Monday, August 4, 2014

Richard Duggan and “Summer Girl”

It was in a rather off hand sort of conspiratorial way that my buddy Richard made fun of the band Smash Mouth. Now, a pop band is a pop band, and I know that, but I like Smash Mouth. Apparently, people either really like, don't care for or hate Smash Mouth. And furthermore, I have been known to make fun of certain pop bands too, perhaps it's because I never cared for the music, the fans or the shear number of times I've had to listen to it. However, all of this is neither here nor there. I like the band Smash Mouth and at the time of the conversation, Richard was incredulous to say the least.

The longer the conversation went on, the more and more disbelief came from Richard. He asked if I'd been to any of the Smash Mouth concerts. I haven't. He asked if I'd seen any of their videos. At the time of the writing of this blog post, I haven't. Although, I will look at a few now. He asked me if I'd recognize the band if they walked in at that very second. Of course not, I have no idea what they look like. It warranted the next question: “What kind of Smash Mouth fan are you?”

What really amazed Richard, and I'm still not sure why, is what I then told him. I have written several short stories inspired by Smash Mouth songs. For instance, my story “Summer Girl” shares the same title as their 2006 album, and it is particularly inspired by the song “Right side, Wrong Bed” and Richard's jaw dropped. I don't see why this should be so crazy. The other piece of the story “Summer Girl” is inspired by Edward Weston and his relationship with Charis Wilson. Incidentally, had we been talking about old photographers and their very young girlfriends, and I mentioned the story, perhaps it would not have arouse such laughter and disbelief. Who knows?

But when it comes down to it, I like pop music. I like clever music, and I think Smash Mouth has some of that cleverness. I also like pop music that is fun, light. I like love songs. I think there is plenty of bullshit out there in life, in history, in our personal histories that lead to heavy stuff. I don't want to hear protest songs about war. I've been to war, I don't need to be there anymore. I already believe in the broken window theory and the broken window fallacy and please don't get me started on social disorganization, I don't need to hear about that either. Perhaps it may seem shallow of me but pop songs about love and heartbreak really seem to be about the height of pop music. If I learned anything from Jim Crace's 2000 novel Being Dead it is this:

Love Songs transcend, transport, because there's a such thing as love. But hymns and prayers have feeble tunes because there are no gods.

So, where does that leave Smash Mouth, Richard Duggan and “Summer Girl”? Well, this is it, as elegantly as I can, when I write, I listen to music. I'm listening to Conor Obrest right now. I often listen to jazz and the 20th century composers are my favorites: Debussy, Ravel and Gershwin. I allude to all of these in various things I've written. Do they influence what I write, maybe. You be the judge, you have video and here is the short story:

