Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Seven Loves of my Life

Deborah Bernard
English 354: Essay #3
July 12, 2012
The Seven Loves of My Life
Yes, it’s all true: I’ve been married for decades to the same man, but I’ve slept with seven different men during that time. I just couldn’t help myself. Please don’t judge me until you’ve heard my story.

1. Leopold Hotel lobby, 3 a.m. I was working my way through college as a cocktail waitress at the Royal Inn. A customer, who was a college student from Kuwait, had invited the entire bar staff over to his room at the Leopold for an afterwork party. Everyone agreed to it earlier in the evening, but now nobody wanted to go because they were too tired.

Well, I wasn’t going to stand Habib up. I was going to tell him, in person, why we weren’t coming that night. Waiting in line to ask the desk clerk to call his room. Ahead of me in line was a pretty young Lummi Indian girl. She didn’t look like she could be more than 15 years old. With her were two older Lummi Indian men, who each looked old enough be her father, and drunk enough that they were swaying like they were on a ship in high seas.

The man behind the desk had deep brown eyes. He had thick brown hair that he had pulled back into a pony tail and tucked into his shirt collar so he would look professional in his white shirt and tie. He was the largest man I had ever seen in person.

His melodic, deep voice was hypnotic to my ears. I listened as he explained the room prices to one of the two drunken men. That they didn’t have a “triple bed” but he could offer a queen size with a rollaway for $39.00.

Oh, no, are these men going to take advantage of that poor girl? I thought. Not while I was here! I would invite her home to my humble off-campus room and keep her safe until the morning! Before I could speak up, however, the men started pulling their jeans pockets inside out in the universal symbol of “I ain’t got no money.” Then innocent little Miss Bo Peep swore, stomped up to the desk clerk, and ripped her little leather shoulder bag open. “Here!” she shrilled, tossing down two $20 bills. “And this is the last time I’m paying for the room!” she yelled at the two men. The night auditor gave her a key and the trio flounced and staggered off to the elevator.

“Have you ever seen anything like that in your life?” I asked the mountain of a man behind the counter.

“Honey,” he said, “I could tell you stories that would make you cry.”
Something in that melodic voice, those soulful eyes, maybe the promise of bizarre anecdotes, intrigued me so much that I said, “Okay.”

I stood at that counter for three hours while he regaled me with tales of characters who frequented the Leopold, the after-hours poker scene in Bellingham, famous and infamous people who had stayed there. He was Italian, he was 6 foot 5 and weighed 680 pounds. I thought it was cute that he listed his weight as 495 pounds on his driver’s license. His mother had made the best Italian food in the world. His father was a Kentucky Derby jockey who was 5 foot 2 and never weighed more than 120 pounds in his life. They had both recently died and the gentle giant had drowned his sorrow in food.
I loved his voice, was mesmerized by his stories.

Forgot about everything but getting lost in those eyes, that voice. When he got off work at 6 a.m., we went together and had a drink. Thus began my affair with the giant man known as “Big Scoop,” “Tiny” or “Cheeks” to the after-hours poker community of Bellingham.

Habib, the would-be host that we stood up that night, spat an Arabic curse at me the next night at work. I didn’t understand the angry, guttural words, but he translated at the end: “And YOU are going to be a damn poor journalist!”

2. Cornwall Avenue was a hopping night club dance venue in the 70’s. The Alpine and Good Time Charlie’s had live music every Friday and Saturday. The crowd was early 20’s: college students with ID that said they were 21. Young professionals, cops and Sudden Valley real estate salesmen. Secretaries and waitresses. They made the rounds: a drink at the Leopold, a dance at the Alpine, a drink at Collie’s, then carefully drive down to the Coconut Grove on Marine Drive and drink and dance some more.

If you were very lucky, you might run into the man the locals called Tiny Dancer.
They named him after the Elton John song that came out in 1971, but his expertise was in a slightly older song : The Peppermint Twist.

Chubby Checker rose to fame singing and dancing to this song. He chose his name because Fats Domino was already a teen idol when he came on the scene. Tiny Dancer was also a large man, and when he rose to do The Twist in the Cornwall Avenue
dance halls, the other dancers would circle him and clap along. Tiny Dancer threw his substantial girth into the dance and charmed everyone on the dance floor. Owners of the dance places offered him all that he, and everyone in his party, could eat and drink, if he would just dance there.
I am not a dancer, by any stretch of the imagination. But when I “twisted” with Tiny Dancer, I was one of the Cool Kids for the first time in my life. I found him charming, irresistible. And he made me feel like he and I could dance across the universe!

