Friday, June 5, 2015

BEAR AND THE GURU


by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines
© 2015, M. E. Raines

Bear drew angels. That was her thing. The angels she drew were always nude, with huge triangular patches of dark pubic hair. She attracted a fair bit of attention to herself by claiming that she channeled these pictures of angels. She was sketching one now, seated in the front row of the audience where the Guru was soon going to be giving another of his inspirational seminars.

“I don’t know how it works,” she would say with false modesty when someone complimented her on these angel drawings, shrugging her shoulders and looking heavenward with the hint of a smile. “I just hold the pencil and spirit moves through me.”

She had given spirit a helping hand by working very hard at learning how to draw wings. At first she’d traced them and eventually she’d advanced to copying them freehand from a chart of various types of wings that she found on Wikipedia. Even though the ones she drew on her angels weren’t often in perspective, they mostly looked like actual wings. Because this was her strong suit, the angels she drew had enormous wings, twice as big as those possessed by any Renaissance angel.

In other respects, her channeled angels, whether blonde, brunette, or redheaded, looked a lot alike. They were always female, of course, and, apart from their oversized, wideset eyes with long eyelashes (like Barbie dolls), itty-bitty noses (like Barbie dolls), disproportionately elongated necks and tiny waists (like Barbie dolls), and perfectly circular breasts with prominent nipples (unlike Barbie dolls), they somewhat resembled Bear: all of her angels were tall, possessing good cheekbones, curvacious legs, and masses of long, curly hair on their heads, as well as other places, which has already been mentioned.

A year before, she had renamed herself Bear. Her birth name was Jennifer Clay. When people asked how she got the name Bear, she would tell them with a faraway look in her eyes that once when she was in a sweat lodge, the vision of a bear holding a rainbow had come to her.

The truth, however, was that she had arrived at the new name of Bear after spending an afternoon lying on her bed doodling half a dozen potential names over and over:  Rainbow Moon, Rainbow Star, Rainbow Spirit, Rainbow Heart, Shakiva, and Bear . It was a hot day, and even though she wasn’t in a sweat lodge, she truly had been sweating. She had also doodled a rainbow, and had tried, but failed, to doodle a bear. Close enough.

Despite this artistic failure, Bear came out the winner because B had always been one of her favorite letters, one that she could write in cursive with a beautiful flourish.  She renamed herself immediately, thrilled to discard the name Jennifer, for J had always been one of her clumsiest-looking letters. Her third grade teacher, Ms. Miles, had even kept her in during recess once and insisted that she write the letter J twenty-five times on a piece of paper until she got it right. She hated J. She loved B. So Bear she became.

Jillian, who had no trouble writing the letter J, was sitting next to Bear in the audience that day. They were both in the front row, directly under the podium where the Guru would soon stand. Bear reeked of patchouli, and a powerful wave of it slammed into Jillian. Jillian gagged slightly, and a spontaneous little gasp of revulsion escaped her.

Bear, who was focused on her drawing pad, thought that Jillian’s gasp was an adoring response to the angel she was busy sketching. “I channel them,” she said, glancing sideways at Jillian with a proud smile.

“Ah,” replied Jillian, holding her hand up to her chin and extending her index and middle fingers thoughtfully. In truth, she was trying to cover her nose so as not to have to breathe in all that patchouli.

Bear, turning back to her sketch book, paused to stomp viciously on a little bug that had been crawling innocently near her foot, and then resumed her drawing. Jillian winced.

Jillian was a rather tender and wistful, albeit awkward, woman. This was her first seminar with the Guru, and her appearance wasn’t like that of the other attendees, who were for the most part a Yoga-sleek, organic-smoothie-drinking, essential-oil-smeared, and hip-looking crowd. Jillian knew quite well she didn’t belong. That morning, she’d done her best to make a few alterations in hopes of blending in. One of them was going after her mousy straight hair with a curling iron, but despite repeated attacks, it had adamantly refused to curl.

“My head looks as though it’s made up of uncooked spaghetti,” she had complained in a text to her mother.

“At least it’s whole wheat spaghetti,” her mother texted back, attempting a little humor. The whole wheat reference was because her hair was brown.

