I’m in good shape…eat healthy. There’s nothing to be nervous about. I dress nicely and can be very presentable at times and people say I have a nice sense of humor and that I’m a cute guy. I just need to relax, that’s all. Should I knock again? What’s the rule here? I did a good knock the first time, firm, confident, but not too aggressive. Maybe there’s a doorbell? That decrepit, old bag lady with the sign down by the elevator is getting on my nerves—she and her two overgrown urchins clinging to her. What is she trying to pull anyhow—with that “Kids-4-Rent” sign of hers? Who would want to rent those monsters? The little delinquents have probably already picked my pocket and that crusty, downtrodden look on their faces is comical. Her brats remind me of those lollipop kids from The Wizard of Oz. People like her always rattle me. What am I suppose to do? Befriend her or something? Ask her what’s shaking? Comment on how nice her galoshes goes with her tattered nylon stockings? Ask her if her coat is Goodwill or Salvation Army? Christ, give me a break! She’s a panhandler and should find a decent street corner to work and leave the inner sanctums of a posh apartment building…well, unblemished. I hope they just stay down there and leave me alone. What’s taking so long? Maybe Doreen isn’t home, maybe something’s wrong? It’s Sunday, isn’t it? Oh, shit! The little hoodlums are sidling toward me. I’ll knock again. I’ll knock a little harder this time.
I met Doreen just a few weeks ago at the gym and was immediately smitten. She had just joined the gym and asked me for some help adjusting a piece of Nautilus equipment. Well, one thing led to another and so I asked her out a few times, but she’s been really busy with work and all, taking her aunt to the doctors, babysitting a neighbor’s cat, shampooing her rug – the usual stuff. But we spoke on the phone a lot and had some really great conversations. She’s so easy to talk to. She has such a smooth charming voice, and seems very intelligent. She’s into so many things; taking golf lessons, a crocheting class, yoga, a book club, stuff like that – and she has strong opinions on just about everything. Her main contention is that men should be in good shape, well spoken, polite and that they look best when they are in a suit and tie. She certainly has a lot going for her. Well, it just so happens that a close friend of hers is getting married today and she thought it would be a perfect opportunity for us to get together. I have to admit I’ve been looking forward to this day the whole week. Doreen is a gorgeous woman. I keep picturing us walking the beach with her wearing some type of a breezy, chiffon summer dress with spaghetti straps, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I can’t wait to see her how she looks and those full lips quivering with anticipation when she opens the door, but, then again….
“You’re early,” Doreen answers in a huff after she opens the door and then treads off down the hall and disappears. “Come on in,” she calls out in a more cordial tone from the back. I push the door open farther and enter her apartment, shutting the door on the grubby faces of the two zombies that had advanced just behind me.
Her place has a fresh, floral scent to it and is squeaky clean. The entry has a curio cabinet full of polished and neatly arranged figurines, framed photos, knickknacks and other junk. The photos are of Doreen at various social functions and with various dudes. In the living area is a couch covered with a slew of throw pillows fastidiously fluffed and arranged, making it very formal and very uninviting. I suppose I shouldn’t flop myself down on it. There is an oddly knitted afghan amorphously draped over the back of an upholstered chair. In front of the couch is a glass-top coffee table with a huge glossy, hard-bound book resting on it entitled How to Do Everything.
“Do you know how to get there?” she calls out from the other room. “I don’t want to be late.”
“Don’t worry, we have plenty of time,” I assure her. “I got the route all figured out.”
Her place is amazing. It’s tidy and neat, clean as a whistle. Even the kitchen is immaculate. The counters, stove, and appliances are all sanitized and gleaming. The whole place has this polished look to it like a basket of wax fruit. How could anybody live this way?
“Well, I don’t want to get lost or stuck in traffic,” she cautions as she enters the living area and busies herself with gathering up personal things that she locates and plops into her purse. “Do I need my cell phone?” she asks me.
“I don’t think you’ll need it.”
“I better bring it just in case.”
Doreen is decked out in a sleek tan pantsuit with a beige silk blouse and flowery silk scarf around her neck. Her jacket is short, straight cut, buttoned at the waist and propped up by those stupid-looking shoulder pads that women like to wear. Her fine golden hair is wound up tight and pinned in place on the back of her head by a tortoiseshell clip. She looks as though she’s going to a business meeting rather than a wedding. It’s not the summer dress I’ve dreamt about, but the outfit gives her a resplendent glow and shows off her trim build.
“That tie really doesn’t go with that suit,” she says with a slight frown as she steps up close to me and straightens the knot of my tie, then smoothes out my lapels with her fingertips and gives me the once over. She has such crystalline, blue eyes and a warm lilac scent. “I want you to look just right,” she adds as she taps her fingers on my chest. She does all this with such aplomb that I feel as though I'm being sent off to Sunday school.
She is so smooth and elegant and so in control. I know this is going to be a great date. I’ll just have to watch my P’s and Q’s, that’s all, and not blow it – just relax and be myself. Maybe I should have said something just now about how nice she looks? I’ve should have said something clever or witty when she was standing there in front of me. I mean, let her know I’m a suave and debonair guy – that I’m smooth, too.
“Well, are we ready?” she asks impatiently. I look over and she’s standing by the door. She’s holding a gift box wrapped in watery white paper and topped with a huge velvety purplish bow. I grin complaisantly and open the door for her.
“Nice place,” I tell her as she exits ahead of me, “like a bowl of fruit.” I grimace at my stupid comment and then pull the door shut and check to make sure it’s locked.
“Hi, Betty,” Doreen lively greets the old biddy who is still standing by the elevator with her two wards. I follow Doreen down the hall as though being led by a receptionist to a dentist’s chair. We gather there at the elevator and Doreen seems quite familiar with the gal. “I haven’t seen you around lately,” she says to her. “You’ve been away?”
“Oh, I took the darlings to Orlando, dear, for a bit of a vacation,” the gal gargles in a raspy voice. “We just got back the other day. My angels have been so wonderful and helpful lately that I just felt that we all needed a vacation.” She dotingly looks over at each of her offspring. “My darling Victoria here has been working so hard lately bringing money home for us and still spends hours hitting the books and studying for school. You know, she spends so much time at the library at night that sometimes she doesn’t get home until after two in the morning.” She looks at the girl with gooey admiration. She then holds her hand out to Doreen to show off an ostentatiously large ring. “And look what my darling Charles here got me. It’s a diamond ring. And look at the size of the diamond, dear...it’s a rock! He traded some baseball cards for it just for me. He’s such a dear. He’s always bringing me home little trinkets like this. And you, dear, how’s life treating you? How’s that fella you ....”
The swooshing and whining of the elevator is so noisy I can’t hear the rest of what the two are saying. A bell chimes and the sconce light on the wall turns green and we all turn toward the elevator doors as it rumbles open. Doreen enters first, graceful as a gazelle and Betty follows, waddling like a duck. I have to squeeze in, wedged between the two trolls like in some “Three Stooges” routine until I finally graciously offer they enter first. The doors close, a bell chimes, and we begin our descent.
Doreen and the old biddy continue their chat behind me. I’m stuck in the stuffy elevator, standing between the two androids. The boy has grimy black hair gelled out in long spikes with apparently shoe polish that makes his round head look like one of those medieval flail balls. He has a ring in his nose and is somehow mesmerized with my right eye. The girl chews gum and stares at herself in the metallic panel of the elevator car as she pompously primps her hair with her fingers. The old gal keeps tapping my butt with the corner of her sign, so I turn my head to politely pardon her and she simply meets my glance with a simper that curls my toes. Some of her teeth are missing and I pray whatever these folks have is not contagious.
Betty exclaims something about a wedding and how delightful that sounds. I listen as she tells Doreen that her children haven’t been to a real formal wedding and how such an affair would certainly ‘broaden their horizons’. I turn and interject that we wouldn’t be able to manage bringing them right now, invitations and all, but perhaps some other time. Doreen darts a quick perturbed grimace at me and I turn back and wait for the elevator doors to open.
“Oh, we’re busy right now anyhow, dearie,” the old ninny snidely replies as though pardoning me for my rudeness.
She must be kidding me! I should give her a piece of my mind, but I figure it’s best not to turn around and take her on.
“We’re taking Victoria down to Giggles tattoo parlor,” she resumes addressing Doreen. “It seems she’s won a free gift certificate or something. But, thanks for offering though, dear,” she pokes at me again with her sign. The gal tells Doreen they were just on their way to the garage to get the car and will do some shopping later on and maybe catch a movie. Then she taps my shoulder and factitiously tells me, “You two have a wonderful time.”
The elevator jolts to a halt, chimes, and its doors slide open. Doreen and Betty exchange farewells as I wait outside the elevator until Doreen disembarks. I toss back a slightly caustic “ciao” to the crone and her brood in the elevator just as the metallic doors slide shut.
“That was really rude of you,” Doreen snaps at me in a petulant whisper as we walk across the marble floor of the lobby at a brisk pace. “You could have been nicer.”
“Well, you have to admit it’s sort of odd.”
“What’s odd about it? The only thing that is odd is not giving her something to help her out. It’s hellish raising two kids nowadays. I hope you have money!”
I pull one of the heavy glass-plated doors of the apartment building back open and let Doreen precede me into the piercing glare of the outdoors.
Just outside the building, two distinguished-looking elderly gents, each topped with a head of snow-white hair and boasting cotton swab-like eyebrows, are arguing over something. They stand toe to toe, each poking a finger in the other’s chest. One of the gentlemen is tall and thin with quite weathered skin and the other is shorter, heavy-set, with a florid complexion and a bulbous nose. The tall one is grinning like a chimp and the short one is frowning like a fish. Their discussion is muffled by the street noise, but from their stately appearance and their obvious age longevity, I gather it certainly must be some venerable and heated topic confronting our times.
“You don’t know shit!” the short one derides the other as we approach them.
“Yeah, you’re as dumb as the day you were born, probably dumber,” the tall one counters.
“You’re the dumb ass.”
“Gentlemen!” Doreen intervenes firmly.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Palmer,” the tall gentleman says in a gracious tone as he beckons Doreen to come closer. He wraps his arm around her waist and then slides his hand down and lets it rest on her thigh. “How’s my main squeeze today?”
“Well, gentlemen” Doreen says in a displeased, but conciliatory manner as she lets her fanny be rubbed by this…well, old goat who is probably three times her age and whose face is turning a beet red. “What’s the argument about this time?”
“Let me just say how lovely you look today,” the short man says as he takes Doreen’s hand and kisses it fawningly. “Rudolph here thinks that Grossman’s greatest movie is Conflagration,” the short old man explains while he fingers the sleeve of Doreen’s jacket. “This is really nice material,” he digresses and then winks at Doreen and continues, “but everyone knows that A Lovely Story is his best film.”
“Oh, Sammy’s an old fart,” the tall one retorts, “and wouldn’t know a good movie if it hit him in the face.” He keeps fondling Doreen’s rump as his nose brightens to a tomato red and he still has that silly, simian grin on his face. I am getting peeved with his manhandling of Doreen, but I suppose he’s a harmless geezer if there’s such a creature.
“I’ll hit you in the face, you old reptile,” the short one lashes out. The tall one lets go of Doreen and the two gents step toward each other and square off for fisticuffs.
“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” Doreen beseeches as she steps between them. “We all know how good those movies are. The special effects in Conflagration are spectacular, that meteorite demolishing the evil Grenshaw’s castle just in the nick of time was stupendous. Right? Come on now. But when Sally, that poor quadriplegic, got up and walked at the end of A Lovely Story, well, come on now, be honest; you both had a tear in your eye, right?”
“Right again, Ms Palmer,” the short one concurs. “You’re such a doll,” he adds as he leans over and gives her a mushy kiss on her cheek. “I wish I was forty years younger,” he whispers to her, “I’d give you a ride you’d never forget.”
