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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Eve of Destruction
(excerpt from The Sad and Untimely Death of Adolph Hitler)

by Marc Estrin ||
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"Ok. It's time for you to watch me make money."
     Eve jumped out of bed, and into her sweats. Arnold reached out after her, grabbing only the air.
     "Hey...what have I done to deserve this?"
     "Given me a hard time about my Nazism. Why don't you believe me that I'm a goddam Nazi? What do you think I'm doing, playing tourist peekaboo? What do you think a Nazi is, Mr. Hitler? Some thick-necked brute, tattooed with death heads, intent on butchering Jewish flesh? You're so worked up about how people treat you because of your illustrious name. Well, you're being just as stupid. What's a Nazi that I'm not?"
     "A follower of Hitler -- Adolf Hitler -- and his doctrines."
     "And do followers have to follow all his doctrines, all 613 Kommandments? I remind you about the SS squad confiscating Jewish goods: Eight blond beasts, in Munich, 1940, slowly lowering a Steinway grand through the French windows of a luxurious upper floor apartment. And when it touched the street, one of them sat down and played the entire Waldstein sonata from memory while the others crouched around in Beethovenian ecstasy. Right in the middle of the sidewalk! That's the kind of Nazi I am -- existentially ecstatic, committed, out on the edge, sensually over the line, exploring the socially unacceptable, you fucking sissy dupe! Now get on your tightest jock strap, jock-o, 'cause we're going up to Pinky's Palace, and you're going to watch me bump and grind for a gross of salivating anti-Nazis."
     "You're a..."
     "Stripper. A gift from Pinky himself. Now, now, now, don't try to change my mind. And I'm going to take this for a prop, OK?"
     She grabbed a volume from the bunker bookshelf.
     "This will be the only strip act in history utilizing Edmond Jabès' Book of Questions."
     In the unfolded wings of silence, unexplored worlds spread their solitude.
     They rode Snakey up to Tremont Avenue, her top up, her heater on in the chilly September drizzle. PINKEY'S PALACE flashed in appropriately colored neon, and over the arched doorway, a tattered oilcloth sign: With the NEW Live and Kickin' Sports Saloon Downstairs!!
"Now this is a titty bar," she warned him, "but with standards. No lewd behavior, no drugs, and no excessive alcohol. And if you don't believe it, Clarence will convince you otherwise."
     "Who's Clarence?"
     "Clarence is six foot five, 350 pounds."
     "The bouncer."
     "I don't know if you'd bounce. Be more like a crushed toad."
     She led Arnold through the door, and past an art-deco bar from the forties. At one end of a table-filled room was a small stage, currently empty.
     "That's where the strippers work."
     "I thought you were a stripper."
     "I'm talking about the stripper-strippers, which I used to be. But I've graduated to downstairs. Hey, Clarence, I want you to meet my boyfriend, Arnold."
     Clarence lumbered over, as forbidding as she had described. But sweet, sweet. And black as melanin comes.
     "Hey, man. You some lucky dude with a honey like that!"
     Arnold shook hands, and nodded his agreement.
     "I'm gonna take him downstairs and show him the ropes."
     "Have a good time, man. You a lucky dude."
     They proceeded down a heavily carpeted stairway to a downstairs door, padded with leather.
     "You are now about to see a magic transformation from Plain Jane Evelyn Brown, Poor Starving Artist with Sensible Shoes, to..." She pushed open the door, and pulled him along with her to the other side. "...Bodacious Brunhilde, Bellicose Queen of the Night. Ta daaaaa."
     "You look the same to me."
     "You ain't seen nothin' yet, bub."
     The room was tiered on three sides, and at the center, a 3/4 size boxing ring, covered with rimmed plastic sheeting, but very official looking, with thick ropes and padded corners. Behind the ring, on the untiered side was a DJ booth, and next to it, a bar, the wall behind them festooned with red, white and blue bunting. The first row, ringside, the "VIP section," consisted of couches behind tables, while the two upper tiers sported leather chairs only.
