It was a Friday night, after a gig at this trendy new club called The Dude
Ranch, and Gordon Masters was sitting in Rudy's Restaurant and Lounge on
Greene Street with Martin Slater, the other main half of his band, essentially
a duo and some session musicians, christened Chromium Gordon. The band
name was kind of a joke, since Gordon's favorite band since high school
was Steely Dan and Chrome Gordie (as they were affectionately known) did
a lot of Steely Dan covers. Accompanying the two main forces behind Chrome
Gordie was Cindy Slater, Martin's wife, who was in advertising. Gordon
could hardly bear to look at Cindy, because she was Darlene's best friend's
sister. Gordon absently thumped his foot against his guitar case
and drummed his fingers on the table, a thundercloud blackening his handsome
face. Something told him it was going to be a Black Friday indeed.
"You sounded like a sick cow tonight, Gordo." snapped Martin. "You have got to get that Darlene out of your brain and focus on the music! You were hitting sour notes left and right."
Gordon said nothing, just toyed with his napkin and stared at his glass of grapefruit wine.
"I have this wonderful idea for my mouthwash commercial!" bubbled Cindy, taking a dainty sip of her smooth retsina. "How about these little animated cartoon cupids sprinkling couples with Min-T-Breath mouthwash and the little drops of mouthwash turn into little cartoon hearts as the couples fall in love? I think that would be just darling!"
"I think it's a stupid idea, Cindy!" snapped Gordon, nibbling halfheartedly at a Szechuan dumpling -- vegetarian, of course. Gordon Masters had been a vegetarian since he was nineteen, and Szechuan dumplings were among his favorite foods, but tonight, he had very little appetite to speak of. "Mouthwash doesn't make people fall in love. It just kills bacteria that can cause bad breath."
Cindy gave Gordon a look that could freeze fire.
"It's fantasy, Gordon." she said, her words dripping acid.
"Well, are you selling fantasy or are you selling mouthwash?"
Cindy winced as though she had been stung and she turned to her husband.
"Martin, what IS it with Gordon tonight?"
"Darlene's breaking his chops again."
"That Darlene Dupree is bad news, Cindy." Gordon spat out. "Every time I think I'm getting something started with her, she just puts on her high heel sneakers and dances all over my heart. Last week, I went to her apartment as a surprise, and she was cuddled on the couch with Sly Marquez, one of our former session musicians, wearing a flimsy little nighty and drinking something frothy and pink with a little paper parasol in it."
Martin almost choked on his sausage and beer.
"Not that Charlie with the lotion and the kinky hair who dropped out of the band to study Chinese music?" he gasped. "The gent with the stickpin and all the gold chains and the gold teeth?"
"No, that's Dan "Kid Charlemagne" LaPage." said Gordon. "He came on to Darlene once, she wouldn't give him the right time. She said he had a skeevy look in his eyes and smelled like an air-freshener manufacturing plant, and he had applesauce where his mind should be. No lie, Marty, she really hated
"Then the other one." said Martin. "He had a scar from ear to ear and could really work the saxophone."
"Nah, that's Pepe." answered Gordon. " Pepe died."
Martin looked Frisbee-eyed at Gordon.
"I got the news about a month ago." he said. "He died behind the wheel of his car after drinking Scotch whisky all night."
"Sorry to hear that." said Martin. "Maybe it was that guy on the keyboards who always dressed like a gaucho." Martin helped himself to one of Gordon's dumplings. "The one who wore the silver-sparkled vest and the silver-sparkled cowboy hat. He used to be the keyboard man in a rock-n-ska band before he joined CG. Man, were we ever sorry to see him go. He played some mean keys! He was golden."
"You're thinking of Marco." said Gordon. "Sly's cousin. He wouldn't have anything to do with Darlene. He was gay. He just got married to a male bodybuilder."
"Oh, now I remember." said Martin. "So which one is Sly?"
