Below is Part 7 of 16 monthly installments for Visitant.
Divisa in partes tres, divided into three parts, Gaius Julius Caesar
Most folks hear the word Caesar and think salad, but Gaius Julius (100-44 B.C.) was a conqueror talking all Gaul—France, not food groups. Olive oil makes the best dressing, but who can deny the benefits of snake oil—the rabbit in the hat, the lady sawed in half? Not me, Dot Motley.
In my experience, hucksters impress with bluff, not falsified credentials. Outside of the box, they use different skill sets from the rest of us. But success breeds jealousy, and every workplace has a mole, a self-proclaimed credential cop trolling for duplicates, doppelgangers, and shapeshifters. Self-proclaimed is the key word.
Recently, a new director named Moira Hollander revolutionized the county art museum with digital platforms and crowd-sourced with confidence. On a first-name basis with the world, Moira didn’t allow the press to call her Dr. Hollander, although, in professional circles, academic degrees count.
New audiences for art are an iffy sell. Moira, coiffed and corpulent, met the challenge with something for everybody. She opened the museum to quilting bees, bonsai groups, and mimes. Watercolor classes sold out. Evening programs, catered with themed foods, were mobbed. Casual attire okay. Great, I could theme my trusty polka dots.
Attendance soared to an all-time high. Kids waved coloring sheets. Adults posed in hair that matched or clashed with exhibitions. Gift-shop sales boomed.
Parking became an issue after a local developer made a multi-million-dollar gift. The painting by French master Edgar Degas (1834-1917) portrayed ballerinas with doughy faces, dishwater blonde hair, and thickish bodies. This was safe art, showing just a little skin. Viewers were intrigued.
The docents were the first to grumble about outside tour groups, crowded restrooms, commotion. The cozy board of trustees who hired Moira fired her. They deemed the woman and her success too supersized. Meaning, too fat to saw in half as they posed for reporters beside Ballet Dancers at the Bar.
No expert, I am a survivor of the saw. Food, I’ve learned, is critical currency in the teeter-totter of dating. A steak and potatoes sort of .com guy, Ray credits me, Dot Motley, for bringing leafy salads into his life. Like I’m Caesar to his Mister Potato.
Such epiphany, that heap of baby greens—bearded lettuce, radicchio, romaine, plus a smattering of sliced tomatoes and shredded carrots for color. No two salads are exactly the same, but what a zesty end to a long day. A light motif to the thorny politics of endangered snail darters or the rain in Spain.
Whatever the salad, chef, Cobb, or Caesar, Ray pokes and complains about weight gain.
Adorn not. Skip the dressing, I urge, bypass calories. Walk.
Where to? he asks, eyeing the mall across the street. Dangerous those eight lanes of traffic. No sidewalks, narrow medians. What if I slip?
Too late I realize I’m his salad course. After tender early-evening partings, Ray hooks up with another sweetie for late-night steak (warm red center) and loaded baked potato.
How do I know?
I spy. Quick-change artist in elevator, restroom stall, backseat or park shadows, I ditch my polka dots and emerge in spring florals, summer seersucker, fall camo, or Santa suit. In select wigs, I pass—ringing Holiday bell, eating grits, sipping martinis, hunting Easter eggs with borrowed grandkids.
Ray, I learn, is also versatile. Monday/Tuesday lettuce pal serves as Wednesday chaplain at a homeless shelter. Who knew? Thursday, he prays with dying vets at the overcrowded V. A. hospital. Nice. Friday sermon writer leads well-attended Sunday services at the Church of Holy Colors.
Welcome, his words of comfort in a riddled world, but Ray is an imposter. who appreciated the succor of belief. Does he officiate weddings and funerals? As for the other woman, maybe, she of the beefsteak meets someone else for dessert. I can’t be everywhere.
Outed, Ray claims to love us both as different aspects of womanhood—like vacation time-shares on different islands. Or the woman sawed in half.
