Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 28, 29, and 30



Chapter Twenty-eight

Yvonne called Randall on the phone, which otherwise never or almost (remember how Randall hates absolutes) never rang. Now, what with the small bumps of money and designer weed Corey was floating him, and beautiful naked magazine women calling, things had certainly taken a turn for the better.

What he did not know was that the naked magazine women aspect of his recent good fortune was an artifact of Corey’s manipulations. For it was Corey who’d advised Yvonne to check-in with Randall.

There were uncomfortable aspects to her contacting him, but she realized such would be the situation for many years until all the magazines disappeared or her body sagged, whichever came first. He suggested they get together. They did.

“I need your help,” she spoke to him after the initial trading of pleasantries, all of which were genuine on his side. It was a phrase Randall was unaccustomed to hearing given the fact help was something he was rarely in a position to give.

He’d chosen the bohemian path as an offering before the altar of revolution. But residency in bohemia left him at the mercy of the least appetizing people. And the pursuit of creative glory had turned out to be not very revolutionary at all.

Selling made-and-impractical things (however evocative) left him spending too much time on the balls of his heels to be any kind of pro-activist. “Art makes you a beggar,” would become classic bum philosophy as the refined, “Being an artist means being a beggar.” And it became one of Randall’s favorites because it reiterated, for those considering a life of fame and glory as creators, the mundane logic of a gas station attendant who could at least afford life’s essentials.

He was wrong, of course, for money was never the point. A better tenet, if not very bummy, might have been: You don’t live from your passion. You live for it (or her, or him and them). For artists not-to-the-manner-born have always been poor and that is what has set them apart from the rest of the worker bees and been the source of much antagonism between them.

The opposing lifestyles, he’d observed, meted out exactly what they promised: peril and pleasures for one, luxuries and tedium for the other.

Randall, like many of his time and place, thought he was owed two simple blessings: to work at his passion, and the grace of paying his modest bills. But it turned out to be asking quite a lot, a pass on the fray as it were, when the fray’s the thing.

He acted smarter than everybody else and then expected everybody else to pay for his progress, which, of course, wasn’t going to happen.

As such, Randall’s creed was that of a long, if not very hallowed tradition. None of which he was about to let Yvonne in on; all of which she knew anyway because, despite what men think, women are not stupider than they.

Yvonne, now infamous in her way, knew some things about Randall that his childhood friends, parents, and the idiots who had surrounded and stifled his progress for years did not. And this was that he would be fine. His discipline and hewing to a determined path, his desire to make sacrifices based upon his ideals had molded him into a certifiable type, congealed his character and varnished the personality. That is an achievement, even at low wages, and always has been.

He was not the hot and sexy model-type Yvonne had ruined her prospects of marriage and family waiting for, but he was certainly useful in ways that no man she knew could be.

What Yvonne wanted was to ask him about squeezing some money out of her naked picture situation. She had taken some pay, very little, at the time of the shoot and when the pictures never appeared, thought as little (as possible) about them. Now, given her embarrassment, she felt entitled to more and wanted to know if there wasn’t something – not legal, because she knew there wasn’t – ideal-like, something justice-driven she could beat her exploiters over the head with until she was offered further recompense.

“What about residuals?” Randall offered blandly after she’d presented her situation to him. Yvonne shrugged and said she’d already thought of that, but felt it was too simple. Of course, with bum philosophy increasingly marking his mind’s boundaries, Randall was becoming a big fan of simple. That was why his first offering was so lacking in originality. Why strain the brain for something with less of a success rate than the tried and true? Why swim against the current? He’d done that for years and mostly gotten tired. It was the first thing that came to mind. It could come from the mouth of some pizza man who was leagues ahead of Randall in the moneymaking department, a common man’s winner with an insight to the obvious.

“Don’t be so quick to dismiss,” he said more assertively. Yvonne inhaled a Virginia Slim and her eyes filled with either smoke or intense interest. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

“That’s how the reproduction of image has been handled around here,” he
continued. “You make a commercial, a film, a whatever and you get paid every time it turns up someplace. Why not demand a specified sum for each reproduction in print?”

