Author Archives: Thinking Without Training Wheels

About Thinking Without Training Wheels

Composer of Tales of Love and Other Disorders

RODENBERRY’S WALL: LOVE IN THE AGE OF ASPERGER’S

This is the first story that I had ever written about a supposed autistic savant. Although dated, it’s satiric take on unique personalities and the creation of diseases by the pharmaceutical industry to sell dangerous drugs to children and adults predicated on any behavior that varies from what is deemed normal–whatever that means. Asperger’s disease was delineated by the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger in 1944; however, it was not recognized in the USA until 1994. After taking fifty years to reach our shores psychiatrists have noted a pandemic of Asperger’s that they treated with antipsychotics on young children. This pleased many of their parents because it alleviated their guilt and their child’s unusual persona was not the manifestation of witnessing their progenitors conflicts but some undiscovered genetic abnormality. I am happy to say that the editors of the DSM V the bible of the American Psychiatric Association has decided that Asperger’s is going to be excluded from the Fifth Edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

I hope you enjoy this odd tale regarding a young boy who may or may not have been an autistic savant.

RODENBERRY’S WALL

by

Aaron David

US Copyright Protected ©

The slender woman in blue tights had the classic hip, waist, and breast ratio of the nudes selected for mens magazines. She had finished running, wore a mantle of shimmering sweat, and her flawless features appeared wind‑swept flowing from her chin back toward her raven-colored hair, evoking a vague resemblance to a plane’s fuselage, suggesting a state of perpetual arousal.

She refused to do her exercises. Instead, she sat on the floor, stared into the mirrored wall and indulged herself, grasping the tendrils of the erotic fancies floating through her mind. She rolled off her tights and thong, whose density was comparable to dental floss, and sat on the cold floor that in her current state of derealization remained unnoticed as she began gentling herself. She showered in a wooden bathhouse shrouded in the foliage of her imagination. She awaited her lover who had arrived later than expected. He was less reticent than usual, swooping down, enveloping her within his shadow, combining tenderness and cruelty like Leda’s Swan, instead of the loner romantic prelude she’d thought she wanted. Although impersonal, it struck her as more moving than she would have thought, but at the apogee of her orgasm, the prism of her composition revolved, replacing the man between her legs with another lover whose familiar face eluded precise recognition. Then she noticed Rodenberry watching.

That evening during a dinner of London broil, broccoli with hollandaise sauce, hand cut home fries, and chocolate cake, Edward Reynaud, whose uncanny sense of smell made him the world’s most prominent perfumer, noted a sweet yet fetid odor. Only Edward’s acute olfactory epithelium could have detected this bouquet masked, for an instant, by the mushroom gravy Laura passed to him. The scent re-emerged, as said in the industry ‘through smoke,’ with greater pungency once he placed the gravy boat on the table. “It’s my wife,” he thought, “my beautiful wife. I will kiss her throat. I will make love to her like a brute, an animal.”

Laura cleared dishes from the table and took them into the kitchen; Edward began to follow but his son Rodenberry gnawing his food with slurping noises stopped Mr. Reynaud. “Must you chew like a pig? Answer me! What is it with that scarf? You are never to wear that rag to the table again! Answer me! You’re not washing under that scarf. Don’t lie to me!”

The huge square-faced boy sat in silence except for his salivary symphony, twining the frayed fuchsia scarf he’d wrapped around his left hand with his right hand. The handkerchief had belonged to his deceased grandmother. In the kitchen, Edward grabbed Laura and kissed her with a satyr’s passion.

“It’s not you!” he said backing away. “Your scent is lovely, but it is not you… and, if it isn’t you, it must be the boy.”

“What are you talking about?”

“But how could it be him?”

Edward neglected Laura and lumbered into the dining room where Rodenberry sat licking his fingers. Edward pressed his face close to his son’s and about to speak when the aroma—a fragrance whose tincture was strange and erotic—forced him back into the kitchen. “I don’t know how to put this, but we have a problem. Has Rodenberry been acting unusual of late?”

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“He smells odd. At first, I thought it was you; if you know what I mean?” They returned to the dining room, sat down, and Edward asked the boy if he had done something unusual that day.

Rodenberry said, “I plucked the glop out of a cat’s eye.”

“And did you wash your hands? You didn’t. Remember our discussion regarding washing before meals, brushing your teeth, and showering.”

Laura revisited her erotic fancy while Edward rattled on, “Why are you wearing grandma’s scarf? Give it to me, please.”

Rodenberry stared at his father. Edward lunged at the boy. Rodenberry drew his hand to his side, a lame animal, and said, “It wasmy present from nana.”

Edward stood up knocking his chair backward; it teetered before it struck the Oriental rug covering the mahogany floor. He rushed toward Rodenberry. The boy smiled before skipping from the room. Laura thought, “Leave the boy alone. He’s experienced enough.”

Laura became unnerved, considering that Rod might tell his father what he’d seen that afternoon. What would Edward do given he inhibitions—despite purchasing her a vibrator that coiled in a sinuous complete 360° circle? The idea of his wife masturbating while observed by their son would create… well, she couldn’t be certain, but she knew it wouldn’t be pleasant. She had to preserve her secret and her irrational sense of guilt perplexed her. She decided to mention her ‘feeling of shame’ to her psychiatrist, Dr. Isidore Abelhard.

Laura found the next two days difficult, living in constant fear, Rodenberry would tell Edward. Even though her self-pleasure in masturbation and her concomitant fantasies had enhanced the couple’s sexual pleasure, she knew Edward would be perturbed. Dr. Abelhard, during an emergency session, asked her why she had felt intense shame and her answer led to his unsubstantiated conjecture. Abelard’s transference manifested itself as love and lust for Laura. (His obsession would drive him to consult with his mentor and shrink Dr. Heinrich Helmholtz, regarding how to handle his conundrum.) In Laura’s next session, she and Abelhard stared at each other in silence save for the metronomic ticking of his office clock and his high-pitched wheeze as he exhaled. “Who doesn’t masturbate these days?” Laura said. Abelhard nodded, imagining Laura naked in his arms, and he had not heard another word she spoke, sitting still, legs crossed, concealing his erection until the session came to a merciful conclusion.

Coyote Wild, a Life of Pleasure, starring Lana Velvet and Jonnie Longwood was Laura’s scenario in which a jealous female porn star had smuggled the film from the set, uploaded it to You Tube, and it had gone viral. Her smile faded when she decided Edward wouldn’t tolerate her indiscretion. Abelhard and Laura had discussed the fact Rodenberry surprised her and he had a play date and was not due home before he caught her ‘in the act.’ Even if his intellectual gifts were normal, Rod might not understand why she needed to indulge herself. Her mood almost an ineffable idea fluttered away and her inadvertent exposure chilled her marrow. Perhaps Rod didn’t see enough, or was oblivious, as was often the case with children suffering from his malady. Maybe she noticed him when she had finished. He probably didn’t even notice given the tenacious lure of his internalized world. If Rodenberry mentioned the incident to Edward, she’d deny everything but given Edward’s less constrained sensual attitude? Rodenberry walked in when she had thought she was alone, nothing to it, but the consequences, whatever they might be educed the mantra like sense of her anxiety.

Edward and Laura had reached the wearisome stage of their marriage where they conversed in idiosyncratic grunts only they could decipher. Rodenberry hardly spoke, and when he did, it was gibberish. If Edward believed Rod and confronted her, her tendency to blush would unravel the skein of her secret, but she hoped the incident based on Rodenberry’s limited cognition would disintegrate. Complicating her predicament—and why did it matter—Edward had complained that Rod’s body odor had become more intense since the episode and kept pressing Rodenberry regarding his hygiene, causing an escalation in Rod’s terrifying tantrums, and Rodenberry had even pushed Edward who swore that if Rod was normal, he would have “gotten the strap.”

‘Post rage’ that night, Edward and Laura made love, and it was the most lascivious experience they had in, well, they could not remember. “I was just thinking about Rod,” said Surrounded by the curtains of their four-poster in their coital afterglow, Laura said, “I believe I’m beginning to smell the distinctive scent you’d noticed.”

“Not with your inferior olfactory instrument. I wish you could, but the scent is much too subtle for you to detect. I thought it was you. I can’t place it. You know I have total recall for every bouquet. It’s maddening. I swear to God, mentally slow, smentally slow, I’m gonna drag that animal into the shower every day and scrub him.”

“Why are you getting so worked up?”

“Because you don’t know what it’s like smelling odors other people can’t detect… You can’t imagine how ambivalent I am about this gift, or curse, of mine.”

Two nights later, Laura answered the telephone and Rebecca Feinstein, Harriet’s mother, had called. Yes, Laura remembered her daughter, the prematurely florescent girl—a woman really—who befriended Rodenberry, and had cookies and milk at their home on many occasions.

“We must see you and your husband tonight,” said Rebecca.

“Perhaps some other time, we’re tired. Edward, Mr. Reynaud, hasn’t even gotten home.”

“No, Mrs. Reynaud …”

“Oh, please call me Laura.”

“You don’t understand; this isn’t a social call, it’s about Rodenberry.”

“Is something wrong?”

“I must insist that you and Mr. Reynaud come over tonight.”

Regarding Mrs. Feinstein’s call, Edward said, “If he did something dreadful again I’ll rip…I don’t know what I’ll do. The clumsy oaf probably broke a family heirloom.”

Rodenberry remained at home, as they walked over to the Feinstein’s white colonial, down the hill from the Reynard’s English Tudor, where the cul de sac was widest and near the water’s edge.  Harriet greeted them at the door with flushed cheeks and the reddened nostrils of a crying jag. Laura had the desire to gentle the girl’s cheek, to brush her long hair, draping her pretty face. Rebecca entered the oval foyer and Laura inquired about the problem. Rebecca kissed Harriet’s forehead, whispered something in her ear, and sent her upstairs to finish her homework. Lawrence Feinstein entered, greeted them, and they exchanged introductions, and they all agreed that they should have met earlier since they were neighbors. Lawrence had red hair, even features, and a complexion without any freckles, a rarity, Laura decided. Rebecca was a bovine woman whose girth had surpassed the limit of what a girdle could transform into pleasing amplitude.

While showing their guests into the den, Rebecca turned to Lawrence, with her habitual sense of self-recrimination and said, “I won’t cry. There’s nothing left.” She cried.

“What is this? Did the boy break something?” asked Edward.

Lawrence said, “Remember those words, Mr. Reynaud; they were ill chosen if not malicious.”

Lawrence led his guests into the den. They decided to have drinks and their cook, an emaciated crone, brought out a pitcher of Margaritas with crystal glasses on a ceramic server surrounded by hors d’oeuvres.

“We’ll need chemical comfort,” Lawrence said as he filled glasses, handing them to the women, and gave Edward his martini. Lawrence prepared a recording as they sat down and guzzled their drinks.