A salad of lies with a side of fries.
Spying disclosed the good side of Ray, a better side than he wished to share with me. Snooping, I also learn Degas’s dancers worked in brothels. The ballet offered allure, a beard of sorts for social ills.
What if the painting donated to the county museum is a fake? No one dares inspect the brush strokes and pigments. Success with the viewing public made fat Moira look suspect and the paunchy trustees look good.
Scenes, painted or real, can raise and lower the bar of belief. One evening a month, our book club, a silver-haired platoon, convenes in the community room of a giant organic supermarket. After the last meeting, the handsome man in the group stops me at the front store entrance.
Dot, he calls, Dot Motley.
As others leave, he stages a brief encounter between two huge bins of spotted bananas. Big lamps buzz overhead. Dull moths drop dead in our hair.
Tim is testing himself with a femme fatale. Not me, her, book-club beauty, unlocking her car, glancing over her shoulder with amber eyes watching him watch her before his wedding ring reins him in between two piles of spoiling bananas.
A willing beard, I brush off moth wings and discuss plot points.
About Edith Wharton, Tim says, go parenthetical, between the lines.
Interesting advice from a married man.
We laugh, glad for Margaret Atwood next time, and go our separate ways.
Our book group is an engine fueled with gossip—sickness, failing spouses, temp partners, sots. From the grapevine, I hear femme fatale wants to know what we two discussed outside the store.
Foison, the price of fair-trade bananas, I reply.
Like I’m faking literary concerns to attract male attention. I snitch a banana. Let her stew over the lump in my skirt, worry dowdy Dot carries a concealed piece. Jealousy has made me hair-brained. I should introduce said dish to Ray as his dessert course, ha, ha, torched bananas Foster blue with flames.
Foolhardy with others’ truths, I’m still using my real name, Dot Motley. Yep, boots are made for walking, as pop star Nancy Sinatra threatened, all over you. Always marching in place, recently I have met someone my age who loves Rock and Roll. In college, he admired coeds with long straight hair, tall high-heeled boots, and mini-skirts. My look back then, but I keep mum.
My present does not match my past, and he might resent polka dots messing with his memory box, trying for an in to walk all over him.
The way he reminisces, he craved ravishment on the great ship of life but, after college, settled for hot air. He started an HVAC business with some buddies, technicians now earning more than forty-five grand a year.
Not bad, these salaries, the rewards of loyalty.
Along with Golden Oldie vibes, we two enjoy sailing. Not that either of us owns a boat. At Happy Hour, we tipple, rock with the tides of life, and recite the parts of a full-rigged ship—mizzen mast, clew, cleat, foc’sle.
We take a breath and launch into tiller, thwart, halyard, jib, plus those wonderful verbs of the sea—shorten sail, reef, tack, head up—and visceral adjectives, leeward, becalmed, in irons. O, for the salty smell of the sea and the roll of the deep—divine attributes. The one male, we decide, and the other female.
On a clear night, Captain HVAC stands on his redwood deck and navigates by the stars. Of course, he’s going nowhere. As for us, we’ve run aground in different zip codes of a southern college town. And here’s why. Mole I may be, but I won’t don a sailor suit and dance my dots to the hornpipe.
His other hobbies include the War of Northern Aggression. In the past, he made frequent getaways to Civil War battle sites. His wife thought he was off on business. He was home by dinnertime. With an appetite. But soon he was spending the night, then two nights.
His favorite destination was Richmond, Virginia, port of call for the Confederate Navy. With only fourteen of thirty vessels seaworthy, the Dixie navy relied on subterfuge, novel maritime ploys—submarines, torpedo boats, underwater mines.
Or, so he informs me.
The queen of the fleet was the Shenandoah, an iron-clad three-master, teak-planked with steam power. While soldiers died horrible deaths on land, the ship’s crew traveled the Seven Seas on grand adventures.