That every day could be a dance production number, like Busby Berkley, or Family Guy!
Who could say no to that?

3. He was so thin that people thought he must be a long distance runner. Six foot five, 179 pounds. The pleats of his Levi Dockers lined up perfectly on his hips. I think he had every color of Dockers ever made with pleats.

He was formerly fat, so he loved his leanness. He had a “coming out party for his hipbones” when they had appeared about a long time of weight loss. Like most of the formerly fat, he was a calorie miser. He knew what he should and could eat, and wanted to maximize the volume. He would make massive stir-fries that blended hundreds of ounces of vegetables with just the right spices. The lean chicken or beef he added was more like a seasoning. He ate huge quantities of fruits and vegetables and thus quelled his appetite while maintaining his thinness.

He worked as a weight loss counselor in Carson City, Nevada, when I knew him, and he was very successful. Inspirational because he believed in the cause. He was interviewed on television, the radio, the local newspaper. He mourned that cereal manufacturers produced a cereal for children in the shape of chocolate chip cookies. Also inspirational because he had done it, white-knuckled his way to thinness by counting calories and walking and biking.

People called him Bones.

The bratty daughter of the people who owned The Sugarless Shack called him Dipstick.

A Hollywood front man came and interviewed Bones about doing a movie about his life. They wanted Richard Dreyfus to play the part of Bones. But before a contract could be inked, the movie Fatso came out with Dom Delusive and Ann Bancroft. A good movie, financially successful, critically acclaimed. Hollywood didn’t want another Fat-to-Thinness, Rags-to-Riches story. Too late.
I couldn’t resist his passion for health. I couldn’t lay in his bed and not trace his hipbones with my fingers, not marvel at his lean frame with my whole being. I fell hopelessly in love.

4. They called him The Nugget Man, because of his obsession for collecting gold nuggets from all over the world. He didn’t mine them himself. He bought from other miners and had internet connections in Australia, Nevada, Alaska. He got to know the people he bought from through daily e-mails. He named each of his nuggets, some as tiny as a flake of raisin bran, some a whole ounce of gleaming gold. There was Pokagon, Red-Eye, Chewing Gum, Big Boy, Pretty Baby. He only got ripped off once, from a company called Home Workshop. They ended their listings and all e-mails with “God bless.” The Nugget Man found out what they made in their home workshop: fake gold nuggets out of melted brass dropped into a bucket of ice water. You live, you learn.

Nugget Man also collected stamps, had ever since he was a kid. All of his stamps were American commemoratives, early airmail stamps, things like that. Perfect perforations and original gum were a huge deal for these collectors. One of Nugget Man’s original collections hangs in the Hovander Homestead House in Ferndale. Because when he was little, his parents moved to Ferndale and opened a restaurant with a horse racing theme, called The Turf. Nugget Man formed a friendship with crabby Old Man Hovander when he was 12, rode his bike out to trade stamps with the curmudgeon. Nugget Man got so good at identifying the gum and the perfs., etc., that he became a stamp appraiser. I loved Nugget Man, so I had to tell him that counting the little holes in a stamp and worrying whether somebody had ever licked a 100-year-old stamp frankly just wasn’t my cup of tea. But I was happy for him, and his sister, who shared this crazy love of stamps. He later made gentle fun of me when I became the postmaster of Deadhorse and spent my days dealing in nothing but stamps.

I loved that Nugget Man would get so into collecting whatever his current passion was. I called it Accelerated Collecting because he would immerse himself completely into his current obsession: One time it was “toned” Morgan silver dollars. We novices would say the coins were tarnished; a collector would say these were “rainbow toned” dollars and would pay many times the value. Again, he named these coins: Blue Boy, Infinity, Twin Sisters, etc. Again: I loved his passion for this collection. Again, had only a gameshow interest in the actual stuff. But I loved the collector and sometimes after we made love, I would let him tell me about the details of some new coin. Only if his obsessive interest had been fully invested in me when we loved.

