Mantras should be used with care. Eugene Mould learned the hard way about making wishes under the duress of selfish love. His head and heart pounded for Desire [Des – a – ray] a young adopted Filipina, dragged into Brooklyn by a woman who made much ado about absolutely nothing and had about as much business mothering as Moll Flanders. Megan O'Shaughnessy adopted Desire, due to her mid-life crisis. That poor chick had her name improperly uttered, stuttered, whispered, groaned, moaned and even sung by every Brooklyn boy from Bayridge to Borough Hall.
Years later I learned that her real name was Beatrice, Eugene, however, because of his penchant for eavesdropping knew this all along but, frankly that didn't matter to him.
Just picture our chump sprawled out on his mattress that stunk of sweat and burnt rubber, see him whimpering her name, picking apart the sweet sounds, repeating them like a broken record, a tingly sensation running through his veins when he uttered the bits and pieces of her imaginary name. Re, of desire, as is in ray of light, Rays of old, from the famous pizzeria over by Euclid Avenue, young Rays who worked in delis and Laundromats - all Rays fantasized over her. He was a Eugene, but there was a ray of something, maybe it was hope that he would finally feel a girl's lips against his pasty mouth instead of the back of his hand. He tweaked the wart on his elbow, pretending it was a nipple.
As if he had never considered the other possible pronunciations, he began chiming Desire [as in fire] twisting, turning and burning in his brain. Reckless thoughts barreled through his head and his dirty toes quivered, Ire rhymed with mire, which is what Eugene was in, quicksand, hardening fast. More like cement, closing in on him and around his ankles when he was near her. Desire in a flowery green dress with legs that mannequins would kill for, Eugene couldn't budge when she was around, his knees buckled. What he was going through was nothing more than a mishmash of parables told by blithering lovesick idiots. He cursed the fact that his mother forced him into tantric yoga classes to calm him down, but most of all he cursed the fact that he had sunk so deeply into his yoga that his wish could be answered.
By the way, my name is Izzy Leftkowitz, I too had a crush on Beatrice, but my story is hardly worthy of being told. I'm here to tell you about Eugene Mould. When he hit puberty he became a basket case of super-productive, unrequited hormones, but even before then there were signs. Other kids, including myself, tossed a lousy scuffed handball against our stoop from sundown to Sunday. We made fun of all the Catholic schoolboys, especially the altar boys who went off to church on Sundays dressed in their little monkey suits, while we pretended we were the Brooklyn Bums, I mean Dodgers, Carl Furillo, Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese, the old team the greatest team you know. Well, I suppose we had our turn on Saturdays. All the Italian boys made fun of us when we went to temple, but I swear to you, my word of honor, that I only gave Scarpelli a black eye because he whacked my yarmulke off my head and yelled Frisbee.
What does any of this have to do with Eugene Mould you might ask? Plenty, but you'll have to be patient and take it the way I give it. Now I never saw anyone put together a transistor radio as a kid. To tell you the truth I never gave it much thought, the boxes just played music and that was fine by me, but this Eugene kid spent the hot summer nights putzing around with his transistor radio kit. He was too puny to play ball with us and wasn't ballsy enough to peek into the O'Shaughnessy's window. The little inside joke that we had running was that we were checking out O'Shaughnessy's place. "Izzy I'll ring your neck," my father would say. I laughed so hard, we didn't mean the pub, on Neptune Avenue, but that's what the grownups thought. We meant the widow O'Shaughnessy's place. Professional widow some people called her she'd gone through so many husbands. Others called her professional for a different reason, but it was all baloney, she never took a penny she just loved humping and we loved watching because she kept her drapes open just enough for the curious minds to catch a show. Oh what a show!
So here's this Eugene tinkering with his radio and one day, bleep, his biological clock goes off and he gets up with his radio and follows us 'men of the world' over to O'Shaughnessy's place. This next part is somewhat embellished since I was rather occupied at the time. Marty Moschowitz was kind enough to fill me in, that good ol' Eugene, with his trusty radio, was perched up in a tree, playing with himself as he leered at the shadows of O'Shaughnessy's naked melons. He must've been doing some heavy-duty work with his hand because the next thing you know the branch breaks off and he comes tumbling down. Kaboom the whole neighborhood heard it. Doors flew open, windows hopped up and busybodies by the baker's dozen gawked at the geeky kid from 35th Street, whose pants were down around his ankles. Well, if that wasn't enough then out comes O'Leary the flatfoot from the 3rd precinct. Cursing at the top of his lungs, with a frog stuck in his throat, hobbling over to the broken branch and the half naked boy while in the process of pulling up his own pants.
