Thursday, August 29, 2013


DUAYNE LOOKED like James Dean. Least that's what he said.

"Christ, Duayne, you're forty years old. If you look like James Dean, it's because he's dead." Those were Al's words. Al said whatever he damn well pleased. Carny privilege. At his age, anyway.

"You're just jealous." Duayne took a drag off his Premier, ran his grease monkey mitt through his pride and joy north of the eyebrows and squinted. His off-white t-shirt was too tight, yellowed hard in the pits. He had the gut of a gal who'd just given birth, all flat flab. He couldn't even suck it in anymore. His elbows looked like dried apricots, and the skin on his arm wagged when he pulled the crank. No doubt about it, he was no Hollywood movie dream. Still, if anyone knew how to run the Tilt-a-Wheel, it was Duayne, and nobody but nobody took in more at the ring toss, neither.

"You watch. I'm gonna get me a college girl. Wait and see."

"Because you look like James Dean?"

"That's right."

"You been smokin' the wrong end of the cig." Al sat down on a cinder block and grabbed the last of the day-old donuts. "This outta make a turd."

I had to admit, Duayne did have a chance. Anywhere else on the circuit, I'd bet my last cold Regal Lager no. But I seen some of them girls from up the college before, and I didn't know what they were studying but I figured Duayne's chances of sinking stake were as good as a rich man's.

"I'll bet you a pack of Premiers."

Al wiped white donut sugar on his pants and laughed. "You ain't thirty-nine no more, sonny jim."

"I'll bet you a nickel bag."

Al took this under consideration.

"Nickel bag, huh? Five bucks of bud against you bagging a college girl? There's no way you'll do it. You won't get a girl and you won't pay up."

"Dime bag."

"There's no way."

"Goddam dime bag."

"You don't even have the bud."

"Bull crap! You don't know me. You don't know what I got. You don't know nothin'."

"You don't even have it."

"You wanna bet?"

"Let's see."

Duayne jammed his hand down his pants, and this time pulled out a crumpled little baggie.

"Lemme see that." Al reached out.

"Forget it. See with your eyes, not with your hands."

"What is that, oregano?"

"You wish."

"It's just all seed and stick."

"Bull crap. Let's see what you got."

Al stuck his hand down his pants. "Close your eyes. Hold out your hand."

"No way. You better not pull out any crabs."

Al withdrew his hand and fished around for another donut. "Forget it then."

"Chickenshit," Duayne pronounced, returning his baggie.

"All right," Al said, "I'll bet you that baggie. You know I'm good for it. I fronted you a thousand times."

Over the chain-link, on the other side of the street, the walking wives scooted by all elbows, hips and ponytails. Al's thin sneer creaked hidden in his teeth, "That's it ladies, keep 'em high and tight."

"You better be good for it."

"How you gonna prove you dipped your wick, sonny jim? And how you gonna prove your dream girl goes to college?"

Duayne took on a tortured look as he tried to express how he felt he could prove these things. His body twisted, his hands groped, his mouth formed soundless words--he ran his fingers through his hair and cried, "Carny honor!"

Al rubbed his stubble. "Carny honor, huh?"

Then Duayne looked at me. "You want sloppies? You be my witness."


"How many years you gonna give yourself on this bet, Duayne?"

"Years my ass. Old piece of crap like you wouldn't even be around to pay up. All's I need's tonight."

Half an hour later we were open for business. All that morning I was working the Looky-Loo and Duayne was at The Corker. With the collar on his tuck-in shirt turned up, slouching at the crank, he almost did look like James Dean, I guess. Still though, you couldn't say he had any kind of luck. Al switched with RJ on the Go 4 Broke at noon so he could keep his eye on things and maybe rattle Duayne. You couldn't hear, but you could see Duayne was asking every girl that came in sight: "Hey, you got a boyfriend? You go to college?"

By six o'clock Al came over with a little baggie and gave us a sniff. "Feast your eyes boys, that's all you'll get."

"Still got four more hours, Al. The night's young."

"Take your time, Duayne."

"Look," I said after Al walked off, "it's only a dime bag."

Duayne squinted. "No it's not!"

"Maybe you could get some girl to lie."

Duayne looked at me like I shot his dog. "I gave him carny honor! Besides, don't you see? It's got to be because of me!"

Just then some girl spoke up.

"Has anyone ever told you that you look like James Dean?"

We both looked over.

An actual girl, not that great looking, but fairly young, had just said the magic words. If she had said hello, and walked away forever, that would have been magic enough, but this I could hardly believe.

"Hey, you go to the college?" Duayne asked.

"I'm a part-time student."

"Waste of time, if you ask me."

"I just take dance."

"Dance, huh? For college? I never was much a one for gettin' out on the floor."

"Oh, it's easy. You just have to let yourself go."

"Yeah, maybe I should get up there sometime and get you to teach me."

"Totally! Dance is yes to life! Actually, I'm going dancing tonight with my friends. We could teach you how to dance."

"Great. I spend the whole fuckin' day bustin' my ass, then I gotta go dance. Well, all right. I'm done at ten."

"That's perfect! We'll have fun!"

I could not believe what I was hearing. She was picking him up! A college girl, picking up Duayne. I thought about my sloppies. Not that great, but she'd do. Then it occurred to me. Maybe this was something Al cooked up.

The girl drew a map on a piece of paper and gave it to Duayne.

"See you later," she said.

"All right, I'll be there." Duayne plopped back down on his stool.

"Think she could've been sent by Al?" I said.

Duayne squinted and adjusted his collar. "You must be crazy. That college girl liked me! Since when could Al get a college girl to do anything?"

"Maybe she's not in college."

"Look, you want your sloppies or not? I can get RJ or Billy just as easy."

"All right, all right."

"I'm doing you a favor!"

"Okay, I know, sorry."

"Besides," Duayne said with a smirk, "carny honor."

It hadn't even been dark for a couple of hours when we got to the spot later. I chucked an empty Regal Lager in the back seat of the Corona.

"Where was you raised," Duayne complained, "a pig sty? Stuff it under the seat, we want it clean back there."

We had gone a pretty good ways up into the woods. I wasn't even sure the Corona would make it. There was nobody around. I smelled Al.

"You sure this is it?"

Duayne ripped out another burp which garbled the first few words as he said, "Remember, give me a few minutes before you get out, and when me and her come back, don't bug me, I'll let you know." Then he straightened up in his seat. "Get down."

I scrunched down as low as I could. "Tear me off a couple Regal Lagers," I whispered.

"Okay, it's her."

I still couldn't believe it. I thought about my sloppies. After I'd crouched down long enough I poked up my head, then slipped out with my Regal Lager real quiet and sat down against a big tree so I could see when they were coming.

After a while I heard some noises. It sounded like drums and singing. I got up and walked around. Getting up suddenly gave me more of a buzz. I thought I saw some light coming up a little ways away, glowing in the trees, so I hustled over.

Up the hill there was a fire. A big one. And there was a whole bunch of girls, all jumping around singing. The fire was so high, the embers mixed with the stars.

And there was Duayne, smokin' a fattie.

The girls were moshing. Duayne spun around and moshed a little with his free hand while he Bogarted with the other protecting the lit bone. I couldn't believe it. So that's what college was like. And Duayne just left me down at the car with a couple of Regal Lagers. I figured screw it. I'd get a college girl myself and Duayne could keep his own damn sloppies.

Right as I was about to step out of the trees, somebody else came from the other side of the clearing.

The dude was big. The biggest, hairiest Hippie I ever saw in my life. He must have been almost twice as tall as Duayne, and way bigger. His shoulders were gigantic, and his arms hung down to his knees. He looked like he was covered in hair, or fur, and he had this big stick that looked like a tree with the branches stripped and what looked like a pine cone on top. He walked over to the bonfire, where the Hippie girls had stopped drumming and singing and dancing. I could smell him. Like skunk. Burning skunk.

The Hippie girls yelled something wildly as one that sounded like: "Hail, Anthropos! Hail, Lord Bacchus!"

Then the big dude slammed that stick in the ground, threw back that big head on those neckless shoulders, and tore loose the worst most hair-raising scream you ever heard in your life just as all the Hippie girls jumped on Duayne.

If I live to be forty, I'll never forget Duayne's last words as I turned and ran away.

"You're tearing me apart!"

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