What She Saw

There was that weekend several years ago.  We were four guys, maybe five.  I can’t seem to recall, because my memory is fading these days.  That’s why I’m writing down the details.  It would be a crime to forget our Saturday night, to misplace 45 wondrous minutes somewhere in my ward of aging brain cells.

We were husbands and dads, guys away from our families and jobs and all the other things that worry us one way or another.  We four had braved the winter and journeyed north to play poker, tell lies, and watch the Super Bowl.  Maybe we were five.  I just can’t remember.

One of our wives dubbed the weekend, “Brokeback Rhode Island.”

But we paid no attention.  Saturday night we were on our own, just guys “batching” and boasting and beating our man breasts.  We stormed Newport, musketeers searching for adventure or red meat.  Whatever came first.  That’s the night I’m struggling not to forget.  You see, that’s the night we took Peter von Maur to visit Pauline on Thames Street.

The evening didn’t start with Pauline.  For Peter it started with two vodka martinis before dinner.  He likes them shaken so hard the ice breaks into shards and turns the mixture cloudy.  He learned about vodka icebergs from me, and now he’s a damn can of whoop ass when it comes to martinis.  I can’t recall what I drank.  But it was a lot.  I’m sure of that.

Peter tried to order sushi for dinner.  Some kind of wasabi-tuna shit.  But the rest of us crabbed at him.  Everybody knows real men don’t eat bait.  He showed the common decency, however, to change his order to Porterhouse.  He even let the blood dribble down his chin to keep us happy.  Peter’s a rolling ball of sensitivity like that.  It’s just who he is.

Outside the restaurant the chill New England air rolled off Narragansett Bay.  The brittle wind slapped our faces.  It stung our cheeks and made our eyes water.  We were Yankee cold, and I think it was Jack, lean and athletic, who didn’t wear a coat.  Or maybe it was Bob, who has considerably more padding than Jack.  I just can’t remember.

The smart decision was so easy.  Head for the parking lot.  Pile into the car.  And drive the hell home.  There were poker chips and stogies waiting for us.  Cohibas, I think.  The cards had never been out of the box.  But no, I had told the guys about Pauline.  And there was no turning back.

Ten minutes later we found ourselves outside her parlor on Thames Street, a sputtering neon light beaming her wares.  It was dark and dank and damned cold.  And we were a bunch of middle-aged farts behaving like adolescents.  Puberty, the sequel.  Or puberty, part two.

Peter asked, “Are you guys sure about this?”  He always was the voice of reason, vodka martinis notwithstanding.

“Damn straight, we’re going in,” one of the guys answered without hesitation.  It was probably Raymond.  He wasn’t wearing gloves.  We were all freezing our butts off, shivering in the winter mist on the seedy street.

Jack, or maybe it was Bob, opened the hoary door to the studio like it was Pandora’s box on steroids.  The guys had no idea what to expect.  But they weren’t the least bit disappointed.

Pauline stood before us, large and in charge, sexy and sultry with bright red lips and too much mascara.  She wore all kinds of wraps, body garters and floppy things you never see in Bronxville.  The colors of her scarves didn’t quite belong together:  purples and pinks; blues and reds; and green checks with orange polka dots.  Damn if Pauline didn’t pull it off.  She looked better than a super-sized box of Juicy Fruit.

“Who’s first?” she purred.

“Von Maur,” the rest of us chanted.

“Are you sure?” he asked.  “I don’t want to be an imposition.  Somebody else can go first.”

He smiled that 1000-volt grin of his, the one that burns brighter than all the GE stadium lights over the Meadowlands.  And here’s where we need to take a little timeout.  In the Philippines “1000-volts” is slang for gonorrhea, which really has nothing to do with this story.  I just think it’s important to clarify the description in case you’ve been to Manila.

The von Maur smile is contagious and disarming, vulnerable and charismatic all at the same time.  It makes you feel good.  Peter’s grin radiates energy, sends photons flying every which way.  That beaming kisser, a curious blend of warmth and confusion, says, “I’m enjoying the hell out of this world even if I don’t know what it all means.”

We weren’t focusing on Peter’s smile, though, not with Pauline emitting her own kind of energy.  Talk about yum.  It was time to get started.  One of the guys shouted, “Get in there, Peter.”  And I handed Pauline a $20.  She dropped it between her ample breasts, smothered and covered by scarves and all kinds of paisley things.  For all we know, that bill might still be falling in the black hole of Pauline’s cleavage.

My editor tells me not to write “curves” when describing women.  He thinks the word is sexist.  Doesn’t like it one bit.  But I can’t help myself.  That woman had ‘em.  You could rip the treads off a Porsche 911 on her curves.

Pauline grabbed Peter’s hand.  The consummate pro, she eased him into a separate room.  Her lair.  Peter looked over his shoulder and asked, “Are you guys sure?  Somebody else can go first.”

This time we all chorused, “Get in there.”

Pauline winked at us and closed the swinging doors behind them.  Like she really thought the plantation shutters would keep us out.  We weren’t about to be denied.  We cracked the doors to peek.  The other guys clustered high.  I went low.

We could tell von Maur was nervous.  He grabbed the first chair and sat, his way of hitting the brakes.  Pauline was in no hurry, though.  She was built for comfort, not speed.  She savored the moment, played with the butterflies in his stomach.  Her eyes burrowed into his.  Her fingers traced his right palm.  “You’re a very happy man,” she said.

“My friends call me Mr. Happy.”

Give me a break, I thought.

“You’re curious about something?”  It was a question, not a statement.  Pauline leaned into Peter, all lips and black eye shadow, a babushka made from allure.  Even in the dark light I could tell she had a hooked nose.

Belongs on a bird of prey, I thought.

