Return to Paradise
Friday October 17th, 1997
Marvin’s had but one remaining connection to his past, that last tie to home, his oldest and dearest friend Cleo. As with the best of friendships they rarely seemed to have time for one another. Cleo and Marvin had emerged from Ivy League schools hand in hand, scowling at the intellectual exclusivity that had once so intrigued them.
Now on the verge of creating a new history for himself, as it piled around his ears, Marvin had come to realize he had been researching something far more complex than he could have imagined. The way the pieces fell into place was something that took him by surprise. In their school days Cleo had a ritual she adhered to. With her exams behind her she would find the thickest book possible in which to immerse herself. This tome of a book would slowly drown out the swirling in her own mind, residue from weeks of cramming for exams that would ultimately give nothing back to her. At first she would read only twenty five pages a day, then thirty, until finally she would be completely absorbed by the words, the experiences of someone unknown to her life. It is an effect that beckons you to turn the page. Reminded of Cleo’s love of books put Marvin in mind of his own true calling.
It’s early fall and that summer day in the park seems a prevarication that they all subscribe to, the weather is whipping away that optimism, replaced instead with the detached anger and solitude that so much wandering seems to bring. It’s early in the evening and Marvin, on his way into the Convo runs into an old friend.
“I’m telling you it’s the end of the world, I know it.” Cleo and her sense for the dramatic, always a great way to start a conversation, none the less she embraces her friend, a hug and a kiss on both cheeks, the months they haven’t seen or spoken with one another forgotten in an instant and they are right back to a long standing discussion.
“That’s insane, nothing is that traumatic. Sure I’ve had my moments of doubt, but this is not the end.” Marvin hears the words, he knows they emanate from his lips, and yet he can’t lend them any faith, it’s all been burnt away.
“How can you be so sure? All the signs point to it, maybe not today, maybe not even tomorrow. One of these days though and then blamo it’s goodbye world.” Cleo was never accused of lacking a vivid imagination.
“Blamo? Isn’t that a little over dramatic, even for you?”
“Even for me? What does that mean? Am I some kind of joke to you Marvin?”
“Sweetie, never, the end of the world though, you went through this when you first got your period, you have never ceased to believe that the end was near.”
Cleo is awash with emotion, it takes her back. She is the only person who knows Marvin and his old life, they have shared in all the signposts of youth. Cleo looks Marvin up and down, taking in the scene before her, she knows how far he has drifted from his intended goals. There is a comfort in complacency and she can see all the signs of it on him, it wasn’t so long ago she looked in a mirror and saw it in herself.
“I will allow your disbelief for my youthful misinterpretation. Now however my years of education have allowed me to bring science onto my side.”
“I’ve never been convinced, yours is a subjectively flawed interpretation of the facts. This past while has seemed to me, in my own little world, like the end of the universe. I have the good sense however to recognize that I am merely traumatized by the excessive expectations that society puts on me.” It takes a lot for Marvin to admit how hard the past few years have been.
“All right ye of little faith, I can prove you wrong.” Cleo stands her ground.
This ought to be interesting, Marvin’s interest in piqued. “Wait just a moment, we’re not talking about some flimsy `The End of the World Will Come Someday’ speech, that would be too obvious, and none of the standard the Sun going supernova, you’ve got to bring something substantial to the table.”
“I am talking of none other than Armageddon, the end of the world, all over, bye. How soon, I can’t say for certain. for lack of a better phrase though within our lifetime.” Cleo is certain of her assessment of the coming political landscape and the looming climate crisis.
“You’re going to give me this to fret over now? As if I don’t have enough problems. Having to figure out how to write a book about varying states of confusion is trouble enough. Now you’re trying to convince me that none of it is worth squat.”
“Marvin honey, you have nothing to worry about. It’s all worth something. There’s a price for achievement. If half your problems were as severe as mine then maybe you would have something to worry about.”
“Are you belittling my confusion?”
