"So," he asked the guy sitting to his left, "why is she not letting you in the house again?"
"Its Candy Clown," said his friend, who was to my right. Even though he gave his answer in a very quiet voice, the Washington was almost empty at 2:30 that afternoon. It seemed odd to me that two guys dressed this well would be here at this hour, and the lack of any ambient noise to hide them just put the whole thing on my lap.
"What, you shitting me?" asked the first. "Hank, you talking about the kiddie show host?"
"Yeah," said Hank, "I am."
"Hey, what about her? What could she do to make Maureen toss you out?"
Hank looked down before he said quietly (but not by enough), "I called out her name."
The other guys drink went right through his nose on to the bar. As Mike started cleaning it up, the guy said, "You mean, while you two were making love?"
I had an excuse to look over now, as a drink going through your nose is always an invitation to butt in.
"Its weird, you know?" said Hank. "But I cant help it. I know you dont have any kids, so maybe youve never seen it, but theaw, crap, I dont know if Im getting through to you on this."
"I heard about her," said the other guy. "But, what, she does the show nude or something? Dude, she does a show for children. Its not like she can... Are you sure theres not something here you aint telling me?"
"Who does what nude?" I asked, using the pejorative right of someone watching drink-colored snot being wiped up to jump into a conversation.
"Candy Clown," said Hank. "Shes not nude, but shesshes"
"Hey, buddy, you mind?" said the other one. "This is private, you know?"
"What about Candy Clown?" I pressed.
"Look," said the other guy, "I dont want to be a shit here, but this problems my friends, not yours, OK?"
"Just trying to help," I said. "Maybe another set of ears might be good, but you think you can handle it yourself, thats fine by me."
"Have you ever seen her?" Hank asked both of us, head turning from side to side. "You ever watch the show?"
"Like you said, I dont have kids," said the other.
"You know," I noted, "I think its on now."
"The show?" said the other guy.
"Yeah," said Hank. "Hey," he called Mike, "you turn on the set?"
"What channel?" Mike asked.
"Its the Play Box show," I said.
Mike nodded and turned on the program, where the host Candy Clown was entertaining the boys and girls with a little song and dance.
I noticed the way Hank was transfixed watching her, like hed wandered into the strip joint a few blocks south instead of the Washington. What really amazed me was the way his friends face just started to soften as he stared.
I wanted a piece of this action too and gave the tube a good, hard look.
Suddenly, Hank was not crazy after all. Even with the big red nose, Candy Clown had a fantastic face, cheeks that asked your fingers to run over them. The frizzy blonde wig she wore like a haystack just added a sense of mystery to her, making you want to know what her real hair was like. The way the pom-poms on her shirt bounced from side to side showed off what was beneath her buttons, and the hopping up and down she gave defined what she had even better. And in the long shots, the puffy pantaloons just could not hide what kind of legs she walked upon.
I had to drain my pint quickly to get out from that spell, and didnt take my eyes off of Mike until he got me another one to drown in.
Hank waved his hand for the set to go off, and he didnt even try to hide the swell of tears in his eyes. "II must be some kind of monster," he said as he took a long one from his vodka and tonic. "For the last few weeks Id watch the show with my kid Bethany. I used to sit there with her on my lap and watch TV in the morning, after my workout. But, I had to stop doing that when Play Box came on, because Id watch Candy Clown, and then Id. " He trailed off.
"React?" I offered.
"Thats not somethingsomething you want to explain to your daughter when she feels that under her. Id get the tapes of the show, the ones they sell in the mall, and I started watching them alone, at night. It gets worse, I. "
"Hey, you OK, Hank?" the other asked. "Man, you tell me something like this, you dont have to prove it to me, right? I take your word for it from now on, OK?"
"So your wife now knows your secret, huh?" I asked.
"I. I just called out her name, when I was... I didnt say much to her, but she sort of knew, you know?"
"Maybe she dont," said the other guy. "Maybe Maureens just annoyed it wasnt her name you called out."
"Sure," I offered. "And the fact that its a TV character on a kids show makes it shocking to her."
"So I got a chance, then?" Hank asked. "I mean, I give her a call now, she might be over it?"
"Maybe in a few hours," said the other guy. "We should go out, get some food, you know, let her calm down."
"Or you could invite her to a restaurant," I said. "Tell her you made reservations at someplace she likes, ask her to meet you there."
"Yeah," said the other guy. "Jody can offer to baby-sit at our place while you two talk about that. You just say it entered your head, that you dont know why."
"And say youre sorry," I added.
The other guy looked at me, probably wanted to say something else to me, but amended it to saying to Hank, "Hell, apologize to her, no matter what. They all love to hear us say Im sorry anyway."
"Yeah," said Hank as he took out his cell phone and started to make a phone call. "Out of service area?" he read off the LCD screen.
"Old building blocks out the signal," I said. "You have to go outside to use it."
The two of them left me to my next two pints in peace.
As the next one after those got to my hand, I saw a woman with dark hair enter. She looked around the bar, like someone trying to buy a dress and not liking what she saw, before she ended up at the stool next to mine.
Nataly came out from the Washingtons office briefly while this woman was edging over to an empty stool. She gave the woman an ugly look before she took Mike aside to ask about the days take, which should have been my first clue before it really grabbed into me.
As the new arrival came close to me, it hit me who she was before I could do anything about it. Her face was even more desirous without the nose, her long black hair was worth penetrating the mystery, what she had under her buttons the pom-poms did not do justice to, and the legs were everything they advertised.