“Larry, you can’t show it to them,” said Rebecca, “I’ve thought it over, and I can’t watch it.” She fingered a five-milligram Valium in the pocket of her tunic, before letting the pill fall to its bed of lint.

“I don’t see why they should be spared,” said Lawrence.

Edward downed his martini, asked for another, and said, “What is the emergency. Has Rodenberry broken anything?” Edward was either reaching for his wallet or scratching his ass.

“Just relax. You’ll see in a minute. As soon as I can, get these things working. Verizon hooked it up to so many devices. Listen, Reynaud …”

“My name is Edward.”

“Edwardwas there any predominant reason for naming your kid Rodenberry?”

“Call me Ed.”

“Are you a Trekkie or something? Dumb names are a pet peeve of mine. Imagine going through life with that name?” said Lawrence.

“It’s a unique name,” said Laura, “It wasn’t my first choice.”  They both wondered how they came up with the name. It now struck them as a weird and poor choice. Edward said that the creator of Star Trek spelled his surname with a double d.

Lawrence looked at Laura with the blood shunting desire everyman had experienced once she ripped her post-pubescent chrysalis, glancing at Rebecca, and back to Laura, conjuring a plan to access a more intimate view of her luscious form. He looked at Rebecca with disdain, and his silent fart made Edward gag.

“Look,” said Edward, “I have no idea why we’re here, but unless that’s a gun in your pocket I can… get to the point.” Edward leaned forward on the leather chair, realizing his alcohol-inspired comment was moronic.

“I was rude and apologize,” said Lawrence, “but how would you react if you came home and saw your thirteen-year-old child cavorting naked with a bunch of little brats? Did I say little? Well, can you guess who the ringleader was? Yes, your Rodenberry, Ed, was belly-to- belly with my baby. I predict he’ll be a porn star; a real stallion that boy, boy, he’s a giant!”

Laura thought he said, scallion. She accepted another drink from Rebecca who underlined every word with an asthmatic sigh. “And you’re about to show us a recording of this episode. A guy that keeps a surveillance camera on his daughter is a sicko.” Edward said.

“No, I wouldn’t say that.”

“Of course you wouldn’t.” Edward asked for another martini.

“I thought it was best to leave the house and allow them to get decent,” said Lawrence.

“What does get decent mean?” asked Edward.

“You know what I mean.”

Edward said, “Clichés and euphemisms are a pet peeve of mine.”

Lawrence said, “Their precocious sexual experimentation has a natural progression.”

Edward said, “No shit!”

Rebecca had downed her Valium with a slug of her Margarita and poured a second. She babbled and thought someone else said, “They were acting like animals and whores.” Her own voice had the whine of bow sliding over threadbare violin strings.

“What’s the fuss?” asked Laura. Woozy, inebriated, she accepted a second Margarita. “They’re experimenting. It’s innocent curiosity. Didn’t we do the same things? Perhaps not to the extent of kids today but even one’s libido is inflationary.”

Laura laughed at her pun. It occurred to her that she was reducing the collective anxiety in preparation for the moment, Rodenberry told his father he had seen her masturbate.

“I don’t mind a little experimentation…but what happens when my baby gets pregnant?” Lawrence asked.

“We’ll get her on the pill,” said Rebecca.

“Very clever; she’ll be dead from phlebitis before she’s fourteen,” said Lawrence.

“I want you to get her down here,” said Edward.

“Do you think I’m going to subject her to your interrogation? I’m telling you, Rodenberry is the ringleader. Things will never be the same around here,” said Lawrence.

“I warned you, I’m getting mad. Okay,” said Edward, facing his wife, “tell them.” Laura shook her head.  “Then I’ll do it; you know how painful it is for me.” Edward told his hosts how he had struck Rodenberry’s head, inducing a concussion, with a golf club when he had been practicing his swing in the den.

Lawrence fought the temptation to ask Edward what club he had used.  “The blow opened our baby’s head and resulted in a subdural hematoma, a clot, and permanent brain dysfunction.  I’ve labored with guilt to such a degree I have not played golf since. I can’t watch it on TV. He can’t be the ringleader; he doesn’t have the capacity.”

Laura said, “Dr. Abelhard said Rod was sick before and you are exaggerating the effect of the golf club incident.”

Lawrence, his words running into a slur, “Is that the talk show head case, the shrink?”

Laura said, “Yes, he said Edward made up the story to obscure the real evolution of Rod’s illness.”

Her alcohol-inspired comment surprised her. The truth, if it was, had emerged from the art of disheveled reminiscence, and Edward and Laura had repressed their ‘genetic’ contribution to their son’s symptomatology, but they had rationalized that Rodenberry’s cognitive insult was bound to the psychological conflicts educed by the crumbling edifice of their cadaverous love.

“Your Rod was reciting poetry to my baby.”

Rebecca said, “Our, she’s our, baby.”

“He made our baby dance with a pink scarf tied about her waist. I could’ve killed him!”

“It was tied to her thigh,” added Rebecca lounging in the hammock of her chemical comfort.

“It was a poem by Walt Whitman, I think, maybe Hawthorne,” said Lawrence.

Rebecca burped and said, “It was Poe’s Annabel Lee.

“The boy can’t ride a friggin’ bike,” said Edward.

Rodenberry removed his diary from beneath loose floorboards under the leg of his desk and wrote in his concise hand. The essential news of the day is that Harriet’s (my love is the lance on which time warps its petals of light) parents came home during the weekly meeting of the Crescent Street Dumplings. Mr. Feinstein marched into the room and screamed, ‘What’s going on here?’ It was obvious. We all tried to conceal our primeval nudity. He had to ask that moronic question. Harriet was standing next to me and she was shaking, the poor thing. He made us stand there, stark naked, so he could humiliate us, and launch into a dumb irrelevant lecture about responsibility. When he finished his speech he grabbed Harriet by the arm, twisting it while, he dragged her from the room. Mrs. Feinstein waited by the door, and the minute she got her hands on Harriet she began shaking her until Rebecca and Harriet cried, their screams became tensile and attenuated as they ran upstairs. It was horrible. Mr. Feinstein stood by the arch leading into the den stood with his arms folded glaring at us. We fumbled around for our socks and dressed amid what a sate of electric embarrassment. Julian, our diminutive mascot, sat on the floor and whimpered.

Hearing his parents,’ Rodenberry replaced his diary, wrapped his hand in the fuchsia scarf, extinguished his lights, climbed into bed, and pretended he was asleep. Edward headed straight for the boy’s room; Laura tried to snag his arm. “If you hit him, you’ll hate yourself.”

“What if he gets Harriet pregnant?”

“She’ll have an abortion. I mean she’s thirteen.”

“You think it’s that simple?” Edward opened the door to Rodenberry’s room.

“No, don’t, he’s asleep,” said Laura.

“We’re waking him.” Edward flipped the switched on the covered wagon lamp on Rodenberry’s night table. The boy held the scarf and Edward jerked it from his wrist where it had begun to unravel.

“There’s Jezebel’s scarf.” Edward tucked it in his pocket.

“No…No.” Rodenberry said.

Wedged into the cinderblock of his massive face, his eyes wore a cataract of grease. When Laura looked at her son, her tears fled down her cheekbones and funneled toward her mouth. She felt compelled to shave Rod’s beard.  At twelve, Rodenberry’s precocious physical maturation, had made him taller than any boy in his class by six inches, and he already had a man’s beard.

“What were you doing at Harriet’s house?” Rodenberry remained dumb. Edward shook him as if he was emptying a piggybank. “Our twelve-year-old son cannot understand a simple fucking sentence.”  His comment triggered Edward’s apology to Rod but the infuriating musky aroma was such a poignant violation of Edward’s hypersensitive instrument it loosened his control. “Listen son you are never to go over to Harriet’s house again. I know you like Harriet but you got her in trouble…okay?”

Rodenberry smiled and said, “I plucked the glop out of a cat’s eye.”

Edward decided, in spite of Laura’s reservations, that Rodenberry should be confined to his room after school where he would remain until dinner and return to wash, brush his teeth, shower, and be in bed by nine.

“As soon as he’s forgotten about Harriet Feinstein he can come and go about as he wishes as long as he studies.”

Thus, after school each day, Rodenberry went into his room and closed the door behind him. Living in the same house but not seeing Rodenberry until dinner induced in eerie feeling in Laura. She often paused outside his door trying to determine based on the sounds emanating from behind the door what he was doing. He often played rock music, forcing Laura to knock on his door, making him to decrease the volume so it wouldn’t ruin his hearing.

One afternoon Laura received a special delivery letter. She did not recognize the ornate handwriting and there was no return address.

Dearest Laura,

Aren’t you the hypocrite? A former president of the P.T.A., a devotee of yoga, who scrapes her tongue, rinses her nostrils with tepid salt water, freshens her system with coffee enemas inconvenient as they may be. You have incarcerated your Rodenberry who may or may not suffer from Asperger’s because of his innate curiosity. At least his actions had a social motive. One can only guess what the outcome (Oh, dear!) of the gathering at and you’re your visit with the Feinstein’s and the excessive and warranted punishment, I repeat, of your son, who suffers from soft neurological signs and post-concussive symptomatology. I’m talking about creativity, about architecture, about science, about political leadership, and about cultural progress. No, I’m afraid this involvement with his fellow corprophiles is the healthiest behavior he has demonstrated to date. Look around, in basements all over the world, children are trying to solve the riddle of the sphincter, and what are we to make about your behavior?  I have watched your hand ferret through the folds of your desire. Stopping… shopping…and sopping while awaiting the lover who pries you from your family, and what can we discern from the minutia and paraphernalia of your affair. The afternoon jog, the tights, the room lit for romance, casting shadows that partially conceal your digital exploration and the mirror for the supposed lone witness to your own purblind finale. Shame on you and shame on your dexterous fingers used to gentle and manipulate your precious glans and fancy.

The missive disturbed Laura. Who could have written it? Who had violated her privacy? She was embarrassed and angered, because the letter was a series of lies. By exploring her fantasy life, she had freed her sexual essence that had gone unexamined before her search into her intimate compositions, her habit and her liberation unveiled an unknown aspect of her sexual persona that stimulated Edward’s desire for her, and he became more loving, more affectionate, making the note far more dangerous and important. In a fit, she tore the letter up, burning the fragments in the kiln used to glaze her pottery, and why did it strike her as a cremation? Ah, the act was an iconic burial of her inhibitions.

She placed the ashes in its envelope and scattered them during her daily run around the Great Neck North Junior High School track.

Later that afternoon, Rebecca Feinstein called. “Excuse me, I’m a little spent,” she burped, “I can’t keep away from the tequila and Valium since we interrupted their adolescent sex group, or grope, I guess. What do they call themselves?”

“They are the Crescent Street Dumplings.”

“I just want to tell you that everything is okay. Larry felt ashamed and burned the recording like some sort of cremation, I guess.”

Laura recalled the letter and her own ritual. She even wondered if Rebecca Feinstein had spied on her through their basement window. Laura knew she was being ridiculous.

