Flowers and Gold, Girls and Stars
It is youth’s felicity as well as its insufficiency that it can never live in the present, but must always be measuring up the day against its own radiantly imagined future—flowers and gold, girls and stars, they are only prefigurations and prophecies of that incomparable, unattainable young dream. —F. Scott Fitzgerald.
My mother brought me out to Hollywood thinking I was star material. It was a natural mistake many mothers made in the 1940s, and Hollywood was only too glad to oblige the rush to stardom by offering classes in speaking, walking, dancing, singing, everything but acting.
My father, Meatus Potto, acted like he was just off the boat (he was). Big hairy chest, and a bigger hairy belly hanging over the black Speedos he favored for walking the beaches from Malibu to Redondo, kicking a small ball up and down with his knees and feet and making obscene grunting noises in his native tongue, his big belly bobbing up and down past the blanket-beauties, his butt stuck out as far as possible without surgery.
My mother, equally blessed with cold-proof layers of fat, ignored his prancing among the girls. She looked upon these weekends at the beach as a time to catch up on the latest Hollywood gossip, looking for the edge she would need for her boy, the future star: Magus Ocsilllus Potto. Or “Pot” as I was called by a producer who laughed at my audition. “You call that a voice?” he snarled, his face inches from mine. “Hell, they ain’t dropped yet and you think you have a speaking voice. Next!” That evening my mother asked my father to explain the producer’s words. “What did he mean, Meatus, about something dropping? What drops? What?” My father looked at her in the mirror as he assumed poses, flexing his stomach muscles, sucking in, smiling, as Uncle Fabian said, like a diamond in a goat’s ass.
“Balls! The bastard was talking about Magus’ balls. They got to drop into the sack before his voice is manly. The sonofabitch. May he sire eunuchs from his scrawny loins.”
Uncle Fabian nodded and lifted his eyes to the photo of his favorite saint, Father Latisimus, who lived in a cave on one of the small islands of the Outer Pectorals, but when my father read of his arrest for moving into the cave-like church on Patmos where St. John wrote the book of Revelation, he collected him up, as they say in Texas, and brought him to California and a life of ease in a make-shift root cellar he shares with mushrooms and a litter of possums.
High School was pretty much of a bust. Unless you call graduating with a 1.5 GPA a good sendoff! I couldn’t get into any good colleges, so the local Community College accepted me, and watched with amazement as I set the record for years at a two-year college, at five. It was the Dean who caught up with me ambling about the campus, poking my head into classrooms to see if I saw anything familiar enough to remind me that it was the class I was supposed to be in. I stayed in Biology 101 for a week because I liked the way the Professor said, “A mammal is wholly or partly covered with hair and suckles its young.” Then, onto drama w here I slumped into the last seat and watched the young girl in front of me smooth the pleats in her skirt for the tenth time, her slender legs lifting up and down as if she were walking in snow. I leaned my head over her shoulder, and, screwing my face into what I hoped would pass for remembrance of things past, I cooed: “Is that White Shoulders”?
“Why, yes, how did you know?” The girl turned full round and looked into my cornflower-blue eyes (my mother’s phrase). I kept my head over her shoulder, watching the instructor disappear behind a screen, projecting his voice from a deep make-believe well while a boy searched a thick wood for his father, whose voice called painfully for help. I watched, my chin just touching White Shoulder’s shoulder, then jumped to my feet and cried: “My son, my son, it is I, your father, behind this tree! The voice from the well belongs to a criminal who saw you and was about to take you for ransom, and tripped over yonder bush and fell into that well!”
The class turned as one to stare at me, Magus Ocsillus Potto, standing on my chair, one hand over my heart, the other pointing to the screen (deep well) from which there now appeared the startled instructor. White Shoulders looked up at me, her pouty mouth opening like a tulip and said, “Oh, that was wonderful! Just wonderful!” and clapped her hands.
“That was truly a spontaneous act,” the instructor gushed. “You found yourself in the moment and reacted. Class! Did you hear what I just said?” He raised his eyebrows and waited. “I said he reacted! He didn’t think! He reacted! Well done, oh, well done indeed.”
I watched White Shoulders cross the campus and followed her into the library, a large building with books I meant to investigate one day. A year and four musical shows later in which I sang, danced, and reacted, I told my mother I had found my niche. Her face beamed at me over a boiling pot of something, but my father fumed in front of the full-length mirror, patting his pecs and exhaling oaths and expletives about his only son, a failure, and how he would have been made to sleep with his girl cousins until he renounced such acting foolishness.