“Shall we put your confusion into perspective? You’re being paid to do the one thing that you’ve always wanted to. I’m not quite sure I see a problem. You act as if you have no clue what you’re trying to say? Screw ’em! They’ll wait. They wouldn’t have given you this contract if they didn’t think you could do it.”
“You’re telling me I shouldn’t worry?”
“That’s what I’ve been saying, finally some action on the listening front. I’ve got problems that make yours look like a day at the park. I now know for certain, at the very least in my own mind, that my days here are numbered.”
Marvin knew it would come to this someday, when Cleo had joined him in this city, like every other city he had ever lived in, he knew she wouldn’t last long. Frankly Marvin doesn’t know how he’s stayed here this long either, he’s supplanted his nomadic nature by moving apartments and jobs as often as he can, he doesn’t want roots, despite any need for heritage to call his own.
“So you’re going to move for sure then?”
“It’s a certainty. No choice but to move on.”
“And that will solve your problems? That one thing will make all your anxieties disappear?”
“No, but I still have to live in this world, no matter how doomed we all are. Moving gives me a chance to broaden my horizons, and create new experiences for myself. Everything else, no matter how passionately I feel about them, becomes inconsequential. Having a passion for life is what gets me out of bed.”
“Well you have more inner strength than I, if I had your faith, maybe I might have passion for the things I do.”
“That can’t be true, I’ve seen you huddled over your note pads or doing interviews. There’s no way you can do what you do and not believe in it.”
“You can’t believe in a thing like this. It’s something that has to be done. It’s not about some kind of epiphany.”
Nina has been sitting in this spot so long, that over the years it has become a home, the place where all their friends can be found, she wonders how real any of this is. Is it merely deceptive truth? None of them really close but huddling just the same, frozen from advancement, fearful of any kind shift from their safety in numbers. Still Nina has to laugh at the absurdity of her life; Marvin is outside gabbing with neurotic Cleo, as Nina likes to call her, the girl always looks disheveled. D.G. is to Nina’s left yammering on with one of his stories, he’s always got some new adventure that to him is just his life, to the rest of the world, well they wouldn’t understand.
“Oh D.G., that is funny. I can’t believe that you actually had the guts to do that. That is ten times worse than your musty, moist, whatever, sex phone pot thing.” Nina’s humors D.G.s indulgent tale.
“What’s so unbelievable?” D.G. asks.
Robert reaches across the table, picking at D.G.’s plate of fries using each greasy strip of starch to make his point. “We just can’t picture you doing something so daring. It’s so out of character.”
“From Marvin you expect this kind of thing, from me however you somehow find it unbelievable.”
“He’s more of the professional freak. You, you’re an amateur. Marvin makes it all seem so natural.” Nina doesn’t know what it is, but Marvin does make the bizarre seem, somehow plausible.
“Have either one of you seen any of his notes. I mean how long have we been putting up with this stuff? I have got to find out what is going on behind closed doors.”
It’s the first time any of them have really discussed Marvin and ‘The Book’, as it’s become known. Why the thing has to remain such a mystery, he seems to treat it as a state secret and Robert for one is unwilling to wait any longer, though they may have no choice.
Nina is up, standing at the bar she orders a pitcher of beer for the table, not out of ear shot she throws in her two cents.
“I caught a glimpse of one of the interviews he did. I somehow don’t think that it was reflective of his entire research base.”
Nina is on her way back to the table, pitcher in hand, Maggie however is stuck behind the counter tonight, the Cafe Convo has been short handed ever since Rose left, Leora is off on some whirlwind tour with her poetry, and so it is left to Herman and Maggie to hold down the fort.
“Don’t leave us hanging; we are all listening with baited breath.” Robert must know curiosity and the cat.
“It was with this circus performer, she did the whole interview while twisted into a pretzel. The funny thing was the camera Marvin was using…”
D.G. is focused on a single point “Pretzel eh? Let’s just go back to that for a moment shall we, please?!”
