The Golden Eldorado
It was about thirty seconds into the first round and not a hell of a lot had happened yet. Pete and his opponent, some Bum-of-the-Month-Club guy, were testing each other out trying to spot a weakness, but already we sensed that Pete was in control. Despite it being early in the bout, my buddies and I knew there would never be any question as to who would triumph in this cakewalk. That was when I motioned to my friends that we should go get some popcorn and come back. We knew Pete would want to give the people their money’s worth, so we didn’t have to hurry. To us, he wasn’t so much of a boxer as he was an artist. And since he was such a huge role model for us, we decided that we wanted to be artists too. So we went down the center aisle and looked up at the rows of spectators who were watching Pete with rapt attention as he danced tauntingly around the periphery of the ring being artistic. Pete landed a flurry of jab and cross combinations, stunning the Bum for a few seconds before they both grappled with each other on the ropes. Pete got himself untangled and haughtily toe-walked back into the center with a Mona Lisa smile on his lips that pressed against his mouth guard. I looked at my friends, and they looked right back. When I gave the proper cue, we launched into a pleading hyper-falsetto harangue: “STOP THE FIGHT! STOP THE FIGHT!! The ref was the first one to be startled, and he gave us a glare, but we didn’t care. He looked like he wanted to scold us, but then remembered that he had to referee the fight.
This moment sparked a great rise out of the crowd, and we basked in the resulting roar before taking a collective bow. Pete basked too. I mean, it wasn’t as if he really had his hands full. The Bum-of-the-Month cautiously elected to stay out of range as Pete laughed and then paused to blow kisses to everyone before getting back to the rigorous business that would most likely result in the Bum being dashed to the canvas. The crowd responded with an admixture of laughter and outrage. I loved the outrage part. That was when a female voice bellowed, “STICK HIM! STICK HIM!
Me and my buddies glanced over at Section Four Row Three and could see a middle-aged woman urging the Bum along. “Ha!” I chortled. “That’s the Bum’s Mom.”
“I don’t think Mummy can save him now,” Jim replied.
The lady’s voice erupted again; this time she was shouting, “KILL HIM! KILL HIM!”
I shrugged my shoulders because I had a pretty good idea about who was gettin’ killed and so did my pals, so we continued on our leisurely pace to get to the popcorn stand. Although it wasn’t exactly in the realm of ringside seats, the front of the concessions area still offered a decent enough view of the proceedings, so we didn’t miss much. By the time we had gotten back to our seats, Pete had his opponent loopy-footed, doin’ an extravagant back-pedaling tango step which eventually wound up grazing into the edges of the ropes. Yes, for a split second there, Pete had him lookin’ like an Argentine tangora. I half-expected an accordion to come blarin’ out of the PA system as an accompaniment for the pair of them. No doubt a certain geriatric sportswriter named McGonagall would later be sure to lapse into his patented blowhard doggerel, so he could say things like, “The claret was flowing, the outcome unknowing.” I knew Pete adored reading that awful prose in the Press Herald because something about it spoke to his childhood. You see, Pete had told me as much. Oh yeah, it was true --- if Pete did well and won the fight and if he was feeling up to it, he would invite me and my buddies back to his dressing room afterwards. Yeah, really! Sometimes he would annoy the local press corps by making them wait while he chatted with us and sometimes he would make me and my pals wait. No matter. We didn’t mind. Either way was good with us. Hell, even Pete’s girl of the moment would have to wait. But most of the time, the girl of the moment kinda sorta knew that waiting around was part of the deal. And if by some chance she was unaware of this karmic fact of life, then she wouldn’t be the girl of the moment for very long. That gave me a shot of pleasure ’cause I liked to see a man who was an absolute monarch in that often troublesome compartment of life. Me and my buddies could seriously comprehend that, unlike the teachers at school or other supposed role models, Pete was a man who clearly had the world at his beck and call. He did things, and those things had tangible results. None of the others could seem to pull that off. And I found the ineptitudes and shortcomings of other so-called adults to be an unending source of disappointment. But Pete was never disappointing. I cherished the time when, as I was taking a walk through Deering Oaks, I suddenly spotted him drivin’ his big-finned golden Eldorado down Forest Avenue. He stopped and waved and chatted with me, wanting to know what I was up to. And I got the feelin’ he really cared about my life.
