Peggy turned on the TV and rolled up on the coach next to me, settling under my arm like she belonged there.
It had been a long, long time since I actually sat down to watch the boob tube. It had been on several times while I was with Peggy here, but my attention was rarely on it.
I hated being brainwashed by all the manufacturers, who used it the way George Orwell never imagined to keep us all buying things we really didn’t want and certainly couldn’t afford.
But I guess I disliked the ideal American life which was its biggest product. It irritated me to know that while this crap got fed into our brain, people went hungry or homeless.
In fact, it had been so long since I had watched TV, I didn’t recognize most of the people or the shows.
“What is this we’re watching?” I asked Peggy.
She leaned back so she could see my face.
“You don’t know?” she asked.
“Don’t get out much, do you, boy?” she said. “This program’s been on for years.”
They all had. I sighed and settled into figuring them out, all of them running together like links in a perpetual chain, the names and faces changing, but rarely the situation or the nature of the characters, all the men – even the good guys – doting and slow, constantly outwitted or director by the main woman character, weaving spells around the men for their own good.
Over the last few weeks, I felt exactly like that around Peggy, a stumbling fool who needed her to supply me with direction.
“Do all men seem so stupid to women?” I asked, when the commercial came on.
Again Peggy worked herself free of my arm to stare at me, her eyes glinting as she studied my face to see if I was serious.
“Of course, we do,” she said.
“Then why do you bother with us?”
Peggy’s face took on an expression saying she was praying for patience.
“Who else are we going to bother with, dummy? Dolphins aren’t big enough where it counts.”
She poked my crotch with the tip of her finger nail.
“Shush, the show’s back on,” she said, shifting herself back into a more comfortable position, my brain spinning with the implications, all my 1960s sensibilities somehow violated by the idea – the sexual revolution meaning nothing more than increasing the power women had over men.
I grit my teeth until the next commercial.
“What about all the romantic stuff – boy meet girl, boy wins girl’s heart?” I asked.
“Sheer nonsense,” she said, rising up from the coach for the trek to the kitchen to make herself a drink, shouting from there, “Sometimes boys get lucky. That’s all. Take my best friend, Marge. You think she got won over by her husband? Hell now, if anything she laid in wait for him and sprung the trap.”
Peggy came back laughing, and fell into the chair near the window.
“A lot more happens in bed than men ever realize,” she said, her nose crinkled slightly as if to laugh, but her eyes were hard and earnest, like two sharp pieces of glass cutting into me, daring me to argue the point.
“We’re not that stupid!” I said.
“Aren’t you? You thought I was frigid – that is until you fucked my brains out.”
I cringed over that, envisioning her face in pain when she took me in like a warrior bearing the brunt of battle. A shudder went through me. If it wasn’t frigidity, it was something like it, something that kept her from taking pleasure even from someone as gentle as me. I just didn’t want to make my case on that point and cause even more pain. I didn’t even want to argue against her preconceived notions. I just didn’t want her thinking I was stupid.
“Which reminds me of something else,” she said, slipping back onto the coach beside me, her fingers working over the top of my paints. “I told you last night, you’re going to have to start wearing a condom. If you didn’t bring one, then you’re not getting anything tonight. I have no intention of getting myself pregnant.”
“That’s impossible,” I said.
She frowned. “What’s impossible?” she asked coldly.
“Getting yourself pregnant. You still need a man for that.”
“Not these days, darling,” Peggy said, again smoothing over my pants with the palm of her hand. “It may not be as much fun, but science has found a way. Still, you’re going to use a condom whether you like it or not.”
“Is it different with a condom?”
Patty’s painted eyebrows jumped, the shock registering in her eyes like an earthquake.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never used a condom before?” she said.
“Okay, I won’t tell you. But I haven’t.”
She slapped her own cheek lightly with the palm of her hand.
“Oh my, oh my, oh my, this is going to be a lot more complicated than even I figured,” she said. “Just don’t worry about it. For now, I’m safe. Later, I can give you a course in Sex 101.”
The commercial ended. But Peggy no longer got
lost in the programs, giving me odd side glances, the shock fading into
something more suspicious – her thoughts so evident, I didn’t need to ask what
she was thinking.
Was I lying?
I wasn’t, of course, but I liked the idea that she thought I might be, I wanted her to wonder if I was that sexually ignorant or not.
Then finally, an actor’s face came on the screen that I recognized and I cried out his name. “Bruce Willis!”
“Very good, Sherlock” Peggy said. “Where do you know him from?”
“A good question,” I said – I was stumped.”
Peggy sighed and patted me on the head saying, “No, men aren’t THAT stupid. Are they? You saw him in the movie you took me to see, remember?”
“Come on, let’s go into the bedroom,” she said rising. “There’s only so much brilliance I can held in one evening.”
She flicked off the TV.
Even as Peggy set up the black and white TV on the stool in the bedroom, I felt the anger growing at her. It was as if a fuse had been lit to a time bomb deep inside me and no matter what I did, I could not stop its eventual explosion.
Peggy fixed herself another drink in the kitchen, then put it down on night stand and settled down into her nest of pillows on the bed..
It wasn’t so much that I felt insulted. People had mistakenly called me stupid before. It was the philosophy that all men were stupid. I also didn’t see myself as a woman’s jigsaw puzzle piece, to be tried out to see if I fit, and rejected if every part of me doesn’t match up. I didn’t just want to “get lucky.”