5. I also fell in love with The Dutch Man, although the first rule of dating is never go out with anyone whose nickname for you is “little Dutch treat.” Well, really, The Dutch Man had no idea that he was Dutch until he was over 30 years old. His whole world could have spun out of control: he found out that he wasn’t Italian, the nationality he had cherished from birth, he was really Dutch. The parents who raised him were, in reality, his grandparents. His sister was his mother, so his cousins were actually his half-sister and half-brothers. When the Dutch Man told me all this, he was shaken. Everything that he had known was no longer true. So he had to ask me, before our affair continued any longer, was there anything that I wanted to tell him? Any secret that I might have, anything I was afraid to share, because now would be a good time. Nothing could trump his nationality-changing, no-longer-an-orphan news of that morning.

“Well, there is one thing,” I said. “The reason you wondered why you had never seen me around Bellingham before we hooked up? Well, you see, up until two years ago, I was a man.”

“What?!” the Dutch Man yelped.

“Yeah, my name was Danny and I always felt like there was this blonde woman trapped inside me,” I said.

“What?!!” the Dutch Man was getting agitated, so agitated that he began ordering Bear Claw pastries, heated with butter, as we sat in the Star of the North bakery in Fairbanks. As an alcoholic would seek a drink during a bizarre and stressful time, an overeater would turn to the pastries.

“No, no,” I said, soothingly. “I just made up that story so you could see that what you’ve discovered is weird and disturbing, but it could be worse. Nah, I’ve always been a woman and it kind of pisses me off that you would even believe that I was EVER a man.” Anything to provide comic relief for the Dutch Man.

6. Arctic Retail Man. This guy had so many nicknames. The fabulous Baker Boys, aka Baker Oilfield Services, called him “Easy Money.” Was that because he worked indoors? 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 18 weeks at a time didn’t seem like Easy Money.

The guys from Halliburton called him “Boss” because he actually was the manager of the general store and post office. Almost everyone he managed was young, female and fiercely independent. A few were middle-aged, female and fiercely independent. When he was lucky, there was one other male in this henhouse, so the testosterone/estrogen ratio was a little more even. Easy Money treated his employees as if they were movie stars during the heyday of the Hollywood studio system:
“It’s not my business what you do after work,” he’d tell The Girls. “But just remember-- you are going to be noticed wherever you go because you’re young and female. So if want to drink or do anything, do it behind closed doors with trusted friends. And I need to have deniability: whatever you do, be at work on time in the morning and you have to be perky, present, alive! Not hung over. And I never want to hear about it if something gets out of hand.” Which worked most of the time. Except the night that young, beautiful Aubrey showed the roomful of people what she had bought on her first “R-n-R:” A nipple ring. It was spectacular, he said, but he tried not to look. Deniability.

At night, I would crawl into Arctic Retail Man’s bed and enjoy the huge down comforter with him, relishing his body heat, enjoying the work climate he created. Laugh or groan above the events of the day as the arctic winds howled outside our ATCO unit, sometimes so cold that our pillowcase would freeze to the paneling in the night.

7. The Connoisseur. Art Guy has this obsessive compulsion with buying original art. Not lithos, not copper-print engravings, but original works of art or works where he can certify that the artist touched it, had something to do with the limited edition prints that came later. Frankly, I am image-driven. I like a strong image and really don’t care if it’s a copy or not. But Art Guy has to know that the artist was involved with the piece. I mock him gently as he buys many original pieces with the same theme: sailing ships. Rivers running through meadows with or without wild or domestic animals nearby. One of his paintings, done by an Englishman early in the last century, has the wild deer on one side of the river, the domestic cow on the other side of the river. Sharing the water. I snort: “As if!” But I love how our home is decorated with framed pieces of art.

Art displayed in the Russian style: shoulder to shoulder and head to feet, they call it. Meaning the paintings are arranged side by side, ceiling to floor. Art Guy wants to paint our living room a deep rose color. My sister, the psychologist/decorator asks, “Why?” since only an inch if wall will show between the paintings.

“Don’t fall in love with a dreamer,” Kenny Rogers sang. He was wrong about that-- and the desirability of plastic surgery. I DID fall in love with a dreamer. You’ve probably figured out by now that all the men I’ve loved have been my LTD, my Little Tiny Dancer, in various stages of his life. (LTD was funnier when he was bigger, but I’m glad he’s a healthier weight now.) The obsessive/compulsive nature of his personality has assured that I would never grow bored with him. We don’t call each other “Mother” and “Daddy.” I can never order for him from any menu because I frankly don’t know which of my guys is coming to the table at that moment.

So now you know my dirty little secret. I have loved these seven men, been intimate with them. Shared their dreams, their beds, found their secret places and breathed my secrets into them. I have loved well and been well loved.