WHEN FAT MEN FLY by Peter Nolan Smith

We worked at a chain discount store next to the Quincy Shipyard. Our duties consisted of restocking the cosmetic aisles with mouthwash, shampoo, deodorants, and toothpastes. This job required little physical exertion and even less mental strain, which suited the chubby 22 year-old Bronx native just fine. My parents had higher expectations for their second son and one December afternoon I asked Wayne, “You deserve more from your life than working at this dead-end job?”

“Don’t knock it. My salary covers my needs. No one gives me any shit, plus if God expected me to make something of my life, he would have given me a rock star’s body instead sticking me with one better suited for a sumo wrestler.” Wayne weighed over 220 pounds and his heart problem kept him out of the draft. He was the only employee without a store uniform. None of light blue shirts were sized for XXX.

“Too bad you weren’t born in Japan.” Sumo wrestlers were honored in Japan.

“Then I’d have to eat raw fish.” Wayne shivered with revulsion and handed me a box to load onto a cart. Perspiration stained his shirt. It didn’t take much for him to sweat.

“I ate whale once.” A fish shop in Haymarket Square fried it for sandwiches.

“That’s almost cannibalism. Whales are mammals.” He cleaned his smudged glasses with a paper towel. “You wouldn’t eat Flipper, would you?”

“No and I only had whale once.” The meat tasted like beef.

“Glad to hear it.” Wayne walked the cart into the store. “You coming over after work?”

“I really should get home.” I had several chapters to read for my German 101 exam. My parent’s house was nine miles away. No buses ran to my hometown from the store. Hitchhiking home could take two hours.

“I’ll get my old man to give you a ride.” Wayne’s stepfather worked the late-shift at Shipyard. “I have the new Love LP.”

“Okay, but just for a little while.” I loved Arthur Lee and figured that Kafka’s DAS URTEIL could wait till midnight.

The store closed at 9. We tramped up the hill to his street. Thousands of stars swam in winter sky. Wayne huffed every step of the way. It was a good thing he didn’t smoke cigarettes.

Wayne lived in a double-decker house with his parents. His mother was hillbilly thin and his stepfather was a sliver of muscle and bones. He welded steel plates on Navy ships. Wayne gave the old man a bottle of Boone’s Farm and his mother $30 every payday. The rest of his income was spent on his extensive record collection.

“How was work?” His mother was happy to see us.

“Work sucked.” Wayne spoke his mind with his mother.

“Better than sitting on a park bench.” His mother reheated meat loaf and mashed potatoes for us. They tasted good after the cold. Wayne had two helpings. After dinner we went upstairs to his room. It accommodated a bed, table, two chairs, a sofa, black-and-white TV, and a stereo. The windows overlooked the Fore River. His Pioneer stereo system was light-years ahead of my parents’ Zenith Hi-Fi. Nearly 2000 LPs were alphabetically stacked against one wall according to genres. Wayne picked up a double LP from his coffee table and pushed back his greasy long hair. I had never seen him use a comb.

“You know I could steal records out of the store real easy.” My friend, Mitch, headed the record department.

“I don’t want any trouble and I got money for records.” Wayne unwrapped the plastic from Love’s OUT HERE and placed the 33 on his turntable. The first song was SIGNED DC. I had heard it once on WBCN.

“I’ll do it then.” I owed him a good Christmas present.

“Don’t be stupid.” Wayne joined me on the sofa and lit up a joint.

“I won’t be stupid.” I should have realized that ‘stupid’ was every 18 year-old boy’s middle name.

The next morning I had my final exam of the semester. I needed the full two hours to fill out everything I knew about Kafka in the booklet. I could speak German, but my spelling in that language was as bad as it was in English. I was counting on my teacher’s warm heart to keep from failing. Professor Klein knew my high school teacher, Bruder Karl. They both hailed from Bavaria. I handed in my test and wished Fraulein Klein ‘wieher geburtstag’. The next day of school wasn’t until January 10.

My results came in the mail a few days later. I had passed all my courses and Professor Klein had given me a C- in German. I was safe from the draft board for another six months, yet my parents were not pleased with the results and I promised to improve next semester. There was still two weeks till Christmas and the store needed extra help for the holiday, so I worked double shifts Monday to Saturday. Wayne was also pulling overtime.

Three days before Christmas we punched out at closing. He buttoned up a thick overcoat with a fake fur collar and pulled a cheap Chinese Army cap with flaps onto his head. I had on a ski parka, jeans, and Fyre boots. As we passed the records department, I grabbed two LPs; Wes Montgomery’s A DAY IN THE LIFE and the Mother’s of Inventions’ FREAK OUT.

“You said you weren’t doing anything stupid.” Wayne waddled toward the exit. He could move fast for his size.

“No one’s will stop us.” I waved to the two girls at the cash registers. They were counting out the night’s take. Marie was sweet on Wayne. Sookie was skinnier than the super-model Twiggy and I liked the way she looked, but 20 year-old girls weren’t so interested in younger boys.

“You’re on your own.” Wayne pushed open the glass door. The air was cold and he cursed under his breath. “Shit.”

The 20 year-old assistant-manager was trailing us out of the store. His title added 30 cents to the minimum wage of $1.45/hour. This extra wealth granted him the delusion that he was a big deal with the check-out girls. They called him ‘Mr. Pizza-face’ behind his back and he was pissed at me for puking on him at the Christmas party. It wasn’t personal, but drinking Jack Daniels on an empty stomach was never a good idea.

“Shit. Shit. Shit.” Wayne was holding an ounce of pot. Possession was almost a felony in the State of Massachusetts. A station wagon pulled out of its spot and I flicked the LPs under a black 1965 Thunderbird.

“Stop right there.” The assistant manager shouted from twenty feet behind us.

“What for?” Wayne’s words turned to frozen mist.

“I saw you steal those records.” The assistant-manager eyed our hands.

“What fucking records?” Wayne was tough for a fat boy, then again his older brother ran with a biker gang in Pomona.

“You can’t talk to me like that?” The assistant-manager stepped within Wayne’s reach.

“I can talk anyway I want once I punched out.” The squat New Yorker didn’t take any shit.

“Tell me where those records are or you’re both fired.” The assistant-manager’s voice peaked an octave.

“Then fire me.” Wayne bumped into the skinny 20 year-old’s chest.

“That’s assault.” The assistant-manager spun toward the store. His loafers lost traction and he slipped on the snow, hitting the ground face first. Both of us laughed, as the assistant-manager scrambled to his feet like a duck running on ice. Blood streamed from his nose.

“You think that’s funny. I’m calling the cops.” His clothes were wet from the slush. He stomped off to the store.

“It was funny.” Wayne shrugged to me.

“As funny as my throwing up on him?”

“No, that was hilarious.” Wayne pointed to the T-bird. “Get those records.”

“Are we giving them back?” This was my first act of larceny.

“Fuck no.” He walked off to his house. “We’re getting rid of the evidence. You take the back way to my place.”

I crawled under the car. A little snow was on top of the records. I brushed them off and then ran from the parking lot in a crouch. Wayne was waiting on his porch. He checked the street for the coops and then ushered me inside. His mother had food on the table; a tuna-and-cheese casserole. He said nothing about the LPs.

After dinner his step-father watched HARPER’S VALLEY PTA on the TV. He had worked a double-shift. A cigarette died between his fingers and Wayne plucked the smouldering butt out of the old man’s fingers. His mother waved for us to leave the old man alone and we climbed the stairs to his room.

“Merry Christmas.” I handed him the two records.

“Thanks.” Wayne laid FREAK OUT on the turntable and loaded the bong with Panama Red. We listened to HELP I’M A ROCK in a reefer haze and harmonized to the chorus twenty times. The check-out girls arrived two hours later. Marie threw off her long sheepskin coat and sat on Wayne’s lap. Her friend, Sookie, stood in the corner like she had a curfew.

“You guys are lucky.” Marie’s big breasts were nearly popping out of her store uniform. Some boys might have called her chubby. To Wayne she was the new Jayne Mansfield. He liked his girls big.

“Lucky how? We got fired.” No one in my family had been fired in two generations.

“The assistant manager wanted to call the cops.” The blonde cashier had graduated from Weymouth High School last summer. Her job at the store was full-time. She had planned on attending beautician school in the summer. Her make-up was impeccable. “He said you beat him up. I told the management that he had slipped on the snow. The manager ordered him back to work.”

“So we’re not fired?” I was counting on my Christmas check.

“No, you’re fired all right.” Marie grabbed the bong out of my hands. “What’s that shit on the stereo?”

“The Mothers of Invention.” Wayne hummed two bars of the melody.

“You guys are really high.” Her favorite LP was Pink Floyd’s WISH YOU WERE HERE.

“I guess so.” Wayne rose from the couch.