I rubbed my eyes a few times to get back my senses. The clown make-up was spectacular, I realized, because without it the worry lines she had around the eyes were very deep, like fjords.
She looked around, hoping for an ash tray or popcorn bowl, something to busy her hands with.
"Dont I know you?" I opened with the obvious.
She looked at me, her eyes darting to my hands, then trying to find other clues.
"What," I asked, "something wrong?"
"Tell me," she asked, her voice much deeper and richer than the one heard earlier laughing and singing about being friends, "are you... married?"
My eyes widened. "Isnt that kind of personal?"
She rolled her eyes. "I knew it. Another one. You think, hey, I got one at home, let me see if I can have another one on the side, right?"
"So youre not the woman who plays Candy Clown."
"Ah," she pointed a slender finger at me. "You must be married, because you see the show with your kids, right?"
"And what makes you think I dont watch it on my own? If its a choice between you, Springer, and C-SPAN, youd like to think youd win, right?"
Despite her best efforts not to, I did get her to smile a little.
I closed in with, "So how did you get into childrens show biz, anyway? Was it something you always wanted to do?"
Her defenses down, she opened up a little bit more and said, "No, I got into this as a job waiting for the real acting work to come along. I started out a few years ago, hoping for something else, like a soap or a sitcom, but its steady work."
As she sat there talking, half of me wanted to do more than just talk with her. I had to strain to focus, keep my mind on what she was saying, not what she could be doing.
"So, you never did say if you are married," she brought me back to reality.
"Are you having problems with a married guy?" I asked.
"Every guy I meet these days is married. For the last few months, all the ones that actually want to get involved with me are married. The rest are gay, or at least they say so."
"Only married guys?"
"Weirdest thing. I mean, Im looking pretty hard, and I even went so far as to try dating services, but even there the only ones who answered my ads were guys looking for mistresses. Its like I cant find a single guy anywhere lately, like theyre all gone."
A thought hit me then. "Out of the blue question, but. Have you ever gone to Norway?"
Her eyes widened like saucers; part of me had to be fought from staring into them the wrong way, which just confirmed my suspicion.
"That is, like, so amazing! How did you know I went to Norway?"
"Lucky guess," I hedged. "I mean, you do sort of look like youd be perfect for an Ibsen play."
"Thats just so freaky. I went a few months ago for an Ibsen festival they held there, and I did try and make some connections there."
"So what happened to you in Norway?"
"I dont quite follow, huh?" she asked.
"Well, it looks like something happened there, if you went to Norway and came back getting hit on only by married guys."
She blinked a few times. "No," she finally said, "that cant be. "
"Want to tell me all about it? Ill buy."
"Screwdriver," she told Mike, then continued, "I went up there, this little town to the southwest of Oslo, where they had the fest. And there was this guy there who I ran into in the main room of the inn, and he, he was like this Nordic god, the way his features were just. " She took a good, long drink of her screwdriver and sighed.
"So what finally happened?"
"Well, the next morning, who should find her way into the room but the gods consort, or whatever she was. Shes screaming at him in Norwegian, hes cowering from her, and then she waves her finger at me and curses me out. I couldnt understand any of it, but I ran out of there and came home."
"And thats when it all started?" I asked, my worst fears confirmed.
She nodded. "So what do I do? I cant let some jealous shrew who was married to a major prick just get at me like that."
"Have you thought that maybe you need to do something desperate?"
"What do you mean, desperate?"
"Well," I said smoothly, "maybe you could do something like, oh, buying a gold wedding ring and throwing it into the river? That could work."
"You know, maybe its something you need to do to just break the bad luck. Or maybe her cursing you out has just so thrown you out of whack, you need to do something crazy to stop being driven crazy. What could it hurt?"
"Thanks for the drink," she said coldly as she got up to leave.
A guy she nearly knocked over on the way out took her seat and asked me, "What did you say to her to make her that mad?"
The way he was wobbling, I figured hed had more than enough drinks so far that hed forget everything by next morning no matter what I said. "I tried to break her wyrrd."
"What, is she married to someone else?"
"No, not word, wyrrd. She had the bad luck to run afoul of Ing, who put a nasty wyrrd on her."
"Ing? Whos that, a Chinese chef?"
I rolled my eyes, wondering if having someone to talk to right now was really such a good thing. "Ings a Vanir, who lost her job when the Aesir took over. Not as tough as she used to be, but she can still pull a nasty one if you piss her off, and she must have gotten angry when her current boy toy decided to abandon what was on the menu and go for the smorgasbord."
I could see his eyes circle as explained it all to him.
"So what do you want for this round?" I asked him, hoping another drink would just shut him down entirely.
James Ryan won the Beatles Embassy Imagination Award: Best Fan Fic for his story "I Read the News Today." Yes, believe it or not, you can still hold a vote with a surprise winner without a media circus ensuing or legions of lawyers running around your capitol.... For his birthday, he has hopes of actually being recognized as a writer; hey, weirder things have happened.... His work has appeared in such places as Dragon magazine, Lacunae, the Urbanite, the New York Times, and some of the better men's room walls across the state of New York. Until he gets the chance to follow the program for disenfranchised neurotic writers, he's doing the regular job and grad school schtick. His wife Susan and son Jamie just nod and smile when he starts to rant, which, all said, makes things that much easier.