May 11, 2023, 05:57AM

August Fool 

Same bowl cut.

Screenshot 2023 05 10 at 3.47.39 pm.png?ixlib=rails 2.1

The buzzer buzzed, jolting Red out of a mid-afternoon August drowse. It took him a moment to remember that his parents were out, so he scrambled down the stairs at a breakneck speed, from his attic room, down past the second floor rental, down to the front door. He opened it, out of breath, to see two young women, a little younger than him. One was swarthy and plump. The other a honey blonde with sparkling eyes, slim. They wore modest Sears outfits. Red felt like a slob in his worn denim bells and t-shirt.

The brunette said, "Hi! We have some literature for you!" Red accepted the brochure, began to flip through it, saw that they were from a church a few blocks away, Jehovah's Chosen.

He cleared his throat, preparing to tell them that he already had a church, that he was a Catholic, but taking a second look at the blonde, he kept his yap shut.

"May we come in and talk with you," the blonde asked, eyebrows raised and eyes wide, innocent, inviting, intoxicating. Her voice was like a music box.

"Why, certainly!" He ushered them in, to the downstairs apartment, where his parents lived. Sweat broke out on his brow. Red wasn't used to guests, outside of his friend Jack. Two strangers! Young females! One of whom he was falling in love with, tumbling down a 20-flight stairway, in ecstasy. At the same time he wished he had a real shirt on; he felt half naked.

He sat them down at the kitchen table, opened the fridge and retrieved a pitcher of pink lemonade. He poured three jelly glasses and brought them, one at a time, to the table. Right now he could only focus on one simple task at a time. He was dimly aware that this appeared foolish, but he couldn't handle more; he knew his limit. Then he thought to add three plates to the setting and a bowl of Oreos. His parents weren't due home for a half-hour; he prayed they wouldn't return early.

"Well, I guess I should at least mention that I am a Catholic: born, baptized, raised, heh heh."

"Oh, so was I! So were many of us," the chunky brunette said. "And a lot of us left the Jehovah's Witnesses. Quite a schism, to be frank. And we even have a former Moonie, a very nice Korean fellow." Red tried to be polite, to pay attention to her, but his eyes kept straying to the blonde. Then he'd glance away, as if her beauty was just too brilliant to taken in a large dose. He smiled like an idiot for the 10 minutes they were present, and sent them off with an especially toothy smile and an overly jaunty wave, several pieces of literature in hand. In one aspect at least, he behaved soberly: he made a point to look at the blonde's right hand. She wore one ring, a mood ring. She was single! Red fingered his high school ring and thought, Someday I'll remove this. Someday, in its place will be a band of gold.

Supremely pleased they'd left before his folks got home, he scurried back up the stairs to his room, and started to read a pamphlet, but he couldn't focus. Instead he got up and paced on the braided rug, limited in his pacing by the ceiling slanted on both sides. Hands behind his back, he looked up, he looked down, but only saw her face. She was so beautiful! Like Toni Tennille, or that girl in Starland Vocal Band with their hit about sexy doings in the afternoon. Same bowl cut. He chuckled to himself when he realized he couldn't recall if she was "stacked." He was so overwhelmed by her presence. She was so pure, like winter, like spring.

Red was smitten! Like sky rockets in flight, his thoughts soared. He imagined them married, raising children. He'd bring her roses and chocolates every day! Stunned, he sat at his little desk, moved the typewriter to one side, folded his arms on the desktop, lay his weary brow on his arms and wept.

His parents rolling into the drive, gravel crunching, crushed his reverie. He wiped his eyes and chortled. All was going to be well. After a long wait, the future was, in a blink, golden.

But now Red was in a state of conflict. Sundays he went to Mass with his mom, every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, as required. The Jehovah service was on Sunday, same exact time. "I can't be in two places at once," he fumed. "And Mom hates them."

They'd come to the door once before, two men. She slammed the door after telling them to enjoy eternity in hell because they weren't Catholics. And that's what Red used to assume before Marist. But freshman year he'd taken a comparative religion course taught by one of the young brothers, a fellow who sported a Fu Manchu mustache and expressed sympathy for the Viet Cong. According to Brother Mark, anyone could get to heaven, even an atheist, provided they were, as he put it, "good people." Red evolved to accept this view. And he also figured that his dad, who skipped Mass except on Christmas and Easter, was hellbound in a handbasket. His mom used to nag her hubby about attending Mass, but he blew her off in no uncertain terms. "That stuff is for kids and ladies," he barked. "And look at your priests! No red-blooded guy is gonna sign up for a life without broads. They are, how to put it, a little light in the loafers, if you catch my drift?" He snapped his Sunday funnies for emphasis, his mouth screwed to one side. "Today is Sunday, my day of rest! Mine! Monday through Friday, work! Saturday, I have to drive your ass all over hell's half-acre to shop here, shop there, spending my hard earned loot! Today I don't do nothin'! Not even shave! So, beat it already!"

