The Blue Lagoon
May 9, 2009
The Blue Lagoon
1. In A Trenchcoat Standing Outside A Bar In The Late Evening
I’ve been in a hundred bars like the Blue Lagoon, a collage of all the tasteless tacky bars I’ve found myself lost in. Pastels and neon colors that bloom out of the darkness like exotic flowers that have evolved in caves, without light, deep beneath the earth’s surface. Black purple, black blue, blood black red oozing out of wells of darkness, darkness haunted by voices — laughter, coughing, and whispers. The Blue Lagoon. purgatory of the soul. Existing in suspension as if life outside the bar had ceased. Outside is nothing. A great void. As if the bar itself was a soul being flayed in hell.
2. Stepping Through The Doors Of The Bar
There is a smell of stale beer and cheap perfume and cigarette smoke. The constant thumping of rock music chops the silence into small edible morsels. The low background noise of human voices mangled and tossed in a blender of bitterness, despair, and frivolous panic. Silhouettes of faces flash in and out of existence in the whispers of lit matches. It is a slide show; the outline of fingers against mouths, waiters moving amongst tables, figures exiting from washrooms, women dancing together in the small square before the juke box, faces posturing, hands gesturing, the flash of a lighter, a candle lit, the dim house lights now introducing the neon painted faces of cherub young women smiling, or the smooth hollow glares of hungry young men. The kind of bar that middle aged men occasionally wander into hoping to find something they’ve lost. But all the time, they wait in dread, as if they were in a bar on an alien planet amongst female creatures, whose vaginas are in their mouths, or ears, or curled up beneath long angular fingers.
3. Taking A Seat At A Table
From the opposite corner of the room, I spotted them, Michael sipping a brandy and Harry drinking a coffee. With amusement, I watched as a waiter arrived at the table with a plate of French fries and a hamburger and Harry fell ravenously upon them. I was just another patron. A father to all these children of Lou Grant’s imagination. It was as if Yahweh was in a bar with the children of Israel. Lou Grant was their God.
A young and shapely waitress came up and took my order. Scotch. I smiled. As the waitress bent over to clean the table, her low cut blouse offered a view of her ample bosom. Lust rose up in my heart. This is no way for a god to behave. She looked at me, noticed the attention my eyes were paying her breasts, and smiled. I wondered if this was how Jesus was conceived.
“Didn’t realize how hungry I was.” Harry smiled, food spilling out of his mouth, a blender of words and fries.
Michael grimaced and turned away from Harry who continued to talk and eat at the same time.
“At least the air conditioning works in here,” Harry continued. “Thought I was going to pass out on the way over. I read in the paper that twelve people died in one day from the heat in Chicago. Most of them were old farts. That’s one perk of drought, famine, war. Kills off enough old coots to keep our taxes down. Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it, eh? I heard on the radio one night that the American military has been fooling around with weather weapons. Dry your enemy out. Or flood them. Bury them in snow. Or create dust bowls. They say we could have summers even hotter over the next few decades. Everything is drying up. What is the military advantage of starving your own people? God, this is a good burger. The cow is our sacred beast. Except that instead of worshipping them, we eat them. Huge beasts. Never see any fear in those big brown innocent eyes. Herds of animals grazing every day in meadows around our fair city, completely ignorant of their future. Can’t they smell our appetite? Maybe that’s the purpose of life – grazing? They feed on our meadows and we feed on them. The last judgment is the slaughterhouse. I’ve got to complement the chef. So caught up in my grief recently that I’d forgotten about my stomach.”
“A dangerous policy.” Michael grinned as he produced a polished black cigarette case from his breast pocket. He offered a cigarette to Harry who declined.
I took my eyes off Michael and Harry and allowed them to wander around the room. Is this hell? Are these the tortured souls of sinners? Does anyone really suffer for the evil they do? What do I know of evil? Someone skirting the income tax laws? Someone cheating on the wife? Someone skimming change from the till? Misdemeanors. How much real evil have I seen? This is why I was brought here. Lou Grant wants to know evil.
