In which Rachel gets her yo-yo back, Roony sings a song, and Stencil calls on Bloody Chiclitz
Profane, sweating in April's heat, sat on a bench in the little park behind the Public Library, swatting at flies with rolled-up pages of the Times classified. From mental cross-plotting he'd decided where he sat now was the geographical center of the midtown employment agency belt.
A weird area it was. For a week now he'd sat patient in a dozen offices, filling out forms, having interviews and watching other people, especially girls. He had an interesting daydream all built up, which went: You're jobless, I'm jobless, here we both are out of work, let's screw. He was horny. What little money he'd saved from the sewer job had almost run out and here he was considering seduction. It kept the time moving right along.
So far no agency he'd been to had sent him anywhere for a job interview. He had to agree with them. To amuse himself he'd looked in Help Wanted under S. Nobody wanted a schlemihl. Laborers were for out of the city: Profane wanted to stay in
Profane sighed. The eyes of
He'd thought himself into an erection. He covered it with the Times classifed and waited for it to subside. A few pigeons watched him, curious. It was shortly after noon and the sun was hot. I ought to keep looking, he thought, the day isn't over. What was be going to do? He was, they told him unspecialized. Everybody else was at peace with some machine or other. Not even a pick and shovel had been safe for Profane.
He happened to look down. His erection had produced in the newspaper a crosswise fold, which moved line by line down the page as the swelling gradually diminished. It was a list of employment agencies. O.K., thought Profane, just for the heck of it I will close my eyes, count three and open them and whatever agency listing that fold is on I will go to them. It will be like flipping a coin: inanimate schmuck, inanimate paper, pure chance.
He opened his eyes on Space/Time Employment Agency, down on lower Broadway, near Fulton Street. Bad choice, he thought. It meant 15 cents for the subway. But a deal was a deal. On the Lexington Avenue downtown he saw a bum lying across the aisle, diagonal on the seat. Nobody would sit near him. He was king of the subway. He must have been there all night, yo-yoing out to Brooklyn and back, tons of water swirling over his head and he perhaps dreaming his own submarine country, peopled by mermaids and deep-sea creatures all at peace among the rocks and sunken galleons; must have slept through rush hour, with all sorts of suit-wearers and high-heel dolls glaring at him because he was taking up three sitting spaces but none of them daring to wake him. If under the street and under the sea are the same then he was king of both. Profane remembered himself on the shuttle back in February, wondered how he'd looked to Kook, to Fina. Not like a king, he figured: more like a schlemihl a follower.
Having sunk into self-pity he nearly missed the Fulton Street stop. Got the bottom edge of his suede jacket caught in the doors when they closed; was nearly carried that way out to Brooklyn. He found Space/Time Employment down the street and ten floors up. The waiting area was crowded when he got there. A quick check revealed no girls worth looking at, nobody in fact but a family who might have stepped through time's hanging arras directly out of the Great Depression; journeyed to this city in an old Plymouth pickup from their land of dust: husband, wife and one mother-in-law, all yelling at each other, none but the old lady really caring about a job, so that she stood, legs braced, in the middle of the waiting area, telling them both how to make out their applications, a cigarette dangling from and about to burn her lipstick.
Profane made out his application, dropped it on the receptionist's desk and sat down to wait. Soon there came the hurried and sexy tap of high heels in the corridor outside. As if magnetized his head swiveled around and he saw coming in the door a tiny girl, lifted up to all of 5' 1" by her heels. Oboy, oboy, he thought: good stuff. She was not, however, an applicant: she belonged on the other side of the rail. Smiling and waving hello to everyone in her country, she clickety-clacked gracefully over to her desk. He could hear the quiet brush of her thighs, kissing each other in their nylon. Oh, oh, he thought, look at what I seem to be getting again. Go down you bastard.
Obstinate, it would not. The back of his neck began to grow heated and rosy. The receptionist, a slim girl who seemed to be all tight - tight underwear, stockings, ligaments, tendons, mouth, a true windup woman - moved precisely among the decks, depositing applications like an automatic card-dealing machine. Six interviewers, he counted. Six to one odds she drew me. Like Russian roulette. Why like that? Would she destroy him, she so frail-looking, such gentle, well-bred legs? She had her head down, studying the application in her hand. She looked up, he saw the eyes, both slanted the same way.
