A Man of Few Redeeming Qualities
A lone dissonant note creeps out over this small café in this so warm spot on the Mediterranean. I look through the open door into the haze of a Moroccan street and December blue sky to see if I could make out the ethereal form of her, but instead all I see is the commotion of darkened people through a tan haze of centuries old dust.
I tap a cigarette on the wooden table to force the tobacco deep into the camel end of my unlit smoke. The table is covered with a fine veil of dust, the collected atoms of detritus from the millions of feet that have passed by since the great wandering nomads of the first centuries plied the desert trading and dealing with the mobs that would be the followers of Jesus and Mohamed — salesmen themselves a’ la the American film Elmer Gantry.
She is late, but that doesn’t matter. In a place like this it is hard to give anything other than the arrival of sunrise and sunset any importance.
I look over at the bar wondering why the usually prompt bartender is not refilling my glass with the port that has become so famous to me in the many sunsets I have sat here. He sees me, but tries not to make any eye contact. His olive skin hangs loosely on his bones and generally speaking he is a sweaty man. I can even smell him from my seat, he smells sharp, like a musky lemon.
Vwoop, Vwoop his damp cloth sweeps over the bar cleaning the same spot over and over. Pressing harder into his stroke he doesn’t look up, not wanting to get caught by me seeing him. But with a quick glance of his eye we make contact and he frowns in embarrassment.
Last night he and his wife fought and he got the worst of it. I was sitting in this same seat by the door and watched the whole thing. As she tore into him the bartender just looked down at his bar. I couldn’t understand what her quick tongue was saying, but it lashed at his sense of masculinity and honor.
For some reason he never boiled over at her. The pressure did however build up behind his face, which turned red and puffed out like Dizzy Gillespie blowing steam through his trumpet. She was merciless and each time she paused to regain her breath the bartender looked around the bar and at me in particular. Perhaps it’s because over the past few weeks I have become as much a fixture of his small bar as the aged dust that clings to every table, chair, trinket, and glass. In his look I caught a hint that maybe I have become an unwelcome guest.
With each sweep of his cloth the flaccid skin below his arm swings wildly. His face does not seem to be softening as he burnishes that one spot of the worn and marked bar.
I love his quiet shaded bar. On past visits I have told him this is my oasis and I shall meet my harem here, in this seat… at this table… one at a time... He generally scoffs at me with a quick smirk (though I don’t think I will get the same smile today) and says nothing other than, “To your loneliness and to each his just desserts.”
Lonely, no, but I do love the young girls that fall for my simple and caddish stories of life lived blithely on some precipice, in particular the description of taking a small syringe of heroin in the back room of a crowded club as a smoky, dark man touches his lips to the inside of a trumpet and tickles it with his tongue. I tell these girls of my crescent-eyes, bloodshot from the bloody rush of the drug. I describe looking through a thin curtain hung behind the trumpeter and watching as his body leans back and forward and his buttocks sway in the vaporous light of a few bulbs hanging lazily from the ceiling.
I almost tease these girls with descriptions of his head tilting and swaying to the ebb and flow of his music while in front of his mouth there is a hypnotic electric gleam of golden color, the metal of the horn flaring out curved and twisted in a painful contortion sweeping out to the bell. In it I can see my reflection colored, oblong in the warped golden shimmer, my elongated face and body disassembled and put together again by a single thought. A spasm through his body produces the single most beautiful note that I have ever heard. It floats out bouncing over the small crowd as they watch and reach for it straining for the thin delicate bubble. The note bursts over their heads and showers down upon them as he blows out another stream of ribbon colored spheres. Alone, his black body sways, his rounded ass clenches and releases with each effort of notes, calling me forward I stay in touch with my reflection, centered on the futility of the loneliest most perfect vibrating string of sound swaying in and around what little breeze a swirling woman provides by swinging her arms and body. Coyly her hips move with the music drawing my eyes to the barest patch of brown pubic hair peaking above her thin wispy skirt. Her fingers snapping without sound, her hips swaying and my insane reflection on her, and him, as I realize that they are both playing and moving to the same unheard tune of their bodies. I can see them as lovers, her tanned white skin against his toned brown, moving together, him inside of her, she mounted on him with it all happening in the hips and the delectable look of craving and satisfaction. Slowly he raises his trumpet; singing and vibrating it is no longer making any sound and the smooth clear reflection of the small lights around him make the trumpet look now as if it were wet with the rapturous brew of her, and then he swells a note out and back again, and when he has put that one back where he found it I think that he is not even making sound or playing music as much as he is saturating the air with a breathy and turbid humidity that envelops and enraptures. I look and see my reflection in her skirt and through it in the light that is received by the dark, I can see my reflection in her ass and her hips and in her, and he is playing with his warm damp breath, and I see a small rivulet of spittle drip from a valve at one end of the twists in his shining piece of piping, and I see it slowly fall to the ground and land in the dust with a little circle of spray, and her feet come so close to it in each step she makes in her delirious delectation, and I focus on that small pile of dusty spittle and around it her feet, bare, land on either side and in the silver, bubbly drop is my reflection until she finally slides gracefully through it, and I think how can she not know what she has done, and I slowly trace up the swaying calves and thighs of perfect syncopation to the V that is at the center of her sweat dampened skirt, her hands are riding just the top of her mound and I see it clearly that she will have him. A note passes out in the warm Moroccan night and I am brought from my small display behind the thin curtain in the back of the club and I think one simple thought – heroin.
