Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines

Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines
The Laughing Cherub

Thursday, July 19, 2018

KISSING FROGS


“Spend a moment thinking about the most beautiful person you know. It would seem impossible for your eyes to gaze upon this person and not be intoxicated with attraction. But...If the eyes belong to a frog, this person can stand in front of it all day—even naked—and will attract no attention… And the lack of interest is mutual; humans are attracted to humans, frogs to frogs …Our lust circuits are not driven by the naked frog…."

from “Incognito, the Secret Lives of the Brain” by David Eagleman
 

KISSING FROGS

A Short Short Short Story

by

Mary Elizabeth Raines


They mixed up the genes. I was one of the earliest designer babies. Another section of the lab was doing amphibian experiments, and by accident, they gave me the horny frog gene. This means that I am not turned on by humans. I lust only for frogs. Sometimes my desire nature gets the best of me. I don a headlamp and skulk around ponds at night, a freaky frog stalker. No frog will like me back, much less mate with me. I’ve got the wrong equipment. And because of that designer business, it’s phenomenal equipment. Just not to a frog. 

The end


Hey friends, if you enjoyed this story, check out Mary Elizabeth Raines' newest book of quirky and unusual short stories: "The Man in the GPS and Other Stories," available in paperback or on Kindle. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

PINDELL HAS DIED

 
AN OBITUARY BY MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES
© M. E. Raines, 2017

A while ago I got one of those phone calls you dread receiving. It started out, “I have some sad news…”
My caller told me that Pindell* was dead. He had died of a heart attack shortly before Christmas.
Here’s what Pindell’s obituary said: “Rick was a graduate of New England Conservatory of Music. He was a scholar, musician and a gentle soul.”
Rick? Who is that? We never, ever called him Rick. We always called him by his last name: Pindell.
Pindell was the first genuinely crazy person I ever befriended. We were students at the New England Conservatory of Music together. I was a piano major, but I hung out with his crowd—the composers. This small knot of composition students at the conservatory were all guys, and they were all brilliant. Geniuses. While we did not have the words “nerd” and “geek” in our vocabularies back then, that’s what my friends were.
Pindell was the nerdiest and geekiest of them all. He was, as his obituary stated, a scholar, a musician, and a gentle man. He was also big, clumsy, funny looking and weird, a guy with a complete lack of social graces who wore ill-fitting plaid shirts and thick glasses that were, just like the old movie cliché, taped in the middle to hold them together.
I have no problem with this. The reading glasses I am wearing right now as I type are duct-taped together.
Pindell and his friends, you see, were My People.

