Eddie had moved into a downtown condo sublet right out of an eleven month stay at an institute for patients with dual-diagnosed psychiatric problems, because he was making some bucks and the state decided they needed the bed so they could get another commitment for another twelve month dole out from the feds. They accused him of making the place a free hotel for the last two months, forgetting that the treatment plan was for three to four months working in the outside world before being unleashed on them. He tried to get into a cheaper garden apartment style place, but that required references and a credit check. Eddie could get over the first, a few close friends stuck by him through his fuck-ups, but the credit couldn’t be covered by any such like financial institutions.
So Eddie took this sublet from a very enticing Cubana woman, reminding him of calmer days in the tropics years ago, who was about to marry Eddie’s mirror image, if Eddie had walked the straight and narrow and listened to his elders rather than his elder’s teachers, such as James Joyce, Bernard Malmud, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. They also didn’t want to start off their marriage hovering nine stories atop, unknown to Eddie, of the coming two-year relentless pounding of pile-drivers and jackhammers that would accompany the re-building and expansion of the decaying downtown into one of those Disney versions of the ideal mix of old-time charm and modern convenience, all facade and no heart and soul.
As it developed, that didn’t bother Eddie much, a little city noise was welcome after an almost year sojourn amidst deer and birds and fellow travelers of self-induced inactivity. It even provided a bit of serendipitous joy as the city used the empty pit below him for their after Hootie & the Blowfish Memorial Day concert fireworks. The bombs burst in thin air but fifty yards flat across his glass enclosed half hexagon shaped balcony room one story higher and rained on him sights and sounds not seen nor heard since the days of Jimi and a tab.
It being Memorial Day, with a good meal and the intoxicating display over, Eddie decided to make his first visit to F. Scott and Zelda’s grave a few blocks away a midnight one. The grave was in an old, small churchyard, now closed to new dearly or not so dearly departed, for lack of space. It was situated in a vee formed by the angled crossing of the two major six-lane roads in the town that Eddie likened to Stern’s Oakland. It once had been part of one of the generations held gracious estates that since the sixties were slashed up and sold to developers for the mind-numbing sameness of modern utility. The institute Eddie was just released from also rested on one of these plots, the state wisely keeping the fair citizens and the guests of the state safely buffered from each other by woods and a little used city golf course.
No one else was there at such a day and hour, the beers safely in their bellies to compete for elimination the next morning with the hot sausages and burnt steaks. Eddie wanted the gratification of the company of another boat against the current, dead or alive. The graves seemed to be in disrepair, decaying a bit with time, the ships quote that was inscribed still being borne back ceaselessly into the past. The missing sounds of rude traffic and the whooshing of the few tall century old trees’ leaves in a stiff spring breeze further bore Eddie back to when time mattered here.
Upon his return, his neighbor’s head emerged from the next door as he said night to some well-dressed guests. He saw Eddie walking the hall in deep thought, and invited Eddie in for a nightcap. Not really in the mood, he figured he has to live next to the guy and isn’t this what his re-entry into the world of nowhere was all about?
The neighbor was jovial, and recapped his day with gusto. When it was Eddie’s turn he figured he would tell it backward, and wanted to tell someone, anyone, of his last hour of introspection.
The neighbor looked up with surprise when he heard the location. He asked Eddie if it was St. Mary’s.
“Yes it is, just down the street.”
“Oh! I am a priest there, part time for the last two years, in the new church right next to the old one.. F. Scott Fitzgerald is really buried there?”
Eddie later found out that there had been a large flap over the interment of Zelda in the family plot, and after reburials and threatened lawsuits, she was quietly allowed to be laid to rest next to F. Scott, left to disappear with the faded letters of their names on the cold stones, boats slowly disappearing into the void of the horizon.
[From a collection scheduled out Jan 2011]
In a Brooklyn bar, in late August of 1971, Sid had troubles. He was soaking up the suds with two friends. “Guys, I pulled 117 in the draft lottery, they’re gonna call me up in a few days, I’m dead.”
Fred, who always lucked out, had drawn 364, next to last, safe. “Man, too bad buddy.”
Mitch, exempt as a Conscientious Objector, commiserated. “Yeah, sucks.”
The three sat there, not knowing what else to say, Sid couldn’t do the Canada thing, too many reasons to stay.