"You remember Sly." said Gordon. "He's the big, muscley movie-star-looking guy who played those angular banjoes and always wore a fez. In all of the years he was with CG, you never saw him without the fez. It was like a thing with him. He would never play music without that fez on."
Martin looked puzzled, then his face brightened.
"Oh, that guy!" he said. "Now I remember. Sly Marquez. How can I forget Silvio "The Fez" Marquez?"
"Yeah." Gordon said morosely. "Just another scurvy brother whom Darlene has been running around with. And the other night, Sly dumps Darlene for this girl Josie whom Darlene went to college with and who rides a motor scooter. And the night before that, he was with this other girl Katy, she's a roller-skater. Darlene was upset, and she wound up on my doorstep, crying her eyes out, and we wound up talking it out till daylight about how Sly Marquez treated Darlene like pigeon poop. And before Sly, it was George ‘Polecat' Parker, who used to be with Chromium Gordon way back when and since joined
the Shoobie Doobie Guys. And before that it was that bisexual glam-rocker Dante Bowden, and before that, it was that guitarist with the long hair and the deep voice, Franco Zippa, that nut who used to use a slice of zucchini as a guitar pick in all his stage shows! It's a pattern. She runs around with these guys, they take a dump all over her heart, and who has to act as the human band-aid? Good old reliable
"You know something, Gordon." remarked Martin. "You're going to hate me for saying this, but you need to unload Darlene Dupree once and for all."
"Martin's right, Gordon." said Cindy, taking another sip of retsina. "That woman is like a toxin, and she is poisoning your heart."
"It's not easy, Cindy." said Gordon. "I mean, Darlene is so fine, so young, and she's fun, and she's gorgeous."
"There are other women who are just as fun and just as gorgeous who won't treat you that way." said Cindy.
Out of the corner of his eye, Gordon saw an unsettling sight. "Someone needs to call poison control." he remarked grimly.
At the bar, swigging a tremendous beverage that looked like a chocolate milkshake but was really a sweet yet potent concoction of Kahluha, creme de cacao, vodka, and heavy cream, looking like her usual self – that is, adorable and perky and gorgeous, was none other than Darlene Dupree herself, and she was wearing The Sweater. It was a soft, fuzzy, thigh-length thingie – more of a dress, really – of a color somewhere between cotton candy at the amusement park and Carnation Strawberry Creme Instant Breakfast. It gently embraced her every generous curve and luscious contour, and Darlene in
that little number had an unsettling effect on Gordon. Her hair was a cloud of spun gold fluff around her shoulders, in her hair was a barrette shaped like a spray of marigolds, and her lips were as shiny and fuchsia as raspberry candy. How dare she look so outrageous? Every male head in the place had turned to look at her. She seemed to be as high as the sky, laughing and chatting with the bartender. Her purse was open, and on the bar, near her keys, were assorted vials and a little black book. Around her neck
was a gold charm consisting of script lettering reading "Darlene and Gordon." Yeah, Darlene and Gordon. In between Darlene and Sly, and Darlene and Dante, and Darlene and George "Polecat" Parker!" Gordon noticed she was wearing the green earrings he had bought her, sparkling earrings of rare design. They
looked like lime cough drops.
"Gordon." she said, purring the name out like a contented kitten. Gordon Masters, in spite of himself, felt the manly hardening. She looked like a fantasy made flesh. And she smelled like an exotic flower garden.
"Darlene." he said icily.
"Well, what are we being so snippy about, Gordie-Wordie?" she asked, fluttering her lashes.
"You and Sly Marquez!"
"Oh, Gordon." she exclaimed. "He meant nothing to me. That was just a lark. Just like the time with Franco, and Dante, and all those others, it was just a lark."
A lark? Being used and discarded like a snot-smeared facial tissue was a lark? Suddenly Darlene began to look about as scrumptious to Gordon as puree of vomit. Darlene Dupree was one dysfunctional little broadie, and she would turn his life into one big dysfunction if he stayed with her. Why was it that she couldn't appreciate a guy who could make her feel cared for? Someone like, oh, say, Gordon Masters, for instance. The necklace twinkled at him mockingly.
"Look, Darlene." he sighed. "I can't cry anymore while you run around. Face it, it's over now, so just shut up, drink your big Black Cow and get out of my life." Again, the necklace flashed at him. "And you might as well take that thing off, because there is no more Darlene and Gordon, got that? You're Darlene and I'm Gordon, but the two of us are no longer Darlene and Gordon in that sense – if we ever were." Darlene's magenta mouth dropped open, and her emerald eyes grew wide, and still, Gordon barreled on. "Sometimes I felt more like a band-aid for your heart than a boyfriend – or, more accurately, a band-aid for what passes for your heart, because I don't think you really have one! And by the way, that stupid fuzzy sweater dress you're wearing makes you look like a moldy ham!"
When Gordon left Darlene for the last time, she was sitting on her barstool crying. Just the way she had made him cry. She deserved it. Their relationship had been nothing but a royal scam from the word "go."
JANINE LA PAGE, better known as JANIE, marveled about how a person's luck
could change. Before, she was just a teenage RUNAWAY who aspired to be
an actress but supported herself as a dancer at the CAFE D'ESCARGOT. Her
specialty, a dance routine called the CONCH-CON JACQUES, had men LINED
UP AROUND THE BLOCK. It was hard to believe that this pretty little WONDERWAIF
OF GRAMERCY PARK was only seventeen years old, especially when she wore
LITTLE TOPS AND TIGHT CAPRIS with stiletto heels, slick maraschino-cherry
lip gloss, exotic blue eyeliner, AMBUSH perfume and her hair in a FRENCH
One night, she was dancing and she sprained her ankle in the middle of a routine. The person who helped her was a well-dressed, handsome blond man in the front row. This was Lionel DUPREE, owner and publisher of Hot Notes Magazine, which happened to be Janie's favorite music magazine. One thing led
to another. This handsome, dignified older man, such a far cry from the pimpled, clumsy schoolboys Janie used to date, stayed by her side all throughher injury, and after she got well, they had gone dancing, skating, to concerts and plays and nightclubs together. They had countless dining-out experiences together, from conch fritters and PINA COLADAS at the FLORIDA ROOM to stuffed grape leaves and baba ganoush at THE DUNES to the scrumptious SZECHUAN DUMPLINGS at the TEAHOUSE ON THE TRACKS. They were inseparable. They had fallen in love. Janie was flattered. Soon, she moved from the Renaissance Shelter for Orphans and Runaways to Lionel's deluxe Park Avenue penthouse. And now, it was Saturday and they were enjoying a picnic lunch in Central Park. They had gotten
some TAKEOUT FROM DEAN AND DELUCA AND A HEARTY GULPING WINE and had a good time feeding each other and flirting.
"And now," Lionel said when not a morsel was left. "For an extra special dessert, I suggest a heavenly melange of Janie and Lionel."
Janie blushed to the roots of her blonde FRENCH TWIST. But she knew this was bound to happen, and, in the back of her mind, anticipated it. It wasn't like a dirty, brutish stranger off the street was forcing himself on her. This was Lionel, her gentle Lionel, and the experience would bring them closer together.
"I think that would be delightful."
"You're delightful." he said, gliding an index finger down her nose. "You really are." They kissed. "So LET'S GET TO THE LOVE SCENE, MY FRIEND."
As they undressed each other, he caressed her body and whispered. "SOON, YOU WILL BE EIGHTEEN. When is your birthday?"
"February 14." Janie said. "Hearts Day."
"You just may be SPENDING YOUR BIRTHDAY IN SPAIN with me, Janie-girl." he said. "As my bride."
"Oh, Lionel, that would be sensational!" He was sensational. Little JANIE RUNAWAY, an aspiring SHOW BIZ KID in BAD SNEAKERS, sure lucked out, becoming the sweetheart of a man so rich, kind, intelligent, sexy, handsome. Softly, slowly, they melted and sank into each other.
