Jackie Simmer sat at her desk, trying to poke loopholes in a contract for the Great Falls Children’s Theater. But she felt an ill-defined, alien presence trying to work its way through her blinders. It started out as the steady whirr-click of the copier in the next room, but now had been joined by an oldies radio station and some kind of percussion section. She gave up on her contract and went to investigate.
She found Scootie rambling around the copy room with a pair of ball-point pens, striking various inanimate objects to the rhythm of the copier. He failed to notice Jackie until the copier clicked off at 99.
“Scootie, what the hell’re you doin’?”
“An incredible bit of chance,” said Scootie, not the least embarrassed. “You know that rhythm the copier falls into, sort of a 6/8? Well, this old Eagles song came on the radio, and the beat lined up perfectly with the click of the copier, and stayed there for forty copies! The song was 4/4, so the copier was pulling the equivalent of triplets out of a duple meter. Can you imagine?”
“Yes, Scootie,” she deadpanned. “I know exactly what you’re talkin’ about. Speakin’ of entertainment, are we on for theater tonight?”
“Sure. And dinner beforehand. My treat.”
“Oh-ho! Someone do well on his annual report?”
“Yes,” said Scootie. “But that’s not the reason.”
“Because you’re a good friend. And you deserve a free dinner.”
“Reason enough,” said Jackie, and smiled.
“Mother! What’s the deal with all the faxes?”
“Sorry, dear. I’m trying out a new model. How’d they turn out?”
“Well, fine, but now I’ve got twelve sheets of useless paper on my floor.”
“So let me take you to the opera tonight.”
“Lucia di Lammermoor. At West Bay.”
“I’d love to! I haven’t seen an opera in months.”
“No other plans tonight?”
“No, no. Scott’s rounding out a proposal with his VPs.”
“Is he being a bad boy again?”
“No. Actually he’s been here the past five evenings.”
“That’s wonderful, Jewel! I knew Scott would come through. Why don’t you pick me up at six and I’ll take you to dinner?”
“Oh, and honey? Could you send me a fax? I want to see how this puppy receives.”
“Yes, Mother. Bye.” Juliana hung up, picked up the New York Times crossword puzzle, and sent it through.
“Scootie! This place is so cute.” It was a tiny cafe in Monterey, La Collonodia, a blend of Mexican architecture and Italian cuisine. They sat at a window with iron S-curve gratings, gazing over the cherry-light tourist traps of Cannery Row.
“And here’s the best part,” said Scootie. He reached for a clay box next to his silverware.
“Crayons!” said Jackie.
“What do you think?” Scootie reached for the red and swiped it across the tablecloth.
“Scootie! What’re you...?” Jackie felt the tablecloth and realized it was a actually a kind of textured paper. “Gee. Ya got purple?”
Scootie made an arrow toward his stomach and wrote “Insert Food Here.” Jackie piled up irregular triangles of lavender. Then Scootie started a chance poem, beginning with the phrase “immaculate corndog,” which emanated from the next table. “So,” he said. “How’s Tex?”
“Rex,” Jackie scolded. “Tex is Rex’s brother.”
“And Rex is just fine. He’s been back from Montana three weeks now, and I been spendin’ my weekends with him and pappy in Salinas. Sweet old man, name of Roy, very sick but a will of iron. But Rex, oh... Scootie, it’s like some kind of dream with that man. Last Saturday, he took me out on the back forty for a campout. It was so warm we just laid our sleeping bags out in the open, and we had a big ol’ campfire goin’, and you could hear some cows lowin’ over the hills. And then we went on this trail, pitch dark, just a sliver of moon, and he pointed out all the constellations. He knows about fifty of ‘em. Not to jinx myself, Scootie, but after years of saddle bars and urban cowsluts, I just mighta found the real deal.”
Scootie smiled. “Don’t think we’re going to let you run off to Montana, young lady. We’ll chain you to your desk.”
“The way this Swan thing is goin’, they might not want me around anymore.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“But the ticket sales are so slow.”
“Remember that seminar I went to in Berkeley? Whole roomful of PR flacks, and every one of them said they had trouble with slow sales for benefits. You just have to wait them out.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Jackie. “But watch yer butt. These goddamn trustees are all very happy to take responsibility – until things go down the shitter. Then they’ll be scarce as live possums on the interstate.”
The waiter arrived with their coffees, plus a ceramic cow, the kind that dispenses cream through a hole in its mouth.
“Oh!” said Jackie. “Watch me make a little coffee nebula.” She stirred her coffee to a whirlpool pace, then tried to pour in an even flow of cream. But she tipped the cow too fast, and it splashed over, ruining the effect. Jackie set it down and studied the spillage.
“The problem is,” she said, “this cow does not vomit correctly.”
“Jackie! That’s genius!” said Scootie, and started scribbling.
“Mother. This soprano. What an ungodly pure tone.”
“Good actress, too. Let’s sit over here.” She settled on a circular bench surrounding a spread of white roses. Juliana studied the theater’s facade, adorned with small iron balconies and decorative tiles.
“I haven’t been here in so long,” she said.
“Not since ‘Philadelphia Story,’” said Margaret. “You did a better Hepburn than Hepburn.”
“Nevah,” said Juliana, in character. “I simply shan’t be compared to my heroine.”
Margaret was distracted, digging through her purse. She let out a gasp of dicsovery and extracted a small leather notebook, then flipped through the pages and handed Juliana a ragged piece of paper.
“The program! Mother, how sweet of you. God, has it been fifteen years?”
