If I’d figured out how to take a new award-winning shot of the Taj Mahal, after billions had, I figured, couldn’t I do the same with the Gateway Arch?
But before I could, to my surprise, I came across an overalls-clad tow-headed teen walking with a likewise blonde but much more interesting girl.
“What might that contraption be, good sir?” she asked with a wink.
Glancing behind them, I saw a guy in a white suit and heavy facial hair, all Mark Twained-out, and got the point. I don’t remember just how widespread photography was back in that part of the 1800s, but I let ‘er rip anyway. “It’s a picture taker, Miss Thatcher.”
“Oooo, so small. Take my picture, please!”
Like I needed to be told. I even let Tom Sawyer get in on a shot, then managed to hand my business card–the photography one–to the young actress playing Becky. There was a future supermodel if I’d ever seen one.
Then Tom Sawyer winked and said, “My mind is not for rent, to any god or government.”
How the hell had he known to reference Rush?
Oh yeah, the patch on my backpack.
I took in the Museum of Westward Expansion, conveniently located at the Arch’s base, for a few minutes, just long enough to check out all the Lewis & Clark stuff and some of the American Indian Peace medals–“world’s largest collection of!”–before chucking this scene. Finding the riverfront too busy for the frame of mind I wanted, I decided to head out west, much like the pioneers had from this spot, to Forest Park, and then, depending on my mood when I got there, either visit the art museum or the zoo.
After yet another reminder to shoot the train station before leaving town, I jumped on the requisite bus and we zoomed along, little traffic at this time of day, and got to the park quickly enough so that I didn’t start thinking about where I was going next. Or Starr, for that matter.
As it happened, the bus let us off pretty much right between the two possibilities, so I stood there turning my head from side to side, like a mule stuck between two haystacks. I checked my backpack and found I didn’t have my fast lens, which would make shooting art difficult, but then I wasn’t here to shoot. And how often did you come across a free art museum, after all? On the other hand, the museum’s website had very few examples of their artwork online, the fewest for an art museum since the Hammer’s in El Lay, but don’t get me started on that. . .
I noticed a few families, with plenty of kids in tow, had jumped off the bus as well, and were moving toward the zoo. There seemed to be an equal number of more sedate people heading off to the museum. . . or the Planetarium. . . or the Science Center, Natural History Museum, or Botanical Gardens.
And then an old man, dressed like he wanted to retain the dignity of his previous life but not able to afford new threads, carefully made sure his St. Louise Zoo cap was on straight before following the kids.
Chuckling, I followed too.
The next couple of hours were spent in silent contemplation and communing with nature, urban style. As usual, the reptiles were popular creatures, but because of that and the fact they were so icky, I walked right by. Though I did want to take a peek at something called a tuatara, simply because I’d been told the zoo taped their sexual encounters. I wasn’t going to ask why, and come to think it, I wasn’t that interested; maybe my curiosity did have boundaries after all.
I skipped the Discovery Corner too, not at all fascinated by the thought of having to deal and be around sugar-powered kids. The River’s Edge section was fun, though, affording plenty of photographic opportunities. Luckily I caught the stink in the air long before I arrived at the penguin compound, despite how easy they were to shoot, and managed to turn away before my stomach got involved. Though it did take my appetite for dessert away for a while. The grinning polar bear made up for it, though, and while the big white fluffy one didn’t quite bring my craving back, it did help me to forget why I’d lost it in the first place.
It wasn’t long after that I came across a restaurant called the Painted Giraffe, but being well-experienced with amusement-park-type food, I went for Ice Cream Oasis instead, where I “made do” with a waffle cone, which they claimed was “A World’s Fair Original,” and a pretzel. That should give me enough energy to un-hungry myself till dinner, which I hoped would be a big production that would leave Starr trembling in her high heels. . . with desire, of course, just making sure you got that. Not creepy at all. . .
And at that point, for some reason that I’m sure had nothing to do with the beautiful brunette I’d be meeting later, a whiny voice managed to push into my consciousness from a few tables down. I didn’t have to look over to know the speaker was blonde. . .
“I’m so thoroughly depressed!” came the sighing moan; I could picture her leaning over the table, cheek on palm.
“Why are you depressed? You know you’re the most desired woman in at least Missouri, if not the entire Midwest!”
Well, that obviously wasn’t true, I mused, unless they weren’t counting redheads.
“That’s true,” came the brightened tone.
Well, every stuck up bitch needed at least one enabler, I ruminated, finishing my cone in a hurry before they could ask for my opinion. I left in such a hurry I almost forgot the pretzel, but as always made a last look around, and in so doing noticed the whiny bitch looked exactly like I’d pictured. . .
Feeling happy for some reason now, I decided it was finally time for some heavy photography. . .
