Friday, December 19, 2014

THE BEST APPLE EVER (A Very Short Story)

by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines

It was the best apple ever. There can only be one, and this was it. Never before or since on earth would there be an apple so outstandingly, scrumptiously good.

Along with thousands of its lesser siblings, the apple got shipped to a supermarket, where some lucky guy picked it out of a bin. His mind was on things other than spectacular apples, though. It fell and he gave it a kick. The apple rolled against the refrigeration unit and lay there, bruised, until the produce manager found it and threw it away.

Sometimes I feel like that apple. 



© 2014, M. E. Raines
Copying or reproducing in any manner prohibited by law
Please feel free, however, to link to this story.

Monday, November 17, 2014

MY JAW-DROPPINGLY GORGEOUS DAY



by MARY ELIZABETH RAINES
(c) 2011

It was the early 1980s, and I was driving to the East Coast to reconnect with a man whom I hadn’t seen for years. In my youth, what a crush I’d had on this sweet unsuspecting fellow! He, however, had never shown the slightest interest in me beyond that of a cordial friendship.


Now, more than 15 years later, I was going to visit him.
And his wife.
And his children.

Before I proceed any further, let me interject a disclaimer: I am not a shallow woman. I hold in disdain the kind of people who focus on superficialities and appearances. To me, a janitor has the same worth as a CEO; an 85-year-old grandma with a face full of wrinkles and hairs on her chin wearing K-Mart sweatpants is just as important to me as the latest hot Hollywood star boasting jewels and a designer gown.



Speaking of Hollywood… While working some years ago on the set of the TV show West Wing as a Professional Background Actor (translation: as an extra), I had the pleasure of meeting the show’s star, Martin Sheen. Sheen was an activist and a good guy. He’d even been jailed for his activism. He refused to discriminate against anyone; he treated his producers no differently from the way he treated me.

One night, when the cast was being transported some distance for a shoot at an airport, rather than use a limo, Sheen hopped into the van that was carrying all of us extras. 


He plopped down right in front of me, sitting next to an old wizened fellow.

“Where are you from?” Sheen asked the man amiably.
“I just got out of  prison,” the old guy answered. “I’m on parole.”
“No kidding!” exclaimed Sheen happily, clapping the man across his back. “Me too!”

His enthusiasm was not fake. He was simply the kind of person who refused to buy into status or appearances.
Like me. 

That being said, it was my intention to appear as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as I possibly could at my reunion with The Unrequited Crush. 



Why did I care so much how I looked for a man who had never even seemed to notice that I was a girl?

Well, if my host were to see me in all my splendor and appreciate the alluring vision I presented, and if he were, as a result, to experience even the slightest pang of regret at having never seized the opportunity of indulging in me when he’d had the chance…I certainly wouldn’t mind!

As for his wife, who was a talented and smart woman, my stunning appearance wouldn’t do any damage to her either. It could only serve to boost her confidence, since my former not-beau had chosen her when he could have had me, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous female! How could she not feel good about herself?

Talk about win-win-win!

The only problem—and it was a daunting one—was that of looking jaw-droppingly gorgeous. As soon as the date for our reunion drew near, I knew that I had work to do, for I am not a natural beauty. External devices would be required.


To this end, I deliberated for hours about exactly how I would style my hair.
I went on a crash diet.
I bought new underpants.

The rest of my wardrobe fell into place when a friend offered me a hand-me-down blouse. It was an expensive silky blouse that was quite flattering on me. I had no idea how she could part with such an exquisite garment. (I would, to my great dismay, find out later.)


The day of the meeting finally came. I dressed both with excitement and immense care before the long drive, wearing the new underpants, pulling on my sexiest open-toed high heels and, of course, putting on the flowing blouse.

It was a dreadfully humid day, so I decided that I wouldn’t attend to my makeup until I got close to my destination. Granted, I looked a little pasty-faced, but that was preferable to arriving on the doorstep of my youthful love interest with smeary lips, blotchy rouge, and raccoon eyes from melting eye-makeup.