Rebecca said, “I just couldn’t bear that recording around. Larry’s still mad but I couldn’t care less. I was terrified that my mother would see it like my mother.  Could you imagine?”

When Laura hung up the phone, she had the odd notion she had never received the letter and had imagined the episode. In a way, the impression of never having read the epistle was more intense than its detailed content. She was now unable to envision the mail carrier’s face. Maybe she hadn’t received the letter. Maybe her morbid sense of guilt initiated a form of dissociation, and she had never received the letter.

Before dinner that evening, Edward kissed Laura with uncommon passion. “I know it’s unusual, of late, my pet, but I’m in a good mood now that the scarf episode is buried, and my olfactory gift has assumed its prior clarity. A prolonged inability to discern the nuances of various scents could cause a great loss of income.”

Rodenberry walked into the kitchen and punched his father in the arm. “Willie Mays play on sunny days.”

“My child,” said Edward, “My child.”

“Willie Mays plays on sunny days.” Rodenberry laughed.  They all laughed.

Laura, Edward, and Rodenberry had a family hug before they sat down for dinner.

As time passed, Laura felt assured that Rodenberry had not seen her masturbating, which enabled her to obscure the letter from consciousness. With a renewed sense of freedom, she indulged her fantasies with greater excitation. She welcomed every nuance of her routine, the paralysis of time, the augmented texture of familiar settings, her run, affording her an ever-increasing awareness of her body, her dances exercises, and the shower in the woodland of her fancy, the mirror, the intense orgasms, and its aftermath. Her ritual became more intense and served as a prelude leading to Edward’s nocturnal clasp.

Then one day she saw Rodenberry watching! “What are you doing!” she shouted.

The boy said, “I plucked the glop out of a cat’s eye.”

“You weren’t supposed to leave your room. I’m telling your father young man. Go back to your room and don’t come out until dinner.”

Laura tugged her tights up and escorted Rodenberry back into his room.  He broke free, pushed her, and she smacked into the wall. She was frightened. He was grey and ugly. Her on child terrified her and never had his coarse beard seem so unbearable.

“You’re not nice,” he said.

“You get into your room, mister.”

Rodenberry locked his door. Laura shook the doorknob. “Open the door,” she said.

“You told me to stay in my room and that’s what I’m doing.”

“I want you to open the door, now, Rodenberry! Open the door! What did you mean when you said I wasn’t nice?”

Edward and Laura sat at the dinner table that night. “What’s our boy going to eat?” asked Edward.

“He’s not coming to the table. He said I’m not a nice mommy and he’s not coming out as long as I live here.”

“I’ll get him.”

“He was emphatic. Don’t force him Edward, please.”

Edward had already headed to Rodenberry’s room. “Son, this is daddy. Answer me Rod. Your supper is getting cold. Linguini with clam sauce, your favorite”

Laura said, “Let him be. He’ll come out to use the bathroom. He can do without supper. You’ll fight and one of you will get hurt.”

Edward noted the full aroma of Laura’s ‘perfume.’ “Well, I suppose you’re right.”

I’m lucky to have such a beautiful wife. It will be nice to have an evening alone. I can have her over the ottoman and peek at the football game every now and then.

Three days had passed and Rodenberry had not emerged from his room though he ventured out during the night because Laura found a mess in the kitchen every morning. For hours, Laura did not hear a sound from his room. Fearing she could no longer endure her perturbation, now induced by the scraping noises emanating from Rodenberry’s room, she went outside and peeked in his windows, but he had drawn his shades. Desperate, standing in front of Rodenberry’s door, tears flowing she threatened to notify the police. Her dread turned to anger and she pounded on the door. Shaking the doorknob in a furor, she demanded he open his door. “I’m getting a screwdriver and removing the doorknob.”

After searching through Edward’s tool chest and his workshop without finding the appropriate implement, Laura threatened to call “daddy,” and make him come home. Frustrated she waggled and tugged the doorknob to no avail. She telephoned Edward. “What are we going to do? I can’t stand it. He refuses to leave his room and is giving me the silent treatment.”

“Relax, he has come out of the room and he will tire of his game. We can wait up for him tonight or I can take the doorknob off.”

Edward had begun to enjoy their privacy. After her conversation with Edward, a loud bang from within Rodenberry’s room, startled Laura, and she noticed a white envelope he had slipped underneath the door. She tore the envelope open and began reading a letter composed by someone with elegant handwriting.

Laura, as you have so fervently wished, and at times suspected, I do not have a learning disorder, a low IQ, or suffer from the national epidemic of Asperger’s, which is a means of selling antipsychotics to children by the pharmaceutical industry. It is clear that this is most efficacious because it allows parent’s who have bestowed their unresolved conflicts upon their children. On the contrary, I possess superior mental agility, and I’ve found it is in my best interests to play “dumb.” I admit to having stumbled on this tactic by happenstance; however, the advantages of this policy are so obvious, so blatant that only in a country with millions of incompetent and remorse-ridden parents could fall for such a ruse.

My predominant interest was predicated on the privacy allotted a ‘retarded person.’ Oh, excuse me, I meant to say, a mentally challenged individual. I loathe absurd euphemisms that mock rather than ennoble its victims—incurring the opposite effect for the putative reason that various interest groups had them created.  Nobody was concerned with what I had to say once I was ‘accused’ of being ‘backward’ so I could utilize the freedom for more inspired cognition and observe the mores and jejune machinations of our relatively primitive culture as only an ‘outsider’ or a ‘stranger’ can. Once you sent me to a host of special classes and tutors, (my relationship with Bertine Clyde has been invaluable to my intellectual growth) this had both advantages and disadvantages. There was no pressure on me to perform, or maintain a lofty academic record that I could have easily achieved but again I had the liberty to devote all my time to my own more intriguing, and infinitely superior cognitive pursuits. On the other hand, I had to acquire the rudiments of a liberal education on my own, which proved to be more costly than I would have wished. I know that this is not a challenge for you to believe. Look how easy it was for you and dad’s remorse and anguish to betray the both of you. You had feared that your child would be mentally deficient because father’s brother had been. Why were you so convinced that your child would be? Was it something within you? Heredity is only a fragment of our primitive apprehension of our own mysterious physiological cosmos. After our beloved Allison’s death from the poorly understood phenomenon of SIDS, and an example of our intellectual frailty. I would imagine that your sense of culpability was unbearable, and the evidence, or the wrath of the gods, who bestowed upon the House of Reynolds some unfortunate heritable defect must have overwhelmed your capacity to tolerate grief of that magnitude. What is the imperative that drives, excuse the pun, you and Edward have to hide behind the mask of that silly story of Edward’s clobbering me with an errant golf swing? Do you think that jejune tale ameliorates your stigmata? What is one to make of the diagnosis of all those specialists you paid to examine me (the great Dr. Ludwig and now Abelhard to mention but two.). Well mother, I know your needs and now you know mine.

Rodenberry had sent those letters and this launched Laura into the vise of a previously unknown state of horror.  She struck the door with her fists, calling his name until she fell into the poignant silence of someone whose lover had died in their arms, succumbing to their end in an instant and without a moment’s warning. Laura imagined his face—the grey mask with a man’s beard.

“I know what you must be thinking, but Rod, darling; I don’t know what you want, honest. Dad and I will make it up to you.”

Within the odd silence that one hears in a vacant chamber, so similar to the murmur of a conch shell, Laura’s words seemed so inane to her.

Just then, the doorbell chimed; it was their elderly neighbor, Louella Kierkegaard, who grew, what could only be described as redder than red tomatoes in her backyard, that Rodenberry often picked off their vines on his way home from school.

“Mrs. Kierkegaard, if you’re about to suggest that Rodenberry has been at your tomatoes again, I must inform you that he has been grounded, and he’s been in his room for the entire school recess.”

“Well, unless there is a young man in the neighborhood who looks exactly like him, I must be going mad because I saw him taking wheelbarrows filled with bricks from the site of the new house they are erecting next to the Feinstein’s.”

Laura and Kierkegaard looked toward the naked structure at the end of the block. “I’m telling you this because a child like Rodenberry is special.”

Laura thanked her. Edward came home the night in a mood Laura had never seen before. He was wild and his kiss was brutal it left her feeling as if she would faint. He insisted they dine at Bruce’s new restaurant on Middle Neck Road that Newsday’s brilliant restaurant critic, Mike McGrady, had given a rave review. Laura wore a low‑cut black satin chemise by the hottest designer, Chester Preene, and Edward held her hand across the table while humming, The Shadow of Your Smile, the only melody he had mastered, as they nibbled on their Caesar salads. Laura had decided it was best not to mention Rodenberry’s letter.

The house held the uncanny hush it had earlier, and Laura thought about the bricks Mrs. Kierkegaard had mentioned. When Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds were about to express their devotion, Edward excused himself to fetch an antacid and walked, proud as a cock, into the bathroom. Laura decided it was time for her to apply her KarmaSutra Fire and Ice lubricant. Finding the phallus-shaped receptacle in her night table drawer empty, she followed her consort. As she entered the bathroom, Edward had the odd look of a man caught in a shame-inducing act, and he hid something behind his back.

“What are you concealing, a vibrator?” Laura reached for Edward who stepped back from Laura’s hands. He insisted it was a surprise, he’d purchased at The Pink Pudenda. Edward’s flushed face and perspiration was indicative of deceit. Laura was about to return to their connubial bed with a fresh supply of Fire and Ice, and placed her lips on Edward’s when she noticed the waggling of the fuchsia scarf Edward had tried to conceal behind his back. In a moment of clarity, Laura knew why it inspired Edward’s rage when Rodenberry had it wrapped around his hand. She darted from the bathroom room and threw herself onto their bed. Edward placed the scarf in his dresser drawer and attempted to placate Laura who had masked her face in a pile of pillows.

Edward said, “It’s nothing. You don’t understand. You’re so beautiful. Don’t cry.”

“That scarf you couldn’t tolerate, you sick bastard, was worn by Harriet Feinstein. Her scent turns you on. You need a whiff of her before you can make love to me!”

Edward bandaged her mouth with his hand. “Quiet! That’s not fair. Yes, the scarf turns me on. However, it has no bearing on my love for you and it has a matrix of estrogen-inspired scents. Remember what Lawrence said about Rod being a porn star.” Edward removed his hand from Laura’s mouth and continued. “At first, I was concerned that I was perverse so I spoke with Dr. Abelhard, and he stated the obvious. First, given my olfactory gift it was an amalgamation of aromas I had detected, not just Harriet’s, and it’s normal for a man to be turned on by another woman’s scent and a stimulant that inspires making love to his wife.”

“Harriet Feinstein’s is a child and her scent is the predominant one embedded in that scarf. She’s also a friend of your son’s.”

The sunrise failed to disinfect the wounds of their dreadful night. Mr. & Mrs. Reynaud met in the kitchen, which had often displayed the affects of Rodenberry’s early morning foraging but it was now in its familiar state of near pristine cleanliness.

“I thought I heard him around three. He has gone too far,” said Edward, mentioning that

Rodenberry had consumed the last of the eggs. “Frankly, I’ve rather enjoyed these few weeks with him in his room, and I don’t feel guilty about it either. That was another item I had to discuss with Abelhard, and we agreed that having a family session was prudent now.”

After returning from Manhattan the next night, Edward demanded that Rodenberry open the door. There was no reply. “I’ll break the door down if necessary so open it up kiddo. This business has gone far enough. I know you’re troubled.”

Before using his shoulder as a battering ram, Edward thought it best to remove the doorknob, but his entire collection of screwdrivers was missing along with other tools from his basement workshop. He ran up the stairs, through the narrow vestibule, leading to Rodenberry’s door, and slammed into it with his shoulder.  Edward’s rage inspired adrenaline permitted him to pummel the thick walnut without noticing pain until he had a hairline facture—revealed later that night in the North Shore Hospital ER—but the threshold was unblemished, and he began kicking the door in a state of fury. Laura had brought him his electric drill, a jigsaw, and a large hammer, and if those utensils failed to achieve the requisite result, she mentioned his sledgehammer.  Edward looked at her with a dullard’s expression, suggesting he had regressed to a stage of evolution indicative of man’s primate ancestry. She though he would be better off using the drill, the small handsaw, and remove the doorknob. He accepted her advice.

At the end of the knotty pine vestibule leading to Rodenberry’s room was a solid brick wall. Behind that barrier, Rod had replaced the door with a slab of steel.  Near the top was a square cutout backed by a sliding steel plate similar to the entrance of a speakeasy. Edward and Laura stood in the foyer, exchanging glances. Edward, handed her the doorknob, and he felt the solid wall. “Rodenberry!” he screamed.

Rodenberry slid the metal plate open and peered out at his parents. Edward, feeling the pain from his fracture, screamed louder, “What the fuck is this!”

Laura looked at her son’s grey face with the coarse stubble from his beard. He couldn’t have written those letters.

“I’m hiding like a bear,” said Rodenberry framed in the square cutout.

“Couldn’t you stop him from doing this?” Edward said to Laura. “How could that kid build a fucking fortress in there without you knowing it?”

“And why didn’t you stop him?” said Laura.

“I was running our business. Rodenberry, you get out of that room!”

“I’m hiding like a bear. I plucked the glop out of a cat’s eye.”

Edward ran to get a ladder when he felt the intense pain radiating from his shoulder. Edward set the ladder down against the brick facade in the backyard, and climbed up to look into Rodenberry’s windows, but he had locked them and drawn the drapes closed. Edward, with a furious effort, tried to lift the windows. When he couldn’t budge them, he punched out one of the glass panes. It wasn’t until he got the window frame up and was about to climb in when he noticed, behind the drapes, a solid wall of bricks. He shouted his son’s name then ran back into the house. “How could that kid build a fucking fortress in there without you knowing it?” said Edward.

“A lot you care,” said Laura.

“Rodenberry, you get out of that room!” “I’m hiding like a bear.”

Edward called Dr. Abelhard, the next afternoon from Manhattan, wanting to know why Rodenberry would do such a thing and how it was possible for a boy with his limited capacity to accomplish such a complicated feat. Dr. Abelhard told him the boy was an autistic savant. “A person with meager general intelligence but who in one area has the psychic energy and clarity normally associated with genius. The boy was obviously insecure and suffered from castration anxiety and his own emerging, turbulent libido.”

Laura had called Dr. Abelhard before the eminent archeologist of psychological runes, spoke to Edward. “In your son’s case his impressive ability has settled in two distinct areas, architecture and literature. Not common I can assure you but no wholly unique either.”

“But his writing was not literature. It wasn’t a story or anything like that. It took thought,” said Laura.

“Not thought as we know it, but the combination of recalled paragraphs culled from books, he has read. It’s called eidetic memory—photographic memory. As you know, Laura, I have seen your boy. If you like I can refer him to a psychologist for a battery of tests.”

Rodenberry had left the sliding plate open. Laura, noting the invitation, stood on a kitchen ladder and peered into his room. Maybe, thought Laura, the doctor was right, as she watched Rodenberry playing with some bricks. The castle he was constructing was quite ingenious, but he had such an insipid look about his eyes that Laura didn’t think it possible for any “real” cerebration to occur in his brain.

She called out to Rodenberry and he failed to respond at first. Then he slowly turned to her. “Did you make up those letters you sent to mommy of did you copy them?”

He indicated that he copied them. Laura fought hard to believe Dr. Abelhard but wondered where the boy could find anything that corresponded to their familial melodrama.

“Will you show me the book where you got the idea?”

Rodenberry agreed to show her but it would have to be later because he was building the Great Wall of China.

“You must come out of your room. You can’t stay in there forever. Now come out like a good boy.”

“I’m punished. I’m hiding like a bear. Ignatz! Ignatz! Ignatz! No! No!”

Laura left the house for two hours of shopping. She returned and heard loud music coming from Rodenberry’s room. The sliding plate was open and as she climbed the kitchen ladder, she wondered if it would be possible for her to squeeze through the opening. Laura was astonished to see Harriet Feinstein in the room with Rod. Laura imagined Lawrence and felt an acute and inexplicable loathing for the girl that she had formerly adored. Harriet looked extremely pretty in a grey jumper and navy crepe blouse. Harriet greeted Laura with her usual cheerful affect.

Laura said, “What are you doing here?”

The children giggled before Harriet stated she had come to visit her best friend. By the time Harriet closed metal plate, Laura had called her a “tramp,” while attempting to reopen the immovable steel panel. That night Rodenberry refused to leave his room despite the vehement pleading of his parents with promises extravagant material rewards, a new Xbox, a Bose sound system, and a new TV. Edward tried entering the room through the sliding panel that Rodenberry had left open but managed to get no more than his head and left arm through the opening in part because of the cumbersome cast on his humerus. Rodenberry had constructed the opening specifically to exclude his father from gaining entrance. The width of his father’s shoulders was twenty‑three inches. The opening was twenty‑one inches.

His parents decided that if Rodenberry didn’t come out of his room by the following night they would have Dr. Abelhard come over. When his wife was asleep, Edward went down to his workroom, grabbed his sledgehammer, ran back upstairs, but was unable to lift the hammer with his broken shoulder. The turmoil woke Laura who joined her husband in Rodenberry’s foyer.

“At least this is bringing us closer together,” she kissed Edward on the cheek but had yet to forgive him for his attachment to the scarf. They went back to bed and slept together bent into a puzzle.

After Edward had gone to work, Laura discovered another envelope in Rodenberry’s foyer. He now left the sliding panel always open. She had the peculiar thought that perhaps if she ignored the presence of the envelope it would disappear and prove that she had imagined the other letters.  She fought the urge to ask him if he had dropped an envelope on the floor. Fighting her virulent curiosity, she delayed the inevitable, jogged five miles before opening returning home and opening the envelope.

Laura, Having Harriet Feinstein visit me the other day was more than pleasant. It was a hint. Don’t you have a jumper like the one she wore, or am I mistaken? There really is only one way to make me come out of my fortress and nobody knows better than you do what I mean. I have just enough bricks to seal the room. How long do you think I can live before I suffocate? Personally, I don’t think I will get that far. The moment I feel the slightest difficulty in breathing I will reach for dad’s Rockwell power drill and bore several 5/8 holes allowing some enough air in or will it be too late.

The letter enraged Laura and she retrieved the kitchen ladder, peered in and said,

“You’re going to get hell, young man!”

Rodenberry was busy pinning photos he had cut from Sports Illustrated onto a corkboard at the far end of his room. He looked toward his mother and continued.

Laura said, “Are you writing me letters? It can’t be you; is it Rodenberry, RODENBERRY ANSWER ME! Stop writing me letters.”

As she spoke the letter she had rolled up in her hand inadvertently fell through the open panel. She lunged for it as it fell to the floor on Rodenberry’s side of the wall and found herself halfway through the open panel so it was apparent that she could enter the room if she desired.

Of course, why hadn’t she realized the obvious before? If Rodenberry was able to get in and out of his room through the panel, so could she. She could slip in during the middle of the night, get the power tools and hand them to Edward.

How unnecessary though…all they needed to do was to hire a building contractor and have them demolish the wall. No, calling a stranger wouldn’t be right. It would be embarrassing. Edward could have borrowed the necessary tools but now with his broken shoulder. Why was it so easy to believe that he had a genetic form of cognitive disability?

When Edward got home, he gave Laura a perfunctory kiss and went straight to Rodenberry’s foyer. He produced a tape measure he had just purchased.  Rodenberry had taken the tape into his room. Edward measured the dimensions of the panel, and wrote them on a little pad. “This is what’s happening,” he turned to Laura.

“Tonight we make a last ditch attempt at wooing him out of the room.  I bought him a TV and we’ll set here as a gesture of appeasement. In the event that he remains, ‘hibernating like a bear.’ Abelhard will come over here with a colleague and administer a sedative. If that doesn’t work, we’ll get a contractor to tear down the damn wall.”

“How will Abelhard be able to give him a sedative if Rod won’t let him in?”

“His associate is has narrow shoulders and can climb in. That’s why I’m getting the measurements. The man also knows a little karate so that if Rodenberry won’t hold still for the injection he can subdue him with a pressure point.”

Edward and Laura carried the TV from the car and placed it in the foyer. Laura laughed. It was funny, she thought, how Rodenberry had brought her and Edward closer than they had been in years. Their lovemaking had the intensity they enjoyed during their honeymoon and the tender weeks that followed. She knew this also related to her ability to indulge her fantasies. The following morning, Laura was aware of her extreme sexual excitation. Prior to her “sexual awakening,” she would go for long intervals of time without any conscious sensual ideas or reveries.

Perhaps when she finished her chores she would indulge herself. While putting away several of Edward’s hankies she noticed the corner of the fuchsia scarf peeking from under the corner of his monogrammed leather jewelry box. She took the scarf and ran into Rodenberry’s foyer, dragging the kitchen ladder along with her.

“You knew about this all the time didn’t you, you bastard! Your father is falling for that little bitch. He kisses her through me. You knew what you were doing. Answer me you bastard!”

Laura waved the scarf as her arm dangled through the open panel. “Answer me!”

Rodenberry looked her in the eye, and resumed tacking photos on the corkboard. He’ll do that forever, she thought.

In the afternoon, driven by her anger toward Edward, she set out to masturbate as an act of infidelity. She would flow into the arms of imagined lovers and they would have her in a fashion that Edward with his ludicrous olfactory fetish could never comprehend.