Having reached the end of the park, I realized those buildings across the street looked familiar, and it only took a few seconds before I remembered Washington University, a very highly ranked academic school as well as a monster in Division II women’s volleyball and a few other sports. Did I know any young ladies who were matriculated here at the moment? That took a longer trip through the memory, but I finally decided I didn’t, plus it was time to be getting back for a little rest before dinner.
Walking back to the bus stop, I fondly reminisced about a particular fine young cub; I’d been thinking of her as a filly, but the university’s mascot was a bear, and according to the digital camera I’d gotten some good shots of the polar one. We’d enjoyed each other’s company–talking about the girl, not the polar bear now–and she was a local gal probably still in the area, but I was sure she was married by now, with kids and a husband who had a lot to be jealous about. No, best to leave that a fond memory.
But as the bus drove back I recollected another girl who’d gone to that U; our first and so far only sexual encounter had ended disastrously before it really got very far, when I found out she spritzed perfume down there, and it was more than just my nose that was allergic to the smelly stuff. . . um, the artificially smelly stuff, that is. Just as bad was the embarrassment of showing up in the emergency room and having to tell the admitting nurse exactly where the allergic reaction had occurred. . .
I had enough time to nap and get that perfume memory out of his mind, not that I had to worry about being late, for Starr decided to be a typical woman and not show up at the appointed time. I spent a few moments regretting not getting a photo of her last night, then tried to picture her in my mind, just to make sure I’d recognize her, if she ever got hungry enough. The long dark hair was easy enough, and there was that tiny overbite that looked cute instead of. . . anything else, and also made up most of what was really an innocent look. Not that those huge dark eyes needed any help, but there was nothing childlike about either her body or the way she liked to show it off, so–
There she was, flashing across the window, and then trying to look like she wasn’t rushing as she entered the restaurant with a little flush that could be seen through the gloom. Telling the seater–not fancy enough for the French term for it–she was meeting someone, she took a deep breath and marched over to me, where I got up and greeted her with, “You run faster than you look.”
“Thanks. . . sorta.” But she smiled, and that was really all that mattered.
I helped her with the chair, not that she needed help, but she seemed to appreciate it, and I used the opportunity to look her over from a bit closer vantage. I liked what I saw, so there was no reason not to continue smiling at her as I sat myself back down and saw her beaming back at me.
Last night she’d looked like a beautiful woman in her early thirties. Tonight, in jeans and t-shirt peeking out through the leather jacket, she looked ten years younger. And I didn’t think it was simply the lack of makeup and power suit.
“I called ahead to reserve a bottle of my favorite wine,” she informed me somewhat shyly, probably hoping I wasn’t going to be a take-charge kinda guy like most of them. She took the bottle from the waiter, beamed happily, and made to pass it to me.
I took her hand instead of the bottle, not caring to check the label; she somehow managed to keep from slapping me. “I don’t drink, so go ahead and order whatever you want.”
“Good!” she gleamed, passing the bottle back to the smirking waiter, who started opening it. “I think I’ll need it. Got a long set tonight.”
“Twenty minutes. Got some place to be?”
“Trying to figure out when to hit the restroom. In the middle of the act, near the beginning. . . before?”
“I’d go with that one.”
“Give me a five minute cue.”
“You got it, stud.”
“Now that’s the first appropriate use of that word in a long time.”
“Ha! We’ll see. . .”
“Looking forward to it.”
Gulp! Did she just tell me she wanted to sleep with me? Sounded like it, and she knew it, even if it wasn’t true. Trying not to grin, she excused herself to hit the ladies’ room. “I’m probably sweating from my run. . . no, don’t tell me if I am.”
I hadn’t planned on saying anything, though the old cliché about sweat turning me on leaped momentarily into my mind, but she was gone before I could say anything. On the other hand, she did spend an inordinately short period away.
As soon as she returned she went with, “You didn’t roofie me, did ya?”
“You realize that someone who would roofie you wouldn’t admit to it just because you asked. Or at all.”
She waved that concern away and reached for a menu. I’d already chosen the steak, so she gave me the little waving go-ahead to order first when the waitress showed up. My detailed description of exactly how I wanted the steak had the waitress smiling and gave Starr more then enough time to choose a salad, figuring she’d make up for it with a big rich dessert.
“So,” she beamed once everything was settled, “I just got back from New York. Bet you love the place.”
“Sarcasm is saying the exact opposite for a laugh. You got the first part right, but it wasn’t funny. And you forgot the eyeroll.”
It took some doing, but she managed to ignore that. “I stopped at a cafe to get a sandwich and while I was waiting I decided to tune my guitar. Yeah, don’t ask why I had it with me, okay? I didn’t realize I’d left the case open on the ground in front of me. and a guy walking by dropped a dollar in my case. I wasn’t even doing anything! I think I’ll move to New York.”
“Not if the music fans in Noo Yawk think tuning is a song.”