     "This here's my stomping ground."
     "Very nice. Will I have to call for an ambulance?"
     "Are you kidding? More likely a tranquilizer to stop laughing. Here's the scoop. They start coming in at seven for an eight o'clock show. Two shows, eight and eleven. We're marched out as their 'fantasy women.'"
     "Who is they?"
     "The boobs. Not those boobs, dingo. The guys that come here..."
     "How do you know their fantasies?"
     "Textbook, page one: fifties cheerleader, Catholic schoolgirl, Snow White; page two: Vampira, Kinky cop, Nasty Night Nurse; page three: the Good Fairy from Cinderella, the Good Witch of the North from Wizard of Oz; page four: Schmutzig Tarzana, Housewife in Curlers..."
     "And you are on page five?"
     "More like one and a half. Between sweet young thing and ball-breaking bitch. I'm Leonore, the Girl Who Says Yes to Guys Who Say No. You can't imagine how much they envy you fuckin peace creeps. So anyway, you pick songs which tie in with the fantasy characters, and when you're announced, you go out, dance around the room a little, say unbearably sexy things like 'Hi, baby, how are you tonight?', then get up on one of these tables here in front. You do your song -- you know, mouth the words -- and about halfway through you start taking off your clothes. Jake, the MC, is egging us on. You play coy, you tease. Once you get down to your G-string and top, you wait till the song is almost over, then you take your top off. Or you don't. It's up to you. Want me to take my top off tonight?"
     "No way."
     "OK, baby. Just for you. But I usually do."
     "I can imagine."
     "Hey, if you got it, flaunt it."
     "Well, I don't want to compromise your..."
     "Works either way. You'll see. So then you go back to the dressing room, and while you're gone, you're auctioned off."
     "Auctioned off. Like a slave."
     "Ever heard of feminism?"
     "Yeah, but as long as they haven't. Or maybe they have -- all the better. Guys bid to fight you -- or to be your manager."
     "Why would anyone pay money to be a manager?"
     "Your manager gets to put the shaving cream all over you and massage you between rounds."
     "I don't believe this."
     "Up to mid-thigh, or arms or back -- that's it. If they get too enthusiastic, Eddie the Ref, or Clarence'll stop them. And if you don't like anything that's going on, you can just slide back into the center of the ring. Managers have to stay outside the ropes."
     "What about the guys who pay to get in the ring?"
     "The worst deal of all. They're completely humiliated. First of all, they're controlled by the bell, they can't get off their knees, they can't grab too hard, they can't hold on too long -- everything's slippery anyway, they can't get too aggressive -- Eddie is real strict with the rules. It's just gentle horseplay. You wind up rolling them around like giant matzoh balls. During the match you whisper to your guys, tell them what to do, tell them to be mellow. Then you go back and taunt them. 'So you think you're a real big man? Well, come and get me. Nana, na na naaa.' They wait obediently for the bell, then you react drastically to anything they do."
     "Why do they do this?"
     "They're idiots, that's why. I don't know, maybe it's stress therapy, rolling around in a slippery pit. They don't want to hurt you. They're just happy for the attention. It's juvenile, pathetic. They think we really love them. Maybe they can't get any action at home, I don't know. And of course Eddie keeps creative score, and the men always win. And then we go stomping around -- 'No fuckin way!' -- the cheated woman. The audience loves it."
     "What if they get snuggly?"
     "Then Eddie or Clarence pull them out, and they lose all their money."
     "And you get a good salary for this?"
     "No salary. Two thirds of all the take. A third to the house."
     "What's all the take?"
     "From the auction and kissing. Two shows come in at about a hundred fifty each -- my take -- and another fifty or sixty for kissing. That's about four hundred bucks a night -- three nights a week. Good enough pay for a starving artist?"