There are a few snippets about Pindell that stand out above all the rest. One memory is of a party at my sister’s apartment. At a time when most of us were still living in dorms, my older sister came to Boston and moved into an Actual Apartment. We all thought that this was quite glamorous.
For some reason or another, she invited my friends to this party. I need to interject here that our parties were not anything like the college parties today. First of all, we rarely had alcohol. Secondly, while we did listen to a lot of music, the speakers weren’t very loud. Back then a person could always have a conversation in a normal tone of voice when music was playing, even at a prom. It was the mid-60s. Our music was on vinyl, and what we ordinarily played were things like symphonies and operas. We didn’t smoke pot, either. We knew very little about it. The first time I ever heard someone say that she had smoked marijuana was in 1967 at the end of my sophomore year. I scarcely knew what the word meant; I had a vague idea that it was something illegal that the beatniks did.
Ours were the last of the days of innocence. The huge demonstrations and riots that welled up against the Vietnam War were still a couple of years away. The nearest we got to a riot was when a downtown Boston theater scheduled a 2:00 a.m. showing of the exciting new James Bond film, “Casino Royale.” As a publicity stunt, they announced that anyone wearing a trench coat could get in for free. Pindell, along with several of my other nerdy friends, donned their trench coats—because everyone had a trench coat back then—and walked to the theater. I had to get up early to open the school’s switchboard the next morning, and I remember how depressed I was that I could not accompany them.
Unfortunately, the theater had miscalculated, never guessing how many students would show up. Boston was a college town, the showing took place during a semester break, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do back then. Fifteen thousand kids, all wearing trench coats, showed up! Although I doubt that it was more than a little scuffle between a few of them, the newspapers reported that a riot broke out. My friends later told me that they were unaware of any riot. They were just standing in a massive crowd outside the theater, hoping against hope that they could get in to see the movie. They really liked James Bond. I still have the newspaper from the following day. On the front page of the Boston Globe is a picture of a police officer, his legs braced, holding back a snarling police dog who stood on his hind feet, trying to lunge at a few of my terrified composer friends. The rioters. Including Pindell.
Back to my sister’s party. As glamorous as I thought it to be, her sparsely furnished apartment had a bed in it and not much else. We all stood around the bed being jolly and party-ish. Pindell asked someone for a match, lit something that was not a cigarette, and began shaking it around. To my amazement, I saw that it was a sparkler. (A sparkler is a hand-held firework that emits flames and sparks.) One imagines that Pindell, party guy and former rioter, believed that playing with sparklers would be a festive thing to do. I can still see him standing at attention, expressionless, dully waving his sparkler back and forth over my sister’s bed with the flames reflected in the thick lenses of his glasses, completely oblivious to the fact that several people were screaming at him to stop. The sparks from Pindell’s sizzling party toy burned several large holes in my sister’s bedspread, and the sulphurous smoke filling the room made us cough, but luckily the building did not catch on fire.

Another outstanding Pindell snippet occurred when a few of us went to a tawdry cafeteria across the street from the conservatory called Hayes Bickford’s. We went there often to hang out and chat. It was our version of a coffeehouse, decades before there were places like Starbucks. It would still be a couple of years before hippie coffeehouses came into their own. Hayes Bickford’s cafeteria was the one place in Boston where street people, addicts, bums, the most wretched of the wretched, and, of course, students like us could go to get a cheap meal.
All of my friends were poor, and even at Haye’s Bickford’s low prices, we rarely ordered food; usually all we could afford would be a cup of coffee. We would stretch our cups of coffee out for hours on end as we sat at the cheap little tables and discussed music. The composer crowd always discussed music.
On this evening, our group sat down at a table that had not yet been cleared. In front of  Pindell sat a sloppy plate of leftover spaghetti and meatballs. Pindell picked up the used fork and began eating.
“Pindell,” I gasped. “What are you doing?”
He looked at me quizzically. He did not understand. “Eating,” he replied seriously. Then he turned his attention back to the plate in front of him, shoveling in forkfuls of the contaminated spaghetti with great gusto.
When he had cleaned the plate, he put his fork down and sniffed his armpits. Sniffing his armpits was something he was known to do. He didn’t try to hide the fact or to be sneaky about it. Pindell would raise one arm high in the air, duck his head, take a good strong whiff of his armpit, and then move to the other arm. Once again, it would have bewildered him had someone pointed out to him that this was just not done, so we didn’t bother. I will say this: his attentiveness paid off. He looked strange, but he never smelled bad.

I believe that, perhaps in compensation for some of his social difficulties, Pindell had a touch of the savant in him. Here’s an example. Like most of the rest of us at the conservatory,—especially the composers,—he had an enormous record collection. Once he and another friend named Herman were scheduled to give a talk in an advanced music theory class. Their presentation involved references to excerpts from a large number of compositions. In planning the talk, Pindell said that he would bring along his record player and records so that they could play the excerpts they would be discussing. Herman protested. He told Pindell that finding the exact spot to play on the record would chew up way too much time. One of the numerous short excerpts of music that they were going to reference in their talk, for instance, was from Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung,” a five-and-a-half-hour-long opera!
Nevertheless, Pindell showed up on the day of the talk carrying a huge stack of records under his arm. Herman began to speak to the class, and when he mentioned the first musical excerpt, Pindell, who already had the record in question spinning on the turntable, lifted the needle and miraculously placed it on the precise spot where the measures being referenced began. Herman was astonished.
After Pindell repeated this with five or six different records, the teacher exploded. “What is going on? A magic show?” he demanded.
Pindell did not understand the instructor’s excitement. Afterwards, Herman said to Pindell, “That was amazing! You must have spent a long time practicing where to place the needle for all those different pieces.”
Pindell was bewildered. “Why would I need to rehearse something like that?” he said. Locating exact segments of music on a record was something he had always been able to do. He was quite surprised to learn from Herman that not everyone possessed this ability!