But I suppose I’m gettin’ off the beaten track, which is easy since Pete was the kind of guy who had a talent for causing people to digress. I’ve often wondered if that was part of being a good boxer.
So back to the bout --- the Bum was digressin’. He was digressin’ bad. That was going to be his problem. He launched into a desperation lunge with a flying roundhouse right, but Pete gently sidestepped out of harm’s way before smackin’ the man with a string of uppercuts and left jabs, the effect of which was to leave the guy staggering back and forth to the outer reaches of the ring. I could tell that my buddies really got off on the fact that this particular combination sent a slight mist of blood and saliva out over the closest ringside seats. I knew my pal Jim was gettin’ off on this part since he often spoke about it at school. On that score, I was less into the visuals and more into the great sound effects, those reverberating thuds and hissing sounds that permeated the air with sweat as they teed off on one another. I honestly thought that the Bum would soon be lying flat on his back and that would be the end of the festivities. But then I remembered that this was only near to the end of the first round and doing that would be far too early for Pete’s sense of drama. Like all artists, he would have to make it interesting.
And so it went for seven more rounds. The proceedings got me to wondering about healthy living organisms. You see, I’d been studying about organisms at school in my science class under the supervision of one of the so-called adults, and since I was going to be tested on them, they weighed heavily on my mind. I was amazed at how durable living organisms are. They were then and still are now. I guess it was part of evolution, somethin’ else I knew I would be tested on. Organisms, even the one that comprised the Bum-of-the-Month, can take vast amounts of punishment again and again and manage to shake it off. With varying measures of success, I tried to wrap my head around this idea because here was the Bum gettin’ his head rapped around by this guy who, from my adolescent point of view, seemed to have each and every attribute of an artist. Yes, I know I said that already, but I couldn’t help saying it again since Pete seemed to be touching him up yet again with all the finesse of a Pointillist painter working on an Impressionist seascape. Somehow, I loved the repetition of it. You see, Pete wasn’t a “slugger” kind of fighter per se. I mean, that’s not to say that he never had it in him. No, no --- Pete was more than capable of goin’ in that direction. But instead, it was almost as if he had opted early on not to go there unless he absolutely had to. And tonight I could tell that he really didn’t need to use that arrow in his quiver. Rather, he wanted to wear the man down and to show off his technique. And the technique would all be leading up to that singular moment when the organism suddenly ceased to be durable.
Well, in the next rounds, Pete got down to the serious business of systematically dismantling his opponent. Throughout the rounds, he’d sundaed him up, and at first it didn’t seem like much more than a small cut, but eventually the cut had burgeoned into quite a different laceration, thereby causing the organism to wear down. Toward the end of the eighth was when the technique kicked in and took its final toll. On the verge of exhaustion, the Bum roved around the ring with the look of a wounded bull, swinging wildly and missing most of the time. Having softened him up some more with a stiff uppercut, Pete deliberately sidled into a clinch to see how well the Bum would handle it. Twisting his arms to find an opening, Pete let his guard down for a second, and the Bum managed to score some points with resounding blows to Pete’s abs, but I could tell that those punches hadn’t done any real damage. Still, the crowd reacted and let out a murmur that morphed into a roar. Pete shook it off and still kept up his relentless dancing as he cracked another smile and nodded to his opponent as if to say, “Hey that was good. I give you credit.” Then Pete went in and finished him off with a string of right crosses. The crowd let out an even bigger roar, and that was the end of it. Ever the gentleman, Pete hugged his opponent as if to acknowledge the sanctity and intimacy of the ritual that had just been performed.
Later on, back in the dressing room, Pete was holding court, and like I said, he was annoying the hell out of the newspaper guys while he focused most of his attention on the questions from me and my buddies. Still, one of the older reporters managed to get a word in edgewise: “Pete, for a second there, especially in the early going, you guys seemed to be doin’ more wrestling than boxing. Was that part of your strategy or was it some sort of improvisation on your part?”
