Tuesday, April 13, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 45: bonding

It’s a grey and stormy afternoon in Venice Beach, California, and our hero Buddy Best must now, for his sins, go out into the wind and the rain to look at the Ancient Mariner’s boat...

(Click here to see our previous episode; literary historians may go here to return to the first chapter of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “Another steamy spicy potboiler from the author of If That’s For Me I’m Not Here, No Time For Scoutmasters, and Two Weeks in a Tedious Town.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Christian Science Monitor.)


They went out through the kitchen and into the living room. Joan was nowhere to be seen.

The Mariner put the great slouch hat on again, and the famous blue raincoat. Buddy accepted the enormous umbrella and followed the Mariner through the house and out the back door, onto the deck and into the rain. Buddy held the umbrella up in his right hand and his wine glass in the other. The Mariner made no effort to stay under the umbrella, and led the way manfully down the stairs. Buddy followed him, and they slogged over the wet grey sand to what had formerly been the dead whale.

“Here it is: my baby.”

The Mariner set to work pulling off the tarpaulin, and with a dull wet flumping he heaved the canvas to the ground.

And there was the boat.

“Well, what do you think?”

He shouted through the clattering rain, but he shouted louder than he had to.

“Nice,” said Buddy, in a normal voice.

“What?” shouted the Mariner, holding a hand to his ear.

“I said nice!” shouted back Buddy.

“Yes! I still have some work to do on it. A touch of caulk. A splash of paint here and there --”

“Great.”

The Mariner turned his head toward Buddy and leered.

“Do you know what kind of boat this is?” he yelled.

“Well,” Buddy yelled back, just like another old salt in a storm on the high seas, “I’d have to say this is a fishing boat!”

“Correct! But do you know what kind of fishing boat?”

Buddy pretended to examine the fucking thing, tilting his head to one side and screwing his mouth to the other.

“Well -- I’m gonna say this is a -- Norman --?” He saw the Mariner’s mouth pop open -- “No, not Norman -- Breton. Yeah, I gotta say this is a Breton fishing boat. Am I right?”

The Mariner looked disappointed but he said, in a normal voice, or normal for him, “You are absolutely right.“ Pause. “Would you like to climb aboard?”

“Well, it’s kind of wet, Stephen.”

“Wet?”

“Yeah, I mean, the boat’s getting pretty wet.”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose it is.”

The Mariner stood there gazing at his boat, the rain splashing off of his Yankee general’s hat and hat.

He took a manly drink of his sherry.

“Someday I’m going to take this boat down to Mexico...”

The Mariner continued talking, and with the rain and wind and the fact that he was now facing away from Buddy, it was easy not to listen to him, and Buddy didn’t. He sipped his drink, looking at the side of the boat, and he found himself thinking about the first time he’d kissed Cordelia, her back against this boat, in the cool ocean breeze...

...fucking hell...

...that was, that was...

The Mariner turned toward Buddy.

“Don’t we?”

“Pardon me?”

“All have dreams?” Eyes narrowed, brow dramatically beetled. “Dreams we dream in this dream we call life, dreams we chase whilst dreaming dreams we know not that we dream?

What?

The Mariner looked away again, back to his boat. His shoulders rose and fell, as if with a great sigh. He turned back to Buddy.

“Buddy, I owe you an apology.”

“For what?”

The Mariner looked down.

“You know.”

“You mean about the show?”

The Mariner looked up.

“The show?”

“That day when you wouldn’t leave the trailer --”

The Mariner blinked, once, twice, three times, in a way that looked fake but was probably authentic.

“I meant about Joan,” he said.

“Oh,” said Buddy. “Oh. I’m sorry. I don’t know where my head is. Well, uh -- what can I say? Apology accepted, Stephen. And I hope you two are, uh, you know --”

“We have a bond, you know.”

“A bond?”

“Yes, a bond.”

“You mean, you and Joan?”

“No, I mean, yes, of course Joan and I have a bond, but I didn’t mean Joan, I meant you, you and I, we have a bond.”

“What -- sort of bond?”

“The bond of love. The bond that only two men can share who have loved, who do love, the same lovely and beautiful girl.”

“You mean -- Cordelia?”

The Mariner arched one eyebrow beneath the rain-dripping brim of his hat.

“No, Buddy, I meant Joan.”