The girls that I regale with these stories lose themselves in the turbidity of the voiceless sexual connection between trumpeter and dancer. They are not used to such openly sensual language and the thought of being the trumpeter’s woman makes them desire the capping of their sojourn to another world with the satiation of an erotic desert dream come true. The girls that I manage to entice don’t care that I am not the trumpeter, but the heroin inspired fool hiding behind the curtain watching as two people seduce themselves with music and the sweaty warmth of a crowded club in Morocco. However, they see themselves as that sensual beauty; enticing and erotic, a wet dream of men. I am part of the fantasy: the storyteller
I am thirsty, where is the bartender?
Vwoop Vwoop the bartender continues to wipe the bar though he has moved from the spot he had been at before my day dream. I look out into the shadow of light with the fading blue background and I cannot see my newest paramour through the tan filter.
It bears witness that I would not wait this long for any other woman, but there are two factors in her favor. The first is that I am drinking port wine in this bar.
The second is that she is no ordinary girl – or rather I should say woman. She is something rare in this country in that she is not personally more deplorable than I am, nor is she a young princess out on a joy ride through the third world.
The woman that I am waiting for is more than just another Diasporistic-bohemian-girl looking for a promised man.
She is beautiful. It’s all in the curves and changes in direction of the skin. The crescent her breast forms where it meets chest beside her arm – a half moon of body-shadow following the mysticism of that curve. Or the slight delta leading from the crack of her butt to the base of her spine, or the flatness of her belly, broken by a sweep of pubic hair fading into the narrow of her V down to and between the tiny bit of chub on the inside of her thighs just below her softest touch. It, the whole of the body, is the composition of a geometry that defies the expression of theorem or thought, made by what would only have to be a god to men; the only god a man would religiously follow is the one who could, by thought, create the shape of this woman.
From her ankle up is one hidden curve leading into the next flowing up to her lips, which I was able to ever so slightly brush with mine in the late night – or was it very early morning. I reached from to her hips and held her slenderness to me in the warm and cold of a moonless desert night. In the darkness, blackness with resplendent pin pricks of light popping through, we brushed lips, my hands moved up along her belly and she shook away from me smiling, looking down, afraid to see lust or disappointment in my eyes, but she had that smile, the look of contented happiness and pride and comfort and somnolence pouring out from her drooping eyes.
Intoxicated and high from the rush of just a touch of the lips she curled into herself becoming a white dove and flew away saying she would be here tonight.
Vwoop vwoop goes the bartender’s rag, the bar is warmed from his rough caress and it must, I think, shine back at him mirroring his reflection. “Another drink,” I yell at him so that he cannot ignore me. There is no one else yet in the bar who would turn and ask with their eyes the nature of the disturbance that the foreigner has caused. “A drink please, in this dusty place. Another drink for the dry before I am buried in the powdered residue of one hundred million years of assorted persons walking by this bar,” I say with a wink, but it doesn’t work, and slowly, looking coolly at me he moves toward the large green jug of port wine and brings it over. “Not even a fresh glass?” I ask. The red port splashes spilling up and over the rim staining my knuckle and landing on the dusty table top pulling an afghan of dust up around it. “Thank you. No ice?” I say mocking the heat and his bar.
My cigarette dangles unlit at the end of my dirty two fingers. A small stain of red port wine has splashed onto the perfect whiteness of the shaft. The wood-grain-like print of the front leg of the camel on the cigarette hides the form of a man with an erect penis. His erection points out into the desert, out away from the safety and serenity of the oasis behind him. As I bring the cigarette closer to my mouth the dust that ever so slightly shades the white skin-like paper can be seen in small infinite specks. The end with its mash of desiccated tobacco is an inviting brown and the tobacco ever so slightly causes the tip of my tongue to tingle. A wooden stick flashes to life and all is silent in my world as the flame burns and I can hear the end of the cigarette singe. The smoke of tobacco leaf mixes in my throat with the taste of dry port wine. I look out into the street, a stream of smoke leaves my mouth slowly and lazily. The men outside go about their business in the late deep blue of a hot Southern Mediterranean day slowly turning to evening.