“It was an improv of course. And lemme tell ya somethin’, Mr. McGonagall, I got no respect for wrestlin’. Not one bit. Wrestlin’s fake drama. Boxing’s the real McCoy. None of that pretend violence for me. As a matter of fact, boxin’ was probably the first sport. Perhaps you can print that ’cause my friend here Albert read about it someplace in school.” Pete rubbed my head with his scarred hand, and I turned to the reporter to let him know it was true. And Pete continued, “I can’t believe it ’cause Albert and his friends here are still goin’ to school. When I was his age, that was two years into the past already. As far as I was concerned, it was ancient history. But I’m only kiddin’. I know he has to go to school, so he can eventually become a good boxer, an’ if that doesn’t pan out, then he’ll have a Plan B, so he can become a lawyer.”
The sportswriters laughed, and the old reporter scribbled something in his notepad and said, “That’s what’s so great about you, Pete. You’re such a good example to the kids.”
“I suppose it’s ’cause I’m kind of a kid myself! Ain’t it so, Jim?”
My buddy Jim gave him some effusive praise about how well Pete had kept the show interesting.
Mr. McGonagall continued with the post-fight interview, which was no small accomplishment on his part since Pete’s attention was directed at me and my buddies. “So Pete, how come you don’t go in for the big powerhouse slugfest style of fighting? Lots of folks out there are wondering about why that is. I’m certain, and most fans are fully convinced, that you could go for that style if you wanted to.”
“I don’t do that very often because I want to give everyone their money’s worth. Whenever I can, I like to drag it out. My young friend Albert here once told me that it most likely has something to do with my childhood. Ha! Isn’t it funny how kids are these days? Even they fancy themselves as bein’ shrinks.”
Again, Mr. McGonagall hastily jotted something down on the notepad. I could tell he was already thinking in terms of rhyming couplets. And knowing him, he would soon be forcing them with a shoehorn.
I leaned forward and volunteered some information because for some reason I sussed out that Pete wouldn’t mind. “It’s true. Childhood’s got something to do with it. Pete told me so.”
Pete gave a toothy grin as if he were still biting into his mouthpiece, which was most likely through force of habit. “Yeah, I guess I have to ’fess up. It might have somethin’ to do with why I became a fighter. My Mom pulled a fast one on me an’ my brother. You see, when my brother and I was about four years old, she tol’ me an’ him she was gonna go ta the store to get us a loaf of bread and maybe some milk too. Well, she leaves, an’ she’s not back right away. I figure, gee, no big deal. So my brother an’ I wait, an’ we wait, an’ we wait. An’ she doesn’t come back that night. An’ she doesn’t come back all of the next day, nor does she come back the day after that. In fact, she doesn’t come back for years. Yeah, it was freakin’ years. Ha! Ha! Ha! I didn’t get to see her until I was about ten. An’ by that time, I was sorta wonderin’ if I really an’ truly wanted to ever see her again ’cause I reckoned she wasn’t worth the trouble.”
The reporters seemed to be stunned by this impromptu revelation, but being professional, I got the feeling they’d probably keep this brazen insight to themselves since the time of this here story was deep into the furrows of the past, and the divide between the public and private was still a line that decent people would politely consent to observe. So Pete stood up from his chair and then laid down on the nearby padded table where one of the attendants started to give him a massage. This was the sign that the interview was formally at an end.
Just about then, Pete’s girlfriend came in all out of breath saying, “Pete, I’m so sorry. I got stuck in traffic and then the car stalled and wouldn’t start without jumper cables, but I finally got here. So here I am. They told me you really did quite a number on him.”
Pete glanced at her coldly. “Yes Carol, I guess you could say that. Sorry you missed the fun.”
Then, since the evening’s entertainment was fast drawing to a close, Pete made the girlfriend wait for a real long time before they both got into the golden Eldorado and roared off into the night. He’d done it lots of times before, and this one was no exception.
Not long after that, Pete helped me to get a part time job, no not just any job, but a job playing music. Well, I just about felt I’d died and gone to heaven I was so happy. You see, Pete was a welterweight and although that meant he would never quite gain the attention of the great wide world beyond this sleepy seaport town, for many he was a local hero. Still, a local hero had to make ends meet, which meant he had to keep a regular job, and his regular job was bouncer at the Cosmos Lounge on India Street. I had always wanted to come and see Pete at the Cosmos, but since I was only sixteen years old, that was not an option.
However, one day when I spotted Pete driving down Congress Street in the gold-finned Caddy, he pulled over to the curb, motioned for me to get in, and said, “Albert, you play the drums, don’t you?”