“Oh, right. Of course. Joan.”

The Mariner smiled slightly.

“But Cordelia too,” he said.

Buddy had to look away, anywhere but at the Mariner, and he did, nodding like a fool, the rain beating down on the umbrella. There was still some slightly rain-diluted sherry in his glass, and he tossed it all down. Then his peripheral vision warned him that the Mariner was lunging toward him. Buddy’s first impulse was to put up his hands in defense, but the Mariner spread his arms out wide, and Buddy realized that he was going to be hugged by this maniac in the Civil War raincoat streaming with rainwater. Which happened.

Finally the hug was over and the Mariner pulled back.

“And now, what say you to another libation?”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “Sure.”


Buddy watched the Mariner re-shroud the boat, then they went back in. Joan was still missing. And Buddy came to his senses about another drink before lunch. The Mariner relented and offered tea or coffee. Buddy asked for tea and waited in the den. He looked over the Mariner’s books and his video and DVD collection. A lot of the movies were the sort of boring classy stuff you would expect, The Remains of the Day, The Age of Innocence, Portrait of a Lady, Kenneth Branagh Shakespeares, but surprisingly, and almost endearingly, there was a fair amount of big-budget Hollywood crap too, Die Hard III, The Rock, Con Air, The Fast and the Furious. There were even some of Buddy’s movies, all grouped together: Smith & Wesson & Me; Blunt Force Trauma; Browning Higher Power; Requiem for a Hitman; and good old Return To Death Island. Stacked together on a lower shelf were tapes of oldtime flicks like The Little Foxes, Dark Victory, Stella Dallas, Leave Her to Heaven, Meet Me in St. Louis. When the Mariner came back in with a tea service on a tray Buddy was looking at the box for The Gay Divorcée.

“Ah,” said the Mariner, “so you are a fan of the classic musicals, Buddy?”

Well, no, not especially, but Buddy said, “Oh, yeah. Great stuff.”

“I must confess, that whole section there are Cordelia’s favorites.”

“Really?”

“She adores the grand old films.”

“Great.”

“Musicals, melodramas. I’ve told her she should have been born a gay man. Ha ha.”

Buddy put the box back in its place, and the Mariner laid the tray on the coffee table.

“Come, sit, Buddy.”

Buddy came around and sat on the sofa, and the Mariner sat next to him. His sopping socks in their clogs gave off their revised reek of wet dog. He took up the pot, lifted the lid, and took a sniff.

“I hope you find this to your liking. Joan tells me you are quite the tea aficionado.” He replaced the lid. “It’s a mix of Ceylon and Darjeeling, I had the chap blend it for me.”

“Cool.”

“How do you take it?”

He had it all there on his gay little tray: a milk pitcher, raw sugar cubes, honey in a little bowl, slices of lemon fanned out on a small plate.

“Oh, milk and honey.”

“Oh.” The Mariner held up the little pitcher. “This is cream. I’ll get some milk.”

He got up, but only halfway.

“No, cream’s okay, Stephen.”

“You’re sure.”

“Sure.”

“Splendid.” He sat back down. “First the cream, or first the tea?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Splendid.” He poured some cream into Buddy’s cup. “Is that enough?”

“Plenty.”

Now he filled Buddy’s cup with tea.

This was a nightmare.

“I’ll take care of the honey,” said Buddy.

“Splendid. And I will take mine straight.”

“Cool.”

A fucking nightmare.

Now Buddy was thinking maybe he should just get a little drunk after all. There didn’t seem to be any other way to get through this. Get a little drunk, make it through lunch, then call a fucking cab. Go home, take a nap --

“So, tell me what you think.”

“It’s good, Stephen.”

“Is it?”

The Mariner produced another tasting ritual, then wistfully laid down his cup and saucer.

“As a child Cordelia would have tea parties, by herself, with her Barbie dolls. I would pass by her room and hear her having these endless dialogues. With her Barbies. Over their tea. For hours.”

The Mariner sighed and gazed off into the audience for a moment. Then he turned to Buddy, twisting around on the sofa. He assumed a serious facial expression.

“Concerning Cordelia, Buddy.”

He looked Buddy straight in the eye. Buddy had to look away.