Glancing covertly and a bit enviously at the lush, long, brunette curls of Bear, Jillian felt grateful that at least her spaghettiesh bangs covered up the little patch of Clearasil-coated acne on her forehead that had unfortunately chosen to make an appearance the night before. She pushed her glasses back up onto the bridge of her squat nose, something she did often. Except for that nose, the exceedingly straight hair, and the heretofore unmentioned misfortune of being flat-chested and big-bottomed, Jillian’s appearance was, while not fitting in, fairly nondescript and easy to overlook. Mostly she just looked beige.

Her soul was far from nondescript, however. Jillian was in truth a pretty evolved person. She had such reverence for life in all of its forms, for example, that she even refused to kill the ants who persisted in marching into her kitchen. Instead of squashing them, her solution to the ant problem was to call forth the Deva of the ants and plead her case.

“Jillian, you can’t reason with an ant,” her mother would sigh. Jillian would protest that these one-sided conversations were working…that, along with sealing everything an ant could conceivably want to eat inside an impenetrable plastic bag.

Not long ago, Jillian had had an ecstatic encounter, one that she now fervently yearned to share with another kindred soul, since her mother really didn’t get that side of her. This experience had happened during a particularly powerful meditation. The Universe had suddenly opened up to Jillian, and she was given the revelation that she was One with Everything.

That experience was the primary reason she now sat in the audience, waiting for the Guru to appear. She’d never seen him in person before. She had signed up for this event with high hopes after watching a few YouTubes of said Guru, who promised to share the secrets of existence with any who were willing to pay the somewhat steep price of admission for his seminars.

Unlike Bear, in her quest for these secrets Jillian actually had attended a sweat lodge. A revered Native American elder named Bold Feather had recently conducted this sweat lodge, which was Jillian’s first.

It was—physically, anyway—pretty intense. There were about 40 people in attendance. For comfort, they had been asked to wear their swimsuits, and as they crowded into the heated space on hands and knees, Jillian tried without a lot of success to suck in her tummy. Everyone sat elbow to elbow, thigh to thigh, in the small enclosure. It was dark inside, she thought that she had never been so hot in her life, and she felt claustrophobic, but she was at least grateful that she didn’t have to try to hold in her stomach any longer.

Bold Feather poured a ladle of water on some super-heated rocks, which made the heat even more acute. Then he stated that each person in the sweat lodge should now express out loud what they were grateful for. One at a time those in the circle began to share. After the first six or seven people spoke, Bold Feather raised his hand, bringing the sharing to a pause. Everyone waited expectantly in the dim light.

“What’s going on?” Jillian whispered to the woman sitting next to her.

"Bold Feather does this whenever he sees that someone has a really special soul,” her neighbor whispered back. “He gives those people new names.”

The man in question had said, “I’m grateful for Mother Earth and all she gives to us, despite the terrible things we do to her.”

Lowering his hand, the elder proclaimed in a solemn and stentorian voice, “Your name is now Worried Elk.”

Jillian listened in awe as others shared. Four of the 31 people who spoke were deemed important enough to be given new names by Bold Feather. Her turn was coming up soon. It had taken nearly all of the 31 people preceding her for Jillian to figure out what she would say that she was grateful for. Her thinking was a little fuzzy because of the heat. She also wanted to be as sincere as possible, for she hoped desperately that Bold Feather would recognize her heightened spirituality and give her a new name.

A woman two spaces away said that she was grateful for her job. Bold Feather raised his hand and ceremoniously renamed her, giving her a native name that meant She Who Fetches Corn.

When Jillian's turn finally came, she said in a quavering voice, “I am grateful for my mother.” She waited eagerly, wondering what name Bold Feather would assign to her. In addition to it being dark, her glasses had steamed up in the heat, so she couldn’t see whether or not he was raising his hand. Thus, it was quite a let-down when, after a bit of silence, the woman next to Jillian launched into a description of what she was grateful for, and so on to the end of the line. Apparently Jillian’s spirituality had not been all that evident to Bold Feather.

It would have been ironic, and a real problem for this author, if he had renamed her Bear, but that, of course, did not happen. When Jillian related the story to her mother, complaining about how hot the sweat lodge had been and how large she believed her rear end had looked in the swimsuit, her mother remarked, “Well, cheer up. He could have named you Big Ass Runs Out of Tent.”

