Before we left Nassau I snapped my favorite photo of Chloe, in the Straw Market…wearing a silken, slithery dress printed with Bengal tigers. The soft breeze molded it to her form. I framed her pensive expression behind large sunglasses between primitive wooden heads a local artisan was chiseling…bright dress, long auburn hair and black sunglasses among sinister heads added mystery: goddess of gargoyles…every time I looked at it, the photo brought back sing-song straw dollies’ sales pitches, chunk of mallet against chisel, flying wood chips, barn odor of straw and sea tang of fresh-caught conch on boats tied up at Market Wharf…
— Ish’s Nassau Log
Chapter 1: Back in the USA
By the time I hit Miami I missed Chloe keenly, regretting my whim for a solo Nassau casino night. Those were my days of undivided devotion to my wife. I had fucked seven women and loved three of them. Failed to follow my first love to Israel, had a bad breakup with the second, and married the third. And cleaved to her with devotion.
Chloe was at the old Beaches house. The matriarch and the old man finally had it up for sale and really were moving back to Georgia. We’d stay there till the Barracuda got to the Jacksonville docks for the run to Pennsylvania.
My peers said never trust anyone over thirty. Three years short of thirty, I did not expect to live long enough to become untrustworthy. No big deal, I just didn’t. I was headed toward my fifth job in eight years, not counting the Army. Had published one novel at 20 and given up finishing a major work by 26. After you hit 25 it’s all downhill.
Didn’t take an hour for the uptight United States to seem claustrophobic. An air-traffic controller’s slowdown was on. One flight to Jacksonville: a twin-prop puddle jumper whose pilot eyed my cased pool cue and said I was supposed to check weapons. Was embarrassed when I showed him the custom cue Chloe bought me. It got worse. In Orlando the plane rolled to a hangar and shut down. The flight crew put on their caps and deplaned. Sorry, the captain said, regulations: this is far as we fly today. The agent tried to get passengers to take a rental car to Jacksonville. Was I ever going to get back to Chloe?
Fortunately one of us was a no-nonsense female executive who got a new plane dispatched immediately. Orlando Press Club was in the airport. Reporters traded me drinks for airline SNAFU anecdotes. I reached the Beaches eighteen hours after I left Nassau.
Chloe’s Bahamian kitten was missing. I witnessed telephonic fury as my wife and my mother shredded airline employees. The pet carrier finally was located — in New Jersey. A feral cat the New Zealand redhead helped me capture for Chloe on Cable Beach, she was too tough to die. Had her own chauffeur — a repentant airline employee — to the Beaches. Disappeared beneath the old man’ steel bed where Chloe and I slept and refused to come out for two days. No damn wonder.
The Buccaneer’s agent called: our car was in. My mother drove us to the docks. They said a Customs agent was waiting with the car. Chloe went Uh oh. Buried in a tin trunk full of kitchenware under the Barracuda’s rear window was my Spanish double. The new ’68 Gun Control Act forbade private citizens importing firearms. But damned if I was leaving my gun behind. Chloe said the kitchenware ruse allowed her sister’s Norwegian husband, a farmer who liked to hunt, to slip their father’s .30 Remington past Norwegian customs. Where he found ammo I don’t know.
Chloe was worried. But it was a false alarm. The agent greeted me by name, shook hands — and offered his boss’s personal felicitations. Six years ago I wrote a big magazine story about the Port Agent-in-Charge. He liked it so well — he came across larger-than-life — that he visited the newspaper to present me a full box of his trademark coal-black cheroots, calling it “payola.” But this was the real payola: when my name popped up on the cargo manifest, he dispatched one of his men to look after me.
His man signed off on car and contents without cracking a door. Chloe was suitably impressed. I was grateful for the big guy’s long memory. When we visited the fish-camp where I rented boats to hunt ducks, the owner was selling, like the matriarch. My Florida years were closing like a book behind me.
With one final bookmark: a Highway Patrol roadblock. The trooper ignored my crude front license plate — Florida only ran back plates then — and walked behind. Another Bahamas plate. Came to the window puzzled. I showed him my international driver’s license, said we just landed from Nassau. Might as well have said Mars. He shook his head, said drive on. We went to Pennsylvania.
When we crossed the wide Susquehanna River a flock of mallards wheeled low above the Turnpike Bridge as if in welcome. My Augusta friend had said there were ducks all over. “I may like it here,” I said.
We took a motel on the river and I called Bob to let him know we’d made it. He invited us to lunch, wanted to meet Chloe. Treated her to a full dose of corn-pone charm. She said later she would cut him slack since he got us out of Nassau, but I had been too candid about his womanizing. What could those women have been thinking? Ouch.
My new city editor, Earl, ex-Marine, reformed drunk and born-again Christian, was cynical as any newsman I ever knew. His ruined nose advertised his previous addiction. His unblinking glacier-blue eyes reminded me of a stone-cold man-killing Florida sheriff I interviewed. (“Six notches on my Smith, and that don’t even count the nig — the black criminals I have taken off.”) Earl did not like the fact I was dumped on him by newspaper brass. “What can you actually do?” he grumbled.
I knew this drill. “Pick any beat. Give me two weeks and I’ll do it twice as well as who’s got it now.”
The managing editor, steel-wool hair, dramatic prow of a nose, sleeves rolled tight, almost swallowed his cigar stub when he chortled. A real old-fashioned Yankee newsman, he said, “You half as good as you think you are, you’re twice as good as we need.”
The next drill was a make-work assignment. The ME said the miniskirt was on the way out, if I had not heard this sad news in Nassau. Get on the street, ask women how they felt having to conceal their legs again. “Yeah,” Earl said. “Show us what you got.”
My private thought was a mere few years before I would have been terrified to talk to women about their legs, fearing arrest for attempted mashing. I approached them in downtown clothing stores, not the street. Boy, were they ready to vent! Inside two hours I had more than enough quotes. And a couple phone numbers I wasn’t going to use but did not scorn when they boldly said they liked my size and Florida accent. Never scorn a Venusian’s interest.
I didn’t rush back to write and make it look too easy. There was a downtown matinee of Russ Meyers’ Vixen. A fitting reward for “leg” work. Full-color, a hot female lead, cheating glorified, female-female, menage a trois. No crude humping or fluids like 8mm smokers; no ejaculation. But a quantum leap for big-screen porn. A leap too far.
City cops arrested the theater owner for slandering the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In one scene, naked actors cavorted in a glade, and when the male dressed, he was a Mountie. “I couldn’t make this stuff up,” the police reporter said. His story ran with my front-page feature about women vowing rebellion against maxi-skirts, and street photos showing lots of leg. The salty ME’s send-up of uptight public “morality.” I definitely was going to like working here.