I patted down the natural frizz of my hair, and then sprayed it mercilessly until it was as hard as the aluminum siding on a suburban tract house, hoping to close off all possible escape routes for even the smallest bit of fuzz. Just in case, though, I stuck a few bobby pins in my hardened hair at weird but key places. I would remove the bobby pins when I put on my makeup.


And I was off!

After several hours, my gas gauge began dipping down near the empty mark. I was driving on a crowded turnpike skirting New York City, so I exited into the designated gas station. Self-service had not yet become the norm, and this station was one of the kind where attendants still pumped the gas for their customers.

Do ever I miss those gas stations today! In most respects I am an ardent feminist, a woman’s libber from way back, but I’m sorry: pumping gas is just plain unfeminine.



I am not the only evolved woman who believes this. A childhood friend of mine named Joyce Jillson actually wrote a book once called Real Women Don’t Pump Gas. It was a clever response to another popular book that came out in the 80s called Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.


In her book, Joyce drew a chart that showed the highlights of a woman’s life. Almost at the top of the chart was losing your virginity. At the very top? Telling your friends you lost your virginity.

Here is something interesting about the author. She eventually became an astrologer, and she was one of the astrologers whom Nancy Reagan secretly consulted while hubby Ronald was president. She also chose the astrologically fortuitous date for the release of the movie Star Wars.


I knew Joyce before her astrology days. She lived next door to me when I was in the third grade. We didn’t have blogs back then, but we did the next best thing: Joyce and my sister and I put our heads together and created a neighborhood newspaper. We tried diligently to sell copies to people on our block; they only cost a nickel, but our readership never went beyond about five people. We put out two editions before we turned our attention to something else.


Back to pumping gas: Joyce was right. It is not something a woman should ever have to do, at least not this woman.
Why not?
First, whenever I  pump gasoline, some of it always seems to dribble on my shoes.
Second, my fingers wind up smelling like Exxon instead of Shalimar.
Third, I always feel icky when I have to grab onto a nasty gasoline pump handle that untold others have held. God knows where their hands have been!

So. It was a relief that someone else would be pumping my gas for me on this special occasion. I was especially glad because of the open-toed shoes I was wearing. It doesn’t feel good when gasoline drips through one’s nylons onto one’s toes. (Probably you have to be a woman to understand.)

The gas station attendant sauntered over to my car, and I rolled the window down. He was a scowling young black man wearing a grimy bandana across his forehead. His sweat-drenched tank top revealed muscular arms, and he spoke in a thick inner-city dialect which I couldn’t understand. He looked like he might be the member of a gang. A mean gang.

“Yeah?” he muttered in a surly voice. At least that’s what I think he said. His attitude meter was set on high.
“Fill ‘er up,” I said with a perky smile, pretending to be oblivious to the fact that he was scowling at me.


Racial prejudice was rampant in the early 1980s. Integration was still a recent concept. Mainstream role models like Obama and Oprah were young and unknown, and The Cosby Show, which would accomplish more to delete bigotry from people’s minds and hearts than any law could ever hope to do, wasn’t even on the air yet.

It was a really rough time to be black, young, and male.

I watched this gas-station attendant with growing compassion, thinking about how hard it must be for someone like him to find a job that paid a decent living; obviously pumping fuel in a dumpy gas station on a congested turnpike would be no one’s deliberate career choice. It was probably the only work this poor guy could find. His life must be lousy. It wasn’t fair.

I understood.

Unfortunately, I became smitten with the insane urge to make it clear to him that I understood.
We liberals do that sometimes.

When he had finished filling the tank and came to take my money, I launched an energetic barrage of sympathetic chatter at him.

“Wow, what a hot day,” I said, oozing empathy as I opened up my purse. “It’s got to be tough working in this kind of heat…”

I beamed my best “I’m-not-prejudiced” smile at him. He avoided making eye contact with me.

Determined to connect, I kept on chattering. Words spilled out of my mouth at a rapid pace.

