Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 38

Chapter Thirty-eight

Corey, Randall, and Yvonne were holding a club subcommittee meeting at the Argentine restaurant. Jordan was not present, but hiding out in terror, ignoring his phone. Clarisse, following some rather hard-knuckled negotiating, was taking a piece she’d given another friend over to Vindaloo Baxley’s. Joya, unbeknownst to all, was on a date with the city attorney.

Nothing quite so wicked as betrayal was going on, but natural rifts were beginning to develop in the group before the clay had even settled in the mold that had formed it. That is how such things work in a dynamic and ever-changing universe. No sooner does a movement find self-definition then it falls from the tree like an overripe fruit, initiating the process of becoming something even newer. Which is not to say The Sidewalk Smokers Club was finished. No. Such a process is long and drawn out (yet worthy of dramatization!), the inner tensions pushing and pulling at individual or allied members, providing kinetic energy manifesting itself in explosive action and creative…creative…creative something or other.

Anyway, they were gloating – at least two of them – over the headlines their clever (or inadvertent) labors had produced. Yvonne was slated for a whole series of radio interviews as well as some final and last-minute segments on some local crack-of-dawn TV magazine shows whose job it was to titillate viewers into waking consciousness. She had considerable offers from magazines competing with the true source of her renown, but she wanted to break out of that naked girl type-cast. Some other actresses, seeing how smoothly the A-list television star had turned her risky appearance into the rebellious, street capital she’d angled for, were now owning up to their own naked chapters. The numbers involved were really a little shocking.

The lesbian city councilperson had enjoyed not only a bump (up) in the mayoral sweepstakes polls, but her public appearances were baths of minor multitudes. It was the heroin of cool press at work on her doughty image.

Anyway, the point is that the whole Yvonne phenomenon was becoming downright respectable. Still, Yvonne herself could not help but be a little uncomfortable at the whole idea of having sculpted an identity for herself in this way.

They toasted with a bottle of wine, but her heart did not seem in it. Then Corey informed her that the magazine had republished copies of the infamous layout.

“Guess that’s their response, huh?” she responded, blankly sipping on a Cabernet normally too refined for their palates and wallets.

“Sure it is, man!” Randall trilled with characteristic insensitivity to the slower reasoning processes of those around him. “And it’s what we wanted. Proof you’re the object, I mean the person who actually drives their profits, and proof of your sustained appeal. You are a magazine girl, but not of the magazine girls.”

“I’m thrilled,” she said, lemon juice on her lips and tongue. “But I thought we already knew that.”

“Yes, but we wanted, needed really, to dramatize it,” he rightly responded.

“We did?”

“Of course we did,” Corey said softly, throwing a warm arm around her back for emphasis. She liked it; needed comforting, attention, and assurances. That these favors were not so hard to gain for her, did not make them any less satisfying.

“Why?” she asked.

“Listen,” Randall leaned into her, crowding, “you’re conscience is growing with your renown man. When the magazine was out on the newsstands, just another in the middle of a lot of magazines, you were less upset.”

“That was before men introduced themselves by staring at my pussy.”

“They always did that. You just didn’t mind at the time because you were not a universally recognized symbol of hip fertility. You’re suffering from a surfeit of attention.”

“Thank you doctor.”

“You wanted it. We all do. Now you got it. You don’t need more conscience now. You need less. The battle has been struck. We must add this simple byte to bum philosophy: that once blood is drawn, you must play to win. If you do and succeed, nobody will care about how you got where you did.”

“Man,” she finished his diatribe for him herself. Yvonne hadn’t seen any blood anywhere and she thought he sounded like a person who spent a lot of time on what other people might be thinking. “I’m glad you’re involved,” she told him.

And Randall was getting quickly acclimated to hearing great things said about him to his face, but she made him shiver with the appreciation. “You know, if we lose, you’ll feel even more vulnerable than you do now.”

Yvonne was not brave of heart in her reactions. Instead she complained a little more about how personal it was getting, and how ugly people you didn’t even know were capable of being…

He let her run the string out and put a period to her long sentence. “What can I tell you?”