"Profane," she called. Looking at him with a little frown.
Oh God, he thought, the loaded chamber. The luck of a schlemihl, who by common sense should lose at the game. Russian roulette is only one of its names, he groaned inside, and look: me with this bard on. She called his name again. He stumbled up from the chair, and proceeded with the Times over his groin and he bent at a 120 degree angle behind the rail and in to her own desk. The sign said RACHEL OWLGLASS.
He sat down quickly. She lit a cigarette and cased the upper half of his body. "It's about time," she said.
He fumbled for a cigarette, nervous. She flicked over a pack of matches with a fingernail be could feel already gliding across his back, poised to dig in frenzied when she should come.
And would she ever. Already they were in bed; he could see nothing but a new extemporized daydream in which no other face but this sad one with its brimming slash-slash of eyes tightened slowly in his own shadow, pale under him. God, she had him.
Strangely then the tumescence began to subside, the flesh at his neck to pale. Any sovereign or broken yo-yo must feel like this after a short time of lying inert, rolling, falling: suddenly to have its own umbilical string reconnected, and know the other end is in hands it cannot escape. Hands it doesn't want to escape. Know that the simple clockwork of itself has no mare need for symptoms of inutility, lonesomeness, directionlessness, because now it has a path marked out for it over which it has no control. That's what the feeling would be, if there were such things as animate yo-yos. Pending any such warp in the world Profane felt like the closest thing to one and above her eyes began to doubt his own animateness.
"How about a night watchman," she said at last. Over you? he wondered.
"Where," he said. She mentioned an address nearby in Maiden Lane. "Anthroresearch Associates:" He knew he couldn't say it as fast. On the back of a card she scribbled the address and a name - Oley Bergomask. "He hires." Handed it to him, a quick touch of fingernails. "Come back as soon as you find out. Bergomask will tell you right away; he doesn't waste time. If it doesn't work out we'll see what else we have."
At the door he looked back. Was she blowing a kiss or yawning?
Winsome had left work early. When he got back to the apartment he found his wife, Mafia sitting on the floor with Pig Bodine. They were drinking beer and discussing her Theory. Mafia was sitting crosslegged and wearing very tight Bermuda shorts. Pig stared captivated at her crotch. That fella irritates me, Winsome thought. He got beer and sat down next to them. He wondered idly if Pig were getting any off of his wife. But it was hard to say who was getting what off Mafia.
There is a curious sea story about Pig Bodine, which Winsome had heard from Pig himself. Winsome was aware that Pig wanted to make a career someday of playing male leads in pornographic movies. He'd get this evil smile on his face, as if he were viewing or possibly committing reel on reel of depravities. The bilges of the radio shack of U.S.S. Scaffold - Pig's ship - were jammed solid with Pig's lending library, amassed during the ship's Mediterranean travels and rented out to the crew at 10 cents per book. The collection was foul enough to make Pig Bodine a byword of decadence throughout the squadron. But no one suspected that Pig might have creative as well as custodial talents.
One night Task Force 60, made up of two carriers, some other heavies and a circular screen of twelve destroyers, including the Scaffold, was steaming a few hundred miles east of Gibraltar. It was maybe two in the morning, visibility unlimited, stars blooming fat and sultry over a tar-colored Mediterranean. No closing contacts on the radars, everybody on after steering watch asleep, forward lookouts telling themselves sea stories to keep awake. That sort of night. All at once every teletype machine in the task force started clanging away, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Five bells, or FLASH, initial contact with enemy forces. It being '55 and more or less peacetime, captains were routed out of bed, general quarters called, dispersal plans executed. Nobody knew what was happening. By the time the teletypes started up again the formation was scattered out over a few hundred square miles of ocean and most radio shacks were crowded to capacity. The machines started to type.
"Message follows." Teletype operators, com officers leaned forward tense, thinking of Russian torpedoes, evil and barracudalike.
"Flash." Yes, yes, they thought: five bells, Flash. Go ahead.
Pause. Finally the keys started clattering again.
"THE GREEN DOOR. One night Dolores, Veronica, Justine, Sharon, Cindy Lou, Geraldine and Irving decided to hold an orgy . . ." Followed, on four and a half feet of teletype paper, the functional implications of their decision, told from Irving's point of view.