“…Have you worked here long? It can’t be easy to find a job these days. Do you live in New York? Do you commute from there?...”

He didn’t answer. The more I chattered, the further he pulled away. The further he pulled away, the more desperately I tried to draw him in. I would prove to him that I was no bigot! I would make him see how much I cared, damn it!

“…because I don’t know what I would have done if I’d run out of gas on the turnpike in this heat. When it’s so hot outdoors, you must feel absolutely exhausted at the end of the day…”

As I blabbered, the observer part of me stood off to one side, utterly aghast.


“…Or maybe not. Maybe you don’t get tired. I mean, look at your muscles…”

Yikes. Now I not only had to let him know that I understood him and had compassion for him, but also that I wasn’t hitting on him!

“…Oh, it's not that I’m staring at your muscles!” I giggled, my voice artificially high. “I just said ‘look at your muscles’ because they show how strong you are, you know, so you probably don’t get tired as easily…”


I was floundering, unable to extricate myself, sucked so deeply into the whirlpool of my own fatuous jabbering that I had no choice but to persist.

“…and because of how much you’re sweating...but wait, now. I don't mean that you’re sweating too much! No way! It’s so hot! Hey, I’m sweating too. Everyone’s sweating. We’re all sweating…”

Avoiding the onslaught of the well-intended words pouring from my mouth, he held himself as far away from me as he possibly could, taking my money with a stiff arm. There was something peculiar in his facial expression; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. As he started to hand me my change, he made very sure not to touch me, or even to brush my hand by accident.

“…Why, thank you for the change. No, no, no, don’t be silly. You don’t have to count it out for me. I trust you…”

And that was a lie, because I didn’t trust him. I felt compassion for his circumstances, I’m sure his path had been difficult, I would’ve liked to have given him a break, but that did not belie the fact that he was a menacing-looking man and by no means did I trust him.

On and on I rambled as he gave me the last of my change. Despite the fact that my mission had failed, despite the fact that I knew how goofy I sounded, I couldn’t stop talking.

Maybe it was the heat.

The guy’s expression, meanwhile, had compressed into something so unreachable that I’d have had better success at getting on a flight to the moon than of establishing any sort of rapport with him.

With crude mercy, kind of like shooting a crippled horse, he finally put an end to our mutual misery by stalking away from me right in the middle of one of my long, rabidly rambling sentences. He shook his head as he walked away.

Defeated, humbled, but mostly relieved, I called out a final weak goodbye and reached for the key to turn on the ignition. As I did so, I glanced at my reflection in the rearview mirror—and I saw, to my horror, the vision I had presented to the young man at the pumps.

See, in those days I needed glasses to drive. I owned some fashionable aviator-style glasses, but they were so bottom-heavy that whenever I wore them, they left deep red creases in the middle of my cheeks. The indentations would remain on my face for hours, looking like fiery wrinkles.




Needless to say, in my guise of being a spectacular beauty, I wasn’t going to wear glasses while visiting the former desire of my heart, nor did I intend to appear at his front door with dark red gouges in my cheeks.

So on the last rest stop before this one, when I went to the bathroom, I’d grabbed two large handfuls of toilet paper before exiting the stall. In the car, I had shoved these wads of paper mindlessly under the bottom rims of my glasses to protect my cheeks. Then I promptly forgot about it. As I gazed in the rearview mirror, I saw that the toilet paper was still there on my cheeks, two big crumpled puffs of it, with tails of perforated squares streaming down both sides of my face.

Furthermore, my gorgeous new silky blouse, which I was wearing for the very first time, had somehow become unbuttoned. That, it turns out, is why my friend wanted to get rid of it. I’m not talking about one or two buttons here. All the buttons had come undone. The blouse had slipped back to the sides, fully exposing me in my bra.

There sat I, grinning too hard and chattering like a crazed blue jay at that poor guy, with toilet paper wafting over my cheeks, bobby pins stuck in my hair at weird angles, and my open blouse fluttering in the breeze...



