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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Throwing in the towel

January 1st, 2014

BY CERVINE KAUFFMAN

When my friends met Jerry, they were appalled. Some of them even used the word “slumming.” But I liked to call it “towelling off.” I was climbing forth from the muck of yuppified eunuchs and video game slackers and rolling myself up in a real man. And it felt good.

womanhanginglaundryI met him while I was having a shake at my favorite diner and watching a guy unloading stacks of towels from his trunk. When the guy came in, I told him that he must want the Inn a Minute just across the parking lot, but he said no, he had just left there. Then he took a stool a few places down and started sorting his towels. I say “his” towels but they really belonged to the motel. He saw my brow furrow so he explained how the hospitality business works. He said that motels have to jack up their prices to make up for the towels that end up in people’s trunks, so guests, in turn, have to steal more towels to make the price of a motel worthwhile. It didn’t make much sense to me, but something about the conviction in his voice made me keep nodding. A couple of shakes later, I felt that I’d known Jerry for a week. When he suggested a road trip, I rolled up a few toiletries in a towel and got in the car.

You can really get to know someone in a car. Does he veer from lane to lane? Does he ask you to flip people off? Does he lack insurance? With Jerry, I took these things in stride. As long as we talked about towels, the conversation never dried up. Sometimes I wanted to mention something I’d been thinking or wanted to ask him about a book, but then I decided to sop up each minute simply and not put silly expectations on somebody that I might have to see for the rest of my life.

And there were times when he made me feel like a princess. Like the time we went skinny-dipping at Death’s Hideaway State Park. It’s called that because it’s so barren and hidden. We decided to get barren, too. I didn’t even think about towels, because we planned to sun ourselves on the Devil’s Footstool. We argued and Jerry stalked off to bring back a few towels “just in case.” I told him that he was ruining the rustic effect. We skinny-dipped awhile in silence, then I decided to get out and dry off in the car. I needed to reevaluate where this was going with Jerry.

When I reached down for my clothes, I saw just about the biggest rattlesnake I’d ever seen curled up amongst my skivvies. “Whatsa matter Civvy?” Jerry called out. (When we first started driving, Jerry called me “Towelette,” but then he switched to “Civvy,” which is short for “civilian” and rhymes with “skivvies.”) I was so scared. Jerry hopped down from the Devil’s Footstool and came over. When he saw the snake and heard the rattle, he knew immediately what it was. “Get me a towel, Civvy,” he said in that quiet, authoritative way of his. I did, and he threw it over the snake and we both jumped in the car and scrammed out of there as fast as possible.

I feel safe around Jerry, and proud of him, too. For example, when we headed back to the Big Burg (that’s what Jerry calls places with stop signs), we saw a car stalled by the road. Jerry knew right away that its battery was probably dead. Even though he didn’t have jumper cables, he backed his car close to the front of the other one, then asked me to get out, too. He looked real concentrated. “Reach me a towel, Civvy,” he said. “Go ahead and put some water on it.” After I’d done that, Jerry rolled a penny in the end. “The penny’s for good luck,” Jerry smiled. “Most people think that it’s necessary for the electricity, but what really does the trick is the loops in the towel fabric. They keep the current grounded.” I was astonished and so was the stalled motorist when his car roared to life. Jerry doesn’t do a whole lot, but what he does do is amazing.

When we got back to town, we decided to stop at the diner. Jerry changed into his tank top. I get all runny inside when Jerry puts on that tank top. All of the other guests were magically drawn to his competence, too, because all eyes were on him as he took out a fresh towel and tucked it into his top. “Paper chafes,” said Jerry, “and it’s not as absorbent. Plus, the ecology is bad.” He’s so articulate.

All of our outdoors adventures and rescues had put me in the mood for some indoor conversation, but Jerry just wanted to get home and relax. He settled into ironing towels and I warmed up some coffee. I started to think about guys I knew before Jerry. They were so different. They weren’t as reckless, and yet with Jerry around, I felt that there was a thick, thirsty towel between me and the world. Was I settling? It’s hard to say. There comes a time in a woman’s life when she wants towels, whether she admits it or not. My friends would ask me, “C.V., in five years, are towels going to be enough?”

I knew I wasn’t his leading lady. When he bought new towels, I had to swallow my pride and watch a lot of T.V. while he “did the laundry.” Usually he came back with fewer towels than when he had left, but I didn’t say anything. Sometimes he even asked me to throw a towel over my head, but so what.
What finally doomed us were my demands. We were scramming away from another swimming hole when I asked, “Is this your favorite?” He looked deep in something, so I asked again. “Is this one your favorite or do you like Demon’s Playground better?” Jerry’s face got as red as his neck. “Don’t ask me about favorites, Civvy! I don’t believe in favorites! Have you ever heard of a war that wasn’t caused by favorites?”

By this time, he was in the oncoming lane and I was cowering against the door. Then I whimpered, “But aren’t towels your favorite?” He was silent for a long time and his soft “No” was so much scarier than his shouting. “It was just an idea,” I grovelled.

Jerry pulled over and looked straight into my eyes, which he usually didn’t do. “Civvy, let me be plain: I don’t like favorites and I don’t have ideas. That straight?” I thought a lot about that as we drove home. I never thought I’d lack for towels or ideas and just assumed that they came together. Jerry showed me that I was wrong. It was time to pull the towel from over my eyes.

I gave Jerry an ultimatum: if I had to throw a towel over my head, then he could pretend to have ideas a couple of nights a week. He said no go. I began weeping. “We’re all wrung out, Civvy,” he said, and tossed me a towel. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: 11th Anniversary Issue, Kauffman | Link to this Entry

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