“I think we better head out,” I interrupt impatiently.
“Well, you two take care now and behave yourselves,” Doreen says as we drift off down the sidewalk.
“They’re such sweet, dear men” Doreen tells me with fondness. “Don’t you think?”
“They’re a bunch of dirty old men, if you ask me.”
“You men always have a crude take on everything. Is that all you think about?”
“That and whether or not I locked my front door today when I left.”
An uncomfortable silence separates us as we walk down the sidewalk. I don’t think Doreen appreciates my sense of humor and she seems really defensive. I’m sure she has been out with plenty of men and probably doesn’t want to rush into anything. She has a hard shell to crack, but I’m sure things will ease up later on.
“Well, you better dispel any of those ideas right now,” she forewarns, breaking the silence.
“I was always sort of partial to the slapstick antics of Stupid Bloke myself,” I bring up to change the subject.
“Grossman’s Stupid Bloke; I thought it was a pretty good movie. When that bloke got the cow in a headlock and flipped it on its back, now you have to admit that was funny.”
“Is that the one about the klutz who passes himself off as a surgeon so he can get the nurse?” Doreen recollects with a glimmer of a faint smile.
“Yeah, and even though he butchers all the patients, she still falls in love with him.”
“I’ve never saw anything more stupid than that movie,” Doreen remarks.
“Oh, I’ve seen stupider things,” I quip, and probably too rashly. “Well, here we are,” I gesture to my parked vehicle.
“This isn’t a sports car!” she exclaims in horror, stricken at the sight of my pickup truck.
“Of course not – it’s my truck,” I answer. “It even says so on my license plate.” I point to the red embossed letters on the vanity plate that spell out MYTRUCK.
“How can I arrive in front of all my friends and acquaintances in a truck?” she admonishes, making the word “truck” sound somewhat vulgar.
I unlock the passenger-side door and have to gently press her stiffen shoulders down with my hands to get her in the truck. I close her door and quickly circle around, settle in behind the wheel, and pull out in traffic and we are off.
“It’s not all that bad,” I say to ease things a bit. “I was going to bring my bike,” I add with a grin to let her know I’m just kidding, “but didn’t think you’d be comfortable on the handle bars.” I glance over to see if she’s lightened up any. “You know, I bought this truck brand new right after college when I got my first full-time job,” I continue making conversation. “I’ve had it now nearly seven years and you know it doesn’t have a dent or scratch on it and the interior is just like new. Check out the carpet; go ahead, take a look, not a worn spot to be found. I’m sort of proud of how well I’ve kept the Lit’l Critter up over the years.”
“You don’t understand,” she counters with her disappointment. “I thought you told me you had a sports car. If I had known you had a truck, we could have taken my Mercedes. Now, I know I specifically asked you what type of car you had and you told me you had a sports car.”
“I told you I had a sporty two-seater.”
“Yes, but I thought you meant a sports car – not a truck.” Again, slurring the word.
“Hey, what do you mean you specifically asked me about my car? You’re not one with a checklist, are you?” I challenge as tactfully as possible.
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” she insists. “We’ll just have to make the most of it. Let’s forget it. I’m happy you’re proud of your ‘Lit’l Critter’, but it’s not a sports car,” she advises in a morose, needling tone women resort to when they are not pleased. “How can anyone drive a pickup in the city? Now I consider myself very tolerant and liberal minded, but nobody drives a pickup in this town. It’s just not done! I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” she repeats. “Only cowboys, laborers, and geeks with beards drive pickups,” Doreen continues after a brief pause. “Are you one of them? Well?” she implores. “It’s not acceptable, it’s obscene and…and uncouth. What makes you want to drive a truck?”
“It runs real good and handles well and I need the bed to tote things around. It really comes in handy at times.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
There’s another uneasy silence in the car as I speed down the street, maneuvering through traffic like a racecar driver.
Doreen stares sulkily out her door window at the string of fuzzy pedestrians on the sidewalk and then grumbles: “If I knew we were going to ride in a truck, I would have worn my cowboy hat and bib overalls ... I don’t want to talk about it.”
We zoom into the dark tunnel and cruise down through the whirling drone from the concrete archway. She has this guarded metallic persona about her, some well-conceived shield she uses to hide behind. I know she can be personable and friendly, like at the gym when we’re just hanging out. Perhaps she’s just nervous about the event today and needs to get her thoughts in order. As we pass beneath each beam of light strung along the tunnel, her facial image is projected up on the windshield. I watch as her reflection turns from glumness, to contemplation, finally settling on a serene resolution that only a woman can possess.
“The weather’s great!” I offer up as a new topic as the truck bursts back into the daylight. “It rained once on the Fourth of the July and my date at the time stills blames me for it.”
“Yes, well, let’s go over who’s going to be there to get you up to speed,” Doreen says as she straightens herself up, adding some cordial enthusiasm to her tone. “They are all very dear friends that I’ve known for quite a long time,” she proceeds looking straight ahead. “You’ll like them. Daphne and Cord are the bride and groom and….”
“Cord?” I scoff, inadvertently.
“Yes, Cord, which is short for Cordell,” Doreen clarifies. “He comes from a very prominent and well-to-do family. Don’t be nasty,” she admonishes with a quick glance over at me. “This is their second marriage. They divorced when Daphne – she’s so crazy at times – ran off with her gardener to Italy. Poor Daphne. I can only imagine how devastating she must have felt when she found out that her new lover had a whole other family in Italy that she had to live with in a rundown hovel out in the boonies. Daphne had to work the vineyards, keep house, and tend to seven children while this man of hers – who she gave everything up for – caroused around with his so-called sister – I still don’t think for a minute they were siblings – doing whatever they were doing. It was a nightmare, a living hell for her, and after three years or so, she finally put her foot down, packed up her bags and came home.” Doreen pauses and takes a breath. “Well, Daphne and Cord got back together when Cord was thrown in jail one night. It was some minor infraction not worth mentioning…he discharged a pistol in his garage one night during a discussion with his son from a previous marriage. It was an accident, though his son probably had it coming. No one got hurt but Cord had to spend a few days in jail for discharging a fire arm again within the city limits.” Doreen pauses again. “Well, Daphne came to visit him in jail and convinced him that there was nothing between her and that crummy Italian goon – they were just acquaintances, and the two made up and are getting remarried today. It’s a fairytale.”
“Weird!” I offer to join in. “You know my aunt was able to pass off her lover as gay for the longest time, right under my uncle’s nose. The guy practically lived in the house with them. The husband and the gay dude became good friends, played lots golf together. Then one day she got a note from her husband saying that he and her young lover had run off together and wouldn’t be coming back. Go figure.”
“You’re making that up,” Doreen says as she stares at me incredulously. “Nobody could be that gullible. That’s ridiculous,” she says to reassure her and then faces forward.
“My cousin, Caledonia, will be there,” Doreen starts up again, “probably looking for her fourth husband. Do you know she’s my age,” Doreen says somewhat vexed and looking over at me, “and has been married three times!”
“I guess I’d better be on my guard.”
“Hardly,” Doreen counters, flecking some fluff from her jacket, then looking straight ahead, “you’re not her type. She likes short, plump, balding men with small, pudgy hands – Momma’s boys.”
“Three marriages? Maybe she should change her criteria a smidge?”
“She just had a string of bad luck, that’s all. Her first husband turned out to be a real kook, a transvestite, always putting her clothes on and asking her how he looked. At first she thought it was cute, but after a while it got downright embarrassing.” Doreen speaks in a soothing voice and has a charming snappy cadence to it that’s a pleasure just to listen to. “Her second husband, Clarence, took up transcendental meditation – finally gave up his accounting practice and is now living somewhere in Tibet or Omaha – I forget. I don’t want to talk about her third husband, the troglodyte. They were all such nice sweet men when she first met them – they just somehow went to pieces after a while.”
“A real tigress, huh?”
“Why say that?” Doreen asks with a quick, oblique glace at me. There’s a short pause before she continues. “One of my dearest best friends, Lily, will be there. We were roommates in college and cheerleaders – the Bobbsey Twins we were called,” she adds gleefully, “and did almost everything together. She’s a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. She was always the disciplined one, loves the strong, authoritative type. I’m a control freak – always have to be the boss,” she informs me as she fidgets a bit in her seat. “She’s done quite well for herself, going up through the ranks quickly. A close friend of her father was an admiral and had taken her under his wing until he had to take an early retirement for some vague reason she never really explained to me … except he came and visited her one night, blubbering like a baby. Don’t bring up the fact that she’s not with a date today,” Doreen emphasizes. “She’s really sensitive about this and has been really down on men lately.” Doreen rests a bit with a self-indulging grin on her lips and comments to herself: “She always has been uncompromising,” and then proceeds. “Dr. Knowles, my marketing professor, will be there. He’s such a darling, such a learned man. He’s retired now and a bit fussy, that’s all, which you should just ignore. I mean he just gets irritable sometimes for no reason at all and begins shouting at people in the foulest language. He means no harm by it. Perhaps it’s just all that pressure caring for his mother and all that has him in such a grouchy mood. That reminds me, William Lindquist will be here. He’s the attorney for a very important client I’m working with and I really need to talk to him about my proposal, so I may have to leave you for a bit to visit with him. I hope you won’t mind,” Doreen adds. “I don’t even want to mention Reggie and his trashy new model lady friend, Maggie. I just hope they don’t make complete fools of themselves. I would suggest you stay away from them and watch out for Terry Ridgemire, too, as I understand he’s become a Jehovah’s Witness and is quite fanatical about it.”
Doreen’s voice has become melodious and congenial and softly resonates in me, arousing a warm, cozy feeling. I wonder if women know what their sing-song talk does to men. They can’t be that clever.
“Dennis and Alice will be there. He’s a doctor, an intern to be exact, and of course, Alice is studying to be a nurse. They plan to get married as soon as Dennis finishes his residency.”
“Yeah, well don’t put that down on your calendar yet,” I quip to add to the conversation.
“What is that suppose to mean?”
“You know – the proverbial nurse/intern thing.” I try to explain what has become apparently the unexplainable. “Once he becomes a doctor he’ll dump her for some rich heiress that will rocket him right into high society.”
“Well, that won’t happen; they’re in love.” Doreen slowly relaxes her elbow on the door armrest and then rests her chin in her palm and pauses there, giving me a curious, contemplative stare. “Do you always stereotype people?” she asks in a low, rich voice.
“Only the obvious ones.”
“Is that how you see people – just as stereotypes?” she calmly asks in a relaxed mood, as though she’s just found something of interest in me.
“No, it’s just sometimes … you know … people tend to behave a certain way and … doctors … nurses … athletes … I think it’s … jocks, salesmen … sort of fun to recognize the similarities, you know, see how they see themselves fitting in….”
“Fun, huh? There’s a spot over there,” Doreen perks up, pointing to a parking space on the street.
“But we’re a block away. There has to be something closer.”
“No, this is fine,” she insists and I pull over and park.
We disembark and briskly head off to the function.
“Oh, one more thing,” Doreen states with some apprehension as she slows the pace some, “I should mention that Matt O’Neil will most likely be here too.”
“That name sounds familiar. Wasn’t he a bartender or something at Gilroy’s for awhile?”
“That’s possible,” Doreen timidly affirms. “The important thing to know is that Matt and I had a date once.”
“A date? I recall he was some sort of goon.”
“It was a long time ago…he took me to my high school reunion or something.”
“Why would you go out with him?” I ask somewhat puzzled.
“The important thing to remember here,” she says, calmly though slightly miff by my interruptions, “is I ended it nicely, but I think he still has a thing for me, you know, he thinks I still might go out with him. I dare say, he’s quite thick-headed about it all and very unreasonable.”
“O’Neil wasn’t the bartender!” I exclaim in alarm, halting our procession with a jolt so we can discus the matter. “He was a bouncer and a nasty one at that – a real obnoxious jerk. I heard he bit a guy’s ear off once. Why in the heck would you go out with him?”