Nina puts her hand up to D.G.’s face as if that alone will stifle his stupidity, Nina won’t dignify his comment with a response.
“This camera was one of those toy video camera things, an over-glorified security camera. The thing couldn’t have cost him more than what, maybe forty bucks.”
The wheels in Robert’s brain are grinding away. “Maybe his research is with his own bizarre kind?”
“We don’t fit into that category. How would you explain away the interviews we did?” Nina will not place herself in that category of personality.
“It’s research. Think about it, Marvin’s got to delve into every sub group he can find. I figure that it’s got to be one of those How-To kinds of books. You know, `Marvin Filon’s Guide to Getting a Job’.”
Out of any of them, D.G. has had the most access to Marvin’s notes, if anyone has an insight into these matters it might be him.
“So how would something like that play out?” Robert asks the question and can only hope that with the knowledge D.G. has, that together the three of them can put the pieces together.
“This is Marvin we’re talking about. I’ll lay down money that he’s doing a whole dissertation on the 1950’s and then a comparison towards the 1990’s.” Nina knows she might be off base, but can only think of how she might approach such an undertaking.
“You’ll lay down cash?” Robert loves a good bet.
“Sure, how about a fin each?” It’s all Nina can afford.
“Bet?! I’ll get in on some of that action. So how is this going to work?” D.G. ever the follower, what the heck he’s got the inside track on this. If Nina is going to get roped in, she’ll lay down the law.
“Each of us has to come up with a hypothesis of what it is that we think his book contains, and then succinctly describe the contents.”
Robert is first out of the box. “Oh I got one.”
Nina will give her warning only the one time. “You better be sure. Once it’s out of your mouth there is no turning back.”
“I said I got one.”
“Let him run with his idea, I for one want his money.” D.G. is anxious for the game to begin.
“Okay I figure that he’s writing a serious exploration of job.”
“Job, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Is there any way you could be vaguer?” Nina has to call Robert on his stupidity, how can he be so dense.
“Look he has all these interviews right, It’s probably something like David Simon, interspersing individual events that mean nothing to each of the subsequent story type interviews, with maybe twelve different people who you follow over a span of let’s say, oh I don’t know, five years.”
“Okay and the tag line would be what exactly?” D.G. can’t wait to hear this.
“It would be called `Job: Five Years on the Desolate Streets.'”
Robert, pleased with his own assessment announces his superior intellect. “I’ll take my money now, thank you.”
D.G. can hardly believe his ears. “Robert, you are so wrong. Marvin walks around in a constant daze. You know not too much neurotransmitter action happening. I’ll tell you what he’s going for.”
Robert is into performance mode, he’s standing addressing the cafe at large. “Hail the King! Now we’re going to see some serious shoveling.”
“Marvin must be doing the expected. It’s probably one of those ‘Job Hunting for Idiots’ books.” D.G. having laid out his synopsis sits back pleased with himself.
“Don’t you mean Dummies?” Nina is sure that can’t be the title.
D.G. is convinced it is. “No, Idiots. So he just does this book that shows you all the things not to do in an interview. In between, he throws in an anecdote that is just there for the selling point. Like a lot of sex and stuff to please the audience. I’d bet he’s even got a real saucy section on the different variety of sex workers.”
“Does everything that comes out of your mouth have to do with sex?” Nina is disgusted, she has never forgotten for a moment that D.G. tried to get it on with her sister for one night of drunken passion, a memory that she can’t wait for Alzheimer’s to take away.
“Mostly, yes.” D.G. is unapologetic about his sex obsessed world view.
Nina has to put the boys in their place. “Okay, I’ll tell you what his book is about.” She can’t help but comment to herself. “I’m dealing with the feeble minded here.”