“Every issue?”

“Blow the works!”

“They’d say she doesn’t have a contract that says anything like that. And they would say publishing doesn’t work that way.” Her voice was low and each word was uttered with the same intonation as that before it. He thought she was a tough broad, but avoided uttering either the thought or phraseology.

“With a little help, here please smoke one of these” – he tossed her an Export-A – “with a little help, people might be convinced the current system exploits rather innocent girls who don’t always know what they’re getting into.”

Yvonne said that young or not, you do know what you’re getting into. That there is flattery involved and other lures surrounding. That if you take your clothes off in front of a camera under lights, lenses, filters and so forth, you know what you’re getting into.

“You know what you know,” he answered, “but you don’t know what you don’t know,” and he pulled out a notebook and recorded the gem to see if it sounded quite so good later on. “No offense man, but for many girls, this kind of exposure, um (he caught himself too late), is a one-time shot. A moment to be exploited, um (again), taken advantage of considering the short-lived flowering of one’s sexuality. The future must be considered.”

“No offense taken,” she answered, not very convincingly. He thought how there are many pitfalls to working with women who appear naked in magazines.

“What say you? We write up a press release, send it out to some ambitious lawyers and see who’s sleazy enough to jump on this thing because of the screen time it could mean for them.”

“Sounds like a bit of a circus,” Yvonne said. She then turned her wrist to view the cigarette she’d been smoking, made a distasteful face and put it out. “I like Vagina Slims more,” she said, brand loyal, proving how smokers are hardly the monolithic bunch they are portrayed to be. “It’s a circus man,” he agreed, “but if you want your satisfaction, center ring awaits. The only way to mount pressure is to produce a show and you’d better decide whether you’re going to ride that train into the station or not.”

It was when she then pointed out that he’d mixed metaphors that Yvonne won him over to her cause, although he was not quite aware of this.

“So what do you say man?” He sounded either impatient or testy.

There was a pause while she lit her pleasure, a pause that grew as she inhaled, and became almost permanent once she blew out and focused her eyes on him. “Don’t be intimidated by the fact I can dissect your language.”

He took a deep breath. She wasn’t at all stupid. (As we said) She was smarter than he was.

“What we do,” he said rolling perfectly with reality, “is call up and find out what the distribution is, in terms of numbers right now, maybe call some bigger newsstands to determine what the pick-up rate is-”

“Pick-up rate?”

“When they come to refill what’s been sold, or pick up what hasn’t. Then we call a press conference, file suit, feed the media who” – he was going to say “whore themselves” and thought better of it – “run with the story about how many magazines have been reordered from the same place afterward. We’ll demonstrate just how rich you are making them.”

“You’re assuming they’re going to sell a lot,” she correctly pointed out.

“I am.”

“I need a little time to think things over,” she said, “but I’m mostly on board.” Puff. “All the damage has been done anyway.” Puff. She smiled and kissed him. It was a peck on the cheek and it was hers for the taking. Puff. It affected him in a way that could hardly be altered by the fact she’d been in a girly magazine. She told Randall that she liked him and dropped a check on the table between them before exiting. Puff.

Without a doubt, The Sidewalk Smokers Club ladies section have demonstrated a nobility of character the guys are taking their sweet time in matching. And that is because boys are permitted to develop slowly into men while women are seemingly made in a moment.

Puff.

Chapter Twenty-nine

Yvonne didn’t need too much time to think about it. She was riding high in her black sports utility truck vehicle across the urban terrain in complete security unless she hit a train track or something and the thing tumbled over on its side. It had become a truck-driving society and for those not up to affording the trend, road visibility had become a luxury out of reach. She slaked her nicotine thirst with another Slim – Virginia that is – and the jolt lubricated her thought processes and animated her in a way that left little room for doubt. She was going in. Head first.

