Little Suamoco – Ted Prokash
July 14, 2017
I recall my late teens and early twenties as a decidedly dissolute period in my development. My memories of that time are colored in Victorian hues. I spent my days drunk, half undressed, draped over dusty divans in an existential languor . . . with stage direction from Oscar Wilde.
Ha ha! Now you’re in on the joke. Now you have an inkling of the fog of stupidity that has obscured my path in life. Stupidity like a force of nature. Eking out a cogent thought like punching through a frozen side of beef. And yet here I am, an adult, all in one metaphysical piece. An old man owning many tales of personal shame.
One memory in particular, that I am inclined to suppress, keeps resurfacing, like an unlikely piece of sentient scum roiling to the top of an oily pond. It’s a tale that defies logic and decency in equal parts. You will say it’s too idiotic for a man to contrive, yet too shameful for any man’s conscience to abide. Well, I have no answer to that. I can only lay my ego down on the altar of public judgment. My hopes hang on the desperate notion that by regurgitating this foul remembrance I might finally purge myself of its poison.
I make no justifications. I will not massage the details of this sordid incident to elicit the reader’s sympathies. I will put it all down just as it happened – in hopes that the truth might set me free.
* * *
I was on a spree with my two best mates – boyhood friends, my very thickest droogs. They were cousins, Graeme and Clive. Clive had just had his 21st birthday and we decided to celebrate. The little town where we lived offered nary enough nightlife to accommodate such a purposeful orgy, but luckily, Clive had a sister who lived in the city. We could tour all the seediest joints a modestly sized Midwestern metropolis had to offer, carousing to our hearts’ content, and crash at a comfy pad afterward. A sure-fire recipe for crapulence and dissipation.
We hopped a few taverns, took in some live music, and ultimately ended up at the Bamboo Room. The Bamboo Room was not a gentlemen’s club; it was not a house of burlesque, or a cabaret. It was a strip club – full bar and full nudity.
Now, one of life’s ugliest truths is that anything with a soul eventually gets raped. By the time of this writing, it had happened to the Bamboo Room. It’s now called the Oval Office. The building has been remodeled to look like a fucking bank or a post office. You have to wear a tie to get in; they serve steak dinners and have something called a ‘champagne room’. The Bamboo Room was a seething den of sin and not dressed up as anything else.
You walked through the front door into a dingy entryway, where a lady who looked like somebody’s grandma sat in a Plexiglas booth chain-smoking cigarettes. “ID,” she said flatly. “Seven bucks,” she said next. Then it was through the beaded curtain into the club proper. The place was pure sleaze, from the wood paneling and carpet on the walls to the rough clientele. The dancers were a mix of hardened veterans with fake boobs and C-section scars and boozy, young runaways.
Me droogs and I got drinks, exchanged bigger bills for singles and bellied up to the stage. A scrawny redhead with swollen labia crawled over on her hands and knees, sizing us up with a zombie stare. It was Graeme whose particularly depraved tastes were most tickled. He took out a dollar bill, folded it deliberately, and placed it between the lips of his smirking maw. And the night progressed from there.
The boys and I, being as tight as we were, didn’t feel the need to socialize a great deal with each other at this point. We’d had the whole night already for that kind of rubbish. Now it was all about each burrowing down into his own fantasy and getting whatever jollies could be had. There were trips to the bar, to the pisser, outside for a toke. Then too, when a particular dancer evoked, just so, one of the boys’ fantastical carnal ideal, there was the heady trip to the curtained-off cubical in the corner of the club . . . though I didn’t have the cash for such intimate rented pleasures. Any special treatment I received had to be earned by my swarthy charm. The point is I wasn’t alarmed to find myself sitting alone at the edge of the stage for any period of time. All the better for to absorb myself in the thick perfumed fog of illusory sex.
I was a natural born sucker for this scene. Just a sucker for love and all her cheap whore cousins. On this night I found myself falling under the spell of an enchantress named Jynx. She was a tall, sturdy blond with big breasts and an icy, blue-eyed stare. An intricate tattoo of a Chinese dragon covered most of one of her thighs. Her movements exuded a casual disdain for her audience and she did not smile.
Sometime during her second song (it was Look What the Cat Dragged In – God bless her dear heart) Jynx strutted over and spiked a stiletto heel down on the stage in front of me. It sounded like a damn gunshot, and you bet I jumped! Doing that slow bend, hinged at the hips, that was like something mythological descending from the clouds, she dropped her tits on my face. French olfactory immersion therapy . . . smothered by an avalanche of clammy flesh. Waves of out of body pleasure. I tucked a dollar bill in her garter and murmured in her ear, “You know, Jynx was my mother’s name.”
She shot me with a look that sent shivers down my spine. Smirking slightly, she moved on to the next mark in line. I was hooked all the way.
I no longer had much of a taste for the other dancers. A creepy little thing in coon- eye makeup came out to a Marilyn Manson song. I retired to the bar, saddling up next to Flip, the bouncer. I was, quite coincidentally, casually acquainted with Flip.
We had . . . taken recreation together in the past. Old Flip sure looked his part – clean-shaven head and a long, gnarly, black beard. But, in fact, he was a sweet guy who loved to laugh – just a big ol’ teddy bear. We shot the shit for a while. I eventually got around to the topic of my obsession. Jynx. Did he know her? Sure, he knew her.
“So . . . what’s her deal?”
This question caused a sea change to come over Flip the bouncer. “What do you mean, what’s her deal?” This simple reiteration was imbued with the portent of extreme menace. I stammered out an attempted explanation, but Flip cut me off. “She doesn’t see customers is what her deal is.”
Shaking his head, Flip got up from his seat and approached the stage. He gave the goth chick a pity tip, smiling at her as a father would a slow child. I shrugged and sipped my drink.
I sat at the bar waiting for Jynx’s turn in the rotation. It was getting near closing time. Clive approached as if like out of the mist. He was wearing that delighted, devilish grin that meant there had been trouble. “Graeme and I have been asked to leave,” he said, rolling his eyes ostentatiously. I didn’t ask for an explanation. I wasn’t shocked. Us boy-os weren’t so tight ‘cause we could carry Amazing Grace in three parts, after all! I figured either Clive had gotten mouthy or Graeme had gotten handsy. What of it?
But I couldn’t leave yet. Jynx had one more dance. I had one more chance to indulge my childish, masturbatory fantasy, to carry once more into the fray the flag of idiocy and love. “Say Clive . . . your sis’s place is only a couple blocks from here, isn’t it? I think maybe I’ll hang around a while and meet you fellas later.”
Most times Clive’s eyes described a cool blue indifference. But when mischief was afoot, as now, they glimmered wickedly. “Sure, I understand, mate. You’re sure you can find your way back then?”
“Sure, it’s just down Main Street here, and then a turn on . . .”
“Well, alright, mate. Take pictures if you get into anything interesting.” With a wink, old Clive slithered out into the street.
I settled down into my electric neon buzz, not giving Graeme or Clive, or the way home another thought. Oh, but don’t worry, the extreme fatuousness of my vague design could not long elude the fickle eyes of fate. You cheerleaders for general comeuppance would have your glad parade!
A crew of tough-looking brothers came in and occupied one end of the stage. They were celebrating something alright, throwing big piles of cash down on the dance floor and shouting over the music. Jynx walked out to Dre Day; she was nobody’s goddamn fool. She made a beeline for the brothers and their cash and never looked back. She never even glanced my way. When the house lights came up after Jynx’s set, I was left sitting alone, exposed as a cuckolded fool. Bloom at the Bamboo Room. Sad, sad, sad.
I didn’t realize how drunk I was until I got out on the street, with the lights of the city blurring the night sky and the 2am traffic leaving tracers along my path. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and not stumbling off the sidewalk into the street.
It was a cool, breezy night and I guess I wasn’t dressed for it. I clutched my lightweight flannel around my body and shivered through clenched teeth. Fucking unending litany of indignities.