For some reason Pig never got caught. Possibly because half the Scaffold's radio gang, also the communications officer, an Annapolis graduate named Knoop, were in on it and had locked the door to Radio as soon as GQ was called.
It caught on as a sort of fad. The next night, precedence Operational Immediate, came A DOG STORY, involving a St. Bernard named Fido and two WAVES. Pig was on watch when it came over and admitted to his henchman Knoop that it showed a certain flair. It was followed by other high-priority efforts: THE FIRST TIME I GOT LAID, WHY OUR X.O. IS QUEER, LUCKY PIERRE RUNS AMOK. By the time the Scaffold reached Naples, its first port of call, there were an even dozen, all carefully filed away by Pig under F.
But initial sin entails eventual retribution. Later, somewhere between Barcelona and Cannes, evil days fell on Pig. One night, routing the message board, he went to sleep in the doorway of the executive officer's stateroom. The ship chose that moment to roll ten degrees to port. Pig toppled onto the terrified lieutenant commander like a corpse. "Bodine," the X.O. shouted, aghast. "Were you sleeping?" Pig snored away among a litter of special-request chits. He was sent down on mess cooking. The first day he fell asleep in the serving line, rendering inedible a gunboat full of mashed potatoes. So the next meal he was stationed in front of the soup, which was made by Potamos the cook and which nobody ate anyway. Apparently Pig's knees had developed this odd way of locking, which if the Scaffold were on an even keel would enable him to sleep standing up. He was a medical curiosity. When the ship got back to the States he went under observation at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. When he returned to the Scaffold he was put on the deck force of one Pappy Hod, a boatswain's mate. In two days Pappy had driven him, for the first of what were to be many occasions, over the hill.
Now on the radio at the moment was a song about Davy Crockett, which upset Winsome considerably. This was '56, height of the coonskin hat craze. Millions of kids everywhere you looked were running around with these bushy Freudian hermaphrodite symbols on their heads. Nonsensical legends were being propagated about Crockett, all in direct contradiction to what Winsome had heard as a boy, across the mountains from Tennessee. This man, a foul-mouthed louse-ridden boozehound, a corrupt legislator and an indifferent pioneer, was being set up for the nation's youth as a towering and cleanlimbed example of Anglo-Saxon superiority. He had swelled into a hero such as Mafia might have created after waking from a particularly loony and erotic dream. The song invited parody. Winsome had even cast his own autobiography into aaaa rhyme and that simpleminded combination of three - count them - chord changes:
Born in Durham in '23,
By a pappy who was absentee,
Was took to a lynching at the neighborhood tree,
Whopped him a nigger when he was only three.
Roony, Roony Winsome, king of the decky-dance.
Pretty soon he started to grow,
Everyone knew he'd be a loving beau,
Cause down by the tracks he would frequently go
To change his luck at a dollar a throw.
Well he hit Winston-Salem with a rebel yell,
Found his self a pretty Southron belle
Was doing fine till her pappy raised hell
When he noticed her belly was beginning to swell.
Luckily the war up and came along,
He joined the army feeling brave and strong,
His patriotism didn't last for long,
They put him in a foxhole where he didn't belong.
He worked him a hustle with his first C.O.,
Got transferred back to a PIO,
Sat out the war in a fancy chateau,
Egging on the troops toward Tokyo.
When the war was over, his fighting done,
He hung up his khakis and his Garand gun
Came along to Noo York to have some fun,
But couldn't find a job till '51.
Started writing copy for MCA
It wasn't any fun but it was steady pay,
Sneaking out of work one lovely day
He met him a dolly called Mafi-yay.
Mafia thought he had a future ahead,
And looked like she knew how to bounce a bed
Old Roony must've been sick in the head
Cause pretty soon, they up and they wed.
Now he's got a record company,
A third of the profits plus salary,
A beautiful wife who wants to be free
So she can practice her Theory.
Roony, Roony Winsome, king of the decky-dance.
Pig Bodine had fallen asleep. Mafia was in the next room, watching herself undress in the mirror. And Paola, Roony thought, where are you? She'd taken to disappearing, sometimes for two- or three-day stretches, and nobody ever knew where she went.
