By: Ben Slackenov
August 15, 2004
I push the door of my 55 Thunderbird open and step out onto the pavement of the parking lot, another weekend, and time to relax. I close the door gently and it creaks to the body of the car where I push it firmly shut. I’m always afraid the primed driver’s side quarter panel is going to fall off if I close the door too hard and I’ll be left with an indistinguishable black, primed and pock marked rust bucket that used to be a classic 55 T-bird. I start walking toward my apartment, it’s the one on the top left of the four sectioned building that may have passed for fashionable in the seventies. I stop in the middle of the parking lot and look at the cars parked there. There’s Smiley’s 59 Caddie, and Chubs’ 76 yellow Chevette, the boys are here, it’s going to be a party tonight.
“Hi Ben, How’s it goin’?”
“Hi Tom, it’s cool. What’s happinin’?”
“Just getting home from work, I’m going to sit down and relax before I get started on some home work.”
“Man, do you ever do anything besides work and go to school?”
“I was going to invite you to the party, but it sounds like you’ll be busy. You’re welcome to come on up whenever you get some time, have a drink, meet the ladies.”
“Thanks Ben, but I really need to finish this paper and it takes me forever to write one paragraph.”
“Alright man, see ya.”
Tom’s a good guy. He lives in the pad on the lower right of our stylish box. He’s studying to be a writer, even though nobody has ever read anything he has done. He tries, that’s what counts. Occasionally I’ll hear him playing some head banging music from his apartment. He reminds me of one of them grunge dudes from Seattle. He usually wears a dull flannel shirt and beat up shoes with a dirty ball cap. He’s not our crowd, but he seems intelligent and accepts all of us and is friendly to everyone.
As I’m walking up the stairs to my apartment I can hear the commotion from people drinking and talking over the loud jazz music. Leave it to Smiley to get a party started before I even get home from work. There are two women standing in front of the doorway with cans of beer giggling. I have never seen them before. I wave my hand at them and say, “Good afternoon ladies.” I enter the apartment and there’s a rush of smoke and alcohol fumes like an invisible wall, a mirror into another world, a soft permeable membrane with horns and piano and friends raising glasses and beer cans calling to me.
“Ben! Welcome home! Join the Party!”
“Here you go Ben; I made it just before you came up the stairs.” She hands me a gin and tonic in a tall clear glass.
“Thank you Debbie. I new I kept you around for more reasons than your pretty face and long legs.” She pretends to slap me and gives me a big smile.
“How do you like my girl friends outside Ben?” Smiley says.
“Those are yours Smiley? Are you sure you’re man enough to handle all that?”
“Oh yeah! Cindy! Amanda! Come on in here and meet the chairman of the board. Ladies, this here is Ben Slackenov, the world’s greatest jazz poet.” They hold out their hands daintily and I give them a gentle shake, nod and tell them I’m pleased. “Yes sir, these here ladies are the finest specimens of womanhood to ever grace God’s green Earth Ben.” Smiley has got an arm around each girl; he kisses one and then the other. “Are you ladies dry? Let me make you two a real woman’s drink. Let’s head on over here to the kitchen where I do some of my best work, excluding the bedroom of course.” Smiley promenades the two ladies over to the kitchen, flashing his trademark wolf smile along the way.
Tall, lanky Smiley with the big crooked nose and Dumbo ears; he’s a hell of a guy. His philosophy is never give up having sex with any woman; it could be your last chance. You could get killed in an auto crash or die in your sleep, and then what, you’ve missed a chance to have sex. Smiley would go out with any woman and this was apparent by the two women he had with him tonight. Cindy, with her little gut pooching out between her frilly, purple, shirt and jeans that were two sizes too small. I think she just got done babysitting. Her face had that pouting look, but it was an angry at the world pouting look and not the, I’m misunderstood, hold me, pouting look. Amanda, now she’s a sure thing. If Smiley can’t get into her pants he’s a corpse or he smells like one. Amanda had a nose like a hook and a large protruding jaw like some prehistoric cave woman. Her body was actually rather attractive, but every time I pictured that head on it, I just couldn’t bring myself to forgive God for making such a frustrating combination of a woman to confuse the libido of every man except Smiley. Smiley may have the right idea, he always knew a girl at any party we went to and he always seemed happy and content. If pussy can make a man die happy, Smiley might just die the happiest man on Earth, and make a few women happier too.
“Ben, Ben.” Chubs was tugging at the cuff of my sport coat.
“What’s up Chubs?”
“Where is he man?”
“He’s in the kitchen getting a drink.”
We walked over to the kitchen and there was Theo, short for Theodore, in a discussion with Smiley. Theo was wearing a brown suit and tie; he didn’t wear black like the rest of us. He was a college man and was studying philosophy. He already had a degree in math and worked at the big uptown bank. We hung out together in grade school and were best friends, still are. Theo was a little different than most guys after high school; he spent most of his time alone and wrote poetry between studying and working. He was separate from the rest of the world, like nobody could touch him. He had no family, his parents had died after he graduated and he never had any girlfriends. He fucked hookers. He would take a trip over to Nevada every once in a while and blow a wad of dough on a hooker at some brothel then be happy awhile, until he realized he was still alone. He was and still is an inspiration to my own writing.