“Hi.” Sookie settled on the sofa next to me. Her eyes sparkled within kohl-blackened make-up and her mouth glowed with pale pink lipstick. Small gold loops hung from her earlobes and she twirled a long strand of brown hair.

“Hi.”

“Anyone want to hear anything special.” Wayne had been to Woodstock. He was our music guru. The next record was IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY followed by Dave Mason’s ALONE TOGETHER and Pink Floyd’s WISH YOU WERE HERE. At midnight Sookie offered to drive me home. My town was five miles away. I said sure and we crept downstairs, since Wayne’s stepfather was snoring in front of the TV. Out on the porch Sookie motioned for me to wait, while she fetched the car.

“She’s a nice girl.” Wayne blew into his hands. The temperature was below freezing.

“Yeah.” She was nice. I must have seemed worried, because Wayne asked, “What’s the problem?”

“My parents will kill me.” I was a shoplifter.

“Don’t tell them a thing.” Wayne bounced on his feet to keep warm.

“What about money?” I needed cash for school.

“My friend drives cab in Boston. You can make twice as much hacking a taxi.”

Snowflakes floated in the dark. Headlights were approaching the house.

“What about you?” I had fucked up his job.

“You did me a favor. I’ll sign on unemployment and after Christmas we can hitchhike down to New York. We’ll buy a pound or two, take the bus back, and sell ounces for fast cash.”

My Calculus 101 professor had given me a D+, but I was good at simple math. Ounces sold for $20 at my college. A pound cost $150. The profit was $170.

“Count me in.” I pulled on my gloves.

A tan ’65 LeMans skidded to a halt. The convertible was a present from Sookie’s parents for her 20th birthday. They came from Hingham. It was a town with money. I sat in the passenger’s seat.

“You two have a safe ride home.” Wayne winked at Marie’s friend.

“I passed driving school with top honors.” Sookie drove with both hands on the steering wheel. Her car had good heat. We made out in the Blue Hills, a forested reserve a mile from my house. Her body was unearthly thin. I couldn’t remember ever seeing her eat food. My hands fumbled beneath her silk shirt to encounter a lace bra and panties. She wouldn’t let me go all the way and pushed me to the other side of the car.

“Not now.” It was almost 1 am.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” My hands were warm from her flesh.

“Going to Vermont with my parents.” The dashboard lights illuminated her face with an angelic glow.

“Oh.” Her holiday plans left me out of the picture.

“What you doing for New Year’s?” Her question begged an invitation.

“Maybe go to New York with Wayne.” I wasn’t saying why.

“I’ve never been to New York.” She backed the car out of the dirt road, the ties spinning on the fresh snow.

“I’ve been once with my parents and older brother in 1962. We stayed at the Hotel Manhattan, ate at Tad’s Steakhouse, rode to the top of the Empire State Building, and saw the Rockettes.”

“I always dream about New York.” The words took her breath away.

“Really?” New York was the antithesis of Boston to most New Englanders.

“Sure, it has to be better than here.”

“What’s wrong with Boston?” I liked Paul’s Mall, Durgin Park, and the Boston Club.

“Nothing other than it’s a small town and this town is even smaller. The only thing to do is make-out in the woods.”

“I like making-out in the woods.” In a smaller car it wouldn’t have been so much fun.

“I’m sure you do.” She shifted the car into drive and headed toward Route 28. My neighborhood was off that road. “But you can’t tell me you don’t dream about living someplace where people have fun. Where they don’t go to sleep after dinner. Where they never sleep.”

“I used to lay on my backyard praying for a UFO to take me to someplace like that.” The suburbs had been claustrophobic for me as a 10 year-old.

“Then if you let me drive you to New York, this car can be the UFO.” She turned on the radio.

“This isn’t a sight-seeing trip.” WBCN was playing Fairport Convention’s MATTY GROVES.

“I know, but we won’t be any trouble.”

“We?”

“I’m sure Marie will come too.”

“I’ll have to talk with Wayne.” A ride was certainly preferable to thumbing on the highway.

In front of my house Sookie kissed me with thin lips. I felt her flat breasts and imagined more in New York. I had no idea where we would stay. Hotels weren’t cheap. Maybe $20 a night.

Early the next morning I phoned Wayne from school. He had been out of bed an hour. His mother had made him breakfast. Unemployment agreed with him.

“The girls want to come along.”

“Cool, we can stay at Eddie’s. He’s my brother’s friend. We went to Woodstock together.” Wayne was as proud of going to Woodstock as if he had flown to the moon. “Eddie deals pot out of his apartment in the East Village. We’ll crash with him. It’s around the corner from the Fillmore East. We can go to a show. This will be fun. We’ll go two days before New Years.”

He hung up and I hitchhiked over to the store. The manager gave me a check minus the price of two LPs. He didn’t lecture me and I didn’t argue. I took a bus to the Fields Corner T station and then the Red Line train into Boston. Checker Cab Company was located behind Boston Arena. They hired me in a second. The cut was 55/45 off the meter. Tips were your own. I gave the union steward $10 to join the Teamsters. I called my mother and informed her about the new job without mentioning my shoplifting.

“It’s easy than working at the store and pays more money.”

“It is safe.” She was concerned about the increasing number of hold-ups.

“The dispatcher says those robberies were blown out of proportion.” He said never drive into Roxbury after 11pm

That night I drove taxi until 2am. My last two rides were into the ghetto. Both fares were so grateful for the ride that they tipped a dollar each. My take was $45 from fares and another $15 in gratuities. I stayed the night with my friend Nick. The sophomore from Staten Island was a sophomore at my university. We had met in European History 101. His apartment was on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton. I slept on the sofa. In the morning I mentioned our trip to New York.

“You can come out and visit on the island.” His father was a doctor. Nick was in our university’s pre-med program. His grades were better than mine. “The ferry is only a quarter back and forth.”

“Cool.” That was a good price.

That afternoon Nick departed for New York in his Mini-Cooper. He lent me the keys to his apartment. The work schedule for Checker Cab was loose. Drivers worked as much or as little according to their needs. I drove taxi every night to finance a pound of pot.

Wayne and I had already lined up enough customers to sell half the pot on our return. Sookie came over to see Aerosmith at the Hi-Hat Lounge. She had received an 8-track player for Christmas. I gave her CLOUDS by Joni Mitchell and CIRCLE GAME by Tom Rush along with a silver necklace. Driving taxi paid better than working at a store.

Aerosmith put on a monster show for almost 300 fans. The bartender was my friend. He gave us free drinks. Sookie danced to several songs. The lead singer checked her out. He liked skinny girls. Walking to her LeMans I asked, “You have a good time?”

“I love the band.” She held my hand. Hers was a little icy.

“So Boston’s not so bad?” Sookie and I had the sidewalks to ourselves.

“It’s better than my hometown, but it’s not New York.” She took the car keys out of her fringed purse. There was no hesitation in this gesture.

“You want to stay the night?” Nick’s apartment was around the corner.

“I can’t.” She pushed me away from the LeMans. “I’m leaving for Vermont in the morning.”

“Then I’ll wait for New York.”

Christmas I rode the subway to Ashmont and the trolley to Lower Mills. My older brother picked me up at the station. My family was happy to see me. I gave everyone gifts. My mother cooked the world’s best apple pie. My father dealt with the turkey. He liked it a certain way. I handled the vegetables, otherwise they would have come out of the freezer. I ate thirds of everything. My mother gave me a Levi jean jacket and suede Dingo boots.

“Here’s two records.” My father’s hand held the same ones I stole from the store. “I hope I don’t have to buy them again.”

“No, I’m happy with these.” The assistant-manager must have called the house. I was lucky that my mother hadn’t answered the phone.

“Good.” He was a man of few words.

I called Wayne later that evening.

“You know if Sookie is still coming to New York?”

“Marie says yes, but who knows with women?”

Sookie was a woman and I felt very young for the five days before our departure. I was only 18.

A day before New Year’s Eve Sookie and Marie met us at Wayne’s house. The two girls wore matching white leather jackets mini-skirts, knee-high boots, and turtleneck sweater. They were excited about their first trip to the big city. New York was bound to dazzle anyone from a small town.

“We look like sisters?” Marie asked Wayne’s mom.

“Like Eva and Zsa-Zsa Gabor.” Wayne’s mom puffed on a joint without explaining that both Gabor sisters were blondes. She liked smoking on the holidays. Her finger poked Wayne. “Go visit your sister. See if she’s okay.”

“Jolee’s an ex-Marine.” Wayne had grown a thick Castro beard in the last ten days and his hair was longer. “What can happen to her?”

“Just do what I ask for once.” Her sigh was well-timed.

“Yes, mom.” Wayne was a good son. His mom’s gift had been a black fake-fur overcoat.

“And shave off that beard before you come back.” She hugged him good-bye. “You look like a runaway panda in that coat.”

“It’s nice and warm.” He waved to his step-father, who was finishing a bottle of Zapple wine. “Have a happy new year.”

