Thursday, December 26, 2013

Gazed In Wide Wonder

There’s a break in the cornfields off highway 57 that is filled with pre-fab apartments, car dealerships, and run down strip malls.  Five lanes of traffic chaotically battle in a race with no finish line.  Potholed streets lined with weeds lead to a myriad of driveways where cars anchor in a sea of asphalt.  Just shy of a half-mile from the freeway is the grandest of these driveways flowing into a vast, grey landscape in front of a low-slung cinderblock mall.  There are countless flower pots scattered near the main entrance, which is a large white stucco structure with a sizeable Frank Lloyd Wright inspired decoration above the doors.  As you enter, there is a jewelry store and a candy shop.  Continue to the right until you find the electronic store where I’m standing in the window.

I’m reorganizing the cell phone display, again, per instructions from headquarters.  The store is a cluttered cavern of diodes, adapters, and transistors in stark contrast to the other sleek, white retailers.  The store manager watches porn on his tablet as he runs reports and gets his marching orders from corporate; the same faceless entity that tells me to rearrange the shelves.  Rows and rows, columns and columns of cheap products with high margins.  Low-quality plastic molded into every shape and color.  A variety of brands all manufactured at the same sweatshop.

On the other side of the window is a young woman.  Her face is pressed against the glass and she’s dressed in black.  She waves at me excitedly.  It’s Anabelle and she runs in to give me a hug.  I feign a smile as I stand surrounded by merchandise waiting to be shelved.  I’m silent as she babbles about everything at once.  She always looks up and to her left, avoiding eye contact, when she talks. My hands are in the pockets of my boring uniform khakis and I glance toward the ground.  I’m engulfed in plastic goods destined for the landfill in the near future.

“Whatcha doin’ workin’ here?  I’d think ya’d hate bein’ inna place like this,” Anabelle states while looking around like she’s hoping to find an answer somewhere.

“Well, I gotta pay da bills somehow, right?”  Anabelle just stares at me as I lightly tap a charger with my foot.

“Yer not payin’ any bills with this job.  Do ya even make eight an hour?  Hmm?  Didn’t think so.  Yer comin’ with me ta get lunch: my treat.  ‘Nd leave that ugly shirt here.”  She skips to the food court as I toss the polo shirt onto the pile of junk and follow her.  We grab a couple slices from a stand - a red neon bordello of grease.  Spoiled fat kids gluttonously cram pizza into their sauce-covered mouths.

“Where da hell are we?” Anabelle asks.  Strange question since I followed her here.

“Uh…  Da mall.” I reply sounding a bit confused.

“I know that.  I mean, is there anythin’ here that’s unique ‘nd tells ya what city we’re in?  Or that we’re even in da Midwest?”  It just seems like a normal mall to me.

“Umm…  Whatcha lookin’ fer?”  I’m still trying to figure out the question.

“This looks like every damn mall I’ve ever been ta.  It could be New York or Mississippi.  Or it could be Georgia or California.  If ya were blindfolded ‘nd brought only ta malls ‘cross ‘merica, I bet ya never be able ta tell where ya were.  Do ya see anythin’ ya’d only find in this miserable town?”  I see chain stores in beige boxes.  There are elderly people slowly passing fake plants.  The same teenagers you see everywhere stand around a kiosk pimping sunglasses.  But, I can’t find anything to indicate my specific location on mother earth. 

“Hmm…” I think for a bit, “I never noticed that before.  We really could be anywhere right now.”

“Or nowhere,” she retorts as she dumps a tray of garbage.  We wonder down the sterile corridors passing shops tended by bored adolescents on smartphones.  Every square inch of sales floor is intensely lit.  A group from a nursing home speed by on power scooters.  There’s an occasional uncomfortable bench in the middle of the hallway.  We are stuck behind people walking so slowly that we barely move.  We are impatient to get around them even though we have no place to go.

Anabelle grabs my arm suddenly and stops.  I look to see what’s wrong.  Staring intently toward the atrium, she blurts out, “Oh.  My.  God!  We gotta see what’s goin’ on over there!”  In front of the boxy fountain that looks like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, are two middle-aged men in Hawaiian shirts.  The skinny guy is jamming on his acoustic as if he is Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.  The large gentleman pounds on his keyboard and emotionally serenades a Kenny Loggin’s song or something.  Everyone walks by as if we are the only people who can see them.