Theo was pouring some vodka into a martini glass while Smiley was talking to him. “Theo, why do you have to be so formal about everything? Watch, you’ll even get out the shot glass to measure the vermouth in your martini.”
“So what’s your point Smiles. Lighten’ up man, not everyone operates on your plane, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“Yeah, but do you know what I’m saying? Look at your poetry compared to Ben’s. You still use capital I’s. What are you trying to be an important big-shot or what?
“Smiley,” I said, “take it easy. Theo has his reasons you know everything he does has purpose.”
“No, that’s all right Ben. If you really need to know about the I’s Smiley, it’s simple. I believe in tradition and in traditional poetry and literature, and the English language in general, I’s are always capitalized. Small I’s are supposed to show a humble persona, a person who thinks of himself as “just another average Joe”. Well I don’t agree with that concept. I think people who use small I’s are just trying to be different and are defeating their whole purpose of trying to identify with all the real “average Joe’s” in the world.
“Well what do you think of that Ben?” Said Smiley
I plucked a toothpick out of the box on the counter and speared two olives in the jar in front of Theo then dropped them into his drink. “I started to use small I’s to impress this college girl that was hanging out with Theo at the library.”
“Whoooo,” the occupants of the kitchen sighed together.
“And who was that?” Debbie asked in her exaggerated displeased girlfriend tone.
“It was my creative writing teacher,” answered Theo, “and she was ten years older than Ben and wanted nothing to do with him.”
They all laughed.
“Didn’t E. E. Cummings start that whole small I thing?” I said to Theo.
“Yes. He wrote his poems in all lowercase letters except when he wanted to emphasize something. You start your lines with capitals, but use small I’s don’t you Ben?”
“Yes. That would explain why I never made it with your teacher.”
More laughing from everyone.
“Well Ben, I would say you’ve created your own unique style.”
“I just like reading Ben’s stuff cause it’s good,” said Chubs earnestly.
“You just like reading Ben’s stuff so you can get a hard-on,” sassed Smiley.
We went on talking and drinking for a while. Tom’s name came up and Theo said that he had read some of his work in college. He told us he had a class with him and his writing was based on a reclusive life style with rebellious and cynical views of society, government and human nature in general. He described the style as childish at times, but sophisticated when his topics became more complex. We all conversed about our favorite musicians, drinks, cars, jokes and anything else to pass time and get us to the next drink.
When the ladies began to get restless they started dancing and making fun of each other’s moves. One of them would start dancing in the middle of the living room and the other girls would clap and laugh then show the girl dancing how they would do it. They took turns doing this as we, the men, became quiet and sat watching, smiling, and not saying a word. When the ladies realized they had become our entertainment, they started dragging us up and critiquing our moves. Soon we were all telling and showing each other dance moves. It wasn’t long before we started pairing off and just dancing calmly to enjoy the buzz that we all had achieved from drinking and smoking. Jazz played loudly and couples talked, swayed, snorted, snickered, guffawed, passed glasses, cigarettes, joints, and teased whoever was closest.
Chubs walked over to the big picture window that looked over the parking lot. He had been dancing with Amanda. I could hear somebody honking a car horn. I hadn’t noticed because my senses were so dulled. Chubbs waved for the occupants of the attentive vehicle to come up. A moment later the door opened and a radiant woman in a business suit with a skirt and long legs came walking in. Theo was sitting in the chair behind me and I happened to look back and notice him drop his cigarette from his mouth and into his drink. He set his drink aside and lit up another cigarette. The woman who walked in was Chubs’ sister. She didn’t look anything at all like Chubs, no childishly puffy cheeks and pouting lips over a round chin. She was the type of woman you see in magazine ads for French lingerie, expensive perfume, and anything else middle class folks saw as novel and unattainable without winning the lottery or having a rich relative die and leave you with fabulous riches. We would occasionally joke about how Chubs’ parents had adopted her or how his mother had fucked the mailman to have her. Theo had a huge crush on her, always had. She knew, but we never told him. I always wished that they would get together, but she was attending law at Harvard and always dated politically influential cats who would never tell anything about their past to anybody, it made her seem unattainable, forbidden fruit to use a figure of speech.
“Chubs,” she said, “Mama says it’s time for you to come home and quit carousing about with these hoodlums. Oh- - hi Theo. Mama didn’t mean you.” She sounded sophisticated, but we all heard Chubbs’ big sister telling him to “Get your butt home before Mama blisters those baby boy cheeks of yours!”
“Hi Brandy,” Theo said, “How’s things in Boston?”
It was then that I noticed Dolly standing behind her. I told Debbie I’d be back in a minute and that I needed to get something out of my car. I walked over to Dolly and said, “Are you staying for the party Dolly? I got something in my car I have to go get right now.”
“No. Brandy and I have to get going. We just came over to tell Chubbs to come home and see Theo before we left. She leaned around me, caught Theo’s eye and winked at him. “I’ll come down with you though.”
