Monday, August 01, 2005
The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 31, 32, and 33
“You know what you know, but you don’t know what you don’t know,” Randall read to Corey who was making love with one of his partner’s Export-As.
“Great!” Corey said.
Randall smiled. “I know. It’s the essence of bum philosophy, isn’t it?”
“I was talking about the cigarette. My God, it reminds me of when I sold my Nissan and bought a used BMW.”
“The effect of the cigarettes on your health will be as ruinous as the Beamer was to your finances,” Randall assured him.
“Don’t get surly,” Corey cut back. “I was just kidding. It is the essence of bum philosophy. It’s simple, which makes it bummy, but you have to go back and read it a few times, which makes it philosophy.”
After a few cigarettes and a review of what had been recorded to date, the boys decided that while “simple” could be perceived as bummy, there had to be a stronger element of bumness in their invention. The point was Corey’s and Randall was inclined to agree. He reached for his notebook that was open on the table and scrawled away, reciting in simultaneity, “Never question the dollars-and-cents judgments of business people,” before looking up and asking, “But what do we put?”
“I don’t know,” answered Corey, “a Ten Commandments of laziness, of bum-like behavior. Something to guide those who maybe have bum tendencies, but need the philosophy to guide their actions.”
“Yeah, ten commandments of inaction.”
“Nine commandments, less biblical,” said Randall, a rabid secular.
“And,” Corey said, “less work.”
“Right. Good.” Randall’s one functioning lung (he was unaware the other had gone on strike) pulled deep on an Export-A. “Okay, we can still keep it simple. How about, ‘Love your bed as you would love yourself’.”
“Oh, that’s great!” said Corey and Randall invited him to try it.
Randall answered, yes, him. Corey asked for another Export-A and fired up. The inspiration came almost immediately. “If you see someone resting, stop to help them.” Randall nodded in mild approval. “It’s not a practical measure, but it says something important and, I think, is pretty funny.” He hit his cigarette again, mashed it to death and thought for a moment. “Actually, I like what you’ve done more than at first. Let’s keep it going in that vein. ‘If work is sacred, don’t touch it’.”
Corey yipped like a cowboy. “I’ve always been terrified of creativity. I never knew it could be so much fun!”
Randall replied, “Why do you think it pays so poorly man?”
That wiped the smile off Corey’s face.
“Let me try again,” his partner said as he enthused his own cigarette practically out of existence. “We are born tired and live to rest.” Randall wasn’t crazy about that one, but let it slide. They did, after all, need nine and he was, furthermore, a big fan of letting things lie for a while and returning later to see how they played. “How’s about, ‘When you feel the urge to work, sit for a moment and wait for it to pass’.”
To say Corey’s response was hysterical is to discredit the man’s temperament, so we won’t. Randall thought he was going overboard, but appreciated his friend’s introduction to the old-time creativity in a way dating a 20-year-old reawakened distant carnal joys for a man of 54. “‘If work is good for you, let the sick do it’.”
“Give me another smoke!” cheered Corey. They lit up anew and he said, “Okay, okay I’m ready with one. ‘Rest all day so that you can sleep well at night’.” Randall noticed a diminishing quality to Corey’s contribution, but it would do as a weaker link in the exquisite corpse they were cooking. “That’s not too bad,” he said, “but it will do as a weaker link in the exquisite corpse we’re concocting.”
The touch of sweetener failed to drown the bitter and, of course, Corey got a little hurt.
Randall’s correction of Corey represented a virtue-as-flaw, for there was little of the bullshitter in him. He had chosen, for reasons he could not recall, to remain honest to his feelings and express them nakedly. It’s a rotten strategy for living modern life, which requires upward mobility aided by unsavory schemes and unspoken plans, and that may be why he was sitting in a dreary, smoke-infested apartment grafting silly-isms onto his ONE GREAT IDEA.
“Lemme do another one,” Corey said, and Randall took immediate heart, because his partner was demonstrating tenacity, aggression, persistence and a host of other qualities he himself had neglected to groom in the pursuit of a meditative life. “‘Work as little as possible, and what you must get done, let someone else do’.”
Randall thought the string was certainly run out, for both of them. So rather than lie that it was good or slash his happy partner twice in a row, he did some simple math and said, “Number nine, drum-roll please! ‘Calm yourself, nobody ever died from resting’.”
They smiled and blew smoke in each other’s face.
There was no doubt about it, the guys were on the same page and working together in a way that often spells success for those engaged in joint ventures.
Across town, however, that delectable convergence of business and the philosophy of futility was producing something quite different where Clarisse and Corey were concerned.