“We just had one date,” Doreen answers defensively, but in an ingratiating tone, “I was desperate. I needed someone for the reunion.”
“But, Matt O’Neil?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” And with that, she checks the street traffic and then trots across the street toward a congregation of people waiting on the terraced steps leading up to the auditorium.
It’s an urbane group, dressed in colorful, spiffy outfits and spread out in front of the auditorium like pieces on a chessboard. There’s an exhilarating buzz among the gathering. They all look quite normal, intelligent-looking people partaking in a normal and typical event. Their conversations are muted, but I can see they’re lively, engaged, and civil. I don’t see any familiar faces, though, just a lot of normal-looking people.
“Doreen!” a shrill voice soars skyward.
“Alyssa!” Doreen answers in a similarly squeal, and the two gals come together and caress each other with loose-fitting hugs and quick pecks to their cheeks that just miss their marks.
Alyssa has long, shiny black hair, a swarthy complexion and an exotic mien. She’s a petite woman with very narrow shoulders that give her a bosomy look, and she’s wearing a loose-fitting, halter of silk magenta-paisley and chartreuse stretch pants that crimp her midriff and hug her crotch. She is garishly bejeweled with turquoise and sterling and could pass for a fortune-teller or a well-to-do gypsy.
“I’m so glad you made it,” Alyssa tells Doreen with a curious and salacious glance at me. “Hi, I’m Alyssa,” she pertly introduces herself as she extends her limp hand to me. “I’m Jewish,” she adds.
“Hi, I’m John. I drive a truck,” I reply as I take Alyssa’s hand and with a gallantry bow kiss it.
“John is an illustrator,” Doreen quickly declares in to counter my remark, “for the Murphy-Hamilton Agency – the large agency down on 35th.”
“Oh, that must be interesting work,” Alyssa says, holding my hand and ogling me. Her ring finger sports a huge oval diamond ring with matching platinum wedding band. “I just love artists. They’re so … so artsy. And such a brawny man – you must work out?” Alyssa tells Doreen how nice it is to have some new blood here as most of the other men are getting to be real bad sports. “Well,” Alyssa addresses me again, “I’m sure you’ll have just a fabulous time here today and let me know when Doreen is done with you; I’d love to talk to you about art and illustrating and all that other creative stuff.”
“Alyssa!” another woman calls out bombastically.
“Buffy!” Alyssa squeals.
A swanky, snobbish-looking couple walks toward us like pigeons strutting in the park. Doreen’s hand squeezes my arm and she tells me in a soft, cautionary voice to behave myself and then introduces me to Buffy Sanders and her husband Biff. Buffy and Biff are quite the well-groomed and fashionable duo. Buffy is a bit plump, with pudgy cheeks and narrow-set eyes and a powdered face, but groomed nicely and dressed in white lace stockings, a white pleated skirt, and a white knitted shirt with a white collar. I gather she has chosen to leave her tennis racket at home. Biff is in the preppy style with his argyle sweater stowed on his back with its sleeves knotted in front, neatly pressed and pleated khaki slacks, and expensive-looking brown loafers with tassels on them. The couple could be siblings if I didn’t know better.
“How was your trip?” Alyssa asks them.
“Wonderful. Just wonderful. A wonderful trip. Wonderful.” Buffy raves, ad nauseam. “You should have come. It was wonderful.”
“Wonderful,” Biff puts in his two-cents.
The three girls burst into chatter about their gifts and their gift purchasing exploits and, from what I can gather; a posh department store offers a totally different experience than a quaint boutique or buying off the Internet. Biff and I are left to exchange evasive, self-conscious glances. I can sense he would much rather be chatting with the gals, who are now talking about gift exchange policies. He seems lost without Buffy in the mix, very ill at ease underneath that showy get-up. I can tell by his vacuous eyes that he’s trying to find some sort of tidbit he can share with a commoner like me, but, unfortunately, nothing is coming to mind. Then Biff asks me if I do any yachting. I casually tell him I never have, but a buddy and I use to put together flimsy rafts and paddle around the marshes. Biff gives out a nervous, shallow titter as though I’ve said something amusing, which I haven’t. I wince to make him squirm some more. “Excuse me, old chum,” he finally says priggishly, “I see someone over there I want to talk to.”
“Sure, no problem, Biff,” I say as he saunters off toward another group of people.
“Be a dear,” Doreen turns and addresses me, “and watch my purse a moment so I can drop off my gift in the reception area.” She hands me her purse. I notice the other two gals quickly grasps the situation and give me a sugary, gotcha smirk. They all head off together, bustling in chatter. Doreen is so sumptuously graceful as she strolls through the crowd. She certainly fills the rump of her pants out nicely and she’s so wonderfully long-legged. Someone hails her over and they exchange greetings, then she catches up with the other two and disappears behind the masonry wall of the building.
I’m left holding the purse. Another ploy, I guess, to keep me in my place. No big deal. Men learn deference when on dates. But it’s definitely not a good look for me. Guys weren’t made to hold purses. I think it’s a primeval taboo or something. Tarzan wouldn’t swing through the jungle with a purse. How do you hold a purse? Let it dangle from your fingers? Sling it over your shoulder like a knapsack? There’s no way of concealing it, just try to blend in, be inconspicuous, that’s all and no one will notice.
“That’s a lovely purse, dear,” a wizen, old lady says as she plods up toward me, shoving a metal walker out in front of her. She is covered in a thin blue dress and her thick rose-colored rouge and blue dress doesn’t come close to covering her pale, cadaverous appearance. She is certainly well beyond a few steps past death’s door.
“Uh, it’s not mine,” I answer politely; “it belongs to a friend of mine.”
“I’m sure it does, dear,” she gargles incredulously. “It’s so nice to see all types of life-styles here at the ceremony, honey.”
“Oh, isn’t that adorable,” another woman states as she joins us. She’s a stout woman wearing a flowery saffron dress and a matching wide-brimmed hat. She has about a dozen of those yellow-boxed disposable cameras draped around her neck and wants me and the old lady to stand close together so she can take our picture. “You two smile now; this is for the wedding album. Say cheese.” A flash goes off before I can take the purse off the fold of my arm. The woman thanks us and darts off with an affected smile that disappears as quickly as she does.
“Come on Mother,” an elderly gent says who must be the lady’s son. He glowers at me with a threatening stare. “I hope you aren’t harassing Mother, you weirdo!” The old goat lividly accosts me from out of nowhere.
“No … no, we were just talking.” I answer warily. He looks exactly as I had imagine Doreen’s old marketing professor would look with his brown tweed coat, with those ubiquitous leather elbow patches, grey flannel slacks, and stooped posture. “I’m here with Doreen Palmer – I’m her date,” I divulge, looking for a way out.
“I thought you told me to be hip,” his mother crabbily snaps at him as he grabs hold of her walker and tugs her off. “I was just trying to be nice to the fag,” she utters, tottering the best she can to keep up with her son.
“Out of my way, you son-of-a-bitch,” the kooky professor shouts at some innocent bystander who happened to be in his way.
He isn’t “fussy”, he’s bonkers, I confirm to myself as I notice an open spot on a bench behind me. I go over and put the purse down on the seat and then step away a bit. It’s a basic tactic; it’s in the field manual on dating women. When left with an awkward task involving the safe-guarding a woman’s personal item, you set it somewhere and stand off to its side and pretend you’re some sort of secret service agent protecting it. I’m sure no one will notice. They all seem pretty much preoccupied. It’s not a bad-looking crowd. They seem all quite normal. It’s a beautiful day for a wedding. It’s balmy, that’s what it is, balmy. I wouldn’t mind stretching out on the beach for a while and basking in the sun. Doreen would look gorgeous in a swimsuit. I can see us on a beach somewhere on a deserted tropical isle. Doreen wearing a bikini, sauntering along the sand toward me, romping in the surf, playfully nestling on our towels, the straps of her top slithering down off her shoulders and her loose hair dangling over me with an naughty smile on her face.
A loud peal, like an arpeggio of xylophone notes, intrudes on my dreamy solitude and startles a bunch of people in the area. The clangorous riff blares out again and I watch, somewhat amused, as folks break from their chats, paw about their pockets and purses, find their cell phones, flip them open and furtively turn away to greet their mystery caller. With the third ring, they realize they’ve all been duped and turn their disgruntled faces on me and on the ringing purse that rests on the bench beside me. The loud, impetuous chimes resound again and I’m left with a dilemma. I can’t answer it. Maybe it’s a four ringer and will shut off. But no, it chimes in again and everyone expects me to answer it. I begin to pantomime to them, winsomely, conveying that it’s not my phone; I’m just watching the purse and that everything will be okay in just a few seconds and they can go back to what they were doing as there is no emergency here. Then the damn thing rings again and I start to break into an Irish jig, shuffling my feet about for the viewers until Doreen shows up to answer her phone. She misses the call, but sees it’s a client and tells me she has to call the person back and we may as well go ahead and get seated. We walk up the steps toward the portico as she pushes the dial button of her cell phone and puts it to her ear. At the top of the steps is a sign that reads “Woodall Wedding – 4:30 pm” and underneath that it reads “Shriners Meeting – 5pm.”
I’m greeted at the doorway by the usher, a big man built like a wrestler, with a scraggly beard and a suit that’s way too small for him. He has a musty pepper smell. He has a handful of pamphlets and hands me one as I approach. On the cover of the pamphlet there’s a cartoon-like sketch depicting a lion and a lamb lying together in a pasture.
“Is this the program?” I stop to ask him, noticing that other people are hastily entering through a different entrance.
The usher’s bulkiness obstructs our passage, and Doreen takes the opportunity to step off to the side so she can be ensconced in her phone conversation. “You will want to read this while you wait,” the usher tells me in a deep, coarse voice. He puts his hand on my shoulder and I involuntarily twitch it off, telling him that it’s a … an old war wound.
“Sorry, man, I didn’t know,” he recoils with his arms up like I’m robbing him. “War is a bummer, man. Well, like they say, there’s no atheist in a foxhole. That’s why you need to read this stuff,” he tells me as he lowers his arms. “It tells you how some of us will be saved when this whole damn world is blown to smithereens. You want to be saved, don’t you man? Saved, man! Salvation!” The usher is animated and gestures like a clueless baritone singing an aria. “Well, this pamphlet will help. It will show you how to get ready. You don’t want to burn in Hell, do you?” he exhorts, looking point-blank at me. “Take a look at the pamphlet. It will show you the better world that’s coming. And you know,” he confides in a low voice, “only a select few will be able to enter that kingdom. It’s a cool place, man, a place where we all get along and hang out together.” He eagerly directs my attention to a page in the pamphlet depicting a bombed-out city skyline drawn in the same comic book style. “Armageddon, man! Armageddon.”
Doreen remains secluded off to the side, attentively listening to the cell phone she has pressed against her ear. She’s oblivious to my whole situation here with the fanatic importuner and she seems in no rush to rescue me. She gives me a smile and wiggles her fingers to let me know everything with her is going okay.
“See all these people?” the usher asks as he embraces my shoulders with his arm again and turns me round to point out, with his baboon-like hand, the crowd out on the steps. “Gone! See the street, the cars? Gone! See those buildings and all those power lines and street lights? Gone! Everything you know will be gone, man. Only a select few of us will be saved. I want you to be one of us, man.” He says, squeezing my shoulders affectionately. “Don’t you want to lie in a heathery meadow and sleep with the lion and the lamb?”
“Ah, I’m not really into that sort of thing,” I haltingly answer and duck out from under his arm just as Doreen finishes her conversation, flips her phone shut and rejoins me and demands we go in.