“The Green House Effect,” Harry continued. “Is that what’s causing this heat? I think it’s another money grabbing scheme by those rich pricks in Rosedale. Fuck bankers! Fuck lawyers! Fuck accountants! Why should they get all the gravy? You know what I hate about the rich, besides the fact that they have my money? They think having money makes them different, special. Their shit smells just like mine. Okay, maybe not exactly the same but you catch my meaning.” Harry stopped to swallow. For a moment he began to choke but managed to push the meat down his throat with another piece of the burger. “Sheila told me a very interesting thing the other day.”
“Yes.” Michael’s listened as his eyes cased the bar. Where was he?
“She told me, now get this, that you are trying to make yourself look like me. I don’t see it myself. She says you’re doing it for a reason, that you have a plan. No disrespect, Michael, but I think that girl needs some serious counseling. Talk about being paranoid.” Harry noticed the cigarette case that Michael played with in his hand. “Nice cigarette case. Where’d you get it?”
Michael held the case up. There was an inscription on it that Harry couldn’t make out. “A little shop in Amsterdam. Run by a little old lady.” Michael put the case on the table. Harry picked it up. Michael slapped his hand and Harry put the case back on the table. “You’d have liked her Harry. She was your type — available.”
Harry ignored Michael’s slight. “When were you in Amsterdam?”
“While ago. Business trip. It’s still legal to smoke there. Civilized country. They cherish the small pleasures in life. Your kind of town, Harry.”
“What’s the supposed to mean?”
“Don’t laugh,” Harry cried. “I’m a sensitive guy. And as soon as I figure out what you said, I’m going to be crushed.”
Michael choked on his laughter, sending billows of smoke out of his mouth.
“I am sensitive. Why do you find that so amusing? Women tell me that I’m vulnerable. Women like men who are vulnerable. I can’t figure out why. Take Marianne as an example. There was a real rapport between us. I’m serious. We had the same interests, the same viewpoints on so many subjects. We could read each other’s thoughts.”
“Is that why she left?”
Harry swallowed his last bite of the hamburger. “I kicked her out, man!”
Michael’s laughter went silent in my ears. Harry’s lips moved; my thoughts wandered. It was in a bar like the Blue Lagoon that I met my first hooker. I wasn’t looking for sex. Just wanted a drink and a few quiet moments to myself. She was young. Blonde. I have a weakness for blondes. She approached me. I’m a goner when a blonde smiles at me. I have this insatiable curiosity. Is she really a blonde? And I wanted to try things out, things that I’d read about, things you couldn’t do with a wife or a girlfriend. Everything was extra with this girl. That’s the American way. Radio in your car — extra. Mushrooms on your steak —extra. Movies on your cable bill — extra. Balls in her mouth — extra. The fear afterwards. Did I catch something — extra? Why am I confessing all of this? The final judgment? A last opportunity to get things off my chest? Having a stroke has a sobering affect on your state of mind. To be honest I don’t think I’ve committed any great sins. Not that I’m virtuous but like most people I think I’m basically innocent of any serious wrong doings. But, what of the sins of abstinence? What of the good I could have performed and did not? When I think of all the lives that touched me and I did not respond, I am riddled with guilt. Why didn’t I do more?
A blonde sat at the bar, looking my way. She reminded me of the blonde I met that evening. Young. Beautiful. Calculating. I glanced behind me to make sure that her eyes were not seeking out someone else. There was no one behind me. Should I buy her a drink? I smiled. It was a stupid sheepish grin like a kid in a cake shop staring at an éclair. She smiled back at me and for a brief moment I had the incredibly naive idea that she might be another lost soul reaching out for comfort. My heart began to race. Gosh! I started to drool.
4. A Drink After Work At The Ford Hotel
MURRAY: What happened with the blonde?
LOU: The blonde?
