Kitefly In The Ointment
by P. S. Ehrlich
method of cooking butterbeans (according to The B-52's, currently at play on the
boombox) was to pick 'em! hull 'em! and put 'em on to steam! Or you could stick
your butterbean in a brand-new swimsuit and stretch it out on a cheap deck
chair, whose rubber ribbies would quickly melt onto the bean's back and thighs
as they all parboiled together under the August sun.
Well, at least your bean didn't have as
much butter on it as it used to. Thanks to three months of Richard Simmons
aerobicizing: shed those extra pounds! dance off that unwanted bulge-pudge till
you regain your True Bod in all its unimpeachable compactitude!
Till you dare to wear your first
as-God-is-your-witness bikini in three squabby years. Peer shortsightedly at the
reflected results-left profile, right profile, and over each shoulder to check
out the tush---
Ah, Such a Picture.
If you do say so your whuddababe self.
Figure reclaimed, eyes reignited,
strawberry-golden whomp regrown to its old exuberant abundance. All exactly as
it'd been then, again. You could hardly tell you'd ever altered shape --- or had
to alter back-by looking at Whuddababe in her latest lobster-red-indeedy bikini.
Chosen not only for its enhancing cuppage and essential rubescence, but to match
the shade your complexion would turn in two minutes flat if you didn't slather
on the Coppertone from hairline to toenail.
CRACK! went a wet towel just then,
causing you to leap and yelp and pirouette.
"So quit hoggin' the mirror!" said
RoBynne. "Make a little room there for me, why doncha?... oh m'Gahd. Next to you
I look like a foggin' giraffe."
"Yes I do! I knew I shouldn't've
got the leopardskin. Why didn't y'talk me out of it?"
Privately Skeeter thought it was the
rhinestone suspenders worn over the leopardskin that might be giving that
particular impression. Elongated, yes, but no way giraffelike; as anyone could
testify who'd spent as much time with RoBynne in a state of undress as Skeeter
had that afternoon.
It was so hot and
humid that afternoon, there was no way you could sunbathe without having a
hop-in hop-out drip-dry shower first. Skeeter'd assumed they would take turns
doing this, but Ms. O'Ring barged into her occupied bathtub wearing no more than
"Jeez, RoBynne! Don't you
"Whaddaya mean, 'don't I like
"Well, they sure like you..."
"Oh don't be such a 'fraidy space cadet.
Be like a woman of the world! Where I live, you gotta fight to keep clean."
(RoBynne shared a converted factory loft
on the waterfront with a bunch of like-minded nouvelle types-Danielle, Crispy
J., Muchacha, Wolfgang-and two-to-a-shower was considered de rigueur.)
"It's either that or risk running out."
"Of hot water?"
"Of *any* water, and you try shampooing
with Handi-Wipes. So y'gonna give somebody else a turn under that nozzle,
"Who're you calling 'Pee-Wee,'
you Q-Wu!-quit that shoving!"
that shoving? I'll show you some shoving---"
And they had a rowdy hoyden water fight
that brought down the shower rod, curtain and all. Which would have made a lot
better mess at RoBynne's loft than it did here at Skeeter's place in
Where they were now out in
such back yard as had survived the summer heatwave. Washed clean of stickum,
ready to work up a fresh honest sweat: Skeeter on the cheap deck chair, RoBynne
prone on a gaudy beach towel. And already wriggling (the big show-off) halfway
out of her suspenders and thong.
Skee. Where's yer peepers?"
"In my head,
behind my shades---"
"NO-ew! I mean,
don't you have any like VOYeurs around here?"
Skeeter squinted up at the triplex where
she and a couple of roomies occupied the ground floor. Most houses on this
lowlying street appeared to stand up extra straight, like raised eyebrows; but
Skeeter's triplex looked like it'd begun to slump.
"*I* haven't seen any."
RoBynne seemed disappointed. "TurGID.
Club Med this ain't."
rooty-toot-toot on a blue kazoo. It really did kind of suck that RoBynne had to
be so olivaceous to begin with; hardly any need to catch rays in the first
place. Much less for her to say, "Now yer hoggin' the *goop* --- others of us
can burn too, y'know."
"Oh right. Like
when have you ever gotten burned, Ro?"
