Saturday, June 11, 2005
The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 15 and 16
Chapter Fifteen(Chapter One ran on April 9, and every weekend thereafter.)
Randall would one day declare “no business is an easy business,” and Joya would agree for the business of selling jewelry to the city’s rich or aspiring-to-be-so was not an easy one.Her tools were a series of ready-made chitchats and asides, which she adjusted to the ever-evolving story of American language in a hyper-historical city where yesterday’s papers seemed a lot older than just yesterday. To the casual observer, the use of ghetto slang and hippisms by a blonde cowgirl on the well-heeled ladies she hoped to seduce money out of might seem strange, but that’s what happens in a world where almost everybody is reduced to selling useless things. “Oh, those look absolutely franzy upon you,” she’d invent an expression in that second. Sometimes it took; usually it didn’t – like most of her creations; like those of most creators.
“Hon, those earrings look festive,” was a favorite for her; festivities being an important local preoccupation.
Crazy ring? “It’s not outlandish at all! It’s just reflectin’ a more lavish, sensual Mediterranean intelligence. It’s not Protestant or anything like that, hon.”
Or, “Ah don’t know who he is, but he’s gonna like it and you more than he already does when he gets a gander.”
“Gander.” Customers were left with a sense that their old Aunt Minnie from back east was advising them, except that Aunt Minnie was wearing a mini-skirt that left you curious about the rest of the package.
And that was the game; to make friends with these people who knew she wanted their money. Joya’s point of departure was that each entered in search of seduction; personal, financial, what have you. There were obstacles of a very personal kind to consumer spending and it was her job to help customers overcome them (or undo them herself). She was a micro-economist, a true (if untitled) scholar of the marketplace; expert both in theory and praxis.
Anyway, she was selling a rose-gold ring set in two pieces, that kissed each other when worn on adjoining fingers. It was the kind of design she specialized in. So simple that other, lesser designers wanted to slap themselves on the forehead for not having come up with it. One that grabbed the ever-precious attention of shell-shocked shoppers bombarded by imagery and novelty all along the commercial strip where she rented.
Joya was working a time-tested, “Every one of those skinny little fingers needs a jewel…” when Jordan burst into the store looking like something out of a horror movie entitled, let’s say, Mutant Dawn.
The delicate customer Joya was pummeling gave a gentle “eeek” when she saw him. The ring kiss was broken and fell from her shaking hands. A handful of other girls present, including Joya’s Indian (as in Bombay) shop girl, gasped. Joya lost her cool for a moment because she had lost the sale also. But she quickly regained composure. “Hon! I’m not going to even ask what happened.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Well what on Earth?”
“Could you take me to the doctor? My car’s covered in blood and I’m a little shook up.”
“Well of course you are!” Joya said while imagining how Jordan, in another moment of desperation, had reached into his wallet and come up with her card (which she was beginning to regret having given him), again.
“But hon, I’m kinda runnin’ a store right now, but I guess…alright, gimme a minute.”
And she announced to the three or four disgusted women in her establishment that they should come back with the cards she was handing out to them for a 15 percent discount on all merchandise as an apology for the ghastly interlude to which Jordan had subjected them.
The ladies left with a decent story to tell at lunch. Joya dismissed her shop girl upon whom later discussion will be showered. She flitted here and there, closing the cash register, setting the alarm system and other tasks particular to the running of a small retail outlet. All the while, Jordan bled on her floor, on her counter, and on her patience. Joya was forthright as she fretted. “Ya know hon, I don’t mind helping folks out, but you’re becoming a bit of a pain in my ass.”
This had the opposite effect than she intended as Jordan laughed rather heartily.