Anabelle starts dancing when they play Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock.  She’s probably the first person to gyrate her hips in this uptight suburb.  Unsuccessfully, Anabelle invites me to dance with her.  She dances as if everybody is looking at her and they are.  The song ends and Anabelle runs up to the smiling musicians.  There’s some discussion, flirting, and somehow she ends up with their microphone.

“I’M DA SEXY SPIRIT OF DA CLEARANCE RACK!” Anabelle bellows followed by laughter and a bluesy beat on bass.  The collar on her worn leather coat is flipped and her black jeans look like they commute regularly to hell and back.  I watch the shoppers as they gather at the developing spectacle.  What is she thinking?  Proving she doesn’t care what anyone thinks, her raspy little voice begins to wale:

“On da day I was born
Da nurses gathered 'round
‘Nd they gazed in wide wonder
At da joy they had found
Da head nurse spoke up
Said ‘leave this one ‘lone’
She could tell right ‘way
That I was bad ta da bone”

Anabelle fell to her knees and was gradually working into a rage.  Her voice becoming louder and more graveled.  “’Nd when I walk da streets, kings ‘nd queens step aside!”  The mall’s complete attention is on Anabelle as she crashes onto her back.  “B-B-B Bad!  Bad ta da bone!”  She winds-up motionless on the dingy white tile to a smattering of surprised applause.  George Thorogood’s soul was in that mall courtyard. 

Anabelle raises her hand and I walk over to pull her off the ground.  She gives the mic to the keyboardist, “Thanks guys.  That was a lotta fun.  See ya!”

“Nice singin’,” I tease.  “What made ya do that?”

“Aww, thanks.  Just thought one interestin’ thing had ta happen here today.  Let’s get outta here.”

“Didja do whatcha came out here fer?”  I never asked her why she was at the mall in the first place.  Anabelle usually makes all her purchases as garage sales, consignment shops, and thrift stores.

“Nah, but I did somethin’ better.”  I’ll accept that answer and head for the exit.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

For Mr. Spector

By Elizabeth Dunphey

You have the most gorgeous voice I have ever heard, this man told me once, as he was walking up the steps of his apartment, groceries in hand.

His name was Jason Kerrigan, music lawyer. 

It was 1978, and I was standing outside my stoop with three or four of my seventeen year old friends, humming a few chords from Neil Young’s  “Lotta Love.”   It was an atypical choice.  My stunning raven haired Spanish friends all liked disco.

 But to hear this smooth and easy pop 1970’s number off my bee stung lips shocked Jason.  I was his girl. 

I often played a Motown song in my room, and fervently dreamed of meeting Phil Spector on a big break.  Phil Spector liked classy types.

The first girl was Ronnie, and the second girl was Lana.  The two poles of light and dark.  Lana Clarkson was the blonde.  That came later, in the 90’s though. That vibrant, posh looking, honey hair, the bright blue eyes and perfect teeth.  Miss America, basically.   

As for Ronnie Spector?  She was pure East Coast: just listen to “Be My Baby.”  She wore this thick jet mascara and her dark hair, Cherokee in origin, rippled down her back.   I loved her coolness. 

Ron loved Phil.  Her boy genius, with his glasses and studio.  And Phil loved her, deeply, maybe because of her voice, or her beauty, but he did, in a way that only pain could express at the end.
Back to 1978, Harlem.

Jason Kerrigan was half besotted when he asked my name.

“Bianca, huh?”  He wiped his eyeglasses. I noticed his eyes at once. Brown eyes.  I liked them.  “Like Bianca Jagger?”

“I wish!” I cooed.  “I’m just plain old Bianca Marcella, from Spanish Harlem.”

“You’re prettier.  How old are you?”


Then I turned on my booted heels and ran away.  I just ran.  I fled from the feelings I could feel at once for him.  Despite his paunch, the glasses, the hair a touch salt n’ pepper.  I felt something.  And that mattered.