“Effin system” Sid moaned.
“Yeh, effin’ system” from Fred.
Then the light bulb. “Work within the system – use bureaucracy!” from Mitch. “Move!” “Legit!” “To our bud Eddie out in California!”
They worked out that Sid flies out there immediately, walks into the draftboard and tells them that he has moved.
“Then, when Eddie gets your notice, you mosey into the draftboard here and tell them ‘No work in California, I moved back’.” Mitch always had ideas.
“Yeah, then each time they gotta ship your records back and forth. By the time they get back, Bingo, its ’72, they’re saying the cut will be around 80 next year, and you’re safe!”
Maybe the combined twelve years of college and student deferrments weren’t wasted, it sounded fool-proof on paper, but this was beer-soaked bar napkin paper, so things couldn’t be all that easy.
The ’69 Chevy Impala, grey-black smoke pouring out of its tailpipe, came to a crunching stop on the top of a hill fifty miles to go on the road to Portland, the smoke mixing with the fog and remnant’s of brush fires that, with the burnt rubber, gave the air the smell of Secaucus if it had farms. Sooz looked over her shoulder from the driver’s seat to the two shadows she passed about 200 feet back.
“What’cha think Gertie? Should we go back for them?”
“Ehh, Sooz, think they’re like freaks, wasn’t sure if they even were guys at first. Thought we were goin’ into the city for some big studs, not skinny freaky gawd knows what. ”
“Ever do one, Gertie?”
“Do one what?”
“A hippie. I did one once, everyday for a week.”
“No way – eccch, was he dirty and smelly, they don’t wear Brut, or any after-shave, or even deodorant, I heard. And where’dja meet him? Down by the roadhouse, you didn’t go down there, didja?”
“Naw, you know my brother knows a few, for the pot, I mean Richie’s not a freak, but he likes to get stoned. Anyway, this guy, he actually was good, I mean it wasn’t just slam, bam; he went down on me.”
“Sheesh! Sooz, that only happened once for me, ‘member Chuck? His first time, I tole him he hadda, he never did it again.”
“Well, this guy liked to do it, didn’t wanna stop. But he hadda go back to Arizona, or someplace. Never saw him again.”
Gertie stopped to think. “Alright, let’s take ‘em, as a backup. If we can’t find any real guys before we dump these off, I’ll give it a go, if they’re not too freaky.”
Sooz gunned the Impala into reverse and screeched back to Sid and Eddie, who had just about given up hope for a ride and were about to snooze down in the ditch at the side of the road.
“Hop in fellas”, Sooz and Gertie’s voices mixed with “you would cry too if this happened to you” coming out of the AM oldies station.
Sid and Eddie got in the back, Sooz popping into forward just as Sid got his foot in the door, shutting it as they tore off.
“Where ya goin’ guys?” Gertie asked as blasé as she could be while picturing swirling tongues.
“Uh, Sid here is headed back east, and I’m going back down south of San Fran, but thought we’d take in Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies on the out of the way.”
“We’re goin’ ta Portland for the night, lookin’ for some fellas to hook up with, so wese can take ya that far” Sooz took command, snapping her gum. “You guys ok with oldies, I could change it to FM if you want, look like you’re FM guys.”
“Anything is fine with us” Sid replied, trying to see Sooz over Gertie’s puffed up, teased hair.
Eddie and Sid looked at each other, saw the dice from the mirror, hula girl on the dash, capri pants and shiny dacron tops on the bodies, bee-hives, smelled the gum. Sid leaned over to Rich and whispered “What are we, in a 10 year time-warp?”
Sooz switched the channel anyway. After a commercial to the Pepsi Generation, “I remember holding you while you sleep . . . bring it home baby make it soon.” That was a little better, although it was pop-rock, not the blues or underground stuff Sid and Eddie were into. Harrison and Ham traded some good slide work though, and maybe it was telling them something.
Now, Sid and Eddie were not averse to doing some time-sex traveling, after all it was four years earlier that they popped their cherries in Chattanooga, along with Fred, on the same night, with the same woman. She had a bouffant and leopard-skin patterned bra and panties, but it wasn’t so far removed in time then, and she was older, from that time. She also charged, this could be a freebie. Had to be – Sid and Eddie were as poor as their torn jeans.