Maybe Rachel would put in a word for him with Paola. He had, he knew, certain nineteenth-century ideas of what was proper. The girl herself was an enigma. She hardly spoke, she went to the Rusty Spoon now only rarely when she knew Pig would be somewhere else. Pig coveted her. Concealing himself behind a code which only did officers dirty (and executives? Winsome wondered), Pig he was sure envisioned Paola playing opposite him in each frame of his stag-movie fantasies. It was natural, he supposed; the girl had the passive look of an object of sadism, something to be attired in various inanimate costumes and fetishes, tortured, subjected to the weird indignities of Pig's catalogue, have her smooth and of course virginal-looking limbs twisted into attitudes to inflame a decadent taste. Rachel was right, Pig - and even perhaps Paola - could only be products of a decky-dance. Winsome, self-proclaimed king of it, felt only sorry it should ever have happened. How it had happened, how anybody, himself included, had contributed to it he didn't know.
He entered the room as Mafia was bent, stripping off a knee sock. college girl attire, he thought. He slapped her hard on the nearest buttock; she straightened, turned, and he slapped her across the face. "Wha," she said.
"Something new," said Winsome. "For variety's sake." One hand at her crotch, one twisted in her hair, he lifted her like the victim she wasn't, half-carried, half-tossed her to the bed where she lay in a sprawl of white skin, black pubic hair and socks, all confused. He unzipped his fly. "Aren't you forgetting something," she said, coy and half-scared, flipping her hair toward the dresser drawer.
"No," said Winsome, "not that I can think of."
Profane returned to the Space/Time agency convinced that if nothing else Rachel was luck. Bergomask had given him the job.
"Wonderful," she said. "He's paying the fee, you don't owe us anything."
It was near quitting time. She started straightening things on her desk. "Come Home with me," she said quietly. "Wait out by the elevator."
But he remembered, leaning against the wall out in the corridor: with Fina it had been like that too. She'd taken him Home like a rosary found in the street and convinced herself he was magic. Fina had been devoutly R.C. like his father. Rachel was Jewish, he recalled, like his mother. Maybe all she wanted to do was to feed him, be a Jewish mother.
They rode down in the elevator crowded together and quiet, she wrapped serenely in a gray raincoat. At the turnstile in the subway she put in two tokens for them.
"Hey," said Profane.
"You're broke," she told him.
"I feel like a gigolo." He did. There'd always be some 15 cents, maybe half a salami in the refrigerator - whatever she'd feed him.
Rachel decided to lodge Profane at Winsome's place and feed him at her own. Winsome's was known to the Crew as the West Side flophouse. There was floor space there for all of them at once, and Winsome didn't mind who slept on it.
The next night Pig Bodine showed up at Rachel's at supper time drunk and in search of Paola, who was away God knew where.
"Hey," Pig addressed Profane.
"Buddy," Profane said. They opened beer.
Soon Pig had dragged them down to the V-Note to hear McClintic Sphere. Rachel sat and concentrated on the music while Pig and Profane remembered sea stories at each other. During one of the breaks she drifted over to Sphere's table and found out he'd picked up a contract with Winsome to do two LP's for Outlandish.
They talked for a while. Break ended. The quartet drifted back to the stand, fiddled around, started off with a Sphere composition called Fugue Your Buddy. Rachel returned to Pig and Profane. They were discussing Pappy Hod and Paola. Damn, damn, to herself, what have I brought him to? What have I brought him back to?
She woke up the next morning, Sunday, mildly hung over. Winsome was outside, pounding at the door.
"It is a day of rest," she growled. "What the hell."
"Dear father-confessor," he said, looking as if he'd not slept all night, "don't be angry."
"Tell it to Eigenvalue." She stomped to the kitchen, put Coffee on. "Now," she said. "What is your problem?"
What else: Mafia. Now this was all deliberate. He had put on the day before yesterday's shirt and neglected to comb his hair that morning to put Rachel in the mood. If you wanted a girl to go pimping for her roommate you didn't come right out and say so. There were subtleties to be gone through. Wanting to talk about Mafia was only an excuse.
