Chapter 4: Genesis 2:18
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
The blue jean and t-shirt convention of the school cafeteria on day one was the unisex preference. John was absently chewing his bacon and admiring from eye-level the behind of a freshman girl in the cereal and fruit buffet line.
“Hey, Y.A., how come your ass doesn’t look that good in jeans?”
“Why are you looking at my ass and what do you mean my ass doesn’t look good? Besides, give her a couple of months, and she’ll be busting out all over from eating this crappy food.” They slapped hands and laughed at their musings.
Meanwhile, Mike noticed a pensive Frank Spinelli. “Frankie why did you take two trays?”
The diminutive Spinelli tucked his neck-length black hair behind his ears, stabbed a sausage patty with his fork, and pointed it at Mike. “Not that it’s any of your fucking business, but Little John asked me to bring him back some cereal and some fruit and shit, and I brought the extra tray to remind me.”
“Yeah, Water J was telling us about this dude. I hear he’s old as shit!” John probed for some feedback.
“Yeah,” Andy added. “When are we going to meet this guy, and why the fuck are you getting him breakfast in bed?”
Caught with his mouth full, Frank finished chewing, and then pointed his fork at John and then at Andy while opening wide his heavy-lidded eyes. “It ain’t like that. The guy is cool, and I’m just doing him a favor like I’ve been doing for you needy fucks since you’ve known me.” He put down his fork, looked at his watch, and started toward the cafeteria line with Little John’s tray but turned around suddenly and said in an irritated voice, “Ros, don’t forget who got you those Elton John tickets last winter. Y.A., remember that commuter chick I introduced your sorry ass to in the spring? Eggs, who’s your hook-up when your supplier runs dry?” With this brief tirade, he walked away toting the cafeteria tray, the back of his white t-shirt sporting the words “I Hate You All.”
John, Andy, and Mike looked at one another dumbfounded until Andy offered, “Damn, Frankie’s on the rag or something.”
“Yeah, didn’t mean to piss him off. He always scores some of the best dope!” John said.
“Yeah,” Mike added, “he’s usually a smart-ass, but he got awful sensitive about this guy. Can’t wait to meet him tonight.”
John squinted his eyes, leaving pronounced lines between his eyebrows. “What’s tonight?”
Andy shook his head and smiled. “We got our floor meeting.”
“Hey, what happened here? How come I didn’t get the invitation?”
“Nobody got an invitation,” Mike said. “It’s posted on the floor bulletin board and right by the elevator, probably too low for you to notice. You even talked about how you were planning on putting the move on Mary.” He referenced a girl in the nursing program that John occasionally mentioned.
John looked up into space and said, “Oh yeah. Man that really is some good shit we smoked.” Then, he looked at Mike. “Word, how come you left without a poem last night?”
Mike took a long look at John and then at the eggs left on his plate and wondered which was more scrambled. “I don’t know how to answer that, man.”
“WOW,” Andy blurted out.
“What?” John asked as his forehead curled into his hairline as if probing for answers in its dark forest.
The Wordman watched as his breakfast companions got up and left. They had an eight o’clock class, and his first of two wasn’t until 9:00. He surveyed the expansive cafeteria with its array of circular tables and panoramic view. He noticed a short, stocky, John-Denver looking guy acknowledge Frank as he left with Little John’s tray, and then saw this guy sit by himself at the most remote of the tables in a corner that didn’t even let in daylight. Storing that image, he got up to look toward Brew Pond from the floor-to-ceiling vista provided by the cafeteria. Handfuls of students were making their way somewhere. After a few moments of this, he noticed James Waters with his gym bag in his right hand, bouncing a basketball with his left, and lightly jogging toward the field house. Just as he was about to go back to the dorm, Carol came into view, walking across the bridge and talking to some patches-on-your-sleeve- sport coat-looking guy who had a briefcase and was holding a pipe. He wondered about the guy for a minute, guessing he must be one of the residents from Pryor or Fitz House, as he continued to gaze at the happenings two floors below. Like time-lapsed photography, the area became denser with people, most of whom were now strangers. Everyone clearly had a plan and a purpose for this morning, so he decided he might as well execute his.