Mrs. Mazzo was crying as she and Red marched to church. She was straining to maintain composure, to little avail. Red didn't know what to say, so he remained mute.

There was wiggle room, an option, a Saturday evening Mass. Until now, Red had frowned on the notion, considered it for lazybones who "slept in" on Sunday, or were sinners who’d violate a commandment by working on Sunday. Still, it was legit, Vatican-approved. But he'd have to come up with some sort of tale for his mother. But the story couldn't be a lie, because there is yet another commandment.

She'd be heartbroken by his not attending with her. And confused. Plus he'd have to sneak out of the house on Sunday, wearing his brown flares, a dress shirt, a sport coat. His head was swimming, but he knew this much: he had to see that girl again. Had to! Like a mackerel fighting the current.

Come Saturday, he blew a lot of smoke and stammered, but he got out of the house and headed to evening Mass. Once there, precious few familiar faces, and mostly young at that: fellow singletons and budding families. Afterwards, greeting the flock as they exited, Father Stan was surprised to see Red. "Hey, fella! Everything okay? Is your mom okay?"

"Oh, yes. I just thought to try a change of pace, to see how the other half lives, as it were. I was, you know..." Father Stan tossed a buddy punch to Red's shoulder, slapped him on the back, moved him along, then pivoted his attention to a young family of six. "Ah! The Graingers! How grand to see you! Fresh from Hawaii! Tell me all about it! Did you surf? Ha ha!"

Back home, in his aerie, Red turned on the fan to get air moving in his stifling room, and was about to get out of his church duds when he heard Jack screech into the driveway, his yellow Pinto narrowly missing the Mazzo family Plymouth. He practically fell out of his car, a six-pack of tallboys in hand, a bent cigarette in mouth. He removed the cig to bellow, "Hey, Reddy! Ya home? Hey! Wake up! Wake up, little buttercup!"

Red, annoyed, leaned out his window and scolded, "Pipe down! We have neighbors, you know!"

Jack bent over guffawing. He slapped his knee, twice.

"Great! Just great," Red fumed. "He's already drunk. And he has a fresh six." Irked, he remembered: just get through this visit. Then to bed. Tomorrow will be heavenly. I can't wait to see her again!

Jack tromped up the front steps, then the two flights, bounded into Red's cramped room. The slanted ceiling forced him to bow which led him to plunk down on Red's bed, per usual, a ritual. He popped open a tallboy, resting the six between his feet, took a swig. Red sat at his desk, hands folded, as if to interview Jack for a job. Jack lit a fresh cigarette, looked about until he found the ashtray.

Red recovered from his initial irritation. He didn't have much in the way of visitors, and he and Jack were old friends, dating back to high school. Beaming, he said, "Brace yourself. I have some big news. Some very big news, indeed!"

"Okay, Reddy. Shoot! I am all ears," Jack said, leaning forward, elbows on knees.

"You won't believe this, but... I'm in love!"

Jack let out one long low whistle, ran a hand through his hair, rubbed his nape and said, "Huh! Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle! Congratulations, Reddy! What's her name?"

That's when Red realized he'd never even exchanged names with the gals.

"Uh, I... I don't, uh, I don't know for sure."

Jack burst out cackling, a high-pitched bray, rapidly slapping his knee. "Well, have you at least banged buns with the bitch? There have been a few I've never bothered with the names. Went to bed with what I thought was an angel, woke up with a raging hangover and a crocodile! Once, I put on my pants and shirt and shoes as she sawed a log like a hog! Di'n't even bother with undies and socks! Just hit the road! Yeah, never got her name. Ha ha! Ouch, wotta dawg! Regular woof-woof. Hey oh!"

"Shut up! It's not like that! We just met the other day. And I’m going to see her tomorrow, for your information. And she’s beautiful!" Red rose and walked over to Jack, stood before him, knuckles on hips, defiant, defending his woman.

Jack looked to the floor, shook his head, looked back up and shot his best shot, "Y'know, you are the only guy who could go off to college for four years and return with his cherry firmly intact." He pointed his index and middle fingers straight at Red, thumb up like a cocked pistol, and said, "Am I correct or am I correct?" He often did this hand gesture, but this time he jabbed Red in the belly for extra emphasis.

"Hey! Getting a little flabby, sport! Better pray this chickie likes 'em tubby!" He proceeded to chugalug the Bud dry, opened a fresh can, took a long swig. Red was steaming, furious. This wasn't the first time Jack had needled him mercilessly about his virginity. He didn't even know how Jack had doped out the status, but he sure had.

"By the bye, I was saying to Cindy, just the other night, about how you were fresh as the driven snow. She asked me if you were a fairy!"

Red's face flushed in humiliation.

"So, I tells her, Nah. He's just shy, a regular shrinking vie-oh-let. Y'know what she says next? She says she'd pay for a pro-girl to do ya, just to get the deed done, so to speak."

"I think it is time for you to leave!"