“Well, if it’s not too much trouble,” von Maur started, “I’d like to know if the Giants win the Super Bowl before I turn 50.”

“Yes,” she replied in a voice bordering on a yawn, like the question had been far too easy.  “The year you turn 49.”

“Not with Eli Manning,” Peter gasped.  “He sucks.”

Raymond whispered, “You need to get your money back, Norb.”  But I shushed him.

Giants fans are all alike.

Pauline didn’t reply to von Maur.  Not aloud anyway.  She challenged him with those mascara eyes, like she was asking, “You doubt me, fool?”

“Will the Giants repeat by any chance?” Peter asked hopefully.

“I’m a fortune teller,” Pauline announced, “not a miracle worker.”

“Oh,” he stammered, chastened by the dig.

Pauline turned pensive and intense.  In that moment I forgot those black mascara eyes, the hooked nose, and all the cleavage swimming in scarves.  Her words, the low sultry voice, arrested my every thought.  “Surely, there are other things you want to know?” she asked.

“Well, yes, there is something,” he ventured.

She pressed closer.

“If the Giants win the Super Bowl when I’m 49, what happens when I’m 50?  Will I still be sexy?  Like I was at 17?”

Somebody snorted.  I told the guys to be quiet.  But the questions still made me wince.

Peter didn’t wait for an answer, not at first anyway.  “I only ask if it’s no problem,” he said.  “We could discuss 60 if that’s easier for you.  I don’t want to impose or put you out because whatever you decide is okay with me.  If 50 works for you, it works for me.  Know what I mean, Ms. Pauline?”

“When you turn 50,” Pauline replied, “your friends will come to celebrate your great life in a party at your home.  Your wife will throw you a huge party, and it will be a happy time.  She’s crazy about you, Peter.”

“Will there be martinis?”

“The guy next door will bitch if there aren’t.  He may even run home to get his shaker.  Your friends will salute you.  They’ll marvel how you cook meals and shop for groceries.”

“I like to clip coupons,” he said.  “Nothing like a pair of scissors and the Sunday paper.”

“The wives will agree that everybody needs a Peter.”

“Nice!” he cheered.

“The other husbands will tease you, especially about your gardening.  They’ll say you make them look bad.  Set too high a standard.”

“Well they can bite me,” von Maur snapped, defensive and suddenly hurt.

“It’s good clean fun,” Pauline soothed.  She peered at his palm and smirked.  “What’s this I see?”

“Is something wrong?” he asked, hesitating and alarmed.

“It’s all good,” she replied.  “But what’s this thing you have about underwear?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re always promising to strut around in sparkly bikini briefs.”

“I like a tight fit,” he acknowledged.

“At the party your friends will start chanting for you to take it off.  And you’ll be tempted.”

“Vodka martinis will do that.”

Pauline blinked once, then a second time.  She grew tentative.  For a moment I thought she had discovered something fowl on his hand.  Maybe a wart.  “You have a dog?”

“That would be the Anti-Christ.”

“Comet needs a playmate.  Your family will insist on getting him a sister.  And you’ll have no choice.  They won’t ask.  They’ll just do it, and you won’t notice at first.  You’re always so hell bent on getting to paddle tennis on time.”

“Really?” he asked incredulously, not knowing how to respond.

“You’ll come home happy and victorious from the match, and you’ll step in puppy pooh that squeezes into the treads of your brand-new sneakers.  It’ll take 30 minutes to clean out the ruts with a pencil, and even then you won’t get it all out.  Believe you me.  There’s a second dog in your future.”

“No way,” he scoffed.

“Have I been wrong yet?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“Trust me,” she said.  Her coal eyes blazed fiery and intense.

“If it’s okay with you, Ms. Pauline, could we forget Comet for the time being?  Only if it’s not an imposition.  It’d be nice to go back to Giants football.  But only if it’s okay with you.”

“Do you want to know the winning Powerball numbers for 2009?”

“Can you do that?”  He sounded more curious than hungry for a quick buck.

“Starting on your birthday, you must play the following numbers every weekend during 2009:  2, 9, 7, 19, and 22.”

“I know those numbers,” he gasped.   “They’re our birthdays, Emma on the 7th, Luke on the 19th, and Thalia on the 22nd.”

“Your kids are wonderful,” she observed.  “And your wife is something special.  You’re a lucky man.”

“Mr. Happy.”

Not that again, I thought.

“What’s the Powerball?” Peter asked.  His question surprised me.  I had never known him to play the lottery.

“That’s easy,” Pauline noted.  She stated the number.  We all heard her, all four or five of us.  And that’s my problem.  The fortune teller was right about everything – Peter’s wonderful kids, his wife who adores him, the underwear, the martinis, the gardening, the shopping, the party on his 50th birthday, the Anti-Christ, the paddle tennis, and even the Giants Super Bowl victory.  That took some doing.  She knew Comet’s name, and Thalia’s, too.  She got everything right, and for the life of me I can’t remember one stupid thing.  It’s going to haunt me for the rest of the year.

I can’t remember that damn Powerball number.

It all came to a sudden end.  Pauline reached into her cleavage and pulled out a list.  “Listen, Mr. Happy,” she said, “if you have some spare time, would you mind doing some grocery shopping for me?”

Peter examined the list.  “Milk, butter, eggs, pasta sauce,” he said.  “I’d love to.”

“Everybody needs a Peter,” she echoed from earlier in the session.

That’s when we stormed the doors and whisked von Maur away from Pauline’s Tarot and Astrology shop.  I still can’t remember if there were four or five of us.  No way we were going shopping that night.  We had poker to play.

Sometimes I wake up at night, thinking about Pauline’s predictions.  Maybe the Powerball number is 50.  I’ll give it a shot.  Maybe somebody else remembers.