The white chalk in Dr. William Brown’s hand matched the color of his hair, and his sharp strikes into the blackboard sounded like starter pistols signaling the beginning of another semester. It was the Journalism 3 class, but fundamental knowledge formed the base of progress.
“Who, What, Where, When, Why, How.” Dr. Brown emphasized these words and struck them hard with his chalk as he addressed his 20 students.
Mike smiled to himself as he imagined Y.A. blurting out each with his Foghorn voice.
“You’ve heard these words before, and you’ll hear them again, for they are the very basis of every news story.” The 75-year-old was primed for a new beginning, his tweed jacket with the elbow patches hung over his desk chair, his yellow dress- shirt sleeves were rolled up twice, his tie knot already loosened, and he pontificated as though his students were his congregation. “As you tackle your internships this year, you will have the latitude to decide which among these words constitutes the best angle for a hard news story and how one might emphasize another in the Inverted Pyramid chain to write a follow-up feature story. Now, let’s take a look at yesterday’s headlines.”
Mike could only watch as his fellow classmates pulled out their copies of the Sunday paper, something that was termed an entry ticket on the course syllabus, and he awaited the inevitable as Dr. Brown’s eyes scanned the room like a periscope breaking through the water.
“Mr. Rosovich, it would appear that you still haven’t fully caught on after two years with me. But go ahead and look on with a neighbor for today.”
Taking advantage of Dr. Brown’s charitable mood, Mike surveyed the room looking for an attractive female to help him make the best of the situation, but the two he saw were on the other side, and he didn’t want to be obvious. Looking right behind him, he saw the John Denver-looking dude.
“Hey, Man, can I look on with you?”
John Denver looked up, thought for a couple of seconds, prodded his wire frames back up to the bridge of his nose, and straightened out Neil Diamond’s face on his t-shirt. “I guess,” he said begrudgingly.
Fuck this guy, Mike thought to himself as he pulled his desk into a position to share the paper. What a dick!
Years of experience formed the lesson plans for Dr. Brown, a hard core journalist from the chain-smoking, five-cups-of-coffee, and two-fingered-typing sect. A headline was an opportunity to condense and entice. A lead should satisfy the time-constrained or coax a more leisurely reader to cozy up. A body could be sliced by the editors, so precise placement of verbiage was crucial. Like a surgeon wielding an Exacto Knife scalpel, Dr. Brown dissected a story, paring away the unnecessary, and stitching together what remained.
I’ve got to hand it to Dr. Brown, Mike thought after the class ended. I’m only 20, and I need Penthouse or Hustler. Dr. Brown’s 100, and a newspaper still gives him a boner. He laughed to himself as he walked back to Vanover Hall, and then out of the corner of his left eye, he noticed the John Denver dude walking in the same direction, head down, looking at his feet. He also noticed a camera bag draped around his shoulder. Recognizing it was too obvious to pick up speed and too late to ignore him, he followed his conscience.
“Hey, man,I appreciate you letting me rub elbows with you.”
Picking up his head and replacing his glasses, John Denver stared at Mike for a moment and said, “No problem.”
Extending the conversation as he extended his hand, “I’m Mike.”
“Hey, Mike,” John Denver said softly as he extended his hand and provided a limp handshake as they continued walking. “I’m Fred,” he offered after too much time had elapsed.
“So you doing some photo journalism classes with the program?”
“Yes and no. I’m taking the classes, but this is a hobby for me, and I don’t like being told what to take pictures of.” A hint of frustration was in his voice, a voice that was remarkable for its nasal rendition and strange monotone.
Vanover Hall was about a five-minute walk, looming on the horizon like part of a cityscape after a distant road trip, lunged at with the eyes but remaining painfully not-there-yet. About a minute past their last words, Mike again felt awkward and looked for something with which to strike up some more small talk, a top off of coffee at the pot’s end, any excuse. Fred’s brown straight hair blew in a modest breeze, and he had resumed staring at his Chuck Taylors, propping up his glasses every dozen or so steps. Out of the top of a notebook curled in his left hand, a comic book was half visible, Wonder Woman’s large conical boobs protruding.