Apparently I had found but one piece of a niche. The entire niche remained hidden much like the deep well was hidden from the boy in the acting class. But I, Magus, shielding my eyes against the clear, bright sun of reality, turned twenty, married the pretty girl with White Shoulders and quickly (as possible) fathered two little boys, Fharta and Deltoid, both with large hairy bellies.
But my pleasure in watching my wife change diapers, wash clothes and scrub the house was short-lived because, having joined the Naval Reserve and marched back and forth carrying a wooden gun, I now felt the hot breath of the Draft Board, and not wanting to find myself somewhere in Korea or Kansas (where no one wore Speedos), I went on active duty in the Navy where I foresaw an exciting tour as a frogman—being an excellent swimmer and scuba diver, having cheated death at a few fathoms off Santa Catalina Island as a crowd on a party boat cheered as they pulled me into their dingy and pumped on my back until I released the water, seaweed, and gum I was chewing whilst (a word the southern professor with the wonderful voice used, as in ‘whilst shopping for dog food, remember to get something suitable for puppies and lactating bitches . . . ’) diving.
But fate being the fickle-fingered thing it was I injured my back in a barracks accident and made it worse trying to demonstrate water rescue on a two hundred and fifty pound recruit, then caught the measles with half the base and wound up at the Naval Hospital in Balboa Park in San Diego with a fever of 104 and orders to report to Norman, Oklahoma for training in a control tower at the airport—in spite of the fact that I was as much at home in the water as a fish, and, further, had no interest or talent for electronics. But on the second night in hospital, during a fever-induced vision of my grandmother doing an obscene dance among the sacred goats she herded on the island of my forebears, I was raised from the nightmare at three a.m. by a drunken Corpsman who told me to get my sorry ass out of the rack and polish the ward with the new, very heavy floor polisher. Then the Corpsman, weary from talking about his debauches in Tijuana, which included something about a mule, passed out.
As I took a tenuous grip on the polisher, the sailor in the next bed, recovered and due to be released the next day and whose job it actually was to polish the huge floor, laughed as I followed the monster polisher as it commenced its breakneck action back and forth across the hospital ward throughout the early morning hours until, with break of day, exhausted and sick with fever, I pulled the plug and went out onto the small balcony for air. There, my father would be the first to tell me, I felt the fickle-finger of fate again in the guise of a sentry who noted the dazed sailor weaving and unsteady on the balcony, took down the number on my hospital gown and reported it to the O.D.
The next two weeks were swift if not logical. A full Captain, M.D. told me sleepwalking was a dangerous thing on a ship, but just as I was going to assure him I was not exactly sleep walking so much as dazed and slightly out of my mind with fever, the phone rang. I wondered if it might be another one-fingered salute coming over the phone lines. The Doctor looked pale when he hung up, gazed absently out the window and said, “I’ve been assigned to sea duty—and you’re going home.” Two weeks later and twenty-five dollars for a plane ticket to LAX in my pocket, I flew away from the Navy.
When our little girl, Salmis, arrived, my wife was deliriously happy to find a cute little pink hairless tummy, and sea-green eyes like her own. The boys flexed their little pecs and sweated before the mirror while little Salmis learned to bake and sew from her mother as I watched, amazed that one ride home from that two-year college in my 1948 Studebaker Land Cruiser could lead to this. “Romantic, isn’t it”? I said. “Get a job,” she said.
“Have you ever worked in an asphalt plant, Bub?” The Foreman jerked his thumb behind him at the great black pile of asphalt. “No,” I replied truthfully, “but I am one hell of a swimmer.” But after I sent trucks with three tons of asphalt to a small job requiring a pickup load, and sent the pickup load to the crew leaning on their shovels waiting for the three tons needed for the high school parking lot, I was handed a broom and told the asphalt business required more than I possessed in the way of sense, but that I could probably keep the office clean. I remember feeling vaguely ill-used, so I told the Boss man . . . actually, I forgot what I told him, but it energized him and his broom something wonderful.