Her guest caught the tossed lotion bottle, fed a Psychedelic Furs cassette into
the boombox, and slathered away to the tunes of Talk Talk Talk. Oh but she had
been burned, fer shure fer shure: at birth and for the first thirteen years of
her life as Robin Joan Goering, plain dull and boring.
"Yer always reading 'bout some foggin'
Playmate chick who when she was thirteen her front teeth stuck out further than
her titties, right? Well, that was me when *I* was thirteen. It wasn't only the
teeth 'n' tits, either --- I never had anything to say to anyone, or anything to
think, or to *feel* --- I just sat around by myself all the time and stared at
the floor. Boo hoo hoo."
happenstantial day she stumbled across Patti Smith's outré album *Horses* at an
otherwise respectable flea market. A listen or two later, and Robin Joan was
writing "rully bad punk poetry" in imitation thereof. Adopting the Blank
Generation attitude of Talking Heads and The Ramones, she became Robbin Shoplift
(alias Gloria Klepto) who wore lots of black on her gaunt body and lots of
mascara on her spectral face. Striking lots of sneaky-creepy poses with both:
*gimme gimme shock treatment, I wanna sniff some glue!*
At which unlikely point Pinocchio's
BoogaBloo Fairy saw fit to reward Gloria/Robbin for finding any kind of
personality, by causing her to blossom Modiglianiwise.
"What'd you do? Cross your fingers and
wish upon an implant?"
being like serious here! Listen --- this next part is so bitchen and it's all
*true* --- a couple years later I boost this Blondie album, *Parallel Lines*?
Debbie Harry was like my biggest idol and I'da done anything to be like her. So
I put on the 'phones and listen to her album over 'n' over all night long, and
the next day, when I wake up... I got it *all*: the face, the tits (real ones),
ass, legs, everything --- all at once, all outta nowhere. I kept staring at
myself, at like this stranger babe's bod, on *me* --- and I said, 'SHIT this is
Hence: RoBynne O'Ring, the
Blondie look (for awhile, till The Go-Go's came along) and multilayered oh-gee
Orgasms Galore. The latter largely stemming from groupiedom with various bands
on the local underground club circuit, most notably The Galoshes, who might've
made it big had their lead singer, Billy Caligula, not attempted suicide once
too often and been committed by his unadmiring parents.
"But before that he wrote like this whole
song about me, called 'Heartswipe,'" said RoBynne, snapping off the boombox and
clearing her throat. Then, in a pulsatory monotone:
* she's so
ready to be robbing *
* with her
red breasts ripe *
* she's a
stickyfingered baby *
* guess you
know she's my type *
unerring as a ringer *
* for a
thief in the night *
* that makes her my type *
* and now my heart's swiped *
a snatcher of affection *
* takes it
as she likes *
* she never
pays for her pleasure *
* no matter
what the price *
unerring when she pinches *
* and she
does it just right *
* that makes her my type *
* and now my heart's swiped *
wrote that quick as a squirt and riding a Harley, too --- *Gahd* what a poet he
was. I got a tape of 'em playing it at the Shih Tzu II Club. It was awesome,
they were rully rockin' to the max that night 'cause this dude from Slash
Records was supposed to be there. But if he was he didn't sign 'em. It got me
thinking, though, about the stuff I used to try 'n' write. So now I'm working on
"Called *Grunts of Passion*. Gonna make
me rich, but I won't let that change me. Be nice and I'll read it to you
sometime." She flipped the boombox back on. "Wish I'da brought the tape of 'em
playing my song. I would have, if I'da known I was gonna be spilling my entire
life story to you."
"Well, I'm glad you
did," Skeeter murmured, opening a cold Moosehead.
"(Aay I want one!) Well, I guess I hadda
tell you," said RoBynne. "I mean, yer like my very best friend." She took a swig
of brewski and let out an AWKKGGH of deep satisfaction.
Jeez thought Skeeter. Talk about your
"Heart of Glass." Or Plexiglas: airtight, watertight, almost fireproof. All that
from plain old Robin Joan in six short years, and getta loada her now!
Skeeter herself had been a kewpie doll at
age thirteen, and was one still. (Emphasis on the "still.") Exceedingly sobering
to think that RoBynne was only nineteen and believed oh-gee Orgasms Galore were
the ultimate It --- herpes or no herpes, AIDS or no AIDS. While Skeeter had
somehow hit twenty-four, with an uncle in Chicago dwindling down to become a
gurneybound ex-Buddy-Buzz, decades too soon.
