View from a staionary bike: The ideal woman
She’s gotta be tolerant of damaged idiots who can articulate past failures and future successes. She’s gotta have some goddamn hips and be able to move them when she walks.
Fortunately, I did well enough during the boom years to carry me over, so at least I don’t have to work out of a position of, well, you know, desperation, or panic.
Photo courtesy of Frank Peters
The ideal woman
By Talmadge Jarrattee
A gal around 40 trains next to me on the leg-lift machine. She is a study in concentration as she lifts hard to the max and then slowly lowers her legs to not quite bottom, then lifts again with a grunt. Her spandex workout pants hug her thighs and reach to her calves and match her black designer tank top. Her small breasts are firm and her belly has only a slight pooch from copious sit-ups. She is amply tanned. With dead serious mien, she goes from weight machine to weight machine with robotic precision, applying herself to each exercise with a perfectly calibrated effort. She carries a bottle of water and a large white fluffy personal towel, unlike the one I borrow from the gym—a striped, thin dishrag-type I use to mop my face and neck as I churn away and later drop in the laundry bag.
A guy, also around 40, tall, very trim and regal, in tank top and shorts, legs and arms sinewy, like a long distance jogger, hits the light weights. A perfect specimen, with a $40 haircut and chiseled features. He seems familiar with the gal beside me, like he’s talked to her once or twice in passing and now feels comfortable enough to walk up and continue a past conversation.
“I see you’re working hard,” he says, glowing, as if excited by life, and smiling as if smiling is his daily sustenance.
I shake my sports page. I am about halfway through my 40-minute exercise. I glance at the woman. She has a slight sheen of perspiration on her silkily-honed arms. She has short brush-cut hair, dyed blonde. She is handsome, not pretty, yet her voice is soft and feminine, almost inviting. “I always work hard. It’s the only way. If I don’t work hard, ugh, I get fat.” A helpless smile.
“Don’t I know it.” He shifts his weight, tilts toward her. “So remember the deal I was telling you about the other day? The sale…?”
“Oh, yes, yes, I do.” She ceases lifting out of politeness.
“Well, remember I told you how bummed I was that the sale was going to fall through, but that I was not going to give up on it?”
“Well, I went home and thought it over, and I called up the party and I went over there, and I told them, ‘I want to work with you.’ I knew they wanted the house. They were just dying for it, a beautiful house, a beautiful spread, and I wanted them to have it. You know, it’s not all about money. I changed a few things, lowered the price, and I brought over an excellent Pinot, and we talked, and I ordered to go, and I’m pretty sure we closed the deal. I think it’s going to work out.”
“How wonderful! I’m so happy for you. And believe me, I can imagine how hard it is to sell a house these days. The market is…”
“It’s down, yes, but I always look on the bright side. You can’t let it get you down. You can’t be gloomy. It’ll come back. And, fortunately, I did well enough during the boom years to carry me over, so at least I don’t have to work out of a position of, well, you know, desperation, or panic. I’m fine.”
She begins exercising again. “Well, I’m so glad things worked out for you, Ken, and I hope your deal goes through.”
He is smiling. He smiles the whole time, teeth perfectly polished and shiny. He walks around with perfect posture, tee-bouncy and purposeful, beaming, nodding, friendly, full of glad tidings and safe, mundane questions as to health and so on, issuing compliments, leaving no room for vicious lampooning. He shifts his weight, his eyes full of genuine interest.
“So, doing cardio today?”
“I alternate,” she explains. “I do cardio one day, and lifting the other day.”
“Seven days a week?”
“Seven days a week.” She smiles—another limp, involuntary smile, almost like a smirk.
“Well, it’s paying off. You look fantastic. Keep up the good work!”
“Oh, gosh, thank you. I work at it. Some days, I just do not feel like it, you know. But if I get the blahs, and don’t keep up, I might lose my groove. So I force myself, and I think it pays off.”
“I know what you mean. I like to get in my groove, you know, and stay in it. I like to get my workout in early, if I can, or at least catch it before noon, like now, because it clears my head and makes my job so much less stressful.”
“Yes. I know what you mean.”