“I -- I was wrong,” said the Mariner. Buddy could feel the man’s warm and slightly sour breath on his face. “As I said before, I felt -- hurt. Deeply hurt. I felt hurt because I felt that you had -- had taken advantage of her -- in order to, in order to, to --”

Fuck you, pal.

“I felt profoundly hurt,” said the Mariner, “because I felt that you had taken advantage of her inexperience and vulnerability. Hurt I felt, I was, as only a father can be hurt -- you as a father yourself understand that I’m sure, supposing that someone were to try to take advantage of Deirdre, say --”

“Well, Deirdre’s not my actual daughter, but I --”

“But you have another daughter. Liz.”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve only met her once, but she is a lovely girl. How is she?”

“She’s okay.”

“A -- substance abuse problem --”

“Yeah. But she’s okay now.”

“So you know what I mean.”

“I think so.”

“And you have a son. Peter.”


“Philip.”

“Philip, yes. How is he?”

“He’s -- he’s --”

“Joan tells me his wife is quite the bitch.”

“Well --”

“But that’s neither here nor there. Getting back to my feelings, my very real feelings of hurt, concerning you, and Cordelia, my -- my feelings of profound hurt, that you had, that you had, taken advantage -- and solely -- solely in order to, in order to --”

“To hurt you?”

“Yes,” he said. “But now I don’t think you did. Did you?”

“Take advantage of her?”

“In order to hurt me.”

“Uh, no, for either one.”

“I didn’t think so. Or rather now I don’t think so. I only want you to answer one question for me, Buddy.”

“Fire away.”

“Do you love her?”

“What?”

“Do you love Cordelia.”

“I like her, Stephen. I think she’s a great girl.”

“Yes but do you love her?”

“Stephen -- the word love can be defined in about three million ways.”

The Mariner smiled and chuckled. He sipped his tea.

“So true, Buddy, so true.” He put the cup down and assumed his serious demeanor again. “So, the meaning I, uh, mean -- is: do you care for her very, very deeply? Do you want to, to protect her? To have her as part of your life. Do you care for her to the exclusion of -- of other females.”

“Stephen, any guy who tells you he cares for a woman to the exclusion of other females just hasn’t known that woman very long.”

Again the knowing chuckle, accompanied by a man-of-the-worldly nodding head.

“Oh, Buddy, you are a character, sir.” And then again the serious mien and the manly look into the eyes. “But you know what I mean.”

“Do you mean are my intentions honorable?”

Another small chuckle.

“Precisely.”

“Stephen, my intentions are strictly honorable. And my only intentions are to leave her alone.”

“Leave her alone?”

“Yes.”

“But, Buddy, what I have been trying to say in my stumbling halting way is that there is no need for you to leave her alone. Go with her. With my blessing, go.”

Buddy had to turn his face away again.

“Well, Stephen --”

“Buddy.” The Mariner placed his hand on Buddy’s thigh. “Buddy, don’t deny life. I -- I denied life, for so long, for so many years, after Cordelia’s mother died. Don’t you deny life, Buddy Best. Grasp it. Tightly.” And with his hand he tightly grasped Buddy’s thigh.

Buddy looked down at this gnarled sea-stained hand, and then at the Mariner’s face, which looked like it was straining to burst away from his skull.

“Well, Stephen, that’s an admirable philosophy, but what about Cordelia?”

The Mariner’s face settled back onto its bones.

“I don’t follow,” he said.

He seemed genuinely puzzled.

“What about what she wants?” said Buddy.

“But, dear Buddy, of course she wants, of course she wants, she wants --”

“She doesn’t want me.”

“I’m not quite so sure of that. I’m not quite so sure of that at all.”

“She told you that?”

“Well, no --”

“Stephen, I’m fifty-two. She’s -- what -- twenty-five?”

The Mariner finally took his hand off Buddy’s knee, and waved it dismissively.

“Age -- age is nothing. Why, look at Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones!”

“Yeah, well --”

“Look at Jack Nicholson and -- and --”

“Wait, wait, Stephen, you’re getting off the track here. The main point is, she doesn’t want me for a boyfriend.”

“Ah! So you think! But Buddy, the question is, do you want her?”

“For a girlfriend?”

“Whatever --”

“No.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t want her.”

“No.”

“You’re not looking me square in the eye when you say that.”

Buddy looked him as square in the eye as he could manage.

“I don’t want her.”