She was miserable. The stunning originality of Trixie Marie’s furniture show had paralyzed what remained of her creativity. Her husband, on the other hand, was excited and engaged with a project, to which her sole contribution was the occasional sharing of sidewalk smoking conversation. It was a place of secondary importance and Clarisse was not interested in a life of secondary importance. So she was hostile toward him, angry at his independence and frustrated he could (would?) not help her assume a greater role in things.
She acted as if The Sidewalk Smokers Club were a company with offices and well-defined career ladders for the proper recruits. Already disjointed as a couple, things had twisted them into opposite directions, resulting in greater tension around the house.
He’d become a smoker and lost weight. She’d surprised herself in pointing out to him the brief and passing nature of this early benefit to the habit.
From this heresy it was just a short walk over to the other side. She stopped smoking and, as is often the case, substituted nicotine with protein and carbohydrates. Corey had noticed how his baby wasn’t fittin’ into her jeans of late and his baby had noticed that hers had taken – like everyone else in town – to looking at Yvonne whenever she was around.
When Clarisse went out Corey always had Yvonne’s layout as recourse to loneliness.
It was, in its way, a powerful little advertisement, and for Corey, Yvonne’s lack of shame was the most exciting thing about her.
Clarisse absorbed, learned. She concluded dignity was not worth the indignity it produced; that dignity should no longer stand in the way of her designs. You get things done anyway you can. Shamelessly. As penance, she promised to be
philanthropic in her own coming halcyon days.
But one other thing about the magazine: Clarisse, naturally, grew frustrated at always seeing it strewn about the house, not as a girly magazine, but as a piece of intellectual fascination for those who came and went. She was being assaulted, yes assaulted, by successful women and needed to get her bearings. So she threw it out, only to find that he’d replaced it shortly thereafter, without saying a word. And so go the silent wars that couples out of love can wage.
So, while Corey and Randall stimulated each other’s intellects, she decided to go and visit someone else who hated his job and seemed a little out of sorts lately – Jordan. That she found him cute was established in the genesis and now his underemployment could be added to the plus column as a condition common to each.
At Java World, Jordan was scowling his way through another brutal 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift. He had volunteered for this particular time frame because the tips were better and it permitted him to eat a breakfast upon entering and a lunch just before punching out; and two paid meals are two paid meals. He thought about passing this pearl onto Randall and Corey, but decided that any person who could not produce such a conclusion independently was unlikely to reach for a book on philosophy, bummy though it may be.
Clarisse was only trying to escape her life for a moment, but the coffee shop’s disarray dismayed and oppressed her. The usually stalwart Carlos had sunk into a funk resulting in something of slowdown; a strike being out of the question given the number of dependents he’d burdened himself with. The cash register had not been balancing out correctly the past few mornings and Carlos, being the only Mexican in the place to have transcended busboy status, made the most convenient suspect. He knew it, the boss knew it, Jordan knew it and, being the shop’s top employee, it really bugged Carlos for reasons requiring no explanation.
Jordan snapped out of his morning morass at the sight of Clarisse. That she was a little heavier had escaped no one, but to J.’s peepers, the rounding out (to this point) worked to her advantage. He turned to Carlos and asked if it were alright to take a little breather. Carlos could have cared less.
Clarisse suggested they have a smoke out on the sidewalk and Jordan reached into the back closet and pulled his Drum from a coat pocket.
“Don’ you ever smoke anytheeng else?” she asked as each settled into a plastic chair.
He lit her up. “So what’s going on?” which it was his to ask given the novelty of the French/Belgian girl’s visit.
“You know perfectly well what’s going on,” she fired back. He didn’t. He had an inkling that she had been unhappy and that now it had grown to a rushing torrent of rage, but was ignorant of the details or what it had to do with him. He groped.
“You’re unhappy, huh?”
“Wouldn’t you be?”
Again, he did not know, since her specific ailment remained a mystery. He narrowed down the possibilities, or lack thereof, that her life might present and fired away. “Bummed about your furniture career, huh?”
“Do you haf to says ‘huh?’?”
Jordan wondered if Clarisse hadn’t dropped by just to make his life as miserable as hers, but kept in mind how she and Corey were among the single-digit few who had come to visit him at county hospital. “Sorry,” he sheepishly replied.
“Of course eet’s not my designing. Well eet is, but eet’s more dan dat, too.”
“Corey?” And he stifled a rising “huh?”
“He ees wid dat Randall all de time cooking up dat stoopid bum philosophie.”
“I should think that would make you happy. After all, they may be on to something there. It’s an idea, they’re developing it, and if they find a market you’ll be able to design all the furniture you want after you leave your baby off with the nanny he’s paid for.”
And there it was.
