(This was originally a monologue and then framed later)
The boys in the Red Baron called her “Frog legs” because she had the skinniest legs any of us had ever seen, slightly knobby at the knees. She came in regularly, but wasn’t a barfly, and didn’t pick up anybody that I every saw.
Tommy liked her because she never made trouble. She talked, bought rounds of drinks from time to time, but never played those bar games many of the bar girls played, pitting one boy against another in some kind of ego trip.
Even though she didn’t look it, Frog Legs was older than most of the crowd, somewhere in her fifties. Nobody knew much about her except that she’d been married once, still wore the ring and worked a job in one of the professional buildings in downtown Newark, a banker’s secretary or insurance executive, she didn’t go into details about that, or anything else. Most times, she just chit chat about current events, even delving into sports from time to time, mostly baseball. She had a crush on Thurmond Munson, the Yankee Catcher, and liked him when he didn’t shave.
“I’ve had enough of pretty boys,” she said more than once, giving an eye to the people Tommy always called “the pretty folks” who strutted around the bar like a flock of fool pigeons, each modeling clothing and attitudes none of the rest of us could stand. The fact that Frog Legs couldn’t stand them either elevated her in our eyes, and most boys bought her a drink any time she came in.
Yet for all of this, she remained a stranger deep down, though I got to know her a little better, because she approved of my going back to college, and liked the idea that I wanted to be a writer.
“It’s good not to stand still,” she told me once. “You have to have a dream or you wind up in a prison inside yourself.”
Apparently, she had gone to college, but it hadn’t stopped her from becoming a prisoner, at least for part of her life. I couldn’t tell if she thought herself a prisoner now or not. She did not seem miserable. She did not hang over her drink the way so many other people in the bar sometimes did, each of them mumbling about their jobs, their families or their lot in life.
I saw her more than most people because our schedules seemed to coincide. Each night around six I stopped for a beer before going home, just a little something to take the tension out of me so I didn’t sit staring at the TV when I got home. She came in two or three times a week whenever “the mood” hit her. I think she was a bit lonely and wanted the company of other people.
Just why she suddenly started talking to me about her life one night, I don’t know. Maybe she had overheard me talking to other people at the bar, I tended to listen to everybody’s woes, figuring I could get good stories out them. I don’t think I ever did, but I certainly felt a lot better about myself, knowing that most other people were much more miserable than I’d ever be.
She was agitated, so unlike herself that when she slammed her car keys down on the bar, even Tommy glanced up and frowned.
“Buy her a drink, Tommy,” I said and pushed a few bills out for him to take.
“Thanks,” she said. “Today I need a drink. I just talked to my husband. After all this time, he decides he wants to get back together.”
I motioned for Tommy to get me a refill. “Is that bad?”
“It’s impossible,” she said, but didn’t immediately elaborate, taking a deep swig on her wine Switzer, before letting out a long sigh. Her fingers shook as she lit a cigarette.
“When’s the last time you saw him?” I asked, wondering at what point she would close off the spigot of information.
“About five years ago,” she said, letting out a stream of smoke. “After a vacation to Los Angeles.” She glanced at me then laughed, and added. “It was one of my more foolish moves. I remember how I always wanted to see Hollywood. I’m old enough to remember when Hollywood meant something, when every young girl – even me – thought we could find stardom there. More than once when I was young, I contemplating making the trip, just throwing everything to the wind and see what I could find. I never did. I did the sensible thing and got married.
“But I always regretted it, and the whole time I was married I nagged my husband to take a vacation there. He didn’t see the point. His job as an insurance investigator gave him better understanding of what Hollywood was really about. He saw passed the glitter and the hype, and wouldn’t go, not until many years later and he got sick of my nagging.
“I remember Los Angeles looking just like the photographs. I told Bill I wanted to live there. He told me he wouldn’t live with all that smog. That settled that.
“Bill had a problem at the airport. The police spotted his pistol when we landed. They were nice but firm. He got hot and told them he was an investigator and needed the weapon in his work. They asked him why he needed it while on vacation. He finally admitted his discomfort without it. They said they'd mail it back to us when we got home.
“Such foolishness. But that was the man I married. He had a hundred habits without which he felt uncomfortable, habits that had come to grate on my nerves.
“I think he agreed to the trip because he sensed the strain growing between us and figured this could bring us close again, the way we were when we first married. He was so full of hope I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise, how I didn’t think things would work out when we got back. Bill had mellowed over the previous couple of months, but it was far too little far too late to do us any good.
“Half the reason I stayed with Bill was for our son, Charlie’s sake. Charlie looked up to Bill and I didn’t want a divorce to ruin that. But by the time of that trip, Charlie was 18 and saw the strain for himself. We brought him along because we wanted the trip to be a family outing, bringing us all together again. Yet Charlie kept asking me what was wrong.
“I kept telling him nothing, but he knew better, and sometimes I caught him staring at the two of us, trying to figure us out.