Going to school in the daytime and working at night was not what I thought education was about, but little Salmis needed braces and the boys needed help with just about everything, so I found a job at a plant that made oil coolers for airplanes, and arrived on the night shift with a bright red tool box just purchased from Sears, inside of which I had a new pair of pliers, a ball-peen hammer and a screw driver. The Lead Man looked at my new red toolbox, asked what I was going to do with the tools while I mopped floors, and handed me a mop and told me to join the night crew of five black men whose job it was to keep the place clean.
However, it wasn’t long before a good old boy called me “Nigger Lover” every time I rounded the bend at their department, mopping whatever was not sucked up by the wonderful machine handled by Homer Couch, until one night I swung my mop at Red, knocking him flat among the oil coolers. The Lead Man chewed me out and said, “No raise for you, and stay the hell away from Red!”
However, the fickle-finger of fate intervened again, this time in the form of a promotion from mopper of floors to working on the oil coolers . . . next to Red. And it wasn’t long before I understood all the laughter in that department when Emil, big, burly, of another world and beyond help, and egged on by Red and the rest of the band, produced his “Bull’s Pizzle” as he called it, laid it on a water cooler and watched as Red ran the vibrator (designed and built to expand the straw-like cylinders in oil coolers) back and forth over the gigantic member, bringing it to its manly length of ten inches, much to the delight of the department who shielded Emil the Great (whose eyes had achieved some kind of Nirvana) from the Lead Man. I tried to relate these activities to the wife but found her interest in such actions waning fast.
Having served my apprentice as water cooler fixer, and after watching a late movie showing Jimmy Stewart walking across a college campus, briefcase bulging with papers, and smoking a fine looking pipe, I vowed I would rise to some occasion or other and, as my Uncle Fabian would say, “Show the bastards!”
After several ragged attempts at higher education I accepted a teaching job at a small college in Nebraska who either didn’t know I lacked an advanced degree, or as I preferred to believe, noticed something in my doctored resume that led them to believe that I was a diamond in the rough.
Here in the heart of the heart of the nation, little Ramada Joy was born into the mildly flamboyant hills of S.E. Nebraska, where one could see the statue of the Sower, high atop City Hall in Lincoln. Uncle Fabian looked at the postcard we sent, and said it looked like a gigantic whanger, and that he knew a symbol when he saw one.
Here, contrary to all expectations, I, Magus Ocsillus Potto, flourished among the milo fields that ran from the college down to Plum Creek where I took my first creative writing class, hoping they would find beauty and inspiration in the bucolic setting. They found neither as they sat on the rickety wooden bridge swatting mosquitoes. Clearly they were not sucking up the pastoral atmosphere, and in an attempt to “goose the moose” as Uncle Fabian would say, I turned to a wan looking student leaning against one of the big Dutch Elms bearing the red X (for destruction) and said, “I see you’re swatting mosquitoes! Have you ever seen Tennessee mosquitoes? Those mosquitoes are so big,” I whispered into the ear of the pre-seminary major, “that they can stand flat-footed and . . .” but the student recoiled as if bitten by a serpent and ran through the milo, shouting what sounded like Hezikiah 3:12 over and over. It was not long before I was called into the office of the Dean of Students to explain myself, at which time I mistook the ex-Marine’s frozen smile as invitation to tell him the joke about the big mosquitoes. I had not as yet polished my ability to read smiles.
A year later and much poorer, I, Magus Ocsillus Potto had not found my true niche, but I did find women who felt sorry for me and offered solace for my burning desires for fame. Olatha (being from Kansas) suffered in silence because of the children, until she could not take it any more and said we needed to talk. Talk we did.
“Magus, you are not working.”
“Yes, love, but I’m soaking up the Southern California lifestyle and someday I will write the great novel about it.”
“Someday hell will freeze over.”
“I will be there to write it.”
“You will likely be alone when you do because I cannot stand your lady friends who, you tell me, are understanding to a marvelous degree of your pathetic status as a man tied down to a wife and family, thus unable to fulfill your destiny. Does that about sum you up?”
“I’m not sure I would put it that way, but it does have a good flow . . . maybe I could use that in a story . . . .”
Our conversation ended and we went our separate ways: actually, I went and she stayed in the hovel beneath the plane lanes with little Salmis and the growing Fharta and Deltoid, hairy stomachs and all. Sweet Ramada Joy, as the neighbors called her, went her flower-chewing way, a knowing look in her eye.
