Notebooks part 12 by Ron Steinman
Just as with the product, the pattern never varies. When I start calling on people to come see what I have, I watch my crowd slowly build. On most days people are in bathing suits and beach robes. The first few lines of hungry eyes are my “tip.” As the first rows are born I hear myself shouting, coercing, whining, begging, laughing. My feigned, tear-choked, too hoarse voice simulates a whisper as they move toward me. If I am lucky and my timing is on, I can make them move closer to me and listen to everything I say with an inquisitive, hungry intensity. They always think I am about to give something away for nothing. Well, I am, in a sense. Part of me, personal, hating, longing to love and waiting for love in return, goes down the drain with every pitch I make. I auction myself to the highest bidder, waiting for annihilation by the sun-bleached, yellow haired, hard browning, lizard skinned, crawling crust of decaying humanity standing impatiently at my feet.
I go through the motions of calling my flock. I, the Deacon in white, stiff with starch in faded blue cord slacks covering my torn white under shorts. I perspire freely in the intense heat and am soaking wet. My neck itches in a circle. Closed collars and blunt razors make me unhappy because they irritate my tender neck. Though my beard grows fast, the whiskers are soft and almost red, not black or with the feel of Brillo. Weak but gentle shocks come through the frayed microphone cord each time the sweat drips from under my arms to my wrists to the hand holding the mike attached to the portable speaker system at my side. The shocks came as if on cue, matching my heartbeat, in time with the pulsating vein in my forehead.
I see a man slowly lift his elbow and then guide it deftly behind him with finesse and grace. He places it firmly into the breast of a beautifully endowed teen-aged junior Amazon. She stands in a sheath of cloth, tissue paper thin in two-pieces, purple-purple, which passes as a bathing suit. He stands his ground, looking at me, his only expression, innocence. She wriggles in closer to hear what I have to say, her breast working his elbow as his elbow works her breast. I see her breathing change from normal to short sensual gasps.
I often wonder what effect I have on women when I preach the gospel of clean hair, but the chick in front of me is reacting to the guy with the elbow, not me. The newly mated couple come closer to each other. She begins to writhe in obvious sexual pleasure. He grinds his elbow neatly into her taut nipple. His feet stay firmly rooted to the wooden board walk, while he smiles stupidly toward me as if he is listening to everything I say. I feel like saying: Take your elbow out of her young tit, jerk. Leave her alone in public. For chrise sake, take her under the board walk and lie down with her in private on the cool, damp sand away from my jealous eyes. Just be done with your mechanical, spluttering fluctuations and leave the rest of us less fortunate slobs in peace. Jesus, I am envious.
On that particular day, as with many of my days, my crowd, the tip, starts edging from me. It has to be obvious to them that my mind is drifting, not paying them the attention they think they deserve. But the man and the girl remain rooted, held in place by a devil set loose to torment them and me. I realize I stopped talking. Slowly I started again, fervently demanding, knowing insanely that I depend on them, they who ae freely roasting in the sun, standing at my feet, comfortably and vulgarly attired for pleasure. My words and how I throw them out, sound like an Indian chant. “Now here this, now here this. Hya. Hya. Step right hup. Hup. One and ahl, step right hup. Everybody a winnah, no one a losah. All go home with something. Something useful, something you’ll use every day. Everyone a winnah. Nobody leaves empty handed . . .” Apparently it is enough to hold them even under the broiling sun. No one moves.
The silence ends when an impatient mother drops her child. The fat baby lands with a squashy sound, then rolls with a thud, its head bouncing off someone’s flabby-knee and never crashing on the wooden slats by his mother’s feet. It wails with that all too trite truth that exclaims, oh where oh where is my mother’s love? The small boy is perhaps three and he cries well, normal for his age. His mother is beside herself for dropping him and is useless in quieting him down. My crowd moves in closer and tries consoling the mother, a fat woman, wide at every turn, wearing a funny, single piece bathing suit with little pink and blue bows that mark the fullness of her rich, too ripe breast and thighs.
I wonder how some bare feet can stand the heat and splinters of the crumbling wood board walk. Briefly, without warning, a single cloud drifts in front of the sun temporarily blinding its ferocity. I blink several times to bring the crowd back into focus. They are my people now and so like putty. The Atlantic Ocean is calm. I can see very few white caps on the soft, almost noiseless, rolling waves. A tern chatters overhead and drifts high into the blue, near soft-gray thatched sky. Lazily, but with an apparent and avowed mission, it starts a long descent to the water below. Faster and faster it comes and then it hits the ocean, breaks the surface and disappears. An imperceptible second later it emerges wet and empty-billed. The tern does an awkward loop, rights itself and gracefully and nonchalantly flaps itself higher and higher, out of sight.
A man’s whinny voice breaks my reverie.
“Hey, mister. Yeah, you. When do we get the freebie? When? Huh?”
Reality is a pain in the ass. The man is a pain in the ass. If I could zap him to nothingness, I would do it, but I need him.
Once the cloud floats away, the sun returns with renewed intensity. I look down at the people in front of me, most of whom are waiting patiently for me to give them what they think they have come for. They have freckles and blisters on their faces, arms, legs and bodies. Unruly stalks of hair stand on their heads and patches of hidden hair are beneath their clothing. They have good and bad teeth, a variety of eye colors, and I know they have many untapped dreams. There are maybe thirty people standing in front of me waiting for me to start my act, probably waiting for me to fail. They want a show. I am their trained seal, their sheared and coifed pink poodle. I hate every minute of it. At first I mumble, a trick I use to get the crowd to lean in closer, the way they should when I want them to listen and lean on all my words.