     "You have to kiss them?"
     "The guy holds up a buck, sometimes a fiver, and you come by grab it, grab the man's hands, then you kiss him. On the cheek, on the head, on the shoulder, hell, you can kiss the air near him. Then you move on, they don't care. They were part of the action, cheap."
     "I couldn't do it."
     "You could if you weren't such a fuddy-duddy prig. In fact, you'd be great. In fact, let's talk to Pinky about a woman's night -- all roles reversed. It'd be the revolution."
     It was only 6:45 -- but a tall, thin man with pock-ravaged face walked through the padded leather door and sat down in a back row.
     "I thought you said they didn't start coming till eight," Arnold whispered.
     "Oh, that's only Weird Paul, the Zombie." Evelyn whispered back. "He comes every night, doesn't want to be kissed, and never bids on anyone. But he buys his weight in liquor, he holds it well -- so they let him keep coming back just to stare. I ignore him. Hang in there, Arnold Hitler. You look a little green about the gills. You'll love it, I promise. I'm gonna go get ready."
     The bell rang. Round zero.
     "Lady and gentlemen!" Much laughter as the spot fell on the lone, lost woman in the crowd. "Welcome to Pinky's Palace's world famous Live and Kickin' Sports Saloon! As usual, we have seven gorgeous gals waiting to take you on -- even you," pointing at the woman. "Wrestle the babe of your choice, with matches going on all night. The top bid wins the chance to get in the ring for three rounds of body slappin', hair grabbin', down and dirty action. You get your choice of Heavenly Helen, Bodacious Brunhilde, Titillating Tiffany, Naughty Nicole, Rockin' Rebecca, Ballistic Bambi, or Badass Barbie." Claques in the crowd cheered for their favorites. "As I speak the room is filling up for this pulse-poppin panorama of plenary pleiadic pulchritude."
     The MC wore Pinky's Palace pink shorts with a formal set of tails and top hat. High-top purple sneakers completed the sartorial splendor.
     "Take your seats, gentlemen, and hold onto your -- no not that! -- hold onto your hats, for here they come now, Pinky's Palace's Seven Sisters..."
     "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody," classically corny, poured from the DJ's old 78 as the seven women, each dressed in her "fantasy" outfit, paraded in and around the audience, stroking the heads and pinching the cheeks of the regulars. The MC made a small cadenza out of each of their names, calling forth more applause to accompany them to their destination behind the ring, between "bandstand" and bar.
     Heavenly Helen was first to perform, not as the face that launched a thousand ships, but as her "fantasy" character, Nurse Rachette. Wearing a costume somewhere between a bodice-ripper night nurse's and a Marat/Sade nun's, with wimple awry, and hand-cuffs dangling at her waist, she lip-synched an oddly mirrored version of Gershwin's "Crazy For You," sauntering lasciviously, and playing simultaneously both patient and attendant. Her "craziness" consisted in needing to struggle out of various pieces of clothing as though she were a mad Houdini doing a straight-jacket escape. And so, though love may not inspire my lingo/Still it's making my heart go bango-bingo was occasion enough for an open-bloused demonstration of her point of maximum impulse. She brought $240 on the auction block.
     Bodacious Brunhilde was next, blonde as ever, but in a hippie wig of waist-long straight blonde hair, her Valkyrie horns left behind, an embroidered vest over a bare bosom, and an Indian-print skirt, down to her bare feet. Arnold's heart went bango-bingo when he saw his Evelyn in the follow spot. She paraded in silence, nymphlike, along the VIP tables, like Hamlet reading upon his book -- Arnold's well worn copy of The Book of Questions. "A mob crowded around," she read, "eager to keep up an illusion of being alive..." and her music entered, sforzando, at the top of the DJ's electronic lungs, Barry McGuire's 1965 recording of "The Eve of Destruction."