As the asphalt ribbon became the main strip leading into Portland, bars and clubs started to appear at the side of the road. At each one, Sooz would turn into the parking lot, drive around and she and Gertie would size up the guys hanging outside.
“Ehh. Bikers, they’re just hippies with only half their teeth and beer guts. Sheeeet, real hippies, we got two in the back.” Gertie wasn’t reticent to assess the attributes loud enough for Sid and Eddie to hear. “Look, some nervous kids, we could break ‘em in Gertie, but they might go cryin’ home to mama.”
After about a half-dozen of these, with no success, they reached downtown.
“Alright guys, we’re going to a club we know. Got any money?” Sooz kinda made it sound like the only way they were gonna hang was if the guys would pay the way, their last shot.
“Naw, that’s why we’re hitchin’. But, hey – there’s the City Forest we heard about. Allowed to sleep overnight, where we’re gonna stay.” Sid leaned over and put his hand on Sooz’s shoulder. “You gals wanna join us, why bother fishin’ all night when we got the goods right here ?” Sid couldn’t believe what he just said, it must’ve been the hairspray fumes.
“OUT!! GETTA OUTTA HERE RIGHT NOW YOU CHEAPASS FREAKIN’ HIPPIES, SCREW IN THE WOODS? WITH YOUSE? THINK WE EVEN WANNA TOUCH YOUSE?” Gertie was apoplectic at the thought of bugs nesting in her beehive, swirling tongues nothwithstanding.
Both Sooz and Gertie started pushing the guys out as best they could with one arm, whacking them with the other, giggling all the time. Sid and Eddie tumbled out of each door, but as Sooz burnt rubber, Sid’s leg got caught up in the door and he got pulled along the ground for about twenty feet, wrenching his knee socket in every direction.
Sid spent the night in the hospital, Eddie ordered take-out for them from a Sambo’s nearby then fell asleep in the chair next to the bed. The next day they had to drain the knee and pull out a few tiny cartilage fragments.
The bureaucratic ruse didn’t work. Sid had to report for his physical on December 20th, they missed by 12 days.
The induction letter arrived on Christmas Eve. It stated that due to the temporary injury to Sid’s knee, he was to wait two months for it to heal, and report his status to the draft board at that time.
Free and clear. Turned out Sid did score with Sooz afterall.
“Wondered if I could get your thoughts on a matter of some delicacy?”
“By all means, dear boy. Fire away”
“About ladies’… *ahem*… bags.”
“Bags, eh? More port, Godfrey?”
“Don’t mind if I do. Most kind.”
“Bags, you say?”
“Yes. Marjory’s bag in particular.“
“Not sure I’m much of an authority on bags, dear boy.”
“Nor me. Part of the problem really.”
“What seems to be the trouble?”
“Marjory’s bag. Not what it was.”
“What it was?”
“When we met. She had a very nice little bag back then. New one.”
“Special? No, no. Quite the contrary. Rather plain, neat, very charming. Discrete, you might say.”
“This really is an excellent cigar.”
“Terrible about Fortescue, by the way.”
“And the cricket.”
“Oh, let’s not.”
“Between you and me, I’m quite fascinated by bags. Out of admiration of course, nothing sordid.”
“Of course not, who would suggest such a thing?”
“Really quite astonished at what the Missis has managed to produce out of such a tiny bag over the years. Capacity wise. All things considered it’s lasted rather well.”
“Goodness yes, sometimes Audrey produces entire picnics from hers.”
“Picnics? I…That’s to say, when I say bag, what I mean to say is…”
“Oh I see! Oh good gracious, how silly I am. Terribly sorry.”
“My fault entirely.”
“So, of course, Marjory’s bag…”
“Become a little worn. Rather thin and bashed about. Which I understand is not unusual for ladies d’un certain age. So I suggested she got a new one.”
“Yes. Know a chap. you see: Staughton. He’s in the business, as it were, very respectable. Gave his wife a new one last month. By all accounts they’re both quite delighted.”
“Well then, that sounds like just the ticket. Perhaps I should speak to Audrey about it too.”
“Marjory was most put out.”
“She says that new bags are terribly nouveau. Said that her bag is perfectly serviceable. An extravagance, she called it. Spent the rest of the afternoon lopping the heads off flowers.”
“Good gracious. Nouveau, did she say?”
“My word, old boy, it’s a minefield.”