Four Trips to Cherry Grove
Part 2 (continued from Part 1)
by Leo MacAlbert
Tangents Vol. 1 No. 6
Originally printed in the March 1966 issue of Tangents, pp. 11–14
I wanted to go back to the Island, but I had work to do, a novel to finish. I rented an electric typewriter, bought some bananas for fuel, and set to work Friday night. By Saturday night, several pounds of bananas later, I had completed the novel. I phoned O’Neill’s Inn at the Island, told them the approximate time I would arrive, and got a reservation.
But I had been building up bitterness about the cost. I hated spending all that money, money taken from me by commercial arrangement. This was the Labor Day weekend, but even that seemed to me a device by the “system” to shake from the enervated laborer his small earnings under promise of some relief from the deformations of body and ego caused by his work.
As I started for the Island I calculated the expense:
.80—Taxi to the train station.
.40—Pressure can of shaving cream.
.30—Soap with plastic container.
2.65—One way train ticket (in the hope of meeting someone with a car to bring me back home).
.75—Taxi from train station to dock.
2.00—Ferry to the Island, night rate.
But when I arrived at the hotel and found that, at the Holiday Rate, I would have to pay $15 to share a two bed room with another guest, I stopped keeping records.
At 11:00 o’clock I went out for a walk. The night was very clear, very beautiful. This was the first time I had given any attention to the sky. I declaimed, from Emily Dickinson:
Wild night, wild night.
Were I with thee,
Wild nights would be
Here I forgot some lines, and came in on:
Done with the compass.
Done with the chart!
Rowing in Eden,
Ah, the sea!
Might I but moor
Tonight in thee!
At the last two lines, a boy, carrying ice cubes down the walk, stopped and stared at me.
“Would you like a drink?” he said.
“No,” I said, “but I haven’t had any supper. If you have some for me to eat, I’d be glad.”
“Come with me,” he said.
I followed him.
We began to climb stairs. “Where are we going?”
“On the roof,” he said. “The house is full of guests. This way we don’t have to bother with introductions.”
He went downstairs and a few minutes later came back with a turkey leg, drinks (bourbon and water for me), and tami mats. I’m nearsighted and never wear glasses cruising, so it was only then that I realized he was Chinese. We lay on our tami mats looking up at the sky. Many, many stars. This was the first time I’d had a good look at them this summer. He knew nothing about stars, a subject I think every Chinese person should know intimately. He did know Chinese, though, and recited some of the poems of Li Po, which I had never heard in Chinese.
Then he was making out, beginning with quick tongue kisses. I, who never fear VD, always have thoughts of getting someone’s cold. It was getting chilly. Zip! He ran down, got blankets. He resumed making out. I kept looking at the sky, trying to locate the real Big Dipper—the sky seemed full of big dippers. Passionately, compassionately, he asked:
“Can you come like this?”
“You must not worry about me,” I said with Oriental politeness. “Just tend to yourself.”
Which he did.
“I can’t stay with you,” he said. “I’m a guest downstairs. All I have is a cot in the living room.”
“Come to my hotel,” I said.
“What if your roommate objects?”
“Then we can leave. But he won’t.”
“No,” he said, “I’m too drunk. I’m going to stay here. Can I see you tomorrow at your hotel?”
“Yes,” I said. If you want to get me in the morning, we can have breakfast together.”
“Okay,” he said.
We walked downstairs together. He went into the house and I heard a horrible cackle of people inside. Someone pulled up a window shade to look at me.
Back at the Inn I found my roommate had arrived, a skinny, bespectacled Jewish-looking kid from Columbia U. He had been reading the book I’d left on my bed, Cantor’s Medieval History, which blames queerdom, not Christianity for Rome’s fall.
“I’m a history major,” the Columbia boy said. “What’s the best book on medieval history?”
“If you’re a history major, ‘ I said, “you know there is no best book.” Then he began to talk about HIMSELF.
Is there any other subject than oneself?
“It would amaze you,” he assured me, “if I told you about myself.”
I started to undress. This was going to be a long haul.
“I’ve been coming here almost every weekend this summer,” he said. “I go directly to the dance hall. Within a few weeks I had learned every dance. I’m not really a good dancer, but I managed to learn every dance. When I get out here, I go straight to the ballroom and I dance every dance until the place closes.”
I stared at him. Of course he was quite mad—besides not being a history major, since history majors have no time for anything: there is too much history. But what a dreary way to be mad. Those dances are very boring once you are past the age of 25 and semi-intellectual.
“Don’t you take time out to screw?” I said.
“You would have been surprised if you had come into this room this afternoon,” he said, “at approximately three o’clock.”
Silence from me.
“This afternoon,” he said, “if you had come in here at approximately three o’clock, you would have seen me on this very bed with a young lady, a very pretty young lady, with nothing on, her bathing suit TOSSED to the ground, and me—how shall I put it—indecently unbuttoned.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Do you know what I was doing?” he said
“No.” I said.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Oh,” I said.
“The girl wanted to know if I was gay.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her I was flipping the coin,” he said, and looked into an imaginary distance as if to behold an imaginary crowd awaiting the result of the coin flipping. “I can’t say I’m not interested,” he said, “but I’d be afraid of making a pass.”
“Why?” I said. “This whole Grove is just a solidified whorehouse. The only thing you might get is a No.”
