THE FINE ART OF MIXING GIRLS

(an excerpt)

     Again they came to a halt, and this time, as she took her arm from his to look into his eyes, he began to prepare a response for the word that was to come from her mouth. Was it to be handsome? dashing? It turned out to be neither, for what she actually said was, “Come on. Down we go,” and having not unfortunately misheard her, Roosevelt was then led through, of all things, a sidewalk load­ing door into a dank stairwell that he could only put together as having the stink of wet concrete, broken needles, and rape. Now where could she be taking him? A long cistern of a corridor was next mucked through — leaky pipes above, exposed wires below — and a few people milled at its end, smoking; Claire seemed to know them in passing. They then entered a small bunker of a room with about thirty folding chairs that faced a screen of the home movie variety. Claire moved into a row about three-quarters back.
     “Claire,” he whispered, “I have to ask you what this is about.”
     “I know. Not what you’re used to. But I did tell you to bring an open mind.”
     “I did bring an open mind,” he said, “but my nose happened to come along with it.”

     She covered a snort. “It is a bit rank, isn’t it?”
     They turned as some commotion arose. Patrons in the row be­hind were making room for a dumpy little man in a sport coat and stubble. He was climbing over a few laps to take the seat directly behind Roosevelt and he seemed to have trouble settling down. “Dom dorry,” the man said quite loudly, and Roosevelt realized he was of feeble mind. He returned to his conversation with Claire.

     “Really, Miss Bannerman, while I appreciate your —” He felt hot breath on his neck. The man had pitched himself forward to rest his arms on the back of Roosevelt’s chair. “Excuse me,” said Roosevelt. “Do you think you could sit back just a bit?”
     “Ndo. Ndokay,” said the man, who then slid back in his seat. Roosevelt looked about the room. It was an odd bunch at that. A few bohemians in flak jackets, some intellectuals with matted hair, academic types in pince-nez glasses. A real mix of high and low. With her elbow, Miss Bannerman drew his attention forward.
     “It looks like they’re about to start,” she said, to which the feeble-minded man nodded his agreement. Again he was sitting uncom­fortably close, and again Roosevelt asked him to sit back.
     “So where’s the candy counter,” joked Roosevelt.
     Claire slapped him on the knee. “Shh,” she said, and stepping up to the screen was a bespectacled man with a hawk’s nose and the uncanny air of a union shop steward. After asking everyone to be seated, he then proceeded to give a short speech about the direction of film as a medium. He spoke of challenges and visions and the government’s suppression of new ways of thinking, after which a few people thought to clap, the loudest of them being the feeble-minded man. A request was then made for the lights, the projector was switched on, and with a whirr the title came up. Delilah, it read, and there followed the subject herself, a girl in her mid-twenties with heavy Russian eyes trained on the camera.
     She was crying, this Delilah, with streams of kohl being daubed away with the back of wrist. A harsh command to pull herself to­gether was then given to her from off-screen. Not from off-camera, as Roosevelt had certainly expected, but literally from off-screen. From behind it. When she turned from the camera to veil those tears, the hidden actor came about to the front of the house to argue with her.
     “We’ve been through this before,” he said, looking up to her. “I did tell you it had to be this way.”
     “I know, I know,” she cried. “But it doesn’t make it any easier. Why can’t love be easy? Why does its path have to be strewn with briar and thistle?”
     “Now you’re just talking nonsense.”
     Roosevelt thought that was a good call. Claire seemed to have already become involved with the characters.

     “And what?” asked Delilah. “What is it you think I have to look forward to? Old age and the grave? My memories of being happy and tortured? My memories of a life that once held promise? Four years! Four years of waiting and believing and listening to your stories. Stories? Fairy tales is more like it. The same my father used to read to me.”
     “That was your interpretation.”
     It continued in this tiring manner for some ten minutes till the man said something rebarbative, offered words of cathartic inducement, and turned toward the audience to take an exiting step. Delilah, unable to cope with any words of cathartic inducement that arrived some nine minutes too late, took from the mantelpiece a small trinket that she then violently hurled toward the camera. As it hit the invisible fourth wall there was a ceramic crash, a suggestion of having just missed the ear of the ex-lover, and as any deficiency in successfully pitching small trinkets at ex-lovers is bound to do, it had Delilah launching herself into a fit of hysterics that the ex-lover chose to ignore by simply walking up the aisle and turning off the projector. The end. Delilah was gone. There was a retrospective silence before the applause came about.
     “Fairly interesting,” Miss Bannerman said, and she had a lean into Roosevelt.
     “Mm,” said Roosevelt.
     “Everyone has their prisons. Hers was the screen.”
     “Yes, I did get that,” said Roosevelt.
     “And of course it showed the control men have over women.”
     “Whatever are you to do with us, Miss Bannerman?”
    Again the laughter. At least she was a sport about it.
    “Claire, I...” Another carious waft on his neck had him holding that thought. “Perhaps we should move,” he said.
    “Why?”
    He nudged his head back to indicate the feeble-minded man.
    “Eh, it doesn’t bother me. They’re going to start again, any­way.”
    With Delilah having been sent packing to her canister (her final prison?) and the next film loaded, people repaired to their seats as the bespectacled manager again stepped forward to ad­dress them.
     “Our second film,” he began, “is by Kurt Jordan, and for those of you who haven’t heard, Kurt was just last Sunday arrested at his home in Los Angeles, another victim of our American justice system.”
     “Claire,” whispered Roosevelt, “who are these people?”
     “Shh.”
     “Sorry.”
     “And while we’ve been in touch with the A.C.L.U., asking them to get on board with his case, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has already filed charges and is promising to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. As a side note, if you’d like to help with the defense fund, please see either Joanie or myself — there’s Joanie over there — and we can tell you all about it before you leave. ­­Now, due to financial constraints, Kurt was only able to print two positives of this film, one of which was confiscated by the L.A.P.D. at the time of his arrest, but as for the other, luckily, he had already sent it to us by post which allows us to, uh, fortunately present it to you this evening. Certainly, the work is controversial, but such is art, and art, of course, must only speak for itself, remaining disinterested in the controversy around it. So it is not only without further ado but without further explanation that I give you the art of my good friend, Mr. Kurt Jordan.”
     And again the lights went out.