The most poignant memory I have of Pindell occurred at that same party with the sparklers. When it was a little later in the evening and the smell of sulpher had dissipated, Pindell took me aside and told me that he had something to say. He then professed that he was romantically attracted to me. His words sounded rehearsed. Stunned, I told him the truth as sweetly as I could: I was not interested in him that way, and my feelings for him were more like the feelings one has for a brother. He took it well and it did not interfere with our friendship. While I was a little disturbed by his revelation—Pindell was crazy, after all—I was also moved and flattered. It took immense courage for him to share his feelings with me.

We lost touch after our conservatory days. Several years passed. The world began to change. Almost overnight taking drugs became commonplace, there were massive protests against the war in Vietnam, boys let their hair grow long, profanity became commonplace, kids largely stopped bathing, and a new group of people my age sprang up called hippies. It was then that I bumped into Pindell. It would be the last time that I ever saw him.
I was walking down Newbury street in Boston. He was on the sidewalk going the opposite direction from me. He looked wildly different. He looked, well…normal. He had lost weight, he was dressed neatly in professional clothing, his hair was expertly groomed, he had on a nice pair of glasses that were not taped together, and his eyes no longer darted here and there in the glazed, crazy way I was used to. No, he made pleasant eye contact and there was expression on his formerly wooden face. Even his voice and posture had shifted. This was not a man who would interrupt a conversation to sniff at his armpits.
“Pindell,” I exclaimed. “What’s happened to you?!”
He smiled in a benign, knowing way. “Two things,” he said. “Both of them have completely changed my life.”
“What two things?” I asked eagerly.
“I began taking LSD regularly, and then I discovered that I am actually a transvestite,” he confided. “I’m a different person now.”
Pindell is the only human male on the planet who has ever became normal and sane by taking LSD and wearing women’s panties.
Rest in peace, Pindell. I’m glad I knew you.

------

Please enjoy Mary Elizabeth Leach’s newest collection of short stories, now available in paperback and for Kindle, “The Man in the GPS and OtherStories”

*Pindell's name has been changed out of respect for the family that survives him. All the incidents and places related, however, including our friendship, are true.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

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


Written and Illustrated by
MARY ELIZABETH LEACH (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 scene where we were supposed to be in a clinch was when we were sitting in a car. The cameras started to roll, so I kissed her. After the director yelled ‘Cut,’ Linda looked hard at me, looked again, and then 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 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 naïve 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 still hadn’t asked me out. He had 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 the 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 way, and become an ardent 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.



© 2010, Laughing Cherub & M. E. Raines
All rights reserved
Copying, excerpting, or recording in any form is prohibited.
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Friday, February 19, 2016

LUST IN THE LEMON ORCHARD: THE OBITUARY THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN


 by Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines


On January 15, Aaron B__  passed away at his home in Santa Monica, California following a long battle with cancer. He was 79.

I found this online. It was the obituary of my longtime friend. I was sad to see that he had died, and I was appalled that such bleak words wound up being the final summation of his life.
Anyone reading such an obituary would form a picture of someone exceedingly dull and, well, gray: an elderly man, wrinkled, decrepit, seriously ill, declining helplessly into nonbeing, the victim of a malignant disease. As I looked at the words, I wanted to scream, “No! That’s not who he was!”