Maybe it was the absurdity of the situation, or of his life, or perhaps the deleterious affects of too much adrenaline, but he laughed and laughed as she grabbed a bloody limb and guided him outside before locking the door behind her. They walked toward her car and he laughed some more until, rather imperceptibly, and without announcement, the gasps of laughter became tears and she stopped to stroke his hair, touched by the emotion of it all. “Motherfuckers,” he blurted. “Goddamn Armenian, gang-banging motherfuckers. I kill ‘em.” He tried pulling himself together. “You’re a brave person so you won’t be needin’ ta kill anybody,” she said then, and noticing the slightest hitch in her voice, he looked up to see her barely weeping. She smiled at him with watery eyes that took on the aspect of wavy indigo banners of many messages. “Well what do you expect?” she said and kissed him on the bloody nose.
Joya walked up to a red convertible Cortina built in a time before their own memories. Precious moments were spent as they pulled the manual top down. Things were taking so long that Jordan thought he was going to die from blood loss, which of course he wasn’t.
They got in and the car showed its age with an exceptionally laborious ignition while Joya smiled bashfully. Soon they were into the slow, but ultimately progressing, stream of traffic. When stopped at a red light, Joya turned to her ward for a more detailed inspection of the mess. “Wow, it looks like that’s broken.”
“Well do me a favor,” and she rubbed his leg, “when ya get it fixed, have ‘em put it back just how it was ‘cause it was very handsome.”
“Jesus Christ,” echoed across the chambers of his mind, “was ever a more perfect woman put on the planet?”
At this point (and you hopefully knew this was coming) Jordan decided that he desperately needed a smoke. It was clearly a medical situation and medicine of the personal kind was definitely in order. “Got a ciggy-boo?” he asked his savior.
“Dja think ya should?”
With his face he said, “C’mon man.”
“Well alright,” and she banged the glove compartment, which contained no gloves, but many other items important to feminine survival, and a box of cigarettes that Joya handed to Jordan. “What the hell are these?” he said more delighted than anything else.
“You got hit in the nose, not the eye. Read.”
It was a tiny yellow box with a sunset behind a dome of religious and oriental aspect. “Dãrshãn,” the box read, “Classic Bidis Filter Cigarettes, Vanilla Flavored, Bombay-Los Angeles.”
He asked the creamy girl, “Where did you hear about these?”
“Sadina, my gal at the shop turned me onto ‘em. They’re from India, like her.” And since he was naturally curious about tobacco product and not in the mood to be choosy, Jordan helped himself to a sampling.
What he came upon was a rough, almost cardboard stick, the color of shipping box carton. It was rolled thinner at one end than at the other and tied closed at the filter with tiny white thread.
It did indeed smell of vanilla, spiked with clove. Jordan thought that vanilla from India should be spiked.
It hit very mildly and affected the lungs not at all. The vanilla was strong on the lips, which he felt compelled to lick after each drag. It calmed him just like his own stuff did, or anyone else’s for that matter, save for Capri, which he was convinced, contained no tobacco at all.
He liked it.
Resting in the Coloradoan’s comforting aura Jordan’s presence of mind was mostly restored. “Listen,” he interrupted the calming silence she imposed. “I’d rather not go to the poor peoples’ hospital. I’ve got a new credit card I can ruin.”
“Oh and ahm not takin’ you there. After I saw that place I did a little research for the day when something happens to my appendix.” Jordan asked her if she didn’t have medical insurance. “Hon, nobody in America has medical insurance. It’s the ultimate expression of our rugged individualism. We don’t pay taxes and we try not to get hurt.”
We don’t pay taxes and we try not to get hurt. J. thought Randall could use Joya’s help in formulating his own overwrought thought.
“Ah found a medical center that takes outpatients with a little up-front money and I signed promise to pay the rest, and there’s two hundred dollars I can lend you.”
They rolled on for a moment before Joya broke in again.
“Heck, we don’t want you going to county, they kill old ladies there.”
Jordan felt like vomiting and though he was loath to let her see him doing something quite so unappealing, he had Joya pull over so he could do just that. “You must be in a little shock,” she posited once he was done and he nodded that, yes, he was.