As far as Yvonne could see, girls like her had a “right” to some of the spoils baring their produce produced. The cost of everyone you know being familiar with what was beneath was certainly high enough. And “rights” were always privy to a certain popular sympathy. “Rights” just sound right. In fact, rights-making was an industry. There were so many movements for the right to do this, that and the other thing that really, what you had was a veritable traffic jam of rights – a downright bottleneck where the rights one person was pushing could not help but run smack into the rights of another, in turn spawning the need for further rights. It was a Pandora’s Box really and probably nothing like the great guys who’d gotten the whole rights thing rolling had envisioned.

Not that anyone was thinking such things at this point in the story, but they are no less important to the proceedings.

Randall, for example, was running into this problem as he sought to weave a Smokers’ Rights Manifesto seamlessly, and without being obvious, into the larger bum philosophy. He’d found that the nonsmokers had beaten him to the punch by many years and that in asserting the rights of smokers he was infringing upon the well-entrenched protections of those who did not. He discovered further that raising hackles against nonsmokers was not quite the same as it was against the landed gentry or whatever you had when the rights game was in its infancy.

But enough. What people want to know about is the pretty, naked girl Yvonne.

Her nascent movement would necessarily run up against the rights (treasured ones) of publishers, who got into the rights business very early on. And they enjoyed the support of people whose opinions and labors were of much account largely because they drew a living from publishing itself. It was a particularly well-armed machine that could turn to the use of, well, the reproduction of images and words to make its case. So it was going to be something of a cockfight, but if any group was up to the challenge, naked pretty women were. And if they could not win it, they might shoot for the stars – represented in a core claim to the increased control of their own images – and at least land on the moon to scoop up scads of money, publicity and even credit that would accrue to them for a fight well-fought.

Oh hope. That lowest common denominator was kicking-in again. And a powerful kick it was because once Yvonne decided she had nothing to lose – and she didn’t – there was no doubt as to the course she would take.

Chapter Thirty

The city attorney had announced that the ongoing investigation of the old lady’s brutal murder would be deepened and widened. He’d begun slipping in the “brutal murder” bit around the time a lesbian city councilwoman began cutting into his poll margin with appealing and impolitic positions.

He dedicated a press conference to explaining how hospital records would be combed for the names and addresses of folks interned at county medical on that night of infamy and unconscionable horror.

Jordan, who read about this event, got to thinking about how the fact he wasn’t Latino wouldn’t help him a lick when interrogators saw the similarity between himself and the guy in the police composite. “What am I talking about, ‘the guy’? It’s me!” he said to himself, grimly, and decided that from here on he would decline the offers of high quality dope floating from Corey to Randall to himself. “I don’t care if it’s free, it’s driving me nuts,” and upon realizing that he was talking to himself, Jordan decided not to forego his medicine after all. It was too perilous a time for going it alone. There would be better times, times of repose, when the adjustment might be achieved.

So he took a drive over to Joya’s Joyas. Jordan did not think he would be entirely unwelcome. Unannounced though he was, no blood or urgent surgical procedures were involved with this visit. And besides, since Joya had revealed her sexuality to him, there would be less, check that, no sexual tension because she knew that he knew and what the heck was the point of getting all worked up over nothing?

(fat chance)

Jordan had underestimated himself. That people tended to like and give him the benefit of the doubt never became an article of his personal faith. He would not let it become so. But Joya did like him and coupled with the fact that there was no blood or urgent surgical procedure in the offing, she was pleased as pink pussy to see him. It was also through-and-through true that since she’d blown all the hot air out of his male ego the atmosphere around them was cooler, more relaxed.

Taking into account what had been endured together they were practically old friends. So when Jordan asked, “What are you doing?” it was not some lame entree to conversation, but a genuine query for which she could provide answers spiced with recent and interesting goings-on.

What she was doing, in fact, was planning a benefit at Joya’s Joyas on behalf of Yvonne and “that suit,” as she referred to the pending civil complaint Randall had already concocted.

He had provided Jordan with a sketching of what was planned, but J. did not realize how far along things were. An attorney laboring on behalf of the lesbian city councilmember running for mayor was willing to take the case on a pro bono basis.