How they can be so thick, the answer is obvious. “Marvin’s Book is a flash forward and back piece, semi-fictional that weaves its characters through the Fifty’s and flashes forward to the Ninety’s to where their children ended up, and their children. You intersperse the fiction with fact based information and call the thing `A Whole lot of nothing going on’.”
It’s Robert’s turn to call her on the insanity that is called Nina. “Are you smoking Crack? That is a bigger load of trash than D.G.’s dung-pile festering mouth. They give degrees out like candy. Higher education saw it fit to graduate your asses? They’ll give those to anybody.”
D.G. has but one concern. “When do I get my cash?”
“When the book hits the newsstand.” Nina loves to disappoint.
Marvin makes his way over to the table, they are working their way through a fourth pitcher. Nina, Robert and D.G. are three sheets to the wind, Marvin anticipating the kind of truth that is bound to come up keeps his note pads at the ready. “What did I miss?”
“Robert’s just telling us how he doesn’t want to work in the real world.” D.G. loves to watch Robert get riled, anything he can do to help is merely his civic duty.
“Look I know that I am a hard case when it comes to finding work. You know what? I don’t care. I’ve done every single imaginable job in the retail market. I’m not going back. One winter I was so desperate I would walk home from downtown just so I could save the couple of bucks to buy bread. I was living in a place that I couldn’t afford. There was no way I was going to pay my landlord when I didn’t even have bus fare. I couldn’t find anything except for this job way out of the way. With no seed money to get me through, I took it. There was a span of three weeks there when I was waiting for the checks to kick in, it was crazy.” Robert takes a swig of beer for that all important liquid courage.
“So there I am on the coldest night of the year, no gloves. I was going through this faze where I didn’t believe in gloves or umbrellas, I thought I was invincible. So I’m walking home, freezing my ass off, and all I can think to myself is that they haven’t invented a crime simple enough for people like me who don’t have the motivation or temperament to do time. I mean I was willing to start dipping into the till. The boss was a prick, ‘no advances’. I just couldn’t reconcile the fact that if I got caught there was no way I could deal with a charge. So you see, even if I’m stuck walking home in the tortures of our minus three billion degree winters, I’m either too stupid to know when it’s time to start stealing or too stubborn to take something that I haven’t earned. Now if you can show me the university that has a course that tells you about that life lesson, then I’ll sign up.”
How can he believe these things, Nina can’t fathom his perspective. “Robert, you act as if you’re the only person who has ever suffered.”
“I never claimed that my difficulties were any greater than anyone else’s. You want sympathy Nina? At least you have parents who will lend you a hand.”
Nina isn’t having it. “You guys always assume that my folks put me through school, when in fact you know better. Maybe I haven’t had it nearly as bad as you, but that’s only because I chose not to. Don’t blame me because I can’t stand by and just let the world pass me. For as long as I can remember I have always aspired to something greater than myself. I don’t know, you think I have anything figured out? We are all in the same boat and its sinking fast. I don’t have a job and even when I do, I know it’s not going to last. I feel like crap ninety percent of the time.”
“You know what D.G.? Enough already! Get over it. My being good looking women has nothing to do with how I want to get ahead in the world. Frankly, I don’t want my looks to have anything to do with my achievements. I have this buzzing in my head, I know what the reality is, and everything is based on appearances. Who we date, what we buy, what we will eat, it all comes down to image. Just because that’s the way society wants to play it, doesn’t mean I have to accept it.
“Linda Carter as Wonder Woman kicked ass because she was strong and determined. She had principles, she had a mission. Her tits had no super powers. I want to be judged on my ability. If you don’t want me for a job, let it at the very least be because I can’t perform my duties.”
Marvin realizes, perhaps for the first time, that his silent observance of events rather than participation hasn’t helped, it was time he showed his friends just what the panorama of employment held for them.