Summer Girl
Tess gave no heat to the bank teller. After all, it wasn't his fault that her account was overdrawn. There were no real solutions. This was a Thursday night, and there was no money to spend. The heat was not unbearable, the bills were paid through month's end. There were records to play and a stack of magazines to flip through. Things were not going to get out of hand, this was the truth. Things were old, antique, everything: the house, the magazines, the records. She had never heard of any of the pop bands, country music singers or the likes of vinyl heroes.
Tess walked down 3rd all the way from Main Street to Front Ave. She hoped that Marcy was still half naked on the patio of her little beach rental. Marcy, for whatever reason, had not been able to comply to real life. At length, sometime in June, then again in July and yet another time just the week before had told Tess at length about her falling out with her job, her husband and her life back in Portland. To no end, obviously, because even after the whole summer at Nye Beach, Marcy had not come closer to any sort of perspective.
It didn't matter much anyway. Marcy had left the canvas chair which was now filled with sunlight of an aging day.
Standing alone on the corner, Tess looked down the line of vacation houses all of them mixed with sand and grass and the salted air of the Pacific in such a peaceful way. The next choice, clearly, was Charlie. Tess could knock on Charlie's door and not feel in the least bit bad about it. Charlie, like
Marcy was suffering from some sort of malaise that took him from his comfortable home in the middle of the country somewhere to the beaches of Oregon. Unlike Marcy, Charlie's malaise seemed to be born out of boredom and fixed (if temporarily) by this residence at Newport, Oregon.
“Young Tess,” Charlie said as he opened the door. “Well, come on in, I was just about to begin a relationship with a bottle of rum.”
“That's funny,” she said. It was funny, yes, but the cadence of statement made for the humor more than the words themselves.
“Well, it's not going to be a very long relationship, and it's going to be more fun as a threesome,” Charlie said.
“Dirty,” Tess said. The age spread was nearly twenty-five years. That conversation happened in June, after Tess's birthday on the 13th and before Charlie's birthday on the 21st. Twenty five years, minus one week. “But I kind of like it,” she said.
“Good,” he said. “I'll get all the fixings together, and all you have to do is squeeze the melons.”
“Squeeze the melons?” she asked.
“That was dirty,” he said. “I meant squeeze the fruit, limes, not melons. I don't know why I said melons.”
This cause a nervous chuckle in Charlie. He thought melons because of the stripy bikini top and Tess's melons underneath. Tess knew. They were not the size of limes, and she adjusted the top string just behind her neck which pulled the cleavage tighter and higher. “Were you a photographer in another life Charlie?” she asked.
He cut a few limes and set them next to her and the old fashioned juicer. “Photographer? No,” he sighed. “I never had an eye for that. I was in insurance.”
“Salesman?” she asked.
“Underwriter,” he said.
“What does that mean?” she asked. “What is an underwriter?”
“It means that you're not squeezing these limes fast enough.”
“Melons,” Tess said.
“Squeeze your melons on your own time, right now we have drinking to do.”
“Squeeze,” he said. “This banter is, is—”
“In serious need of a rum drink?” Tess said.
“Yes, exactly,” he said. Blender: rum, lime, sweetened, mint, ice. Glass: the blended mix, soda. “Now,” Charlie said, “Outside.” He led the way. On the back patio of his small cottage, he climbed the spiral stairs first. On the yacht-like roof top patio, Charlie took in the sight from the south to the north looking over the waves of the mighty, mighty Pacific in such a way to suggest the man had never seen it before. “This is it,” he said. He took off his Hawaiian shirt which had not been buttoned in days.
“Yup,” Tess said. “You seen Marcy today?”
“This morning,” Charlie said. “Why? What did she say?”
“Nothing,” Tess said. “I just haven't seen her.”
“She's probably tired,” Charlie said. He looked out to the distance. A few kites dotted the sky and they were already moving out to sea the clearest indication of the coming of the evening.
“Now, what does that mean?” Tess said.
“What?” Charlie said quickly.
“Why would Marcy be tried?”
“What was this about being a photographer?” Charlie said. He moved closer to Tess and quickly sat down on the paint blistered wood bench. He set his drink between them and quickly looked away.
“Nice way to change the subject,” Tess said.
“You like that?” he asked.
“Well, it was feeble attempt to make a comparison,” Tess said.
“Between what?”
“You and me,” Tess began. She took a huge drink from her glass. “And Edward Weston and Charis Wilson.”
“I don't know them?” Charlie said. “Is this a TV thing?”
“No Charlie,” Tess said. “They came before TV.”
“I don't know them. Pretty esoteric stuff,” he said. “Listen, go downstairs and make another batch of this stuff, use the rest of the rum.”
Tess returned with the entire blender full of the mojito blend. She set the thing down next to Charlie. He did not move. His eyes focused deeply into the ocean's distance. “You okay?” Tess asked.