Helmsman of reverie, I realize, is Captain HVAC, looting whalers for oil, abandoning lily-livered mutineers, provisioning on ocean islands large and small. Ah, the beautiful women of Pacific atolls fishing the shallows in wavy grass skirts. Ah, the slam of the Shenandoah’s iron sides breaking ice in the Sea of Okhotsk. Maggots froze hard as bullets in the hardtack but his jolly crew does not complain. Onward to the Arctic Circle.
The bloody Civil War draws west of east till Generals Robert E. Lee and E. Kirby Smith surrender to the obvious in 1865. More than 620,000 men and boys, two percent of the Nation’s population has perished. Taps fill the dusk with sadness. Day is done, gone the sun.
Unfazed, the Shenandoah cruises on, short of sail, oft times under steam. At Liverpool, the English tell captain and crew the War Between the States is over, has been for a while, that war that never really ends.
The Shenandoah finds brief new glory as El Majidi, purchased by the Sultan of Zanzibar and renamed for him, a magus potentate of a kingdom of cloves.
As for grounded Captain HVAC, his wife will not divorce him. She, too, refuses to lose the war.
Or the car.
She has taken over his HVAC business and banished him to a shabby trailer park. There, he moons over the Rock opera Tommy, twists toothpicks and dental floss, and builds sailing ships in 64-oz. plastic soda bottles his neighbors throw on the road.
Where, I wonder, will he release his dream fleet? In a plastic sea, who will notice his soda-bottle flotilla?
And here my dots take leave of the captain and walk the plank.
Betcha HVAC bumps into Ray for unexpected unction at an All-You-Can-Eat buffet. Or, meets two-timing Tim at a local steak house. They can swap adventures. Like lunchtime 4-oz. with stuffed potato isn’t cheating. Let Captain spin his fantasies on a napkin and chart an all-guys’ cruise to Zanzibar, fiefdom of cloves.
I must confess, I still love to shove cloves like pushpins into the white fat of an uncooked ham. At the dinner table of my childhood, people parsed the cloves from the fat and the fat from the lean. They took no notice of my careful patterns copied from Chinese checkers boards.
Cloves, Syzygium aromaticum, are strange foison, a harvest of dead dried buds, native to the Maluku Islands of Indonesia. Antiseptic, they improve digestion, curb appetite, and repel sugar ants.
Ray needs to chew cloves to curb flatulence, tooth aches, and sore gums. Clove-eaters boast weight loss and satisfaction, that golden mean we all desire.
Here’s the latest juice. Fearful of brothel, the museum trustees ordered a curtain drawn across the Degas painting. Weekends, they wear head towels, rent camels, and continue their search for the perfect human being. They carry saws, not swords, but, like Caesar, divide to conquer. They forget fellow Romans assassinated Caesar in his prime.
I, too, search, but my heart is beating me to death. Fool pump (who knew?) equipped with paddle, not the Sear’s model with geared handle as advertised, for ease of labor should love require no heavy lifting or deep knee-bends.
See my hands—they boast firm grip. Though, today’s bucket brigade has my dots whupped in hood and muffler, cap pulled down, collar pulled up.
Before the ink turns fugitive, hear my truth to power.
Tapioca cools on the stove—
I fancy cuddle, nestle the years
feet up, watch T.V., sneak snoozy Zzzs.
My love-life too boring for pulse,
pudding becomes me.
How about you?
Kick up the dots, I tell myself. Ape Shakespeare. Change pudding to budding, budding to booty, and mail a self-addressed valentine for old time’s sake.
Buy a heart-shaped box of chocolates—chewy nougats, no soft centers. Heck, travel trike to the candy factory. Fear not unclean traces of cocoa fat, dry milk, peanuts, and soy. Coming home, watch fireflies across the fields.
Smallness need not be strange. Anyhow, pudding is saw-proof.
[image: Edgar Degas - Dancers at the Bar, 1900
► Next Installment THU 4/2 | Holding Patterns: Dowries