“True,” she muttered, having already learned the best strategy for dealing with me was simply pretending to agree with everything I said. “But maybe the city can use another chemist, right?”
“They have plenty. Someone’s gotta refine the drugs before dealing them.”
“Ouch! They never taught us that in class.”
“Yeah, Bill Nye the Science Guy never did that episode.”
“Bill Nye rawks! I was so his bitch growing up!”
“Hmmm. In that case, I’ll pass on seeing you after the show. I don’t want a used bitch.”
Snorting her way through a chortle, she took a moment to write that one down. Then, pushing the envelope early, she asked, “So what can I expect after my show? Or does it depend on how good I am?”
“I won’t know how good you are till after. . . oh, you mean comedy-wise?”
“You just bought yourself an evening of whoop-ass, mister! I’ll show you!”
“Now that’s a comedian word if ever I heard one. Whoop-ass. Do you buy it by the can?”
“Don’t change the subject. When I get through with you, they’ll need a forklift to get you out of bed!”
Smiling gently–my own version of “Whatever!”–I reflected with that familiar faraway look, “Want me to tell you about the time I shot a porn star, a playmate, and a wrestling babe at the same time? Wow, what an orgy that turned into. . .”
After a few moments of gawking, she got that grin I’d already figured out and, before I could stop her, launched into her own story, though with the pauses she took to think up further raunchiness, I knew it didn’t stand a chance of being true.
A couple of tables around us quickly asked for their checks and hightailed it out.
“After that story,” I sighed, “I need a shower, but I’ll have to settle for washing my hands.”
“You saw which way I went. Want me to get you another 7-Up?”
“Please. I hope you can make it through the next few minutes alone.”
She was torn between waving me away and fake-pleading for me to stay, so she almost didn’t get any further than I had when she’d gone. But at the last moment, mostly without thinking, she managed to blurt, “Is that your tail I see between your legs?”
Smiling evilly over my shoulder, and winking at a woman at the next table who’d overheard–and hadn’t run out while Starr was telling her story–I cooed, “No, but I can see how you’d get confused.”
It felt good making a comedian laugh. And the other woman was laughing too, which might make Starr ease up a little. You never knew when a little female jealousy could work in your favor. . .
When I came back, I looked at my new drink suspiciously. “You didn’t roofie me, did ya?”
She grimaced, finally realizing how stupid that sounded. The food had arrived and, having waited dutifully for me to return, she now felt free to dig in, though not before pouring herself another cup of crushed and fermented grapes, the poor things.
“Tell me about yourself.”
“You tell me.”
“I asked you first!” she whined childishly.
“I asked you second, and two is more than one!” I replied in exactly the same tone. “See how you sound?”
“Okay then. I enjoy kick boxing and riding horses, though not at the same time.”
“Think how much better it would have been had you been able to simultaneously do both.”
Hiccupping slightly, she used the napkin daintily over her mouth, though she was sure I knew she was just wasting time. “Your big words are too much for me. See how there’s no way for this conversation to be anything but awkward for me?”
“Has that ever stopped you before?”
“Shush now. Your turn.”
“Starting when? Last month?”
“Never mind, I’ll have more fun guessing. You went to Oxford, where you got your degree in medieval lit, right?”
“More of a Cambridge man, but the weather is horrible no matter which. You were an ocean and a continent away.”
I cringed again. “UCLA.”
“And the lit?” she grinned again.
“Dirty westerns is as far back as my lit goes. . . except for the Egyptian Book of the Dead and certain codexes.”
“An archaeologist!” she proclaimed, clapping her hands and jumping like a little girl, while still sitting; that looked impressive. “In that case I want to talk to you. . . later.”
“You don’t want to talk to me now?”
“Not about archaeology, stupid. . . and don’t give me that wounded puppy-dog look!”
“With that attitude, I won’t tell you about the four-hundred year-old mummy I found in a castle in England, and the stuff I found with him.”
“Oh yes you will!” She grinned hugely. “Such stuff as dreams are made of!” Then she frowned. “I wonder what that’s from.”
“Prospero, The Tempest.”
She looked at me incredulously.
“Most people think it originated in the Maltese Falcon, but then, I doubt Bogart knew the origin either.”
She looked at me more incredulously.
“You don’t believe me?” I asked mildly, enough for her to be alarmed, even shocked back into reality.
“Of course I do! I was just waiting for you to give me the act, scene, line, so forth.”
“I don’t do that anymore. No one cares.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Truthishly,” she swore.
“You’re sexy,” she slurred, then laughed. “Not on wine I’m not. You owe me a sex story, considering the one I just gave you.”
“You didn’t want to hear about that shoot–”
“I do now! No, actually, a different one.”
“Well, I could tell you about that gang of leather babes on motorcycles. . .”
“You got jumped by a bunch of leather dykes?” she hooted. “That’s not a sex story!”