Wayne and Marie sat in the back of the LeMans. The gas tank was full. The bags were in the trunk. Sookie asked me to drive. I slid behind the wheel and turned on the radio. LAYLA was on Dave Summer’s WBZ show.

“It would be so cool in Eric was playing in New York.” Marie loved Clapton.

“Sorry, he’s in London jamming at Ronnie Scott’s with Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr. The Fillmore has Mylon and David Rea.” Wayne’s connection with the whereabouts of rock musicians had to be with the FBI. I had heard of neither group.

“We’ll see some other band.” Marie was only a little disappointed.

“And we got the rest of the week off.” Sookie clapped her hands, as we drove away from Wayne’s house.

“How you get off work?” Wayne was rolling a joint on Aldous Huxley’s book HEAVEN AND HELL.

“I told Pizza-Face my mother was sick.” Marie snuggled into the furry overcoat.

“He called my house to check. Cough-cough. My ‘mother’ said I was sick too.” Sookie covered her mouth. “I’m a good actress, huh?

“A regular Mia Farrow.” She shared the same figure as Frank Sinatra’s ex-wife.

“What you tell your parents?” I was curious, since she never spoke about them.

“I told them I’m moving to New York.” She toyed with a lipstick tube. “They thought I was kidding.”

“Maybe you’re not such a good actress.”

“It depends on the audience.” She smeared on a little lipstick. It was pink. “Keep your eyes on the road.”

“Merry Christmas.” Wayne handed her a Billy Holiday 8-track, as we pulled onto Route 3. “I think you’ll dig it.”

She turned off the radio and slotted the tape in the stereo. Billie Holiday’s voice travelled over time, as she sang of ‘strange fruit’. Her other songs were better suited for the winter sun shining through fleecy clouds. Sookie put on Joni Mitchell next and the two girls sang a duet to URGE FOR GOING. They liked Tom Rush’s version too.

The traffic was light on I-95 through Providence and the Pine Barrens. We stopped for lunch in New London. Marie, Wayne, and I ate apple pie. Sookie said she wasn’t hungry. She drank a glass of water. Back on the road Wayne outlined our trip to New York.

“The East Village and the Staten Island ferry. Maybe even the Empire State Building, but remember that we’re on a business trip.”

“No pleasure, Teddy Bear?” Marie tweaked his plumb cheek. He had gained a few extra pounds over the holiday.

“Maybe a little.” Wayne was comfortable with his weight and laid his head on Marie’s lap. Within seconds he was asleep. Marie joined him before Mystic, Connecticut and Sookie dozed off a few minutes later. I turned down the stereo and pressed my foot down on the accelerator. The LeMans easily hit 75 on the dry roads, but I slowed down to five miles over the speed limit. I was in no hurry to reach New York. Cops didn’t like hippies driving fast.

When the LeMans crossed over the Hutchinson River Bridge, Wayne woke up and rubbed his eyes. The girls sensed his stirring and blinked their eyes for several seconds before opening them to their fullest, stunned by the endless blocks of high buildings.

“You are now officially in New York.” Wayne looked left to a complex of apartment buildings next to a marsh. “My old man worked there.”

“Didn’t Adventure Land used to be here?” I had begged my father to stop at the amusement park on the way back from our trip to New York. He had said, “Another time.”

“They tore it done for Co-op City. This is the Bronx. I was born on Crow’s Avenue.” Broken-down cars lined the highway.

“You want to stop there?”

“No way.” Wayne shook his head. “Crow’s Ave is where punks gave me fat-boy beatings. I don’t know anyone there anymore.”

An elevated highway bisected the South Bronx and we crossed the Harlem River in Manhattan. Wayne gave a rolling tour of Central Park, 5th Avenue, the Empire State Building, and finally said, “Take a left on 8th Street.”

The sun was falling behind the low apartment buildings and the night mounted the sky to the east. The girls shivered in their thin coats and I turned up the car heat.

“A word of warning.” Wayne scanned the passers-by like he was searching for someone. “Trust no one and tell no one our business. We’re here for a vacation. Nothing else. Everyone understand?”

We traversed Broadway. The young people on the street had longer hair than the hippies in Cambridge. Their clothing was ethnic. The girls felt out of place.

“Don’t worry everyone will love you.” Wayne gave the big-bottomed blonde a kiss. I could see in the rear-view mirror she wasn’t worried about pleasing anyone other than her ‘teddy bear’. Wayne directed me to a parking garage.

“Better to park the car here than worry about tickets or car thieves.”

He paid the attendant for three days. We carried the girls’ bags down St. Mark’s Place. After Woodstock the hippie movement had deserted the cities, but head shops and clothing stores preserved the Summer of Love in the East Village. Marie and Sookie gawked at the dresses and young men scanned the two girls like they were dirty books to be checked out of the porno library. I held Sookie’s hand tight.

“This is Eddie’s place.” Wayne stopped across the street from the Electric Circus. “He’s solid, but don’t stare at him. He doesn’t like that.”

“Why would we stare?” Marie studied the fire escapes banded across the face of the five-story building.

“You’ll see.” Wayne climbed the stoep and pressed the buzzer. The door clicked open and we stepped inside the worn-out building. The hallway smelled of cabbage dinners and the stairs creaked under our feet. On the 3rd floor the smell of marijuana overwhelmed the food odors. Wayne knocked on the door of 3A.

“C’mon in.” A man’s voice said loudly. “It’s open.”

Wayne pushed the door and we entered a narrow apartment. The spotless living room was dominated by a TV surrounded by tanks of tropical fish. A huge man sat in a sagging lounge chair. Eddie was the same age as Wayne, but outweighed him by 200 pounds. His face was swollen to the size of a pumpkin and several ever-larger waves of belly sloshed over his torso. His jean overalls had to be specially-made, same as his tee-shirt and shoes.

“Welcome.” He made no effort to get out of the chair and lifted his hand in a ‘black power’ fist.

The girls were stopped at the entrance. They were in shock. I was too.

“Brother.” Wayne clasped the bloated hand and introduced us.

“My house is your house.” Eddie indicated the refrigerator. “Help yourself to whatever in it. I sleep in this chair. There’s a bed in the backroom and a fold-out couch in the front.”

A thick curtain hung from that doorframe.

“I hosey the bed.” Wayne had first dibs. Eddie was his friend. “Why don’t you girls freshen up in the bathroom? We have some business to discuss.”

Sookie and Marie recovered their teenage cool and disappeared into the back room. Wayne fingered through the record collection on the opposite wall. He pulled out BLIND FAITH to satisfy Marie’s Clapton obsession.

“Nice girls.” Eddie’s comment was tainted by an honest appreciation for their innocence. “All the girls in the Village are old road.”

“You have a girlfriend?” Wayne asked at the Dual 1245 turntable. The Bozak speakers were coupled with a Fisher amplifier and Marantz pre-amp. The system was top of the line.

“No, but I have lots of customers.” A sofa was shoved against the wall. “Please sit down.”

“Thanks.” I held onto the armrest to keep from slipping into the sofa’s valley.

“Sorry, I’m a little hard on furniture.” Eddie pulled a brick of reefer from his shirt. Sweat dampened the plastic covering.

“No hiding place better than under fat. Never had a cop give me a full body search.”

“When was the last time you stripped naked?” Wayne was cueing up CAN’T FIND MY WAY HOME.

“Last month my mother came over and washed me for the best part of an hour. She found an ounce of blow under my hip flap.” Eddie reached under his left breast for a cellophane packet. “You want some.”

“Sure, but let’s keep it away from the girls. They go crazy on the stuff.” For a fat guy Wayne was much hipper than most of my other friends. “You’ve never done blow?”

I shook my head.

“What was Eric Clapton singing about on SPOONFUL?”

“Cocaine.” I wasn’t that square. Willie Dixon ‘getting a spoonful’ was sex, although the origin of the song came from Charlie Paton’s SPOONFUL BLUES. “I’ve never done any.”

“I’ll change that.” Wayne deftly cut six lines of white powder onto a small mirror and inhaled two. Eddie snorted two and handed me a straw. The cocaine burned my nose with an alkaloid torch. The majesty of the Inca flowed in my blood.

“Welcome to the world of serious drugs.” Eddie stashed the coke inside his shirt.

“Isn’t the blow cutting into your eating?” Wayne hid the mirror under the table.

“It’s all part of a grand scheme.” Eddie melted into the chair. “You know how I’ve always dreamed about flying in a glider.”

A laugh spurted through my nostrils.

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. How’s a glider getting into the air with someone as big as me? The answer is that it can’t, so I’ll have to get smaller.” Eddie lifted his pants from his waist, revealing an overlap of flesh. “I’ve already lost a bunch of weight. I figure if I keep doing coke, I’ll get down to 250 by the 4th of July.”