“What’s that?” Yvonne had rasped between agile puffs of Virginia Slim (elsewhere).

“Free,” Randall bum-broke it down for her (elsewhere).

Anyway, Joya broke out her bidis and began to explain how the media gathering would be held jointly with the benefit; that they were to be one and the same thing. Not aware of the press pack’s freeloading habits and low pay, Joya imagined she might fleece some as they worked.

“It’s a class-action suit,” she explained to Jordan, “it could become huge.”

“Class-action?” Jordan punctuated her body driven discourse.

“Class-action,” she echoed him. “All the girls in all the magazines for the past five years are named, and that makes for an enormous group.” Enormous wasn’t the word that came immediately to Jordan’s mind, but he kept it to himself in exchange for the more intimate, “Plus some of them might lick your pussy!”

“That too!” she laughed and the whole damn thing with the magazine and Yvonne and Joya having a benefit and the class of magazine girls was just too exciting for J. to bear, but bore it he did. Joya was gushing patchouli or China Rain from her mouth and he wondered how in the hell she did that and did this girl have to be lesbian?

It was bad enough the way she soared physically, lithe of body and bony faced. Did she have to be an in-the-flesh-girl-on-girl-fantasy, too?

He wondered what in the heck had happened to his life. He did not have the benefit of this mapped-out narrative to isolate for him the way in which a harmless decision to go out and have a smoke back during the first pages had changed its direction.

So don’t say smoking is bad for you; at least not always.

Jordan’s mental euphoria was short-lived because Joya, not just out of courtesy either, asked him, “What’s goin’ on?” He came dropping to earth like a skydiver whose first and emergency chutes have failed to open. Literature has covered, often, exactly how heavy the burden of murder can press upon a lucid and less-than-criminal soul/mind. So that territory will not be broached here. Suffice it to say Jordan thought about the old lady, and related investigation, much more than the few aforementioned instances recorded thus far. Really, it was driving him nuts and there was that four-leaf clover essence to Joya, which just seemed to suggest it would be okay if he told her. She was a solid, paid-up lesbian member of society who acquitted her debts and kept close confidences. But she was also something of an outlaw and sexual iconoclast who, no matter how well-adjusted, surely had suffered during the course of her own development. She was bad and she was good, light and dark, sun and moon, bad girl–good girl, cigarettes and beautiful breath. In his next life he wanted to come back as her and so he said, “You know that thing about the old lady who was killed in the hospital that the city attorney is getting all hot and bothered about?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, I, uh, did it.”

She knew what he meant, but the gravity of the admission begged confirmation.

“Ya did what hon?”

“Do you have to make me say it?”

“No, maybe ya shouldn’t.” She blew out a gust of scented smoke and leaned back against the showcase window. “Jeeezus, hon. What in the – I mean for the luv of – wow!”

Again, it was a measure of just how well and quickly The Sidewalk Smokers Club had clicked that Jordan was able to decipher her verbal Morse code. It has been written (Emerson) that where the understanding is perfect between two parties, no discussion is required on either side. But that would wreak hell on the lives of novelists concerned with the inner life and so, for the purposes of good reading, the clubbers’ synchronicity will never completely their exclude discourse.

She looked up into his eyes and said, “You sure know how to keep a gal entertained dontcha!”

In this instance J. simply shrugged and Joya agreed, as she had before she knew it was he who had done it, that there was much in the act that made sense. “And that city attorney really is trying to make a big deal about the old bag ain’t he?”

Jordan responded that he would not put it exactly that way, but, “Yes, he is. And I’m in big trouble.”

“Not yet,” she reminded and then stood up, stared at him, swivelled her hips three times and said, “Is ‘at why ya cut your hair that way and put the little blond streaks in?”

Jordan nodded that it was.

“It’s really cute,” she verily erupted. Jordan was amazed to what length a woman’s interest in cosmetics will lead her afield.

“I mean, ya look the same, but it’s really cute.”

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