Fast-forward five years till he's about nineteen and there was Eugene, at the soda joint, sucking down his triple-decker ice-cream soda, gushing with fudge, caramel and nuts, as if he needed to get any nuttier. It was then that he was dumbstruck, flush in the neighborhood hangout, the haven of heavenly milkshakes and egg creams, his eyes feasted on a truly celestial body. It was the creamy brown-skinned Desire, O'Shaughnessy's adopted girl.
Now the fact was she was wearing a long green floral-printed dress, but if that's all you saw than you ain't got no imagination or no good set of oats to sow. Come to think of it that flowery dress was awfully familiar, could've been snipped from O'Shaughnessy's curtain, which, as you know, was permanently open.
Desire's strap kept dropping over her shoulder revealing her foundation garment and some of that delicious fleshy foundation underneath. Drop your napkin enough times and you might catch some fuzz peaking out of her panties. Wishful thinking huh, us 'men of the world' had to have some diversion when we mostly drove about in crummy Dodges, except for Lenny Gumbari who cruised around in a Mustang.
Eugene made an ass of himself trying to impress her and so help the toothpick picked a fight with some goon, who wasn't from the neighborhood, who kept dropping his spoon on the floor to look up her skirt. Tell you the truth I'm glad he went after the goon, too bad his chin got in the way. Wham, Eugene got decked into tomorrow and then that's when it happened. As he flew across the room, his weakling body crashed smack into the jukebox and knocked off the sound. Sal spent a ton of money trying to fix it and Eugene was no longer allowed into the soda joint.
After that he waited outside the store for her many times but he could never say anything to her, he just got lockjaw I suppose. Boggles how he'd found the balls to be chivalrous but couldn't close in on the real prize.
[Due to a conflict of interest, via the fact that Izzy developed a major crush on Beatrice at this time he was forced to renounce his story telling privileges, his brother, Michael, or some other mook continues.]
"Eugene please I'm begging," Michael says, "You just gotta help me. I'm desperate."
"I'd love to help but what can I do?" Eugene says with a shrug "You're brother already takes singing lessons right?"
Izzy grabs Eugene by the collar and squishes till the toothpick's eyes start bugging out. Izzy scopes all around to make sure nobody has heard this.
"Look don't you ever mention that stuff aloud again."
"What that you sing?"
Izzy grabs Eugene's nose with his knuckles while putting him a headlock with his other arm. Michael gets in between, but by the time he breaks his brother loose Eugene's ears feel and look like they've gotten a terrible sunburn.
Somehow folks had made the presumption that Eugene was musical, though he hadn't had a piano lesson in years, he hardly even sung in the shower anymore on account that he didn't want to give his mother the mistaken impression he was pleasuring himself. Still he took the shiny fifty cent piece that Michael offered him, placing it into his piggy bank.
After two solid weeks of practicing that nauseatingly sappy Camelot ballad "If ever I would leave you," in the most bastardized Goulet voice known to the natural world Izzy and his brother both bodily forced Eugene out of their apartment.
Royally embarrassed Eugene slumps into a phase of self-deprecation, wasting his days in front of the tube. His mother figures if he going to just be loafing around he might as well take that yoga class she's been hearing about. She hands him the promotional flyer she lifted from the community board by the supermarket entrance. Eugene, almost immediately, takes to the yoga as if he were born to be a yogi and unknowingly slips into the tantric methods. He is however, unconvinced that he is benefiting despite the fact that he is remembering the lyrics to all kinds of tunes that he hasn't sung in ages, though not aloud, although every so often he breaks from his trance when he feels that the group is huddled around his humming.
Not even his needle-nagging mother can drive him nuts anymore, he tunes her out when she bitches to him about cleaning up his pigsty he even cures himself of the rashes that he had broken out in after the botched attempt to teach Izzy to sing. The next thing he knows, his pimples are gone. For this he credits and begins to pay homage to the radio gods and other cultish leaders.
In February 1964 he disappears. That same day a mysterious giant-sized radio pops up on the curb, outside of the soda joint playing "I Want Hold Your Hand" ad nauseam.
Beatrice, the girl who Eugene has always called Desire, rushes out to the street and falls completely in love with that Beatles song and needs to keep the radio by her side as a memento.
It isn't till she turns off the radio about an hour later, inside the soda shop that the jukebox is replaced by a newer functioning model that Eugene wakes up. Eugene feels a tickle in his throat but when he coughs nothing comes out. He looks around and sees everyone in the joint and is stunned that he's been invited in- then as if he were just brought back to life from a miserable death he smells the sweat strawberry hair of Beatrice. It is only the second time that he has gotten within sniffing range. Her hair grazes him tickling his eyes, nose and lips.