He shifts his weight again. “Well, I’ve got to get back to my groove, ha ha, it’s been wonderful talking to you, Bev. You have a great day, and hopefully we’ll talk again.”
Ken walks off and goes to the weight room, using pulleys with light weights, breathing in, breathing out, perfectly calibrated. The guy’s a real pro, all the way around—workout, sales, women. I glance at Bev without moving my head, only my eyes. While not exactly pretty, she is quite attractive, but I don’t know that I would’ve pursued her twenty years ago, in my wilder bar days, when I was her age and my main goal in life was to get women drunk and lure them to my shack for crazed sport fucking. This woman is not a barfly. She has no ring, so perhaps she is a lonely, emotionally fragile, horny divorcee seeking companionship and a soul mate, along with warm, intimate, tender, passionate lovemaking.
I am sweating like a beast. I haven’t shaved in several days. I need a haircut. The toenails jutting out of my sandals are long, yellowed and crooked. My last woman left long ago. I have cats. I am supposed to tend bar tonight in one of the last dives remaining in now tony Santa Cruz, so none of the punkish professional students and ferret-faced moochers and bikers and surf Nazis and sea hags care how I look, nor what I say—usually derogatory and abrasive aspersions.
I’m wearing a ballcap that reads Bad-Ass Coffee. It’s sweat-stained. My shorts are from Goodwill, and my soaked, flimsy T-shirt reads Keep Santa Cruz Weird!
Bev finishes with her machine and goes to a little bucket of antiseptic paper towels to wipe her machine of her sweat and germs. She is a dutiful, fastidious woman, cleaning all 20 machines she uses, and she thoroughly swabs down the one she’s just used. Doesn’t miss an inch. I’m glancing at her. I want her to feel my glance. She feels it, peers at me, seems unsettled, forces a mirthless, faux, terrified smile, and scurries away to another machine, depositing her slimy antiseptic paper towel in a wastepaper basket on the way.
Isadore immediately materializes beside me. He practically lives in here. Burly, secretly rich, dressing poor like a rag picker, always on the prowl for fresh gossip.
He leans close to me, confidential. “That dish on the machine…you talk to her?”
“Nah. That pretty boy was captivating her.”
“He might be a fag, Tal. He walks like a girl.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You should pursue that gal. She’s sweet. Takes good care of herself. She’s friendly. Go for it.” He leans even closer, looking around, then says, almost under his breath: “She’s been divorced for about three months from a real asshole. Move in, man.”
“Christ, I’m twenty years older than her, Izz. And it’s too much work at this stage of my life, too complicated.”
He stands back, shrugs, disappointed. “Well, I just thought you might make a move on that gal. She’s a nice lady, and she’s looking for a guy.”
“How do you know?”
“I know.” He grins, punches me playfully on the shoulder. “If I didn’t have my honey, I’d go after that.” He leans close again, like a hawk. “I’ve talked to her. Want me to put in a good word for you?”
“Stop being a fucking Yenta. Besides, she’s too goddamn stringy for my taste.”
“Stringy? Come on. You don’t like a hard body?”
“Not that hard. Too hard to maneuver with muscular women. Too many physical detours. Overall, Izz, she’s not my type.”
He throws up his hands in exasperation, always the ham. “So what’s your type?”
I have to mull this over. “Well, some very small vestige of low self-esteem must enter the picture. And a foul temper, easy to ignite, so I can instigate fights. A good verbal scrap always leads to the best sex. She’s gotta be able to sit beside me in a bar—any kind of bar. She’s gotta be tolerant of damaged idiots who can articulate past failures and future successes. She’s gotta have some goddamn hips and be able to move them when she walks. In short, I want a human being with a whore’s mentality, and just enough of the she-devil to make it interesting, but not enough to swallow me whole and turn me into a basket case.”
Isadore laughs and whacks my shoulder. “You’re too picky, Tal.” He winks. “You’re looking for the ideal woman.” He walks away. I sit there. I glance over into the weight area with the pullies and barbells. Ken is talking to Bev again. Izzy lurks near them, shaking his head at me very slowly, face etched with disappointment. §
Talmadge Jarratte manages a homeless shelter in Santa Cruz and moonlights as a bartender.