“Yeah, sure I do, Pete. You know that.”
“The reason I ask is that Leon, the regular guy at the Cosmos is gonna quit. An’ since I know you’re pretty good at that with your own band at school, you’re the first person I thought of as a replacement.”
“Pete, you know I’d jump at the chance in a minute. Only problem is I’m way the hell underage.”
“Aw hell Albert, don’t you know I can fix that?”
“Really? How in the world can you make that problem go away?”
“I can do it ’cause I know the right people.”
“The right people? And who would they be?”
“Look, I know how they can set you up with a fake ID to get in. I can get you one that’s so good nobody’ll be able tell it from the real thing even when they’re squintin’ at it from right up close. An’ hell, in case you didn’t notice, they just changed the drinking age in this here state. How old are you?”
“Close enough. An’ ya look old for you age. Honestly, I don’t know how to say this to ya, but the gig is yours if ya want it. But if ya don’t want it, I suppose that’s a different deal.”
“Of course I want it. Can you really get me the fake ID?”
“Of course again! Jus’ show up in front of the Lounge tomorrow after school.”
“Gee Pete, I don’t know what it is, but just bein’ around you, my life gets better and better.”
“That’s my idea of fun, Albert. I wanna keep pilin’ better on toppa better. Sorta like the reason I decided to special order the beautiful thing we’re ridin’ in now, this here big-ass gilded set of wheels. Ya see, people tol’ me an Eldorado was golden ta begin with, so I thought ta myself --- aw shucks, why stop there? Why not pile up gold on toppa gold till it’s the best it can possibly be?” I wanna make it more golden than it already is. Why not make it a golden Eldorado?”
When he said it like that, my ears got lulled a bit by the way he stretched out the syllables.
“C’mon Albert, how about I let ya take her around the block for a spin. I think you’ll appreciate her.”
I couldn’t believe it. Pete was going to let me drive the golden Eldorado.
“Are you sure, Pete? I mean this is your big beautiful car. Is it really alright?”
“Aw hell yeah. It’s only around the block and back.”
And I got out and went over to the driver’s side and gave it a spin, and it felt great, and I was so happy for Pete and for his lettin’ me go around the block and back, and then I got out, and he got back in the driver’s seat, and I said, “Yeah Pete, I’m lovin’ it. I never really thought about pilin’ gold upon gold. You’ve sussed out all the angles. But I gotta be goin’, so I’ll see you tomorrow at the Lounge. I’m lookin’ forward to it. And don’t let the Novocain steering catch you unawares.”
“I sure as hell won’t ’cause we’re gonna stack gold right on toppa gold. Don’t fail me now.”
“Don’t you worry. I’ll be there alright.”
And I’ll be damned if Pete didn’t pull it off ’cause the very next day, after having posed for a photo in the back room of the Cosmos that was stacked with banks of beer cans, I managed to score the highly coveted counterfeit ID. As a matter of fact, as I stared at it and compared it to the real thing, that is, one that belonged to Pete, I thought it was better printing quality than the genuine article. It even had a shiny little carrying case. Damned if that wasn’t golden too.
And so began my first stint as a musician. Each night I played at the Cosmos was absolute bliss. Me and the house band got to do cover tunes of everyone from Tom Jones to Jimi Hendrix to the Rolling Stones. Frank, a British chap who was the bandleader, also saw fit to throw in a few of the more obscure Chicago blues tunes as a change of pace now and then. On the first gig, Pete pulled me aside and gave me some very astute advice on how to handle things in the event that trouble started. He indicated that since this was obviously a drinking establishment which catered to some of the more ruffian elements who frequented the waterfront area, sooner or later trouble would be certain to rear its ugly head. Accordingly, if a fight broke out, he and the other bouncers would handle the offenders, but if a ruckus occurred in the middle of a song, I, being the drummer, should just keep playing a steady four/four time for at least as long as the punch-up was happening. I should especially do this in those dicey situations when the guitar and bass dropped out. The purpose of this, he explained, was to draw attention away from the violence and more to the entertainment end of things. In short, I was to drive people to distraction. I gave this notion some thought and decided that it made absolute perfect sense.