“Hey, you like comic books?”
Fred became somewhat more animated at this question and looked at Mike directly. “Yeah. Why? You like them too?”
“Yeah. I used to read them a ton. At one point, I must have had about two-thousand of them.”
“You a Marvel or a D.C. guy?”
“Like them both, but if you twist my arm, I got to go with Spidey and Marvel.”
“I’m strictly D.C.,” Fred opened up a little more and sounded a little angry as though Mike’s revelation was akin to declaring a favorite political party. He pushed his glasses back to the bridge of his nose.
“So Wonder Woman. I guess I can see your point. I mean with She Hulk, I’m not into green muscular women, and what’s the point with the Invisible Girl? Daredevil could get off on her, I guess. Now, Wonder Woman is one fine looking lady, and I wouldn’t mind if she tied me up with that lasso.”
Fred seemed to move a little further to the side as they walked and had a forehead frown come into view. “I guess,” he said.
Holy shit, Mike thought. I sure hope that’s Vanover straight ahead and not a mirage. Can’t get this guy to crack a smile even.
For yet another minute there was no conversation until they found the mercy of Vanover Hall, but the growing force field between them continued as Fred got on the elevator and pressed the button.
“Hey, you live on my floor?”
“Oh, it’s your floor?” Fred asked with a hint of anger.
“Nah, Man, you know what I mean, so where do you stay?”
“I’m over in 629.” As the elevator doors opened, he offered an abrupt, “See you.”
The dynamic duo went their separate ways, and Mike laughed to himself as he entered his room. Kurt was in there with a towel around his shoulders, blow drying his hair.
“Hey, Wordman,” he said as he put down his styling brush. “How was that Journalism class?”
“Same as last time. Hey, are you going somewhere?”
“Nope, just want to go downstairs for an early lunch and scope out some chicks while I digest.”
Kurt put on jeans, a long sleeve white shirt, and a pullover argyle sweater vest, before applying some Jovan Musk, and slipping into his white Capezios.
Mike saw his Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt reflecting in the corner of the dresser mirror and finger brushed his bushy hair.
“Hey, come down and break bread with me. I need a wing man,” Kurt said.
“Next time, man, I’ve got another class in a couple of hours, and I’ve already got some homework to take care of.”
After Kurt left, Mike lay down on his bed, folded his hands behind his ears, closed his eyes before opening them abruptly when he realized, Fuckin’ A, crazy ass white boy, don’t say much, Wonder Woman, 629, Fred is Water J’s roommate!
After laughing to himself about that arrangement, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his freshly-issued press pass, signed by Dr. Brown.
“Use this responsibly,” he had cautioned. “This will open many doors for you. Please carry it with dignity and use it to inform your readers. Tell the stories that they can’t access.”
I’ve got to get this fucker laminated, Mike thought as he fondled the card. Now, what am I going to write about this year?
Hillview College prided itself on smaller class sizes and accessibility to professors, but even this philosophy succumbed to occasional course demand, in this case, the abnormal psychology elective. Attendance was difficult to monitor and not a prerequisite on the syllabus, and the rumor was that copies of previous years’ exams were readily available and had remained relatively true-to-form. So it was that as many as two-hundred students would settle into the theater seats of the Hillview Plaza’s modest auditorium and take notes on a grad student’s lecture and the basic staple of some accompanying movie short.
That afternoon had been about the pleasure principle, and in the black-and-white times of two gentleman named James Olds and Peter Milner, rats with screws through their skulls were very much the thing. In a shoe box-sized wooden compartment, a thus-mutilated white rodent learned to associate pleasure with stepping onto a pedal, first by accident, then by deduction, and finally with frequent abandon. The researchers then added the diversion element of an electrified pathway leading to the pedal, a quite intense shock being the toll to pay. The rat visibly cringed on this new road, yet it stayed the course, continually seeking pleasure above all else.