Jack responded by draining his beer can, then said, "Shush, granny! Shush yo' mouth!" He opened a third can, took a long gulp, then from his back pocket produced a flask, unscrewed the cap, took a few swallows. "Whiskey! Love whiskey!" His eyes were beginning to look blurry, smeared. He started going on and on about stuff Red wasn't paying attention to, about Cindy, about work, about his stupid boss, about an idiot coworker, eventually getting to the insurance companies—all a buncha crooks!—on and on and on. His words were slurring until, all of a sudden, he lurched forward and grabbed Red's metal wastebasket and heaved into it.

"Ooooh..." he groaned afterwards. Then he rolled over, face down on the bed.

Cursing under his breath, Red walked the basket downstairs—disgusted by the stench and by feeling the warmth through the thin metal—to the family bathroom, and flushed it. Fortunately, his parents were absorbed in TV in the living room, so no questions asked. Then outdoors, to the side of the house, to the faucet. Red trudged back upstairs thinking, "Another Saturday night of fun, fun, fun. Dammit!"

Jack was snoring away, sprawled on the bed. The room stank. Red turned off the light and got down on the rug for a long sleepless night, using a dictionary as a sort of pillow. Sneaking out to the Jehovah service tomorrow morning was a dream flying off to the horizon. The best laid plans of mice and Mazzo.

However, fortune favors the brave. And the patient. The following Sunday found Red almost skipping along the sidewalk to the Jehovah church. Approaching the new building—it resembled a fast food franchise: brickface, mansard roof—he went weak, he felt a lump in his throat, butterflies in his belly. But if he had any second thoughts, he was too shaky to resist being swept along by arriving congregants. Red didn't know very much about the Jehovahs, but in the literature he learned that they were pacifists. This was in line with his worldview shaped by folk-rock and Brother Mark's liberation theology.

(About a year ago, a former Marist student whom Red had remained in touch with as a pen pal, informed him that Brother Mark had flown the coop, left the vocation, along with a red-headed nun, whom he referred to as Sister Ginger. The duo split for the Bay Area, joined a Krishna commune. So, Red figured, anything goes these days. He mused, "Ginger's a spice, on the Mark! Heh, heh!")

Red settled into a pew, on the aisle, toward the back. As the church filled, he had to scoot over, feeling sardined in. But a small price to pay. He was about to begin a new life. Let Jack ridicule him. We'll see if he's invited to the wedding. Maybe invite him just to gloat! Cindy's nothing to write home about.

Glancing around, to Red's surprise, the Jehovahs looked quite normal, not like hippie pacifists. In fact, with his longish hair and beard, Red was the most counter-cultural figure present. He shrugged and rolled his shoulders a few times, attempting to release tension, when he looked up to see the blonde approaching the lectern. The assembled quieted as a recording of a church bell tolled the beginning of the service. A pink middle-age man in a powder-blue leisure-suit had been playing somber chords on a Lowrey organ. His faddish outfit contrasted his hair and eyeglasses which screamed 1949. A final chord, from A minor resolving to A major, brought things to a gentle uplift, reminding Red of a Beatles song.

The windows were stained, but nothing like Saint Leo's gothic jobs. These were mass-produced: brash, jarring acidic rectangles of cherry and lemon and lime.

Red took a deep breath and looked up to study her, when he noticed a glint of sunlight on her right hand as she organized papers. She began to speak.

He didn't hear anything she said. On her hand was a new ring, a ring that replaced the dime-store novelty. This ring bore a diamond. There was no mistaking that glint.

She looked over to the duffer at the Lowey. They made goo-goo eyes, smiled lovey-dovey thoughts at each other. Red felt as if he'd been punched in the gut, good and hard. He was too nauseous to stand and leave.

"What if I'd gotten here last week? Could I have averted this disaster?"

After the service, which he suffered through like a saint being tortured on the rack, Red fought his way to the door, contending with the happy crowd. "Excuse me. Um, excuse me..."

Finally, the door. On the front step stood the portly brunette. She stepped to him and chirped, "Oh! So good to see you finally made it! How did you..."

Red jostled her aside and snarled, "Oh, go to hell, you witch!"

He fled, never noticed that he'd knocked her over, landing the lovesick gal on her well-padded bum.

With resolution, leaning forward, arms straight at his sides, fists clenched, Red trotted home at a brisk clip. But when he got to the old house he just kept going. He looked just like a crazy person.

About a block past his house, a police cruiser drove right up onto the sidewalk, blocking Red's path, stunning him to attention. A cop jumped in front of him, nightstick in hand. "Hold it right there, pally!" He poked Red in the gut with his stick, then turned to the car and barked, "This him, ladies? Take a good look!"

Red turned to see, in the front seat, the blonde, her arm around the brunette, consoling her. The blonde looked up, direct into Red's eyes. Her voice like rough sandpaper, she spat, "You... you... monster!" Running up to the scene was the fiancé organist. Red noticed that was wearing white shoes, patent leather loafers with brass decorations over the instep. 



Register or Login to leave a comment