Its as if women were kryptonite

January 5, 2012

I wonder if this is a power we all have. I’m watching television. News program. (I was watching the IOWA caucus results.) And when people are talking live, I can look behind their public persona. Not just the politicians but the news commentators as well. Its uncanny the vibrations you feel. (When I looked behind Perry’s mask as his mind went blank in a debate, I saw a little boy crying from a scraped knee.) BUT when you watch a movie or anything rehearsed and taped, you can’t see anything. But live people are open books.  People at work are talking to me, and I’m peeking into their real thoughts. Or shopping. At Starbucks. This applies to almost any situation I’m in as well. Except one. When a beautiful woman is talking to me, my mind goes blank. I can’t read a thing. Its as if women were kryptonite.

This story concerns masks. That people present to the world. And one old man who has adopted a whole persona.



“So…” Ralph Sampson cried. Looking down. A large black man looking down. At the demure coyly decorous middle-aged man below. A small white chubby man. Ralph was standing at the top of a ladder. Like the vantage point from the crucifix. Ralph liked the view. It was strangely empowering. As if by seeing the world from such a height he could see truths. Not available to the lowland man. That’s what the astronauts must have seen. On their little skate across the sky. Ralph looked around. The top of the shelves were revealing. Nothing was added to make their appearance appealing. There was dust. Old candy wrappers, spider webs. And to Ralph’s surprise, several condoms. Used.

Ralph was packing toilet paper rolls. Like clouds in cellophane. Packed high. An adventure for customers. Who wanted to get one down. I’m trying Mildred. But they’re so high. There were of course accidents. Puff avalanches. Luckily they weren’t cartons of cola. A truth ran through Ralph’s thoughts. It’s a sin to tell a lie. And why hadn’t those astronauts rolled downhill. Like Jack and Jill.

“You call yourself the wanderer,” Ralph spoke from his perch. Like God to Moses. That’s not the decorous middle-aged man’s name. He called himself Ralph Bellamy. For the purposes of clarity, we shall call him Bellamy.

“Yes.” Bellamy replied. By the way, Bellamy looked nothing like Moses. Or the Hollywood version of Moses. Ralph Bellamy straightened out. Not his life but his bow tie. Licked a finger to wet down a rebellious group. Of hairs. That kept threatening to rise up. From the masses on his head. The proletariat of keratinous filaments.

“I got the name from a 50s song, The Wanderer. Performed by Dion and the Belmonts.” Bellamy smiled. Not expecting that the tall dark figure on top of the very long ladder would recognize the song.

“I know that song,” Ralph Sampson said. “My father used to sing it to my mother. When he decided to take his vacation. Or when he forgot something.”

“They took separate holidays,” Bellamy suggested.

Ralph Sampson shook his head.

“My mother never took a holiday. There were nine of us in the family. Someone had to stay home and pull the plow.”

“Enough said,” Bellamy responded. His chest shaking with mirth.

Ralph Sampson stepped down from the ladder. A step at a time. No point in taking chances. Of missing that simple step. Ralph’s medical coverage didn’t cover accidents. Incurred on the job. Strange clause for a pharmacy to have.

“I like to wander,” Bellamy said, his eyes glistening with excitement. “Wander around. Especially here in the drug store. Drug stores remind me of the 1950s.”

“You liked the 50s?”

“Yes. My name is Ralph Bellamy.”

Ralph Sampson looked at the little man. Bellamy smiled. Sampson smiled back. The polite thing to do. Bellamy expected the younger, taller, and recent African émigré to ask for his autograph. But Ralph Sampson had never heard of Ralph Bellamy. He had never heard of anyone else being named Ralph. It was a shock when Ralph Bellamy introduced himself. And somewhat of a let down. He thought he was unique.

“That’s nice,” Ralph Sampson responded.

There was a look of disappointment on the old man’s face.

“You really don’t know me, do you?” Bellamy asked.

Ralph Sampson shook his head.

“Should I?”

“Well, you might. Ralph Bellamy was a famous actor in the 50s. And into the 60s. Mostly in television. Not so much on the big screen.”

“So you’re famous?” Ralph Sampson asked. Ralph didn’t trust famous people. Usually their celebrity was used to relieve common people of their purses.

“Well, Ralph Bellamy was.” Bellamy blushed. “I’m wasn’t born Ralph Bellamy. My real name is Dexter Peebody. I legally changed my name to Ralph Bellamy in 1994. The second Sunday of lent.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Ralph Sampson stared at the older man. He was taller then he looked from the top of the ladder. But heavier. And there was a small almost invisible scar under his left eye. He had tried to trim his eyebrows. While he was hanging from a swing. Upside down. When he was eleven.

