by P. S. Ehrlich
“So what do you think?”
“I wasn’t aware that the Army made
camouflage prom dresses.”
“This isn’t an Army prom dress,
you turk! It’s perfectly obviously a Marine Corps
original! I found it down on the waterfront, at Wretched
Wrefuse. We really need to take you and your bank
balance there sometime. They’ve got these really cool
bandoliers that were made to go with this dress and wouldn’t
clash with the spaghetti straps at all. Hey,
Saluting him, Skeeter executed a
Marine-clean ‘bout-face and nearly fell off her
higher-than-usual heels. Peyton, lunging forward, caught
her arm and yanked her back to the vertical.
“YEEK!” went Skeeter. “Darn
these heels, they nearly made me go splat. Good save
there, partner! We absolutely ought to go dancin’ after
the movie. Why haven’t we ever gone dancin’? You
never take me dancin’!”
“No—dancin’. There’s a
significant difference. Disco may be dead, but I
intend to keep Stayin’ Alive, thank you
kindly. And T G it’s F, after all.”
T G it’s quitting time on a Friday
afternoon in the grim grimy city of St. Mintred. At such
a time, the safest place for a vintage DeSoto to be is in the
parking structure atop Widdershins Hill. So Skeeter and
Peyton left the car there and hiked down the Hill on
precarious foot—a descent not made any less hazardous by
Skeeter’s intermittent attempts at dancin’.
Not that level ground was any bowl of
cherries either, down around Pabst Street: home to the
dilapidated, the ramshackle, the fossilized. Where names
of 19th Century proprietors were still faintly visible high up
the sides of buildings, above (or between) the spray paint of
Cars inched along Pabst toward freeway
onramps, to join the factory workers streaming out of Prithee
Motors, Importune Transport, Point Beseechment Shipping,
Cadger Cargo Delivery, and Panhandle-Grattiss Aerospace.
TGIF was nowhere in the atmosphere—displaced, perhaps, by the
sour metallic whiff known as “St. Minnie’s Bouquet,” that
intensifies throughout the week and is especially foul during
Friday rush hour. The drivers got to inhale it (along
with a hundred unfiltered Marlboros) while they idled at
stoplights, hurling honkish remarks at each other and
passers-by. A bile-green Subaru blocked one
intersection; from its occupant came a whistle as Skeeter went
“Ahoy there!” she waved at the Subaru,
smirking at Peyton. “Did you hear that?
Aren’t you going to run after him and challenge the
guy to a duel?”
“Maybe after the picture, before we go
Then a piercing shriek tore through
the Bouquet, followed by a prolonged howl from further down
Peyton lunged forward again, only to
find Skeeter (the shrieker) already in the arms of another
(the howler). Who emerged from the embrace to reveal a
lofty olivaceous girl in Ray-Bans, tinfoil haltertop, plaid
Bermuda shorts, and stiletto-pointed footwear such as a James
Bond villainess might use to bedevil 007.
“When’d you get back?!” Skeeter was
“Like about three this morning—too
pooped to call ya,” said the prolonged howler. “I only
got up just now, so’s I could like go over to Turbo’s ‘n’ get
my ‘do made over. Whaddaya think?”
To Peyton, the ‘do resembled a Toni
home permanent sent through a wind tunnel after a burgundy
streak job, with one side draped over the other and held in
place by an enormous feathered roach clip; but Skeeter
“So how was the trip?” she wanted to
“Aay y’know—love ‘em ‘n’ dump
It seemed that the howler and one of
her loftmates (Crispy J.? no, Muchacha) had planned to
motorcycle clear around the Gulf of Mexico to Club Med in
Cancún; but got no further than the Rio Grande.
“Like I dunno where exactly we
ended up, but ‘Chacha’s still down there, I guess—”
“You left her there?”
“To get the bike fixed! Anyway
she’s got like these cousins or uncles in Matamoros or,
y’know, someplace like that.”
“So how’d you get home?”
“Hitched! It was toTALly
awesome, Skee, I did it topless a lotta the way—went through
like six cases o’ sungoop, ‘n’ had those foggin’ truckers
eating outta my hand. Aay, I almost forgot!—I boosted ya
some awesome bracelets, they’re back at the loft—I think they
might be rully bronze.”
“You robbed some poor Mexican
“Hell no!—got ‘em outta
Neiman-Marcus. Y’need to use like finesse in a
store like that—”
“HarrumMPH,” went Peyton.