It was easy for Randall to say these things for they were sharing the same fame, but not the same treatment. She was being cast as public art, as public tart, and her business, which she’d built in small steps with sharp decisions and love had gone under. He was, suddenly, “a thinker.”

Randall was gaining a certain distinction while Yvonne was being cast out of society, proper and otherwise.

Yvonne had a growing sense that the more she suffered, the stronger The Smokers got.

Randall and Corey were exploiting her situation, but their cool under pressure, their cutting intelligence, and the fact she’d initiated the collaboration prevented her from going over to the dark side where her opinion of them was concerned. They might be sipping from a heady brew only she had made possible, but they were good guys and, one of them, perhaps a lot more than that.

“So what do we do next?” she queried her handlers.

“I’m going to make sure DeConcini hasn’t really jumped ship since the press conference.”

“He did seem a little put off,” Corey observed.

“Not happy,” Yvonne made it a consensus.

“Then (Randall had not really stopped) we press ahead with the public relations campaign and exploit it for maximum gain.”

Despite his chosen vocation, when Randall was around Yvonne his ear became tinny and his selection of words grated against the sentiments holding her in their sway at that given moment.

“What do you mean ‘exploit’?” she jumped him.

“But Lady Jane,” Randall mocked her delicacy, “that’s what we’re doing – exploiting things.”

“Randall and I have been talking,” Corey jumped in, the desire for a cigarette stoking a relentless shaking of his leg beneath the table. “Now that we’ve got you booked onto the merry-go-round we want to raise the price of your appearances.”

“Even though we already agreed on them?”

“Yeah,” Randall said, “we miscalculated. You’re in much more demand than we thought and we’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.” She watched him closely; his eyes remained focused on hers, too.

“But I want people to think I’m a nice person, even if you have to peddle me like a whore.”

“People like whores. They don’t love them, but they like them and that’s why you find them everywhere.”

Yvonne was not sure if they meant to flatter her, but further discussion promised more insult than resolution and so she cut the yarn. In any case, the current state of delirium could not detach the boys from their own middle-class values and, though unexpressed, each felt twinges of guilt where their strategy was concerned.

Suckers. They had to remain firm. They were going to need all the money they could get.

There was a lull. Things in the restaurant had died down somewhat. They ordered another bottle of wine. A noisy table of elegant, Spanish-speaking people was whooping it up over in the corner by the picture window. The owner approached The Smokers’ table, arms akimbo, smiling face. “Ayyyyyyyy. Mya faboride Sidewalk eSmokers. I saw you in de newzpapare. You are faymus?” he asked in that way only foreigners can invert affirmative statements.

Randall and Corey tried not to beam. Yvonne looked away, not out of shame, but in conformity with role they’d written for her.

The restaurateur’s heightened sensibility to the mood of his clients warned him off mining the vein any deeper. These newly famous were just like others of a more conventional notoriety in the worlds of stage and screen in that they didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to confront it while they were out to dinner trying to forget themselves for a while.

“So, do jou mind if dese costomers of mines smokes?” An educated man and cultured man, his English barely improved upon the dialect Carlos brewed down at Java Whirl.

Anyway, it was a rhetorical question and a joke, and it was taken as such by The Smokers, who seemed to genuinely enjoy it.

“Not if they don’t mind sharing with us,” Randall said, seeking to push things a bit, try yet another cigarette brand, and impress Yvonne with the extra chutzpah he’d been developing lately.

“I will take care off eeet.” And he scurried away full of nervous energy and glee. He returned before the trio’s conversation could begin again with three Marlboro Lights, which always go down fairly easy with smokers of different brands. A lady in jewels nodded at them and winked. They smiled back with real smiles.

This is one of the great mysteries to (nonscientific) members of the nonsmoking community; the way something designed, in such a sinister way, to be a stimulant has such a soothing affect upon those who indulge it.

The trio felt a little more relaxed about their venture and about themselves. They continued to drink from the recipes of a variety of vintners, rolling hints of black cherry, leather, and melon around on their tongues until the conversation melded into something much more carefree and incidental.

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