At the conclusion of the film, the hippie aspiring professor assigned the next few chapters and closed with a compelling question. He rose from a stool behind his lectern like Jesus after the resurrection, spread his arms like Moses parting the sea, and with an affected arrogance posed the question. “Are we no different than laboratory rats?”
With his stereo lightly playing in the background, and the empty dorm room as his stage, Kurt Newman sang into his hairbrush as he unfolded the whites from his top dresser drawer and placed them in his laundry basket. “Oh, I never knew love before; then came you; then came you. I never knew love before; then came you; then came you.” As the song concluded, he picked up a picture frame that had been face down in the drawer, covered by socks. A big-eyed blonde, lying on a lounge chair, pool-side in her yellow bikini, was puckering her lips in anticipation of, or request for a kiss. Fresh out of the pool, her wet hair settled over her shoulders, and her bronzing skin gleamed in the sun, taut against nature’s curves, packaging the body that only comes once in a woman’s life. An inscription read To Kurt: I get wet just thinking of you. Love, Sue. He exhaled deeply, replaced the frame face down, and poked his head out of the room to pick up the scent or sound of life outside. Captivated by the siren-like quality of young female voices, he set his course for the laundry room.
The residential facilities at Hillview College provided something for everyone. There were students restrained, those who campaigned, and others on paths who simply refrained. Harmon Hall separated its boys and girls as though it were a summer camp. Wagner House rushed two black fraternities on the first two of its four floors, and the pastoral Pryor Villa and Fitz Place backed up to the ravines and nestled on two floors the most reserved among its denizens, mostly upperclassmen. This left the need to accommodate those who weren’t freshmen, didn’t pursue Greek life, but wanted the college experience and all its ramifications.
The sixth floor of Vanover Hall had twelve suite arrangements positioned within a rectangle outlined by a green carpeted pathway that smacked of the Holiday Inn. Males resided in six of these suites, and females resided in the other six. Defining the rectangle was a lobby area in the middle which housed a wall-mounted television, four circular tables, four single chairs with ottomans, and four green vinyl couches that hugged the walls yet remained cold and indifferent to those who might put them to use. Its accommodations were dated, and the architectural plan screamed efficient to drown out the cries of boring and the hum of fluorescent lighting that descended from acoustical tiles. The lobby had surrounding glass panels forming half of its walls and affording this unflattering vista. It easily could have served as a hospital nursery room, showcasing the newborns to the proud families, and in some ways it was. Yet, for all its simplicity, Vanover Hall had one feature that set it apart; it provided the Biblical apples.
Donna Bennett towel-dried her freshly washed hair and spoke to her roommate while taking in her reflection in the foyer mirror over her dresser. She sighed deeply and reached behind her neck to unsnap a chain that held a locket which had been resting on her chest. “Mary, it would mean a lot to me if you would accept this.” She handed the locket to her and wiped the corner of her eyes with her index fingers.
“I can’t take that. I know what it means to you.” Mary moved in to hug Donna who had begun to sob lightly. “I just wish I was there the moment you got the phone call. Why did I pick that weekend to go home?”
“How would you have known? I wasn’t expecting it.” Donna embraced Mary tightly and said, “I don’t know what I would have done without you. It’s been a year. I have to move on.” She moved back to further wipe her eyes and glanced in the mirror. She was there again, behind her, looking down at her, floating nebulously in the tears, then gone with the second glance.
In the late afternoon, Kurt Newman once again was perched over a laundry basket on the end of his bed, removing neatly folded whites and relocating them to the top drawer of his bureau. He placed the underwear on the left side with the waistbands all facing upward, and the socks he geometrically aligned on the right side. He did this minus the singing as this time he wasn’t alone.
“What the fuck are you doing, Nose?” Mike had just returned from his afternoon psychology class.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Looks like you’re doing laundry, but even you don’t change clothes fast enough to be doing laundry after the first day back.”
Kurt didn’t respond to this and opened his second drawer to remove folded black and brown socks and several folded earth-toned Polo shirts, all of which he unfolded and used to re-fill the laundry basket.