I watched her. She smiled, her eyes still glowing over her victory in the other room. Her black cat climbed up and rubbed against my hand.
“Jesse likes you,” she said. “She want you to play.”
“Maybe later. I’m in no mood to play right now.”
“I mean it, she really likes you. She doesn’t do what she’s doing now for every man I bring up here.”
“No, I guess only the ones that play guitars,” I said, stung a little by the implication of the number of other men she’d brought up here.
“Actually, no,” Peggy said, shifting so she could see the TV better. “She really likes harmonica players, too. I remember one guy…”
I stiffened, feeling the fuse burn that much faster. So I was after all just one more piece in the puzzle. I wondered if I could get out of the apartment without getting into a big blow up over this. I really didn’t want to explode with jealousy. I really did like Peggy too much for that.
“I think I’d better…”
“Shush,” Peggy said waving her hand at me. “Ronnie’s on.”
She turned up the volume on the TV.
He was one of our basic disagreements we usually avoided, but since I was aching for a fight, I said, “You ought to wise up about him.”
“What’s the matter, Alfred?”
“He’s a phony. I don’t know what anyone see in him.”
“Please, Alfred, don’t do this.”
But I couldn’t stop, my mouth writing its own script s it went along.
“He’s all blood and guts as long as his life’s not on the line. The same goes for your pal in the other room.”
“You’re pushing it, Alfred,” Peggy growled, both of us well-aware of who I meant in the other room. She judged every man she meant by John Wayne, and none of us could possibly live up to that expectation.
“I’m just stating the truth,” I said.
“As you see it,” she said, coldly, and calmly, as if aiming a pistol at my head. But her eyes asked why.
“I’m not alone. Most of the world knows Ronnie is crazy.”
“Because the world is jealous,” she said, finally heating up to the conflict. “He’s standing up for America.”
This was a stupid and foolish argument, which had almost nothing to do with Ronald Reagan or John Wayne. I was jealous and out of control, and I desperately needed to find the plug inside of me that would stop this from spewing out, but I could not, taking yet another shot at Reagan and she taking her shots back.
Her eyes were round now, watching my face. I knew what I looked like angry, an ugly monstrous being straight out of a b-rated horror film. Maybe that was the problem. I just couldn’t get myself into a quality film, couldn’t get a good job, make enough money to keep up with a woman like Peggy, unable to compare in any way to those men Peggy was used to having court her, and wondered as I went on and on with this, why she even bothered with a bum like me. I took a shot at her about her not being in touch with what was going on in other countries, and she claimed to have been there and seen it for herself.
“When? How? On vacation?” I asked.
“Sort of,” she said.
“Did you go for the company you work for?”
“No, I went with – a friend.”
“A rich Republican friend?”
“A poor one wouldn’t have been able to let me tag along,” she snapped back.
“So you witnessed poverty from the back of a limousine. Real educational.”
Then, I saw something even more acutely wrong, and I stopped mid-explosion. I got a vision of Peggy and the kind of life she had led until now. She was the eye-candy seated in the passenger side of some rich guy’s Corvette, caring very little about who the man was as long as he had money and spent it freely on her.
If this true, then what the hell was she doing
sitting in the passenger side of my rusting Datzun?
“How I saw it doesn’t matter,” Peggy said. “Maybe you should take a trip out of this place and see things for yourself.”
“I don’t have a sugar daddy,” I said.
I didn’t see her lift the glass, but I felt its contents dripping down the front of my shirt, ice cube pounded on the bed and onto the carpeted floor.
“Now look what you made me do,” she said. “I wasted a good drink on you. The least you can do it pick up the ice.”
The anger was gone. The effects of the bomb blast inside me had vanished with the Vodka and pineapple shower. I grinned and bent and retrieved the cubs. Jesse, the cat, eyed me and the whole situation from the corner, no doubt having seen worse in her time – from Robert. The ice cubes were like cold diamonds and I put them in the ashtray. She returned with a fresh drink, sat again on her bed, looking at eloquent and unflustered as a queen. That is until she saw where I put the ice cubes.
“My ash tray?” she said. “You put the ice cubes
my ash tray?”
“So ice cubes melt. Then you have water. I don’t want water in my ash tray. Empty it.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“I’m not kidding,” Peggy said. “Take the thing into the kitchen and dump the cubes in the sink.”
“And if I don’t want to?”
Her painted eyebrow arched up.
“Alfred. Behave. Just do what you’re told.”
“All right,” I said. But I didn’t move. With a single motion, I threw the ashtray and hit the wall near the sink, ice cubes clattering on the kitchen floor. Before the last cube stopped, her second drink hit me in the face, more ice cubes dribbling into my lap.
“You threw my ash tray!” she said after a long moment of silence. “Why did you throw my ash tray?”
“You said you wanted it emptied, so I emptied it.”
“I meant for you to get up and empty it.”
“That was too hard.”
“Well, now you can pick these ice cubes up, too, and walk them to the kitchen – thank you.”
I didn’t move.
“Well?” she said, tapping her finger nails on the empty glass. “Hey! What are you doing? Alfred, take your hands off me…”
then in the middle of the mess, we made love again, me thinking how crazy all this was, and erotic. Maybe she was a side-saddle Corvette girl. But she was with me for some unknowable reason, and that was something, and strangely enough, I was beginning to love every minute of it.