Weeks went by and there was no occasion for me to do what he’d told me to do. Then one night before the first set began, Carol, Pete’s girl of the moment, showed up very early and wanted to chat. Being a good red-blooded American sixteen-year-old, I was in total awe of the righteous eminence of her womanly infrastructure. She made my eyes hurt, but it was a good hurt because I couldn’t make up my mind whether this organism was an angel or something more meretricious. For a fleeting second, I wondered what my science teacher would have said about that because the young lady standing before me was dressed in a minimalist outfit: a black mini with fishnet stockings beautifully complementing her mauve flounced blouse and candy-cane makeup that highlighted her porcelain face. In addition, there was a bow and some ruffles. I was such a sucker for bows. Still am. I was particularly struck by the splendor of certain aspects of the topography that came damned close for serving as a possible shelf for a Budweiser Tall Boy. In her own way, she was the human version of a golden Eldorado. I immediately thought about how lucky Pete was. For a second, I had a feeling that bordered on the edge of jealousy, but not for long because Pete was my friend for life and besides, despite the multitude of pulchritude that she had to offer for my adolescent eyes, there was an unsavory vibe about her which made me get real darned suspicious. Well, she chatted me up, asking lots of nosey questions about Pete.
“C’mon, Albert. I know you and Pete are good friends. Tell me something about him. I wanna know about each and every dark niche and chasm.”
“Well, Carol. How would I know? I’m just a friend. I really don’t know nothin’.”
“Albert, everyone has dark niches and chasms, but in case you don't know it, this is especially true about boxers.”
I got the feeling she wanted me to blurt out something she could use in the game of love. Ah, but I was too savvy for that clever ruse, despite being only sixteen years old. Of course, she tried a few timeworn tactics like dropping thinly veiled hints and open-ended time bomb enquiries.
“What happens in the average day in the life of Pete Desmond?”
I played as dumb as dumb could be and even threw in a little naiveté for good measure. Then seeing that her strategy was a dead end, she elected to try a more circuitous tack, which was to tell me some things about herself. I could tell she adopted this plan in the hopes that I would inadvertently let slip something about Pete’s life which had occurred away from her. Clearly, she had pretensions that I could be her eyes and ears. However, much to her deep chagrin, it didn’t work out that way for her because, as she had more and more drinks, she revealed too much about herself.
“Lemme tell you a little somethin’ about myself.”
“Nah Carol, you really don’t need to tell me.”
“So, maybe I don’t need to, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t volunteer. Hey, I mean, I’m only tellin’ ya ’cause I want to.”
God, she was beautiful. But I still didn’t wanna hear.
“Albert, my biggest secret is that I love to be around dangerous men. And Pete is pretty high up on the Danger Scale because he’s so good with his fists.”
“Uh huh. I suppose that might be attractive to some girls.”
Since I didn’t have to play drums for at least another forty-five minutes, which was when the first set started, I kept leading her on with feigned interest while I chugged some more from my fifth underage beer. I made a mental note that she couldn’t keep up with the drinking thing because my dad had trained me well. I recalled that it was lots of fun when so-called adults couldn’t compete with me. It really was a blast watching them spin their wheels and stutter and stall. I made another mental note that this ravishing organism sitting at the table before me was yet another “so-called adult.” However, given the arc of her manipulating chat, I thanked God that I had five more years to go. As she blabbed away in a confidential tone, I soon discovered more about her other life. Well, the young lady delved more deeply into the subject of why she enjoyed the company of dangerous men. She let on that two weeks prior to this, a gangster guy named Gene, whom she had previously known only as an acquaintance, had asked her if she wanted to help him move a load of stolen seafood off from a hijacked delivery truck, and she had said yes. I adored the way she described the whole operation and her participation in the heist. With all the amplified drama of an opera singer presenting an aria, her voice wavered and trilled as she reveled in the sheer illegality of the caper. I got the distinct vibe that Carol was making some sort of comparison-shopping for decision-making purposes, but my mind raced as I tried to reassure myself that this sleazy Gene guy was just some passing tone in her existence, a spasm of bad harmony, and that I shouldn’t be unduly nervous about the whole situation.
Next, she started in on Pete’s faults, the chief one being his penchant for making her wait around for him. “Albert, my time is valuable, and Pete is drivin’ me crazy with this waitin’ around thing of his. I can’t stand bein’ at his beck and call. It’s the most frustrating part of our relationship.”