“People kept telling me,” Bellamy spoke, “that I looked like the actor. So I changed my name. It seemed natural. Ralph Bellamy might not even have been his name. Actors are always changing their name. Maybe there was no real person named Ralph Bellamy. Makes you think.”

The tall African nodded. This deserved a good deal of thought. Which he didn’t have time for. There was pasta to be layed out. On the shelves.

“So you took the name of a well known actor because you looked like him.” He spoke these words questioningly. But it cannot be said that it was an actual question. Since he already knew the answer.

Bellamy nodded. “You could say that. Also I love the 50s.”

“Don’t you feel lost?” Ralph Sampson took out box cutter and began to cut up the boxes that toilet paper had been delivered in. These had to be broken down, tied together and put out for garbage. For recycling. As new boxes. A version of reincarnation with the depressing small print. We shall all return as ourselves.

“Lost?” Bellamy enquired.

“Your name is out there someplace,” Ralph explained. “On a library card. Or a hospital band. A childhood notebook. But it has no owner. It’s suspended. In time. And place.”

“I…” Bellamy hesitated. He was confused. “I don’t get your meaning.”

“Your real name. Dexter Peebody. Has no home.”

Bellamy shrugged his shoulders. He still didn’t understand what the tall African was talking about. A name was just a few words. It wasn’t like he had abandoned a child.

Bellamy pointed at the ID card on Ralph’s uniform.

“We have the same first name,” he said then continued to talk without waiting to receive the clerk’s response. “Everything was so well ordered then. In the 50s. People knew their place. Now everything is in an upheaval. Maybe its all these new people coming into the country. Back then it was mostly Irish and Poles who were the underclass. Now it changes every week. People from every corner of the world. I don’t mean the world is a box.” Bellamy thought about that last statement for a moment. It was quite unnecessary. So why had he been compelled to clarify his statement about corners? Bellamy shook his head. “Look around the drug store. It’s so well organized. Just like the 50s. Everything has a place. Reminds me of the airport. Safety dictates order. Comforting don’t you think.”

Ralph Sampson looked around the shop. The little man was right about the order. But. How else could you organize a store? Ralph Sampson was beginning to believe that he and Ralph Bellamy were the opposite of soul mates. Was there a name for such a relationship?

“Why do you call yourself the wanderer?” the clerk asked.

Bellamy chuckled although it seemed to have nothing to do with the words he spoke.

“Didn’t I answer that question at the beginning of our conversation?”

The clerk nodded. “Oh yes. The 50s song. But why do you come into the drug store?”

“To think. Out there,” Ralph Bellamy’s mind drifted off into unpleasant memories of the world outside the drugstore. “Outside everything is so messy. Disorganized. Chaos rules. It’s all you can do to walk in a straight line. In here, thoughts wander through my head. Easily. It’s like church, but cleaner.” The little man straightened out his tie.

“And what thought comes to you today?” the clerk asked.

“Well,” Bellamy said looking around the aisle. “Look at that stand of toilet paper you’ve just assembled.”

The African looked at the product of his labour. “Yes. What about it?”

The little man leaned toward the tall clerk.

“Well, kind of makes you speculate on all the assholes that will be wiped by those tissues. Imagine them. Thousands of assholes. Flying around like bats. Swimming like fish in a school. All those brown little mouths sucking on tissues.”

The clerk stepped back. His face screwed up.

“Cat got your tongue?” Bellamy asked.

“That’s a very disturbing image, Mr. Bellamy.”

Bellamy laughed.

“Oh son. That’s the power of poetry.”

Ralph Sampson thought about that for several moments.

“Why would you change your name? What was wrong with your original name? Dexter Peebody. It’s not so bad. Your parents gave it to you? It’s how you were introduced into this world.” Ralph Sampson thought for a moment. “Is there something you’re trying to hide?”

Bellamy shook with laughter.

“Hide. Of course not. In the future everyone will change their name. Everyone wants to be someone. Someone famous. Changing your name gives you a jump start. Why be Joe Blow when you can be Sylvester Stallone? If you want to be rebellious and conflicted, troubled and angry, you might change your name to James Dean. Perhaps you want to be sexy but intelligent. With a streak of the melodramatic and tragic. Why, you might name yourself Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps you see yourself as enigmatic but brilliant. Einstein might be your moniker. There could be millions of Brandos. Thousands of Reagans. We will imitate our heroes. Become them. In person as well as in name.”

The clerk stared at the little man for several moments before responding.

“What happens to individuality?” he asked.

Ralph Bellamy smiled. “Why, then you become T. S. Eliot.”

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