Maybe I’ll give you a contract!  Jason cried cheerfully to my receding figure.  The spring light glowed amber over the skyscrapers.

Right. I’ve got community dance tomorrow!  I shouted calmly back, running to my home, next door.

So, this community dance.  
This is how I got ready for the prom held in a hotel in midtown: hours.

I took a hot iron and flattened waves of my ebony hair to my hips.   It was silk.  Then I slipped on a green faux Halston, and under that Diane Ross style lingerie, straight out of Mahogany.  I hoped they played the Bee Gees that night.  And SOS Band.  Andrea True Love.  And maybe even a few folky choices, like Todd Rundgren.  I doubted that though.

As for the boy who took me, he was nobody and I felt nothing.  He was doing his duty.
Iago, I hissed.  We stood on the 6 train subway, and I leaned against his shoulder. He loved me a bit more, than I liked him.   In the car, I could see a reflection of us and our youthful Latin perfection.  Iago Lucio in a beige suit with a red bow tie.  And my slithery green dress with an orange yellow flower in my lush raven hair.
Later that night, after the dancing, the friends, the drinks, and the platonic kiss on the cheek, I raced home to her apartment to tell Jason.

Jason was waiting outside on the stoop. Waiting for me.  Waiting for us.

It was 11:00 pm at night.  I supposed he wanted to see my filmy beautiful prom dress.  He was dressed very 1970’S sleazy lawyer, in a silky disco button down blue shirt and amber cordoroys.  No eye glasses.
“Hey you” I crowed, spinning in a circle before him.  “Take a look!”

I was blushing.

“Say, Bianca, would you care to join me for a cocktail in Westchester.  I have a home there.  Well, Diane does.”

“Sure,” I gulped, not thinking, putting my house key back in my jean purse.

“Mind if I wear this dress?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Jason  brought me back to Westchester, to his wife's pad.  They were always, always  fighting.  She was like ice to me though, on the occasions I had seen her.  Be it stress or gene pool, she had matured.

The place was a mansion actually, and the scent of that frosty WASPiness permeated everywhere.  From pictures, the lady -- Diane Brett -- was a rich English woman, and quite good looking, in that cold way.

Drink bourbon, he sighed.  You must.  Do it!

He played some songs on his piano all throughout the balmy spring night.  I let the strap of my green gown slip.  My dusky olive skin exposed at the shoulder, and he clearly noticed. It was an arresting difference in skin tone and I felt hot with the love Ronnie Spector had for Phil.  This moment was mine.

Halston, he said.  I recognize that from Diane’s closet.

And I smiled, saucy:

It's a fake Halston.

Oh, for you, my darling, only the best.  Perhaps, more to drink?

Stop plying me! I winced.

Sorry. He shrugged and said: I hate to seem so creepy older man.

We kissed in the light of a dim song by the Stones, and I rested my black maned head in his lap. I felt his love for me.  And I felt so in love with the moment I could die.  On his wooden wall was a poster of a model, with wavy blonde hair. 

Who’s that?

My first wife, Ali.  She was a model.  Midwestern girl.  Making a name for herself now.

It was nearly the 80's, when that look would rule and end the regime of Son of Sam stalked brunettes on the street.  The ethnic De Niro movies would die.  The street would simply fade.  It would end, all like this sultry warm night in June.

Goodbye, honey, he said to me, reaching to push back my damp hair.  I guess I’d like to take you home -- but I’m a bit drunk.

I tried not to look sad.
I can do it, I told him.  

I boarded the train from Westchester.  It was mostly isolated with a homeless lush on board.  I stood up firmly, when the spot hit the right destination.  Nobody was gonna mess with me.  My mascara was running.  I would have something to tell the girls.  I, the prettiest girl in the hood, had scored.

And yet I had to keep mute.

Walking against the blaze of skyscraper lights, I hummed the last tunes to Neil Young, and knew this was part of some electrifying memory, in the constellation of my life, one night at a time, somehow forever.

Elizabeth has modeled, written stories forever, and loves winter.  Read more of her in the Eunioa Review and Milk.

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