“Buddy, I can tell you don’t mean that. I know you want her.”

“How can you possibly know that, Stephen?”

“I am an actor. It is part and parcel of my craft to observe people’s faces, their body language. When I came in with the tea service you were -- caressing that tape of The Gay Divorcée. You knew it was Cordelia’s. You were caressing her energy. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Buddy, to say that you want her. Again I say, ‘Don’t deny life’!”

“And again I say, ‘Stephen, she’s not interested in me’.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“Well, you’re entitled --”

“Buddy, I know my daughter. She would not sleep just with any man.”

“Okay, Stephen --”

“Do you know how old she was when she lost her virginity?”

“I don’t know, Stephen, and I don’t want to know --”

(Which latter part was not true, but --)

“Twenty-three,” said the Mariner. “Twenty” -- pause -- “three. In this day and age. And that occasion she found highly unsatisfactory. All told she has had only the merest handful of, of” -- circular hand motions -- “sexual experiences, with three or four callow and sullen youths. You see, she is -- choosy. Yes, choosy. Cigar?”

“Cigar?”

“Would you like a cigar?”

“Uh, no, thanks. Maybe after lunch.”

“They’re good. I couldn’t find any Cubans, but --”

“No, really. I’m fine.”

“Maybe demanding is more the word.”

“Pardon me?”

“Rather than choosy.”

“Demanding?”

“Yes,” said the Mariner.

“So --”

“Yes?”

“Not choosy,” said Buddy. “But demanding about whom she chooses?”

“Precisely. Ha Ha. Because although I myself never had the honor of meeting even one of these pallid youths, she -- and this is much to her credit I think -- she dropped them like piping hot potatoes once she realized their shall we say woeful inadequacy. Their inadequacy both on the mental and the physical planes.”

“She -- she told you all this?”

“I trained her from an early age to tell me everything. I was, you know, a single parent. I had to be both father and mother to her. And friend. And confidant.”

And aunt and uncle?

“I tell you plain, Buddy, I think one of her problems is that she has never had a real man.” Slight pause. “Present company excepted.”

His nose was right there, in easy striking distance. It would be so easy to do, and after one or two more words it might well happen.

“Hi, you guys,” said Deirdre, and the Mariner flinched and jumped slightly in his seat, whirling his head around to face the doorway where Deirdre now stood, holding the fat black cat. “Stephen, are we gonna eat pretty soon, because otherwise I’ll just make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich or something because I’m hungry.”

“Oh. Deirdre. Can’t you wait for a bit, darling?”

“Stephen, it’s like noon already, I’m hungry. I’ll just make a sandwich.”

“No! I’ll start lunch now.”

“You don’t have to just because of me, really.”

“No, no, it’s quite all right, Buddy and I had just gotten engrossed in our conversation, and I forgot the time. Can you wait twenty minutes?”

“Well --”

“I shall cook e’en like unto the wind.”

Deirdre gave Buddy a look, and disappeared, with the cat.

“Delightful child,” said the Mariner. “Shall we repair to the cuisine?”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “But first I’d like to hit the head.”

The Mariner gave Buddy detailed directions to the bathroom, and Buddy nodded, although he remembered pretty well where it was. As soon as he was safe inside it Buddy took out his cellphone and opened it up and speed-dialed Cordelia.


(Continued here, if only because I have bills to pay.)

(Kindly go to the right-hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™. Taped before a live audience.)

7 comments:

dianne said...

Men who call themselves male role models give me the creeps. I feel creeped out. Need a hot shower to wash the Mariner smell out of my hair and the shivers off my back.

Dan Leo said...

Dianne, maybe the Mariner should be played onscreen by (the unfortuntately deceased) actor and director Erich Von Stroheim, who was billed as "The Man You Love to Hate"!

kathleenmaher said...

I agree with both of you. The Mariner is so creepy, I can imagine him committing some foul crime and then weeping for his poor sniveling soul.

dianne said...

Like Hamlet's uncle Claudius.

Dan Leo said...

Claudius -- now there's a role the Mariner might actually be good in, Di...

kathleenmaher said...

What's with "the famous blue raincoat?" All this month I've seen references to it. I know it's a Leonard Cohen song but haven't gotten around to listen to it.

Dan Leo said...

Here's the song, Kathleen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh9l_DzRwlg&feature=related