“They were not dykes,” I said fervently. “Once they saw I couldn’t get away, they. . . they all. . . um, had their way with me.” Fake sob.
“All of them?” she gasped.
“Except the little fat one.”
“Huh? Was she a lesbian?”
“No, she just didn’t turn me on.”
“Bastard!” But she giggled instead of throwing the roll at me. “A nice guy with the kind of stamina you exude woulda done her too, not just the hotties.”
“Look who’s talking. Up to now you probably chose whom you slept with by their looks.” I tried to glare at her, but I wasn’t a good enough actor.
Chuckle. “What makes you think I won’t be doing that tonight?”
Glare. “So much for being honest.”
Not about to let me get away with that, she only smiled.
She didn’t speak much during dessert, as always savoring every morsel, which was what happened when you were militant about fitting into your sexy clothes. Nor was there much talking on the short walk to the club. She had to will herself not to hold my hand, wincing at the thought of what I’d say, joke-wise. Luckily we got there quickly and she went off to check the show order while I paid the cover.
According to the list in the hall, she was going first! Usually not prime, but perfect for tonight. I looked a bit startled at her speed, almost crashing into the table, then again pretending to be all coolness like when she arrived at the restaurant.
“Your five minute warning is here!” she piped, even giving me a mock-salute.
“Thank you for remembering that,” I chirruped, though somehow managing to sound serious, “but I already went. So you’re up first?”
“Convenient, isn’t it? Start thinking about how you’re gonna congratulate me for my upcoming awesome show.”
“In five minutes? Or do I not have to pay attention to it, now that I know it’s gonna be awesome?”
She snickered, “You won’t be able to help yourself, buddy. Now then, save the repartee for after, I gotta warm up my throat.” Smiling evilly, she waited.
“I’m saving it for after.” My smile was nowhere as evil, but somehow it got to her more than hers had.
Her face went scrunchy sideways. “Dammit, I gotta stop adlibbing. . .”
Quickly on stage, she started with one of her best jokes, getting the crowd’s attention, then drifted along for about five minutes, long stories with small payoffs, before ramping it up again to make sure no one left or fell asleep.
She sighed, then impishly grinned as she adlibbed, “Life’s a bitch. . . because if life was a slut, it’d be easy.”
Then she looked down at me, an oasis amidst the laughter; I was doing the “you naughty girl” thing with my eyes.
The spotlight was harsh enough to pick up her blush even from a distance, but she couldn’t let anyone guess its source, so she quickly barked, “Are you undressing me with your eyes, mister?” and shoved the mic in my face.
“Yes. . . but then I mentally redressed you in something much more flattering. You‘re welcome.”
She stared at me for a few seconds, then admitted, “Better than what I had.”
I would never know how she stacked against the following yuckers, for as soon as she finished and got some congrats, she was sitting across from me, eyes shining, breathing labored.
“Wow, is it that tiring, or does telling jokes turn you on?”
Having known me long enough, she smirked, “Both, baby.” She hesitated now, but only for a moment. “So, you gonna e-mail me tonight?”
“What for? What do you want me to say?”
She shrugged dismissively. “How much you enjoyed my show?”
“I can tell you that right now.”
“So tell me.”
“I’m still here.”
She winced. “I’ve had better reviews.”
“What, you don’t think I stayed with you because you’re a babe and I might have a chance at scoring with ya tonight, did ya?”
That earned me a hoot. “Okay, I deserved that one.”
Since she was being so gracious, I let that go without a reply. Or else I was stunned into silence.
And if it was the second possibility, she couldn’t leave it like that. “And what have you got planned for tonight?” she whispered, hoping I was going to say something about watching TV and going to sleep early, so she could give me a better alternative.
“Plans can always change, of course, but basically it involves taking you back to my hotel room, undressing you gently, placing you in the bathtub so I can wash off the sweat you generated from your run to the restaurant, then dry and lotion you up. . . everywhere. I will brush your hair, turn off the room lights and open the window to let in the moonlight, which will add just the right touch to the candles I plan to light, and make the most gentle and sweetest love you’ve ever experienced.”
“Rawr,” she whispered, completely blown away.
Smiling as I caressed her hand, I knew there was no way I was ever going to tell her I was making this up as he went along. . .
I’m deathly afraid of candles.
Not that she remembered any of that five minutes later, when we finally got to my room. From her little sexy growl she’d gotten up and motioned me up and on toward the exit. I’d purposefully walked slowly, just to see if she would place her hands in my back and shove me forward, just like the redhead had done last week. . .
Of course she had; it got the biggest laugh of the night.
I never did remember to shoot the train station. . . dammit.
Phone convo right before I left:
“You would never fall for a guy like me.”
“You’re a professional comedian. To fall in love with someone funnier than you–”
“HA! You wish!”