Rachel wanted to know naturally enough if he'd spoken to the dentist at all and Winsome said no. Eigenvalue had been busy lately holding bull sessions with Stencil. Roony wanted a woman's point of view. She poured Coffee and told him the two roommates were gone. He closed his eyes and jumped in:
"I think she's been slipping around, Rachel."
"So. Find out and divorce her."
They drained the Coffeepot twice. Roony drained himself. At three Paola came in, smiled at them briefly, disappeared into her room. Did he blush a little? His heartbeat had speeded up. Dingy damn, he was acting like a young blood. He rose. "Can we keep talking about this?" he said. "Even small-talk."
"If it helps," she smiled, not believing it for a minute. "And what's this about a contract with McClintic? Don't tell me Outlandish is putting out normal records now. What are you getting, religion?"
"If I am," Roony told her, "it's all I'm getting."
He walked back to his apartment through Riverside Park, wondering if he'd done right. Maybe, it occurred to him, Rachel might think it was herself he wanted, not her roommate.
Back at the apartment he found Profane talking with Mafia. Dear God, he thought, all I want to do is sleep. He went in to the bed, assumed the foetal position and soon, oddly enough, did drift off.
"You tell me you are half-Jewish and half-Italian," Mafia was saying in the other room. "What a terribly amusing role. Like Shylock, non a vero, ha, ha. There is a young actor down at the Rusty Spoon who claims to be an Irish Armenian Jew. You two must meet."
Profane decided not to argue. So all he said was: "It is probably a nice place, that Rusty Spoon. But out of my class."
"Rot," she said, "class. Aristocracy is in the soul. You may be a descendant of kings. Who knows."
I know, Profane thought. I am a descendant of schlemihls, Job founded my line. Mafia wore a knit dress of some fabric that could be seen through. She sat with her chin on her knees so that the lower part of the skirt fell away. Profane rolled over on his stomach. Now this would he interesting, he thought. Yesterday Rachel had led him in by the hand to find Charisma, Fu and Mafia playing Australian tag-teams minus one on the living room floor.
Mafia bad squirmed to a prone position parallel to Profane. Apparently she had some idea of touching noses. Boy I'll bet she thinks that's cute, he thought. But Fang the cat came tearing in and jumped between them. Mafia lay on her back and started scratching and dandling the cat. Profane padded to the icebox for more beer. In came Pig Bodine and Charisma, singing a drinking song:
There are sick bars in every town in America,
Where sick people can pass the time o' day.
You can screw on the floor in Baltimore,
Make Freudian scenes in New Orleans,
Talk Zen and Beckett in Keokuk, Ioway.
There's espresso machines in Terre Haute, Indiana
Which is a cultural void if ever a void there be,
But though I've dragged my ass from Boston, Mass.
To the wide Pacific sea,
The Rusty Spoon is still the bar for me,
The Rusty Spoon is the only place for me.
It was like bringing a little bit of that gathering-place in among the proper facades of Riverside Drive. Soon without anyone realizing it there was a party. Fu wandered in, got on the phone and started calling people. Girls appeared miraculously at the front door, which had been left open. Someone turned on the FM, someone else went out for beer. Cigarette smoke began to hang from the low ceiling in murky strata. Two or three members got Profane off in a corner and began to indoctrinate him in the ways of the Crew. He let them lecture, and drank beer. Soon he was drunk and it was night. He remembered to set the alarm clack, found an unoccupied corner of a room and went to sleep.
That night, April 15, David Ben-Gurion warned his country in an Independence Day speech that Egypt planned to slaughter Israel. A Mideast crisis had been growing since winter. April 19, a cease-fire between the two countries went into effect. Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco the same day. The spring thus wore on, large currents and small eddies alike resulting in headlines. People read what news they wanted to and each accordingly built his own rathouse of history's rags and straws. In the city of New York alone there were at a rough estimate five million different rathouses. God knew what was going on in the minds of cabinet ministers, heads of state and civil servants in the capitals of the world. Doubtless their private versions of history showed up in action. If a normal distribution of types prevailed they did.