The first time I noticed him, I thought Aaron was the coolest guy I’d ever seen. We met at a writer’s conference in Santa Barbara, California. I was 27 years old. Aaron was not only kind, interesting, and talented; he was a smooth talker, oozing more confidence than anyone I’d ever met. His garb was what cool guys wore in the 1970s: aviator sunglasses, an expensive black leather jacket, and a shirt that opened part-way down his chest. His lean, strong body was always just a little hunched over as though he were constantly poised for that most intimate of embraces. I was sure that a man like him would never look at someone like me.
Even without Aaron’s presence, this Writer’s Conference hosted a pretty spectacular group. Ray Bradbury, the great science-fiction writer, was there. So were Charles Schultz, who wrote the comic strip Peanuts, Joan Didion, Ross MacDonald, Maya Angelou, Alan Pakula (who was writing All the President’s Men), Eudora Welty, and Alex Haley (the author of Roots). Eva Marie Saint, the famous actress, showed up. I went to a party with academy-award-winning author Budd Schulberg, who wrote On the Waterfront, and one night I had a wonderful sexy argument over dinner with best-selling author Gay Talese about whether women would ever pay for male hookers the way men pay for female hookers. I argued that yes, women would. Talese said no, they wouldn’t. He was right. But I was young.

That week I wore the low-cut polyester sundresses that were all the fashion rage, and flirted with abandon, and drank far too much liquor, and also chain-smoked, because everybody chain-smoked in those days. It was all a ruse, of course, for in truth, I was dreadfully naïve.
An enthusiastic conference-goer, I always sat dead-center in the front row when the authors spoke. Once while in my usual seat awaiting the entrance of a speaker, feeling ultra-chic as I held a cigarette in one hand and a plastic cup of rosé wine in the other, an older woman came up to me and whispered, “Honey, your boob is out.” I looked at her quizzically. “Your boob’s hanging out,” she repeated in a slightly more vicious tone of voice. “Did you want it like that?”
I looked down, and sure enough, I’d pulled a massive Janet Jackson! My right breast had somehow tumbled out of my dress and lay exposed, a little bare apple, for the whole world to see. I was embarrassed and quickly tucked it back into my sundress. Throughout the rest of the conference, I kept looking down at my chest and rearranging my halter straps compulsively like someone with a weird tic.

Aaron entered the picture one night when some of us attending the conference met in a cottage to read aloud to one another from our work. A few days later, he casually invited me to go for a ride in his cop-magnet red Mercedes. We went first to a posh restaurant overlooking the Pacific, where he bought me my very first margarita. Then he took  me to a lemon orchard.
I’d never seen a lemon tree before, much less an entire orchard of them! Aaron drove over a rutted dirt road and only stopped when we were deep inside the rows of lemon trees. When we got out of the car, it was whisper silent, more still than just about anyplace I have ever been. Neither Aaron nor I said a word.
Instead of speaking, he looked into my eyes and slowly walked to the nearest tree. He reached up and twisted a lemon off a low-hanging branch. Not taking his eyes from mine, moving closer, he plunged both thumbs into the lemon and ripped it in two. I don’t know how someone can rip a lemon in two and make it seductive, but it was the most sensual thing I’ve ever seen anyone do. Aaron handed me half, and then slowly bit into his part of the lemon, sucking the tangy juices, eyes still locked on mine.

Here is the way his obituary should have read: Aaron B___, a man who could wordlessly seduce a woman by ripping a lemon in two with his bare hands, died today, and the colors of the world may never be quite as vibrant or bright again.

© 2016, M. E. Raines

Author's note: this is an abbreviated version of a longer obituary written several years ago. Aaron's talents weren't only in seducing women, although that was certainly the joy of his life. They included being the author of two books, actor, film producer, restaurant owner and gourmet chef, outstanding artist, ex-con (yes, he went to prison for a few years for some complex white-collar scheme he'd gotten sucked into), and much more. What a man!