MURRAY: You’re having a stroke and while you’re having your stroke, you dream that you’re a god in a bar hustling a blonde. Did you get lucky?
LOU: What kind of question is that?
MURRAY: If a god can’t get lucky, what chance is there for the rest of us mortals?
MURRAY: What was the blonde’s name?
LOU: Sheila, I think. Yes, it was Sheila.
MURRAY Did she have a small tattoo of a rose on the inside of her left thigh?
LOU: A tattoo? I can’t remember. Is it important?
MURRAY: Didn’t you look at her naked? If it was my dream all the women would be naked.
LOU: I don’t think you’d want to see everyone naked.
LOU: I went to a nude beach in Germany once. There are a lot of things on the human body that hang.
MURRAY: Okay. Everyone under 30.
MURRAY: Did you see the blonde naked?
LOU: I didn’t see her naked. Does that make you happy, Murray.
MURRAY: I’m disappointed.
LOU: Next time I run into her I’ll make a point of taking her clothes off.
LOU: Why did you want to know about the tattoo?
MURRAY: It’s odd, but I have a feeling I know that girl.
LOU: You think you knew a girl in my dream?
MURRAY: Did you go home with her?
LOU: No. I did not go home with her. There was no home. It’s all a dream.
MURRAY: What are you getting out of these dreams if you can’t have a little midnight emission?
LOU: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Murray. All of this, this conversation I’m having with you right now, feels like it’s part of a dream I’m having in some other universe. And everything that’s going on in this bar, The Blue Lagoon, is part of a dream.
MURRAY: So why don’t you leave The Blue Lagoon?
Lou: I can’t. I can’t leave the bar.
MURRAY: You can’t leave this bar you’re dreaming about. You’re a prisoner in your own dream?
LOU: Well… yes. I tried to leave but there was a guy at the door. Big mean looking bastard.
MURRAY: So you tried to leave?
LOU: No. The bouncer was part of my dream and I knew he wouldn’t let me leave.
MURRAY: I thought bouncers were supposed to keep people out.
LOU: (laughing like hyena) Ya, right.
5. Harry Pushed His Empty Plate To One Side
“Eating gives me an erection. Did I ever tell you that, Michael? It’s the rush of protein. Red meat. Goes directly to my dick. If I really pig out. I get an enormous hard on. If I’m not fucked immediately, I get a terrible case of heartburn. Don’t laugh, man. This is the way my body operates. Did I tell you about the movie I saw last night? Paul Newman. The Left Handed Gun. Paul Newman is Billy the Kid. He falls for this Mexican chick. Newman looks about thirty and the chick looks like she’s about twelve. Big tits and a nice ass but about twelve years old. Mexican chicks mature quickly. It’s the sunlight. She’s poor and religious. Big silver cross on the end of a chain disappearing in her breasts. I like that image of Christ dieing on the cross and being smothered by a big set of knockers. Maybe I was drunk. I was drinking scotch. I should have been drinking tequila. And it was hot. When you’re shot in Mexico, the sweat pours out of the bullet hole before the blood has a chance to escape. Suddenly, Michael, I’m in the movie. Newman’s gone and I’m in the movie shooting peasants, putting bottles in the mouths of the villagers and slitting open their throats so I can quench my thirst. Ah, it was marvelous! The mind is a wonderful form of entertainment. I love violent movies. It’s a male thing. Women don’t like violence. They’re into sentimentality. A man wants his heart to pound; a woman wants her heart to ache. A man is looking for an adrenaline rush; a woman wants to cry. That’s what gets me about that Mary Richards in the Homicide series. You can tell she digs the violence. That’s what turns her crank. She’s a man in a woman’s body. It’s every guy’s ultimate fantasy. To have a chick who likes to get a little of your blood on her.”
6. A Drink After Work In The Imperial Room
MURRAY: You’re going to tell me another story, Lou.
LOU: How’d you know that, Murray?