Stabilized anew, Jordan considered her loan and decided the advantages of indebtedness to Joya would far outstrip those to be got with some pernicious and impersonal multinational bank. He thought her generosity to be of an uncommon kind and, as was often the case when in Joya’s presence, found himself at a loss for words during the remainder of the ride.
Clarisse and Corey were at it again about the baby. She had just come home from another grueling shift of “waitressing” as she called it, and was lying on her back with feet pressed to the wall, legs bent at 90-degree angles, in an effort to get the blood circulating. It was a trick of the trade, the ultimate effect of which remained inscrutable. The lady was in a particularly foul mood because of an invitation she had received. It was to an exposition of her primary rival in the wacky-looking furniture game – Trixie Marie.
The enterprising Trixie was climbing the ladder with astonishing efficacy. Clarisse was stuck somewhere between the second and third rung of the very same ladder. The invitation – sent in all good grace – just about put Clarisse through the roof. She wanted a show, she wanted to stop waitressing yet she couldn’t seem to do a thing about it.
The cause of the present argument between Corey and Clarisse, was not the usual one: the male’s reticence to enthusiastically embrace fatherhood. No. Corey, without malice or manipulation, had suddenly concluded that now was good a time as any. Life was happening. Clarisse’s familiar argument that poor Mexicans had lots of babies without concern for the financial ramifications had made inroads.
This turned out to be a revelation more profound and disturbing than she cared to admit. To wit: their childlessness had little to do with his reticence.
For once Corey had relented in this two-year fertility battle, the possibility of having a baby improved not a lick. To be sure, they were healthy amorous creatures with all their parts screwed on correctly. They liked sex with each other and practiced it with near religiosity.
He wanted the kid! He wanted to make her happy and begin the family as soon as circumstances permitted, which circumstances did not since they still couldn’t pay for the kid.
The lovely apartment in a great neighborhood filled with restaurants they labored day and night to maintain, two cars, clothes to match them, all conspired against the idea. Which was nothing new. What was new, was the fact these considerations had now become Clarisse’s. She wanted the baby, but not the outlying suburb peopled in polyester salesmen that might come with it.
Still, Corey knew a grinding disappointment in his abilities as white-knight-in-shining-armor was beginning to take very deep root in her and this frustrated him.
He was just a guy and nothing like a knight at all.
There are many essay-form books dealing with the emasculation of American men and Corey, if he read more, would have been a fan. Gone were the days, he would agree, when life presented heavy lifting, hunting, and warfare in distant lands against
which a man’s mettle might be measured. The challenge of making enough money to give their women a celebrity’s life without celebrity was the source of much anxiety.
Standards were high and pretty tough to meet without being to the manner born. The generation at the controls was talented, prodigious, and so numerous that mere preparation and hard work played less a hand in the affairs of young couples than ever before. Those who had not been simply lucky were, well, shit out of luck.
These thoughts were running through Corey’s mind as Clarisse carped, when they were interrupted by a phone call. So great was the tension that the couple jumped at the shrill mechanized twittering. “Shit,” Corey said, “remember when they rang like sweet bells?”
She could not for she was just that much younger than him.
Corey answered. “It’s me Randall,” slithered across the fiberoptica.
“Randall…oh, hey! The bum philosopher.”
“Yes, and the world must know it.”
“I’ve got a comeback idea to try out on you.”
Corey looked back at his dour-faced wife and turned away. “I’m all ears. I’d love to hear about the addiction you’ve chosen to be felled by, only to rise Phoenix-Arizona-like from the ashes.”
There was a pause and it is a measure of just how much hardware there is in the world these days, and of how little intelligence there is to drive it, that Corey didn’t hang up. “Care to elaborate?”
“Meet me at the Argentine place. Let’s celebrate with a dinner.”
Corey glanced back at his wife and returned to the phone. “See you in an hour.”