Hours later, the pair strolled
along the street when Janie caught sight of an outdoor stand selling fun
jewelry, fancy glittered purses, and other pretty little items. The prettiest
item was the pair of vivid green glass hemispheres as bright and
glossy and inviting as the candied glace fruits used in baking
sweet Christmas treats. Mini Christmas ornaments one could wear. She looked at them, then at her loved one.
"Oh, Lionel!" she squealed. "These are the most gorgeous earrings I have ever seen!"
The dignified gentleman by her side looked at the earrings and scowled, making his face even handsomer.
"Those are junk, Janie." he said. "An absolute PEARL of a little lady like you deserves real emeralds."
"But this is what I want!" Janie protested. Lionel Dupree gave in and bought the GREEN EARRINGS for her, and she put them on right then and there, feeling lovely and glamorous.
The next day, Sunday, while Lionel was at a breakfast meeting, Janie had her friends from the runaway shelter, MELANIE, BABS, and KATY over to visit.
"Ugh!" Melanie exclaimed. "Janie, I hate to tell you this, but those are the butt-ugliest earrings I've ever seen!"
Janie pouted. "I think they're beautiful."
"They are pretty." said Katy. "They look like candy jellies or candied fruits."
"Candy jellies and candied fruits aren't meant to be worn in the ears, they are for eating." Melanie bit off her words. "Why would anyone want to wear something that looks like it was meant to be eaten?"
"Where did you get them, anyway?" asked Babs. "Out of a box of Froot Loops?"
Janie glared at her friend.
"They were a present from Lionel."
Melanie heaved a sigh that sounded more like a snort.
"I am so sick of hearing about Lionel Dupree." she exclaimed. "Janie, the man is bad news! He's a sicko!"
"How could someone so kind and gentle be a sicko?"
"He can get you both in a lot of trouble." said Melanie. "What he is doing is against the law. A grown man shouldn't be doing those things to a little girl."
"I'm seventeen!" wailed Janie, close to tears.
"The law says you're a little girl until you're eighteen." said Melanie.
"Well, when we're together, I don't feel like we're a grown man and a little
girl. I feel like we're just Janie and Lionel, and we're in love."
"Try and explain that to some judge or policeman." Melanie countered.
"Listen, Janie." Babs said. "I had a Lionel in my life named William. They all called him CLEAN WILLY because his head was shaven. He was sweet, and kind, and attentive -- and the moment I turned eighteen, he dumped me like a bag of trash."
"My Lionel would never do that." she said. "When I met him, I felt like I HAD FOUND A HOME AT LAST."
"Listen, it's a pattern with these guys." said Babs. "They don't really care about the person. It's the lure of the forbidden that excites them. As soon as you turn eighteen and become a legal adult, they dump you, because they're sick, twisted men who can't find adult women exciting."
Janie laughed in Babs' face.
"How you do BABBLE ON, SISTER." she said. "I can't find anything sick or twisted about Lionel Dupree."
Janie's birthday came. She was eighteen.
Now she could look forward to her trip to Spain and a long, happy future
"Happy birthday, Janie." Lionel said as he padded barefoot into the kitchen, dressed in his bathrobe.
"Hiya." she said. Lionel noticed her packed suitcase.
"I'm afraid Spain is off." he said. "I have to go to Detroit for business."
"Detroit isn't the same as Spain, but as long as we're together."
Lionel gave her an odd look.
"Listen, I've been thinking about it, and I think we should give this a break." he said. "I need to focus on business right now."
Janie felt like her heart had been scooped out. It had nothing to do with business. It was just like Babs said. She turned 18, was legal now, and was now no longer a special, enchanted being, but just another adult as far as he was concerned. One of the common herd. She trudged back to the runaway shelter,
feeling like she had been ROYALLY SCAMMED. At the shelter, Katy saw her remove the GREEN EARRINGS and toss them into the trash.
"What did you do that for?" she asked.
"Babs and Melanie were right." said Janie. "The earrings are ugly. They look like something you'd get as the surprise toy in a box of Froot Loops."