“That’s 200 pounds in six months.” Wayne hadn’t stepped on a scale in years.

“Or 35 pounds a month.” Eddie tapped his left nostril and inhaled sharply. “The only other choices are to undergo a drastic surgery to staple my stomach shut. It’s a new technique and more than 5% of the patients die from complications. It’s illegal in the US, but a Russian doctor will do it in Moscow for $20,000. My mother would lend me the money, but I figure for $15,000 the cocaine will take off the same amount of weight and I don’t have to travel. You know I don’t like to travel.”

No airplane, train, or bus were equipped with seats his size.

“That’s an ounce a week.” Wayne was also good at math.

“I can handle it.” He lurched forward with the grace of a whale trying to roll off a beach and pointed to the fish tanks. “I’ve been watching those fish ever since I got fat. I been telling myself I’ll float like them one day, but not with this body. I’ll have to lose that 200 pounds.”

We wished him good luck and discussed our deal. His pot was better than most in Boston. Wayne negotiated the price to $150 and also convinced Eddie to front us each another pound. The profit on my sales would pay for a deposit on an apartment. Living in Boston would make it easier for school and work, plus give me someplace to take Sookie.

“Then it’s a deal.”

The girls emerged from the bedroom; Marie as a lost flower child in fringed suede and Sookie a futuristic space vixen in midnight blue leather pants and a white silk shirt. Marie had worked magic on her friend’s gaunt face and Sookie radiated an untainted purity.

“Wow.” I kept my compliment simple.

“You girls will fit into the East Village fine.”

“Then let’s go.” Sookie hadn’t come New York to sit in an apartment.

Wayne conducted us on a tour of the East Village. We drank chocolate egg creams at the Gem Spa and watched a French film CANNABIS at a 2nd Avenue movie theater. The girls bought clothing at several stores and we ate a bowl of borsch at a kosher dairy bar. Sookie had a cup of tea. No milk. No sugar. Wayne brought us to her sister’s place on Avenue A. It was a small one-bedroom.

Jolee had just finished a tour as a Marine nurse in Viet-Nam. None of us asked her about Viet-Nam and she didn’t say anything about the War. Her hair was short and a white tee-shirt suited a body honed by boot camp. There were weights in the corner. She sat between the two girls. If she was a man, I would have forced her to stop touching Sookie.

“Jealous?” Sookie asked on the walk back to Eddie’s place.

“Saddest thing in the whole wide world is to see your baby with another girl.” Even more people were on St. Marks.

“I don’t like girls. Not that way.” She linked her arm into mine. “But I like flirting to get you jealous.”

“Thanks.” I had fallen for her trap like a 13 year-old boy.

“You’re welcome.” She kissed my cheek. I felt good. A band of Hare Krishnas was chanting their one-chorus song in front of the Gem Spa. Their smiles seemed to have been lifted from God. After skirting by them, I picked up two bottles of Liebefraumilch at the St. Mark’s Liquor Store. Sookie liked white wine.

The four of us entered Eddie’s building. He was asleep on the chair. I put the wine in the refrigerator. Wayne and Marie went into their room. The door shut with a click. It was past midnight. I held the curtain aside for Sookie and undressed on the sofa bed. She lay down in her clothes.

“What’s wrong?” This trip was supposed to be our honeymoon.

“I can’t get naked with him in the other the room.” She dropped her voice to an almost sub-sonic level.

“He can’t see us.” I pulled off my boots.

“But he can hear us and I can hear him. Listen.” She cocked her head to the side.

Eddie’s breathing was only slightly human.

“It’s sounds like he’s trying to suck all the air in the room.” Sookie covered her ears with a pillow.

“Does he scare you?” Eddie seemed harmless to me.

“When I was a kid, I went to the circus with my family.” She slid across thin mattress. “They had a freak show. A bearded lady, a midget, but what scared me was this fat man on a chain. Sometimes he lunged for children.”

“And he looked like Eddie?”

Sookie nodded with half-closed eyes.  Her fear dated back to childhood.

“Eddie’s not a freak.” I hugged her tight. “And no one’s will hurt you as long as I’m here.”

“Good.”

We slept in our underwear. Her body was skin and bones. We didn’t have sex. Tomorrow night I’d get a hotel room.

In the morning Sookie and I travelled over to Staten Island. She loved the ferry ride across the harbor. The Statue of Liberty was bigger than I remembered from my last trip to New York. Nick met us at the terminal in his Mini-Cooper. He looked splendid in his hippie dealer clothing; patchwork leather jacket and shiny boots. We had breakfast at his parents’ house in New Dorp.

His mother fried eggs in bacon fat. I loved them that way. She fed Sookie, until her tight belly extended over her hiphuggers. She disappeared into the bathroom for several minutes. When she emerged, her face was red and she said, “I need some air.”

Nick drove us over to Shooter’s Island to smoke a joint among the shipwrecks. We strolled across the rotting wharves pretending we were pirates. The harbor water glistened with oil. The faint clouds in the blue sky hinted at an evening snow. There was only a few hours left in 1970.

“What are you doing tonight?” Nick leaped from a ferry to a tugboat.

“No one’s really playing at the Fillmore, so we’re watching the fireworks in Central Park.” Wayne had mentioned this alternative.

“And your friend has some more of this reefer?” Dealing a few ounces on Staten Island would pay his rent in Brighton.

“Yes, sure.” I held out my hand to help Sookie over a gap in the planks.

“Sounds like a plan.” Nick climbed onto a pilot boat. We followed him into the wheelhouse.

“Can’t we stay here?” Sookie was in no hurry to get back to Manhattan.

“Why would you want to stay here?” Nick had lived most of his life on this island.

“She’s scared of Wayne’s friend.” I stood at the helm. “He’s a little fat.”

“A little fat? He weighs as much as a walrus.” Sookie shivered from the cold. “I have a thing about fat people.”

“One in the freak show tried to eat her.” I joked, but Sookie wasn’t smiling.

“The clowns are the ones who scared me.” Nick wasn’t kidding.

“Clowns are scary?” I had been on BOZO THE CLOWN three times.

“It’s called Coulrophobia. One tried to pull me into the ring. I kicked him in the shin. My mother and father laughed and so did everyone else in the audience. The clown called me a little shit under his breath.” A long-buried hatred burned his eyes. “I kicked him again. So I understand about the fears.”

“Are you prejudiced against fat people?” The salesman at the store selling parochial boys their uniforms had called me stocky. I didn’t like the way he touched me.

“You ever hear me call Wayne fat?” Sookie was defensive.

“Wayne’s not fat.” The wind off the water was blowing hard. The surface was ruffled by white caps. It was not a day for sailing.

“I’ve met Wayne.” Nick was a movie buff. “He’s like Ernest Borgnine in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Borgnine’s character kills Sinatra for calling him ‘fatso’. And then Montgomery Cliff calls him ‘fatso’ and kills Borgnine.”

“He didn’t kill him because he was fat. He killed him because he was mean. Wayne’s not fat.”

“What about Eddie?” Sookie cocked her head to the side.

“He has to drop 200 pounds before he can fly in a glider.”

“As soon as pigs fly too.” She was not a believer.

Sookie sulked in the back seat of the Mini-Cooper on the ride over to Manhattan. I half-expected her to drive home, but once she was with Marie at Eddie’s apartment, Sookie reverted to herself again. She was even a little affectionate as she changed into tight jeans and a white turtle-neck sweater for our excursion to Central Park. I helped her put on the silver necklace. It hung slack on her flat chest.

“You look like a long-haired Mia Farrow.” I brushed a wandering strand of hair from her face. I loved the movie star in ROSEMARY’S BABY. She had been 21. A year older than Sookie.

“I saw them one summer in Martha’s Vinyard. Frank and Mia. She appeared so young next to him. Almost like his daughter.”

“I’m no Frank Sinatra.” Sookie and I were two years apart in age.

“Sorry about this afternoon.” She nestled her head into my chest. “I’m scared of fat people. I know it’s not right. But it’s the same way with white people and blacks.”

“You don’t like blacks?” They were America’s favorite minority.

“Silly, it’s just an example.” Suzie curled a finger around my ear. “Later I’ll be a good girl.”

We went into the living room and smoked reefer in a bong. I opened the two bottles of wine. Jolee Wayne showed up in biker gear. Outlaw life ran in Wayne’s family. She brought a bottle of tequila. Everyone had shots. Eddie cut us lines. Wayne ignored her sister’s flirting with his girlfriend, as he played DJ with his new LPS. BITCHES BREW lasted one track. The Stooges FUN HOUSE two. Spirit’s 12 DREAMS OF DR. SARDONICUS was our favorite, but at the end of the B-side Marie asked, “When you playing a record we can dance to?