“Wait a minute. I go back to my original question of what the fuck are you doing. You’re washing clean shit!”
“Why don’t you come out to the hallway and take a trip to the laundry room with me?” Kurt offered.
Mike looked at his watch. “It’s almost six o’clock, the cafeteria closes at 7:00, we have a floor meeting at 8:00, and you’re washing clean clothes.”
“It’s not that big a mystery.” Kurt noted his roommate’s contorted facial expression. “Just humor me and go for a little walk and an elevator ride.”
Mike gave in and followed Kurt out. The door in front of the elevator was half-way open.
“You see that shit?” Kurt nodded toward the door. “You’ll get a better look when we get closer. As they approached, the sound of a blow dryer drowned out their footsteps while it directed their attention.
“That’s our lovely R.A., just out of the shower, in a skimpy towel, blow drying her hair with the door open,” Kurt narrated the trip, “but it gets better.”
“Oh, hi, Kurt. Hey, Mike!” Donna Bennett dropped her laundry basket by the elevator door and gave each of them a tight little hug that was just enough for them to feel the fullness of her breasts. “Just trying to get some laundry done before the meeting,” she sang out the word ‘meeting’, accenting the first syllable.
“Hey, everybody.” Mary Kowalski had just turned the corner. “Looks like we all have the same idea.” She nodded toward her laundry basket.
The elevator ride to the second floor awakened Mike’s senses. Both girls carried the fragrance of being freshly showered and powdered but different in that their natural aromas competed for attention. Their dampened, long hair settled in winding dirty blonde rivulets behind their ears and down their backs. They were wearing pajamas with furry little slippers on their feet and had taken the time to apply a little make-up, a little lipstick, and a little mascara despite their mundane mission.
“Oh shit! I forgot there’s something else I’ve got to do.” Kurt pounded his forehead with his palm. At this point, the elevator doors opened to the second floor which housed some pool tables in a lounging area to the right and the laundry room straight ahead.
“Oh no!” Mary giggled. “Are you coming back down?”
“Nah, dammit; I’m going to have to put this on hold.”
What the fuck? Mike thought, and then he was distracted. The voice was powerful in its softness, confident yet demure.
“Well, what about you, Mike?” Donna smiled at him. “Want to hang out and watch us do laundry?” The smile was a personal invitation sealed in the envelope of her eyes.
Mary had silently departed somewhere between the cascading water and churning of her laundry load, the mustiness and bleach smell of the room providing the atmosphere for Mike and Donna.
She was taking off tags from underwear and jeans, using her teeth to open up several bags of panties and slice through the price tags of several brassieres.
“My mother believes I should start out a school year with new undies. I don’t really have enough whites for a load.” The deep bass of the undulating washer was accompanied by the steady rim shots of loose change, so there was a tempo to this moment, one that Donna grasped with Mike’s hand.
“Come on, Mike. Let’s dance!” She twirled her body as she held his hand, and her spins took her away and then into his chest. The heat of her body radiated through her pajamas and clung by his heart, quickening its pace. She smiled up at him. “You’re no fun.”
“Sure I am,” he played along. “I just don’t dance.” Even as she distanced herself and tended to her laundry, her warmth continued to drape over him like covers on a cold night, tucking him in. He watched as she tossed her intimates into the machine, and he noticed the outline of her figure escaping with even the simplest of her movements.
She turned toward him. “Someone got awful quiet all of a sudden. Hey, I’ve got an idea. If you won’t dance with me, maybe our undies can dance together.” She laughed softly, her eyes giving off light, their corners softly crinkling, forming parasols over her dimpled cheeks. “Go back upstairs and get some whites to throw in with my load. It won’t be scandalous or anything, considering I haven’t worn them yet.”
“How did it go?” Kurt asked when Mike entered. “You’re back kind of fast.”
“Nose, she wants me to throw in some whites, so our underwear can dance together, her words.”
Kurt raised his index finger, poised to press the button of intuition. “That’s a good sign.”
Kurt Newman was a reader of signs, a diviner of carnal fortune, and the self-professed horniest bastard on the planet. Mike watched his pensive stance, beard strokes, glaring inward and askew, and he interrupted his roommate’s trance.