Jillian’s mother didn’t understand spirituality, but she could be pretty funny sometimes.

Back to the Guru. After that major sweat lodge setback, Jillian pinned all her hopes for recognition on the Guru. She began to think that he might be the one and only man on the planet with the ability to see past her exterior—to see her for who she truly was. He claimed to be able to read auras, after all, and she was pretty sure that her aura was a good one. A psychic had told her so not long ago. The psychic had also claimed that Bold Feather was suffering from indigestion on the night of the sweat lodge, or he would have been more in tune with her. Jillian felt a little grumpy at the thought that indigestion hadn’t prevented him from being in tune with Worried Elk and She Who Fetches Corn, but she got over it.

Her hopes high, Jillian began to entertain a fantasy that, after seeing her aura, the Guru would invite her to become a close friend—or more!—since they had so much in common. He claimed, after all, to be one of the most spiritual men currently alive, and he repeated this frequently in his YouTube interviews. He also often remarked that we are each part of the same whole, which was nearly identical to the message she had received. Of all people, he would surely understand her, and once he became aware of her, he couldn’t help but want to delve into her spirit. Or other parts of her.

Brightening at the thought, Jillian decided to endure the patchouli. She took her hand off her nose, and turned to Bear. “Have you ever had any spiritual experiences?” she asked. Jillian pretty much always got right to the point of things.

“Oh yeah,” shrugged Bear vaguely, not bothering to look up from her drawing pad. “Like, I guess so. They basically used to make me go to church all the time when I was little. You know how it is.” Bear picked at something stuck between her teeth with a manicured fingernail. Her teeth were long, proportionate, and exceedingly white.

Jillian stared at those teeth for a moment, mesmerized, and then said, “No, I don’t mean church…although I guess it could happen in a church. No, what I mean is did you ever have any spiritual encounters? Like me? Because, you see, I had this amazing thing happen to me not long ago.”

Now that she had managed to turn the conversation over to her own experience, she became more animated.

“There was a tunnel, and then a huge flash, kind of like lightening,” Jillian said, adding in a confidential tone of voice, “I’ve never told a single soul until now.” Bear didn’t seem to be swept away by that revelation, but Jillian continued anyhow. “It was almost exactly like one of those near-death experiences you read about, except that I didn’t die, of course. What happened was that I met this incredible being made of bright light. I’m pretty sure it was an angel. And the angel told me that we are all one.”

Bear yawned, interrupting the story. Inside Bear’s open mouth, on her tongue, behind those perfect teeth, Jillian saw a wad of orange chewing gum.

One would have thought that Jillian’s interchange with a genuine angel might have evoked Bear’s curiosity rather than a yawn, seeing as drawing pictures of angels was, as we have said, her thing. The real  reason that she acted bored, however, was because she suspected that the angel Jillian had encountered possessed neither breasts nor pubic hair—(and this was true; the angel had neither)—and after having drawn so many dozens of angels with both features figuring prominently, it would not have been beneficial for Bear to learn that she was totally wrong about the way angels looked.

At any rate, before Jillian could continue the conversation, a reverent hush fell over the room. The Guru had arrived.

Like Jillian, the Guru possessed nondescript features, but he unlike her, he was loaded with charisma. It clung to him like a cloud, and it overpowered everyone around him, much like Bear’s patchouli. Along with this charisma, the Guru possessed an air of humble superiority—an air that he had deliberately cultivated over the years while standing in front of the bathroom mirror. (It was a long-standing joke in his family that Charles, which was his real name, always took a long time in the bathroom.) He helped that air by dressing in beautifully pressed cotton caftans that hung over wide pants, his garments always pink, and by parting his long, scraggly brown hair in the middle. Like Jesus.

Emulating the greatest male movie stars as well as Jesus, the Guru’s face seldom showed any emotion, which naturally made people swoon over him. They did not recognize that, just like the movie stars, they worshipped him because they could project whatever they wanted onto him without ever seeing his real feelings. Some of his detractors nastily claimed that his expressionless face was the result of Botox injections. In fact, they were quite correct. The Guru was aging, and the wrinkles on his face concerned him. He had long preached that one could stop the onslaught of age by proper positive thinking. While he believed this implicitly, he himself was far too busy to spend the time that would be required to change the structure of his cellular tissue. Botox injections, he reasoned, were simply a temporary measure until he had more room in his schedule.