I imagine he tells his friends about me to this day. Maybe I’m on a blog somewhere.

(c) M. E. Raines, 2011
Copying or reproducing in any form prohibited by law.
Please feel free to link to this article.


Friday, September 12, 2014

THE SONG OF THE QUEEN


by MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES
© 2014, M. E. Raines

“The hive of the honeybee centers around its queen. When the hive needs a new queen, the workers select several larvae from eggs that had been laid in the cells of the honeycomb by the previous queen. The  workers feed these larvae a special substance called royal jelly and the cells they inhabit are later sealed. Because of the royal jelly, the larvae in these particular cells will eventually turn into queen bees. 

“Upon hatching, the very first queen to emerge from her cell begins to make a high-pitched piping sound. She sings to her still-unhatched sisters. From within their cells, they sing back to her. Tracing the location of their cells by the sound of their calls, she finds each of her unborn sisters and stings them to death. This is because there can only be one queen bee.”


Her name was Bodacious Bea and the club where she performed was called, ironically, The Beehive. Bodacious Bea had soft tawny-colored skin, fleshy breasts, and flawless, if spectacularly overdone, makeup. Her glitter-strewn scarlet hair was perfectly curled and coifed, piled high on her head.

On the past Thanksgiving, Bea’s brother had commented rudely about the color of her hair. “That shade of red is not even in the spectrum,” he had remarked, mumbling through a mouth crammed with stuffing and mashed potatoes. “It’s just wrong. Like seeing a blue popsicle.”

He did not approve of her being a drag queen. None of her family did. She consoled herself with the thought that even Jesus couldn’t preach in his home town.

Despite the sneers of her brother, Bodacious Bea was clearly the star act at The Beehive. And everyone always told her that they loved her hair!

“What makes me so special,” she said haughtily in a recent radio interview, enunciating each word carefully and lisping ever so slightly, “is my size. I am sooo not one of those gargantuan, ludicrous imposters. You can see right through them in a second. I am only 5’4”, and except for certain portions of my anatomy, I am very petite.” She rolled her “r” when she said the word very. With a little giggle, she added, “I am feminine, you see, to the hilt.

Night after night, audiences screamed their approval of Bodacious Bea. She had a bit where would return for a curtain call and stand in the spotlight. As the roars subsided, she would bat her eyelashes and cry to the audience, “Ooh, you naughty men! You make me want to throw my panties at you!” Of course, this made them begin to cheer her loudly all over again.

In her mind, it was indisputable: she was the queen of the queens…or she would have been if it weren’t for her rivals, Kurvee Kittee and Luscious Lou-Lou.


It was almost time for the show. Bea was punctual, and she was always ready well before everyone else. Emerging from her dressing room, wearing a snug turquoise sheath that glittered with the garish reflections from thousands of embedded rhinestones, Bodacious Bea minced confidently down the backstage hallway. Her dress was so tight that she had no choice but to mince. It wasn't a problem. She liked to mince.

In a high-pitched piping voice, Bea sang out, “Kittee! Kittee? Where are you? I so need to see you!”

Kurvee Kittee had galloped in only a few minutes ago, and she was decidedly grumpy. From one of the dressing rooms, a masculine voice growled, “What the hell do you want? I’m late, damn it.”

Whenever Kittee was stressed, she fell out of character. She could be decidedly unfeminine. This bothered Bea, who wished that Kittee’s fans could hear her now. Bea herself was always genuine; she never forgot for a moment who and where she was.

Bea opened the door to the dressing room from which the voice had sounded. Kittee, in her underwear, sat awkwardly on a stool before the mirror, legs splayed for balance, and was frantically attempting to glue her false eyelashes on. They kept falling off. Kittee’s red-smeared lips were curled back in a furious, impatient snarl.

Posturing coquettishly with one hand on her hip, Bea moved in behind Kittee and shook her head at the scene. “Oh Kittee, darling,” she crooned, “You always have so much trouble with your makeup...." She leaned in more closely and murmured softly, "You know, honey, I’m not sure you really belong here. You should leave.”