“Why is that a good sign? Help me understand your logic.”
Kurt got off his bed and went into the foyer. Rummaging through a dresser drawer, he extended a generosity. “I’ve got plenty of whites to lend you if you need. Just get your ass back down there and trust me.” A staring contest ensued, and Kurt easily won, his intensity burning through Mike’s waffling.
He had always had a man crush on Kurt and often wondered why the guy wanted to hang around with him. Was it mentorship, the desire for an apprentice, the need to feel even better about himself? He reminisced as he awaited the elevator.
Kurt had been the foremost expert on the fairer sex, going back to seventh-grade gym class and locker room showers where he proudly displayed his bush of pubic hair and man-sized genitals to his mostly pre-pubescent classmates. When it was time to talk about girls, which was all the time, he would find an audience in the locker room, at a cafeteria table, sitting on benches before school, at a urinal while shaking it, anywhere talking about girls was possible, which was everywhere. When he turned 16, he could sport a straggly beard which gave him a professorial look as he stroked it and pontificated.
These thoughts were company until the elevator slid open to a cacophony of churning washers and tumbling coins that awaited him on the dance floor.
“Catch!” Donna said excitedly. Her blue jeans found his hands, inside out. “I don’t know how you can put them in as they are, and they come out like that. She grabbed the laundry basket from him. “Could you turn those outside-out for me, please.”
“You got a better name for that predicament?” She looked at his pensive face, and began humming the Jeopardy theme song.” With no answer imminent, she stopped the tune. “I didn’t think so.”
Her mouth formed a straight line, and her brow furled until she burst out laughing. As she watched him fumble with the jeans, she added, “You know, Mike, I don’t let just anybody get into my pants.”
After the debriefing, Kurt rose from his desk chair and took up a light pacing. “We didn’t do laundry today, my friend.” With a military pirouette just before the doorway, he offered, “We assessed the prey.”
Minus a drum roll, a new chapter after a cliffhanger, or a commercial break, Mike inquired, “The prey?”
“Yes, my protege, we are animals in the wild. The laundry room is the watering hole, and I, for one, am the lion!” He opened his mouth wide and added a roar to punctuate his musing, his head rotating 180 degrees to accommodate the sound effect, his beard like a mane.
“The lion? I thought you were a ‘pussy hound’. Besides, from what I’ve heard, it’s the lioness that does the hunting.”
“Bingo!” Kurt yelled and pounded his fist on the dresser. “By Jove, I think you’ve got it,” he said with a British accent, adding, “You know, man, these probably are the best times of our lives.”
With their door mostly ajar, they were interrupted by the sight and sound of Carol taking the long way around, her slipper-clad feet and PJ bottoms singing a duet. With a synchrony that could mark time, her bubble behind swayed gently from side-to-side, and as they skated across the carpet, the slippers now sounded like matches being struck repeatedly as if to ignite fires to keep the boyfriends warm at night.
After watching her float out of view, Kurt turned to Mike. “I’ve got to go home this weekend for my brother’s birthday, but I think you need to reflect and maybe take advantage of having this place to yourself. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a long, cold shower.”
Just before the floor meeting, there was a commotion coming out of suite 629. “Hey, Water J. Catch!” Frank Spinelli threw a basketball hard just as James Waters was exiting the room, causing him to be startled, turn around, throw up his hands to protect his face, and once again hit his head on the door jam.
“Ahhhh! Fuck!” he yelled. “God dammit!”
Frank laughed and pointed at James. “Man, you ARE a dumb nigger! How the fuck did they let you in a college?” Then, he ran past James and down the hall.
“Come here, you little shit!” James laughed. “I’m going to kick your honky ass good!” As he chased after Frank, his Afro bobbed wildly, and he yelled, “COME HERE, WHITE BOY!”
“I HATE NIGGERS!” Frank yelled loudly. They chased twice around the hall until Frank ran into the lobby, followed by James, and they both went to the floor, with James on top.