I rented a room and decided I could be a bachelor, that all it took was courage and money and friends. Then I wondered what else was required. I quieted my loneliness by the bottle until I was not lonely anymore; in fact, I was not anything anymore. The ladies who had brought solace to my fevered-brow married stockbrokers and dentists. My little black book was now filled with favorite phrases like ‘In the middle of the night she raised herself on an elbow and looked at the man sleeping on the pillow next to her. Who is this man, she wondered. What is he doing in my bed? Or, to put it another way, what am I doing in his bed? Whose bed is it, anyway?’
And: ‘When the sun set over Santa Monica harbor little boats bobbed around as if they were corks in a harbor, bobbing up and down, up and down.’
And a particular favorite: ‘The beautiful stranger held me, dying, in her arms, her palpitating bosom not three inches from my trembling lips.’ That will be a good death. One Hemingway would approve of.
I found myself penniless, homeless, and lonely. How can I, Magus Ocsillus Potto, son of Meatus Potto, nephew of Uncle Fabian, flagellant of Fr. Latisimus Dorsi, basement-dwelling hermit, be all three? That very night I, Magus, the author, was curled up in a corner of the porch of a church, listening to vermin scattering about my person. “Even in these unhealthy environs I can think of good lines,” I said aloud, brushing two large rats off my stomach. “Even here. I doubt Faulkner could have done better with his long involved and completely indigestible sentences in such a place. Fitzgerald would not be found dead in a dark corner of a church with rats genuflecting on his stomach.”
I rolled over and fished among my meager belongings in my knapsack for a stub of pencil before I forgot the clever lines I just delivered to the ratty fellows gathered in solemn conclave six inches from my nose. “I will write something terribly funny or sad,” I said to the biggest and bravest gnawing on my belt. “I will remember with fondness and gratitude my friends of the gutter and shadow, little rat person. I will find a spot for you and your ilk in a story. I will sing your song. Do you have a song? A few words? Anything?” What I got was the custodian telling me to bugger off, after handing me a tract, ‘What is A Lutheran?’
Again on hard streets, I wrote on park benches, in alleys, places people of quality do not frequent, and sent my novel off to the ‘Bigs’ in New York, and to several University Presses run by graduate students still writing their dissertations after twelve years—readers who, in Uncle Fabian’s words, would not know a novel from a gum-ball machine.
In desperation I wrapped my manuscript in a Dodgers sweatshirt and threw it over the fence of the Tom Cruise estate. “Someone threw a good sweatshirt over my fence,” he said aloud and with feeling to himself. “The nameless person should be blessed by somebody. Who does that sort of thing in our culture?” Tom glanced at one of the mirrors nailed to the trees and posts, because a good sea breeze was rising, and slowly, as in a dream, he turned his sculpted body to face east while he turned his head into the westerly breeze. The long hair took off east, and it pleased him.
I was undaunted (I wanted to be daunted but lacked the experience), so it was with more than a modicum of luck that I pitched my last manuscript, wrapped in a “Temple Elohim of Good Seats” shawl, into the yard of one Bernie Flax, or Flux, who at that moment was piddling against a palm tree. “Yikes and Oy!” declaimed Bernie Flux (or Flax), “some gob just hit me where it piddles with some kind of inflammatory thing or other. But wait, or soft, there appears to be something wrapped up inside this truly awful sweatshirt proclaiming God’s Chairs. I will look at this over eggs benediction and mimosas. Perhaps this will be my fortuitous day. I have not made a hit movie in eons or longer. They call me a has-been. What does that mean? What have I ever been? And now this script, this manuscript, ‘This England!’—a title I’ve always liked. I will make a picture called: “Magus Ocsillus Potto: Writer.” They will see I am not a has-been. I have Always Been! Did I not offer Billy Crystal “A Bagel of One’s Own?”
(Authorial Intrusion) Mr. Flax/Flux liked the novel and made the movie. Magus and Olatha revived their vows. Fharta and Deltoid served as best boys and Salmis did the dance of seven goats whilst little Ramada Joy chewed the flowers sent by Tom Cruise, who played the lead. The children are terrorizing their respective schools by teaching their classmates the feral goat dance in rut or heat.
*Note found partially chewed by a church rat who said he knew him cannot be verified.
This ends my story. It has taken this many pages to tell it. Not a page too few or too many. Red the Redneck and Emil the Great have teamed up in Las Vegas with ‘The timid Deconstructionist’ who once danced naked in the reflecting pool at the University of Nebraska. Write on, and save your old sweatshirts.
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