WHEN FAT MEN FLY by Peter Nolan Smith Chapter 2

A day before New Year’s Eve Sookie and Marie came over 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. Even one as big as Weymouth.

“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 the Gabor sisters were blondes. She liked smoking on the holidays. Her finger poked Wayne. “Go visit your sister n NewYork. 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. “Nothing bad’s gonna happen to her?”

“Just do what I ask for once.”

“Yes, mom.” Wayne was a good son. His mom’s Xmas 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. This trip was about seeing the biggest city in the world.

“And we got the rest of the week off.” Sookie clapped her hands, as we drove away from Wayne’s house. The car skidded on ice. I corrected the spin with the steering wheel. I had been born in Maine. We knew how to drive in the winter.

“How you get off work?” Wayne rolled 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 pink lipstick. “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 Rhode Island’s 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. Cops didn’t like hippies driving fast.

When the LeMans crossed over the Hutchinson River Bridge, Wayne woke up and rubbed his face. The girls sensed his stirring and blinked their eyes for several seconds being 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. It had looked like Disneyworld built on a swamp. My father had said, “Another time.”

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

“You want to stop for a visit?”

“No way.” Wayne shook his head. “Crow’s Ave is where greasers gave me fat-boy beatings. I hope they’re all dead.”

His voice was chilled by the memory of that bullying. I understood. I had been bullied too. I turned up the radio. The DJ was playing the Stooges’ WANNA BE YOUR DOG. The song was banned from the Boston airwaves. This city was not my hometown.

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 fell 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. Say 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 kissed the big-bottomed blonde. I could see in the rear-view mirror she only cared about pleasing her ‘teddy bear’. Wayne directed me to a parking garage.

“Better to park the car here rather than on the street.”

“Parking tickets?” Boston cops loved sticking violations under the windshield wiper.

“That and car thieves.”

“Park it in a lot.” Sookie loved her car.

Wayne 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. Young men studied the two girls like they were dirty books to be checked out of a porno shop in the Combat Zone. 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 eyed the windows banded by the fire escapes across the face of the five-story building. A few glowed with light. They were on the upper floors.

“You’ll see.” Wayne climbed the stoop 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 4rd floor the scent of marijuana overwhelmed the food odors. Wayne knocked on the door of 4A.

“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 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. It offered little privacy.

“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. Eddie had money.

“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. I never had a cop give me a full body search.”

“When was the last time you stripped naked?” Wayne lowered the stylus onto 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. His chest heaved like a whale out of water. “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 be done, so I 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. I guessed his weight at 250. Eddie was aiming at losing almost one Wayne or two Sookies. I was 170.

“Or 35 pounds a month.” Eddie tapped his left nostril and inhaled a white line of powder. “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 later haggled the price down to $150 and convinced Eddie to front us each another pound. The profit on my sales would pay for a deposit on an apartment. Moving to Boston would make my life 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 the War and she didn’t tell any stories. 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 canted their one-chorus song in front of the Gem Spa. Their smiles seemed to have been lifted from God. 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 slept in 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. It would be our honeymoon suite. Hippie girls liked romantic and so did I.

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