MURRAY: I don’t know, Lou. Maybe it’s my feminine intuition. This is going to help explain about your dreams.
LOU: That’s right.
MURRAY: Well, go ahead, Lou. I’m all ears.
LOU: In the seventh century a noted theologian named Tertullian wrote about a walled city appearing in the sky every morning for forty days. This vision was seen by hundreds of people. This same walled city was seen by the Crusaders as they fought their way toward Jerusalem.
MURRAY: What are you trying to tell me, Lou? That mankind is susceptible to mass delusions? Remember, I voted for Kennedy.
LOU: That wasn’t funny.
MURRAY: I’m sorry. I’ll order another round.
LOU: In Rome, some time in the Middle Ages thousands of people including the Pope saw an angel hovering in the middle of the sky. The angel hovered there for several days.
MURRAY: Maybe it was a UFO.
LOU: It was an angel, Murray. A church, that still stands, was built in memory of that event.
MURRAY: Same thing in New York. They call it the house that Ruth built.
LOU: What I’m trying to tell you, Murray, is that we all live our lives amongst the ruins of our ancestors delusions. We live in the past. We live amongst the ghosts of history.
MURRAY: I was never good in history. Mr. O’Reilly didn’t like me. Gave me a complex about remembering dates. If I can’t remember Marie’s birthday, how am I going to remember the year of the Battle of Hastings?
LOU: 1063, give or take a few months. Were you married to Marie when you were in high school, Murray?
MURRAY: It only seems that way.
MURRAY: You’re very philosophic tonight, Lou. Where’s that waiter.
LOU: Pay attention, Murray. This is the important part.
MURRAY: I’m thirsty, Lou. You’d think you could get better service in your dream.
LOU: I could tell you thousands of stories about my upbringing, Murray. The problem is that all these memories are of a boy who was not Lou Grant. About Lou Grant, the one sitting here with you now, I know nothing. Nothing, Murray, I can’t remember a thing before I came to be the news manager at WGM. I can’t even remember getting the job. It’s as if I’ve been the news manager forever.
MURRAY: Maybe it only seems that way.
LOU: I know nothing about the news manager’s parents, where he went to elementary school, when he first got laid. What I remember, the history of my life, is the history of the middle-aged man horizontal in his backyard dieing of a stroke.
MURRAY: Gee, Lou. Who wants to remember all that childhood stuff? It’s not like you can change it. Marie gets upset when I can’t remember the color of the dress she wore on our first date. I’m not ever sure what the color of her dress was on our wedding day.
7. I Couldn’t Take My Eyes Off The Blonde
She looked up at me from beneath a swath of hair that hung down over her eyes like Rita Hayworth. A cigarette dangled between her fingers. Her elbow rested on the bar. Her eyes were a midsummer sky blue. My gaze flew into them. I could read her thoughts. She was thinking about Michael, remembering their days together selling jewelry on the street. In those days Michael had wire rimmed glasses, long straight black hair, greased and combed straight back. He was leaner then, hungrier. They had been lovers. I could feel her longing, a terrible pang of loneliness. She wanted a man. I picked up my drink and made my way down the bar toward her.
Sheila stirred the ice cubes in her ginger ale as she brooded. Why was Michael trying to set her up with Harry? She hated Harry. Michael knew she despised the little bugger. Why had Michael changed his appearance? Why was he trying to look like Harry? There must be some reason. Michael never did anything without a reason. Twins. Did Michael want to watch Harry balling her? Hadn’t Michael taken pictures of her with clients clandestinely? Did he like to stand back and watch someone else fucking her? Was that the kick? Was that how Michael got his juices boiling? Sheila butted out her cigarette.
“Soap opera,” she muttered to herself. “My life’s become a soap opera. I hate it. Need something else. Need to get out of this place.” Sheila lit up another cigarette. Shouldn’t smoke. Voice will never come back if I keep this up. The doctor warned me. Who am I trying to kid? I’ll never sing in a band again. The voice is gone. Everything is gone. Her eyes fell upon Michael. God, why did I have to fall in love with that bastard?