“Hey man! Where will you be when everything is gone?” the usher implores vehemently as Doreen and I stride away into the dimness of the auditorium. “When it’s all gone?” he shouts. “When this building, man, is gone? When the whole damn world is gone? Hey, man, what’s your problem with sleeping with lambs, anyhow?”
“I told you not to get mixed up with Terry,” is Doreen’s only remark about it all.
“Better turn off your cell phone,” is my testy reply.
The main room of the auditorium is set up like a small chapel, divided into two sections each with it rows of pews. The place is filling up quickly though there are still a lot of empty spaces. In the front, where the altar would be, is a stage with a huge thick curtain behind it. There is a woman on the stage lit by a spotlight dressed in a black velvety gown bowing a lamentable rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun” on a huge cello that is packed between her legs. I see a lot of spaces in the center of one section and nudge Doreen in that direction. I politely query the people sitting near the aisle if those seats in the center are taken, but they only give me an annoyed and baffled look. I guess they’re not, so I lead the way, squashing myself past knees and twisted legs of seated attendees who grudgingly give way. Doreen, on the other hand, seems to just glide along, chatting excitedly with the people she passes. We reach an empty section of the pew and I go to the far end and sit. Doreen imperiously sits at the other end of the opening, leaving a big awkward gap between us. We stare at each other across our standoff. Doreen is trying to conceal her smug, winning ways with pouting, pursed lips, but she knows I know. I can’t help noticing that her blue eyes are clear and deep, complacent and demanding, all blended together. Well, I’m not much for arguing over trifles, so I slide back over next to her and we both settle in for the ceremony.
Doreen surveys the crowd and checks out who is attending and who is missing “Isn’t this exciting?” she tells me as she jiggles her derriere on the pew until it comes to a rest. She is all atwitter with the excitement of the festivities taking in every detail, and jocundly chatting with the people around her.
In the book holder in front of me are magazines – a National Geographic, People, a Neiman Marcus catalog, and a National Enquirer. I take the National Geographic out and skim through its pages, then put it back. The place is full of rows and rows of faces, some slack, some firm, some round, and some long, the normal assortment, but all of them share the same sedentary look. A man in front of me is watching a miniature television set. Elsewhere, a woman is knitting, someone is reading, another listening to headphones, and there are two guys playing cards. There’s a hush in the auditorium as the low humming of the cello ceases. I pull out the National Enquirer to look through.
“I love these social gatherings, don’t you?” Doreen tells me with a buoyant smile, and then grimaces with disapproval at the tabloid I’m holding. “You don’t read that trash, do you?”
“Sure, this is how I get all my news,” I tell her in mock seriousness. “Look here; it says that the whole state of Alaska has been inhabited by aliens for the last thirty years.”
Doreen leans over and looks at the column in the tabloid and asks: “Where?”
“Right here. It says the government has sent up numerous governmental teams, on the pretense of being sport fishermen, to investigate and none of the teams have returned. The government can neither confirm nor deny the allegation that aliens are now completely in control of the forty-ninth state and it has no knowledge that the government teams have been abducted and are being used to pull sleds. Look here, there is a quote from a suspected alien stating the teams are being treated humanely and are now providing an invaluable service to the inhabitants of Alaska.”
“Go on! That’s nonsense,” Doreen scoffs and then snatches the tabloid from me and examines its contents. “Look, a woman gave birth to coyote pups nine months after returning from a camping trip in Wyoming,” Doreen reads with childlike credulity. “It says here she formed six breasts to accommodate the litter. Scientist believed this is the first time in recorded history that such a birth has occurred. The father is still unidentified. See,” Doreen flashes a photo at me, “this story at least has a photo of the woman nursing her pups.”
“That reminds me of an old joke,” I offer with a grin.
“Tell me. I love jokes,” Doreen beseeches as she puts the tabloid back in the holder and leans close to me.
“Well, what are the three love-making positions during pregnancy?”
“You’re so bad,” Doreen chortles. “I don’t know, what are three love-making positions during pregnancy?”
“Well, now don’t tell anybody,” I whisper to draw her closer. “During the first trimester it’s almost anything goes and the second trimester it’s the spooning position, you know, and for the third trimester it’s the coyote position.”
“Coyote position? I never heard about a coyote position,” Doreen bites.
“That’s when the guy lies by the hole and howls.”
Doreen bursts out a loud squeal that reverberates through the whole auditorium and then she quickly ducks her head down to her knees and covers her mouth to smother her convulsive giggles. I pat her consolingly on her back. “There, there.” I look around and notice that the wedding party has come out on the stage and everyone in the place is staring at us with astonished, gaping faces. Doreen sits up and subdues herself the best she can.
“She swallowed a bug,” I announce to the gathering. “She’ll be okay.” The stunned gathering seems intent on prolonging their gawks over the distraction until their faces all become quite comical. “Proceed,” I finally proclaim.
“Let us begin.” The minister starts in a full, sonorous voice as he stands facing the wedding party and the audience. He pauses and piously gazes over the congregation as everyone turns their attention back to the stage. Doreen snaps my thigh with a quick admonishing slap from the back of her hand and then she settles into a more solemn pose and directs her focus toward the stage.
“Welcome! Welcome everyone,” the minister continues. “It is so good to see you all here today on this auspicious occasion to witness the rejoining of Daphne Simone-McKinsey-Woodall and Cordell Woodall the Third in holy matrimony. I see a lot of old, dear friends here today and some new faces,” he says, glancing over at me. “Well, you’re all welcome just the same,” he adds with a slightly disdainful inflection there at the end. “Please stand and let us pray for this reunion,” he instructs, going back to his rich, throaty voice that ripples out over the listeners.
The people rise to their feet and bow their heads as the minister offers a prayer. He’s dressed in black, glossy leather with a white turtle-neck sweater on beneath his partially zipped-up biker jacket. His shining head is completely shaved and he has a goatee and is wearing black biker’s boots. Daphne and Cord have their backs to us and face the minister. Daphne is probably as wide as she is tall and is wearing a banana-yellow muumuu that covers her body except for her blubbery limbs and her little, round head. Cord is as skinny as a rail, older and taller than Daphne, and has reddish hair neatly cut into a flattop buzz, a tawny, weathered neck, and he’s wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, revealing many tattoos on his arms. He has a cell phone affixed to his belt. He, too, is wearing black biker’s boots. In the dim lighting of the auditorium, the standing congregation seems like a massive colonnade at dusk. Some are murmuring aloud and some are silent.
“Amen,” the minister concludes. “Please, be seated.”
The chamber rustles and creaks as people sit back down again. The minister glances down at a small napkin he is holding, and then looks back up at the congregation. “I want to say just a few words about the vows of marriage. The vows of marriage are the sacred words a man and woman offer up to God to bless their holy union. They are vows of commitment, obedience, and foremost of fidelity which should not be taken lightly or desecrated or cheat…cheapened by affairs out of wedlock,” he articulates the words emphatically. “Honor your vows and bliss and beatitude will reign in man’s castle where the two will dwell and always fulfill that one solemn vow of giving oneself up unselfishly without fuss or bickering to your man.” The minister pauses from his obvious off-the-cuff oratory to catch his thoughts and glance down at his napkin. I wonder what Freud would say about his last comment? He quickly reads over his notes in a mumble: “The vows are sacred…the cornerstones of the marriage.” He looks back up at the congregation. “These vows are our words to God. The words of God!” he abruptly thunders over the gathering. “And what does God have to say about marriage? Let me share some passages on this from the Holy Scriptures. In Hebrew 13….”
The booming racket of a motorcycle cruising down the street fills the auditorium and sets off a endless chain of sirens, whistles and horns from car alarms in its wake. The loud din lasts for quite a while, drumming out much of what the minister is saying and leaving everyone in the audience wrenching and craning their necks to hear or turning to the person next to them with puzzled shrugs.
“… carry these words with you forever.” The minister ends his shouting as the outdoor noise peters out. He grimaces and seems to mouth obscenity under his breath. “It’s my understanding that Daphne and Cordell have written their own special vows for today and would like to share them with us all. Who wants to go first?” Daphne and Cordell whispery bicker over who would go first then Daphne gestures that she’ll go first and holds up a piece of stationery with neatly written lines on it.
“I, Daphne Simone-McKinsey-Woodall, hereby vow to Cordell Woodall the Third, that I will faithfully cherish and obey you and not cheat on you ever again. I will keep the house solicitously and diligently respect your privacy as you wish. We’ll let bygones be bygones. I will not interrogate you on your whereabouts and doings. I will not say your friends are stupider than they are. I will not disturb you when you’re in the garage in the evening. I will not snoop through your clothes. I will inform you many times in advance when my family or other people are coming over. I will not leave my undergarments out in the bathroom or make up your side of the bed in the morning. I will not throw away anything without asking you first and even then I will still not throw it away. I will listen to your side of the argument before I decide what we are going to do. I will love your dogs as I love you and not chase them out of the house with a broom. I will hold these vows forever and never break them, so help me God.”
Daphne nods to the minister to let him know she’s done. The minister is a bit taken back by it all, but smiles graciously and approvingly and turns to Cord. Cord rummages through his pockets and takes out a crumpled piece of paper and unfolds it, clears his throat and begins to read.
“I, Cordell Woodall, the Third, take you, Daphne, to be my lawful wife again. We’ll let bygones be bygones and I will never bring up the three years you spent in Italy,” he grumbles. “I’ll let you control the finances because you’re going to anyhow. I will never say your clothes make you look fat. I will always listen to you when you are talking to me, except when I’m reading the paper or doing something else. I will keep my dogs out of the bedroom at night and maintain life insurance on me for as long as I live. I will always put the toilet seat down when I’m done and turn the light on in the bathroom at night when I urinate.”
Cordell is nervous and jittery like a dog at the vet’s to get fixed and he reads in a halting and desultory way. I look over at Doreen to see if she’s catching all this, but she seems enthralled by the proceedings.
“We’ll go out at least twice a month for dinner to a place with tablecloths,” Cord continues his ramblings. “I will do the yard, the dishes, take the garbage out, wash the cars, pay the bills, walk the dogs and feed them, wear the clothes you buy me at least once, and keep my opinions to myself. I will not clatter my spoon in the morning when I’m stirring my coffee. I promise to always get 1% milk and check the expiration dates and get everything on the list when I have to do the grocery shopping. I’ll do all these things so we can have another shot at it. Love, Cord.” Cord folds the paper back up and stuffs it back in his pocket and turns to face the minister.
“Well then,” the minister finally chimes in after a reflective moment, “well done, both of you. Do you, Daphne Simone-McKinsey-Woodall, take Cordell Woodall, the Third, as your lawful wedded husband?”
“Do you, Cordell Woodall, the Third, take Daphne Simone-McKinsey-Woodall, to be your lawful wife?”
“By the powers vested in me by the Holy Universal Orthodox Church and Redemption Center, I hereby pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride now.” Cord and Daphne kiss as a formality and then the house lights come on, lighting up the whole auditorium and all the attendees applaud the union.
“For all of you attending today,” the minister loudly announces as he quickly steps out front stage, “we want to thank you for coming and, as promised, the reception will be held in the pavilion out back. Please proceed to the side doors with the exit signs over them.”
People gradually stand and begin nudging toward the aisles. Some flip open their cell phones to check in with someone.
“Well, it’s about time,” a middle-aged woman in front of us inveighs in a snit to Doreen as she stands and gathers her coat and purse.
“Well, it’s nice that it all worked out,” Doreen replies calmly, as though the two had this going discussion through the whole ceremony.
“Move along,” the woman nips at her hubby in front of her. “He’s such a moron,” she tells us and turns back to him. “I don’t know why I put up with you. I should have married the trombone player when I had the chance.” She’s a middle-aged woman all made up with fancy dyed hairdo with a green tint to it, thick, rouge lipstick and a heavy dose of perfume to cover up the fact that she’s not a spring chick anymore. “Well, he should thank his lucky stars that Daphne took him back,” she tells Doreen.