Clarisse was both flattered and furious that a casual acquaintance could quantify her condition so succinctly, but she needed to get her issue out. “He will be paying for Yvonne’s baby, not mine.”
“C’mon, that’s crazy!” he asserted without a single argument to back it up.
“No, you c’mon. What do you mean ‘c’mon’? He likeded her de first time he saw her.”
“So did I. It doesn’t mean a thing. You’re married for chrissakes.”
“Dat doesn’t mean a thing,” she hissed.
Jordan was convinced that counseling an embittered Clarisse was the worst way to spend a precious coffee break at the coffee house. His Drum beat sour. He felt gray in the face. But he was fascinated by her admission, which he found particularly damning, and pretended not to be as impressed as he actually was. “Why would you say that?”
“He has dat magazine with the peectures of her.”
“So do I..”
“You are no married!” she bleated at something near the top of her lungs.
“You just said that doesn’t matter!” he whispered rather loudly.
Folks both inside and outside the restaurant directed glances their way. Clarisse lived up to her new pledge of shamelessness and shook off their attentions – the attentions of others. Jordan was mildly thankful for the advertisement of being in a heated exchange involving a curvaceous continental.
“You’ve got to get a hold of yourself,” he changed tracks. “You’re making way too much of all this,” but it was too late and she was crying softly and he found the soft femininity hard to resist because it had become so rare. He shimmied his chair across the concrete, put his arm around her and said, “Listen, I get off at one. Go shop around town for an hour and meet me back here and we’ll go somewhere and talk about things.”
He pulled out a handkerchief and Clarisse blew her nose into it and smiled. She nodded and promised that she would return, but when Jordan punched out, he had to roll and smoke two of his special Drumsticks at the same table outside before giving up and heading home for a much-deserved nap.
Corey and Randall were working at a feverish pace. Their collaboration was reaching a mystical level, driven mostly by the fact Randall had truly warmed up to the project and Corey was able to stay out of his way as the torrent of ideas rushed on.
Their creation was growing by leaps and bounds.
“Value is what you don’t find lying loose out on the sidewalk,” Randall launched.
Corey liked it, although we would be hard-pressed to agree given our title and choice of subject matter. “I like it, but listen, what about your health?”
However burnished the gems he was producing, both remained convinced that without a marked decline in Randall’s health, there was no good news.
“I went to the doctor the other day. The good news is I most definitely have a rasp to my voice.”
“I noticed. But I thought it was from talking so much.”
Randall ignored this, and such was his comfort in the role of martyred, sanctified seer. Achieving this status meant rising above the petty feelings of lesser lights.
He let the place grow pregnant with pause. “What did he say?” Corey was forced to follow up.
“He said I should stop smoking.”
“Or?” Corey egged him on.
“That’s what I said, ‘or?’ and he said, ‘or your cough will get worse.’ ‘You mean I won’t die?’ I asked him then, and he said, ‘not for decades’.”
Corey threw his pen across the table in a gesture of mild fatigue mixed with frustration. “Dammit! You’ll never get sick enough to make this work.”
Randall then informed Corey of his pending date with Yvonne to talk about the progress of her campaign on behalf of the rights of naked girls and that it was time to trash the tryst.
“Can I come along?”
Randall realized then that, although married, Corey was hot for Yvonne and that he really couldn’t find any reason to blame him other than that Corey was married. That he had his own copy of her layout, and was pleased as punch about Yvonne’s company, alerted him to certain sentiments roiling his own insides. Eyes on the prize he shrugged them off. “For lesser lights,” he scolded himself.
“Of course you can,” Randall smiled nobly, without calculation, because it felt good to be kind and generous with his friend.
Before going they pulled out the magazine and discussed their favorite shots of Yvonne – and parts of Yvonne therein. Then they closed it up and left for a meeting with her.
“Where’s the meeting?” Corey asked as they stepped into Randall’s devastated German sport/compact, proximity being no reason to walk in the city they called home.
“At the Argentine place, but we’re not going in. We’re just going to smoke and chat out on the sidewalk.”
The Sidewalk Smokers Club was/were divorcing their homonymous practice from any prior exercise whatsoever; shrinking the ritual, stripping it buck-naked and to the bare essentials, making it Yvonne.
Smoking on the sidewalk was, in this instance, not to be an extension of some stuffy meal, but a light and airy thing unto itself – an acquired taste.
They arrived a few moments later. Yvonne was already there, in all her scrumptiousness, sharing a cigarette with Joya. Jordan, ever discreet, had not yet informed his fellow gorillas that the Coloradoan was cut from a different cloth than they thought (or hoped), but something in the fact she was present irked Corey.
The ladies were puffing furiously as the boys approached. Yvonne was enjoying one of Joya’s treats so that a vanilla dusty Milky Way encompassed the sidewalk leading up to them.
“Well, hey!” said Joya, “look at you two Foxy Browns.” Of course her little verbal invention worked at a number of levels, and pulled smiles from both men. Like two gunslingers of the Old West, Randall and Corey drew their cig-paks and tapped them with free hands in perfect synchronicity. Placing pleasure to their mouths, both leaned into Yvonne’s awaiting chrome lighter and achieved complete satisfaction.
Fshwwwwwwwwwww, they blew out, breathing the urban atmosphere back in, invisible, hardly cleaner than the cig itself.
“What brings you here?” Randall nodded in the cowgirl’s direction.
“I’m helpin’ put on the press conference at my place, as you know.”
Randall nodded that he knew.
“And, well, me and little Miss Muffin are gettin’ to know each other some.”
The boys needed to recover from the less than oblique allusion to Yvonne’s anatomy. “Sumthin’ happened today, which changes things a little, and Yvonne called to tell me about it, and I said I’d help, but maybe she should tell you, too.”
“You’re involved and so is your store,” Randall anticipated her.
“Hon, you’re so smart you actually save time.” Joya’s voice jumped a few rungs in the pitch scale.
Randall knew Joya’s engagement with The Club was an important development for now there was infrastructure, a place from which to launch quality presentations.
“So what happened?” Corey jumped in, not only to make himself an indispensable part of the proceedings, but also to expedite the revelation.
“My clients are dumping me,” Yvonne said with a grimace. Randall tilted his head in a way that urged a further detailing of the fact. “You know, the pictures,” she surrendered, “the pictures and, you know, most of them are corporations and they have to lie low, too, because, you know, they know they’re not perfect. They can
find another caterer.”
“Man that is…great!” Randall said, forgetting how he naturally thought a few steps ahead of those around him, drawing faces of confused anger from his partners. “That ups the ante,” he heightened his own voice into Joya’s tone field, seeking to recover their good graces. “The suit is going to be worth more to our attorney. Our case is going to be stronger if we can prove that not only should you be entitled to money for posing, but that you continue to pay the price for posing long after they stopped paying you.”
He did not know what legal story might be concocted to give his little notion wings, but unto the lawyer what belongs to the lawyer. His message was directed at a different court. The one where public opinion sits on puffy sofas, eating bad food, an ever-attentive jury.
“Ya think hon?”
His shrug was less than convincing. There were no guarantees. “It could drum up enough bad publicity to force a pre-trial settlement.”
A pre-trial settlement was not the same as launching some powerful current of transforming thought, but it was something. And the plan was so much pleasure to the girls who went on to explain the preparations being made for the press conference, which sounded increasingly more like a party than an informational gathering for professional media. Joya announced that a lesbian city councilperson in the race for mayor was going to be joining and that should, she said, add some official heft and a progressive patina to the affair. “Ya need mucky-mucks,” she explained.
“Yes you do,” Randall stamped her before pulling out his notebook and pen.
Joya’s hands trembled as she smoked and spoke, softening her body just enough to mix something of the opposite natures in her. The enhancement a little weakness had on her appeal was obvious and besides (she thought), in the end, you want to be as many things as you can for as many people as possible. And that’s retail, from purses to politics.
The word she’d said before “city councilperson” (lesbian) struck an unused key in Corey and some vague idea began to travel upward from his crotch to the brain – always a discouraging progression where the matters of women and desire intersect.
Yvonne reported from her end (of the project). She was using contacts with photographers and party publicists and other caterers to track down more girls who had posed over the years. Her go-getterism and persistence-mania had netted the assistance of one bona fide star and one up-and-coming starlet; both willing to admit they’d posed nude in the past and been exploited accordingly. Their promise to attend, she told Randall, had to be included in his press release and he was loathe to disagree, and so did not.
Just at that moment, a red-and-white fire department car cruised slowly past the quartet as they emitted, jointly, enough smoke to compensate for the decades-long decline of heavy industry locally. A powerful light was focused on them briefly and Randall flicked a finger in return, disdainful of that particular agency’s power to mute his First Amendment privileges.
(The First Amendment, ratified effective December 15, 1791 reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”)
The quartet fought off an urge for some wine in the restaurant, their smoke together having been pleasure enough and their plans discussed sufficiently.
They parted ways, Randall asking Joya for a few vanilla smokes to abet his quest for sickness. Corey looked over his shoulder for one last gander at Yvonne’s ass and saw Joya’s hand on it.
“The day,” he muttered, “started out with such promise.” Randall didn’t know why he said that, but he nodded, a little glum, before turning away, enlisting in the commercial drift that pulls each of us along to wherever it has been decided we are going.