I stepped up to the bar and took a seat beside Sheila. I felt foolish. She was just a kid. But I kept imagining her naked, on a bed, her legs opening, waiting for me. Why couldn’t I just imagine us there now? Why did I have to go through these preliminaries? Was this really part of Lou Grant’s fantasy life? Wasn’t he supposed to be a happily married man? If not happy at least sedated. Lou Grant did not fool around. It was not in his character. He liked situations in which he was in control. In matters of romance, Lou Grant was a bungler. Smoke slipped easily out of her nostrils. I imagined her slipping out of her gown.
“You could sing again” The words almost lodged in my throat.
Sheila turned and looked at me indifferently.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I asked.
Her cigarette danced impatiently in her fingertips, fingers that were long and elegant and filled with hate. “Sorry, bud. I just punched out.” She butted out her cigarette. Then sliding off her stool, she walked across the room towards Michael.
8. A Drink After Work At The Silver Rail
MURRAY: So you can’t even get some action in your own dream, Lou?
LOU: There is such a thing as free will, Murray.
MURRAY: Ya, but Lou. She’s a hooker working in a bar. What else is she there for? She sees you and suddenly decides that it’s punch out time? So she’s got this thing for some small time hood, what has that got to do with the old in and out? Doesn’t sound to me like you’re in control of your own dreams.
LOU: There are limitations. Rules. Maybe. I don’t know, Murray. I’ll order another round.
MURRAY: It’s my turn. Unless you insist, Lou. After all it is your dream.
9. A Drink After Work At The Silver Rail
LOU: There was a man of Bourges who was driven into the forest by a swarm of flies.
MURRAY: Another story, Lou?
LOU: I’m drunk and I’m your boss.
MURRAY: I’m listening your lordship.
LOU: For two years the man of Bourges wandered through the forest — a mad man. When finally he exited from the forest, he declared to everyone that he was a new man. He was a Jesus Christ.
MURRAY: Don’t tell me! People believed him.
LOU: He had a huge following, Murray. A middle-ages Billy Graham.
MURRAY: Did he own a tent?
LOU: Finally the man from Bourges was brought before a local prince. Who are you? he was asked. He did not respond. Are you the Christ? he was asked. So, you say it, the man replied. Ah, the prince cried and had the man burned as a heretic.
MURRAY: That would certainly teach him a lesson.
LOU: This story was repeated throughout the middle-ages. What if he was Christ, Murray? What if that was the Second Coming? What if Christ kept coming back but no one ever believed him?
MURRAY: I’d be pissed, Lou. If I was God. Which I’m happy to point out, I am not. And neither was this fellow from Bourges. He was nuts.
LOU: What if he wasn’t though?
MURRAY: Lou, you’re starting to worry me.
LOU: I’m starting to worry myself.
MURRAY: Have you talked to Mary about this?
MURRAY: I think she should know.
LOU: Why would I tell Mary?
MURRAY: Because you’re in love with her, Lou.
LOU: Me in love with Mary! (hyena laughter)
MURRAY: Tell me you’re not in love with Mary, Lou.
LOU: She’s like a daughter to me.
MURRAY: You’re avoiding the question, Lou.
LOU: I’m drunk, Murray. That’s my prerogative.
10. Harry Looked Up And Smiled As Sheila Slid Into A Chair Beside Michael
“We were just talking about you.” Harry grinned sheepishly. Sheila scared him. “Doesn’t that skirt cut into your circulation? I stay away from skintight jeans since the time I cut off the blood flow to my cock. Couldn’t feel a thing for hours. Thought I’d dropped it somewhere.”
Sheila did not respond. Michael gestured to the waiter and ordered another round. Harry ordered a beer; Sheila ordered a water.
“You’re not drinking?” Harry asked.
“She’s on duty.” Michael winked at Harry.
