WHEN FAT MEN FLY by Peter Nolan Smith / Chapter 4

The first week in February I moved into an apartment in Brighton’s Bug Village. The walls were thin as a potato chip and a single electric space heater warmed the living room. I colonized it with a color TV.

Wayne came over to crash with Marie after concerts. Neither of them had a car. She played Dave Van Ronk’s TEDDY BEARS’ PICNIC several times throughout the night. I gave them the bedroom. My bedroom was so cold that Marie called it ‘the bear cave’. Wayne bought an electric blanket for their visits and Marie ceased her complaints.

Wayne and I traded weekend trips to New York. Eddie’s loss of weight was more noticeable each time I entered his apartment. He was basically starving to death. Sookie remained skinny. We made love in the back room. She never made a sound. 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 of my visit.

In early May Wayne, Marie, Nick, Jolee, Eddie, Sookie, and I attended an anti-war protest in Central Park. Eddie walked about 100 feet at a time without losing his breath. Sookie encouraged him every step of the way. He really was getting thinner and I voiced my suspicions to Wayne 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 concentrated on school. My grades suffered from smoking pot and driving taxi at night. My draft number was dangerously low and flunking out of school would have been rewarded with a letter from the Selective Service. I passed my final exam in Calculus I. I crammed four months’ of classes into 50 hours. I received a D+. The professor suggested I change my major next year and I transferred my credits to Economics. Nick shook his head at my choice.

“Economics is one step above Accounting.” His grades were no better than mine and his post-graduation destination was a medical school in the Philippines, if Dagupan City University would have him.

“Maybe.” The profit from my 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?” Sookie was the only woman in my life.

“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. Eddie weighs 290. He could get to 250 by the Fourth of July.” She was proud of this accomplishment.

“What about the pot? I ran 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.

After that everything will return to normal.”

She hung up and I hitchhiked over to Wayne’s house for dinner. His mother made us lasagna. She said

Jolee was working as a nurse in New York.

“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 like 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 shut off our supply. 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.”

Our luck wasn’t good. 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 $200. 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. The long-legged brunette 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. It was fringed with lace.

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 caught 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 is 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 does she look?” I imagined her a smaller version of Jolee.

“Like a hippie fashion model.”

“She say anything about me?”

“No.”

I left the house and caught a taxi down Commonwealth Avenue. 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 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 Angels. I didn’t spot anyone like Sookie in the thousands of faces gathered before the stage at Altamont. After the movie we returned 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 on my cheap stylus. The music filtered through the thin walls of my bedroom. Linda lit candles and stripped off her clothing. Her slender body was almost Sookie’s twin. We had sex twice in an hour. 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 for his absence 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 expected 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?”

“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. Linda had said sorry.

“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. I had nothing else to do.

“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 that 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 calculated the minutes in my head. I had to round off the number. It was more than I could count on my fingers.

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