“Right now.” Wayne cued up Isaac Hayes HOT BUTTERED SOUL. The girls danced go-go steps. Nick and I trotted the standard male two-step. Wayne wiggled his legs. He was doing the ‘funky Chicken’. The Black Moses infected Eddie and he rose from his lounge chair with a groan.

“Damn, I haven’t been on my feet in days. Thank God for cocaine.” Eddie jelloed into front of the fish tanks and the floor wobbled under his weight. He lifted his arms, only getting as far as his shoulders. His face was flushed with blood and he wheezed with every exhale. We couldn’t tell if he was about to have a heart attack, until he broke into a smile and sang along with Isaac Hayes. His soprano voice was hilariously out of touch with his 10X body.

“What? No one ever see the hippos dance in FANTASIA.”

“I love FANTASIA.” Sookie pulled Eddie to the middle of the room.

“You’re killing me.” He broadened his stance to support his shifting weight.

The two danced a polka to the Kink’s LOLA.

“No way can I walk like a woman, but I can speak like a man.” Eddie lifted his coat from a nail banged into the wall. “It’s 10:30. If we’re going, then we should go.”

Everyone threw on their jackets and climbed down the stairs. The descent for Eddie was more exercise than his body could handle at one time. I bought four bottle of wine in the time it took him to make the street. Nick was waiting in his Mini-Cooper. The girls and Wayne were squashed into the back seat.

“Get in back.” Nick opened his door and I squiggled underneath Sookie. This way Eddie had the front seat all to himself. Several passers-by were watching our circus act. Eddie was not happy with an audience.

“You gotta be kidding. I’m not getting in that.” He regarded the small car with a claustrophobic horror.

“You’ll fit.” Nick already had the car in 2nd gear, since shifting would be impossible once Eddie was in the car.

“I might fit, but I’ll never get out.”

“Yes, you will.” Sookie waved at Eddie. “We’ll miss the fireworks.”

Eddie’s bones shrugged under the layers of fat and he heaved himself into the passenger seat. The over-loaded Mini-Cooper sank under his mass like the car might capsize, then it stabilized and a bald-headed hippie shut the door.

“We’re all in.” Nick revved the engine. “Eddie, one favor. No fast moves.”

The trip up to the park was slow. A single bump would have torn the suspension off the chassis, but no one ribbed Eddie. He was longer fat. He was only big. For Sookie too. Eddie had won her heart.

I kissed her on the back of the neck and she trembled on my lap. New Year’s revelers were surging into the 5th Avenue entrance across from the Plaza Hotel. The cops had a barricade across the road. Nick showed them this father’s MD pass. They waved us into the park and we drove to the boathouse. It was quarter to 12.

Getting Eddie out of the front seat was an exercise of patience. He was breathless after this epic effort and we helped him over to a park bench. It had a clear view of the lake. Strains of rock music faded in and out on the wind. People were heading in its direction. One group of hippies ridiculed Eddie. I told them to shut up. Eddie motioned for me to let it go. He was used to the abuse.

“That’s as far as I go.” The air whooshed in and out of his lungs. His face was wet with sweat. Another ten steps might killed him. “You go on without me.”

“No way.” Wayne joined Eddie on the bench. Marie sat on his lap. Nick pulled some blankets out of Mini-Cooper. I opened the bottles of Boone Farm. Jolee lit up joints. Sookie cuddled closer to me for warmth. Her body seemed starved for heat. The temperature was well below freezing. Nick draped us with a quilt.

“All we need is a fire and we could have a picnic.” Nick rubbed his hands together fast enough to start flames.

“Try some of this to get warm.” Jolee handed him a small bottle of tequila. We each had a nip. The alcohol boiled in our stomachs. Eddie was about to light another joint, when a cop appeared behind him. He was about our age. Young.

“That looks like marijuana.” His nightstick tapped the bench.

“It is.” Eddie craned his neck around without being able to see the officer.

“The rest of you hippie scum holding?” The thin cop beamed a flashlight in our eyes. Other longhairs were gathering around us.

“No, just me.” Eddie admitted his guilt. “You can arrest me and I’ll resist the only way I know. By being heavy. But if you shine us on, we’ll wish you a Happy New Year.”

“Let the big man go free!” one long-hair shouted and the crowd chanted for Eddie’s release. The cop surveyed the shadows for back-up. He was outnumbered 50-1. His hand twitched on the handle of his .38, then an older cop pushed through the hippies and assessed the scene with veteran eyes.

“That a joint in your hand?” His flashlight shined on the reefer.

“Yes, officer.” Eddie excelled at playing ‘good boy’.

“And the officer wants to arrest you for possession.” He flicked off the light.

“That’s correct, officer.”

“You put away the joint.” He lifted his open hands to show this problem wasn’t a problem. “My partner and I will leave you alone.”

“Thank you, officer.” Eddie put the joint inside his coat and nodded his gratitude. “And Happy New Year.”

“Same to you.” The older cop escorted his fellow officer from the bench and the mob parted for the policemen to leave the area. The hippies cheered Eddie and two seconds later the first rocket for the fireworks arced into the night sky. It was 1971. The pyrotechnic display lasted a good half-hour and Eddie cried at the finale.

“What’s wrong?” Wayne stood by his friend.

“I haven’t been out of the apartment in so long I forgot what it’s like to be around people. To be with friends.” Eddie struggled to his feet, brushing his eyes dry. “I don’t want my eyelids to freeze together.”

“Eddie, you don’t have to stay in the apartment all the time.” Wayne was half Eddie’s size. His problems with weight were manageable.

“I can barely walk to the Mini-Cooper.” His steps were tentative, as if he expected the earth to crumple beneath his feet. “And you seen me on the stairs. You should have seen me at Woodstock. I could only make it to the rim of the crowd. Wayne stayed with me the entire time.”

“It was nothing.” Wayne had never mentioned this sacrifice.

“You had to stick with me instead of seeing all those bands.” Eddie pounded his chest with his fists.

“I heard the music.” Wayne seized Eddie’s wrists. His hands barely reached halfway around the thick joints. “Plus Woodstock was more than the music. It was about brotherhood and man.”

“Horseshit. I’m trapped in this body, but I wasn’t this way always. Chubby, but not fat like this, and when I was 12, I ate a Devil’s Dog. It was so good I would do anything to get them. I started dealing drugs on Jerome Avenue to finance my eating habits. Within two years I weighed 200. By the time I was 18 I was over 300. I have no idea how much I weigh now.”

Eddie was on the verge of crying. Wayne slipped under Eddie’s arm to steady him and I held his other side. Eddie would have shaken us off except his sense of balance wandered with every step.

“I’m telling myself the truth. I’m a big fat fuck and I’ll never be able to get into a glider.”

“Shut up, Eddie.” Sookie stood in front of us. “When I first saw you, I thought you were a big fat fuck, but now I know you have a good heart. Fly or not fly, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll still be our friend. Do you really want to fly?”

“Yes.” It was a simple admission.

“Then we’ll help you starve.” Sookie caressed his face. “Tomorrow.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was already tomorrow.

We drove back to St. Mark’s Place. Nick vanished with Jolee.

“Isn’t your sister a lesbian?” Marie helped us push Eddie up the stoep.

“She is most of the time.” Wayne was getting red in the face. He wasn’t in such good shape either. The climb to the 3rd floor exhausted Eddie and he collapsed into the lounge chair like it was a sarcophagus. Wayne headed into the back bedroom and fell asleep without saying a single word. I read Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD. The girls went into the kitchen and it was a good 30 minutes before Eddie noticed Sookie and Marie emptying the cabinets and refrigerator.

“What are you doing?” He asked without any real desire to hear the answer.

“Cleaning out the junk food.” Marie held up ten bags of potato chips. “You are what you eat.”

“You have to eat less and eat good. No more shit.” Sookie was dumping cookies into the trash.

“What will I live on?”

“Vegetables, fruit, no bread.” Sookie showed him a shrivelled lemon.

“That’s been here since I moved in.”

“It’s mummified.” Sookie dropped the lemon on top of the cookies. “Eddie, you want to be the fat fuck you are today? Maybe even fatter? You want that?”

“No.”

“You said the magic number was 200 pounds.”

“Yes.” Eddie was her faithful slave.

“In six months.”

“Yes.”

“Then you’ll need help.” Sookie peered into his eyes, as if to touch his heart. “If you’re really serious, because if you are, then I’ll help you. And you’re asking why. You know I was scared of you at first. Scared because you reminded me of a freak show fat man. I was so scared by that man that I told myself I never wanted to be fat and stopped eating normal. I don’t eat. Same as you always eat. Opposite, but the same too.”

“How can you help me?” Eddie was eyeing the cookies in the garbage cam. “You live in Boston.”

“What if I lived in New York?”

“Live in New York?” I had seen us in a Commonwealth Avenue apartment.

“I can’t stand living at home anymore.” Sookie said to me, then turned to Eddie. “My parents understand. I have all my stuff in the back of the car. I have money. I can pay you rent. I’ll get a job too.”