Kittee swiveled angrily around on her stool. She seemed to be preparing to shout obscenities at Bea, but she choked on her words as the latter waggled her hips and departed swiftly from the dressing room.

Re-entering the hallway, Bea turned in a new direction and, in a high-pitched falsetto, trilled out, “Lou-Lou? Oh, Lo-o-o-u? Where are yo-o-o-u?”

“I’m here, Bea, in wardrobe. And oh my god, I need help!”

The sad wobbly alto voice came from behind the clothing rack in the costume department. Bea sashayed over to the gleaming, gaudy garments. It was easy to spot Lou-Lou. 
She hovered high over the rack of clothes, for she was nearly a foot taller than Bea, and she was decidedly not thin. Nobody else was present in the room except for the two drag queens.

Unlike Kittee, Lou-Lou never lost sight of her feminity, but still, in Bea’s mind, she was always just a little bit off the mark. Yes, Lou-Lou tried too hard, but it wasn’t that. Trying too hard and being over the top were expected of the girls. Lou-Lou’s height was a flaw in Bea’s mind, but most of Lou-Lou’s fans enjoyed her gigantic frame. No, the problem was that Lou was just…pathetic. There was something whiney and droopy about her. Her voice constantly quavered and she always seemed ready to burst into tears. Granted, she did a good Judy Garland, despite her size, but otherwise, Bea felt that Lou-Lou was distressingly inferior.

“I just cannot find a thing to wear tonight,” the tall queen moaned helplessly. “I’m retaining water and it’s made me puffy. Nothing fits!”

Bea wanted to make a bitchy comment about the three puffy beers and two puffy cheesteak subs that Lou-Lou had wolfed down last night when they went out after the show, but she held her tongue.

Grabbing a large-sized emerald green frock from the rack and moving around to the other side to get closer to Lou-Lou, she warbled, “Why don’t you try this one on, dear?”

The dress served as a shield when she stabbed Lou-Lou. She didn’t want any more blood to spatter her turquoise gown the way it had when she had cut Kittee’s throat…although she realized that the audience might simply see the red spots as a wonderfully chic way of balancing out the glorious red color of her hair.

That night Bea gave the most splendid performance she’d ever given! The audience went wild! They loved her! They couldn’t get enough of her! It was the best night of her life. Bodacious Bea was truly the queen of queens!


A year later, sitting with her legs crossed on a chair in her prison cell, impatiently thumbing through a magazine, she came across the article describing the behavior of honeybee queens. Bea reflected sadly upon this. Why did the rules for one species have to be so different for another? She sighed, and wished she could freshen her lipstick. They would not let her wear her makeup in prison.

It wasn’t so bad, though. She still quite popular. She looked good in orange. And she was the only queen on her cell block.




Sunday, August 10, 2014

THE MOVIE STAR WHO WANTED ME (AND HOW I WAS SAVED BY COMMUNISM)

by 
MARY ELIZABETH RAINES

Wow! A movie star wanted me. Me!
And yes, I mean “wanted” exactly in the sense that you’re thinking.
 

I had never thought anything like that could happen to me, although I’d certainly dreamt about it. All of us—at least those with normal hormones and reasonable imaginations—have entertained the fantasy of having a romantic encounter with a movie star. Even movie stars themselves sometimes get crushes on other movie stars.
     Robert Redford (you’ve heard of him, right?) tells of a time when he was a starving young artist in Rome, before becoming an actor. He spotted Ava Gardner and her entourage in a restaurant, and went a bit gaga over seeing the famous temptress. Gardner noticed, called the smitten young man to her side, and gave him a little kiss. 
     In the films he's made since that time, Redford has kissed many of the world’s most desirable actresses, and in his private life he is happily married—yet, what does he talk about with a moony smile and a far-away look? Having a crush decades ago on a movie star who acknowledged him and actually gave him a smooch! We can all fall prey to fantasies about those we see on the silver screen, you see.
     And now it was my turn.