She wasn’t able to get comfortable since Rodenberry kept emerging in the foreground of each fantasy. She knew what to do. She would get the boy out of his room.  Hadn’t he constructed the cursed thing so that a narrow shouldered person like herself could force him out? We don’t need Dr. Abelhard here! I’m going to look so beautiful Edward will flip, she decided, settling into her bath. She shaved her legs and spread soothing aromatic after bath oil on them. She redid her eyes with a tawny eye shadow, put on lip-gloss, a subtle base, and a dab of rouge on her cheeks. She put on a baby blue blouse Edward had bought her. At that point, she stood at her open closet undecided on how to proceed, when she noticed the grey jumper that Rodenberry had recalled as being similar to the one that Harriet had worn the other day. She reached for the garment thinking it might coax Rodenberry. He was obviously partial to the style. Edward had also shown a preference for it and had stated how it displayed her gorgeous figure. She stood in front of her full-length mirror pleased by her appearance. When she was in Rodenberry’s foyer, she said, “Okay, buster, this is your last chance to come out or mommy’s coming in after you.”

She climbed through the panel easily, though for some reason she thought it would be difficult. Standing in his room, she had a strange, almost nostalgic sense of something ineffable.

“Look what I brought for you.” Laura showed him the scarf. “You may have it if you leave the room, understand?”

He looked at her. His eyes looked bottomless, empty and for his entire life, he will cut pictures out of magazines and make collages. She pushed the hair from his forehead. “Promise me that you won’t tell daddy I came in to get you. Rod, are you coming with me sweetheart?”

Rodenberry walked over to Laura and placed his hand on her shoulder.

Driving into the Line of Fire

HOW I SAVED MY LIFE FROM ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH

Driving through the dense mist, I pulled to the curb in front of a Carroll’s Pub on Bell Boulevard in Bayside, NY. The wind picked up and the drizzle became a squall as the late Frankie Lyman’s sepulchral, heroin-stained voice cried from my Ford LTD’s raspy speakers. The pub door flew open at last and an umbrella, wriggling as if it had a nervous system, thrust through the heavy rainfall

 Behind what appeared like a rapier, I saw Pat, a regular, parrying and thrusting with the blade of her umbrella stumbling headfirst toward my cab. Whack! Pat’s head hit the door frame with such intensity I winced from the heavy thud of bone on the unforgiving steel. I watched her distorted face–upper and lower lips compressed against the car’s window like a mutant snail contorted into an absurd clownish look as it left a trail of her crimson lipstick on the glass–as Pat’s lips slid down the window, and Pat struck the sidewalk. On her feet, before I could assist her, I held the door as she plopped into the passenger seat. With her dentures slipping, she asked, “Do you wanna get laid?”

I heard her say, “Do you wanna get paid?”

Her muddled comment registered while I stared at Pat’s lacquered hairdo. Dyed coal-black, it seemed as if her hairstylist had constructed it out by welding black wire hangers together into a hair sculpture. She asked if it was raining as the mist had become a deluge as if the water had become a solid pane of glass. The water clogged the four sewers on that corner and created a wave that curled across the street, the Beach Boys would have immortalized in a lyrical homage. With the surprising speed of a cobra, well, albeit a sedated one, her hand, flashing iridescent red acrylic nail spikes, landed in my crotch. She again asked if was raining as the rain and wind pummeling the white LTD seemed to move the car and the downpour was tantamount to a Malaysian monsoon.

Sweetie, can I be a bad girl?” Pat asked. Her wig now fell forward, dangling from a single pin, and her head nailed my crotch.

Politely, I told Pat it was busy and she could be a “bad girl” some other night. She lifted her head, her eyes jerked back and forth, and her head toppled forward again into my crotch hard enough for me to consider wearing a protective cup. Her destination was the Tip. The Tipperary Lounge in Flushing. We arrived at the Tip and Pat looked up from my crotch and asked, “You wanna get laid?”

   “Some other time, Pat, it’s busy.”

She struggled to lift her head but banged it on the steering wheel, and her dangling wig, without her knowing it came loose and hit the floor. She poked me in my head with her umbrella. Pat lay on her back draped across the seat, her legs flailing away like a giant turtle, and she grabbed the dashboard in desperation but gravity helped her from my lap and the seat to the floor. She emitted an eardrum-bursting, emphysema-strangled wail. Screaming for assistance, her arms and legs flailed about. I opened my door and stood in the street for leverage, lifting her under her shoulders, I dragged her out through my door.

 She hadn’t realized that her wig was on the floor. Fastened with pins, her hair was a roll of matted curls. When she reached to straighten her wig, her shriek all but cracked the window before I returned the wig to her and she placed it on somewhat sideways like the way young boys wear baseball caps. For my trouble, she offered me one last shot at “bumping uglies.” She gave me a fin for my trouble and grunted, “Fuck yourself.” I watched her stumble toward the “Tip.” A man exited and Pat asked him, “Wanna get laid?”

 A comment that irritated his female companion and they exchanged raised middle fingers before I pulled away the curb, headed for my next call.

I had a fever and as I drove to my next destination, I took two Tylenol and parked in front of an apartment house. I ran into the lobby and rang the customer’s buzzer. She informed me she’ll be right out, she’s another regular and “Right out” means I have time to eat a slice of pizza, read The Odyssey, and lean how to perform open heart surgery.

  At last, The Lady in Black sat beside me but with a look on her face that suggested abject terror. She told me about her son, Sandy, and how what happened to him wasn’t his fault.

 “They went into him,” she said.

   Is she a paranoid schizophrenic slouching toward dementia or suffering from alcohol-induced wet brain? She struggled through her pockets, as it was a straitjacket, and found her matches. With her tottering hand, with nails as long as baby’s spoons she lit her cigarette. She stared at me. The Lady in Black smelled like a handful of candy.

 “I’ll never forget your face,” she said. “Do you know what day it is? Good Friday. You know, don’t you?”

Yes.”

 “You’re him aren’t you?”

  “Yes.” Convinced I was God’s son. We drove to the nearest 7-Eleven for beer and cigarettes and a return to her building.

  “Is it two or three?” She waits for my response. “It’s three, isn’t it?”

  “Yes. How did you know?”

  “Thank you. I just knew.”

 I parked in front of her apartment, waiting for her to pay me. Tears dribble down her cheeks while she squeezed my hand. She thought she was going to die. 

 “How much?” she asked, “A month, two months? You know, don’t you?”

 “You have at least twenty years, probably more.”

   “My God! You’ve given me room to breathe.”

 Her hands searched my face as if she was applying the finishing touches on a sculpture, “I’ll never forget your face. You’re God, aren’t you?”

Yes.”

Sighing,she kissed my hand, produced nine crumpled singles, and squeezed them into my palm. After eight hours of driving and breathing carbon monoxide, my double vision neatly folds the curtain of night. A soft wind combines with the image and I follow my fatigued eyes toward the black door sill of the horizon.

It’s one am., the radio is crackling and the sadist who was dispatching that night had barely enough time to distribute the calls. Behind the open mike, I heard the screeching of telephones and the breathless patter of drivers, stating their locations and driving toward their customers at a rate approaching the speed of sound. All of us choked up by the frenetic rush, all of us blinded by the sound, the delicious jingle of money. Then the dispatcher summoned me to the base for a call.

 I parked the white, Ford LTD on the gravel driveway A man in his early twenties dashes from the office and climbs into the backseat. He speaks with a deep voice, “113th and Roosevelt.”

Trouble. The address was near the Candy Box, which means he’s looking for crack.

Waiting long?” I asked, backing the car into the street.

Twenty minutes, a half hour.”

The cab I drove had no interior lights. In the darkness, my passenger leaned in the corner as if hung on a hook, enabling me just to see his eyes pierce the shadow in the rear-view. Then, breaking eye contact, he slumped in the middle of the seat as if a hammock.

“So how are you tonight?” I asked.

“Tired.”

“How come?”

 “Drinking.”

 My intoxicated passenger and I were headed toward a place that sold coke like chocolate ices, and that meant, based on a priori knowledge, he was going to rob, and perhaps shot me in the back of the head.This occurred during the height of the crack epidemic and forty or more livery drivers were murdered for four years in succession.

How the fuck can I get out of this alive? My passenger’s demeanor his closed posture, signal a sense of menace and danger alerting any experienced driver. Without Plexiglas, my passenger could use my unprotected skull to play croquet if he was so inclined.

Contrary to what most people think, the most dangerous job in the city, is not a golf caddy, or a cop, but driving a cab. From 1985 to 1989 on average,  more than forty livery drivers have gotten murdered, or assassinated, each year, and as one detective told me, that made driving a cab eight times more dangerous than fighting fires, being a cop, working at an all-night convenience store, or eating sushi.

While I’m driving, the former national spelling bee champ in the back, can open my skull at his leisure. I think back to my college animal behavior classes for a possible solution to my current predicament.

My opening gambit: “I’m feeling tired myself. Bad cold. I guess you can tell?”

My strategy is to emphasize our similarities. By doing so I will, according to ethologists, reduce what they call mutual repulsion.

A mugger’s translation of mutual repulsion: “I need product–coke, heroin, etc, and the asshole driving has bread. I might as well kill him because they’ll never catch me. If they do happen to catch me, say before Diana Ross eats her next meal– I’ll cop a plea and finger my connection.”

He grunted answers to my questions, and I watched the top of his head drop from the rectangle of the rear-view as he slumped farther into the seat. I feel a chill, owing more to my insensate companion than the onslaught of my flu. The images floating before me varied between Edvard Munch’s The Scream!  I imagined my body slumped over the steering wheel while the horn blared.

He caught me looking at him in the mirror and again he broke eye contact. The junkie’s eyes switched back and forth like a metronome. Since I have been able to look into his eyes, it’s a good sign. The car– it seemed a cage to me then–swerved around the curves of the Grand Central, down the ramp and into the dark heart of one of the most drug-ravaged neighborhoods in the five boroughs.

  Restrained by the responsibilities of my job, and the mores of society. I slipped into a mode of calculated helplessness, trying to forge a human connection from the nexus of our combined anxiety. As we approached his goal, his agitation increased, and I had to defuse the pipe-bomb of his drug withdrawal angst, or I was among the forty plus drivers killed that year.

One-thirteen and Roosevelt. Right near the Candy Box.”

 “Right.”

I must have done about a dozen drug runs between Bayside and the Candy Box. You looking for some product?”

  As I spoke, my companion leaned forward, close enough for his elbow to touch my shoulder. I felt the heat from his body, smelled the rank odor of fear emanating from his sweat glands.

Everyone gets ‘product there.’ He dribbled the words out and slumped back into the darkness of his seat, re-establishing an antagonistic posture. But I had made progress. He knows that we have a similar lineage. He grunted again, and his lethargic snort was less than enthusiastic enough to diminish our mutual repulsion. I needed him to snarl, implying “When I first got into the car, I hated you, but now I see you in an entirely different light. We’re obviously members of the same species, and, instead of hostility, I feel rather tender toward you my good buddy. People think I enjoy shooting helpless men in the back of the head. Most of the time it’s just something people have come to expect. That’s a lot of pressure. Anyway, I don’t really enjoy it. Well, you caught me there. I love it, but I’m willing to change because we bonded.”