“It's a funny thing,” Charlie said. “You know? I used to listen to all those whinny people who thought they deserved to be rich. Like they were entitled to it.” His attention lifted from the distance and to the small railed-in patio and lastly to the blender full of rum. He poured his glass to the top, took a huge slug from it, then refilled it. “It was like being rich was something that they deserved. I never did too poorly myself, and I saved and saved my money so I could be happy some day.”
“What're you talkin' 'bout?” Tess said.
“It's a quality of life issue. I think too many people are out there thinking that money and being rich makes for a better life. Or a better quality of life at least.”
“Doesn't it?” Tess asked.
“I don't think so. But we're not going to talk about it,” he said. “We've come up here to drink this rum.”
“Okay Charlie,” Tess said. “Why'd you bring it up?”
“Well, I don't want it to turn into a lecture.”
“Look at us,” he said. “Marcy's out here because she got the vacation house in the divorce. I'm here to fritter and waste the last of my days, why are you here?”
“What?” Tess asked.
“Why are you here?” Charlie asked.
“Last days?” Tess asked.
“You know, for years I lamented the one who got away. I thought if I just had more money, a better job, a bigger house I would have attracted her to me. It's pretty stupid really.”
“What is all this Charlie?” Tess asked.
“Well, whatever it is, I'm done talking about it. Why are you here?”
“Here? Here?” she asked pointing down to his house below. “At your place?”
“No, here in Newport?”
“Got a good deal on the rent. My place belongs to some old people back in Portland, I guess they needed the money. I rented it for the summer.”
“I see,” Charlie said.
“I'm here at your house because my bank account is overdrawn and I wanted to hang out.”
“You need money?” Charlie asked.
“No,” Tess said. “Not if you're dishing out the rum. But I wouldn't mind a few bucks for cigarettes.”
“Cigarettes?” Charlie asked.
“Cigarettes, smokes, squares, rockets, fags, you know?”
“Those things'll kill ya,” Charlie said.
“I thought you weren't going to make a lecture?” she said.
“How much do smokes cost these days?”
“Eight bucks,” Tess said.
“Eight dollars? Holy hell,” Charlie said. “I quit because they went to 80 cents a pack.”
“Hell's not holy,” Tess said. “I'd like some, but I don't need them.”
“No,” he said. “You don't.” The statement served only to quiet them too much. The surf below came through louder now, louder through the dunes and the grass and the kites and the beach and the world. “Listen,” Charlie said at last. “There's some money in a coffee can on top of the fridge.”
“Coffee can?” Tess asked. “Is everything here old school like that?”
“Old school coffee cans? The coffee can came with the house, I didn't bring it.”
“I can pay you back Charlie. I just need like ten bucks, you know for the smokes.”
“Don't worry about it. There's a little more than ten dollars. Take what you need.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Like ten bucks.”
“Listen, take it all.”
“I can't do that,” she said. She poured the last of the blender's contents into the two glasses. “Do you want me to make more?”
“Take the money, and go buy your cigarettes first,” Charlie said. He rested his head against the railing and looked from her to the distance of the ocean.
“You all right?” she asked.
“Just getting drunk,” he said. “Take your time, okay?”
“Okay, Charlie,” she said. She took a long drink from her glass. She stood and picked up both her glass and the blender. “Should I get Marcy on the way back?”
“Marcy?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah,” Tess said. “You know, the one who's probably tired.”
“Yeah, okay, good,” Charlie said. “I'll feel okay about that.”
Tess hesitated at the staircase. She looked back over toward Charlie. Apparently he was just quietly letting the drunk settle in. He looked over the railing to the misting, kite filled beach sky where the sun races down to circle the globe. “Okay,” Tess said. She took a few steps down and turned to watch him when the direction of the stairs took her the other way around. “I'll be back in a few minutes.”
In the kitchen, the coffee can was where she expected it to be. Looking at it, she tried to remember if she had seen it before. The thing was old, this was apparent just looking at it. The top, a pliable plastic at some point was now brittle and stiff, cracked in places. “Fuck you Charlie,” Tess said. She pulled out the first wad of money only to see the second wad underneath. “I'm not going to take all of this.” She unwrapped a single bill from the outside of the roll. “Twenty dollars only,” she said. That's the ten dollars and ten for good measure. She pushed the twenty between the clothe and her skin into her bikini. The rest of the money she restored to the can and she set the can back where she found it.
Outside, the air felt cooler on the street level than it had on the roof top. Tess quickly walked back to 3rd and then headed toward Main St.
The gas station was its normal flurry of activity. There were carloads of tourists from all over, BC, Washington and Oregon namely. They were going here or there, many of them were no doubtedly heading into Newport to see the sights, or they were heading farther out to take in the cheese factory of Tillamook or the wine of Willamette valley.
Jerry stood calmly behind the register. He took his time with each of the customers as they approached. His general disinterest covered his face like a plastic prefab Halloween mask. He did not notice Tess standing at the end of the line. In fact, he did not notice the line moving however slowly, nor did he see her approach.
