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Small Rebellions

A radio personality with a microphone urges people to step up and participate in the ice cream eating competition. He sounds like he’s talking from inside a culvert. The person who can eat a quart of Creamery Brand Ice Cream fastest wins a year’s supply. What exactly is a year’s supply of ice cream?, Nate asks himself.

Nate steps up on the gazebo in Riverside Park where a long table is laid out with intermittent spoons. The contestants can choose from a variety of Creamery flavors. Most of the contestants choose vanilla because it is bland and will melt quickly under the withering sun, perhaps thinking they can drink their way to victory.

Except Nate, who chooses Mint Chocolate Chip even though it has big slabs of dark bitter chocolate that, like life, he will need to chew. He chooses it because it is his favorite.

When the contest starts, the frantic competitors shovel great gobs of ice cream into their wide mouths, many swallowing the frozen cream whole without savoring, tears in their eyes from the searing, cold pain.

Nate calmly scoops a small spoonful with a bit of the chocolate as he looks around at the desperate, cream-slick mouths and soiled shirts. He loves the tingle of the mint, the way his mouth comes alive when he draws a breath. Fire and ice.

By Nate’s fourth spoonful, a contestant rises from his seat and brandishes an empty carton to the stunned and cheering gathering. The winner is declared but Nate, with most of his carton intact, has already wandered down the makeshift steps from the stage and onto the Square, leisurely enjoying his treat. Eyes of confusion or mirth follow. The Creamery Ice Cream Representative and the Radio Personality are not amused. Nate sits by the fountain and scrapes the waxed paper carton with the wooden spoon. Tosses both into a waste can.

At the far end of the Square, a group of people wear stickers that read My Name Is on their breasts. They sip cocktails in clear plastic glasses within a velvet roped area. Signs and buttons with stars and stripes read Re-elect Senator Powers. An effusive young woman asks Nate if he is a registered voter and satisfied with his answer and his signature, fictitious address and phone number, writes NATE with a Sharpie in big block letters on a label and presses it on his shirt pocket. Ms. Effervescence smiles and moves on to an unlabeled human.

Nate looks down at his pocket and seeing, from his perspective, his name upside down, peels it off and inverts it.

Nate makes small talk with the guests. Answering questions about his place of residence and livelihood and other matters demographic and social. Harmless fictions. He sips at his gin and tonic through the tiny straw. When an interrogator tells him his name tag is upside down, he looks at his breast and says it looks right to him. They are amused and take him for a prankster. They thrust business cards in his face. Nate accepts the cards though he has none to offer in exchange. After he has accepted enough cards to warrant five weak gin and tonics he moves toward the velvet rope where he encounters a young woman who blocks his path. “Hello. I’m Alex,” she says even though her name-tag is clearly visible. She offers her small, soft hand, “it’s short for Alexandra.” “Nate,” says Nate taking her hand in his, “it’s short for Nate.” He does not shakes it but holds it delicately as though he has been handed a Faberge egg. When her hand is released, she takes a business card from a small, grained leather pouch. “Do you have a card?” she asks, handing him her own which identifies her as an attorney.

“I have several,” Nate says as he withdraws the stack from his pocket. He flips through them. “I think this is my favorite,” he says handing a card to Alex. He smiles, steps around her and walks through the gap in the enclosure.

Alex watches him for a moment before she looks at the card. It reads Margaret Tomlin, Vice President of Sales, Hummingbird Communication. There is a colorful hummingbird, snout poised above a honeysuckle flower in the upper right hand corner of the card. Alex knows Margie Tomlin. She laughs and shakes her head. She studies the gathering, busy sipping, chatting, gazing, listening, posturing. Looks at faces she recognizes. Then she turns and follows Nate, who becomes ever more diminutive in the distance.

Nate crosses the street against the light. A car skids to a halt inches from his thigh. Horn blaring, the driver gesticulates from within the fishbowl Ford, air conditioning blowing at full blast. He hits the horn repeatedly as Nate passes but fails to capture the jaywalker’s attention. Nate’s expression is not defiant but detached. Nate is already across the street when the driver drops his window. The driver sits open-mouthed and confused through the light change, his eyes wide in something akin to, but not exactly, amazement. The driver withholds the invective but continues to idle until the driver behind him begins honking. The light has changed again.