“I keep it there as a good luck charm. You see, daughter, no one in the history of your family tree has ever displayed a gram of performing talent. And then you came along and – Shazam! I suspect you’re not even ours. I think you hatched from an egg. And then it was Bam! off to college, and right when you got back Whammo! Scott Kross, descending from the heavens to take you away. But for this... one... performance” - she tapped a finger on the program - “I was the world’s proudest stage mother.”
“Oh, Mother, pish-posh – or whatever it is we rich people are supposed to say. Being your daughter will always be my starring role.”
“Jewel, you always know what to say.” She tapped her plastic champagne glass to hers and laughed at the lack of sound. “So. How is the handsome stud?”
“Quite reformed. I have to give him credit. He’s been awfully sweet. He took me out for dinner and dancing in The City last weekend, and every day since he’s brought me some small memento. Yesterday it was pralines from New Orleans, personally delivered by his finance officer. It’s almost as if he’s... courting me.”
“Yes. But I can still find faults.”
Margaret chuckled. “That’s marriage all around. So what is it?”
Juliana stretched her swan’s neck and ran a hand over her hair.
“Control. These sweet little scenes only happen when Scott initiates them. I’d like a chance to be the aggressor.”
Margaret let out a staccato laugh. “Welcome to the fifties, sweetie. That’s all we had back then. Even later, when I took over the company. Everybody thought I was some radical feminist. Hell, I just wanted to keep doing what I enjoyed doing.”
“You’re the pioneer, Mother. Oh, I don’t know what I’m complaining about, anyway. I get to throw my weight around at Fetzle, and after the Junior League visited that homeless shelter last week, I ought to be ashamed of myself for complaining about anything at all. On the outside of things, Scott and I have the most glorious marriage I know.”
“Uh-oh, there go the lights. We’d best get back in. But tell me, Jewel, have you found anyone to flirt with?”
Juliana rose from the bench and threw her coat around her shoulders. “Really, Mother, I don’t know why you want to corrupt me. You know what happens to flirtatious women in the opera. They end up stabbing their husbands, going mad and then committing suicide.”
“Yes, Jewel. But they do it with such style.”
Juliana tossed her empty glass into a trash can. “And anyway, I do have someone to flirt with.”
“Yes. And I won’t tell you one thing further.”
“Daughter, you are absolutely no fun.”
Jackie and Scootie ended up at a pizza parlor at UC Santa Cruz, listening to an avant-garde jazz-rock ensemble called the Slugtones. The trombone player jabbered his way through a violent solo as his banjo player backed him up with power chords. The placed was stacked with yakking undergrads, and the two noticeably older patrons had to nearly kiss each other’s ears to have a conversation.
“They’re just wild, Scootie!”
“They’re great!” Scootie answered.
“So what did you think of the play!?” yelled Jackie.
“Comparatively speaking, it was very quiet!”
The band took a sudden cutoff, leaving the word “Quiet!” hanging in the air. Several of the undergrads stared at them
“Scootie, darlin’, I think that’s our pizza on the counter. Much as I’m enjoyin’ the tunes, what say we head outside where we can speak like normal people?”
“Check, boss.” Scootie headed for the counter. Outside, it was remarkably peaceful. They sat at a picnic table peering over the broad grass hills to the lights of Santa Cruz.
“Ah, this is better,” said Jackie, freeing up a slice. “Now. What did you think?”
“Well, I love the odd instrumentation, but as for the format...”
“Scootie! The play!”
“Oh. Right.” He chewed before answering. “I liked it. I think he paced out the visual hints just right.”
“But the twist,” said Jackie. “I don’t know. A little too Twilight Zone for me.”
“Maybe. But theater’s all manipulation, isn’t it? In fact, in one sense, they didn’t go far enough. I hate this thing about the actors greeting everybody in the lobby.”
“Yeah. I saw Death of a Salesman this one time. Beautiful finish – they put a small spotlight on the grave while all the other actors slowly walked off. Didn’t even tak an applause. Then we walk into the lobby and there’s Willie Loman, back from the dead, gabbing with his real estate agent.”
Jackie watched the flash circling out from Lighthouse Point. It made her think of Rex, but then everything made her think of Rex, because she was seing him tomorrow night – and she’d better change the subject before she started obsessing.
“So how’s ol’ Juliana Kross-the-Street?”
Scootie took his best shot at bristling. “Jackie. There’s nothing there. Juliana is a married woman who seems very happy with her husband. I’ll tell you this much, however. I do enjoy working with her. She’s a kind, clear-minded woman.”
“With a tight little butt that I’d kill for,” said Jackie.
Scootie wiped a napkin across his mouth and said, “I’d say Rex likes your ass just fine, my dear.”
“Scootie! That’s the kindest, most crude thing you’ve ever told me.”
Juliana arrived home to a dark front porch, a candlelit kitchen, and her husband on the couch, wearing nothing but a towel and a Clark Gable smile.
“Scott! What’re you up to?”
“Strip down to your skivvies, my dear. We have company.”
Well, thought Juliana. This is new. She placed a hand on Scott’s chest and kissed him, summing up all questions in one word: “Darling?”
“Their names are Ivan and Margo. They’re massage therapists. They’re going to rub our bodies until we turn to Jell-O. And then...”
Juliana reached under Scott’s towel to fondle his smooth little behind. “And then?”
“And then, we will be left to our own devices.”
Juliana kissed his knee and unbuttoned her blouse.
Photo by MJV