“Blues,” she said in her turn.
“Tess,” Jerry said.
“Hi Jerry. Can I have a pack of blues?”
“Yeah,” he said. He reached up to the rows of cigarettes above the till. His hand, accustomed to the location of the varying brands went straight to the desired box. He did not take his eyes off of her, something that made it feel like she might vanish at any point. “Where have you been?”
“Here and there,” she said.
“Being cryptic or just don't want to tell me?” Jerry said. He put the box on the counter and touched at the register's buttons. “Seven-fifty,” he said.
She handed him the bill in one fluid movement from her breast to the counter.
“Listen, let's talk. I feel terrible about it,” he said.
“Me too,” she replied. She took the box of cigarettes and waited with an impatient stare complete with arm crossing.
“Listen, I can get you the money back.”
“Can you tell me the truth?” she asked. She was ever aware of the few people filling up the small gas station store; tourists on the way to the restrooms or coffee urns.
“I'll tell you everything,” he said. “Please.”
“Only because I've had a few drinks and I'm feeling like humane or something,” she said.
“Listen, I'm off at nine.”
“What's it now?” Tess asked.
“Ten minutes of eight,” he said. “I'll come over there.”
“No Jerry,” Tess said. “I'd rather come here.”
“Okay, nine then.”
Back outside, Tess wasted no time with the task at hand. She quickly stuffed the money, coins included, back into the bikini top and unwrapped the box in one movement from door to trashcan.
She put a cigarette to her mouth and stopped into a motionlessness with the unlit thing in her lips.
She looked over her shoulder. Crowds had developed like mold on a lemon inside the little store. As she turned about, there were cars every which way and the attendant moving between them. No one was smoking, and of all the likely places in the world for people to be smoking, the gas station was not one of them.
There would be people smoking, this she knew closer to the beach along the strips of restaurants and bars. But for whatever reason she didn't feel like waiting so long for a light.
In the old weedy parking lot from the defunct garage, a rock-a-billy looking couple moved around their old travel trailer. To Tess, this couple, on their way across America all the way from Kansas (both license plates: car and trailer) had to have a match.
The woman looked up to see Tess as she approached. She looked at Tess with a level of suspicion that is the sure telling look of a traveler, or at the very least a look of someone not from Newport. “Hi,” Tess said. She held up the unlit cigarette. “Do you have a match I might have?”
The young woman stood still and looked at Tess with a sidelong glance through her vampy makeup. “Lawrence,” she called. “Gimme your lighter.”
Lawrence poked his head out of the old travel trailer door. His black hair, piled high and greased back and into one piece was the model of jailhouse rock. When he stepped out, his tattoos were an impressive collection although not tidy or hinting at continuity. “Yeah,” he said. He looked at the woman and the woman looked at Tess. Lawrence, probably a genius when it came to old carburetors or the reading of old maps was not too clever when it came to stand offs.
“Go light this girl's cigarette,” she said.
Lawrence hopped to it. From the pocket of his jeans he produced a cliché Zippo. “There,” he said.
Tess leaned into the flame, tried her best to hold herself steady as she touched the the tip of the cigarette to its ignition. “Thank you,” she said.
“No worries,” Lawrence said.
Tess leaned around Lawrence to gain a view of the woman. She looked like someone from a movie, only scarier. “You really from Kansas?” Tess asked.
“K.C. By way of Manhattan,” she said. “You live here?”
“Me,” Tess asked. “Yeah,” she said with a level of pride that even surprised her. “I've been living here all summer.”
“Huh?” Lawrence began. “Summer girl,” he said. “Must be nice.”
“Yeah,” Tess said quickly. Truth was, that yes, it was nice. She had spent her days doing what she wanted to do, which was next to nothing. She read all the popular magazines from the Bush administration...the first Bush administration. She hung out all day with her friends, first Marcy then it was Charlie and then Jerry. Jerry wasn't so bad, just a liar, and really, he wasn't all that bad of guy because of the lie. And Marcy was always good for meal, even if she took too long to talk about what she had to talk about which was kind of a waste of time. But that's all Tess really wanted to do was waste time. “It's been a good summer. What about you two? Where have you been?”
“All over, national parks mostly,” Lawrence said. “We're on our way to Yosemite.”
“Lawrence, give her a book of matches,” the woman said. To this, Lawrence disappeared for a moment inside the trailer. In his absence, Tess smoked her cigarette and the woman just stared.
“Here,” Lawrence said. He handed Tess the book of matches. “When you're in KC stop by and see us.”
Tess looked over the book of matches. “Little Apple Tattoos and Piercing?” she asked. “Cool, I will.” She slipped the book of matches between her bikini top and the money already resting there. “So long,” she said.
Lawrence nodded and the woman waved. Tess walked away slowly with her flip flops flip flopping all the way. She smoked in a pensive way and looked at her skin, from shoulders to toes. Not a single scar, not a single tattoo. “Not a scar on Tess Marr,” she said. “Manhattan by way of KC?” she repeated.