“Oh my God!” one of the female students new to the floor said upon witnessing this event. “Somebody do something! Oh my God!” she said again as she pressed her fist against her mouth.
“Rape! Rape!” Frank yelled, drawing out the vowel portion. “This is a dorm, not a prison; you can’t do this, Water J!” He laughed as James then resorted to tickling him.
Frank and James then both rolled on their backs and were laughing hysterically. Still laughing, they stood up, straightened out their clothing, and approached the new girl who still had her fist pressed against her mouth, and her eyes were darting side-to-side.
“Hi, I’m Frank Spinelli.” He took her free hand and kissed it.
Not to be outdone, James, grasped her hand, wiped it off, and planted his own kiss upon it. “And I am James Waters at your service.” He bowed to punctuate his words.
Turning toward Carol, both of them pulled off a synchronous and harmonious, “SORRY WE’RE LATE.”
At this point, everyone at the floor meeting was laughing, except for the new girl and Carol.
“Oh, Shit!” John Carver called out in his falsetto. “Y.A., that was even better than last year!”
“WOW,” Andy blurted out so loudly that the new girl jumped slightly in her seated position.
“All right, all right. Really guys?” Carol interrupted loudly. She turned to the new girl. “I have no words to express how sorry I am that you had to see this.”
Being a reporter with a freshly-laminated press pass, Mike drew his attention to a corner area of the lobby where a man sat expressionless in a chair, his legs crossed, and his eyes half open. His shoulder-length brown hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. He had high, jagged cheekbones, a razor-sharp nose, and a mustache and goatee that were fully-joined. He wore blue jeans, leather sandals, and a white t-shirt from which his tattooed biceps threatened to bust out.
From her spot on a chair across the room, Donna Bennett rested her feet on an ottoman and took periodic glances at Carol, sighing deeply. She touched her chest where the locket once laid and felt its absence and turned toward Mike in enough time to see his face grow blurry.
The proceedings took a back seat to the seat that John had secured for himself, one cushion away from Mary Kowalski, the vinyl creaking as he leaned to his left to engage her. “Mary,” he said softly, wearing a lost look, “my ankle has been killing me; do you think you might have some suggestions?”
Looking straight ahead and feigning attention to the meeting’s agenda, Mary’s lips curled slightly upward. “Is that the one you hurt last season?”
“Yeah. How do you know about that?”
“Because I went to all the home games last year, and I saw when you hurt it.” Again, she looked straight ahead, trying to curb a pending smile.
“So do you have any suggestions?”
Mary pondered the question, looked up at the ceiling for effect, and then turned her head toward him. “Use your eyes, your smile, your personality, so it won’t be so lame.”
John’s brow furled into his hair to punctuate his pensive look, and after a contemplative moment he spoke. “I don’t get it. How’s that going to help my ankle?”
“I wasn’t talking about your ankle, Big Guy.” Mary looked directly into his eyes. “I was talking about your game.” She smiled knowingly.
John wore a sheepish grin after taking a few moments for Mary’s words to sink in, but seized the opportunity to slide over to the next cushion. “So do you like going to the movies?”
“Are you asking me out?”
“Yeah, sure, so do you want to go to a movie with me on Saturday? You pick it out, okay?”
“I’d love that, but let me ask you something.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Is your ankle feeling better now?”
“Now that you mention it, it feels great.”
The meeting went on for a few more minutes as the two made some small talk, and at its conclusion, Mary rose and said, “I’m going to make a great nurse.” And she lightly touched his hand as she headed to her room.
“I can’t believe he asked me out!” Mary let out a muted girly scream, her eyes looking upward and to the side, gazing into the periphery where the future resides. “Donna, help me pick out what I should wear on Saturday!”
“Mary, Saturday is still five days away.”
“I know, but I’m nervous. I need your advice. I want you to be happy for me.” She rattled off her sentiments like an auctioneer.
“No one on the planet is happier than I am to see you happy. I’m going to do all the above, but I need you to breathe, please!”
“But what do you think, Dons? I need to know what you’re thinking about all of this.”