“But Carol, I don’t think you should worry. Pete loves you . And if he wanted to, he could be rough on you, but he isn’t that way, so maybe you should let this minor foible pass since it’s probably from one of the niches and chasms that you told me about. I mean, it’s nothin’ to get all hot and bothered about.”
She fumbled for words, and I silently congratulated myself on how well I’d totally figured her out. Leaning back in my chair, the flush of triumph enveloped me, spreading convulsively into my hands and feet like a giddy osmosis, and I knew the upcoming music would, in its own special way, be saying Amen to what I’d discovered about life. I became aware that people were looking at me because I was definitely having trouble trying to sit still. I pretended for a second that I was in my science class, which helped me to calm down.
Then the rest of the band arrived, and I got behind the big orange sparkle drum kit, and we kicked off the first set. We were in the middle of the first chorus when I thought about the situation. Should I tell Pete about Gene? One minute I said yes as I smacked the snare drum during the second verse, but then during the next chorus, I said no. By the time we’d reached the bridge of the tune, I was flip-flopping back to the original option like the tremolo whammy bar was doing right that second over on Frank’s white Fender Strat. By the end of the song, I didn’t know what in the world to do. Ultimately, I decided I should hold onto the info for a bit and tell Pete only when the moment was right.
For the most part, the remainder of the first set went well both musically and socially. Some of the sailors fresh off from one of the oil tankers just in from Liberia got up and danced with the local girls. I could hear different versions of patois Canadian and African French being spoken. Not long thereafter, the Coast Guard and lobster boat guys got out onto the floor with their ladies, and this mixed bag of people all danced to our spectacular rendition of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” A tipsy woman twirled dervish-like from the outstretched hand of her gyrating man and yelled out, “This is the part where you’re supposed to throw me over your shoulder, Baby!” And he did. It was so much fun to see that fun was being had by all, and that I was having something to do with it. The music held me in its grip, making me firmly believe that the act of feeling in and of itself would be more than enough to bring goodness and light into the world. If music were capable of this, then I pondered what grandeur that dreams could achieve, provided of course I could remember them in the morning, and lately that had been too much to ask. Perhaps the music would also cause even that to change for the better? In the meantime, I could savor the beauty of what was happening now because I immediately remembered Pete’s big speech about the necessity of piling gold on top of gold. Obviously, this gilded atmosphere was exactly what he had in mind.
However, this beauty didn’t last because during the second set, the fun just up and flew away. Harsh words were spoken, and a strange-looking man with a fedora hat just off to my left threw a beer bottle at one of the sailors. The bottle crashed into a chair, spewing glass onto the floor directly in front of a sailor who was the object of his wrath. The man with the fedora yelled some obscenities. I could see that some of the glass had cut the sailor who was now bracing himself for a fight. At this point, Pete intervened and pummeled the man with the fedora. Naturally, I did exactly what Pete had told me to do --- I kept drumming right on through the fight while Pete knocked the bottle thrower out cold. Frank, being a Brit, leaned over my ride cymbal and whispered, “What a bloody tosser!” Two of the other bouncers on staff took turns on the tosser as well. Then they picked him up, rammed the hat down over his eyes, and pulled him out the door. Pete later told me they dumped him in front of the police station, so he’d have time to think about what he’d done once he’d sobered up and come to. As we launched into the next song, I noticed that Carol looked very uneasy after all of this had transpired. I was a bit startled when she left the club in such a big hurry.
Well, I finished the gig, packed up the gear and safely stowed it in the corner right off the left edge of the stage. Saying goodnight to the band, I got into my trusty Plymouth Valiant and drove home. The red vinyl seats made me feel protected as my mind replayed the events of the night. That was good because I quickly fell asleep as soon as I hit the mattress and proceeded to have a stunningly beautiful dream. In the dream, I was walking through the city, only I was totally alone. The people had up and left the premises as if to surrender them to future archaeologists who were patiently waiting for the dream to run its course, so excavations could begin in earnest. I walked several times throughout the area of the waterfront and was mystified by the emptiness that greeted my eye. There was no one for miles around although the confident residue of civilization was everywhere. Upon turning a corner, I saw Pete’s golden Eldorado parked a few yards from the door of the Cosmos Lounge. Apparently, he had left it there to do an errand, but like I said, there wasn’t a soul in sight --- with one exception.