“Oh,” he said, “I’m not afraid of rejection. After all, I feel I’ve rejected myself so I have nothing more to lose. I’m afraid of arrest, the disgrace to my parents.”
“Who’s going to arrest you? The police are here to protect you.”
“Are you kidding? Don’t you know what happens? The police have plainclothesmen all over the place. They go up to a boy at a bar, make a pass at him, ask the boy to take them home, then arrest him outside the bar.”
“I haven’t heard of it,” I said.
“A few weeks ago,” the boy said, “the police arrested a large party of men in the dunes and each of the men agreed to pay a fifty dollar fine rather than face the publicity of a hearing. None of them had fifty dollars on him, and they all had to borrow it from the man who runs the ferry service. And—would you believe it—every one of those men returned the money to the ferry service owner! And he hadn’t even taken the trouble to get their names and addresses.”
I didn’t believe it. There were just two kinds of men out here—those with money, check books, charge plates on them all the time; and those without, who could not and would not pay for anything.
“Last week,” the boy went on, “I had a roommate who brought in another boy. I came in late at night and found them together. I excused myself and went out for an hour, but when I came back they were still in bed. I turned to leave again, but my roommate told me not to go, that I wasn’t disturbing them. I went to sleep. When I woke in the morning they were at it again, in broad daylight, in my presence. Imagine!”
It was late. The boy kept talking. Somehow he returned to the virtuous manager of the ferry service who had loaned $50 to all the men caught in the dunes. The only way to stop him was to stare at my book as if reading.
“It won’t keep you awake if I read?” I said.
“No,” he said.
He turned his back and composed himself for sleep, and after a decent interval I turned off the light.
On Sunday morning I took my glasses, camera and blanket and went to lie in the sun. But the sun was too hot, the light too bright. The surf was very strong, and I missed Rey, wanting to find him lying asleep, solidly as a hibernating animal, on the blanket when I came back from walking on the beach. I looked for Ed but he was nowhere to be seen. Later Rey told me Ed was at Atlantic City too: the Miss America contest is apparently a Camp convention.
I decided to go to the pool. I left my blanket in my room, took my book with me and, sitting on a chaise lounge by the poolside, tried to get reading done. But I couldn’t. I was too restless. I went inside and looked at the dancers. The boy who danced alone, always his own dance, had the floor to himself.
Ralphie appeared, in a gold lame bathing suit, his dark eyes shining. We went out to the pool together. He dived in. I stepped down into it. Now he swam towards the diving board and hung from it, happy as an otter.
“Where’d you get the suit?” I asked.
“In May’s,” he said, “for $2.98.”
We smiled at each other in the handsome blue water of the pool. When we got out, Sandy, the sister of Ralph’s friend, came and sat beside us. I grew ashamed for some reason, nervous, shy, and kept dropping and picking up my possessions, writing pad, book, pen, watch, money. If Rey were here, I told myself, I’d be able to hang together much better.
When I left I was stopped by an older man, Spanish looking. His name was Andre. He was worried about my knee. He had noticed that last week it was bandaged.
“It’s okay now,” I .said.
“Would you like to go lo my place for a drink?” he asked.
“I’m leaving on the ferry in twenty minutes,” I said. “We won’t have time for anything else.”
He put the clock on the bureau where we could see it.
Over. Up. Shower.
One thing in favor of sex: it doesn’t take much time.
On the ferry I sat beside two respectable looking men. I felt as if I was leaving Shangri-La. Everyone on shore in the sunlight looked so young, even the fat, middle-aged colored queen hi owing kisses and throwing leis into the ferry. At Sayville I found myself sitting beside the same two respectable looking men in a taxi. They turned out to be buddies. At the station, we found we’d missed the train.
‘’That’s all right.” the older Respectable said. ‘”We’ll get another cab and catch the train to Babylon.”
The name attracted me. I associated it both with Scott Fitzgerald and the D. W. Griffith set for Intolerance. I got into the cab.
The cab driver, it turned out, never beard of Babylon and so we missed the train. But when we finally found the station we learned another train was flue in only 20 minutes.
The two Respectables were almost indistinguishable in their straight, respectable dress. I was wearing worn chinos over my Bermuda shorts, under which was my nylon swimming trunks. All three of us went out for pizza. It turned out that one of them was rich and the other poor and the poor one was always saying things like, “I bought the cigarettes for us. At least I can afford that!” And the rich one kept saying things like, “I’ll try to borrow the car from Louis and Ed and go to Connecticut at least once this fall. I think we really owe it to ourselves.”
On the train, they sat opposite each other, feet up on the opposite seat so that their legs touched. This seemed odd to me since they were super conscious of anyone looking at them.
The younger one told me the older one was a playwright. Impossible. He was a businessman. But we did get to talk about modern plays. The older man was one of those princesses finding the pea under the mattress. When we talked about the current visit of the Greek company, be said:
“Of course, it’s a second-rate troupe.”
But, oh, be adored the Trojan Women.
I had seen it, stocked with American girls who should have been cheerleaders. It made me want to be home in bed, masturbating.
The older Respectable cut off the conversation.
“Time to be getting back to James Bond.” He opened his paperback.
A few minutes later we reached the station. On the platform, the older one, speaking for both, said, “I don’t know where we’re going, so we’ll say goodbye here.”
I went out to 42nd Street and bought records of the jukebox songs I’d beard at the Grove.
©1966, 2016 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved