Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters Nine and Ten

Chapter Nine (Chapter One ran April 9, and every weekend thereafter.)

Things happened for Joya in the moment she needed them to and so, for those observing, it seemed they happened easily, which they didn’t.

Excising rotting relationships, jobs that didn’t work out, and ill-fated romances from the tale, Joya’s road winds from a starting point of making some jewelry in her off-hours to opening a store for purposes of selling it at what the vernacular dubs a “handsome” profit.

It had started without plan and in innocence as the most desirable projects often do. First some friends purchased one-time samples of her wares and later she brought treats to nightclubs simultaneously festooning her own often-admired person with them. Sales were done on the spot. It was tax-free pocket money and she relished the exercise in the way Randall did the burnishing of common knowledge(s). Her southwestern essence pervaded the jewelry. It was heavy in turquoise, a stone which survived all the storms of fashion, at moments terribly chic, most of the time not, but always holding fond favor with a solid constituency. Within certain design guidelines – she was decidedly more refined than bulky – Joya had enough talent and accumulated culture to succeed in a variety of markets. For the ghoul after-hours crowd – a staple of the local fun tribes – there were little skeletons with turquoise eyes, Druid crosses with embellishments of the special Indian blue, and Mexican virgins with crowns of smooth and pleasing pebbles. For the hippie crowd there were American Indian and cowboy themes, cowboy hats (pink ones), horses, Hopi-inspired earrings, all of which sold very well. For the picky palates of upper-crusters she had designed a very specific series. These were bits of borderline fine jewelry with the turquoise burnished and chemically treated so as to decode its surreptitious spectrum and crease its surface with burned-orange-pinks and spidery black streaks. These she played with. These she dreamed with and convinced clients were worth considerably more than the cost of making them.

But to merely riff-off the qualities of her business is to fall into that trap which made her life’s progress – which indeed it was – seem effortless.

The truth was quite a different matter, for Joya believed success was more than a question of targeting many markets. She had to know about those markets, see them and live them. And so in dressing the Gothic set, she applied experience gained in running with the vampires over a number of years. If she understood the hippie sensibility, it was because a part of her Colorado schooling had exposed her to final traces of the original hippies. If Joya knew what the rich liked, it was because she’d catered to many a temperamental diva since arriving in that city she now called home. In addition to those entertaining the deception that hers was a life touched by the Gods, were those assuming it was a natural aristocracy that informed her stylistic guesswork.

Not so. American girl, she learned and burned and earned it all before crows ever tread the corners of her eyes. It was a success bred from a cornpone ambition, devoid of maliciousness, rooted in an honesty and enthusiasm about work still particular to the nation.

Joya’s Joyas – the store – fell just outside the boundary line of a wealthier local municipality and that provided her with a nameplate location at just a fraction of the cost of being within it. She secured a bank account at an institution inside the border so that her checks boasted the glitzy locale’s name. She was active in a group of area merchants and, it could be said, was probably its most dynamic member – although she was not conscious of the fact others held her in such high professional esteem.

These are some of the particulars and some of the virtues of Joya. Others have been demonstrated in the way she took care of a young man who was a complete stranger, and still others have been left for later weaving into the longer account. And that is because we will need Joya for the entirety of the piece to keep things lively and sympathetic (along with a host of other qualities most useful to moving a post-modern novel along its merry way).

But here is one more thing about her, before we attend to the development of other important characters: she did not have a boyfriend.

Chapter Ten

And whether Joya had a boyfired was on Yvonne’s mind as she headed to a gathering of Jordan and friends for the purpose of celebrating his medical discharge in almost one piece.

Physically, he was almost fine, but finance, as usual, was another matter.Having been set free by the black lady with the forms, Jordan was able to put his mind at ease where monies were concerned. He had not reckoned, however, on the kind of damage his brief dalliance with the first hospital had wrought.

Before returning to Yvonne and her thoughts about Joya let it be recorded that Jordan had been hit to the tune of thousands of dollars from a hospital that had refused to treat him. The bottles of liquid poured into his arm were exorbitantly priced; x-rays they took – but which were not appropriate to detecting the suspected ailment – cost a princely sum and his first glance at the total price caused him to search for a chair to sit in and gather his wits. The expense associated with temperature readings by stand-up machines featuring three-inch red digital indicators added up to a Virgin Islands vacation stay.

Not that Jordan had any such adventure on tap before his body betrayed him. He was working in a coffee shop and even that wasn’t so solid any more. No, underachievement in a college-educated, white American male was something so foreign to the culture (so much had been given) as to raise suspicion about Jordan’s true motives for working at Java World. Nobody believed he was there because he needed to be and the local capacity for perception provided only two possible interpretations: 1) drug dealer using the place as cover and/or point of distribution, 2) writing a screenplay about Mexicans and/or Central Americans in the restaurant industry. Subtly, his boss asked to see Jordan’s stitches for he very much doubted Jordan’s accounting of the surgery.

Yvonne, meanwhile, was busy wrestling with Joya-feelings, which she had never experienced (except once or twice) with regard to any woman, and was not fully conscious of them at the moment. She lied to herself in this way often. It made life easier in as much as she got to her problems when she was good and ready, which is a fine strategy if you can get to your problems before they get to you.

Yvonne was a midwestern girl done good and niceness was the most common quality ascribed to her (followed closely by her persistence). She had a cool car. Her house was cozy-canyon and offered mysterious mossy views into a weepy garden of flowers and sculpture found or invented. She was talented with her mind, with her hands, and with her smile, which seemed to have more teeth than normal smiles. Her dog was long and floppy with a sweet face and tectonic slabs of muscle, and she took him on sweaty walks through winding country-like roads with sharp corners bordered by white-painted wooden fences.

There were no cesspools in Yvonne’s world. She simply assumed that shit disappeared when flushed. There were no fetuses in dumpsters out back of abortion clinics. The sea was not laced with strings of semen. Garbage dumps occupied a parallel universe and were administered by ambitious people who knew about rewards at the end of the rainbow.

She thought if blacks and Latinos and Armenians were going to make little clubs for themselves, then people of European descent should do the same; rejected the notion that those of European descent essentially ran the big factory as their private club.

It was a measure of democratic capitalism’s triumph that, even while believing such things, her own specialized talents were sufficient to gain a healthy material success.

And – it must be re-stated – that she was nice, which inclined people to shrug off the occasional and odd stupidity that Yvonne belched when the conversation went beyond her depth. Not that she was a purely material being. Like many of her time and place, Yvonne had cooked up an elaborate spiritual life to match the other storyline she’d moved out of Kansas to write for herself. It was the stock positive cosmology so very popular with her contemporaries. It went something like this: if you think positive thoughts (usually related to money and career) and you tell them to yourself often enough, couple them with incessant hard work and a cheery outlook, then good things will happen. For example, being fired was not unemployment. It was an opportunity to run around looking for intriguing spaces to rent, from where she would launch her future empire. People would just be warming up to the idea of feeling sorry for her when they’d get a call from her “new life” in practice. It was an important trick. Yvonne did not sweat things; she had fun with them.

And she was a convert to this religion because of the wonders it had worked for her.
And then Joya had caused the ground to shift beneath her; the way it did under the city every four or five years, creating a new opportunity to rebuild and reinvent itself in a burst of unified civic industriousness.

All of which sets the table for this evening’s dinner as Yvonne pulls up to the Mexican valet out front of the Argentine restaurant, wherein things play themselves out in ways that render reading through the next chapter, to get to next one after, a worthwhile exertion.

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