I was surprised to see that Carol came out from the Cosmos. She was dressed even more beautifully than she had been earlier in the evening. Only this time, it wasn’t evening. In fact, the sun beat down and reflected off from the hood of the golden Eldorado, giving a gaudy shimmer to the surrounding buildings and trees. Carol came up and threw her arms around me, tugging at my sleeve and pulling me over to the car. She gave me a huge kiss with her vamping tongue burrowing deeply into my head. Then she slowly laid back onto the hood of the golden Eldorado, snuggling and pulling me on top of her, so that I suddenly found myself straddling her as I looked into her beckoning smile. My gaze shifted downward, and I saw her lovely feet curled against the grillwork. It suddenly dawned on me that they might be the most innocent things about her. Perhaps I could rescue them from the rest of her? I would certainly try. But since this was a dream, her feet didn’t have to play by the conventional rules of reality, so rapidly they deliquesced into the grill itself, and for a moment I thought she was going to become a gigantic ornament for the car, and I made a note to myself that this was rather strange; however, a second later it didn’t seem odd in the least since the scenery had taken this opportunity to blend into a bizarre glow, and if scenery were allowed to do that, then why couldn’t a woman melt into an Eldorado?
She never said anything, preferring to let her smile be the focus of attention. Then she hovered above me to step on my shoulders and face. The tempo shuffled as she drew me into her world, prompting me to consider the vast array of things that could be done on the hood of a car. And she whispered, and everything felt great, and she whispered again, and things felt better still, and I hoped this feeling would never go away, and what was I thinking because syncopated situations slammed up against me, and then I was thinking about Pete and how he was a friend of mine and how being a friend and having a friend were maybe the most important things in the whole wide world and how I would never want to do anything to hurt him and how I kept saying this over and over, so that the thinking might replace the onslaught of feeling I was drowning in, and why couldn’t I approach this stuff a bit more reasonably, and then I was inside of her, and she was moving ecstatically to the music that me and the band had been playing earlier, and suddenly I exploded, and then I was awake and awash in sweat, and I looked out the window, so I could hear the hooting owls of the early morning, and it was over.
In the following days, my efforts to put these occurrences out of my mind met with limited success. The unsavory character in the fedora hat --- that guy I could banish far off to the periphery. Such a low-life swine was a piece of cake as far as that was concerned. But the dream was quite another story. It kept staying with me, hogging huge expanses of my memory, brusquely intruding even into my science class when on more than one occasion, my teacher interrupted my stultifying reveries to ask me exactly what in the hell was going on, and my subsequent answer became nothing more than an agog staccato stutter that ironically mimicked some of my manic open rolls on the snare of the orange sparkle drum kit. The class erupted in giant waves of laughter, and I cringed in embarrassment. The nagging dream made me so sad with myself. I wished I could be someone else. And what someone else was the closest to me? Why that would have been Pete. Yes, I had to go and see Pete box again, so I could get me out of myself.
In fact, Pete had another prize fight coming up, and my attention soon focused on his upcoming bout. On this go-round, my usual school buddies wouldn’t be able to make it. It seemed they had too much homework to do. And anyway, I was fast moving away from them to find new buddies. Of course, one of them was Frank, the British bloke who played guitar in the house band at the Cosmos Lounge. So Frank and I went to the fight together, and it was yet another sterling performance by Pete. This new adversary gave him a bit more trouble than the previous one, but from the get-go I could still see that Pete had the upper hand. As I watched him go to work on his opponent, time slowed down for my exclusive appreciation. I felt that I had been sucked into the ring by some mysterious force. I became Pete and concentrated on the car and the mermaid who resided there. With each punch, magic flowed from the dull thuds of uppercut and body blow combinations, and there was a deepening awareness that some sort of alchemy was taking place. I blinked my eyes for a second and then glared at my foe --- rippling patinas of gold hurtled across my senses imbuing objects and living things with the authority of violent rapture, and the world opened itself like a compliant altar and lay before me. I could never lose because Pete was on my side and music was on my side, and as soon as this fight was over, I would be sure to tell him all about Carol’s duplicity. This would be so good because in that moment, I would have rescued him from something, even if it would be hard to say exactly what it was. Then Pete would go to town on the man in the fedora, giving him a dusting he would never forget, and life would be better for Pete and for me, and he could find another girl-of-the-moment, so we could both pile gold on top of gold. And maybe, if I was really good, from time to time, he might share her with me. Just to emphasize that point, I landed a right cross to the opponent’s exposed jaw, and he reeled backwards into the ropes.