I had become the object of desire of my very own bona-fide movie star, whom I shall call Chad. Chad was a genuine star, too, not just some minor actor who’d spoken a few lines in a B film.


     Maybe you’re thinking Chad was ugly, and thus easy to get. (I’m not superficial in the least, but hey, let’s get real: being attractive increases a person’s odds. Ava Gardner would probably not have summoned an unknown Karl Malden and given him a kiss.)(For those who don't know, Karl Malden was a first-rate actor, now deceased, who possessed a bulbous nose and an unfortunate face.) Not every lead actor is good-looking, especially if he’s straight.
     My movie star, however, was both beautiful and completely heterosexual. In fact, he was so handsome that there were stories of women who’d keeled over and fainted when they saw him take off his shirt on the giant screen. Maybe a few guys, too. (I presume that they fainted from lust, although, to be fair, the theater might have been overheated.)
     All females know Chad’s type. You usually see him on the covers of romance novels: that kind of chiseled, masculine man who makes any woman passing by want to drop both her grocery bags and her pants, fling herself down on the sidewalk, open her legs and cry, “Take me now!”

     When he fell for me (hah!), Chad was definitely not a kid any more, but still gorgeous enough to cause massive major-league drooling. His thick hair was perfect, tousled to just the right aw-shucks degree, yet fitting for the finest black-tie affair. His clothing revealed just a bit of bare chest here, just a ripple of an arm muscle there. His lips seemed designed to curl around the rim of a champagne glass, and his charming grin revealed luminous white teeth befitting a toothpaste commercial. If he chanced to glance at a woman, his bedroom eyes twinkled as if he knew all her secret fantasies—and liked them.
     In Chad’s most famous film, he’d had numerous love scenes with a well-known and very beautiful actress, whom I shall call Linda.
     “Chad,” I once asked him, “what was it like kissing Linda in all those romantic scenes you had together?”
     Well, I’ll tell you,” he replied slowly, a great big likeable grin spreading over his face, “The very first time we were in a clinch, it was a scene where we were sitting in a car. The cameras started to roll, so I kissed her. After the director yelled ‘Cut,’ Linda turned to the cameraman and hollered, ‘Retake!’”

 
By this point, you are probably frantic to know all the finer details of the affair I had with Chad.
The movie star.

Except that I didn’t have one.

You see, by the time I knew him, Chad was nearly 90 years old. Granted, he was the hottest nearly-90-year-old man I’d ever met, but the age difference was still daunting. He could have been my grandfather.
     He had reached the pinnacle of his stardom during the 1940s. This explains why women in the cinemas fainted when they saw him shirtless. Women tended to do that more in the 1940s than they do now. (Today a shirtless man would have to be playing a guitar and screaming into a microphone to get that kind of attention.)


     Chad’s Hollywood career had been cut short because he was a member of the communist party; he had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and no one would hire him to star in any more films, or so he claimed.
     In addition to being a communist, Chad tended be a little quirky. He was, for example, the only self-proclaimed nudist I have ever met. I personally never saw him strip down, but in his younger years, he apparently frequented nudist camps. (Which makes me wonder if communists have nudist camps…hmm.)
     Another quirk was that Chad had once been what they called a Muscle Man. He worked out and lifted barbells long before it became popular to do so, and it certainly served him well in his senior years. His excellent physique was one of the reasons the producers wanted him to take off his shirt in the movies; he was just about the very first actor who ever did that.


I’d met Chad through our mutual friend, Bob, who happened to be my landlord in a funky little compound in Hollywood. A group of unusual film people lived in this compound, including a world-famous porn star, a professional Santa Claus, cameramen, actors, script supervisors—and me. We were all friends. There was a shared central patio where we would have picnics and parties. Chad, being Bob’s best friend, was welcome to any event we held.
     Even from inside my house, I could always tell when Chad had arrived, because I could smell the pot. Among his quirks, you see, my would-be boyfriend was what they call a stoner. An inveterate pot-smoker, he proudly grew his own marijuana and he would always light up a joint the moment he entered our patio. I personally hate illegal drugs, and am not even all that crazy about the legal ones. Everybody else in our compound pretty much stuck to booze to get their jollies.
     Except for Chad.
     Who was almost 90, remember?