It was his smile that sealed the deal with the crowd. The Guru rarely smiled, but when he did, it stretched across his face like the radiator grill and headlights of a 1963 Chevy Impala. With the brights on. On the special occasions when he smiled at his devotees, they wound up blinded like so many deer, stupefied and ready for the kill.

He cleared his throat and began speaking. After an introductory half hour or so, he moved onto the topic of the link between auras and spirituality. Jillian had been waiting for this, and shifted excitedly in her seat. She felt that her soul was finally on the brink of being recognized. It was all she could do to prevent herself from giggling out loud in anticipation.

“In my books, you can read about several occasions in my life when I have had the rare pleasure of viewing the aura of another highly enlightened being, one like myself,” he said. “If you truly want to learn the real secrets of existence, by the way,” he added, “I urge you to buy my books.” (On YouTube he had suggested that people needed to attend his seminars to learn said secrets, but nobody in the audience protested.) “All of my books and recordings are available for sale at the table in the back of the room. Mandy, would you please raise your hand so people can see where to go to buy my books?”

There was a table stacked with the Guru’s products in the back of the room. Mandy, a pretty but weary-looking woman sitting behind the table listlessly raised her hand.

“Now,” he continued, “for those of us who are able to see auras, it is always quite easy to discern if someone is on a highly spiritual path, for there are inevitably ripples of light surrounding them.” He stepped away from the podium and began to survey the audience.

Jillian assumed her most earnest expression. Sitting up straighter, she tried to clear her mind of any random thoughts that might be cluttering her energy field, and she did her best to raise her vibrational frequency. She wanted to be certain that the Guru would notice the ripples of light that were surely surrounding her…she, who had been addressed by an actual angel! He turned in her direction, and suddenly his huge magnetic smile blazed forth. Jillian caught her breath. The Guru’s smile was, alas, not for her, but she did not initially realize this. The person who’d caught his eye was, of course, Bear. Bear had been sketching with her head down as he spoke, and that had intrigued him. He was accustomed to having the females at his seminars stare at him with enraptured gazes. The way Jillian was.

“There are Beings of Light dwelling among us even now,” he continued, moving down the stairs and into the audience toward Jillian. She still didn’t know his real objective, and her heart began pounding. She thought that she would faint. Reaching up, she adjusted her bangs to make sure that none of the acne was showing. Still smiling, the Guru floated closer and closer…and then he passed right by her, pausing in front of Bear, his pink-draped backside inches from Jillian’s face.

It looked to the crowd as if he was scanning Bear’s aura. Privately, however, the Guru was trying to determine whether or not she was wearing any underwear beneath her extremely short shorts. He concluded that she was not.

With slow deliberation, he picked the drawing pad off Bear’s lap, brushing her thigh in the process and noticing how smooth her skin was. Then he squinted briefly at the angel she had been sketching. She stopped chewing her gum and looked up at him with big turquoise eyes.

“What is your name, my dear?” he asked.

“Bear,” she said.

“And you draw angels?”

“I channel them,” replied Bear, batting her eyelashes modestly. “Spirit like, you know, just moves through me.”

“How fitting for a Being of Light,” he exclaimed. “I am so greatly honored by your presence here.” He took her hand, pulled her to her feet, and gently turned her around to face the larger audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, can you not see what I spoke of—the brilliant Light in this Blessed One’s aura? I’ve seldom seen a light so radiant from someone attending my seminars.”

Some people nodded. Jillian wondered how anyone could see anybody else’s aura through the glare of the overhead fluorescent lights in the hotel conference room, and, in a moment of naughty cynicism, thought maybe the radiance he was seeing was a reflection of the orange chewing gum. Still, she wasn’t ready yet to give up. She tried even harder than before to squeeze out a few ripples of Light that he would notice. It didn’t work. The Guru, who was again scanning the audience, continued to look right through her.

He now moved back towards an attractive and very busty blonde woman, took her by the hand, and also had her rise from her seat. Jillian had overhead this woman speaking in the hallway. She was a would-be real estate agent with a grating, nasal voice, but plenty of cleavage, who had come to the seminar in hopes of improving her prosperity consciousness.