Get in the left lane!” He snapped. As the timbre of his voice registered his increased apprehension, my fear made me giddy.

  “Make a left!”

  “Relax, you’ll get your product.”

I had to match his antagonism and gain some control. His agitation was severe and escalating. I believed he was the man responsible for a rash of executions in Queens, and he was on the verge of exploding. Under no circumstances should a driver, or anyone staring into the eyes of danger and apparent helplessness, give in to their fear. If you can remain calm, the thug might respect you.

In the mirror, I watched him shift to the far corner of the cab. Now sitting up, his spine rigid, and he’s as motionless as though dangling on a hook. I began hyperventilating but used all the discipline I had to control my ascending fear.

On command, I made the left on 37th Ave. in Corona. A Continental rushed at us in reverse at about sixty miles an hour. I stomped on the brakes and checked the rear-view, as he shifted for his gun in his windbreaker, I thought it was a .22 automatic, he switched from his right hand to his left, and I needed to look into his eyes because without face-to-face contact, I suspected he would shoot me. On the Moluccas Islands, a head hunter kills his enemy only from behind. If he looks into his eyes of his victim before killing him, it’s considered murder.

 “Park under the trees in front of that apartment house!” He was nervous, and his voice reverberated with a metallic twang.

 Night’s embrace, a noose, encircles my throat as I stopped beneath an awning of branches and in the dark. Then I feel the hard barrel of the gun nuzzling against my skull. Aimed at my brain stem, he forces the warm metal into my neck driving my head forward into a humiliating posture. A .22 caliber automatic is the hit-man’s gun of choice for in-your-face intimate jobs. The .22 rattles around your brain like a rat after some cheese in a maze. I was just getting back into shape. The thought of eighteen years of jogging, doing calisthenics, skimping on desert, ice cream and meat, hoping to live to one hundred, only for an agitated junkie to turn my head into a jack-o-lantern pissed me off.

Give me your wallet.”

I struggled with my wallet and heard the jingle of my cardiovascular system pulsating in my ears.

 He barked, “Is that all of it? Muda-fucka, I usually hurt people.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him rifle through my wallet. He tossed it on the seat and my wallet landed like a bird with a broken neck and spread wings.

 “Let’s have it,” he said. “All of it! You wouldn’t do anything stupid for your company’s money.”

There was a handful of loose change in my right pocket that I might need in an emergency as if this was anything less. In the obscene quiet and freeze-frame of my dissociation, I imagined he heard the coins scratch each other. 

Turning slightly to the right, the gun tracked me, and I handed the coins to him, and stared into his eyes. By doing that I was taking a risk, but I knew the only way to save my life was to continue establishing our ancestry, making it much more difficult for him to murder me. The stench of fear suffused our cell. Good. The junkie’s scared, too.

 He leaned over the seat, with the gun in his left hand; I saw his profile. The new tone of his voice reflected his dominance. As he leaned on the seat, I could smell his fear. Aware of the relative peace and quiet surrounding my death cell, I wondered what his agenda was? Was he going to execute me? Did he seek punishment for some imagined or real transgression? Driven by fear, or perhaps latent homosexual tendencies, did he want to go to jail. Or was this just a means of getting money for drugs?

With my head bowed–a rat kills from behind by biting through its prey’s neck–I heard him count each bill, sliding them back and forth in the dim light from a street lamp. I’m confused as if I observed the unfolding drama from a distance, and I looked out at the Grand Central in the foreground and the lights on Shea Stadium in the distance, I really didn’t want to die. I imagined the headline: CAB DRIVER’S HEAD SPLATTERED ON THE WINDSHIELD LIKE A JACKSON POLLACK KNOCK OFF. The coroner’s autopsy report reveals enormous unblocked arteries like the autobahn. I DON’T WANT TO DIE!

He had finished counting the money and said, “Not bad. Not bad at all. Now… I’m getting out and I want you to drive away very slowly or else.”

I heard the door slam and I engaged the transmission and allowed the car to roll slowly beneath the canopy of branches. Rolled slowly waiting to hear the shot, rolling, and still alive, I picked up the microphone and called the dispatcher. “Car 42 is light, very light, I was just robbed.”

I have little doubt that had I not engaged him in a conversation, had I not looked directly into his eyes, and had I panicked, I would not have lived to write this story. If possible, if you can do so, please try to make it more difficult for a mugger to shoot you by proving that we are all descended from the same progenitor and we each represent billions of variants from the same ancestors.

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Quick-Quick-Slow: Confessions of A Dance Instructor

                 Quick-Quick-Slow: Confessions of a Dance Instructor Who Could Not Dance

By

Aaron David ©

                                                       Registered US Copyright Office

Newsday and others published this story years ago but predicated on the reality TV programs, featuring dance, it is more relevant now than when it was first published and syndicated by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Ballroom dance studios owners and their instructors have seduced lonesome, awkward, or compromised, men and women into signing dance contracts some in excess of $250,000.

The greedy studio owner considered me nothing more than slab of meat, dangling from a barbed hook, dripping blood in the shark-infested waters as bait to beguile an innocent young woman into paying for dance lessons she could not afford. She was dying to obliterate the chain mail of suet she wore to insulate her from her anxiety provoking social interactions. She had hoped her dance lessons would transform her to replace doubt with grace and confidence, a metamorphosis, enabling her to live and to love, and for a while her goal was coming to fruition until…

 For months, I had looked for work.  Desperate for money I became a dance instructor.

The studio was located in the arcade beneath an apartment complex held together using duct tape and spit. The sun was an acetylene torch, in the parking lot, welding metal and chrome into bizarre configurations. A perverse sense of guilt, a nagging dreamlike notion I had murdered someone, overwhelmed me. But whom? What had I done? As I struggled to focus on this idea, it slipped away, leaving me confused and tortured. My face, framed in the side view mirror, was a bloodless white disk, and I realized I was the man I had murdered. For a moment, I sat in a sense of absurd detachment, watching blood refill the capillaries, lacing my hollow cheeks.

People in a dither packed the colonnade as I joined them, walking to the studio. Pausing in front of its glass windows, I scanned photographs of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dangling on thick wires, giving the elegant couple the expression of dolls. A rain soaked Gene Kelly was kicking his heels while Singin’ in the Rain. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson rolled his eyes at Shirley Temple as they performed their stair step dance in The Little Colonel. A sign composed of large, red, block letters urged people to DANCE. Flinging my jacket over my shoulder, I stepped through the portal into a cavernous dark void.

Greg Crain sat in a glass-enclosed office, jabbering on the phone. He acknowledged me with a raised finger, ending his conversation. We shook hands, exchanged introductions, and he examined me, a diamond cutter hovering over a precious stone. Staring into my eyes, he cut a prefabricated smile, and said, “Did you say you had experience?”

         “I don’t. You said it wasn’t necessary.”

         “If you have talent, it isn’t. Let’s see what you can do.”

Crain had a lethargic gait, dragging his posterior as though it were a weighted satchel as I followed him. Beneath a spotlight, surrounded by mirror as if encased in rhinestone, he flipped through records, and said, “Let’s see if I can find something . . . ah . . . inspiring for you.”

A web of shadows crisscrossed the ballroom lit by overhead spotlights. The walls, mirrored from floor to ceiling, augmented the room’s preternatural effect. Mirrored columns transformed the space into a kaleidoscope, casting a network of fun-house reflections. The studio was a carousel, turning with every stride, making me queasy. Crepe paper ropes, stretched by humidity, and shriveled balloons hanged like desiccated bats around the throats of kliegs, crude reminders of a forgotten party. Standing in sepia puddles of darkened parquet, between the lights I was enchanted by the chamber’s tawdry, spectral magic.

Crain’s eyes glimmered as if penlights, poking glory holes in the intermittent darkness. A leer sliced Crain’s face, masked by a shadow. My gaze traveled from the deflated balloons to Crain who slid Michael Jackson’s Beat It on the turntable.The music detonated, I began to dance, and wondered: What am I doing here? Time seemed suspended, thickened by the latent sexual essence of the situation. Terror inspired me to capture the musical rhythm in convulsive bursts interspersed with the fluidity of a marionette controlled by a maniacal puppeteer. The absurdity of my predicament perforated consciousness, a spike through an inner tube.

        Crain said, “That’s enough. Let’s talk in the office.”

He fell into a leather chair behind his desk. “I can use you. You move well and I like your John Travolta act.”

         I sat on a metal chair painted a lurid crimson.

        “You need discipline. You’re all over the place.” He gyrated, throwing his arms in the air, mocking him rather than his target.

         “I’ll learn.” Perspiration, rain on a car window, deposited salt, and dirt on my lips.

         “But you can’t dress as if you fell off a horse.” Crain knitted the syllables of each word into a song.

         “I asked if I had to wear my tuxedo.”

He laughed. “You’re not an actor, are you? You remind me of someone,” Crain broke off a smile, a dry twig. “I invested in this guy, but he always wound up waiting on tables.”

“Don’t worry. I’m conscientious. It’s my biggest fault.”

His voice poured over me like plaster about to harden; his eyes seemed to dangle, a taxidermist’s glass orbs; his pockmarked face resembled stucco; my voice sounded like a steam kettle.

          “I can’t afford the shoes . . . maybe next week.”

         “You need a professional look. The boots have to go because they don’t bend. You have to feel the floor.” He paused, “I can use you. In fact, I can use you tonight.”

          “Tonight! I haven’t learned anything.”

           “This woman’s in a wheelchair… ” Crain paused and spoke as if thinking aloud. “I’ll have to teach you.”

I never met the woman in the wheelchair. Perhaps she only existed in Crain’s fecund imagination. The next afternoon I returned to the studio. Leading me into the ballroom, Greg shuffled as if warming up to dance.  I joined him in front of a mirrored wall. “There’s a distinct difference between a tap and a touch. A touch is like caressing a woman. When you tap, you slap the floor.” Crain extended his leg and tapped the floor, a show horse counting. “Together now!”

We both tapped and touched. Two show horses counting. Sweat burned my eyes. You are how you move, I thought. Differentiating right from left while trying to follow him was difficult and every gesture revealed a phalanx of images, all reflected pieces in a kaleidoscope, until we became microdots.

            “Good,” said Crain. “Dance is the shifting of weight to music or beat.”

Crain crossed his right leg in front of his left, touching the floor, then reversing the maneuver. He added finger pointing to the routine; I imitated him, reduced to snapping my fingers in a poorly lit cavern with a stranger, two men searching of a chiropractor.

            “Now the other way; this is contra-body, one half, or side of the body moves in opposition to the other.”

              He stood, frozen, posed as if he’d slipped a disc.

During the next six weeks, Crain tried to transform me into a dance instructor. He placed me in a class with three kids with extensive dance backgrounds. Greg brought in a gold level dancer named Duane Scott to instruct us before classes every afternoon. My inability to execute the new steps caused the trio of young dancers did develop a sense of antipathy for me. Their overt disdain caused me to plummet further into a vortex of gloom.  (The three levels of dance are bronze, silver and gold are delineated in a syllabus, and teachers had to acquire proficiency in both the male and female steps, which men and women execute in reverse. Men begin with their right foot moving toward his partner who retreats with her left foot.)