“I always believed the two would get back together; it just had to be,” Doreen says, angelically.
“That runt should get down on his knees and kiss the ground she walks on,” the woman adds in a scathing tongue just as she and her hubby hit the confluence of the aisle. “This is what you get when you’re married to the same man for forty-two years,” she says, alluding to her reticent mate. “Hurry up, you old goat, we want to get a good spot at the reception,” she barks as she pushes her spouse ahead through the crowd toward the exit door.
A gentleman seated by the aisle holds our egress up while he puts his laptop computer back into its case. “I thought it was Daphne who ran off with the gardener?” I ask Doreen. She turns and leans her face in next to my ear and tells me it’s a long story and she will tell me all about it later. As we enter the flow of the aisle, I notice a herd of anxious Shriners corralled behind the back balustrade waiting to come in and take our spots. They are all middle-aged men in suits and have their sashes and fezzes on.
“There’s Reggie and Maggie,” Doreen whispers in my ear again as we trudge along the aisle with the flock of other people. She refers to a couple near the stage who have their back to us. Maggie has a head of frizzy black hair and is wearing corduroy hip-huggers and a soiled white embroidered smock. Reggie is in ragged blue jeans with a big hole in the rear flashing his boxer briefs. He has unkempt long hair, and is wearing sandals.
“They seem like a nice couple,” I comment.
“Oh, no,” Doreen whispers her disagreement in a condescending reproach, “she’s a slut and a hussy and he’s a creep, a rake, a libertine … a freethinker. He is one of those bohemian painters, an artsy sort that has no respect for people’s sensibilities – rude as the day is long.” Doreen derides the couple in a deliciously snappy whisper. “He’s a pornographer! – peddling his so-called ‘living art’ to us. Everybody expects the two to self-destruct any day in one of their bawdy exhibitions, go up in flames, right there on the spot. The way they carry on – carrying on like dogs in heat – gratifying their sexual urges right in public. Shocking! Just shocking!”
Maggie slides her hand down the back of Reggie’s low-hung jeans and he affixes his hand firmly on her proportionate rump.
Doreen straightens herself out some and in a more normal tone tells me: “Reggie has a showing at the Maxwell Gallery. We should go there some time and see it.”
“Doreen,” a gal calls out as she slinks towards us through the procession.
“How you doing? That’s a fabulous outfit.”
“You’re stunning, as always.”
Caledonia is a lanky vamp with bluish-white skin and short, thick, hennaed hair. She is wearing a lustrous teal dress that falls to just above her silky knees and has on matching high heels. She has a wistful, almost dreamy aspect and a bored but determined squint to her eyes. On her cheek is a mole covered with fine black hairs, but it’s her pale lips that really catch one’s attention. She has these full, tense lips that shove themselves into the corners of her mouth, forming little creases there at their edges. There’s something so sensual about lips like that, lips that can drive men wild.
“This is John,” Doreen graciously claims as she slides her arm through mine and daintily rests her hand on my sleeve.
“John,” Caledonia drawls out as she gives me a quick once over, then shakes me off like a baseball pitcher to his catcher and returns her attention to Doreen. “Aunt Jane will be at Billie’s Thursday and is looking forward to seeing you. You do have to come.”
“I have it down.”
“Wonderful. You’ll have to excuse me. I see someone in the back I want to meet,” Caledonia says. “I’ll catch up with you two later.” And with that said, she wends her way off through the crowd, her rump slowly sashaying underneath her dress.
Doreen’s arm remains entwined with mine as we nudge our way patiently toward the exit door leading to the reception hall. Doreen tilts her head toward me and tells me to take a gander at a big-boned, full-figured woman wearing a black spandex body suit that covers her from neck to knees. It’s a sleeveless piece with a mock turtle-neck and she has a snug necklace of white pearls on. I tell Doreen that the last time I saw someone wearing an outfit like that they had scuba equipment on.
“That’s probably how she got the pearls,” Doreen adds jokingly.
“Oh! Isn’t she adorable?” Doreen gasps as she kneels down to check out a tiny tyke all dolled up in a party dress. “How old is she?” she asks the proud mother.
I notice, standing way off in the back, lurking in the shadows, Matt O’Neil who is staring intently at us, at me.
The little girl is shy and timid, but receptive of Doreen’s special attention and quite captivated by Doreen. To Doreen’s credit, she isn’t talking babble to the child, but addressing the youngster as a friend, praising her dress and pretty hair.
“Isn’t she precious?” Doreen tells me as she stands back up. “I love children, don’t you, John?” And with that, she takes hold of my hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. Then she whispers to me that William Lindquist is here and she needs to have a word with him. Our hands part and she nervously primps her wardrobe to prepare for her visit. “How do I look?” she asks. I tell her she looks perfect. She tells me to go ahead and get a table and she’ll catch up with me and then walks off to greet to Mr. Lindquist. Mr. Lindquist seems like an unassuming sort and gentleman-like. It dawns on me that my whole future here with Doreen hinges on whether or not Doreen has a good chat with some stodgy old fogey.
But the other problem now is that the reception line is progressing at a quick pace and I may have to go through the wedding party gauntlet on my own. Doreen is still busy talking with Mr. Lindquist. I don’t even know these people. What am I supposed to say? Should I ask Daphne how her stay in Italy was? Is it ‘best wishes’ or ‘congratulation’? I can never get those straight. It could be “my condolences” for all I know. I glance in at the reception hall and survey the groves of people hanging around in there. It’s a den of strangers conversing among themselves. What have I gotten myself into? I jingle the coins in my pocket and rock back and forth on the soles of my shoes while I wait and try to listen to the muffled music coming from the reception hall. In front of the wedding couple is a small pre-teen flower girl in a white ruffled dress, holding a bouquet. She’s moping and obviously doesn’t want to be here either. We exchange polite glances a few times and then she gives me a scoffing snort as though she knows exactly what my predicament is.
The couple in front of me must know Daphne and Cord quite well as they’re having quite a chat, reminiscing over a bunch of stuff, going on and on, while I wait. They finally move on just when the ominous hum of the opening notes from “Hotel California” waft out from the reception hall.
Daphne turns her head to greet me and I see her bubbly hospitality turn to a befuddled wince. I watch patiently as her mind tries to file through her memory to figure out exactly who I am.
“John Clayton,” I quickly introduce myself with an extended hand.
“Oh, yes, John Clayton,” she responds, blankly, with a limp hand.
Daphne has a cherubic face and dried mascara streaking her cheeks. Her pudgy face is framed by curly, golden locks, which could be a wig.
“I’m with Doreen Palmer,” I add, giving her a hint.
“Oh, yes, Doreen. It’s so nice of you to have come. Where’s Doreen?”
“She’ll be here in a sec.”
Daphne doesn’t seem to know whether to wait for Doreen to show up or proceed without her. After exasperatingly searching the reception line a while, she finally asks me how long Doreen and I have been dating. I tell her it’s our first real date.
“Oh,” she utters in a haughty drone, “yes, of course. Cord,” Daphne says to the groom, passing me off to him, “this is John Clayton, Doreen’s escort today.”
“Escort, huh?” Cord grumbles. He has a smoking pipe clenched between his teeth, is holding a bottle of beer in one hand, and smells of motor oil. “Well, don’t eat up all the hors d’oeuvre,” he tells me in all seriousness as he quickly passes me on to Terry Ridgemire, the usher guy slash Jehovah Witness at the end of the line.
“Hey, man,” the usher slash Jehovah Witness greets me with an eager smile, “had a chance to think about our little talk?”
“Yes….yes, I have,” I tell him. “You know there is somebody here today that I think you could really connect with. Someone who, a while back, confided in me about his concerns…his worry, you know, about…about Armageddon,” I reuse his word just for fun. “But don’t tell him I said anything about this. You see, he told me all this in confidence when he was in a state of terrible deep depression. You know, it has to be kept on the QT. You might already know him – Matt O’Neil.”
“O’Neil? Yes, I’ve might have met him, but I meet so many people in my calling. If there’s a lost soul here, I’ll find him.”
“Remember, the QT on this or he won’t be receptive to your whole salvation thing.”
“I’m cool, man, I’m cool. You have a good one now.”
The reception hall is a large lawn area enclosed by a tent framed by metal poles and trusses overhead. The skin of the tent is a white vinyl, decorated with green stencils of ivy vines and fronds, giving the place a jungle motif. Most of the lawn area is taken up by a slew of large, round tables covered in white linen, each encircled by metal folding chairs. Along the far side of the tent is a row of white linen-clad tables topped with an assemblage of silver food trays and weaved bread baskets and, next to that, a decked-out bar with a bartender behind it dressed, also, in white tunic, and busily hosting a gathering group of patrons. In the back of the tent is an open area with a DJ stand towering over a makeshift dance floor area and, off to its side, in front of an open tent flap, is a pack of gleaming black-and-chrome Harley Davidsons, each aslant on their kickstands.
I pause a while on the fringe of the reception. It’s been some time since Doreen left to talk to Mr. Lindquist. I wonder what’s keeping her. So I’ll wait. I have this edgy sense of isolation standing here as strangers mill about, giving me curious glimpses as they pass by. Now I know how animals feel in the zoo. I see an empty table near the center of the pavilion and walk over and lean two chairs against the table just as Doreen rejoins me.
“Champagne?” she asks vivaciously, with a gaily vague smile.
“Sure, My Lady.” I answer chivalrously. “I’ve saved us a couple of chairs,” I point out and then head for the bar.
There’s a line at the bar and I wait my turn as I gently nudge my way closer. “It was a very nice ceremony,” a man in a loud, brassy voice says as he steps up next to me. I glance around and figure he’s addressing me, so I tell him yes – it was a very nice ceremony. He puts his extended finger up to his mouth and hushes me and then explains to some anonymous person that he was interrupted. The asshole has one of those headpiece phone sets on, you know, the ones people wear when they look like they’re talking to themselves. I never figured that walking around and talking to oneself in public would become so fashionable.
Finally, my turn comes and I step up to the bar and begin to order the champagne, but a short pudgy guy with a thinning head of hair butts in front of me and orders his drinks first. He turns and gives me a sappy, twisted grin. “Tom Watkins,” he impudently blurts out as though I somehow am privileged to meet him.
“Friend of the bride or the groom?” he asks.
“Neither, I’m Doreen Palmer’s date.”
“Doreen, huh? So you’re the escort for this one?”
“In a way.”
“Don’t mind my chuckle, but Doreen is notorious for finding escorts for these type of functions and then dumping the poor sap right after. Don’t get me wrong. She’s a gorgeous gal. I wouldn’t mind banging her myself, but her career comes first and men are just window dressing. She’s cold as they come.”
The bartender sets two glasses of champagne down on the bar and Watkins picks them up with his pudgy little fingers. “Don’t get your hopes up, buddy, it ain’t going to happen,” he advises with an obnoxious wink.
“Tell me, Tom,” I ask as he prepares to leave, “are … are you a married man?”
“No way, buddy, I’ve got too much going for me to get tied down to some bimbo. I’m in my prime, buddy, in my prime. I’ve got the world on a string. There are just too many fish in the sea to get harpooned by some barracuda that could ruin everything, if you know what I mean.” He lets loose with a smug guffaw and tells me: “I got one right now on the line. Not much to look at, sort of a pale, skinny runt with a god-awful hairy mole on her cheek, but she’ll be a real easy slam dunk if you know what I mean,” he adds with a lewd wink. “Has nice lips, though.” Tom anxiously scoots out through the crowd as the bartender hands me my two champagnes and I head back to the table.