“Do you see these creatures of Light?” the Guru queried the remaining flock, waving at the two women. “You don’t even need to read auras to be aware of the deep emotion and passionate spirituality these two possess.”

Mandy, at the back table, gave a little smirk that nobody particularly saw. Meanwhile, Jillian wanted to raise her hand and shout, “Hey, what about me?” She wondered plaintively what she needed to look like to show the Guru that she, too, was deeply emotional and passionately spiritual. Breast implants and contact lenses would have helped a lot, but this did not occur to her. The glasses slid down her nose again, and, slumping in her chair, she let them stay there. After a few hours Jillian left the seminar, temporarily dejected. “Everybody is One with Everything except for me,” she thought gloomily.


Earlier, when the Guru had brushed up against the blonde would-be real estate agent with the enlightened soul, she’d pulled away a little. Plus, it was obvious that she was wearing underwear. Bear hadn’t pulled away, though, and so, within less than a month, the Guru arranged for her to move in with him. After he dumped Mandy.

It took a lot of nagging on Bear’s part, but finally, reluctantly, he added a few overpriced prints of her angel drawings to the products stacked on his back table, replacing the mandala prints that had been designed by Mandy. The Guru, it seemed, had a preference for artsy women. When Bear begged and pleaded to illustrate the cover of his next book, however, he tactfully but adamantly declined. She became sulky, and their relationship started to go downhill pretty quickly at that point.

Soon after their argument, a young man named Jade Heart approached the back table at one of the Guru’s seminars. Bear was there, sitting at her now-relegated post, swiping credit cards and taking in the cash for the Guru’s books and recordings. Jade Heart, clutching a large drawing pad in one hand, began to thumb with the other through her angel prints, which, in truth, had never sold all that well. He scrutinized them more carefully than anyone ever had, and he even appeared to like them.

“They’re mine,” she said finally. “I channel them.”

“Wow. Is that a fact?” he asked, genuinely impressed. He leaned on the table to get closer. They began to talk, and as they chatted, it turned out that he too channeled drawings.

“Here, look at this,” he said, coming around the table to stand at her side, and opening his sketch pad to show Bear his work.

His pictures were remarkably similar to hers, except that they featured tall, youngish, well-muscled men. With ridiculously big eyes. Most of them had swords. Just as Bear was best at drawing wings, Jade Heart was best at drawing swords.

He showed her one of his pictures, explaining that it depicted a man wrestling with his dragon. The dragon sprang out from between the man’s legs and rose up at an angle. Surrounding the base of the dragon was a huge thatch of dark pubic hair. Bear stared at Jade Heart, then back at the drawing, and then at Jade Heart again. She was smitten. That they were soul mates destined for one another was obvious even to those who could not see auras.

She promptly left the Guru, who himself promptly looked up the blonde would-be real estate agent. Bear and Jade Heart were soon inseparable. After a number of lengthy discussions, they decided that they would call themselves The Jade Bear. Bear still could not handle writing Js in cursive, however, so they eventually settled on The Bear Heart. She found to her delight that she really liked writing the letter H.

The two started a highly successful series of workshops called “How to Channel Drawings.”  Jillian, who finally did get contact lenses and breast implants, along with a nose job, attended one of these workshops, where her ripples of Light continued to go unnoticed.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

THAT TIME I CAME IN AS A FRUITFLY


A SHORT, SHORT STORY 

BY MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES




That time I came in as a fruitfly, I recognized clearly that we’re all One. Humans don’t know this, but fruitflies do.



I’d landed on a banana peel in your kitchen, along with hundreds of my mates. I mean mates literally. Man, was I one horny fruitfly!

Then I saw that you were ready to squish me. As your thumb loomed over me, I screamed, “Don’t do that! We are the same! We are One!” I guess I wasn’t very articulate. You/I squished me anyway.

That was not fun. Next time, I'm coming back as a rattlesnake.





© 2015, M. E. Raines
For more stories by this author, please scroll down: http://laughingcherub.blogspot.com; check "other posts" at the bottom of the page for still more!



Saturday, February 14, 2015

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
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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.