Sunday, November 18, 2012

Uncertainty Is Not Always What It Seems

Papa Louie was quite right; you’d looked at his daughter, Honey, more than once, admiring among other things her posture, which reminded you of long-legged marsh birds wading through the wetlands with a measured, easy stride.  You were also taken by her colorful blouses, the yellows and cobalt blue, the turquoise, and blued-down reds which accented her au lait skin and her glossy dark hair, with its undercoating of the red known as rufus.

Of course there were the more obvious attractions.  You looked, you marveled at those, but of equal measure at least, you were attracted by her voice, which had the raspy, cigarette-smoker’s tang of carnival folk who chattered, called, cajoled, and in other individualized ways projected their voice over the mounting din of the Midway.

“Hey, let’s try the ball game.”

Or sometimes, merely, “Ball game,” projected while you extended the three baseballs in your hand.

Other times, “Don’t have to knock ‘em off, just tip ‘em over.”

And the Siren-like:  “Will you win her a toddy bear?”

You in fact first became aware of Honey when you heard her pitch, floating out over a Midway evening, an inviting call over the less esthetic honking of so many of the agents.

Although you had that raspy edge to your voice, enhanced by a pack of Camels a day, you strived for that exquisite range between a hoarse sotto voce and someone who could attract attention with a mere word or two, because it sounded urgent.  You were almost there, but, trying to be as objective as possible, you were focused on Honey’s voice well beyond those steamy, secluded-room fantasies your libido called up for you when you noticed her.

“I hear you been to college, that right?”  Papa Louie said, as though he were starting the negotiations on some appliance or jewelry you knew in advance would require installment payments.

“A man who goes to college, he must be pretty smart. Maybe not smart on the streets, but hey—“  He reach across the table to nudge you.  “—a man who goes to college, he don’t need to spend time on the street.”  Another nudge.  “He spend his time in an office or a court room.”  Papa Louie’s eyes  were like dark obsidian, polished, dense.  “Where you gonna spend your time?”

This somehow led him to advising you that you needed a suit, which was one of the last things you needed, because a Hollywood actor for whom you’d worked had given you six of his.  This was in lieu of cash, but at the time you were not alarmed by the arrangement.

“You work with him? Papa Louie said.  “By golly, I watched that Flying Tigers movie of his five, six times when Imma boy.”

Because of what he described as her extraordinary beauty, Papa Louie felt an obligation to see that individuals he noticed watching Honey had honorable attentions.  He went so far as to ask you if your intentions were, as he put it, with honor.

Looking back now on your response to that question, you are able to see more than a little of the smart ass college kid trying to sound more than merely “with” the carnival, rather “with” the “it” of sophistication and awareness.  What you told Papa Louie was that you feared Honey’s obvious charms could easily override your respectful interest in her as a person.

Automatic transmissions were in the developing stages in those days, but nevertheless, your answer produced in Papa Louie a seamless shift from protector to manager.

“People who complete college,” he said, “they are people who sometimes see the possibilities for arrangements.”

Of course, as it developed, Papa Louie was not really Honey’s father and as much as you thought you saw a family resemblance, there was no direct blood tie.

Two days after that conversation with Papa Louie, while standing in yet another garage, on account of Ron’s Cadillac, you learned that Ron had purchased the Cadillac from Papa Louie.  Standing in the mechanic’s office, lined with the types of calendars you’ve come to associate with mechanic’s offices, you heard the mechanic tell Ron, “I’ve seen more powerful engines in washing machines.

Two weeks later, Ron was wearing a fringed leather jacket at least two sizes to large from him, and someone had dropped off at your hotel in the lower-rent areas of Ventura, a brand new-but-un-hemmed pair of khakis,  The Ventura county fair was the end of the season for you; all you’d need to do was walk a block to the Greyhound station, then be off the seventy-five-or-so miles to Los Angeles.

Your voice had achieved that scratchy burr you so admired, you’d successfully fended off Papa Louis’s suggestions that you consider some arrangement with Honey, and Ron was driving a moss-colored Ford with Nevada license plates.  You were having a particularly rewarding runoff income at the Ventura Fair Grounds when your rasp-mellowed voice caused a face in the Midway crowd to turn around.

You had indeed thought to pursue a relationship with the face that turned to focus her eyes on you.  True, she lacked Honey’s more stark and exotic appearance, but something about Betty you were not completely able to articulate caused you to feel vulnerable, wildly attracted to her, yet at times completely tongue-tied.

The few conversations about potentials for shared futures seemed to focus on her belief that your eyes were more on some horizon than on a particular goal and a plan to achieve it.  “You seem,” she said at one point, “to always be focusing on uncertainty.”

If she were with sorority sisters, friends, even a date, you registered then and now in retrospect, only her, on that late September afternoon, apart from the Midway crowd, as familiar to you as your own clothing in the vast democratic potential of a strange Laundromat in a remote city.  “I knew it,”  she seemed to be saying with nods of her head rather then words.  “I knew it would be something like this.”

Two days later, you were back in Los Angeles with enough earnings to see you through a few months of time where you and your typewriter had nothing to focus on but uncertainty.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I always feel I'm right smack in the middle of your stories, watching the action play out around me.

When are you going to compile several of your short stories into a book?