I can’t help noticing the man with the elbow. He stands there as if he has nothing to do except distract me from what I should be doing, turning the suckers’ smiles into gold. He is in his late twenties, possibly in his early thirties. His body is strong but already his middle is starting to flesh to premature heaviness. His eyes are tiny and they squint against the glare of the sun. He has a long, sharp nose, thin parched lips and his lips press flatly against his wire-haired, dirty-blond head. His bathing suit erupts with a sizeable erection. It holds in place, jutting out. He does not care.
The girl he leans against is in her teens. Pretty, yet plain, she is strangely homely and possesses the ideal girly magazine figure for that year. She has huge breasts and large nipples. Thick ankles reach upward to thicker, though well-defined calves. These flow toward fully muscled thighs. She has a richly ripe, meaty body. Neatly packed buttocks perch below a small, rounded stomach surrounded by an unbelievably narrow waist. She can grow to fat before she reaches thirty. For now, she will probably provide a hell of a lot of entertaining moments for anyone nearby or for a wandering elbow that happens to find its way onto her body. Her freckled face is proving to be more that just a brief distraction for me. She is so young, and she looks inexperienced. But she is enjoying every moment of his sharp, screwing elbow. I wish I could be down with him. I’d indoctrinate her in a way I deserve.
It is getting late in the day. I have done nothing to earn my keep. The sun floats listlessly in the sky, growling with silent, gaseous, infernal fire. People are leaving the beach, looking for something to eat or drink, seeking a place to release their swollen kidneys with a rush of pleasure. The conglomerate odor of hot grease, sweet custard cream and dense spice fills the air. The edge of my crowd, the floating part of the tip, is under assault by darting, energetic, screaming, and shouting kids hurtling themselves uncontrollably across the boardwalk, their parents nowhere in sight. Their high-pitched screams annoy me and do not allow me to think. I have to get into my pitch mode and cannot.
The man and the teen-age girl are still at it, grinding themselves slowly to ecstasy. Now and then they are jostled sideways so they suddenly are face to face. Expressions of fright cross their normally bland features. They see each other for the first time, the second time, the third time. The shackles of the past reach out and grab them. Lust fills the man’s face. Confused passion drains the heavily suntanned girl almost white. Her freckles pop like black polka dots on a white silk tie. The two people move as if they are in the throes of intercourse, their orgasms almost complete. His hands now rest lightly on her hips. Her hands hold fast to her fleshy thighs. Does she know she is not alone? I think she is aware of his hands, yet she doesn’t care what he does—her pleasure comes first before anything in her life. I see her trying to move away—once, but no more, probably wondering how many notice their open, nearly consummated passion. I watch a race between two untrained, semi-tamed, uncultivated, partly domesticated dogs.
I lean in, my big moment about to begin. The crowd leans toward me. I reach a frenzy, at least in my mind. In that particular, special madness, I draw myself together almost becoming one with myself, a melding of mind and body. I have to sell. I have to make some money. I have to work. Suddenly the wicked sound of a harsh slap, skin against skin, brings me back to real time.
“Just what do you think you are doing?” the voice of the girl says.
She acts like a wilted, teenage passion flower, her true self. I see her try to get away from the man but he will not back away from her. His arms try encircling her waist but she wants nothing to do with him. She moves from him, to get away from him. The man will not retreat from the girl. As a tactic, he backs off a half-step until his hands and arms again go to her waist and he pulls her to him. She lashes out at him again, this time with her small fists, striking him on the head and body. Now the crowd backs off to give them air, give them room to move in whatever direction, emotional or physical, they want to go in the stillness of the humid afternoon.
The man drops his arms from her hips. Tears come to his eyes. A small bubble of blood appears on his broken lower lip. We are all silent, waiting for something else to happen, wondering who will take the next step.
“I’m sorry. I’ll go now,” he says.
He hesitates. Each word has a huge gap before he says his next. The pauses between them are enough for a train to pass through, easily, without the wheels on either side touching any letters in any of the words. His thick voice carries no weight. He is spent. His back appears to bend to the ground, his head hides deeply in his neck. The curl of his body protects him from any feelings he has toward himself as a despicable person. He turns from her, makes his way through the crowd and moves swiftly down the board walk, the hotel shadows casting an eerie darkness over his departing body.
Her eyes flicker at the people surrounding her. Maybe they believe they protected her from any further evil. A wild timbre visibly flows through her body, and sends a shuddering spasm from her feet to her head. Her head then droops to her chest. Blood flows to her face. She is dizzy. Was she embarrassed, ashamed, guilty? None of it matters. None of it applies.
“Stop!” She shouts at his retreating back. He does and she takes after him, running to catch up. Another love affair made in heaven.
I bend down to my supplicants and whisper, “Now my fine friends, it’s your turn.”
All ears perk as one. Some in the back row can’t hear what I say. I lean back on my heels and repeat myself, my voice continuing in a coarse whisper. Still a few don’t hear me. I stand higher, square my round, slumped shoulders and shout at the top of my lungs. It will be the last time for my opening line, “Now my fine friends, it’s your turn.” With the help of my antiquated and shock-filled sound system, everyone finally hears everything I have to say.
“Now my fine friends, it is your turn. So lend an ear. Pay absolute attention to what I have to say. Here we go.”