“Helping me lose weight will be enough of a job.”

“It’ll be easy.” Sookie flipped her hair off her shoulder. “I know how to not eat, remember.”

“Just yesterday you were scared of Eddie.” This didn’t make any sense.

“That was yesterday. Today is a brand new year.”

“What about your car?”

“It’ll stay here with me. There should be enough room for Eddie.”

“Great.” My exit should have a slammed door, instead I pushed through the curtains and flopped on the sofa bed.

Sookie followed a second later and shut out the light. I didn’t plan on saying a word. She was a free human being. Her shirt came off first. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Her breasts were flat against her chest. Her finger and index finger popped open the brass buttons of her pants. Each one made a small noise. She used both hands to slink from the leather. Her skimpy panties were white. Sookie sat on the bed next to me with bony arms across her chest.

“This isn’t about you and me.” The hushed words couldn’t travel farther than the sofa. “This is about me. I want to live in New York. You probably do too, but you have to go to college.”

My draft number was 39. College kept me out of the army. I didn’t want to kill any Vietnamese. John Wayne was no longer my God.

“If you sell that pot fast, then you have all the more reason to visit me.” She undid the buttons of my shirt. “And now I’ll show you one more.”

I lost my virginity that night.

Wayne gave me a big grin in the morning.

“Everything cool.”

“I’m not sure.” I signaled Eddie and I had some talking to do.

“We have a problem?” Eddie was barely awake.

“No problem as long as you don’t give any cocaine to her.”

“I’ll try, but this is a free country.” He glanced at Sookie.

“I’m not into coke.” She sat on the sofa. It swallowed her whole. “It’s cool. Really.”

She was right. Everything was cool. Sookie found a job at a used-clothing store in the afternoon. We made love again that evening and night. In the morning Nick picked up Wayne, Marie, and me in his Mini-Cooper. I sold him a pound for $160. The second I sold to the other taxi drivers and I returned to New York for two more pounds the following week. Eddie was eating vegetables and fruit. Sookie ate bread.

“I could use the weight.”  She had gained 5 pounds in a week.

“Nice.” She was more comfortable in bed with the extra flesh.

“What about me? Eddie pulled on his loose shirt.

“You’re a shadow of your former self.”

Sookie and I saw Buddy Miles and Big Brother at the Fillmore. We ate steamed vegetables with Eddie. In bed she was different from before. I didn’t ask why she closed her eyes.

The first week in February I moved into an apartment in Brighton’s Bug Village. The walls were thin as a potato chip and the electric space heater only warmed the living room. I colonized it with a color TV. Wayne came over to crash with Marie on the weekends. She played Dave Van Ronk’s TEDDY BEARS’ PICNIC several times throughout the night. I gave them the bedroom. It was so cold that Marie called it ‘the bear cave’. Wayne bought an electric blanket for their visits and Marie never complained after that.

My trips to New York dropped from once a week to twice a month and on every trip to New York the change in Eddie was more noticeable. He was starving to death. Sookie remained skinny. We made love in the back room. Sometimes I felt like Eddie and her were man and wife.

“Are you sure he’s not jealous?”

“We’re just friends.” Sookie showed me what not friends meant every night I stayed in that apartment.

Early May Wayne, Marie, Nick, Jolee, Eddie, Sookie, and I attended an antiwar protest in Central Park. Eddie was able to walk about 100 feet at a time. Sookie encouraged him every step of the way. He really was getting thinner and I started to suspect that there was something between them.

“You’re an idiot.” Wayne said more than once on the ride back to Boston. Nick agreed with him and so did Marie. “They’re just friends.”

“If you say so.” The difference between friend and fiend was one letter.

Back in Boston I tried to concentrate on school. My grades had suffered from smoking pot and driving taxi at night. I would have failed my final exam in Calculus I, except Eddie mailed me some speed to cram four months’ of classes into 50 hours. I received a D+. The professor suggested I change my major next year. I considered it good advice and changed to Economics. Nick shook his head at my choice.

“Economics is one step above Accounting.” He was taking pre-Med. His grades were no better than mine and he planned on attending medical school in the Philippines, if Dagupan City University would have him.

“Maybe.” The profit from our reefer sales matched the salary for a Harvard Business School graduate. Economics taught supply and demand. This knowledge might prove essential to our business. It was the end of May. I phoned Sookie to tell her that I was coming down for a week.

“This isn’t a good time.” She hadn’t seen me in two weeks. “Eddie’s been so good, but he had a relapse yesterday. He ate a whole bag of cookies. I’ve shut him in the apartment without any food.”

“What are you? A Nazi?” I was used to seeing her.

“No, but Eddie’s getting close.”

“How can you tell?” No store-bought scale reached over 300.

“Because I weighed him at the meat market.” She was proud of this accomplishment. “Eddie weighs 290. He could get to 250 by the Fourth of July.”

“What about the pot?” I had run out two days ago. She wasn’t telling me what I needed to hear.

“Sorry, he’s not receiving calls this week. Tell Wayne not to call either. It’s only another six weeks. Then everything will go back to normal.”

She hung up without allowing a rebuttal. I hitchhiked over to Wayne’s house for dinner. His mother made us lasagne. She said Jolee was working as a nurse in New York.

“Says she sees a lot of your skinny friend.”

“Sookie?” I lost my appetite.

“Yes, that’s her name.” His mother was happy. “Maybe she can make a woman out of Jolee.”

“More the other way around,” Wayne muttered under his breath.

Upstairs I informed Wayne of Sookie’s edict. His brow furrowed with the realization that our dealer had slunk undercover. He pulled out Crimson King’s I LISTEN TO THE WIND, then scratched his beard pondering our situation. His decision came before Greg Lake sang the first chorus.

“Nothing we can do. Eddie’s in her hands. We’re 200 miles away. Best we find someone selling pot in Boston.”

A biker from Wollaston Beach beat us for a pound. It was shy two ounces. The next dealer demanded cash up front. I gave him half. He disappeared with $80. I called Eddie’s apartment without anyone answering on the other end. Wayne said that his sister had called to say Eddie and Sookie were doing fine. At night I fell asleep to dreams of Jolee in bed with her. They were all pornographic.

Wayne and I stopped trying to score pot. Taxi driving was slow with the college kids out of town. My rent was late. My father found me a summer job drafting new wire charts for the telephone company. My tools were a ruler, a #2 pencil, and an electric eraser. A 26 year-old first-line executive hung around my desk. Linda was a divorcee. She had a daughter. My father warned she was trouble. Her perfume was Chanel and she had a nervous habit of playing with her bra strap.

Linda lived in Concord. Her mother could take care of her daughter. I invited her to see Emerson, Lake, and Palmer at the Hatchshell along the Charles. After the concert we made out on the Esplanade. She came back to Bug Village. It would have been so easy to betray Sookie, instead I was a good boy.

Linda asked if I was gay.

“No.” I wasn’t the only boy in the 1960s to play with his sister’s Barbie dolls.

Linda left my apartment and I didn’t expect to see her again.  I called Nick on Staten Island. It was after midnight. He picked up after one ring. His mother came on and he said, “I have it.”

She hung up and I asked, “Have you seen Jolee?”

“She and I saw BB King at the Fillmore.” His voice was slowed by sleep. “Moby Grape opened for them.”

“What about Sookie?” I loved OMAHA.

“Her too.”

“How she doing?” I should have been sitting next to her at the Fillmore.

“Good. She’s says another couple of weeks and Eddie will be ready to fly.”

“How she look?” I imagined her a smaller version of Jolee.

“Like a hippie fashion model.”

“She say anything about me?”

“No.”

The Hi-Hat Lounge stayed open until 2. I drank ten beers in those two hours. I showed up to work an hour late. My father was not happy. He called me into his office.

“Your behavior reflects directly on me.” He looked at his  bald-headed boss. Mr. Ryan hadn’t written my father a favorable report in years. They exchanged a glance steeped with hostility. The older executive made scissors with his fingers. “You might get a haircut too.”

“Okay.” No way I was cutting my hair, but coming to work on time was easy. “I won’t be late again.”

“Your being late isn’t about that girl?”

“No, sir.” I had no idea how he knew about Sookie.

“That’s what I figured.” My father rose from his desk. His office had a view of Boston Harbor. He stood at the window outlined by the sky. “I know you’re not following the path I planned for you, but you should be careful. About work, school, and especially about that girl. Broken hearts are hard at any age.”

“Yes, sir.” As far as I know my father had only ever dated my mother and they had already been married 20 years.

That evening Linda and I saw the Rolling Stones movie GIMME SHELTER. The only fat people in the film were the singer from Canned Heat, a naked girl on LSD, and a victim of the Hell’s Angles. I didn’t spot anyone like Sookie in the thousands of faces gathered before the stage at Altamont. After the movie we went over to my apartment.