Back on 3rd, she walked straight to Marcy's house. She climbed the three stairs to her front door and knocked. She waited the normal amount of time which felt more like an eternity before knocking again. After the third round of knocking, Tess moved close to the door, put her ear to it and listened for signs of life and was genuinely surprised to find none.
The day was cooking on. She had a few things that needed doing. First order of business was the returning of the extra ten dollars to the coffee can. If she could swing it, she might be inclined to have another round, or two of drinks with Charlie, that is if he was willing to make more for her. Then there was the issue of warmer clothes for the night. Then there was Jerry.
She had not held anything from him. She had been honest from the get go. She explained that she would be gone come September. She told him that this was a summer escape. She told him that she wanted to get back home to Portland in the fall and that she was going to get serious. Sure, he was a nice guy, but she had a future to consider. She never once lied about her ways, her feelings, her status or her views. She did not lie about her break up in the spring, she did not lie about how she felt about marriage, God, children and the daily grind. She did not lie about what happened: she met a nice guy in a bar and saw no harm at all in spending the summer seeing him around a little. She did not lie about what was going to happen: she was on her way back to the world at summer's end to resume life, graduate school, research and the beginning of a career. She did not let her views be left to guesses or to chance.
Why Jerry had lied about everything was beyond her. He could have told her that he was a miserable failure. That he lived with his mother. That the mother of his daughter was taking him for all that he had, which wasn't much. He could have told her that he had made a mess of his life. He could have told her that the money he wanted to borrow would be more, much more than she had to loan to him. He could have told her these things. She had no intention of staying with him anyway. “Probably didn't even graduate from high school,” she said as she thought about Jerry. She made it back to Charlie's place. “Didn't have to be forever Jerry,” she whispered.
She moved through the small house and stalled at the coffee can. She took the now damp money from her bikini top and rolled it to the outside of the wad of money.
The counter top still looked like a ready laboratory complete with tinctures and plants and the raw ingredients of tiki worshiping elixirs. Tess waited for a moment, gathering her thoughts. The last thought of Jerry made her consider the task at hand. Mix two drinks and then get back to Charlie? Clean the kitchen? Get to Charlie first? “Charlie?” she called at the back door. “Charlie, you still up there?” She closed the back door behind her and began to walk up the stairs. “I stopped by Marcy's and she wasn't there.”
“Here I am,” Marcy said to Tess after the latter made her way to the top of the house. “Here I am.”
“What's happened?”
“Don't get excited,” Marcy said. “I just want a few minutes with him before we call.”
“What's happened?”
“I got the call a few minutes ago, and he was gone before I got here.”
“No!” Tess said. She moved in closer to Charlie and then through tear clouded eyes she looked to Marcy. “No, this can't be. I wasn't ready for this.”
“Come here,” Marcy said. She pulled Tess closer and under her gentle touch, Tess yielded and shrank to the small size of a child. “I just need a few minutes before we call.”
“You knew this was happening?” Tess asked.
“Yes,” Marcy said. She held Tess tighter. “I just want to spend a few minutes with him, okay?”
“Why were you so tired out?” Tess asked.
“What dear?”
“Tired, you were tired because of Charlie?” Tess asked.
“I don't know what you mean dear,” Marcy said.
“Like you two stayed up all night together, he made it seem like that's what happened.”
“We have time to talk about this later,” Marcy said. “Just now, I want to spend a few quiet moments with him.”
Tess nestled into Marcy's side. She looked over Marcy's small body and saw Charlie sitting right where he had been sitting before she left. He held the phone which had replaced the rum drink. He looked relaxed. He looked peaceful, she thought. Whatever he looked like, he did not look dead.
Tess's eyes dried. The comfortable buzz she once had had gone now and a low level headache replaced it. The headache was just moments away from a full blown hangover and she knew it.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” Tess asked. She leaned up and pulled away from Marcy.
“I wish you'd quit,” Marcy said.
“Any day now,” Tess said. “Any day but this one.”
“Yeah,” Marcy said. “He loved you very much.”
“How do you know?” Tess asked. She stared at the match book, Little Apple, had she not talked to them so long, she'd have been with Charlie. “Did he tell you that?”
“Said that you reminded him of the one that got away,” Marcy said.
“He also said that no matter what, you must not leave without the coffee, do you know what that means?”
“Coffee?” Tess asked. “I wasn't ready for this.”
“No, me neither,” Marcy said.
“I was suppose to see Jerry tonight.”
“A date?”
“To work out a conundrum,” Tess said. “Which seems pretty small and insignificant now.”

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