“It’s not about performance, being able to accomplish a task has nothing to do with getting a job. Even image has nothing to do it. If anyone had a clue as to what employers really wanted I wouldn’t be writing this damned book. I thank my lucky stars every day when I open the paper and see the ever rising rates in unemployment. I hope that they never go down. How else am I supposed to sell this book if anyone figures the whole mess out before I do? I feel like a leech for even having these thoughts. I feel all dirty for wanting people to continue to be out of work. These are the cards that were dealt me. I write, that is what keeps me sane. I’m going to make a shit load off of this. I found something that keeps me out of trouble and will hopefully keep me employed. As for everyone else the only hope that we have is either a major disaster or mandatory retirement.”
D.G. knows that for the most part, when he opens his yap, everyone expects a cute remark, nothing of substance, but how long can you sit back and stand by and listen to the people you care about most talk of living their lives in utter despondence.
“If I could sympathize with you guys, I would be in a much better place. The best I can hope for is empathy. I haven’t a clue as to what you feel. It’s beyond my realm of experience. I have it good. I’m actually relatively happy. I’m just tired of having to apologize for it. We get together and the three of you commiserate over your troubles, trying to convince yourselves that you have it so bad.
“Is having a job really that important to you that you want to devote all your energy to worrying about not having one?
“I’ll be the first to admit that my hedonism and passion for politics may not be the depth of all things right. I’ll tell you one thing though, for me, they are what makes the world go round.”
Robert can’t take anymore, he heads outside for a smoke, and the fresh air will do him good. This time of the night the cafe is buzzing, he has to make like a sardine just to get out the door, sliding up against sweaty bodies. As Robert makes his way through the crowd he sees one he knows all too well, Robert’s sometimes lover, Vicki Voltaire, she’s always ripe for a laugh. He grabs her and they head out to the parking lot to share a joint.
“It’s a damned good thing I ran into you in there. I need something to take my mind off this night.”
“Not going as you planned?!” Vicki seems pleased at his annoyance.
“It’s not that, just, I think I might have to deck D.G. Sometimes that guy just drives me to distraction.”
Vicki lays her most seductive glare on poor helpless Robert. “I can think of something that would take your mind off your worries.”
Robert isn’t paying any attention, he’s blazing up instead. “You know what I like best about the Cafe Convo, it’s the location. Sure it’s a dive, but it’s this.” Robert makes a motion to the exterior, the entrance at both front and rear have functional sculptures, concrete posts with glass boxes to house the recycling bins. “It reminds me of who I am.”
“Recyclable? These just remind me that anyone of these cinder blocks could contain a body. Providing you fold the body properly and use some serious quick dry cement.”
“Isn’t that a Rat-Pack flick?” Robert asks.
“Yeah, it’s ‘Robin and the Seven Hoods’. You’re problem is so simple.” Vicki taunts Robert with the illusive answers he seeks.
“In two minutes you’ve figured it all out? How wonderful for you.” Robert’s annoyance only rises.
“Sure. You don’t live by the right set of rules.”
“Oh not these…” Robert is exasperated.
“You need a refresher course.” Vicki the vixen, she could always make him smile.
“Okay, let’s see…What are these called again?”
“It’s my guide to ‘Better Living through the Moxie of Movie Mobsters’. It’s a code of honor to live by. How can you forget that?” Vicki has been trying to teach him these core beliefs for years to no avail.
“I can’t imagine how?!” Robert’s sarcasm should come with a butter knife.
“That’s your first problem. No respect! That always gets you shot. Unless of course you have the cajones to back up your arrogance, like that guy who ended up in that trunk. That guy pushed the limit just a bit too far.”
“Okay but that guy was a plot device. Great scene, a lot of blood though.”
“Second, take care of your own.” Vicki will not be distracted by Robert’s commentary.
“I care about my friends. As far as taking care of them, learn to survive.”
“You see what I’m saying then. In the movies, if you’re a mobster, family takes care of you. No matter how big a mistake you make, like telling your daughter your rich and so forth. When in fact you live on the street, the lie gets so big that when your daughter comes to visit from Europe, where you’ve had her all these years in a school, you’re rightfully freaked out because she is bringing her fiancé to meet you. So get the ‘Dude’ to fix things because he’s the only person you know who
Could, all this going on and you still have to get some apples or everyone’s luck may run out.” Vicki presses ever forward.
