It was five o’clock somewhere. And that means, starting time.
In what had become a series of days off, the idea of getting started doesn’t come fast enough. I had forgotten all about the parade until Sam reminds me from behind the bar. Twelve o’clock she says, and it’ll be passing by her doors. She’s going to jump in and march for a few blocks, until she gets to the courthouse. Faster that way she tells me, than fighting through the mobs watching from the sidewalk. She’s been called to testify today. And I had forgotten about that too. But now understood why she was wearing the jacket with her “me” buttons pinned to it.
White circle buttons with big bold black borders and lines cutting them diagonally in two’s, the word: Victim, peeking through the one barred circular plastic cell. Pink circles too and bright lime colored circle buttons, oranges and purples, each with their own words: Survivor, Freedom, Equality, Justice. Words you would expect to see at any number of rallies or demonstrations. Black letters inside their bold borders advocating and denouncing.
Each of these circles was a gift from someone she had met. Each of them was a sign of something near and dear to her heart in their own special way. Her’s a passionate heart. A hopeful heart. A heart that should have white letters of it’s own stencilled to it’s front that read: Believer.
I met up Samantha two months ago at a rally for the Institutionalized Children of Under-aged Perverts. ICUP had been looking for an outsider to come in and shoot video and take snapshots of the alleged inbred kids for future ad support campaigns.
Sam was volunteering when I first ran into her, literally. She was running around making sure everyone who wanted a sign, got one; or a Teddy Bear and rubber bracelets and ribbons and buttons. Each a little more show of support than the last. She had carried them around in, and on, her backpack. What New-age Flower Power looks like on triple espressos and a handful of weight-loss tabs. Wearing hemp clothes with little round John Lennon wire shades that had orange lenses.
We gravitate to each other almost instantly. Me to her unique out-of-placeness, her to the size of my camera’s lens. Before I realized what had happened we had our hands in each others back pockets walking away from the rally.
We wind up at her Brownstone, and almost two months later I start to forget what my place looks like. I forget about the dishes in the sink. The garbage can by the door. My dirty clothes. The untouched master photos still sitting on the kitchen counter-top. I forget about doctors and their bills and the affair with my publisher that went on for far too long. I forget, because I found Sam.
Sam makes effortless seem effortless. Like she’s one of the guys, but she’s not one of the guys. She’s one of those, out of my league type women. The kind that unknowingly make people stop and stare. Make husbands ask wives to explain it to them. How could someone like her be with someone like him? Like me. The short little round white guy. It isn’t fair, the wives agree. Sam’s legs, her caramel colored soft perfect skin, the beautifully seductive smokey blue eyes, perfect nose, inviting lips, bone structure—sigh, it’s just not fair at all.
She lives in front of the camera, a hometown girl who finally knows how to make good. Went to her first shoot and let the photographer creep talk her into his pants. From him she learned it’s a rough business. Three years twenty-five covers, ten Late Night appearances, four cameos and one very public breakup meltdown on Reality TV. Named to the, 100 Sexiest Women Of All Time list. That’s, of all time. She’s humble about it, still says thank you and please.
The Stumble Back Bar belongs to her father. She’s here today to pay her dad’s workers. He’s recovering in the hospital from an emergency surgery to fix what she calls, a victim load of shit. She told everybody to take a paid week off, on her. But, they got to come in and pick up their checks. So I get a job for the day. Can I watch the bar until they show and then meet her at the courthouse?
“Direct deposit, you guys should look into that,” I say with a smart-ass smile.
I tell her to pour me a double double before she has to leave. She kisses an ice cube and drops it in a highball. Just one cube, classy, sexy. Like saying stirred not shaken but without saying anything at all. She explains that shaken drinks are just ice chipped watered down versions for the ladies and chilled double doubles—those are for drinking, not for shooting. Which is more of a comment related to last night’s headache that I’m feeling today. The kind pain that doesn’t allow you to fill the lingering evening’s drunk buzz and makes thinking, a bad idea.
“You sure about this?” I say as she’s putting the glass down in front of me.
“I trust you,” she tells me, “besides, the place is closed. You’ve got nothing to do but hangout after the parade passes by anyway.”
The parade, this goddamned parade thing again. It had been the only blemish, the only scar on an otherwise perfect world-wind romance, a parade of victims. I remember her asking me if I could imagine it. Her brainchild. A show of support greater than the world has ever seen. Victim advocacy on a monumentally epic scale. The world finally taking notice and note, “We all deserve to be seen and heard!”
Forget highlighting only one singular cause. Forget cancer- all of them, the boobs and the butts. And forget MADD and SADD too. Forget the homeless. Forget the abuse victims, the mentally physically sexually abused victims. No, we need to showcase them all at the same time, equally. Show them united in the single greatest movement of all time.
Like the U.N. World march of victims. All colors and sizes and mental capacities were represented in the victim pool. She told me, “Every victim needs a voice, no matter how quiet others may think they should be… a parade could do it. Maybe like Macy’s Thanksgiving, but with a Saint Patrick’s Day flare.” And she wanted me to bring it to the world in black and white and unfiltered color.
“I mean are you sure about court,” I say.
“Absolutely, there’s nothing to hide,” she tells me.
“I just meant, are you okay with it? Me being there.”
She turns on her heel and points to the center of the back of the bar, to the envelopes standing on edge beside the cash register. If she’s nervous she wears it well. She wears it like a pro. Like a hooker knows how to give a good time, like a junkie knows the right vein and a priest knows which boys are the most vulnerable.
“Those are for the crew,” she says.
I watch her pick up her purse and walk in rhythm to the pounding in my head; around the bar all the way to where I was dying a little on top of a padded bar stool. I smile and she sits down next to me with her hands running slowly up and down my lap.
“I love you,” she tells me.
Three words to make us put imaginary collars and leashes around our necks. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard them, the leash words. They catch me off guard, but sound perfectly natural. I’m wondering if it was said the way a friend tells another friend they’re special to them, or if she was putting on her own collar for me. She leans in and gives me a kiss. It’s not the kind of kiss a friend gives another friend. There’s an intimacy in it that tells me she wants me to believe that I’m perfect for her. Me, the round little white guy with a big blue camera bag. It’s a lie, but I don’t let that ruin the moment.
I can hear the low hum sound of the marchers coming up the street in the distance. Sam hears it too and we break off with a smile. Glancing at the mirror behind the bar I can see them. I point to the reflections.
“You can’t be here right now,” I say.
She turns to get a look.
And just like that we’re at the door. She’s blowing me a kiss. And walking to the center of the street. And waiting alone for the crowd to swallow her in. She radiates through my lens, the most perfect sight I have ever seen. She shoots me a Cheshire cat grin, the kind that says: Yeah, that’s right. The front lines approach with their banners coming into the shot. She’s alive in her moment and I’m in mine. Then, faster than I can read the first banner, she’s eaten by horde.
Hands raised in waves and the occasional fist, mouths open catching the shout before the sound gets lose. Men, women, kids of all types, an organized blob of chaos. Ribbons pinned to lapels and shirt fronts or worn on sleeves, face paint, buttons, banners, streamers, balloons animals.
The street, barely wide enough, feels like a river getting ready to spill out from its banks, floats lazily along powered by hidden cars. Out of style marching band outfits, fury top hats and colonial British uniforms. Yellow signs, white signs, the occasional lime fucking green sign or black one, with gold glittered glued words and smiley faces and stars. Sad clowns and tasselled cone-hat happy clowns. Rock bands and unicycles. The largest parade of all parades, of the century, or at least until the next big idea. And I’m snapping.