But then, it would seem, my luck took a turn. A car pulled up along side of me. “Hey buddy, you want a ride?” the driver called.
Well . . . yes, in fact I did want a ride! Very much. I hopped into the car. The driver was a sort of nondescript dude, probably in his late thirties or early forties.
“Do you want to party, drink a few beers or something? I just got off of work.” Right away this guy sounded an odd note of desperation.
I stumbled a bit, direct Q&A not being much my forte. “Oh . . . ah, no. I think I’ve had enough to drink. Been drinking all night already. Your turn is right up here . . . somewhere.”
My friend jerked his head in a little self-conscious tick. “My name’s B-B-Brian, by the way.”
What ensued was a perfect comedy of dumbfuckery. I located Deckner Street easily enough. “Take a right here . . . should be just a block or so down.” Or maybe that right should’ve been a left? Brian, the good Samaritan, drove up and down the length of Deckner Street half a dozen times as I hung out of the passenger side window watching for Graeme’s 1983 Lincoln Continental. Would they have parked in the garage? Could I have recognized Clive’s sister’s house anyway? We drove around fruitlessly for about a half hour. A dumb panic spread through my chest.
“Pull into this gas station up here,” I said, grasping at desperate straws. I ran inside and asked to look at a phone book. As the clerk picked his nose, I whipped frantically through the white pages, searching for Clive’s sister’s name . . . What? Not a single Nigglesworth in all of Brown County? How could it be? Then it occurred to me that Clive’s sis might in fact be married. She could be a Neale or a Johnson or perhaps just not listed.
“No luck, huh buddy?” the clerk inquired, calmly inspecting a booger. I tossed the phone book back across the counter and shuffled out dejected.
I dropped into Brian’s car, stunned. My own astounding idiocy had compelled me finally into a state near shock. We sat in silence for a while. The only sound was that of Brian’s Ford Escort purring like a fat asthmatic cat. “You can stay at my place, if you want,” he said, a little shyly. At this point, I don’t suppose I had a whole lot of options. I took this stranger up on his offer.
Brian was flush with relief, like a child who’d been granted a sleepover. During the drive home he delivered a non-stop neurotic monologue. “My house is in Little Suamaco. It’s kind of a hike. And it’s a trailer actually . . . but it’s nice. My m-m-m-m- mom and dad own it, but I’m paying it off. Geez! I make $16.50 an hour . . .”
At this point things began to get a bit weirder. Brian grew visibly agitated at the mention of his mom in particular. “My mom – geez!” He jerked his head in an exaggeration of a tic. “She’s always r-r-r-r-raggin’ on me, especially about my money. It’s my own money! Now she’s got all the b-b-bitches down at the bank on her side so I can’t even get at it.” He shook his head, real frustrated like. I kept my mouth shut, hoping maybe Brian would forget I was sitting there.
“Then I had this girlfriend, or whatever . . . named Karen. Ma even ragged on me about her! She didn’t like her coming over to the house – said she didn’t trust that ‘little bitch’.” Here Brian went into a creepy, high-pitched impersonation. “She’d say, ‘I don’t like you hangin’ around with that little slut girl. She’s no good’. She’s just always gotta rag on me. Geez!” A little spittle flew out of Brian’s mouth. He absently wiped his chin with the back of his hand.
“I don’t care, I’m going to talk to Mr. Kavanagh on Tuesday. I’m gonna tell him I don’t want her touching my money or telling me w-w-what to do.”
I didn’t know if this Mr. Kavanagh was Brian’s lawyer, or social worker, or PO, or what. I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask!
We’d been driving for about 20 minutes, out into a soulless sprawl of suburban infrastructure – just a vast, dull ghost town at this time of night – when Brian turned abruptly into a bank parking lot. He pulled up to the ATM, muttering something about his mother and ‘his own dang money’. Awkwardness crawled all over me as I sat there watching Brian fumble and fight with the cash machine, jamming his card in, pulling it back out, furiously pushing buttons and raining hokey curses. Try as he might, poor Brian couldn’t convince that gol’dang machine to spit dollar one. He capitulated with a strangled cry, slapping the screen of the ATM with his palm. He sunk down into his seat, forlorn. And then Brian cried – real pitiful, gut-wrenching, snot-bubbling sobs. I seriously considered running at this point. But I had no clear idea where I was, only that I had to be at least an hour from home – by car.