“Charlie wasn’t the only one who noticed. When we arrived at the hotel, I caught the doorman eyeing me as I climbed out of the cab. It had been years since anyone looked at me in that way, admiring me legs, and then the rest of me. I know I blushed, and hoped my husband and son took no notice.
“I kept thinking I was insane. Was I so needy that I found a doorman attractive?
“Later, when Bill was napping, I ventured down to the lobby and found the doorman between the potted palm trees and the elevator.
“He was what Tommy here would call one of the Pretty Folk, and what scared me is that he even knew my name. All the way down from my room I had told myself I was imagining things, but his smile and his stare told me differently.
“`You know the name of all the guests in the hotel?’ I asked.
“`Only the pretty ones,’ he said.
“Again, I blushed. `You have me at a disadvantage,’ I said. `You know my name, but I don’t know yours.’
“He laughed. It was a clean, clear note which hung in the air between us like a chime. He seemed honest. After that, he was all smiles, and I realized that his uniform only disguised him, that his sun-browned face and his bold manners hinted of some other occupation he had in reserve, a secret I suddenly found myself wanting to uncover.
“I asked him if he always `bothered’ married women. He said I seemed lonely and lost. That’s when I realized how much of my life must have been written on my face. This time when I blushed, it was deeper and seriously humiliating.
“I would have run away, back up to the room where my husband took his nap, but I didn’t want to run back to that situation or that man. I looked at this boy – because he was a boy really, only a little older than my son – and he looked at me. Right then, I decided to make the move I never made when I was younger. I decided if I couldn’t run off to Hollywood to be a star, I could at least have someone show me around Hollywood, and I decided to let this doorman do it.
“Maybe I should have been ashamed. Maybe I should have thought of Charlie if not of Bill. But I needed something that Bill had never given me, something without I would dry up and die.
“My new found doorman had to go back to work, and I had to go up and wake up my husband, so we agreed to meet later for a drink – a late night drink, after Bill went off to bed at his usual time at 10.
“My whole body shook as I climbed back up the stares, a part of me throbbing that hadn’t throbbed since I was a teenager.
“Later Bill grumbled himself to sleep yet I stayed listening to his uneven breathing till I was certain he was off. Charlie was out somewhere, visiting the nightlife. He didn't worry me. He had another room and was certain to be in by twelve.
“I dressed in a sheer silk blouse and a short black skirt, and slid into the hall. It seemed too well lit. My mood dictated a dim atmosphere with bared bulbs and long mysterious shadows. Instead, the hall had a tender brilliance of flame-like flickering bulbs, and my feet sank into a luxurious carpet. I flew down the sleek passage fearing discovery, wondering if Bill had heard me, or if Charlie might somehow see my escape. I took the stairs for the very same reasons, and these were more to my liking, lit mostly by dull red fire exit signs. I came back out to a lobby and a smiling Ben. His presence warmed me and I knew the future-- at least part of it.
“He said I looked happy, and I suppose I was. I was like a girl on her first date, dating a dream. I looked at him and no longer saw a young, high-spirited doorman, but a slick well-dressed man. My heart stopped. His cologne reached for me like hands, fingers digging at between my thighs and tugging ever so gently. His open neck invited. I felt myself wanting to touch his chest, to run my fingers through the thick dark undergrowth that protruded from every pore.
“He was no longer the unsure employee, glancing shyly towards an open office door, but an individual, solid and independent. His lips, once merely sensual, were now cruel and they dragged me towards him. I kissed them, searing myself on their heat. Suddenly his arm was around me, guiding me out into the night air and a waiting cab. We were off.
“I only looked back at the hotel once. It was enough. Bill's world was never like this. His arms could never hold me like this man’s could. It was exactly what I'd wanted.
The lights of Hollywood only added to the feeling, thousands of stars glittering aimlessly in my eyes. Famous avenues passed me and my window as if they belonged to me, and I shivered in my silk as my doorman’s hands touched me. I couldn't think then, nor later, when the blaring sound of disco music caressed me as well.
“He kept telling me how beautiful I was and I kept believing him. Finally, he said `Come on, let’s get out of here,’ but he didn’t say where.
“At the door, we met Charlie. I didn't ask him what he was doing there. I simply stared at his eyes and the fire growing in them as he looked at me and my doorman together. He was drunk. I could smell it all over him. But still he recognized the situation and for a moment his mouth hung open. Then, he retreated.
“At first, I was afraid. But it faded quickly. My doorman had not seen the boy and I didn't tell him. In the cab, I thought about it again, and again at the door to the motel. I knew they'd be waiting when I got back. I knew the marriage would never be the same.
“I never did go back. I flew east on a separate flight, stayed with my sister in Lyndhurst, and didn’t even see my husband again during the divorce, leaving all that up to the attorneys.”
She crushed her fifth half smoked cigarette in the ash tray and almost immediately lit another one.
“So what happens now?” I asked.
She looked at me. Her eyes so full of pain I could have hugged her.
“Why don’t you and I get out of here,” she said, grabbed her keys and headed towards the door, leaving me to follow.