A guy with the eye-patch is sitting in my chair and he has his arm draped over the back of Doreen’s chair, chatting to her profusely in a low, secretive tone. I go over and place Doreen’s champagne on the table in front of her and take an obvious swig out of my glass and place it in front of the eye-patch guy. On the other side of Doreen sits a female Navy officer dressed in a white starched uniform with black epaulettes with gold bars on her slender shoulders. Her mousy brown hair is neatly pinned up under her starchy white cap and she sits in a perfectly rigid and poised position. Her unadorned face seems starched and polished too. She has narrow brown eyebrows, brown eyes, and almond-shaded lips. She is listening, with a very blasé expression, to a gent on her other side who is opinionating something about the naval history he’s read. The gentleman seems to be part of a threesome that has joined us at the table. There’s a woman next to him, about his age and stature and very sedate-looking, and next to her a young, brawny kid with a buzz haircut, a loose fitting linen shirt with no undershirt and a sloppily trimmed mustache-goatee combo. It could be their son, but he’s swarthy where they’re not ashen. The eye-patch guy remains reluctant to disengage from his spiel with Doreen. I suppose poking his other eye out would be frowned upon. I notice Mr. Lindquist trolling over by the hors d’oeuvre trays, so I ask Doreen if she wants some appetizers, and she does and I tell her I’ll be right back.
Mr. Lindquist is a middle-aged man, short and svelte looking. His narrow, angular face is partially covered by a full, neatly trimmed, grizzled beard. He wears rimmed glasses over his keen hazel eyes, and has large, protruding ears. If he weren’t so impeccably dressed in expensive clothes with an expensive gold watch on his wrist, he could pass for my trig teacher in high school.
“Wonderful affair,” I comment to him as I load up a flimsy paper plate with various munchies.
“Yes, yes, they’re always wonderful affairs,” he answers dispassionately and without looking up from the hors d’oeuvre table.
“I’m on a date,” I continue. “I don’t know most of the people, but the reception seems nice and there should be lots of dancing later this evening.”
“I will have to leave early,” he states out of the blue as though he’s making a bid in bridge. “I have a business engagement this afternoon, but I’m sure you young folks will get along quite well without me.”
“Business meeting, huh? Well, you got to do what you got to do. I gave up my ticket to the Monster Truck Derby this afternoon to be here.”
Mr. Lindquist halts what he is doing and slowly looks over at me with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He hesitates momentarily then asks if I could keep a secret.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I don’t have a business engagement today,” he whispers gloatingly, “I have a ticket to the derby too.” He puts his finger up to his lips to reaffirm the secrecy of the information.
“All right!” I congratulate him as I place my small paper plate loaded with tidbits down and pick up another empty one. “I didn’t take you as a truck man, though, more of a Mercedes or Jaguar type. Of course, I shouldn’t talk – I drive an S-10, myself.”
“I have an S-10,” he gleams with pride. “Have to keep it parked in town because my wife would kill me if she knew I drove one. I want to beef it up someday with a 572 and Patrick chassis.” Mr. Lindquist chuckles to himself with amusement. “I’d like to drive it up our front steps right into the parlor where my wife has her tea parties. Tell her I have to use the room to change the oil. That would send her into a tizzy.”
“Well, do it. What can she do?”
“Well,’’ Mr. Lindquist shudders in dismay, “as you said, you got to do what you got to do.” He pats my shoulder with his hand. “It’s been nice speaking to you, young man. Enjoy the afternoon.” Mr. Lindquist takes his plate of snacks and strolls off into the crowd.
I stack my plates of hors d’oeuvre and head back to Doreen who is anxiously, but politely, trying to shoo the eye-patch guy up from my chair. As I approach, the eye-patch guy gives me a leer and then reluctantly stands and relinquishes the chair and tells Doreen that it was nice talking to her and he’ll catch up with her later. He wanders aimlessly away. Doreen eagerly pats the empty chair with her hand, beckoning me to sit.
“Well?” she asks me avidly,
“You had a little chat with Mr. Lindquist – what did he say? Did he say anything about me?”
“What did the eye-patch guy have to say for himself? – you two were having quite a chat.”
“I don’t know. He just likes to hear himself talk. You didn’t say anything obnoxious or out-of-line did you?”
“No, we just had a quick, cordial chat. He’s a nice guy. We had some things in common. Shooting the breeze, that’s all. He told me he had to leave early … prior engagement.”
Doreen gives me a pleased but wary smile just as the gal from the threesome asks her to introduce her escort to everyone.
Doreen introduces me to the table with a brief, “everyone this is John.” The threesome’s gal eagerly follows up by asking me if I’ve known Doreen long. I drolly tell her that Doreen and I got married last week in Vegas on a dare and are now trying to get to know each other better and decide whether we should keep the baby or not. Doreen quickly interrupts to explain to everyone that I have a dry sense of humor and that they should all just forget my weird little bits of levity and none of that is true. After Doreen clears this up the navy officer, Miss Lily, leans over to Doreen and the two begin a private, somber discussion.
I notice that Alyssa and presumably her hubby have joined the table and are sitting next to the threesome. Her hubby is decked out in a safari outfit of khaki shirt with an olive-green khaki vest and a wide-brim khaki bush hat and is chatting with the threesome’s kid while Alyssa tries to make eye contact with me. The hubby and kid are having a rousing discussion about superheroes and it’s Alyssa’s hubby’s contention that Popeye was the archetypal superhero with his, “this is all I can stan’, I can’t stan’ no more” catchphrase. The kid strongly disagrees saying Mighty Mouse was the main dude with his “here I am to save the day” slogan. The only vacant chair left at the table is precariously next to me in that Matt O’Neil is still lurking about and all.
Alyssa’s hubby breaks off his discussion with the kid to abruptly and rudely ask Lily where’s her date is today.
The whole table is abashed, except for the kid, who hasn’t realized yet that such a question is a faux pas.
“What? What did I say?” appeals the hubby to the collective gasp at the table. “I just mean that Lily is a very attractive woman and there should be lots of guys in the Navy to meet. John, don’t you agree? The Navy has lots of men in it.”
“Yes, yes, I think the Navy has a lot of men in it,” I concur.
“It’s just not that easy,” the threesome’s gal says, trying to sound astute. “It’s difficult meeting good men nowadays, especially being on a boat and all.”
“I’m not on a boat, Marge,” Lily finally rings in caustically. “I work at the base. And it’s not a boat, it’s a ship.”
“No, no, no,” the man with the threesome insists like a pundit, pumping his hands up and down like he’s dribbling an imaginary balls. “Dating is like fishing, you got to keep throwing your line in and hope you catch something. Who knows what you’re going to catch, but you got to keep on trying.”
“Have you tried playing Mega Catch on the Internet?” the kid tosses in out of the blue, which everyone ignores.
“A woman needs at be swept up off her feet,” Alyssa finally comments, “by some mad, impetuous man who will ravish her like she’s a wanton love-nymph. Oh, what I would give for an encounter like that! Some mad, passionate beast throwing me swooning on my back.”
“Keep your panties on, dear,” her hubby advises.
“What if Lily doesn’t want to be swept off her feet?” Doreen intervenes.
“That’s why cavemen used clubs,” Alyssa’s hubby jokes.
“That’s disgusting,” Lily volleys. “Is that the only way you men can get a woman – with a club? Well, you’ve all been quite helpful,” she sarcastically says to everyone at the table as she primly fusses with the napkin on her lap, “but I’m not going to settle again for any high ranking Tom, Dick, or Harry that comes along.”
“Well dear,” the threesome’s gal says in a sulky, matronly manner, “I’m sure the right man will come along eventually.”
Someone pulls the empty chair next to me away from the table. I don’t turn to see who, but he’s standing behind me and bantering with someone across the room in a rowdy way. Perhaps he’s just getting the chair for another table. “No, you kiss my ass!” he blusters in a booming voice. He sits in the chair and scoots himself in toward the table, leaving ample room to spread his legs out. He’s about my age and dressed completely in black – black denim shirt and jeans, socks and black athletic shoes, and black gunk under his fingernails. He has blackish hair that is fairly short with a few unruly cowlicks, and he has a strong jaw line and deep-set eyes. He takes a long gander at the whole gala, then takes a swig of beer from his bottle and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and draws himself up to the table. “Sorry I’m late,” he says in general. “I got tied up.” He lets loose a loud, long belch, which he’s able to prolong by somehow craning his neck and twisting it. “Did I miss anything?”
But before any of us can answer, he staggers halfway to his feet and gives Lily a hammy salute. “Aye, Captain. Reporting for duty,” he tells her and then quickly reclines again. “What’s with the getup?” he asks Alyssa and her hubby across from him with a doltish grin on his face, “is she in the Navy or something?”
Lily bites her lower lip, which is a notable gesture for her, given her stony composure.
“And what’s your get up?” the guy in black flippantly asks Alyssa and her hubby. “What? – we’re role playing today, safari guide meets gypsy?” he asks, much to their chagrin.
Mr. Lindquist stops by to see Doreen on his way out, which delights her. “I have to head out now,” Mr. Lindquist tells her, “but why don’t you stop by my office Monday and we’ll go over your proposal.”
“How about 10-ish?” Doreen proposes, beaming confidently.
“Nice meeting you, young man,” he says to me, “I’m sure we’ll run into each other again.” Mr. Lindquist heads off, turning back occasionally to wave farewell before he exits the pavilion.
Doreen turns to me and gives me a long, curious but admiring gaze. “Well, you must have made quite an impression on Mr. Lindquist,” Doreen says, slightly nodding her head.
“Hey, what can I say? I drive a truck.”
“I didn’t miss the fight, did I?” The guy in black blurts out with genuine concern.
“Perhaps you’re at the wrong event,” the threesome’s gal retorts somewhat irked.
“Nah! This is the Woodall gig, isn’t it?”
Doreen gently taps my shoulder and tells me she sees Professor Knowles and is going over to say hello and will be back in a bit. She stands and moseys off just as the steward makes his rounds, refilling our champagne glasses.
The guy in black tells us he’s Larry and that he’s a buddy of Mango, Cordell’s son that is, and they’re Suzuki bikers and that really has Mango’s old man in a fit, being a Harley-Davidson man and all. Mango likes rubbing his old man’s face in it just to get his goat, rile him some until he really loses it. Larry tells us we see the two in the garage at night when they’re both working on their bikes. The old man has the floor chalked off so Mango got just this tiny little area to work in, but Mango just puts his stuff anywhere he likes and they go after each other like cats and dogs, totally ballistic, with wrenches and sockets flying around berserk-like. That old man is ballsy, Larry admits, and ferocious as a cornered rat. And that’s nothing. Heaven forbid if Mango touches one of his old man’s tools. Here, Larry pauses a bit and shakes his head pensively and takes a sip of beer and then tells us how funny it is that neither one of them ever lays a hand on the other’s bike. Some type of taboo, he guesses in awe. It’s like the bikes are somehow off limits for them. Well, Mango is forbidden to be here today because he just don’t fit in with the old man’s crowd, being a Suzuki man and all, but Mango ain’t much for orders – especially his old man’s – and he’s decided nothing’s going keep him away today. Larry tells us he’s here to sort of give Mango support, you know, back him up just in case.
“What do you think about that, Captain?” Larry smugly asks Lily with droopy eyes as he boastfully leans back in his chair and looks at her behind my back. “I’m an insurgent, a infiltrator, don’t you think?”
“You’re a rude and obnoxious cad,” Lily tells him scornfully as they glare at each other behind me.
Larry turns back toward the table and shrugs, “I’ve been called worse,” and titters.
“She’s not a captain, she’s a lady,” I softly comment to Larry.
“I know she’s a lady, I’m just messing with her.”
“Well, tell me, John, what line of work are you in?” the threesome’s gal asks, determined to continue as if nothing worthwhile has just been said.
“He’s an artist,” Alyssa breaks in. “He does sketches and drawings for a large advertising firm.”
Larry leans back in his chair again, “Hey, captain lady,” he blares out impertinently at Lily behind my back, “you want some grub?”