We walked down the stairs and out to my car. We could see Theo and Brandy walking over to Brandy’s car.
“What’s up with Brandy and Theo?” I said.
“Oh- - She’s just trying to keep her options open.” She made an S down my chest with her finger. “You know- - a girl thing.”
“I know. How about you sexy lady, what brings you here?”
“Same thing, Is that your new squeeze up there glaring at me?”
Debbie was looking down at us from the window. I opened the driver’s side door to my car and pulled out a brown paper bag from behind the front seat. “Yeah, she’s a fighter sweetie, it’s a good idea for me to maintain my best behavior if you know what I mean.”
“Is it serious?” She smiles and laughs.
“Let’s keep our options open darling. Life is too short to live with just one partner.”
“Oooh- - now the snake rears his ugly head.”
“Dolly, you know I never cheated with you. If things were different I would take you back in a minute.”
We stood staring at each other under the security light in the parking lot.
“Dolly, come on, it’s time to go!” Brandy yelled from across the parking lot. Dolly put her hands together, turned and walked away from me. Halfway to Brandy’s car she turned around and waved her fingers at me with a childish smirk hidden behind her shoulder.
I met Theo at the steps. We started walking up to the apartment. “Well- - what did she say?” I asked him.
“You know- - same old small talk. I’ll see you when I get back, a kiss on the cheek.”
“Wow!” I said enthusiastically. “A kiss on the cheek, it sounds serious.”
“Shut-up” Theo put his arm around me and punched me in the shoulder before we stepped back into the apartment.
“What was that all about!?” said Debbie.
“What!?” I said in innocent denial.
She made an S on my chest then flicked my chin up with her finger (everyone laughs). “What- - I know what mister. You better watch yourself.”
“Oh yeah- - well this party isn’t over yet and I’m not done with you sweet-heart.” I pulled the bag off a fresh bottle of gin and everyone went for their glasses except Chubs.
Chubs went and got the juice out of the refrigerator and poured some in everyone’s drink. We all toasted Chubbs and said good-bye. Chubbs was a good country boy. He never hurt anyone in his life and all the women thought he was the cutest thing on Earth, kind of like a bunny rabbit or a kitten; it was his greatest gift and curse at the same time. He had a girlfriend last year and she was everything to him. She found some guy whose parents had bought him a house and ended up shacking with him and leaving Chubs high and dry, only to come crashing down hard. Whenever the boys and I start talking about women, poor Chubs goes on about that girl like- - well- - like he never had another girl friend.
We watched Chubs’ little yellow Chevette scoot off into the night and started partying again. We danced some more, played cards, Theo and I read some of our poetry, and eventually Debbie and I went back to my room and turned out the lights.
My eyelids pulled over my eye balls, the edges slowly separated and my eyes were open. I felt the room move inside me, like God had picked up the apartment building and slowly turned it on edge. I grabbed my stomach, held it, and gained my composure. When I was able to rationalize things in my mind, I noticed a female foot right in front of my face pointed toward the ceiling, the toe nails were turquoise and finely manicured. I would have laid there and been happy looking at it, knowing the thin ankle, muscular calf, and long curved hip that it was attached to, except that there was a condom stuck on the bottom of the foot, it had been stepped on and had burst in a hasty rush for the bathroom. I sat up, following the leg into the covers, scanned over the covers and seen the right side of Debbie’s head. Her right arm was outside the covers lying across her chest. I could see why her head was turned to the left. Her wavy brunette hair was stiff and tangled and some fine lengths had stuck to her face in the middle of the night. I imagined that my own face looked like a Popsicle that had been left on the dashboard of a car in the hot sun.
I slowly got out of bed, grabbed my pants and shirt, slowly turned the door knob, stepped out into the hallway, closed the door softly, and let the bolt quietly return into its hole. I made an effort not to wake Debbie up because I knew she would want a kiss and I shuddered at the thought. I slipped my pants and shirt on in the hallway then walked into the living room. There was Theo standing on a chair holding a camera over the coffee table.
“Good morning you drunk fuck, the sandman almost didn’t visit you last night.” Theo said.
“Yeah. . . What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m taking a picture of this centerfold. I made some coffee; it’s in the kitchen with a bottle of Kahlua if you want some. Nothing like a little hair of the dog I always say.”
I looked down at the table scratching my head. Theo had strategically placed a cup of coffee, a spoon and a sugar packet so that none of the models love parts were showing. “You stayed out here on the couch by yourself last night?”
Theo looked up from the camera and turned toward me. “Yes. Smiley stayed in the other room with those two strays he brought over. I can’t believe the guy has that much stamina, it sounded like a howler monkey on crack in there last night.” I began laughing. Theo just shook his head back and forth. “I think that guy snorts cocaine and orders Viagra off the internet.”
This made me laugh even harder and I went into the kitchen, poured myself some coffee and Kahlua, and returned to the living room.
“You know Ben,” said Theo as he stepped down from the chair, “if we all started as early as you do the world would be a whole lot better place.”
“I raised my coffee cup and said, “A-men to that,” and took a big drink.
"Ben's Jazz Poems"