So she was sadder but wiser as well as
older, all of which really did kind of suck. Take bed: the most exciting thing
that'd happened there lately had been when she'd moved to Wheeville. A couple of
commendable-butted young Mayflower men had carried Skeeter's mattress over the
triplex threshold with her perched atop, riding it like a magic carpet for five
whole minutes. Whoopee.
So light up a
Pall Mall, settle back on the rubber ribbies, and try to forget that you still
have no clue as to the Meaning of Life.
"Y'mean the Monty Python movie?"
"The Meaning of Life!" said Olivaceous
Oyl. "Ew, that was foggin' tuBEWlar! A classic! What was yer favorite part?"
RoBynne's had been the huge fat man who
ate so much he grossly exploded. Skeeter, after some thought, decided hers was
the prayer to God not to put His servants on the barbecue or stir-fry them in a
wok. (Or on a deck chair either. Amen.)
Cassette-changing time again: more music to saute by. Pretenders, Waitresses,
Eurythmics? No, the Stray Cats, calling to reluctant mind her own adoptee Mao,
who'd run away from Belinda's place while Skeeter was overseas ---not to search
for her, oh please, not to yowl pitiful reproach at locked doors and rainswept
windows on Corbel Terrace, but given ample welcome by some mildly-dotty widow
with a pantry full of Chicken of the Sea, oh please.
The more-likely alternative she'd think
(Always a day away.)
(And the same old thing as yesterday.)
The sun was setting now, right in her
eyes, and seen through Skeeter's wraparound shades it began to strobe and
whirligig --- to flashdance, in fact. "What a feeling!" "A girl's gotta keep
believing." How conveniently easy that would be if you too could weld by day and
BoogaBloo by night, and have a wealthy (yet handsome) steel-mill owner waiting
for you at The End with a bunch of goddam flowers.
Sweet dreams are made of this.
Other dreams are made of other
boyfriends, the ski-instructor-types who seem so cool but send your heart and
trust slaloming downhill time after time, till bewilderment sets in and you no
longer feel like a Certain Person but some dumbfounded deepseated dumpling.
So what was It All about, then? and what
did It All mean?
"Beats me," she said
"Ew kinky," responded RoBynne.
"So *there* you are," said a tallish wiry
woman, coming out the back door in an oyster-colored dress and contrary temper:
Skeeter's sister Sadie, looking more drawn than usual. "How the two of you can
lie around out here in this godawful heat, I can't imagine."
The sound of Sadie's voice caused the
basset hound next door to go owww-uhhh! owww-uhhh!, as might anyone suffering
feduppishness after dropping a ten-pup litter.
"I know just how she feels. What happened
to the shower curtain rod?"
lightning hit it," said Skeeter. "C'mon, Sadie, strip down and join us."
"You know I'll just burn. I just finished
peeling off my last burn."
Sadie didn't much like her either way;
but then she hadn't much liked anything since her daycare center had succumbed
to the recession. Pushing thirty now, anxious about the future, having to juggle
breadwinning with single parenthood and now this scheme to get back into art
school, Sadie could get stressed at the drop of a hat-very stressed, depending
on what kind of hat.
"What's that you're
drinking? Give me a bottle... God this is noxious! They ought to call it
"Toxic," RoBynne agreed.
"What've you done with Desi?"
"She's upstairs watching TV with Leland,"
said Skeeter. "They want to go see the puppies tonight."
"Oh God no, Desi'll fall in love with
them and raise holy hell if we don't buy one. At least. As if."
Nor would this be unprecedented. Recall
the koala candle scandal: "Mommmmy! He wants to go hoooome with me!"-and after a
Desirée filibuster, Sadie'd given in and bought the thing with cash earmarked
for that month's electric bill.
those puppies sell for a hundred bucks each. No way am I going to waste my
tuition money on something that craps in the yard."