Ultimately, fear held me hostage. The early stages of Stockholm Syndrome began to set in. I took a wild fuck at a line of consolation. “Shucks, Brian, it can’t be all that bad. I’m sure this Kavanagh fellow will straighten things out for you. He sounds like a capable sort . . .”
I think this reminded Brian of my presence, if nothing else. He sniffed hard and wiped his nose with his sleeve. He jammed the little Escort into gear and took off.
Brian’s place was in a trailer park of sorts, but not your stereotypical trailer park – not a place you would go to score meth, for instance. It looked more like a retirement community. There were rows of mobile and modular homes with neat, little patches of lawn, statues of black boys fishing and wood cut-outs of fat ladies’ backsides. Brian’s trailer looked more or less like the rest. A faded American flag was mounted to its side. A hanging plant in its last death throes adorned a cheap, wood-latticed porch. After a lot of fumbling with his keys, Brian led me inside.
He hurried on ahead of me, into the darkness of the trailer, picking things up at random and generally acting nervous. He switched on one small lamp, not entirely inclined to wrest his living space from the shadows. “Do you want a beer?” he asked distractedly. I accepted as a function of reflex. He brought me a can of Bud Light that drinker’s intuition told me had been sitting in his fridge for months. “You can . . . go ahead and make yourself comfortable. I g-g-g-g . . .” He scratched roughly at his head. “I gotta make a phone call.” He turned and disappeared into the depths of the trailer.
I don’t know how the fuck I was supposed to make myself comfortable. I sat down on the sofa. It was one of those hard, antique-looking things old people kept in their ‘sitting rooms’. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw that the trailer was crowded with tacky knickknacks; ceramic cats, cuckoo clocks and hundreds of framed pictures. I opened the beer. The aluminum ‘pop’ was gobbled up by the furniture, the shag carpeting and the bric-a-brac that covered every inch of every surface in this claustrophobic home. A mildly skunky smell wafted up to my nostrils. I sat completely still, strangely petrified.
I heard my host’s voice coming from a room at the back of the trailer, his bedroom, I assumed. His voice rose steadily, getting angrier and angrier. He stuttered like a machine gun. Suddenly he came bursting out of his room. In a panic, I swung my legs up onto the couch and pretended to sleep.
“G-g-goddamnit, mom . . . no . . . no!”
I cracked an eyelid. Brian was leaning with his palms down on the kitchen counter, his back to me, the phone pinned between his ear and shoulder. His posture was decidedly tense. “Listen, mom . . . mom. Ok . . . Ok, sorry. Mom . . .” I guess the old lady was doing a number on him. “Mom . . . hello? Hello?” Brian dropped the phone and hung his head. Then he turned and started walking my way. I shut my eyes tightly.
I heard him drop into a seat very near where I lay. I could feel him staring at me. “Hey, hey buddy,” I heard him whisper. I made a little snoring noise. Brian nudged my shoulder. “Hey buddy, are you asleep?” He shook me a little harder.
I finally opened my eyes. “Oh . . . hey. I must have drifted off there,” I said in my best fake coming out of sleep voice. I held the can of Bud Light stupidly on my chest, like I’d been laid to rest with it. Brian was sitting across from me, interrogation style, hands clasped, forearms resting on his thighs. He peered out from a darkness so much deeper than the incidental lack of light in the dim space between us.
Brian seemed to be thinking hard on something. “She says she only wants what’s best for me. She says I can’t be callin’ her this time of night, ha-ra-rassin’ her.” Brian smiled an incredulous smile. “How d’ya like that? Me harrassin’ her.” He was consumed with this thought for a while. I let my eyes close again and tried to feign sleep.