I opened a bottle of Mateus rose wine and put on the Wailers’ CATCH A FIRE on my second-hand stereo.  Linda loved KINKY REGGAE, despite my cheap stylus. We had sex twice in an hour. Sookie only came to mind after Linda left for Concord. I didn’t have to make a choice between the two. Sookie was in New York and Linda was here.

The last week in June Wayne called my apartment. I hadn’t seen him a while. Fore River was far from Commonwealth Avenue and Marie was at Beauty School in Quincy. His days were devoted to killing time until she came back from classes. They had no real need to leave the Eden of his bedroom, but the real reason was that Marie and he were tight and I figured she was avoiding an interrogation about Sookie

“What you doing this weekend?”

“Going down the Cape.” Linda had rented a cottage on Truro. She was expecting me to join her on Friday. There were two bedrooms. Her six year-old daughter was staying in one of them and I was a little nervous about meeting her for the first time.

“That’s too bad. The Fillmore East has the Allman Brothers, J. Geils, and Albert King for the closing show. We’re staying at my sister’s place. Eddie’s still in seclusion.”

“The Fillmore is closing?”

“The Summer of Love has moved to the country. We’re staying the week, why don’t you come for the 4th. You have any plans?”

“No.” Linda’s mother was visiting her for the holiday. Our meeting was obviously not a good idea. 19 to 26 was a big spread in most people’s eyes.

“You forget about Eddie’s flight? He lost all that weight and has a glider hired for the 3rd. Out in Queens at Floyd Bennett Field. Marie and I are heading down on the train. You want to come with us?”

“I don’t know.” The 4th was a Sunday.

“You think Sookie won’t see you?”

“She hasn’t called me in I don’t know how long.”

“No one likes long-distance relationships, but I spoke with Eddie. He has pot for us. He wants to thank you for not making any problem about Sookie staying with him.”

“She still there?”

“Where else would she be?”

“Your sister’s place?”

He laughed so loud I had to hold the phone away from my ear.

“Sookie into girls?” Wayne explained how his sister had hit on Sookie several times until Eddie warned Jolee to chill her jets. “Sookie is straight. Straight with you too. From what Marie tells me she hasn’t seen anyone else. Same as you, right?”

“Yeah.” I hadn’t mentioned Linda to him or Nick.

“So I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you.” He hung up and I sat on my sofa to consider whether I should go to New York this weekend. An unannounced appearance at Eddie’s apartment could go one of two ways. Sookie had said July 4th. Seven more days was only 134 hours. I couldn’t calculate the minutes in my head.

After work on Friday I hitchhiked to the Cape. The first ride took me to the Sagamore Bridge and the next one got me to Chatham. It was dark by the time I got to Truro. Linda was happy to see me. Her daughter was shy at first, but after dinner I won her heart by reading CINDERELLA. She fell asleep on the sofa and I carried her to bed. Linda and I had a glass of wine and watched the stars fill the night sky over the bay. We tried to be quiet in bed.

The weather that weekend was classic Cape. Blue skies flirted with a seasonally warm sea. Gulls glided over salt marshes on zephyr winds. Linda drove us over to Nauset Beach. The water was cold enough to sting your flesh. I draped myself in seaweed and Linda’s daughter laughingly called me the ‘monster’. That evening we ate lobster on the porch. Linda made a little more noise in bed.

Sunday afternoon Linda drove me to the Chatham Circle. She kissed me good-bye and her daughter smooched my cheek. Linda’s mother was coming down for the week. I told her that I’d see her at work after the 4th. Three rides later I was in Boston.

The next five days passed with increasing slowness, especially at work. I arrived on time and punched out at 5pm every night. My father and I met my mother for dinner at Joe Techi’s in the North End on Wednesday evening. We talked politics. Both of them had voted for Nixon. They were pro-war. We only agreed on what to have for dessert, a slice of Boston cream pie each. After dinner I walked them to their Delta 88.

“When are you cutting you hair?” my father asked in front of the Old North Church.

“I’m certainly not getting it cut for your boss.” Everyone in the office hated Mr. Ryan. Linda had mentioned more than once how he kept my father under him to boost his figures. My father was too good a team player to speak up on his own behalf.

“It’s a sin for a man to have such good hair.” My mother toyed with my hair with envy. She hated going to beauty shops for her perm.

“You look like Beethoven.” My father sported a buzz-cut, although his sideburns were long to show younger people that he was slightly in touch with the times.

“I’m not that moody.” I visualized Beethoven as a bust on a piano. He always looked angry.

“Teenagers are always moody.” My mother slipped me $20. “Go buy yourself a nice shirt.”

“And have a good weekend.” My father cuffed me a $10. I kissed them both. I had spent most of my 4th of Julys with them; eating hot dogs, swimming at Nantasket Beach, and watching fireworks over Paragon Park. I almost wished that I was a kid again, so they could take me home, instead I waved good-bye and walked over Beacon Hill to Boylston Street. Walker’s Western Store was still open. I bought a Levi jacket and jeans for my trip to look good for Sookie. From what everyone had said, she was even prettier than before.

Friday couldn’t come quick enough. I might have punched out early, except Mr. Ryan had warned the office staff that everyone had to work until 5pm. As soon as the second hand hit five, everyone raced out of the building and I ran across downtown to South Station with a canvas carryall banging against my back. Thankfully the train to Penn Station was 10 minutes late. The conductor didn’t charge extra for my ticket. He was a hippie too. I bought a beer from the club car and watched Boston disappear from the windows. New York was five hours away.

After my arrival at Penn Station I tried calling Eddie’s apartment. No one answered the phone. I didn’t know how to reach the East Village by subway, so I exited from the terminal and flagged a Checker on 6th Avenue. The driver was a fellow Teamster. He didn’t turn on the meter. Normally the fare to St. Marks Place was almost $3. I gave him a five.

“You want I should wait?”

“No, everything will be alright.” I raised my eyes to the 3rd floor. The windows were dark. Two sweating junkies were on the stoep. They didn’t get out of the way and I had to step around them. I pressed the buzzer. No one replied on the intercom. The junkies laughed at my departure. I walked down to the Gem Spa and dropped a dime into the payphone. The ringing only bought on more ringing. I returned to the building. The two junkies had multiplied to four. They eyed my bag. I walked past the stairs and ordered a beer at the Grassroots Bar. Thirty minutes later I wandered past Eddie’s tenement on the other side of the street. The junkies followed me with their eyes. 1971 was not the Summer of Love and I killed an hour in the St. Mark’s Cinema. A bad copy of EAST RIDER flickered against the torn screen. Someone sat behind me during the acid trip in New Orleans. It was one of the junkies. I exited the theater and went up the steps to the entrance. Someone was coming out and I entered the building. The junkies rushed the door. I slammed it in their face.

“We’ll get you when you come out.” A rat-faced addict snarled with his nose pressed to the glass.

I climbed the stairs two at a time, praying the door held tight. On the 3rd floor landing I couldn’t hear anything other than my heart beat, then Dave Van Ronk started singing BIRD ON A WIRE. I knocked on the door and several seconds later it opened wide.

“What are you doing here?” Sookie asked with unmasked surprise. She was a little heavier than before, but the extra pounds had vanquished her skeletal visage.

“Didn’t Wayne tell you I was coming?” I peeked over her shoulder. Wayne and Marie were on the couch. A stranger was standing by the fish tanks. His skin appeared to have melted from his face and his body flesh sagged from his bones. It was Eddie. He had lost the weight.

“Yes, but he didn’t say anything about when.” Sookie was wearing a powder blue suede vest and no shirt. Her matching skirt was cut short to an inch below her butt. She answered my dreams with reality until I realized that my arrival was an intrusion. Flowers were arranged in vases. The walls were painted a gentle rose pink. Curtains covered the windows. Wayne and Marie lounged on a new sofa. Eddie’s old throne was missing from the living room. The apartment was now more than one person’s home.

“C’mon in.” Eddie was embarrassed by the expression on my face.

“It’s better if I go.” I was trespassing on a fairy tale re-enactment of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and my character didn’t exist in the story, except as the village lout.

“You’re here now. Don’t go.” Sookie stepped away from the entrance. The room reeked of marijuana. The phone was off the hook. I put my bag on the floor and Sookie closed the door.

“I can explain everything.” Eddie handed me a joint. It was unlit.

“Don’t.” I had too many questions for which I couldn’t expect an answer, plus I had my own secrets. Sookie lit a match. I inhaled on the joint. The reefer was better than anything we had bought before. “Is there any more of this left?”

“A couple of pounds.” Eddie gestured to the front room. “You can sleep there tonight.”

“No, I’m headed over to Nick’s place in Staten Island.” It was a lie.

“At this hour.” The ex-fat man was more concerned about me than anyone else.

“The ferries run all night long.” I picked up my bag.