Donna got up from her desk chair and reached into a side drawer of her nightstand. She removed a candle and a pewter holder, taking care to join both before striking a match and bringing it to life as Mary watched intently, eyes misting. “I think this is a special enough occasion,” she began, “but I think that John isn’t an altar boy. You’re nobody’s one-night stand, so you stand tall, you hear me?”
Mary again had the far-away look as her upturned eyes now scanned the other hemisphere of possibilities before bringing her Gone with the Wind movie poster into focus. Turning her attention to Donna she said, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” She laughed and then spent a moment watching the candle flame flicker.
Donna’s fingers again brushed lightly atop her breastbone, and her mind took her away to the shy, skinny, bushy-haired boy down the hall.
After the meeting, Mike and John basked quietly in the dorm light while Andy provided a steady cadence of light snoring, his body limp on his desk chair, the smoky haze hovering over all of them, the Monster having made its rounds.
“Today I saw Carol walking on the bridge with some older looking dude dressed in one of those tweed fucking jackets with the elbow patches,” Mike nearly yelled. Minus a segue, his offering broke the monk-like silence. “I hate those fucking jackets!” And his condemnation of false pretense was interrupted by the image of understated Donna carrying her laundry basket.
“Yeah, don’t know where that came from, but I know what you mean. “I’m still trying to figure out what those fuckers are leaning on so hard that they need patches.”
“Anyway, the guy also was carrying a pipe in his hand, looking all mature and classy and shit.”
“Word,” John regarded his friend, “I got you covered there.”
John’s eyes were bloodshot and droopy. His smile was crooked, but his intentions were honorable. “Anytime you need a pipe to look classy, you can borrow the Monster.”
Resting on John’s desk, the Monster, the light of its embers having faded, became an afterthought among afterthoughts on an evening of excess.
Frank Spinelli thought of himself as nocturnal, the clarity of his ideas emerging after dusk, often seeking clearance for landing through the haze of cigarette smoke. This evening was a contemplative one as he sat tucking his hair behind his ears and awaiting confirmation, smacking his lips together to absorb the froth of a draft beer. His corner was most remote, consisting of an ottoman and two opposing chairs. A river rock fireplace lightly crackled to his right, and the distant clacking and rolling of billiard balls announced the presence of maybe two other patrons in the student rathskeller for the moment. He felt a tap on his shoulder in greeting and watched as a young man perched himself on the other chair, setting down a briefcase, the limited lighting rendering him a shadow.
“So how’s the construction project coming along?” he asked. “Did you get any resistance, or is everyone on-board?”
Frank smiled. “My big ass black buddy has some expensive taste in liquor, but he sees a future for the place. You ought a come up and see it.”
“I will. I will.” He looked around the room for a moment, reached for his briefcase, clicked it open, leaned forward, and handed what appeared to be a gift bag to Frank, his face now distinguishable, smiling, teeth showing. “Take this with you. You know what to do with it. I’ve got some ideas regarding breaking in that room, Frankie. I know it will be beneficial for you.”
Frank exhaled at length and invited elaboration to merge from the shadows. “What are you talking about, Man?”
“A little guy like you; how often, if ever, do you get laid?”
“Hey, I do all right; what’s with that question anyway?”
“The place may need a female touch, Frankie. I’ve got just the girl for you.”
On this night, sleep was a friend dropping by and quickly ushered out the door. An orange harvest moon shone its spotlight on nature’s stage. Like the sound of a referee’s whistle just outside the gym, the crickets’ chirps took charge of the evening, weaving their ways in between the bass of a bullfrog and the snare drum brushes of fish splashing life into the stillness of Brew Pond. From his balcony perch at the center of the bridge, the Wordman took a long drag on his cigarette and set aloft the only cloud on a star-speckled night, and among a billion thoughts in the universe, he began to think of them. They suggested something so much more than a social grace. They had arrived as an intervention, as if summoned by fate, on the cusp of a deeply personal dawn. Now strumming the strings of tiny trails in the water, the moonlight brewed an incandescence, awakening a sparkling life, and stirring thoughts of Donna’s eyes and smile.