He continued to smoke pot until one eventful Labor Day, when he showed up late for one of our festive outdoor potlucks. Squeezing into a seat next to me on the bench of the picnic table, he silenced everyone and then he made a dramatic announcement to the group:
    
     “Guess what, guys?” said Chad.
     “What?” I shouted. (Chad didn’t hear too well.)
     “I’ve stopped smoking pot!”
     “You’re kidding me!” I said.
     “Why would I be hitting you?”  he replied, confused.
     I raised my voice, shouting directly into his ear, “You really quit?”
     “Yeah, I did. I found out smoking pot is bad for my health.”
     
     We applauded boisterously, and everybody fawned over him for awhile. Meanwhile, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a big white handkerchief that contained a strange kind of loaf wrapped in tinfoil. Was it some kind of weird hors d’oeuvre for the potluck? 
     While I was still wondering what this foil-wrapped goody was, Chad stuck it in his mouth and took a huge bite.
     “Yup, I stopped smoking pot,” he continued, looking very self-satisfied and chewing voraciously. “Now I eat it instead.”
     As the 13-year-olds say: Eeew.
     Perhaps Chad had misinterpreted the term POT-luck.

Chad and my landlord, Bob, were about the same age. Like Chad, Bob was a vehement communist. The two had been friends for decades and both were deeply entrenched in the film business. Bob wasn’t a star, though. He had only done a little acting; his main job was as a script supervisor. He had been trained to do this by John Ford, and had worked with a long list of the giants of film, including John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart. And Chad, of course.
     Years ago, someone had given Bob a huge paper-mache head of the actress Bette Davis. The piece was worth a great deal of money, but Bob, being a good communist, made a deliberate point of not paying attention to the material value of things.
     We had a metal stake in our patio garden and Bob worried that someone might trip and fall on it, so one day he brought out the huge Bette Davis head and placed it on top of the stake, kind of like a protective knob.
     “Bob,” I cried, “it looks like you’ve impaled Bette Davis’ head on a pike in the garden!”
     Bob had known the actress well. A strange smile crossed his face.
     “Good,” he said, and walked away.

Chad and Bob were quite serious about their communism. They used to get together with a couple of other Hollywood geezers—a famous photographer and a well-known set designer—and the four old men would have meetings that involved a lot of lengthy and intense conversation, head-shaking, wine (pot for Chad), despair, and occasional yelling.
     These aging cronies, all of whom had been blacklisted to some degree or another by Hollywood, embraced communism with the idealism of fresh-faced freckled Cub Scouts. I always suspected that if there were ever to be a communist takeover, Chad and Bob would be among the first to be lined up against the wall and shot. Having a communist for a landlord was very handy, however, so I didn’t complain. Communists—at least the na├»ve ones—feel guilty if they charge too much for rent, and they readily share things like appliances and household tools. I wasn’t about to rock the boat.
     Besides, it was communism that saved me.

 
     Let me explain. Chad hadn’t asked me out yet. He’d told Bob of his lusty intentions, but I wasn’t supposed to know anything about his longings yet. I dreaded the day when he would reveal his passion to me, because then I would have to reject him. For all his quirkiness and marijuana, he was sweet and I didn’t want to hurt him.
     Chad, it turns out, had been taking prescription pills for high blood pressure. The medicine had an unfortunate side effect. It made him impotent. He confided in Bob that he was planning to discontinue his medication so that he could fulfill his manly duties with me. Unfortunately, doing so would seriously jeopardize his health. What to do? It was a dilemma.
     After Chad shared his secret with Bob, the latter naturally ran straight away to knock on my door of one of my friends in the compound and tell her the whole story. She, in turn, came right over to my house and told me.
     This is how I learned that a movie star wanted my body.