Lily ignores him and continues placidly listening to the threesome’s gent’s recitation on how he is going to prepare and barbeque his chateaubriand tomorrow. Larry turns back toward the table and says, somewhat befuddled, that he’s hungry and is going to go get some chow and don’t let anyone take his beer or seat, and with that he gets up and staggers off.
“You have to have me up some day and show me your sketches,” Alyssa resumes. “Perhaps you can do a sketch of me. I’ve been meaning to have one done to show Alex here what I look like, as I think he’s forgotten.”
“I know what you look like,” her hubby contends.
“You’re a bastard!” Alyssa snarls at him, “and if you stopped chasing all your hussies you might actually do me some good.”
It seems that Alyssa and her hubby, Alex, have this ongoing squabble that can flare up just about anywhere and at any time.
“How about you, Marge?” I address the threesome’s gal again. “What keeps you busy?”
“I own an antique shop on 89th,” Marge eagerly informs me. “I started out doing garage sales and gradually built up a business where I needed my own shop. It’s very posh; you should drop by some time and check it out. Andy here,” she gestures toward the kid, “is my assistant buyer. We have to travel quite a bit finding wonderful knick-knacks and rare, hard-to-find items. He has such a wonderful eye for Americana. I don’t know ….”
I notice that Matt O’Neil has joined Doreen and Professor Knowles. Knowles is furious about something and is shouting at both of them. Doreen is taking it quite calmly, but O’Neil seems downright cowered and frightened and doesn’t know what to make of it. He finally throws his hands up in disgust and storms off. The camera lady circles our table, taking a barrage of snapshots, concluding with one of me between the two empty chairs.
“… knows all the best motels in the area and makes for a wonderful traveling partner,” Marge continues her rave as I tune back in to her.
“Well, that all sounds quite indecently delicious for you, Marge,” I quip.
“Oh, there’s nothing indecent about it,” Marge confides and then she puts her hand up, shielding her mouth from the kid and she mouths out: “He’s gay.”
“He’s not gay,” the threesome’s gent inserts contentiously, “he’s alternatively savvy. He’s a great kid though,” the gent starts telling me, “and it’s a comfort knowing Marge has someone with her on her trips. I’ve been taking him out and teaching him golf when I can and he’s got a real natural swing that just needs a little work. I’ve been giving him some pointers – you see, he goes back too quickly and doesn’t have his ….”
Fortunately, Doreen returns and plops herself down next to me and asks me, sternly, why I was harassing Professor Knowles’ mother.
“I’m a harasser. That’s what I do. I’m pretty good at it. Want me to harass you?”
“Well, Dr. Seuss,” Doreen says with a relinquishing smile, and takes a sip of her champagne. “You had Professor Knowles all in a dithers. Poor Matt O’Neil, Professor Knowles thought he was my date and was taking it out on him. He didn’t know what was going on. Scared Matthew to death.”
“Garcon!” Alex calls out summoning a steward to come and refill everyone’s champagne glasses. A table away from us breaks out in uproarious laughter with some hysterical cackles thrown into the mix.
“Did I miss anything?” Doreen addresses the group at the table.
A commotion breaks out just outside the pavilion where the motorcycles are parked. People gather around the tent door and jostle and shove each other to get a better view. Outside, there’s rattling of chains, trash cans crashing, hollering and shouting, car alarms going off, dogs barking and cats screeching. Other people are drawn to the fracas and gradually a small, rowdy mob forms to root on the combatants.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a man announces at the head table at the other end of the pavilion, tapping his glass with a spoon to get everyone’s attention. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my privilege and honor….” He pauses and then has to resort to additional clanging of the glass. “Can I have your attention, please,” the man asks boomingly as the people begin to simmer down and turn their attention toward the head table. The speaker is a robust man, casually dressed, wearing a sport shirt unbuttoned at the top and no tie, and a brown sport jacket. He stands at the center of the table next to the seated Daphne. He has a full head of salt-and-pepper hair that is neatly combed straight back, strong facial features with a ruddy completion and a very pleasing twinkle in his eyes. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he commences now that he has everyone’s attention, “it’s my privilege and honor today to welcome you all here at this special celebration and to offer up a toast to two wonderful people we all adore and love.”
There’s a round of applause and Doreen leans over to me and tells me that the speaker is Daphne’s shrink, Dr. Freeman. There’s a bursting vroom of a motorcycle engine that quickly fades off into the distance followed by another grumbling putter of a chopper chasing it.
“When I first met Daphne,” Dr. Freeman continues, “she was a young and impressionable girl working over at the arcade on Ash and was tormented by acute compulsive behavior and pent-up anxieties. Her eating disorder and panic attacks were nothing more than cries for help from her neurotic state stemming from personality ambiguities and an anal retentive complex brought on by a domineering father.” The speaker pauses and peers over the audience. “Well, I don’t want to go too deep into Daphne’s past,” he glibly tosses out with a gleam in his eyes, “except to tell you, Daphne,” and he addresses her specifically, “that it doesn’t matter which fork goes where, everything will work out just fine.” There is a rousing round of applause as Daphne and Dr. Freeman exchange commiserating glances. “Of course … of course,” he says gesturing with his hands, “let me not forget Cordell, who, in his own special way, has been a real stabilizing force for Daphne over all these years.” There is another round of applause for the obviously absent groom. “I’m sure Cordell will be joining us shortly.” Dr. Freeman says and then clears his throat and takes a sip from his champagne glass. “I can’t help but recall an episode Daphne told me about during one of our sessions,” he starts up again. “It seems when Daphne was a small girl she wanted to be a ballerina and one day she was asked by the school to dance in one of their pageants. Oh, she was so excited, as you all can imagine.” The speaker has his hands flattened on the table and speaks earnestly. “There she was, dressed up in her pink tutu and black leotards with her dainty little ballerina slippers, waiting backstage to go out and perform for her family and classmates. And then some gruff insensitive backstage goon, not unlike her father, told her to ‘break a leg’ and poor Daphne...” Here he pauses again and glances at Daphne. “Well, Daphne took the comment to heart and it destroyed all of her confidence and when she went out on stage into the blinding lights and began her dance her legs gave out from underneath her and she fell to the floor and just laid there on her back with limbs flailing, in total humiliation, while the auditorium hooted and howled.” There are sympathetic groans and moans among the reception participants. “She was devastated and traumatized,” Dr. Freeman concludes, pausing for quite a spell and then adds as an afterthought: “And she swore she would never dance again.” With that said, Dr. Freeman turns to Daphne and lifts his champagne glass up to toast and prompting everyone else to do the same. “Daphne, we are all here today to wish you the very best,” he tells her sincerely, “and to say to that little ballerina that is still inside you to get up. Get up and dance again.” With a tearful eye, Dr. Freeman salutes Daphne with his glass and takes a swig of champagne. Everyone takes a hearty swallow of champagne and then begins chanting – “Dance, Daphne/Dance, Daphne.” Daphne, all atwitter with the emotional outpouring, stands and does a goofy pirouette, and to her credit, does it good-humouredly, then chugs down the rest of her champagne and graciously waves to everyone. There is uproarious applause and then it quickly quiets down and everyone goes back to their table conversations.
“One more thing,” Dr. Freeman stands and announces again in a loud oratory voice, “for your enjoyment and festivity, we have a special treat today. Our own Terry Ridgemire has offered to bring his DJ equipment and provide us all with music to dance to.” There, standing at ease behind a table of electrical gear on the raised platform adjacent to the dance floor is Terry, the usher slash Jehovah Witness, and now DJ. “You are all invited to come out to the dance floor and dance the night away.” With that cue, music blares through the pavilion. It’s the familiar tune – “Louie, Louie” but the words have been changed to: “Holy/Holy - Holy/Holy - We’re going to go now.”
Doreen draws her silk scarf off her neck and puts it away in her purse and then shimmies her coat off and drapes it on the back of her chair. She takes her clip out of her lustrous gold hair and shakes her hair out, letting it cascade down over her shoulders and back. She looks at me all aglow, gently swaying her shoulders with the music. “Party time!” she says with an enticing stare.
Larry rejoins us and takes a long gulp from his beer, then leans back in his chair again and hollers over the music at Lily –“Hey, captain lady, do you want to dance?”
“I don’t dance with baboons,” Lily hollers back.
He dejectedly faces forward and stares at the table. “I don’t know why she doesn’t like me,” he tells me.
“What was the ruckus about?” I ask him.
“Mango and his old man. They’ll work it out.”
“Let’s dance!” Doreen tells me, and we get up and she takes my hand and intrepidly leads me to the empty dance floor, where we begin to dance around each other in that ageless ritual of shuffling and stomping our feet and displaying our wares at a distance with spasmodic twists and shimmies, twirls and tantalizing flirtations we would never do otherwise. I, of course, am not much of a dancer, but I keep up with her by counting the cadence in my head and by watching this beautiful woman in a white blouse flaunt her stuff. Another couple joins in and before long the dance floor is alive with a mass of revelry. The music stops and we catch our breath, gently tapping each other’s waist to stay connected, then the music winds up again and we begin the ritual anew, but this time to a soulful tune about getting on board a soul train to heaven.
“You dance well,” Doreen leans in and shouts in my ear.
“I had lessons in eighth grade,” I shout back. “You’re quite the dancer yourself. You seem like such a natural out here.”
“Thank you,” Doreen shouts and then pouts and shimmies her shoulders sensuously as she rotates around in front of me.
A stocky dude bumps into me and then encourages me to get-it-on like he is. I notice that Matt O’Neil is sitting up behind Terry, perusing a comic book. I only have so many moves in my repertoire and have to keep improvising as I go along and still keep in step with Doreen. The small dance floor is packed now and the space between Doreen and me is closing quickly and so we start bumping rumps together in time with the music. Doreen likes this exotic move and smiles encouragingly at me as she twirls like a flamenco dancer. Other people begin to bump their partner’s rump and the whole floor opens into a huge rump-bumping orgy where anyone’s rump is open game to bump. It’s a silly world we live in and it’s stranger than fiction. Doreen, though, seems to be content with just me bumping her rump.
“Oh, my God!” an alarming scream draws attention to Reggie and Maggie, who have somehow decided to unbutton each other’s trousers a bit and are now locked in a salacious dance where each tries to jimmy the other’s pants off. We keep dancing, but at a slower pace so not to blur our vision. It’s like driving past an auto accident on the freeway. The people at the tables stunningly stare at the couple. Presently, with all eyes on them, Maggie passionately leaps up and locks her legs around Reggie’s pelvis and they begin to profusely kiss for the benefit of the audience while Reggie’s haunches undulate to the music. “Get the children out,” the old lady with the walker howls from the center of the pavilion as Daphne staggers about, giddy and ready to faint. Reggie then rams Maggie up against a tall loudspeaker and probably would have taken her right there had not a steward come up and emptied a bucket of ice water on them. They cease and desist and with a smirk, Reggie calmly picks up his jacket and throws it over his shoulder and the two stroll out the door, leaving a flush across the faces of the entire room.
The music stops and everyone on the dance floor heaves a sigh of relief. Doreen tells me she is uncomfortably warm and we need to take a break, so we weave our way back to our table.
“Phew!” Doreen exclaims to everyone at the table as she fans herself by puffing her blouse with her hand. “It’s getting steamy in here.”
“Boy, now that was sensational!” Alex touts as he turns himself back to face the table.
“It reminds me of Tahiti,” Alyssa says to him, dreamily reminiscing.
“What a vulgar display, and flaunting it right in our faces,” the threesome’s gal protests indignantly.
“Excuse me, steward; could you bring me a glass of ice water?” Doreen asks.
“What’s that, Dear?” the threesome’s gent asks Marge, unaware of the spectacle that just took place. He and Larry had been immersed in a conversation about fine tuning of motorcycle exhaust systems and what it takes to make the machine explode like a pack of firecrackers when passing a car, while still able to purr like a kitten when it cruises a country back roads. Even Lily must have offered a few comments about the proper decimal level for different situations as Larry tosses out that even Lily thinks slow drivers should definitely be blasted off the road.
