I lingered for a while, then began the long walk back to Garden’s Beach View Motel. It was just shy of ten o’clock on this late spring night, yet it felt much later. The sky remained crystal clear, and blazing stars and a robust orange moon lit the road. There was no one around. The streets had rolled up early; other than the warm, heavy breeze off the bay, there was a disconcerting calm.
Still, my thoughts were racing. I wanted to produce some shows. Sow my oats. Seek my bliss. It all seemed there for the taking, like the brass ring on a carousel; yet one that doesn’t come around as often, perhaps only once. I should have been elated that Mrs. Barrows had suggested that by noon tomorrow I might be on my way to making some magic. Instead I felt confusion and angst. What the hell was going on? Was I going to fuck this up, blow this chance for lack of knowing what to do? Man, I’m still a New York neurotic, even after four years in Boston.
I told myself to relax, but I felt overmatched. What was expected of me at noon tomorrow? I thought about my father and where he was at my age. Six thousand miles from home in a bunker somewhere in Europe. He had real problems, true stakes. Freezing his ass off and eating K rations. There was no pink-lip-glossed beauty offering herself to him. It made me feel guilty and spineless. I had a buzz from the alcohol, or her kiss, or her perfume, and a seemingly endless walk in front of me. I found a beachside pay phone and asked the operator for the local taxi company. She gave me the number for Garden Cab, I dropped a dime and ten minutes later a beat-up Chevy Impala drove up to meet me.
My driver was a heavyset man in his midfifties sporting a long ponytail, tattoos, and a belly that made you wonder when the baby was due. His cab smelled of stale cigarettes and beer. It was a short ride home; I managed with the windows down.
I retrieved my key from the front office. Surprisingly, Veronica was still manning the fort, and she greeted me with a big friendly smile. Noticing that I was drunk, she came around from behind the desk and steadied my walk with her arm firmly placed behind the small of my back.
“Quite a night, handsome,” she said. “There’s a whole summer ahead. Pace yourself. You can’t live it all at once.”
I said something dumb and obvious about her being “really hot,” as if she had never heard that before. She helped me climb the steps to my room, opened the door, and navigated me to the side of the bed. Veronica pulled off my shoes, arranged the pillows under my head, and headed out.
Before leaving the room, I stopped her with a question. “Why is someone as pretty as you working at this crummy hotel?”
“Why are you staying here?”
“Because I have no money and you are the desk clerk.”
“That’s sweet. So if I wasn’t attractive it would be all right to work here?”
“Yup. I mean nope, don’t I? It’s just that people like you seem to have it easy. And you’re really pretty.”
“People like me? What does that mean exactly?”
“You are extremely attractive.” I slurred this. “Did you just say I looked like a tractor?”
“No, you’re pretty. If you were a tractor, you’d be a pretty one.”
She paused for a long time. “I’m working here because I need the money for school. I work at the front desk so I might get the chance to meet someone like you.” She said this with her tongue firmly planted in her lovely cheek.
“If I had any money, I would give it to you,” I said.
“Why would you give me money?”
“Well . . . because . . .”
“Then you’re a dope.”
“Yup,” I said proudly. “Hey, where are you going to college?”
She sat at the very end of the bed. “I’m going to Boston University to become a shrink. I just finished two years at community college and worked here and at odd jobs to save as much money as I could. I like to watch people and their behavior. I think this’ll make me a good shrink. I can tell things about people just by looking at them.”
“Like a fortune teller?”
“If you’d like to look at it that way.”
“My fortune says you want to kiss me, right?”
“See, I knew that about you: that you were an unabashed flirt.” “What else?”
“You’re ambitious and on a mission. You’re a person who chooses life rather than allowing it to choose you..”
This inebriated silly exchange had taken on new depth. “We are both too young to think those things, to figure it all out so quickly..”
“You’’d be surprised. Our lives are there for us to make something of. To do less is a disappointment..”
“Have you read The Fountainhead?”
“No, do you think I should?”
“Yes, I most definitely do..”
She looked hard into my eyes, as if trying to figure something out.
“So will you kiss me?” I asked.
“No,,” she replied very quickly and with absolute certainty.
“But everybody kisses me. It’s like a ritual, maybe even a tradition. Why won’t you kiss me?”
“Because everybody kisses you..”
“That’s a real shame because you’re such a pretty tractor..” I began to wonder if the room rate was going to go up if I didn’t stop talking.
“And although there is a certain charm about a drunken flirty lug, it’s fleeting and I’m better than that..”
“That is so wise,,” I said, sadly knowing she wasn’t going to change her mind.
“No more trouble for you tonight, big boy. Lights out till morning..”