Danny Toledo and Jim Martini showed up with a couple of the strippers from the Jack-O-Lantern and things really got going. Holly and Amy were the DJs and had Mother’s albums scattered all over to provide a tiled dance floor. LittleMan and I were being cute by sipping drinks, and everybody got a kick out of that. I was talking shit, too, and it went over pretty well with the company as they descended deeper and deeper into the bowels of the rainbow.
“Hey Butch,” I yelled over Janis Joplin, “check this out,” and I made a face by stretching up my mouth with my thumbs, and pulled down the tiny bags under my eyes with my pinkies.
“Hell. That looks like the skinned face of a rabbit!” he said, genuinely impressed. Then I tried to show him something else, but he started chatting up Gramma. LittleMan called me into the kitchen where he was working the crowd.
“Look at this stuff! It’s like a mad-scientist’s lab!” and we gazed at the bottles of Schnapps, Kailua, Ouzo, JD, and countless cheap wines. We mixed them into plastic cups and served them to the guests, but not before we tasted them.
Brian was getting paranoid and telling stories about ‘Nam to the macho guys, while Melody provided the soundtrack by singing “Summertime” a cappella for the girls. Grandmother was tying knots in cherry stems with her tongue.
“Girls, let me teach you something, this is how you make a man happy. If you can do this with their pecker, they’ll never leave you. I’m not sure if they’ll like it, but they won’t dare to leave you.”
Catfish are jumping, and the weather is hot.
“Can I have a sip?”
“You wouldn’t believe the grass in ‘Nam, high enough to hide behind, but better to fire up. The buds were like roses, I am telling you. Not the kind you buy in the flower shop, but the small wild ones you find out by Camp Lake with the round heads and firm petals. The ones that won’t even let you pick them, they’re so potent. Well that was ‘Nam: A bouquet of buds to fan yourself with. And if you fondled them too much they would make you bleed.”
Hush baby, baby, no, no, no, no, no, no, no don’t you cryyyyy.
“Can I have a sip?”
“Amy, give me that fucking album, don’t let anybody stand on that one! That’s a classic. Look at the cover. That’s The Moody Blues for fuck sake. “On the Threshold of a Dream.” I’m gonna paint that fucker ten times bigger and hang it over my bed.”
Aunt Faith was talking really fast—like usual—to Grampa Duke’s boys. Her preferred drug was usually speed, and then she would adjust the velocity with weed and alcohol. She sounded something like:
“Damn,Duke raised some reallygoodlookin’ boys. ShitSheldon, take your eyes offof Melody and lookoverhere. How tall are you Marty? Is your dick reallybig? Bruce, I love those curls, your whole body’s like pubic hair,” then she’d laugh like a mad lamb, “a big cock! Letmelickyou.” And she ran her tongue across Bruce’s cheek, and Faith’s husband Brian couldn’t really do anything but be confused because it was sort of her brother, and Grampa Duke was sort of her father so it wouldn’t be good to start anything with sort of family.
Don’t you cry.
“Can I have a sip?”
Don and Mary were decked out in lime green polyester. Plastic gold and pink beads the size of walnuts dangled lazily from Mary’s neck. Don was sucking on them in a corner, and I was even surer that he had created her with kitchen scraps and his bare hands. I had never seen him be affectionate with her, but now he treated her like a gourmet meal. She wore butter lip-gloss and had an egg white manicure. Her hair smelled of mayonnaise and beer. Outside the fluorescent lights of The Dinner Bell, with some sips of brightly colored tonics in my stomach, I realized it didn’t make any difference whether Mary had a human mother or a vegetal mother, she was loved. In a time of little thinking or evaluating, in a little town at an insignificant house on an insignificant alley, the only ideas we had were love, and in that vagueness slowly we would figure things out.
LittleMan and I met in the corner.
“How many sips did you get?” he asked.
“I got about ten! Did you get anybody to try the drinks we made?”
Yeah, your Uncle Sheldon with the Harley and braid. He drank something that I put a little dish soap in.”
“What did you do that for?”
“Well I needed more color! You used up all of the green melon stuff, so I just put in a little of that green liquid by the sink. It smelled exactly the same. Anyways, look at him, he loves it. He’s all over Melody.”
“I don’t know about you but I feel like we were spinning in the minefields for hours! There’s a lot I want to say and I can’t get the words out. I want to talk to those girls from Detroit. I think they dig me. The keep looking at me and pointing when I sip someone’s drink. I think they like the way I bring the glass to my lips. I bet they think I’m hot.”
“You’re crazy man. We’re kids.”
“But don’t you know, it doesn’t matter what you look like. Look at Ray over there. Go talk to him. He talks like a little baby with his ‘Tank yoos’ and ‘How she go’ greetings. Holly and Amy are fighting over what records to play and pulling each others hair. Butch is all stiff trying to dance sexy and smashing Holly’s records under his feet. It’s all messed up, LittleMan. Doesn’t matter how old you are here. So these chicks can dig me, because in this room with a plastic cup in my hand, I am a man.”
The only thing I had managed to say to them was “I like tobacco.” And they didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, but smiled and one ran her long finger across my lips.
“We’re really talking now! What do you say about some more sipping? Let’s see who can get 10 sips first,” I said to Little Man.
And with that we spun into the room. The three macho men in jeans had Mother’s tarot cards in the corner, and were trying to play poker by designating death as the king and so on. Tom Karvala got a pair of cups and a pair of Grim Reapers. The candles dimmed from a brief gust of wind, as Arnie the neighbor showed up with a big red nose and a monkey on his back that bit you if you tried to touch it. All the symbolism was contrived, but everybody still feared it. It gave them something to talk about beyond loving “so and so.”