One of the showboat aspects that the promoters had devised for this bout was to have beautiful women in string bikinis come out between each round to sashay and strut around the ring with placards announcing the number of the next round. Of course, nowadays such show biz stuff is par for the course, but back then it was totally fresh, and that night people loved this new wrinkle. I could see Pete liked the idea too. He liked it so much that after the Sixth Round, as the latest beautiful young lady started to parade provocatively around the ring, instead of retreating to his corner to have his seconds and trainers attend to his face, he remained near the center of the ring and grabbed the placard out of her hands. Then he proceeded to hop, skip, and prance around the ring with the placard announcing the upcoming round. This was a surefire crowd pleaser. The young lady looked out into the crowd and shrugged her shoulders as she gave the people out there a wide grin. The laughter continued well into the start of Round Seven, which of course had a disconcerting effect on Pete’s opponent. Round Seven was when things deteriorated for the opponent. Pete closed in and whaled away on him and was just about to knock him out when the bell ended the round. While Pete went to his corner, another pretty ring girl came out with a different placard to announce Round Eight. To my utter surprise as well as Pete’s, the new ring girl was none other than the beautiful Carol. This time she was wearing a leopard dot bathing suit, and she also flashed a demonic smile. Only me and a few others knew who she was, but I could tell that Pete was seriously spooked. I was close enough to the ring to read her lips which said, “Well Pete, you won’t keep me waiting around this time, you pathetic loser!” Pete went to his corner faster than I’d ever seen him go. But despite being more than a little unnerved, in the next round Pete, truly enraged by her transgression, really went to town on his opponent. He was pummeling him in nearly the same way that he had pummeled the man at the Cosmos Lounge. Finally, here was that slugfest style that the sportswriters had asked about. And the slugging seemed to go on and on and Pete’s opponent was staggering, and his brain was sloshin’ inside his head, and I couldn’t quite believe that the lurching man hadn’t fallen down yet because he seemed to take far too many stinging shots, when suddenly, I could see Pete’s left shoulder give way, wobble, and separate as he followed through on a punch. Pete crumpled to the canvas and writhed in pain. His opponent continued to stagger for a few more seconds until he found his bearings and stood stock still with glazed eyes. The ref grabbed his gloves and ended the fight as doctors and seconds scrambled into the ring to attend to the injured fighters. I tried unsuccessfully to get back to see Pete, but they had packed him off to the hospital to have his shoulder looked at. Frank and I walked out of the arena, and I found myself in a fog as I second-guessed all of the feelings and thoughts that had been rushing through my head in the last few weeks.
Pete was never the same after that. Old Man McGonagall wrote some bad poetry about him trying to jumpstart his career. This is not to say that there were no more fights left in him. No, he still continued, but only as a faded facsimile of his former glory. Other dangers previously lurking on the periphery of his life suddenly took center stage. The worst of these was the fact that the man he’d badly beaten up at the Cosmos Lounge was the very same Gene, the gangster whom Carol had so dutifully helped with the truck full of stolen seafood. Then it came out that Pete had owed money to the very same Mob organization which Gene belonged to. Apparently, Gene was a man who could nurse a grudge, and Pete, sensing that the gangsters were closing in, suddenly disappeared. Looking everywhere, I tried to find him, but my best friend had completely slipped off the radar. Eventually, I gave up, and Pete existed only as a fading memory and a haunting inspiration. Much later, I was reading a copy of the Press Herald when I came across a story about him. It seemed that he’d retreated to the boondocks of a certain northeastern state, and under an assumed name had found work as a dishwasher in a series of greasy spoon diners serving workers in the logging and paper industries. After a few years of doing this, he had been found dead in the big-finned golden Eldorado.
I am a longtime rock and jazz musician currently working on my second novel entitled The Intricacies of Dog Shows. My fiction is largely drawn from my experiences as an archaeologist, world traveler, and tango dancer as well as from my childhood. I also would like to credit my friend and colleague Jessica Guerra for her wonderful illustrations of my work.