One day, Crain called me into his office. “You’re slow, very slow.” He tried to make me feel as if I were a child who had urinary incontinence. “You remind me of me when I first started in this business. My thing was the ‘slop.’ I’d watch the dance instructors. Whatever they did, I’d repeat it. The next day, I’d be teaching it.”

“You mean you kept one step ahead of the students?”

He nodded, and said, “I’m disappointed. You came in here like gangbusters, then nothing. Still, you have the rap. There are different facets of this business: I need people for telephone work and for greeting customers. There are ‘front’ teachers and ‘back’ teachers. A front teacher takes a student when they walk through the door. The front teacher’s responsibility is to sell them on dance lessons. The intermediate and back teachers work with them over the long haul.”

Crain had two back teachers: Joanne Soccorso and Achmed Hussein who’d reached the pinnacle of the dance business and was the studio stud.

“Achmed has long lasting charisma.” Crain said. “Did you ever see the legs on him?” Crain asked.

You couldn’t miss his legs if you were legally blind.  Atop Achmed’s enormous Doric column thighs, sat the posterior of a centaur. His wavy hair, curly eyelashes, and chocolate pudding eyes, peering from his broad, flat face made him almost pretty. Crain had made a deal with me. He would let me participate in dance classes if I did “a little maintenance” around the place—mop the floors, throw out the garbage, and, oh, yes, you might begin by cleaning the bathroom and throwing out the cunt rags.”

Was he kidding? No. The next time I was in the studio, Crain asked me when I would stain the wooden trim. “Give me some money for the stain.”

“Lay it out; I’ll pay you back.”

When I returned to the studio with the stain, I wore work clothes. It took hours to stain the wood. After I had begun to clean up for the night, Greg ran over and put his arm around my shoulders. “Now it’s your chance to do something for me. Two seal wobbled in, I’m guessing they’re female. You take one, and Eric will handle the other. Go over and introduce yourself. Have them fill out a D. A.”

The Dance Analysis form, or D.A., was a preregistration form, a means of eliciting general information about clients:  where they lived, where their employers, their dance goals. Not only was I unprepared for my debut, I was wearing a torn shirt, Frye boots, and my cologne was eau d’ turpentine. The sophisticated dance instructor was controlling his panic. “My name is David,” I said, extending one turpentine-scented hand. “You are?”

“Patti Kelly.” Patti’s hand dripped from sweat. Her eyes scurried along the floor, cockroaches in a flash of light.

“Renee Brent,” said the woman next to Patti.

“Well, what brought you girls here? What do you hope to gain from the experience?”

“We were curious,” said Renee, whose fractured left arm hung from her shoulder like had once belonged on a slot machine.

“Where do you work?” I asked.

A promotion in a local newspaper had lured them. For forty dollars, the mark got three half hours of instruction and a two-hour practice party.

“Trico’s,” said Patti. She had a brush of hair like a mink hat.

Greg glided over to me and begged the ladies’ pardon. He grabbed my shirtsleeve, dragged me into his office, and slammed the door. “This isn’t a fucking business meeting. They should be panting by this time, ‘YOU’RE MY INSTRUCTOR!’” Crain’s eyes bulged. He sucked in his cheeks like the vamp Theda Bara. He swung his hips for me, “They should be panting for Big David’s c$#k! I want their queafs dripping cum on my parquet!”

Walking back to the women, Eric came over and took the dance analysis form from Patti:

“What dances are you interested in doing?”

“Waltz,” said Renee.

“Waltz,” said Patti. They wanted to learn the waltz the way I yearned for castration.

Eric said, “How about the cha-cha?”

“Okay.”

We lined up in front of the mirror. I swallowed hard and tried to follow but froze. Once I defrosted, I moved east as they headed west but they had failed to notice since Lisa’s beauty enchanted them, and they stood as if they had seen the way. She danced a medley of dances with Eric, enabling Renee and Patti to select ones they liked.As they danced, I became a catatonic who managed to elicit the composure to babble, “Each dance has its own character. The smooth dances with long, graceful strides. The Latin dances are ground into the floor with a strong hip action. Each dance is done within the line of the hips.” No kidding, I thought, like a moron.

We divided into two groups, and Patti who had a predilection for men who exuded turpentine scented pheromones, selected me. She was one hundred pounds overweight and moved as if she were on a trampoline. I began teaching her the eastern swing, but the moment we stood in dance position, she drifted to her left. “Try to stay in line with my shoulders,” I said.

“Okay.”

“No, you’re still doing it. Let’s start over.” I positioned her arms and placed my hand in the middle of her back, giving her a solid, if Jell-O is rigid, frame. “Don’t look at the floor.”

She drifted, appraising the floor as if she expected a trap door to free her from this ordeal of this farce. “Try staying parallel to me. I know, but try.” Her fear provided me with courage, and I believed I could help her.

“Okay,” she said eyes, lasers, burning into the floor. I wanted to hug her.

In the fallowing weeks, something I projected hooked Patti. She said I gave a little extra. She had become obsessed her dance instructor and I believed I could help her.

Now watch, as Crain used me to extract $9,600 from this sweet shy young woman for dance lessons financed by a bogus company and cosigned by her elderly parents. In researching other studios, I’ve discovered verified dance contracts in excess of $250,000,  more often than you could imagine, and I heard of single contract for one million dollars.

While some of the people learned to dance, 90 percent of the patrons (an estimate I heard from an owner of an independent studio) were looking for a dramatic change in their lives, especially love, sex, and romance in every incarnation, and many instructors convinced pupils they would marry them despite an age difference of a half a century.

Before the women returned for a second session, Crain called Eric and me into his office to plan our strategy. He said we were preparing a psychological assault. He stressed the importance of looking into a woman’s eyes.

“I’ve got a problem,” I said. “Patti wants to learn the underarm turn in rumba, but I don’t know it.”

Crain got up from behind the desk and took the passive position, the female stance, backleading me through the maneuver  Holding the lovable monster in my arms, I felt the heat of his breath, smelled the garlic of his partially digested meal. My spinal cord had turned into what was a large spring. After months in psychiatric facilities, thousands of dollars for endless vials of drugs, swabbing the toilets, cleaning ashtrays, and throwing out garbage, I stood in a cramped office holding this strange man, in the hope of charming a sensitive overweight kid out of her life savings.

“Do you know the arm position?” he asked.

“No.”

Patti wore baggy pants, and I taught her the swing with variations and the rumba keystep. Crain had told me to hold my students as though they were children and break dance elements into their simplest components. The key phrase is, “this is nothing more than,” and went like, “The fox‑trot is nothing more than walking.” An instructor often stood behind their students, guiding their movements like training wheels on a bicycle. Crain emphasized the importance of tactile stimulation as a primary component of removing money from hidden pockets.

Patti enjoyed her lesson. She was almost comfortable with me. We danced in the back room.  She blushed and blotches of crimson covered her cheeks.  Crain had warned me if I didn’t sign her by the end of this lesson, we would lose her. “Do you want to continue with the lessons?” I blurted out.

“Yes . . . very much.”

Now–at the thought of her lessons ending–she trembled. My hand guided her back and her perspiration soaked shirt, fearing dripping through my fingertips. In order to continue, I told her, it would cost $680. Emotional pain and desire twisted her features into a smudge.

“Why is it so expensive?”

“The overhead is enormous. It costs a lot of money to run a place like this.”

“My friends told me not to sign anything. They warned me!”

I escorted Patti into Crain’s office, where Carole had been waiting. Carole was responsible for signing new students in Crain’s absence. We sat around Crain’s desk. Seated next to Patti, I draped my arm over her shoulders. Fondle your student whenever possible and keep their nerve endings firing.

“All I can afford is 55 dollars a week,” she said.

It was a plea. She squirmed in the chair, rocking back and forth as if expecting the arrival of the executioner. “They told me not to sign,” she said, writhing as sweat bandaged her nose to her upper lip.

“I’ll it says is that we can keep five percent if yoy cancel.”

Despite the admonitions of friends and family, Patti signed. She never had a chance. She had viewed the promised body; fell in love with life, and her fraudulent instructor. We had mugged her.

Crain was elated. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “I don’t want any negatives. Do everything I say. You did well. I know I have something in you.”

I told Crain money might be a problem for Patti. He said, “If money were the issue, she would have gone for lessons in Jamaica.” He parted his lips, a crocodile’s mile. “I don’t want any negatives.”

Before Patti’s first private hour, Crain called me into the office and handed me a white manila folder with printed forms, lesson accomplishment sheets, homework, and the supervisor’s commentary.

“Listen to exactly what I say. Teach her fast. Tell her that you are trying to determine her absorption- to-retention ratio. You’re going to see whether it’s slow, average, or fast. Tell her how long it will take to be basic, intermediate, or advanced and give her a grade. Give her homework and book her Monday. Remember, no negatives.”

Crain jotted notes onto a legal size pad.

“Aren’t you concerned that I won’t be able to dance?”

“Yes.”

“How much sex is necessary?”

“You have to dance. If you don’t know your craft, you resort to sex, but the sex comes with the ability to dance. An hour ago, Achmed sold Karen 165 hours of private dance. She just divorced her husband who left her in debt. But she needs what Achmed gives her.”

There was one goal: To get her to pay for dance lessons for life. I was the bait, and my cut came to $12.00 for an hour for instruction, plus a 5 percent commission on the sale. (I earned a total of sixty dollars from late June through March of the following year.)

“You got to get her in here at least three times this week. If you can’t, then she doesn’t like you.”

“Maybe she’s got other things to do?”

“What does she have to do? Sit home and play with her knob? How come you don’t kiss her?” Crain made grotesque smacking noises with his lips, spittle clung the corners of his mouth.

“Did you get her birthday?”

“Gemini.”

“How do you get along with Geminis?”

“You don’t believe in that, do you?”

“No, but women go for that romantic crap. By the way, my wife said you’ve been doing a crap job of cleaning up the toilet. What gives?”

Crain imparted more of his philosophy: “The submissive ones, you have to take their hand and lead.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, his fists clenched until his knuckles blanched a gesture worthy of any autocrat.

My first two private lessons with Patti went well.  She liked me, and I told her to practice the underarm turn for the rumba. I gave her a homework, and exercises, and asked her to answer the question: “To help your teacher plan and personalize what you want from dancing, please answer the following question in paragraph form, “What kind of Dancer I want to be, and why?’”

Later, Crain read her answers aloud: “My aim is to be as good a dancer as I am capable of being. I have always wanted to be able to dance with a partner, to be able to follow with ease. I know that I need to build up my confidence personally and socially, and I am hoping that these dancing lessons will help me do just that.”