The howler slid her shades down a long
narrow snoot to inspect him through eyes adorned by a
quarter-pound of purple makeup. They were very young
eyes but immediately recognizable as belonging to a tough
chick, an urban girl, the kind Peyton had first
marveled at on inner-city road trips: eyes that looked
coolly knowing, sharply appraising, insolently challenging,
and provocative beyond the dreams of mortal man.
The tough chick eyes widened; the
urban girl mouth opened.
“Oh m’Gahd, is this him?
He’s so BAWLD!”
Skeeter, beaming elatedly:
“Peyton Derente, meet my friend RoBynne O’Ring.”
“Like ¡buenas tardes!” said
RoBynne, extending a hand festooned with gewgaws on fingers
and wrist. Before Peyton could clasp it, she reached up
to run it over his scalp (“Y’gotta excuse my doing this”) and
then moved very close, treating him to a heady teenage
compound of Giorgio, Aquanet, Tropical Blend tanning oil, and
Bazooka bubble gum.
“Yer like taller than I thought,
y’know? Whatcha doing with Li’l Bit here? Tall
dudes need tall women—”
“Hey! Who are you referring to
as a ‘bit,’ Miss Turketta?”
“WAUGH!!” went RoBynne, prolongedly,
as Skeeter used both hands to pinch plaid Bermuda
patootie. “Aaaayyyy, I was just fooling arowwwwnd!”
“So I saw.”
“And I just got back ‘n’ had my hair
done ‘n’ everything!”
“So consider that your
RoBynne, pouting and massaging her
rump, stumbled over Skeeter’s poke lying unattended on the
gritty dusty sidewalk. “Aay! Now yer trying
to tweak my neck, are ya?”
“I didn’t ask you to trip over my poke
with those dominatrix booties of yours!”
“No, and y’weren’t paying any
attention to this ‘poke’ thing o’ yers! Oh
m’Gahd, whaddaya GOT in this thing? It weighs like a
“Well I guess you’d know
what a cow weighs like—”
“Shaddup, I’m being like serious
here! These’re like mean streets, y’can’t be leaving yer
stuff wherever y’feel like—even if it would give a
purse-snatching dude a hernia!” To Peyton:
“Y’gotta keep yer eye out for this one every minute, else she
gets into all sortsa kindsa trouble!”
“Thank you, Mommy,” said
Skeeter, as RoBynne rehung the poke over her shoulder with
many scolding tuts and clucks. (RoBynne herself carried
a purse no bigger than a sandwich baggie, attached to what
appeared to be a strand of dental floss.)
“So whatcha two doing around here
anyway? Looks like yer dressed to go dancin’.”
“Maybe after the movie—hey Ro, c’mon
with us, we’re going to the Rialto! You know, the one
that’s closing tonight.”
“Closing! The Rialto?
Y’mean like for always? No way!”
St. Mintred’s Rialto Theater was not
some common fleapit but a downtown picture palace where three
generations of friends-and-relations would go to behold
Hollywood extravagance. Offering both a Wurlitzer and a
five-piece orchestra in silent days, providing lavish
intermissions in a lobby decked with gilt mirrors and crystal
chandeliers, the Rialto had enjoyed nothing but the best for
half a century. Recent years, however, had seen nothing
more than tits ‘n’ laffs of the Porky’s ilk.
Where once The Sound of Music had played, the likes of
Screwballs now held sway.
Though not after tonight.
Preservationists were intent on preventing the Rialto’s
demolition; its exterior was a prime example of what Peyton
called “Renaissance Revival, or terra cotta a-go-go”—façades
encrusted with all manner of cartouches and filigrees,
pilasters and architraves and caryatids with arms
outflung. But even if the landmark folk could save it
from the wrecking ball, the Rialto might never be more than an
ornate ghost looming over the corner of 5th and Pabst—a
baroque derelict, like so much else in St. Mintred.
For its last picture show, a final
vulgarity appeared to be on the marquee:
“Risky Business!” squawked
RoBynne. “But we seen this already, like twice.”
“Hey!” said Skeeter, “you can’t get
too much of that Tom Cruise kid dancin’ in his jockeys.”
“Oh yeah! (heh heh)—” snortled Ms.
So Peyton forked over for three
tickets instead of two.