Then Brian jumped up abruptly. “Well . . . I suppose. Probably going to hit the sack. You can crash here if you want.” Half under his breath, he offered, “Or, if you want to sleep in my room . . .”
“I’m good right here, thanks”
I spent an indeterminate number of hours then in a fitful state between hyper- vigilance and blackout nods. My head pounded. The night had the unbearable, insomniac quality of a bad dream and the charcoal coloration of an old horror movie, my host lurking in the shadows like a queer vampire. I came to at one point to find the Bud Light spilled on my crotch, forming a cold, skunky puddle under my ass. Only when dawn began breaking through the plastic blinds of the trailer did I fall into a proper sleep, as if the stark, grey light of morning would not abide by the rape of couch guests.
I was awakened by the sound of Brian puttering around the kitchen in a flannel bathrobe. I wiped the scum from my eyes and squinted at the neon green numbers on the microwave. It was 9:46.
“Oh, hey. I don’t really have much for b-b-breakfast . . .” Brian said, rummaging through the refrigerator.
“I’m not hungry,” I said morbidly. “Do you think I could use your phone?”
For you see, thus far we’ve not delved nearly deep enough into the annals of shame. We’ve made barely a prick at the ‘conscience collective’ with this tale of bored boys behaving crudely. Ultimate truth is found in ultimate humiliation. And no morality play is complete without a supreme arbiter.
I tried Clive’s number first, tying to delay the inevitable. I got a confused, old woman. “Okay . . . okay Mrs. Nigglesworth. No, I’m sure Clive is fine. In fact, he said something about attending services in the morning . . . yes, I’m sure that’s it. A fine boy, indeed. Sorry to bother you. Goodbye ma’am.”
I hung up the phone and snuck a peek at Brian in the kitchen. He quickly dropped his glance and went back to rinsing the coffee pot. I took a deep breath and dialed my home phone. She picked up on the first ring.
“Hello dear. . . Well, I’m in Little Suamaco, of all places. Funny thing is . . . No, I don’t know where Graeme and Clive are, in fact . . . We kind of got separated. But this nice gentleman named Brian let me stay at his house . . . Yes, Brian . . . No, I swear! . . . Honey, listen . . . now calm down . . . Dear, I’m afraid I’m going to need a ride. I can get you directions if you just . . .”
Click. And a dial tone that rang like a death knell, crept like frost through my nerves and hummed like eternity in my bones.
“I . . . I can give you a ride. If . . . if you need one.” Brian spoke through a mouthful of Corn Flakes.
We made the trip in silence. Neither of us even thought to turn on the radio. There was only the manic whine of Brian’s Escort. The ride gave me plenty of time to think. This pilgrimage of shame, which would surely end in a fate worse than death, finally had me overcome with empathy for my good Samaritan. It occurred to me that we were not very different. Brian was perhaps a little higher functioning.
“How long have you had this car?” I asked as were pulling into my little hometown.
“Long time. It was my m-m-mom and dad’s. But I’ve put over a hundred thousand miles on her myself.”
“So you take pretty good care of it?”
“Well . . . you know, regular oil changes and brake pads and st-st-stuff like that.”
My first car had blown up on a country road somewhere after two years of driving it. No one ever told me about oil changes.
We pulled up in front of my apartment. I climbed out and walked around to Brian’s window. “Hey, I can’t thank you enough man. You know what . . . here.” I dug through my pockets, pulling out seven dollars and some change.
“Oh, no, keep it. I d-d-don’t need any . . .”
I dropped the money in Brian’s lap. “I know it’s not enough, but . . . You saved my life, man. Thanks.”
Brian called to me as I climbed the stairs to my place, “Hey, do you want my number? You know, j-j-just in case . . .”
“Thanks again!” I yelled and hurried up the stairs.
I stood outside the door feeling for my nerve. Surely, I was in for the metaphysical beating of my life. Maybe I should have brought Brian up to meet my wife. I took a deep breath. I gathered up the dregs of my self-respect and the lousy story she’d never believe and stepped inside.