Stencil fell outside the pattern. Civil servant without rating, architect-by-necessity of intrigues and breathings-together, he should have been, like his father, inclined toward action. But spent his days instead at a certain vegetation, talking with Eigenvalue, waiting for Paola to reveal how she fitted into this grand Gothic pile of inferences he was hard at work creating. Of course too there were his "leads" which he hunted down now lackadaisical and only half-interested, as if there were after all something more important he ought to be doing. What this mission was, however. came no clearer to him than the ultimate shape of his V-structure - no clearer, indeed than why he should have begun pursuit of V. in the first place. He only felt (he said "by instinct") when a bit of information was useful, when not: when a lead ought to be abandoned, when hounded to the inevitable looped trail. Naturally about drives as intellectualized as Stencil's there can be no question of instinct: the obsession was acquired, surely, but where along the line, how in the world? Unless he was as he insisted purely the century's man, something which does not exist in nature. It would be simple in Rusty Spoon-talk to call him contemporary man in search of an identity. Many of them had already decided this was his Problem. The only trouble was that Stencil had all the identities he could cope with conveniently right at the moment: he was quite purely He Who Looks for V. (and whatever impersonations that might involve), and she was no more his own identity than Eigenvalue the soul-dentist or any other member of the Crew.
It did bring up, however, an interesting note of sexual ambiguity. What a joke if at the end of this hunt he came face to face with himself afflicted by a kind of soul-transvestism. How the Crew would laugh and laugh. Truthfully he didn't know what sex V. might be, nor even what genus and species. To go along assuming that Victoria the girl tourist and Veronica the sewer rat were one and the same V. was not at all to bring up any metempsychosis: only to affirm that his quarry fitted in with The Big One, the century's master cabal, in the same way Victoria had with the Vheissu plot and Veronica with the new rat-order. If she was a historical fact then she continued active today and at the moment, because the ultimate Plot Which Has No Name was as yet unrealized, though V. might be no more a she than a sailing vessel or a nation.
Early in May Eigenvalue introduced Stencil to Bloody Chiclitz, president of Yoyodyne, Inc., a company with factories scattered careless about the country and more government contracts than it really knew what to do with. In the late 1940's Yoyodyne had been breezing along comfortably as the Chiclitz Toy Company, with one tiny independent-making shop on the outskirts of Nutley, New Jersey. For some reason the children of America conceived around this time a simultaneous and psychopathic craving for simple gyroscopes, the kind which are set in motion by a string wound around the rotating shaft, something like a top. Chiclitz, recognizing a market potential there, decided to expand. He was well on the way to cornering the toy gyroscope market when along came a group of school kids on tour to point out that these toys worked on the same principle as a gyrocompass. "As wha," said Chiclitz. They explained gyrocompasses to him, also rate and free gyros. Chiclitz remembered vaguely from a trade magazine that the government was always in the market for these. They used them on ships, airplanes, more lately, missiles. "Well," figured Chiclitz, "why not." Small-Business opportunities in the field at the time were being described as abundant. Chiclitz started making gyros for the government. Before he knew it he was also in telemeter instrumentation, test-set components, small communications equipment. He kept expanding, buying, merging. Now less than ten years later he had built up an interlocking kingdom responsible for systems management, airframes, propulsion, command systems, ground support equipment. Dyne, one newly hired engineer had told him, was a unit of force. So to symbolize the humble beginnings of the Chiclitz empire and to get the idea of force, enterprise, engineering skill and rugged individualism in there too, Chiclitz christened the company Yoyodyne.
Stencil toured one plant out on Long Island. Among instruments of war, he reasoned, some clue to the cabal might show up. It did. He'd wandered into a region of offices, drafting boards, blueprint files. Soon Stencil discovered, sitting half hidden in a forest of file cabinets, and sipping occasionally at the Coffee in a paper cup which for today's engineer is practically uniform-of-the-day, a balding and porcine gentleman in a suit of European cut. The engineer's name was Kurt Mondaugen, he had worked, yes, at Peenemunde, developing Vergeltungswaffe Eins and Zwei. The magic initial! Soon the afternoon had gone and Stencil had made an appointment to renew the conversation.
A week or so later, in one of the secluded side rooms of the Rusty Spoon, Mondaugen yarned, over an abominable imitation of Munich beer, about youthful days in South-West Africa.
Stencil listened attentively. The tale proper and the questioning after took no more than thirty minutes. Yet the next Wednesday afternoon at Eigenvalue's office, when Stencil retold it, the yarn had undergone considerable change: had become, as Eigenvalue put it, Stencilized.