“Oh, oh, that’s the one with Apple Annie. Damn, what’s that called again?”
“’Pocketful of Miracles’, Frank Capra, Bette Davis, Glenn Ford, you are hopeless. My next point is never rat out your friends.”
“I can appreciate the wisdom in that. Only I seen plenty of success stories directly related to selling your pals down the river.”
“Okay, true enough. There’s that guy, he ended up alright. He teaches his pal, the ‘Fed’, how to Meringue, he ends up with a new wife, even has the kids on the town’s softball team wearing outfits based on his suits. Still you turn on your own people and you can never be sure when a couple of goons dressed in white on white will show up gunning for you.”
“I don’t know Vicki; it doesn’t sound all bad…”
“Then you’re starting to understand a code of values. Imagine that, Robert with a social conscience. Most important of all is style. If you had more style, no matter how intense your problems, nothing would be that bad.”
“Sure, you got to have style. Style is a cure all.” Robert says dismissively.
“Well not for what ails you, but at least it can make your passing that much more pleasant.” Vicki says as she takes the joint from Robert.
“Tony Montana needed all those bullet holes. To what? Provide ventilation?” Robert can’t reconcile the style over substance argument.
Vicki takes a breath, she knows where this is leading, she’ll play the game, but not before she’s made her point. “He died great. If I’m going to go, let it at least be violently and while I’m young, so that I leave a beautiful corpse.”
“Let me understand this. You want to die violently while you’re young, so that you leave a beautiful corpse? I can see one fatal flaw.”
Maggie can’t take it, she has put up with every kind of abuse, from both ends and in every way. Her studies are suffering and she has barely begun, there is so much to come, she never sees her friends anymore, has no social life to speak of, and hates her job. That customer grabbing her ass was the last straw.
Standing in the kitchen she’s throwing dishes into the dishwasher, trying to cool down, Herman isn’t going to give her the chance.
“You just don’t it do you? We have talked about time and again Maggie!”
“We don’t. You speak and I mostly endure. Your vilification aside, you’re the one who told me to put my customers in their place.”
“What are you talking about? All I said was that you needed to learn how to control your clients. I never said anything about becoming a couple’s counselor.”
“I can’t believe that you’re defending that guy Herman. That prehistoric maintains that the only purpose I serve is looking pretty and remaining subservient.”
“You’re a waitress? What is your problem? This is not the U.N. What did you think this kind of job was about? It’s not called the service industry for nothing.” Herman will not have the staff talking to him this way.
“I know that. That still doesn’t excuse it, let alone justify your expectation that I should say nothing.”
“Look Maggie, you’re a decent waitress. Your customers, your regulars like you. However you have to realize that if they pay, they play. And they all become your customers, not just the ones that you like.”
“That is where you’re mistaken.” The decision has been made, Maggie removes the apron, takes her coat from the rack and heads for the door. “I have had a lot of different jobs over the years. I’ve taken any form of employment that I could. Whether it’s been to keep myself in school, or get the bills paid. Whatever my purpose, I did it for me. I won’t do something that I don’t care about. I don’t think that’s asking too much. You want me to parade around here as a pretty face, saying nothing? I know there’s more to you than that. You’re not some one-dimensional cardboard cutout.” Maggie’s anger is buried beneath a calm determined facade, that of an emerging activist.
“It’s nice to know that you’re not going to make a federal case out of it.”
“That’s my point. There has to be more to all this than the lawful thing. Herman, you’ve got to realize that the bottom line adds up to doing the honorable thing.”
“deadbeats” is written by and Copyright © of Brian Nathan Schwartz 1996 – 2019 (This is my deadname and is included here only for legal purposes)