Inside, the girls went bopping off to
check out the Ladies and find even the toilet paper dispensers
on the verge of shutdown: nothing available but single-ply,
and that only one square at a time.
The famous Rialto lobby was already
partly dismantled, though some of this was masked by blownup
photos of the theater in its heyday, or stills from movies
celebrated in bygone times. Beside a classic shot of W.
C. Fields, they found Peyton chatting with an elderly man in a
“You shouldn’t’ve had to pay your way
in, Mr. Peyton. I want you to be my guest.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Lombardi; it’s matinee
“That’s so. That’s so. No
more than it should be for such a picture—boys turning their
family home into a bordello, while their parents are out of
town! You got to wonder what sort of people make films
“Fiends in human form, Mr.
“I’d say you’re right, Mr.
Peyton. Yes, I’d say you’re right. Even so, I’m
sorry you can’t stay for the 10:15 show, I’ve planned a little
ceremony… but I know you’re busy. You’re busy. At
least allow me to offer you refreshments. Whatever you
like, on the house—and your young friends too, of course,” he
added as the girls joined them.
“You don’t know the extent of your
generosity, Mr. Lombardi,” said Peyton.
“Eh! I’ve got no use for it
after tonight. You’ll be doing me a kindness,” said Mr.
Lombardi. His rheumy eyes glanced from haltertop to
spaghetti straps. “It’s good to see you being like your
old self again, Mr. Peyton. Try to enjoy the
“What a nice old man,” said
Skeeter. “Whatever we like, on the house—that means we
can go sit in the balcony, right?”
“I think the balcony’s closed—”
“So we’ll have it all to
ourselves!—you, ‘your old self again,’ and the two of
us! I’ll run up and grab three or four seats in the
front row—you people bring the food—remember all my
favorites—and that it’s all free!—get extra of
ZAP, FLASH, and Skeeter was gone.
“Ain’t she cute,” said RoBynne
“She is,” said Peyton, severely.
“Aay, I mean it! I love Skeeter,
she’s like my very best friend! But y’notice
she’s left us to do all the foggin’ lugwork.”
Which she had. RoBynne
graciously offered to share packmule duties, loading Peyton
with a vast array of semi-stale edibles and volunteering to
carry all the beverages.
“Three drinks’re like nothin’—I was a
carhop one summer at the Retro Rocket Drive-in, y’know like on
roller skates? So for me just three’s way easy.
Peyton looked and saw her cradling a
root beer, Sprite, and strawberry slushee in the crook of one
arm, with the other outflung caryatid-style. Posing in
front of a blownup still of Louise Brooks looking exquisitely
As did RoBynne.
As felt Peyton, tearing his
eyes away from beguilement and taking care to precede her up
the sweeping marble staircase beyond the Balcony Closed
“Ew, I like those, they’re
“What are?” asked Peyton, nearly
spilling his vast array when RoBynne slid a hand into the back
pocket of his oversized yellow slacks.
“Bananarama! Such a gnarly
He glared down at her. “I don’t
keep my wallet there, if that’s what you’re looking for—”
“Guess yer just glad to see me then,”
she snortled urbanely.
And indeed Priapus, that most
Pavlovian of gods, was going Hello-o-o, Hepzibah! as
they entered the Rialto balcony. Which, though even less
intact than the lobby, still seemed able to withstand
Skeeter’s bouncing around the front row.
“What’d I tell you?” she hollered at
them. “All to ourselves! Why, we could get up to
just about anything up here, couldn’t we? Drinks are on
you two! So what took you so long? Hey is this
all you could carry? Should you go back for
“Y’know what we call jockstraps where
I come from?” RoBynne asked Peyton, loudly.
“…I haven’t the foggiest—”
“Where do you come from?” asked
Skeeter, playing stooge.
“Oh, ‘bout six blocks thataway—”
(Shriek/howl of laughter.)
So: front row center.
Taking a once-plush velvet seat and using a heavy vat of
popcorn to subdue Mr. Priapus, Peyton handed out the rest of
the edibles and accepted his root beer from RoBynne. She
took the seat to his left, swinging her long sleek legs onto
the balcony rail; while Skeeter, settling into the seat to
Peyton’s right, grabbed her Sprite and asked, “How’d you get
started talking about jockstraps? Or do I not want to
“Aay, one thing like leads to
“Oh, it does, hunh?”
“Yeah—like, I got the perfect
topping for that popcorn!”