Sadie was determined to get back to where
she once belonged, and complete the art degree she'd fallen short of when she
dropped out to have Desirée. Which was why she'd temporarily compromised herself
by taking a gopher position with Wilde & D'Annunzio, the scrap-your-scruples
ad agency; when what she wanted of course was a real job, something worthwhile
and fulfilling where you could do things, make things happen in the graphic
Lacking time or money to
waste, Sadie intended to be readmitted to her old art school at senior level,
with all her pre-Desi studio credits intact, plus those from her
less-than-complete last semester. "You'd think motherhood would be reason enough
to take a few years off!" was Sadie's stock argument. "Besides, I can't afford
to plough through retakes. Can you get off and come too?"
"Hunh? When?" said Skeeter.
"Tomorrow! Haven't you been listening? I
wrangled an appointment with the Dean tomorrow morning, and time off work to go
keep it. I need you to do the driving (I'll be too stressed) and lend moral
support. And look after Desi."
"Of course! What did you
think? I *have* skill; I *need* luck."
"Oh well --- it's my turn to call in sick on Friday anyway. Ro can tell 'em how
I got sunspot-stroke in spite of all the Coppertone."
Agreeable to this, but nettled at not
occupying the conversation's navel, RoBynne began talking artfully about a
Christo wannabe she knew who intended to "do" St. Mintred Bay in Lycra spandex.
Sadie, warming up a bit under the Moosehead influence, turned this into an
opportunity to orate on layout, her own favorite artsy topic: arranging
everything in the space allotted, getting it all positioned in terms of symbolic
insight, but never, never "organized"---
---which RoBynne countered with a boildown of the tempestuous relationships
being undergone by Ululu, the antiheroine of her smutnovel *Grunts of Passion*.
Clean Ululu sometimes got but never, never "sober," and the scoundrels she
tempested with seldom bothered taking her to bed but made do with chair or floor
or (in one particularly hardboiled case) left her draped bottoms-up over a
wetbar. Ululu was about to wreak a little vengeance on Particularly Hardboiled,
though RoBynne hadn't yet decided how---
---and here Sadie was able to make some suggestions, recalled from an
illustrated treatise she'd helped lay out on mid-Victorian murderesses. There
was Constance Kent who'd cut her half-brother's throat in the family privy, and
Maria Manning who'd made black satin unfashionable by wearing it to the gallows,
and Mercedes Benison who nearly squashed her little sister by plumping down on
the deck chair, heedless of its occupant-because this was It, kiddo, this was
Art, depicted with much gesticulation by Sadie's longfingered hands.
Not that any VOYeurs in the neighborhood
would be feasting a peeper on Sadie's pantomime, what with RoBynne O'Ring
causing all the brows in Wheeville to stand up extra straight by stretching and
bending and picking up her swimwear and, gradually, redonning it.
Sadie paid no attention to this. She was
elbow-deep in commentary on the importance of sequential visual imagery and the
need for what you might call "backing and forthing"---
"Aaay!" sniggered RoBynne, "don't forget
the need for whatchamacall 'inning and outing'---"
Mumbo and jumbo.
Listening to them joust for advantage,
each elongated and angular and full of vivid (even lurid) plans, Skeeter wanted
to ask what they really thought chances were of surviving on one's second
chances. She opened her mouth---
shut it again, miles away from the conversational navel.
The boombox tape ran out and nobody but
Skeeter took any notice. She turned it over, wondering what the hoo-hah she was
doing here, basketed again on her stepsister's doorstep. Not that Sadie minded;
it had been her idea, after all, when Skeeter'd run out of dough and returned
from New York looking around for a place to call home.
Jeez, hadn't she learned anything from
Life was not a coming full circle, but a
constant loop-the-loop reel-to-reel Slinky spiral you could never seem to get
out of or away from. Something like the figures on a Grecian urn: up and down
and around they go. Where they can stop, nobody knows --- least of all the small
fry, the pintsized, the downright goddam short. Shameful too, having to tread
water where it's shallow. And even after you find your footing you still loiter
near the shore, afraid to venture out into the deeps again, lest you and all
your shortcomings be pulled down under for the final third time.
So when Sadie'd invited, Skeeter'd
accepted, ending up here in Wheeville where nobody took any notice, not even her
nearest and dearest; and it made her feel about five years old....
All material in The Shadowshow is
copyrighted to the original authors and may not be reproduced without their
permission. Violators will be prosecuted. So there! :-p
Copyright © 2002 by P. S. Ehrlich