It tastes so good. Soft like cotton candy. Oh no, what's this. It can't be?
It was horrible. Facing the room of thirsty mouths there was no place for him to insert a straw. No face, but knobs, no lips but metal trimming.
How is it that I can smell?
Eugene woke up in his new home, a stack of fashion magazines balanced on his head and what appeared at first glance to be two of the old tin soldiers he was given by his uncle was in fact jars of nail polish partially obstructing his vista of the wisping naked tree tickling the windowpane.
Sight what a crummy thing for a radio to have.
He tried shutting his eyes when Beatrice was in the apartment making out with her boyfriends. Her lipstick smeared against their faces, which should've been decorating his while Eugene only had hardened pink nail polish spots on his dial and tuner knobs.
He missed tweaking his wart.
When the two were alone it was something like heaven. The simple day when she tried on dresses or perched him beside her while she bathed was sublime. She pranced around in bra and panties that didn't always match, sometimes the bottoms were blue and the tops black or some where striped and others were plain. Unlike her adopted mother she would not stand for peeping toms and when she caught sight of a lusty lug, gaping at her with a pair of binoculars, she sent the blinds crashing down, sometimes an apple, a hairbrush, whatever was within reach.
A Pyrrhic, albeit necessary victory for Eugene for which he felt wryly triumphant. Finally all his geekiness had paid off, finally he had the girl, even though she was not the least bit aware that his rubber-smelling, pasty mouth was drooling over her, concealed by his compact box of circuitry.
Eugene even got to see her gloomy side. There were times when she just moped around the place. It sure was tiny. He got the feeling that she needed to be set free, like she was being held hostage, a beautiful Filipina ballerina in a music box, but this seemed silly she went out whenever she felt like it, it was only her occasional sardonic expression poking her head out at the lilting moon that lent Eugene these thoughts.
When she passed he scrunched himself with all his mite toward the edge of the dresser that he might nestle a bit closer to her maybe even topple to the floor so that she might caress him with her gentle hands. For hours he imagined ways that he might plant a song into her head that he could teleport himself inside her, but he was just a neophyte yogi lamenting that he didn't train properly for these circumstances.
She carried him around everywhere that he eventually began to smell of her scent of wild berries.
Eventually the big galoots stalking her, every time she set foot in and out of the bakery, the butcher, the fish market, Stern's, any and everywhere, had enough. One of them Frankie Fingers flew off the handle. He drove the Mr. Softee through the neighborhood, only under your breath would you dare say here comes Mr. Softee. He'd rip your head off and cram it down your throat with extra sprinkles.
He saw Beatrice smothering the radio against her melons and lost it. He yanked the breaks, hopped out of his truck and scared the hell out of her. He told her to fork over the radio or he'd smash it to bits. She told him to buzz off, but Frankie was furious. There was even some kid in the front seat of his truck honking the horn. Torn between what to do next the big galoot stutter stepped forward then back, he looked like a retard hopscotching.
He managed to get the radio from Beatrice's clutch and accidentally touched her boob. She freaked out and began whacking him. It was the funniest thing anybody had ever seen. Here the neighborhood thug, as big as Gargantua, with an even bigger temper and a reputation for being a one-man-gang was getting pummeled by a skirt.
He ran off like a little girl and in the process stomped all over the radio, smashing it to bits just like he said. Enraged she began tossing the groceries she had just bought. She beaned him with a jar of pickles leaving a welt on the back of his neck.
It was there that from out of nowhere that Eugene popped up, sitting on the curb, in his wrinkled, hand-me-down trousers with the split ends at the bottom fluttering in the breeze.
Beatrice went from beet red to brown again and fixed on the motley sight clobbered on the sidewalk snot dangled from Eugene's nose. Beatrice was repulsed. She bugged out of there so fast, she ran past Frankie who was ducking into his ice-cream truck.
Eugene stared at his own hands, as if he wasn't sure what to make of them, then began to search his pockets, the street for something.
"Where's my radio?" he said.
For days he porched himself outside the soda joint, fantasizing over Beatrice, hoping she would spill her hair over his nose, but she didn't even look his way.
About the author:
John lives and writes in NY City. Some of his recent fiction has appeared in Thieve's Jargon, New Works Review, The Shore Magazine, Saucy Vox and Numb. His screenplay "For the Love of Auntie" won the grand prize at the 2003 NY International Indie Film and Video Festival.
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