     The eastern world it is explodin',
     violence flarin', bullets loadin',
     you're old enough to kill but not for votin',
     you don't believe in war, what's that gun you're totin',
     but you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
     ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Arnold may have been the only person in the room to appreciate the wordplay on her name. But a little thought plunged him into deeper perplexity: what, exactly, was this Eve intent on destroying? The event in the room? Hardly. She was every hard-hat's wettest dream. The Edenic world? Him?
     The image was doubly complex because unlike any of her sisters, she had chosen to lip-sync a male voice, and thus the room was confronted with the most sensuously girlish of figures putting out a sound with a two day growth of beard. And this with rings on her toes! Had the woman captured the man? Had the man captured the woman? What was one to make of this dopplegang-banging portrayal? She sat down in half-lotus, hiking her skirt to mid-thigh to accommodate it. She placed her hands in the dhenu mudra of invocation.

     Yeah, my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin',
     I'm sittin' here, just contemplatin',
     I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
     and marches alone can't bring integration,
     when human respect is disintegratin'

     Here she stood quickly up, ripped off her skirt, and flung it angrily in the face of a VIP at her feet. She stood there in her half-open vest and bikini panties, her blonde pubis bulging in its V.

     this whole crazy world is just too frustratin',
     and you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
     ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

     And now she began to sing -- to not only lip-sync, but to add her voice to Barry McGuire's, embellishing selected words in melismatic counterpoint: hate, Selma, poundin', disgrace...

     Think of all the hate there is in Red China!
     Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!
     Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,
     but when your return, it's the same old place,
     you can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace

She threw the book right at Arnold,

     hate your next-door-neighbor, but don't forget to say grace

and with her empty hands now clutched her hair,

     and you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend

then, Godiva-like, opened her vest in such a way that the silken fall both covered and revealed her voluptuousness, pressing out against her leanness, informed more, Arnold thought, by love than by sex, her breasts.

     ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

     The crowd went wild. Evelyn stood there throughout the auction, her eyes closed, her vest coming off her shoulders, her hands cupping her hair against her breasts, a most tragic and affecting figure. She garnered the high bid of the evening.
     After the auction, the fantasy women returned to the dressing room to assume their standard formats, while the audience pixillated itself for battle. Managers and opponents had been chosen, and Evelyn had drawn the first go-round.
     When she reappeared, it was as Bodacious Brunhilde in a black bodysuit with Pinky's pink leotard over. On her armband, a German eagle clutching a generalized runic symbol -- no swastikas allowed. Blonde braids hung from under a horned helmet. A walking, stalking mixed metaphor, she entered the ring, stately, with dignity, to strains from Tannhauser. Her opponent marched in after her, in Pinky shorts and fighter's robe, to the Grand March from Aida, gesturing stereotypically, pumping his hands clasped above his head, already victorious, even if already the loser.
     First act: Soap-down. The MC placed a small stand on the large table, front and center at the ring. On the former, he placed a classically ornate lathering machine, liberated from some turn-of-the-century barber shop now out of customers. Evelyn's manager labored at covering his charge with warm shaving cream -- up to mid-thigh. She did her own chest. Opponents had the choice of lathering themselves or not. Mostly they chose not.
     To counter her increasingly cream-puffy image, Evelyn taunted her guy with her best Cherman accent. "I vould get some kream if I vas you. You could get geskveezed to death. You know how much I hurt you, Dummkopf? Tink you are some big man, not true? Aber ich bin schwartzbelt. Und du bist übergefucked."
     All he could say was "Yeah, yeah."
     When they were ready, the MC grabbed the mike.
     "Ladies and Gentleman! In this corner, weighing in at one-oh-five, representing Pinky's Pulchritudinous Pugilists, our Aryan Queen, our visiting coed from Heidelberg, Germany, the incomparable blonde bombshell, Bodacious Brunhilde!
     "Hojotoho! Heiaha!" she sung out, straight from "The Ride of the Valkyries."
     "And in this corner, weighing in at two-fourteen, from Webster Avenue, Mr. Joe Blow! Joe Blow? Don't sound like a real name to me. But then again, if you had challenged Bodacious Brunhilde to a do-or-die, you wouldn't want to use your real name either. But Joe Blow??? Think this is some kind of Blow job?" Much guffawing.
     The combatants were gestured to the center of the ring.
      "Down on your knees, boy! Hands behind your back! Good boy. OK. You both know the rules. You stay on your knees, she gets to do what she wants." Booing from the crowd. "Hey, look at the poor little thing. She's half his weight. Eddie the Ref here will be watching closely. We'll go three three minute rounds, and may the best man win!"
     "You mean beste voman!" Evelyn yelled threateningly. "There is no bester Mann," she instructed the crowd. More booing.
     The ref rang the bell, and Evelyn attacked like lightning, giving her Valkyrie cry, and flipping in the air to land right in front of her Joe. "Ich vill kick your ass," she yelled, ran behind the kneeling victim, and butt-pushed him sprawling to the mat. He whipped around and grabbed her ankle, pulling her down on top of his back, as the shaving cream now took over. "Take it easy, babe" she whispered. "Be a good boy."
     While they were squiggling around on the plastic, the MC moved constantly around the audience like an orangutan, swinging one-armed from pipes hanging from the ceiling, and landing on various table tops. He kicked a beer into the lap of some poor Fordham college zhlub, and yelled to his buddies, "Yo! Get this guy another Schlitz!"
     The crowd was going wild with laughter, the DJ upped the volume of the "William Tell Overture" -- and the bell rang. End of round one.
     Rounds two and three were similar: exaggerated headlocks and slippery half nelsons, fierce female charges and devious male defense, all driven by ever more crowd noise and ever louder music -- the Khatchaturian Sabre Dance, and lastly, the final madness of Beethoven's Ninth. Joe Blow was deemed the unexpected winner. "No fucking vay!" screamed Evelyn, which earned her a peremptory escort out to the dressing room to clean up her act.
     Arnold, too, needed a breather. He walked up and down Tremont Avenue for forty minutes, and was back in time to catch the last act in the first half: Naughty Nicole sliding herself in and out of the lubricated clutches of one John Doe, the ultimate winner. There was a break for refreshments, and then,
     "Ladies and Gentlemen -- or rather, Gentlemen -- our Lady seems to have left. The moment many of you have been waiting for, those not brave enough to get in the ring, or those too cheap to lather the girls up. It's Kissing-for-Tipping-Time at Pinky's world-famous sports Palace, get a kiss for a buck, what a bargain!"
     Out came Bodacious Brunhilde, Rockin' Rebecca, Titillating Tiffany, and Naughty Nicole, the losers from the first half, back in their fantasy costumes, parading slowly around the tables in the room.
     "Get those dollars out, men," the MC barked, "and get them high in the air so the ladies can see. They're not gonna stop if you ain't got a buck! You want extra attention? Forget the ones, get out your fives and tens. Hey, who knows what they'll give ya for a twenty." The DJ put on "As Time Goes By" to try to move the ambiance into something less frantic, more slinky. You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh... The fundamental things applied: the money waved, the kisses titillated, the DJ upped the ante with Ba-, ba-, baccia me, bambino.
     Arnold was busy comparing the other girls' techniques when he heard a stifled cry from Evelyn, an inbreath of shock and dismay. He spun around to see his beloved on a table off to the right, frozen at the sight of Ken Death and Nigger Thumper offering up their cash. He hadn't spotted them earlier.
     "They said they came to see me naked and they were bummed," she told him in the dressing room, while washing up. "And I found this in my collection plate." She handed Arnold a fiver, to which was clipped an ace of spades. On the bill was written "TELL PRETTY BOY HITLER WE'RE ON TO HIM."
     "What's with the Ace of Spades?" Arnold asked.
     "It's one of their Vietnam things. They used to pin them to dead VC to scare the shit out of the villagers."
     "Before or after they cut off their ears?" She retrieved the card, and put it face down on the dressing room table. "Who is the death card for -- you or me?" he asked.
     "It's probably just a gesture," she replied. "Those guys have a sub-mediocre flair for the dramatic."

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