Port and smoke mingle as I wait for her. The notes and phrasings of the desert come back once more in the mumble of voices from the bizarre outside. This scene could be from 1953, and Kerouac is just around the corner going off into that soft night and Ginsburg is bowing to another man’s cock as he howls with the pleasure and delight of adding another conquest to his quest for fame, poetry, and giving great head. But they are not here and it is not quite that same world of bop and tobacco and speed, and Burrows is not sitting in his cheap small pad waiting anxiously for me to arrive with a taste of horse for him to ride. Instead I sit here ten years later in 1963 waiting for a woman who gives me the heady excitement of one who hopes that maybe a moistened paramour, a satiation of his desire for the exotic is about to walk through that door. I am not a dreamy kind of man on a once in a lifetime trip, this is my lifetime’s trip. From the streets of the gray stone cities of Liverpool and the lonely corners of an imagination inspired by a library full of books I am here and now living like no other back in that world, but also like no other here. I am no patriot and I am certainly no ex, I am, to me, what it is to be, and to experience that which will warp and separate the being from the ego. My allegiance is to my own self and what I can find to do with the body on this trip through the multiple worlds of this planet and the sentient awareness of its human population. If lying down naked with the paramour is in the cards then my small extension from the pubis will taste and feel all that I will need to know while my mind probes for the deeper secret of who this woman is. A diver, I shall dive into the ocean of her hoping that she is not a mile wide and an inch deep, and I will not sacrifice this fine evening to what the worst may be. To separate the folds of an O’Keefe-like flower, being swept away by thoughts and ideas and senses of the brain while I slip into her, and oh how lovely that first taste and tingle of her port-like sweetness will be as the heat grows and slippery we slide against, on top, and inside each other, mounted and being mounted, prodding tenderly and gingerly; using moans to be yes, and learning each other by Braille of the tongue. Oh so sloppily do I plan to be with her tonight. I look back at the bartender and smile a coy affectionate grin. He is no longer burnishing his bar, but is now angrily taking his frustrations out on a glass he is cleaning.
A taxi with a fare stops suddenly for a man crossing the street and out the window comes a yell of warning as the driver floors the gas and the back wheels spin kicking up a layer of the soil that Jesus himself may have trod upon, and the cloud spreads and for a moment shrouds the vintage cab before the ages give up their dusty hold. A bit of the angry dust cloud comes sulking in the bar like a lonely old man looking for a drink. It settles and lies at my feet and on my shoes. I take a drag on my cigarette and the smoke sweetly passes through the port wine that hangs like a mist in the back of my throat.
She is late and God I hope she does show up. But if she is like so many of the others, and I end up sitting here watching the blue day fade into black night alone, I will do that until the bartender throws me out. I am, after all, who I am.
Dusk descended upon the lake almost like a slow, wide eyelid closing for the night. Judge new that the eels would soon slither from the muck at the bottom, making the fishing all but impossible as they feed voraciously on the spent worm he dangled over the side of his canoe. His father had always taken the hook from the eels when Judge was a boy and then toss them into the bait bucket to clean and eat when they got home. Judge, however, hated the eels; their flavor and greasy texture, the way they felt in his hand as they tried to wriggle free, and that they reminded him of what he had loved and hated about his father.
Judge looked down through a clutching haze of gnats schooling just above the inky water and slowly began to reel his line in. As the clear filament emerged and ran up through the first guide loop of his cheap, Wal-Mart rod, droplets formed and ran down the line into the reel. Judge stopped winding the reel and put a finger on the line. He could feel the subtlety of each small bead melt into his skin. A far off loon called out and Judge missed his father a little bit more. The sound of it was close and he looked up to a small island in the lake thinking he might be able to see the mating pair in and among the lilies.
The evening air was clear and the sun shone bright red as it slowly waned in the distant horizon. Judge heard the small plane before he saw it. Its engine revved a little before settling down as he watched the pilot guide it around to approach the longest run of open water. In the diffuse light Judge could barely see the white wings of the plane; only the deep blue body, clear windows and small head of the pilot stuck out against the evening sky.
Reaching the far end of the lake, the plane began its descent. The engine grew louder and as it passed over a copse of short pine trees rimming the lake, he thought the plane may be going too fast and coming in to high. The engine throttled back and the pilot nosed the plane down bringing it to an angle that made it appear as if the leading edges of the pontoons would dig into the water rather than skim along the surface. Judge tensed as the plane passed out of sight, lost behind a thicket of hardwood and pine trees growing on the small island, and then reemerged less than one-hundred feel in front of him. The nose of the plane had edged up making it look as if it might splash down rather than glide in.
The pilot again toggled the nose down and leveled the pontoons as the plane’s momentum faltered. The pontoons kissed the water hard and then floated again for an instant before the pilot dropped the throttle all the way back and the plane splashed into the water and skidded across the surface. The water grabbed hold of the pontoons slowing the plane to a mere puttering.
The propellers kept the plane gliding forward as the pilot used two small tillers on the back ends of each pontoon to steer toward a small dock jutting out at the end of a long wooden pier. The pilot cut the engine just before it reached the dock and he stepped from the plan onto a pontoon and then to the dock as it and the plane gently collided. As he tied the plane to a mooring cleat a woman stepped onto the long pier and two small children darted ahead of her toward the man at the end of the dock.
As Judge watched he felt a small tug at the end of his line that he instinctively knew was an eel. He thought of his father with a most profound sadness. He missed him deeply.