“I didn’t know you were a motorcycle enthusiast,” Doreen says to Lily with a bewildered look. “You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking?” Doreen mouths to Lily and the two begin a serious girl-to-girl talk where Lily pooh-poohs much of what Doreen has to tell her.
“Well tell me, John,” Alex asks with bravado, “do you think my wife would make a good model for your sketching?”
“She has very nice features, quite attractive – but I’m not a sketch artist,” I respond.
“She has nice tits,” Alex boasts, “and a great muff,” he adds gratuitously, “and she’s easy to please and will do just about anything you want her to.”
Alyssa is gazing at her braggart husband lasciviously as he unabashedly tells me about her womanly charms. I guess their squabbling and extra-marital flirtations lead them back to each other sooner or later. Or maybe it’s just the booze.
“Your wife has awesome boobs, man,” the kid injects with a callow blankness in his eyes, totally oblivious to the amorous interlude between Alyssa and her husband.
“What’s that?” the threesome’s gent asks, leaning in from his chair and looking over at the kid.
“Nothing dear,” Marge says dictatorially. “He’s talking about Alex.”
“I wonder about that kid, sometimes,” the threesome’s gent grumbles as he leans back into his chair and takes another swig of champagne.
The table is becoming somewhat intoxicated and there’s the rambunctious vibes of “Devil Came Down to Georgia” energizing the entire place. Doreen is through talking with Lily and she turns and tells me quite urgently that we need to dance. This time, though, I lead to the dance floor and she follows in a meek and submissive manner as I guide us through the pulsating crowd to the center of the dance floor. Doreen is dancing differently now than the last time, when she was more outgoing and interested in the folks around us. She is now subdued and intent on working her body at her own rhythm and pace. I’m mesmerized as she drifts into a comely demure vision, with downcast eyes and drooping shoulders, a vision dancing solemnly and radiantly amid the bustling dance floor.
Daphne is enjoying herself as she weaves through the crowd doing glissades and pirouettes. The eye-patch guy is here, dancing with some floozy that he leads around in circles. Caledonia has her short, pudgy mommy’s boy by his necktie and is leading him around the dance floor with it. Biff and Buffy are dancing, quite stiffly and woodenly. If trees could dance, that’s what they would look like. Marge and the kid are off in the shadows doing an ungainly tango that neither knows the steps to and Alyssa and Alex are dancing cheek-to-cheek in a ballroom-style, and squabbling. Even Lily and Larry have joined in. Lily staidly steps in place, like a prancing pony, while Larry gyrates round her like a wild witch doctor. Doreen sways softly in front of me with her eyes closed and her head delicately tilted to the side. The din of the music and the ebullient throng is rattling the wood floor underfoot. It’s a swarm of stomping feet, clapping hands, whoops and hollers and imploring cries urging the crescendo to heighten even more, to push the volume of sound beyond all levels. The tempo increases to a frenzy as we frantically try to keep pace with it, debauching our urbane carriage with bobs and flits, spins and leaps in a lascivious romp that is whirling us off into delirium. Pounding feet and flailing bodies, a mass pulsating to the arduous pitch of an incessant wailing fiddle bent on shattering our prosaic world with its tightening strings that leads us into a voluptuous revelry of sensuous self-indulgence.
The music abruptly stops and melts away to an exuberant ovation from the participants. Doreen opens her eyes and smiles as though pleased I’m still here. The exhausted crowd disperses as Terry announces over the speaker that he is going to slow it down a notch and with that said an apocalyptic ballad set to the tune of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” rumbles out over the dance floor.
“We better sit this one out,” Doreen tells me as she begins to walk off. I take her wrist and tug her back. She is reluctant and gives me a wary, but pixyish smile as I draw her back to me. “I’m tired, John,” she implores. “I probably had too much to drink,” she says as we gently embrace and begin swaying to the music. She rests her head on my shoulder.
“So, what’s the scoop?” I ask as I place my hand snugly in the small of her back.
“What?” she inquires without looking up, her voice vibrating in my chest.
“You, know, I’m sure you gals had a chance to size me up. What’s the verdict? Did I pass muster?”
“I guess so,” Doreen says, as though she is too tired to speak. “You’re cute and presentable,” she offers, “but not serious enough. Buffy doesn’t like you. She thinks you’re too pompous and aloof, Lily thinks you’re undisciplined.”
“But how about you?” I ask her.
Doreen heaves a sigh and moves her head to my other shoulder. “How about me what?”
Lily comes up and taps Doreen’s shoulder to tell her she’s leaving and they will catch up later, then she goes over to Larry, who’s waiting for her with motorcycle helmet and his gloves in hand.
“You’re having a good time, aren’t you?” Doreen stirs and looks at me with concern. Her eyes are moist and their earlier sparkling blue has melted down to calm patches of floating hues.
“Yes, it’s been … very interesting.”
“What do you think about my friends?” Doreen queries as she slides her arms over my shoulders and locks her hands behind my neck, resting some of her weight on me.
“They’re quite an assortment. I can’t figure what they all have in common.”
“They’re nice people,” Doreen murmurs, “a little eccentric. It’s hard to keep them all appeased.”
“Where do you fit into the mix?” I ask, whispering in her ear.
“Most of them are associates or clients,” she tells me, “I’ve met in business. I try to stay in contact with them as much as possible. It’s a business thing,” she confides. “It takes a lot of energy. Life is a choo-choo train,” she concedes after a brief pause, a bit intoxicated, “and I’m sort of the conductor that keeps things rolling. It’s all very tiring at times – keeping up appearances and all. I really don’t want to talk about it.” Doreen’s head rests on my shoulder and she hums along with the music. “I keep having this strangest dream,” she offers in her soft voice, “that I’m in this speeding train that has just gone past a station where people are waiting for me.” She lifts her head and stares into my eyes as if looking for some explanation to it all.
“It’s just a dream,” I tell her.
“Yes… just a dream.”
Our lips join together and her luscious breath blows all my loneliness away. She lowers her head back to my shoulder and lets me lead her around in our dance until the music ends.
We quietly stroll back to the table where the threesome remains, intent on finishing out the night. They are joined by some other folks who have consolidated to the table. Doreen gathers up her purse and coat and tells them in a soft, moody voice that we have to leave now. We quietly head for the exit. Doreen steps over to Daphne and passes on her best wishes and appreciation for the evening and then we leave together out the door.
The feel of the night is blithe with a slight tremulous chill to it and the diffuse lights from glaring lamp posts and stores cast an opaque ceiling overhead where the muffled sounds of a bustling world are caught and reverberate. We jog across the street, dodging a few mindless, unyielding taxis that cross our path.
“You never did tell me why Cord was lucky to get Daphne back,” I ask, waiting for a taxi to zoom by.
“Do you really want to know?” Doreen quizzes.
“No, not really.”
Doreen scurries over to a show window of a fabric store and surveys the displays. “You know, I’m taking a crocheting class,” she tells me as she looks at our reflection in the plate glass window.
“Yes, I know – you told me.”
“Did you see my afghan I made on the chair? Not very good, is it?”
“It’s what it is.”
We mosey further along the sidewalk, strolling side-by-side. Some rowdy kids drive by, shouting and honking, but we pay them no mind. Doreen adjusts her purse by placing it on her other shoulder and glances down to watch her steps. “Did you have a good time tonight?” she asks looking back up at me.
“Yes, yes, it was very enjoyable. And you?”
“I thought everything went very nicely, a wonderful.…”
We twirl into a doorway. Our mouths fuse together as our hands fervently knead the garb of each other’s body as we lock in a torrid embrace, releasing the boundless energy of passion that has been building up inside us both for such a long time. Our rapture subsides into a tender afterglow as we rub each other’s arms and exchange tantalizing kisses and query each other’s eyes, quietly treasuring the moment and the pleasure of having someone of our liking.
“I didn’t think you were this type of girl,” I gasp as I nibble her earlobe.
“I was wondering if you were that type of man,” she coquettishly exhales as she kisses my cheek.
I withdraw and, with a dominant sway, begin dallying up the street. She quickly joins me and straightens herself out and we lock hands and stroll along the tacky storefronts in quiet exhilaration. The muted hubbub of the reception is still within earshot. Savory aromas of spices waft in the air from a restaurant where a busboy in white smock leans against an alley wall and smokes a cigarette. We pass a saloon that reeks and clamors from the imbibing locals inside, a travel agency office, closed for the evening, but the lighted globe still rotating in the window, a dressmaker’s parlor with its torso mannequins scantily dressed, a clock shop with its display shelves full of oddly faced clocks set to the same time, and a vacant shop lit only by a florescent light in the back. Doreen stops and looks into the dim, empty space. “I’m going to have my own business someday,” she tells me as she stares into the vacancy like a small girl watching a music box spinning a carousel of fanciful figurines, “perhaps in this very spot.”
“Come on,” I coax her along with a tug of her arm.
“I want my own office,” she moans, and pouts like an obstinate child as I pull her away toward my truck. I open the door for her and she slides complaisantly in and I circle around and get in, and we head off. We drive along in an enveloping silence, the two of us, savoring the moment and not wanting to change it.
The truck zooms into the whining drone of the tunnel and speeds down through the gullet of the man-made serpent. I glance up at her reflection in the windshield. She’s contemplating the shiny new Mercedes ahead of us and there are reflections of glaring red and green streamers crossing her face. She gently shakes her head and then coolly lifts her purse to her lap and surveys its contents, scooping through the items, checking to see if everything is there. Then she stiffens in her seat and straightens her wardrobe out and comes to a pose with her purse on her lap and her hands resting on the purse.
“It is getting late and I need to get up early tomorrow and finish up some work,” Doreen claims.
“Nah, it’s early. We can go to a bar and have a drink and go down to the harbor and walk along the wharves.”
“I have a presentation Monday, and I need to get my rest,” she insists in that adamant tone I thought had been vanquished. “I have some things to do tonight to get ready and things to do tomorrow that I’ve been putting off for the longest time. It was a lovely evening; please don’t spoil it for me.”
“I can be around tomorrow and help, run some errands for you. It’s a fantastic evening and I want to spend it with you. I thought you were okay with that?”
“You’re a very nice man and I’ve enjoyed your company immensely today and perhaps we can get together some other time when things aren’t so hectic. I just don’t think I have time right now for any type of relationship and we need to leave it at that,” she recites impassively, as though those lines had been rehearsed a thousand times.
She can’t do this to me. She can’t take that shield of hers out again and beat my head in with it. It’s not funny anymore or cute, it’s serious. What we have this evening is real and palpable and I know it. It isn’t a pretense or a whim or some fancy concoction in this crazy, mixed-up world, but the only thing that is real and true. I can’t believe she can change so quickly and callously and let what we just shared go. “I’ll escort you to your apartment,” I propose as I pull into a parking spot across from her building.
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” she answers with a disquieting quiver to her resolve. She leans over and kisses me on the cheek and then withdraws. We catch each other’s eyes in the vaporous dimness of my truck cab.
“I thought we made a connection here,” I tell her.
“You’re mistaken,” she says and takes a shivering deep breath and adds with calm fortitude, that she can manage from here and bolts from the car, slamming the door shut behind her.
The congestion of the street hinders Doreen’s flight and I can feel her waiting behind my truck for a clearing in the traffic. At the far corner of the building is the bag lady, with her two kids, and holding her placard. She’s not a bad person, I suppose, just a little gruff but pleasant enough. And we all need some help once in awhile. I watch as Doreen quickly jogs across the street and flees into her apartment building, leaving behind only the reflections of passers-by in the metallic glass plates of the door.
There by the curb of the street, is her scarf. It must have fallen from her purse. I’ll bring it up to her.