Sheila turned and smiled at Michael. “Thank you very much, but I do believe I can speak for myself.”
Harry grimaced. Michael smiled as if nothing had been said. Sheila stroked the lapel of Michael’s jacket. “What’s with the threads?”
“Michael’s been to court,” Harry responded.
“Jesus!” Sheila cried. “Can’t anyone answer for themselves?” And then turning to Michael added. “You look real fine. A real gentleman. What did they want with you at court?”
Michael offered Sheila a cigarette from his new cigarette case.
“Oh, how lovely,” she said, removing one of the cigarettes and waiting for Michael to light it. Harry reached across the table with his lighter. Sheila glared at Harry but accepted his offer.
“A thank you would be nice.” Harry put his lighter back in his pocket.
“So what did the police want?” Sheila ignored Harry and turned back to Michael, smoke slipping out through her nostrils.
“Nothing.” Michael’s eyes continued to cruise through the crowd at the bar.
“You sure know how to smoke a cigarette, Sheila.” Harry said. No one was listening. “So sexy. I guess it’s all that on the job training.”
“You got all dolled up for nothing.” Sheila leaned her elbow on the table and held her cigarette like a lantern.
Michael turned to Sheila. “Went down with my lawyer. The police have been trailing me or so I thought.”
Sheila howled with laughter. Michael glared at Sheila then turned and looked at Harry. Harry shook his head.
“What are you two thinking?” Sheila cried. “Are you two laughing at me? You know I hate that.”
Harry leaned across the table. “Michael is a little concerned that you’re broadcasting everything to the whole room. Try and keep your voice down.”
Sheila leaned across the table to Harry, the cleavage in her dress giving him view of her ample breasts. “If Michael wants to tell me to lower my voice, why doesn’t he speak for himself? And quick looking down my dress or I’ll reach under the table and pull that little dick of yours off.”
Harry leaned back in his chair and giggled nervously.
Michael turned to Sheila. “Harry just broke up with his girl.”
Sheila nodded, a bored expression on her face. “Isn’t that interesting?”
“It’s been tough,” Harry began. “I’m a sensitive type guy.”
Sheila turned away and looked across the room at the bar where I was sitting. I wondered if she was going to return for the drink I had offered her.
Harry turned to Michael and whispered. “What did I tell you? She despises me.”
“You’re too thin skinned,” Michael responded. “Sheila’s bark is worse than her bite.”
“Maybe, but she’s still a bitch.”
Sheila turned back to Harry. “Excuse me?”
Michael cleared his throat, swallowing a chuckle. “Haven’t seen Bud, have you?”
Sheila shook her head. “It’s his night off.”
“He was supposed to meet him here,” Harry explained.
“Maybe he’ll show up,” Sheila responded ignoring Harry. “I avoid this place like the plague when I’m off.”
“Where do you like to hang out?” Harry asked. “Maybe we could…”
“Was I talking to you?” Sheila barked. “I’ll let you know when I want to talk to you.”
Harry threw his arms up in the air. “What did I ever do to deserve this kind at treatment? Tell me why you hate me, Sheila. I’d be very interested to know.”
“Do you want the Reader’s Digest version?” Sheila said biting off each of her words and firing them at Harry.
Michael laughed. Harry turned red.
“You’re an asshole, Mr. O’Toole. Is that good enough for you?” Sheila spat out then turned to Michael. Her mood and voice softened. “Thanks for the smoke, Michael. Don’t be so scarce around the apartment. I miss you.” Sheila stood up and made her way across the room. She sat down at the bar beside me.
I swallowed deeply.
“Does that offer of a drink still stand, mister?’
Harry watched Sheila move across the bar. “What did I say wrong? I never say the right thing to that broad. She acts like she hates my guts. She doesn’t know me well enough for that.”
Michael laughed than gestured to one of the televisions in the bar.
“Look, it’s your girl friend.”
Harry turned and looked at the set. A smile crept across his face. “They oughta name a drink after that woman.”