Alex quickens her pace but can’t close ground in her fashionable heels. She’ll lose him now, she fears, but looking through the traffic she sees him turn into an alley off Rubicon Avene which was, more or less, the demarcation between the prosperous Riverside and the dilapidated Near North neighborhoods. She should reverse course and return to the party, to her friends, but she doesn’t. She crosses the street. At the alley she pauses. Even in the bright sunlit afternoon the alley is dark and bleak. Foreboding. She presses on. In the alley she discovers the entrance to the Delirious Dissident bookstore near The Lemongrass, a Vietnamese restaurant she had heard good things about but never visited because she avoided the area. She has practiced her lines to explain her unexpected presence. You were so captivated that you accidentally gave me someone else’s card. A card you might need. But once inside the practiced words fall away. She sees Nate talking to a bearded, long haired clerk behind a glass counter displaying old books. She can only blurt, “Curiosity kills the cat,” and wonders, herself, precisely what she means. Nate smiles a crooked smile. The speechless clerk shifts his questioning gaze back and forth between Nate and the young woman who is sweating profusely in her business suit.

Alex peels a lock of dark hair from her sticky forehead. Delirious Dissident has no air conditioning but she is intermittently greeted by blasts of air from a large, swiveling pedestal fan. The store’s climate is pleasant, liking stepping inside a cave. The fan’s thrust lifts her fine, silky hair from her shoulders and makes her skin tingle like the taste of mint. The shop holds only the three of them and books that smell pungent and ripe. Alex plops down into one of the old over-stuffed chairs scattered about the shop. As Nate and the clerk study her like a curio she scans the bookshelf nearest her. Dusty volumes of books by people whose names she doesn’t recognize and some she can’t pronounce: Hannah Arendt. Amiri Baraka. Nathaniel Chalmers. Noam Chomsky. She kicks her shoes away from her tired, hot feet as if she has arrived home at last from a long journey. On a battered table next to the chair is a copy of Blue Lard by Vladimir Sorokin. She picks up the book. The text is in Russian.

“I could translate it for you if you like,” Nate says. “What do you usually read?”

“I don’t know,” Alex says and is disturbed by her admission, “maybe you could make a suggestion.” She kneads her foot cocked upon her knee and knows that she is showing too much thigh but shifts her leg higher instead. Brazen and obverse. A thrilling self realization hits her like a crashing wave.

A large dog arrives from the back of the shop, tail swishing vigorously, rolling his rump to and fro. The dog tries to push his nose into Alex’s crotch. She grasps the dog’s big head with both of her hands, kneading the fur and scrunching his ears clumped in her fists. The canine teeth, capable of ripping out her throat belies slobbery smile and loving gaze. That’s how the world is, she is learning, it happens or it doesn’t and the vagaries of life, the randomness of reality make a mockery of her plans. The dog tries to launch himself up to lick her face, to climb into her lap, riding her skirt farther up her thighs. Alex doesn’t wear undies and she imagines that her fecund fragrance fills the room and complements the musky books, that it beckons all of the animals in the room.

She fondles the animal’s ears as she pushes his head back down between her knees, the insides of his ears feel like velvet.

“Zhivago!” the clerk scolds.

Zhivago turns and looks at his owner with a contrite expression. Then backs away to sit. Drooling. Admiring his new friend.

Nate, who had wandered to the back of the store, has returned. He studies Alex with an expression she doesn’t quite recognize. He hands her three Mad magazines from the ‘70’s, their back covers creased from folding the cartoon puzzle. “This is a good place to start,” he says. Alex thinks he’s kidding, then decides he isn’t. He smiles, steps away and strides to the door. The bell’s ding signals his departure.

“…?” her eyes ask, maybe of the clerk, maybe of the dog. Maybe of the books. Maybe of herself. The dog puts his head back into her irresistible lap.

The clerk shrugs and says, “He’ll be back,” remaining motionless behind the counter.

The dog’s muzzle has dampened her skirt.

She closes her eyes and enjoys the breeze from the fan. She feels like a hummingbird probing an exotic, beautiful, fresh blossom.


Categories: From Swerve to Bend
  1. MB
    August 28, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Love this. Lyrical, unpredictable & irreverent.

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