At the end of each sentence, Crain paused to reflect. His eyes glowed and his smile verged on demonic. Then he burst out laughing, “Soon you’ll show her your @$%# She’s gonna be starving for big Aaron’s @$%#”

Though nauseated by my role in his chicanery, I remained fascinated by Crain’s sophistry. At times, I felt thrilled by my apparent power. After all, I was the bait, and the rabbit. Such ambivalence!

At the end of three sessions, Crain invited Patti to dance with me in the pro-amateur competition. The mention of a contest made her skin flush. Despite her weight, her face was adorable. Crain told her she would appear on the dance floor with other contestants, she began, rocking in her seat, and my heart beat as if it had sprouted wings.

The following day Crain called me into his office. “It’s time,” he said, “for you to write an intra- studio memo.”

He handed me a legal pad and dictated the following, which he rattled off: “Rarely does an instructor have an opportunity to work with a student with the potential of Patti Kelly. I consider it a pleasure, a great source of satisfaction to work with such an agreeable student. Of all the students I’ve taught, never have I worked with someone with such desire, who practices so intensely and wouldn’t let me down.

Once you see the amount of material Patti has been able to absorb and retain, you’ll approve my application for her guaranteed program, and you will agree with me that Patti will be an asset to our studio.”

“She’ll like that,” I said.

“We’ll find out how much money she has. Does she live at home with mommy? You must realize we’re in a different era with her now?” Crain laughed.

“I don’t give a @$%& about money! Piggy needs this more than food. Now, here’s the pitch: After the lesson, you get me and say, ‘Greg, can we see you in private?’ Do it with enthusiasm. We sit very close. You put your arm around her. ‘We want to put in our application for Patti’s guaranteed program. Could you make arrangements for a progress check?’ You’re probably more nervous than she is.” He snorted; he cackled as if deranged.

That night, I asked Patti, “Have you done your exercises?”

“Yes,” she said, staring at the floor.

Patti had lost fifty-two pounds and it reaffirmed my contention, she had modeled herself after her lithe dance instructor.

“Rumba!” I said.

I provided her with a good dance frame, but she gravitated toward the corner of the room, tugging me with her. She gulped air as I whispered the rumba keystep count quick-quick-slow into her ear. Perspiration had saturated her blouse. Beneath her Sweet Ambiance  rose the rank stench of dread. She was on the cusp of hysteria and her pain was exquisite. I shortened the lesson according to plan, and we met with Crain in the back room. I said, “I’m enthusiastic.”

“What kind of dancer do you want to be?” Crain asked.

“Advanced,” said Patti without hesitation. Crain’s eyes twinkled in the dimly lit room, a pinball machine on the verge of tilting.

“And where do you work?”

“Tricos,” she said.

Crain underscored the importance of knowing just what you wanted out of life, plus the determination to stick with the program.

Then he asked what her father did for a living. “Oh, he’s a retired cop.”

“I don’t want you to worry about the money,” he said, “It will be financed.

I said goodnight to Patti. Greg called me back into his office. “I didn’t sign her big. I stopped when she threw in that business about her father w. We’ll go small – maybe six or eight hundred. Then, later, we’ll bang her. Years from now, she’ll be doling it out.”

Crain shrieked with laughter, a high-pitched, frightening sound. He peeled bills from an imaginary roll. I reminded him that he’d asked what her what her father had done for a living.

“It’s important to dance with Patti in a competition. It’s a little seedy dancing here all the time. “She’ll have an opportunity to see hundreds of people from the worst to the best. Everyone gets excited. We come back to the studio, take pictures, and renew. We have the perfect product. They never get tired of sex and dreams.”

I said,  “Money, sex, and religion are the levers that move this world.”

After the progress check, Patti signed for an additional $1220 for eight hours of private instruction and 12 group lessons. In some macabre way, her signature gave me a sense of power. I brought Miss Patti Kelly to the next plateau, and scheduled her to dance the rumba and swing at the contest. Greg Crain’s instructed me to make sure she was in the studio three times a week in order to ‘burn’ her hours, forcing her deeper in debt.

We danced the rumba ad infinitum, and I made numerous technical mistakes. We had now begun dancing in the main room and the mirrors confused me. Our images were stacked one atop another melding, shuffling playing cards. When we lost balance and nearly toppled, she looked at me with utter helplessness. She needed my guidance, the tutelage of a fake.

“When we dance in the competition, I don’t know if I can handle it,” she said. “You don’t know me in crowds. I stutter.”

“I’ll be there for you.”

“What if I forget?”

“I’ll lead you. Just close your eyes.”  I led her through the swing. She kept her huge blue eyes closed and sighed. We danced and danced the same steps until the room spun.

Prior to the competition, Greg developed a strategy for extending Patti’s contract.  “It’s time to bring Achmed in,” Crain said. “In her subconscious, she has to realize you’re just a beginner. Tell her about Achmed’s training in Moscow, how as kid he toured the world. (Crain had told everyone that Achmed had toured with the Bolshoi Ballet for nine years. The idea that a man of Arabian ancestry toured with a Russian Ballet troupe was nonsense.)  Mention he’s a gold dancer. The idea is to tell her that Achmed is a friend of yours and that he helps you.”

I relayed the story to Patti verbatim. She was very excited about the prospect of extra coaching but only if I remained her teacher.

The night of the competition, the temperature was close to 90 degrees. Tables draped in cheap cotton cloth surrounded the dance floor. The air-conditioning unit died with an emphysemic gasp, and with 700 people, it turned the hall into a steel smelting plant. Most of the women wore sequin gowns in shocking colors, costumes you’d expect to see on circus performers. The men wore cat suits (jump suits with sleeves), bow ties  and ruffled shirts. They resembled androgynous waiters on the first public space shuttle.

At the door, I a woman handed me a white placard with black numerals, “94.”

“The men are wearing the numbers today.” Her hair resembled been a chiseled chunk of flagstone. She sat at a table with a fish bowl containing buck-and-a-half chances on “A Basket of Cheer.” Behind her, a peddler was hawking dance shoes.

The group from Crain’s studio was at the end of the room, near the podium. Patti wore a navy blue dress with white polka dots and puffed sleeves. Her cheeks had the usual crimson flush, and she clutched a program. She looked like a doll with its face hand-painted on a white glass bulb. When I kissed her fervent cheek, she sighed.

We would dance the swing in heat 35, and the rumba in heat 80. Patti pointed with pride to our names in the program. I handed her my keys and my sunglasses for her to place in her purse. Beyond the sexual symbolism of the gesture, it was quite touching.

The heat was intolerable. In the men’s room, contestants were in various stages of dress. Men exchanged pills and cocaine. I straightened my tie, arranged my curls, and ate a couple of milligrams of Ativan. Then, with number 94 affixed to my jacket, I emerged from the lavatory, ready for the contest but cognizant of the reality: A man incapable of proper execution was going to lead an agitated woman through two dances in the presence of 700 frenzied strangers and judges.

It was time. Patti looked as if some entity sewed her eyelids to her sockets with catgut. Dew-like sweat mantle covered her. A judge called our names and we stood on the scaffold of the dance floor. Time inverted. The white lights and the heat were bearable because she needed me. Recorded music exploded from the amplifiers and engulfing us.

Holding Patti close, I began the triple step of the swing. Caught up in the competition, I pushed Patti to her limit, prodding her as hard as possible until we almost met the floor. “Come on!” I shouted. She had a glazed look on her face; her eyes and the floor formed an invisible seal. “1‑2‑3‑2‑2‑3 rock-step,” I shouted. The hall was an inferno of noise.

Achmed wore a tuxedo and vest. His black, curly hair looked moist. After each of his heats, he removed his jacket, mopping his brow by a table conjuring images of Jackie Gleason in The Hustler. He danced in twenty heats and fared very well. He garnered several first place trophies, several seconds, and many thirds. It was time to introduce her to the king whose students he blessed with trophies. I sat next to Patti, leaned over, and spoke in her ear, “You know I’m not a gold dancer.”

My statement confused Patti. “I was trained to teach beginners. I’m just at the silver level. We have a great opportunity.” Then I told her all about Achmed and said he had agreed to work with her.

“Why?”

“He’s my friend. It’s a unique chance to get an expert to coach you. Greg charges another $205 an hour for coaching sessions, but for you it will be part of your program at no additional charge.” She looked to the floor. “I want to get you to the highest level possible,” I said.

Her innocence made all acts of deception despicable.  I was in emotional quicksand. I went over to Crain, who stood near the podium. “She’s primed,” I said.

“Make it spontaneous.”

“You mean, make it seem spontaneous.”

I led Patti to Achmed, introduced her. The King said, “I would be happy to coach you.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m glad.”

I felt as if I was watching a white pearl disappear into a vat of tar. She loved me the ineffable essence of transference that transcended sexual intimacy. We talked about confidence while I cradled her in my arms, preparing her to dance the rumba.

“I’m sorry, I’m so nervous,” she said.

“Never be sorry. No one cares if you fell down and hurled. Your life will continue without a hitch.”

“Will you give me a strong lead?”

“You’ll know exactly what you need to do.”

We danced the rumba against a coterie of excellent Latin dancers. The following night, Patti and I sat at the table in Crain’s office, my arm around her shoulder. Greg sat behind his desk with a corkscrew for a smile. Patti with pen in hand, rocked back and forth, soaked with perspiration. She signed a guaranteed contract for $7,200, plus a $2,700 finance charge. As her dance instructor, I was glad she had signed. At first, I had deluded myself into thinking I could help Patti. However, I began to realize that she would have sold her firstborn for the privilege of giving Crain money so she could continue to dance with me or another instructor who provided her with ‘a little extra.’

                                                    End Notes:

I wish to thank Jack Woolheiser who had illustrated the piece and captured the comic aspects of the tale. We took these precautions to avoid the inevitable lawsuit we expected. Greg sued me, a woman who he had hired to manage his dying studio, numerous students, his brother for having appropriated the genetic familial dance endowment, and he began selling life insurance. He became a dispatcher for a bread company, and one of the truck drivers beat him up so badly he required hospitalization. His lawsuit defended by Newsday for defamation and libel–for what amounted to seventy million dollars without the punitive damages– inconvenienced all of those involved in this story. A Judge Hentel tossed it out at summary judgment as frivolous and without merit.

Patti made great strides toward her own independence while the studio remained intact. She had lost fifty-two pounds and had begun dating. Her coaching lessons with Achmed dribbled into the absurd. Despite Crain’s fears regarding her perception of my dance aptitude or liabilities, she said, “I don’t know what your dance limitations are, but I only feel comfortable dancing with you.”

Patti and I remained friends for another five years when she contracted a severe case of Lyme’s disease.  My depictions of Patti hurt her in spite of my explanations regarding a writer’s use of augmented images, metaphors and other literary devices, for having inflicted pain on this wonderful young woman, I remain sorry I had depicted her like I have in the article because it hurt her feelings and I was too young and ignorant to understand that the written word can be stronger than the sword.