She reached into her sandwich-baggie,
brought out a can of Hershey’s syrup, and removed its plastic
“Here, Peyton, lemme show ya… popcorn
tastes so good dunked in chocolate… lots
better’n caramel…—mmmmmmm—oh, like, I am so SHUwure,
Skeeter! Whyncha have ‘em shine a foggin’ spotlight on
Peyton turned in some alarm and found
that Skeeter, rearing up to stretch her own little legs to the
railing, had extended her lower torso well past the point of
“Y’know,” RoBynne mused, “I hear they
like invented other color underpants—”
“—besides candy-apple red—”
“—shut up! Nothing neither of
you haven’t admired before,” said Skeeter, rearranging her
(Another snortle from Ms. O’Ring.)
“Hey! You’re just jealous ‘cause
I have an ass!”
“I have an ass!! I
do SO have an ass!!! Whaddaya think you were
pinching just now?!”
“Well it was so flat and
skinny and fleshless, I couldn’t be sure—”
RoBynne leaned across and started
swatting her with the syrup can, till Peyton let it be known
that he would brook no more of this nonsense.
“Okay, I apologize,” said
Skeeter. “You DO so have an ass. Peyton, say
something nice about RoBynne’s bottom.”
RoBynne promptly laid her Aquanetty
head on his shoulder. “Yeah, please! If a
man says it, I’ll believe it. I was, like, a
rully late bloomer, ‘n’ I’m still kinda sensitive—”
“Course you are, the way I pinch
heinies,” said Skeeter.
To forestall further swattage, Peyton
gallantly observed that RoBynne had bloomed very fully; for
which she planted a Bazooka-flavored peck on his cheek as the
house lights dimmed.
“Hey, I heard that! Just keep
your lips to yourself, Turketta!”
“Aay, like, share ‘n’ share alike,
“The film’s starting,” Peyton
The dream is always the
He had grown accustomed to Skeeter’s
moviewatching commentaries, but now got one in stereo:
both girls a-gurgle over babyfaced Joel, cooing that he could
join them in the shower and scrub their backs
whenever he wanted.
Whisper from the left: “Did
Tweeter over there ever tell ya ‘bout the time me ‘n’ her took
a shower together?… ‘n’ got so into it, y’know, pushing ‘n’
shoving, that we had this rully bitchen water fight?… ‘n’
yanked down the shower rod ‘n’ curtain ‘n’ everything?…”
From the right: “What’s all that
From the screen: “Old Time Rock
From the left: “(Heh heh)—I was
just saying that dancin’ with no pants on’s the only
way to dance.”
From the right: no reply.
For the center: disquiet then,
The girls continued to dip into the
popcorn vat, dunk into the syrup can, and occasionally feed
him a chocolate-coated kernel. But they did this without
squabbling, even taking turns to feed Peyton, so that he was
soon able to unbend (despite the sharpnailed fingers in his
mouth) and pay more attention to the movie.
And its continuity: Why would
Joel leave the beautiful call-girl Lana alone in his house
while he went to the bank to cash the bond to get the $300 to
pay for his night of unbridled carnality—other than to
give Lana the opportunity to swipe Joel’s mother’s Steuben
glass egg and so set the rest of the storyline in motion?
No matter; suspend that
disbelief. Let’s pretend that young Joel might actually
progress from being chased by Guido the Killer Pimp to
“dealing in human fulfillment” on the home-bordello level, to
“making love on a real train” (who was Joel to say no?) to the
electrodynamic sounds of Tangerine Dream.
Time of your life, hunh
Yes; no; maybe.
As the train flashes to and fro, and
Lana undergoes strobe-lit orgasms onscreen, blooming very
fully as she blends Skeeter’s angelic blue-eyed blonditude
with RoBynne’s coolly calculating urbanity to form a
composite, an amalgam, a condition in the air tonight…
It’s good to see you being like
your old self again…
…and you have the balcony to
yourselves, and what better way to memorialize the Rialto than
to share and share alike, turn and turn about, playing that
most diverting of party games: Two Girls for Every
(Joel comes home, whistling fatuously,
to find the place denuded.)
(They stole the goddam house!
They took everything!)
(Took a shower together ‘n’ got so
(Nothing neither of you haven’t
—there’s a crack in my egg—
(Let my love open the Box…)
Till, at last, all is darkness and
And do you know the last line?
Yes, you know the last line:
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head!