Clete and Juanita took second place in the dance contest down at the 101 Club. Ruth and Ellis, their next-door neighbors, finished out of the money. Not that there was any money involved. The three prizes were trophy cups mounted on faux walnut gold, silver and bronze.
But in truth, money did figure into the equation: Clete slipped the head judge a fifty-dollar bill (that he could ill afford) in the club's bathroom, as they stood side by side at adjacent urinals, dribbling with the diminished water pressure of enlarged prostate glands their respective fluids into stained porcelain. Placement in the top three was assured.
The theme on the dance floor was disco; the song, K.C.& the Sunshine Band's "Shake Shake Shake (Shake Your Booty)." The beat shook the walls, and the rodents and cockroaches therein. On the dance floor under flashing strobes, twelve couples gyrated simultaneously, taking their turns in the spotlight, booties bouncing around in a gelatinous orgy.
Clete, with black spikes of greasy black hair fashioned into a laughable comb-over that did little to conceal his state of baldness, circled his wife on the dance floor. Whippet-thin and clad in baggy bermudas and a frayed-at-the-collar thrift store shirt, he moved in a crouch, a little coiled spring full of jerky motions synchronized perfectly to the music's android beat. Juanita, a good fifty pounds heavier than her husband, had dressed that night in flowing vestments of cool turquoise. She moved with a light-footed, fluid grace. It is often said of a women of a certain size that: "She carries her weight well." Meaning, we can suppose, that in spite of extra poundage, a still alluring hourglass configuration is maintained; or perhaps it's simply the way the woman moves with a gliding momentum full of feminine undulations, in Juanita's case.
Her dance style was modified hula, juiced up a little in keeping with the uptempo character of the song; and she floating like a soap bubble around the dance floor, with the spritely Clete, a manic little moon, in her orbit. A sight they were, as she and he shook their booties, opulent and scrawny, respectively. And truth be told, they probably EARNED that second place trophy, if only for the number of admiring and/or jealous eyes Juanita attracted for her undeniable feminine allure, and she and Clete drew for their distinctive booty-shaking style.
Then Ruth and Ellis got their turn in the spotlight ...
Ruth's build was very similar to Juanita's. Voluptuous, to the aficionado of the ladies of the larger frames; matronly, or even the unkind "fat" to some of the less open-minded and younger set in the house that night. And while it might also be said of Ruth that "she carries her weight well," a situational tightness had infected her dance style, an infection germinated by a highly competitive spirit and inflamed further by of her husband's lack of adequate moves and the requisite desire to win. An infection that manifested itself in a slight clenching of the jaw that lent Ruth's face a somewhat sour and pinched expression. So while she moved well, she was unable to acquire the aura of free-flowing joyous hedonism that Juanita had radiated; because her dance partner had all the grace of a trained bear, a buffoonish one at that. An inelegant, plodding, clod-hopperish dance style made all the worse by an uninhibited and totally uncompetitive exuberance combined with a complete absence of awareness of what an ass he was making of himself. But Ruth knew, and her jaw got tighter and her moves more constrained as her man stabbed his arms in the air, raising one knee then the other with each thrust, stomping down seismically, rolling his big head around on his fat neck with his mouth hanging open and his eyes rolled to heaven, shaking, as per the song's request, his booty.
The judges awarded the prizes. Clete and Juanita received the silver cup. On the drive home it was a car pool affair, Juanita driving, Clete riding shotgun, Ruth and Ellis hunkered down in the back seat Clete was feeling magnanimous in his flush of victory (combined with the flush of several beers). He turned and handed the silver cup over the seat to Ruth, saying: "You guys really deserved a prize tonight. Nobody out there was shakin' their booties better'n youse two." In the car's dark interior, he was unaware of Ruth's steely glare, as Ellis said, "Thanks, partner" taking the prize from his wife "I can fill it up with ice, use it like one of those champagne buckets for a can of beer."
Ruth had another use in mind. Upon their arrival home, she snatched the cup from Ellis and stalked down the hall to the bathroom. She pulled the little plastic trash can out from beside the toilet, plucked up the toilet brush it held. The second-place cup took its place beside the downward curve of the commode. The toilet brush went rather violently in its maiden voyage there into Clete and Juanita's second place silver cup. The plastic trash can got kicked out into the hall.
A week later, when they came over for a barbecue, Clete and Juanita expected their cup to be on display, on an end table or perched on the mantle over the fire place, between Ellis' thirty-year-old second-place trophy from the Fourth Annual Loma Alta Bodysurfing Contest and the pictures of the Leahys' two grown kids. But it was nowhere to be seen. Not even on the picnic table, filled with ice, holding a lone beer.
They said nothing, until Juanita, after three wine coolers, had to use the bathroom and found her second-place silver cup put to ignominious use. She, assuming it was Ellis' doing, stormed out to the patio where she brandished the toilet brush in her neighbor's face. Ellis, a few beers into the wind, laughed at the sight of her which was not a wise thing to do. She lunged at him, a rotund fencer thrusting the brush at his face. He, long-stemmed barbecue fork in hand with a chicken thigh skewered thereon parried her attack expertly, twirling the toilet brush from her grasp and flinging it (along with the steaming thigh) out onto the lawn. Juanita's chihuahua, Ginger who at the smell of cooking meat had re-established a much covered-over burrow she'd dug beneath the fence that separated the two yards yapped at the flying objects and gave chase. She tried to pick up the chicken thigh, but it was too hot. So she attacked the toilet brush, took its stem in her teeth and gave it a good shake, then pranced with it back to the patio, sporting a doggie grin and a patina of old urine from the spray she dislodged from the black bristles.
"What the hell's wrong with you, woman?" Ellis demanded of Juanita as they stood glaring at one another. And then to Clete, Ellis said: "You ought to get control of your wife, pal. She gets a couple of drinks in her and she gets outta control."
Clete, unaware of the context of the attack, said, "Juanita, what's gotten into you?"
She didn't answer him. She lunged at Ellis, hands traveling toward his throat. Ellis dropped his barbecue fork and backpedalled; and Ruth who'd followed the irate Juanita out of the house grabbed her neighbor in a bear hug from behind. "CHILL OUT, GIRLFRIEND, CHILL OUT!" Ruth implored, as she wrestled Juanita off the patio and down onto the lawn; and Ellis trudged out onto the grass to retrieved the errant chicken thigh; and Clete tried to kick the toilet brush away from Ginger as he scolded his wife with, "No more wine for you, Nita," and Ginger backed away from Clete's foot and gave the black-bristled brush another good hard shake.
Published October 2005