A week passed, and the day I’d been dreading finally came. Chad stopped by and asked if I would come outside and sit with him; he said that he wanted to share something with me. I walked to the patio with a sinking heart. Rejection stinks no matter which side of it you’re on. Bob was also waiting there. I sat between the two of them.
     Chad began to court me in earnest. His way of doing this was unconventional. As soon as I sat down, he grabbed a long, musty yellowing piece of paper and thrust it under my nose.
     “Read this,”  he demanded. Then he sat back with an anxious sigh and waited.
      The paper he handed me must have been well over 50 years old. It had been painstakingly mimeographed, which is the way documents were duplicated in the days before copy machines, and it was crammed with columns of words, words and more words that had been typed in tiny crooked print extending nearly to the edges of the page. There were capital letters and exclamation marks sprinkled excessively throughout the narrow columns. I’d guess that about 2,000 words had been jammed onto that one page.
     While Chad squirmed with anticipation, I politely scanned a few of the sentences. Now, I am a good reader. I will happily read Thackeray or Sir Walter Scott, for example, and enjoy them. I have a volume of Melville on my night table. Trying to make sense of this stuff, however, made my head ache. It was incomprehensible. Typewritten letters formed shrill, ranting sentences that were both illogical and mad. The experience was as unpleasant for my nose as it was for my brain, because the paper beneath my gaze reeked of mildew.
     When I looked up, I saw with dismay that Chad had brought along a huge cardboard box full of similar decaying papers. They had been stored in his garage for years. The poor man had carried all of these tedious, tiresome manifestos to the patio in the hope of sharing his beliefs with me. He imagined that after I read them, I would be inspired to see politics in his pathetic, crazy way, and become a convert to communism.

     He was deluded, of course, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Before I could figure out how to tell Chad diplomatically that it just wasn’t going to happen, Bob reached behind me and nudged him. The two began conversing over my head as though I wasn’t even there.
      “What’s the matter with you? Are you f**king nuts?” yelled Bob, who did not endorse diplomacy in the same way that I did.
      He yelled because of Chad’s hearing loss, although Bob was somewhat prone to yelling regardless.
     “She doesn’t want to read them,” he shouted. “You’re never going to get her that way.”
     “I’m never going to get her in the hay?” replied Chad.
     Close enough.
     “She doesn’t want to read them,” repeated Bob in exasperation.
     “Need them?” asked Chad.
     “READ them. She isn’t going to READ them,” screamed Bob. “Look at her. She doesn’t like them!”
     “No?” Chad seemed surprised.
     “NO!” Bob shrieked.
     “Oh,” said Chad sorrowfully. “That’s too bad.”
     He paused to think for a moment.
     “Well,” he finally said, speaking over my head to Bob as though I weren’t present, “I can’t be with a woman who doesn’t believe in the party.”
     As easily as I had been snagged, without even saying a word, I was off the hook. Like I said, I was saved by communism.

Although it may have been absurd to consider having an affair with Chad, I did enjoy him. He was easy on the eyes, and he told good stories.
     Like this one. When he had been a muscle man, he used to own a gym. His clients had included the movie stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in the days before they became famous.
     Chad fondly recalled a time when he was giving Kirk Douglas a rubdown and, as a practical joke, applied kerosene to Douglas’ testicles. Apparently his poor victim had run naked through the gym, screaming at the top of his lungs.
     Chad laughed and laughed as he told that story. It made me wonder what would have happened to me had I been naked and at his mercy.

Fortunately, that never happened, although I confess that my heart always beats a little faster whenever I watch him take off his shirt in his old movies.

© 2011, M. E. Raines
Copying or reproducing in any form without the author's permission is prohibited.
Please feel free to link to this article.


See Mary Elizabeth Raines' inspiring novel, UNA, available in paperback or for Kindle on Amazon