“I’m flying tomorrow morning.” Eddie was apologetic without saying he was sorry. “You’re coming to that, aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I looked at Sookie for her invitation. She dropped her eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You really are going to Staten Island?” Sookie went to Eddie.

“Yeah.” I exited from the apartment and walked down the stairs. The junkies were waiting on the sidewalk. The look on my face discouraged any of their strategies and I went over to the hotel on the corner of St. Marks Place and 3rd Avenue. The manager asked for $15. I paid him with a twenty. The room was small and the walls weren’t thick enough to stop the shouts of the couple next door. The sheets were greasy and the pillows smelled of a thousand unwashed heads. Several people tried the lock during the night. I lay on the floor with my feet pressed against the flimsy door. My head rested on my bag. It was uncomfortable, but I finally fell asleep, despite the arguments echoing from the street.

I woke at dawn. My skin itched from bug bites. The heat of the city had exhausted the air in the room. I checked out of the hotel and walked down St. Marks Place. Bodies lay atop sheets of newspaper. I recognized one of the junkies from the previous night. Eddie’s front window was open and I almost climbed up the steps to buzz his apartment, instead I went around the corner to the B&H Dairy and I ordered a bagel with a chocolate egg cream. Someone had left a New York Times on the counter and I read about the sports section. The Red Sox had no chance of winning the World Series this year.

Church bells were tolling out 8 o’clock by my return to Eddie’s building. I was just in time, because Sookie’s LeMans was double-parked on the street. The top was down and Wayne was in the back with Marie. Sookie was riding shotgun with Eddie behind the wheel. They girls were wearing halter-tops and hot pants. It was a new look from England. Someone had told me it was popular with prostitutes.

“Any room for me?” I was the 5th wheel.

“Plenty of room in back.” Eddie opened his door and then the trunk. I threw in my bag and took my place next to Marie. She smiled ‘good morning’ and Wayne brandished the power fist. Eddie started the engine. The V-6 was tuned to purr. Sookie slipped Joni Mitchell on the 8-track. The first song was THE CIRCLE GAME. I read her choice as a message without deciphering the lyrics in my favor. Eddie made the light at St. Marks and turned south on 2nd Avenue.

The two couples spoke to each other often during the trip along the East River over the Brooklyn Bridge down the BQE under the Verrazano Bridge and looping past Coney Island onto a long parkway leading to the ocean. Their words were mainly meant for each other, although they tried to engage me in their conversations. It was impossible with the wind whistling in my ears. The morning air was thick with humidity, but I caught the scent of the sea from the passing marshes. A plane was lazily circling in the sky. Eddie slowed down to turn left toward a collection of hangars. Most were crowded with Navy reserve aircraft. As we neared the runway, Eddie looked over his shoulder with a nervous smile. A single-engine airplane was waiting on the tarmac with a glider.

“You have a good day for it.” I studied at the cloudless sky.

“It’s your dream come true.” Sookie squeezed Eddie’s arm.

“Yeah.” He parked the car in the shade of the hangar and waved to the two men standing by the Cessna. “I never thought this day would come.”

We got out of the car and walked over to the glider. The Preiss RHJ-7 was a sleek two-seater. The pilot explained that Eddie was sitting beside him as a passenger. At no time would his hands touch the controls. The flight pattern was dictated by the proximity of JFK airport. In all Eddie would be air-borne was an hour. He paid the pilots their money and they handed him orange overalls. The size was an XXL. Eddie struggled into the uniform and pulled on a crash helmet. He smiled like he had been born for this moment and walked over us. He was no longer a freak.

“I couldn’t have done this without you.” He kissed Sookie on the cheek.

“Go touch the sky.” Sookie shook him gently with both hands.

Wayne and Marie wished him success and Eddie came over to me.

“Thanks for coming.” His eyes were edged by unfallen tears.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” I gave him a hug. The fat had vanished from his body, however the flesh hung from his bones like his bulk had melted under heat rather than a diet. I guessed he weighed 250. The pilot looked around 180. “How much can this plane carry?”

“It’s not a plane really. It’s a sailplane. It’s supposed to be safe for up to 500 pounds.”
The two men together came to 430. Eddie turned to Sookie. “It’s safe really.”

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed.” Wayne shook his friend’s hand.

Eddie kissed Sookie again and whispered in her ear, then he walked over to the glider. He sat in first and then the pilot took his place behind the controls. The launch pilot shut the cockpit and went to the Cessna. Its engine started with a roar. He let it warm up for a minute and taxied onto the runway with the glider in tow. Marie held onto Sookie. Wayne came over to me.

Wayne cleaned his glasses with his shirttail. “Would you do anything like that?”

“No.” I realized Eddie was braver than me and for more than this flight. He had lost all that weight. His life was different from six months ago. Sookie loved him. All I thought about when he said he was going to lose all that weight was how he would fit in the glider. The rest of it never crossed my mind. “I’m scared of heights.”

The Cessna was in position with the glider far behind its tail. Its engine surged with power and the plane steadily gathered speed until its wheel lifted off the earth and tugged the sailplane into the air. Sookie and Marie jumped up and down. Eddie’s waved his hand and the girls screamed out his name. He was airborne. Nick’s Mini-Cooper pulled up to the hangar. He was with Jolee.

“We miss it?” He was wearing binoculars around his neck.

“Just the take-off.” Wayne pointed to the two specks flying out over the Jamaica Bay. “He’s got an hour up there.”

“Cool.” Nick raised the binoculars to his eyes. “Looks awfully flimsy.”

“Don’t say anything that could jink him.” Wayne had read up on sailplanes. They crashed frequently due to downdrafts during the landing.

“The tow plane released them now.” Nick followed the glider’s slow turn to the right. “I think he’s elevating on a thermal over Riis Park.”

The glider soared in circles until it was small as a bird. Sookie couldn’t take her eyes away from it. Nick handed her the binoculars. Wayne and I walked behind the hangar to smoke a joint.

“You’re not pissed, are you?”

“Pissed for what?” Sookie hadn’t been my girlfriend. She had helped Eddie lose his weight. Eddie was going to deal pot to us again. Linda was waiting in Boston. “Everything worked out for the better.”

Except I would never sleep with Sookie again.

“That’s a really righteous attitude.” Wayne passed me the joint. “Me, I’d be pissed. Like Eddie said he wasn’t going after Sookie.”

“Maybe I can get him to sell us the pot at a lower price.”

“That’d be good.”

I couldn’t ask for anymore. Wayne stubbed out the joint. We returned to the others. Sookie was following the glider. It was looping in circles. This trick had to be taking its toll on Eddie’s stomach. They still had another 30 minutes in the air. Sookie handed the binoculars to Wayne. Marie hugged him from behind. Jolee and Nick retreated from the hot sun into the hangar. I put on Ray-Bans, not wanting Sookie to see my eyes.

“Are you okay?” Sookie took out pink-shaded glasses and perched them at the end of her nose. They were more for looks than protection against the sun and complimented the soft satin of her hot pants. “About you and me.”

“You want the truth or a lie?” I wasn’t sure which was which.

“The truth always.” She cocked a hip to the side. Sookie had grown up fast in New York. She was no longer a girl of the suburbs.

“Truth.” I stammered slightly before saying, “I liked you. I liked sleeping with you. I missed you these months. I thought about you a lot. I wish you weren’t with Eddie, but I can see that the two of you are happy together and there’s nothing I can do that will change that other than to make a scene and be an asshole. Is there?

I had to throw in the last two words just in case.

“No, I’m happy with Eddie.”

I should have saved my breath.

“Good, I’m glad someone is happy.”

“And you’ll be happy too.” Sookie glanced up in the sky. The glider was getting closer.

“One day soon too.” I didn’t have to hold back with Linda anymore and bent over to kiss Sookie on the cheek. “Good luck.”

Eddie landed ten minutes later. He climbed out of the sailplane and walked over to Sookie. She gave him a kiss on the lips. Neither of them looked at anyone else for several seconds, then Eddie went over to the LeMans and pulled out a paper bag. It held a sandwich. He unwrapped the paper and bit into the bread.

“Diet’s over.” Eddie mumbled with his mouth full.

We drove over to Breezy Point and ate at a fish shack. Eddie had seconds on everything. Sookie didn’t eat anything. Everything was back to normal. I left that evening on the train with two pounds of reefer. Eddie had lowered the price by $10. It wasn’t much, considering he had stolen Sookie, but then again it was better than nothing, especially in 1971.

2 Comments

  1. Posted October 8, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Peter is not just a good writer, but in my humble opinion, a great writer. I loved this story, I read it at work when I was supposed to be doing a hundred other tasks, but once I started, I just couldn’t stop. Thanks for a lovely couple of hours.

  2. Richard Rosewarne
    Posted October 9, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Great one Pete! Memories from another time and era. What will our grandchildren think on reading our work in 20 years time?

    R

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