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He’s been tracking the swallowtail for a hundred yards. Problem being, he wants to use the macro setting without using the zoom, so he has to get in close. The swallowtail finds a small yellow flower that seems to captivate her. Edward squats on the trail, raises the lens at a glacial pace, focuses and snaps. The sound sends her fluttering, a piece of confetti in the breeze. But that’s okay. He’s got her.
She expects that Zarita might be mad at her, might even give her a good chewing out, but their lunch follows the usual patterns. Z greets her at the door with a hug. They cross the parking lot to the thin-slice pizza joint near the coffeehouse. Founded in Santa Cruz, the Pizza My Heart chain operates on a surfing theme. The walls are covered in posters for surfing movies, and the combos have oceanic nicknames. Zarita gets the Maui Wowie, Canadian bacon with pineapple. Zelda gets the Big Sur, with garlic cloves, pepperoni, sausage, portobello mushrooms and green onions.
“Once in a while, I think I’m in a rut, so I order something else, but then I think, Damn, I should’ve gotten the Big Sur!”
Zarita laughs entirely too much. Zelda gives her a puzzled look.
“What’m I, Seinfeld ovah heah?”
“No,” says Zarita. “I was just remembering that time we were here and we saw Roxy making out with that college kid.”
Zelda’s eyes get big. “That was awesome!”
“I wonder what became of that guy?”
“You know, I never asked her. I think I didn’t want to admit that I was spying.”
Zarita takes a big bite and nom-noms all the way through to indicate her pleasure.
“It’s nice to have a crazy rich aunt.”
Zarita takes a sip of soda and plants her cup on the table. “So! I have some business.”
“Yes. Number one. Zelda. Darling. I know Jackson can be a dick, but please, if you’re going to kick him, anywhere but the jewels.”
“Oh.” Zelda hides her face.
“It’s just that I get some good use out of those things.”
“Quickly to number two. I have this trainer at my gym. The women’s gym? And she’s also the manager. The other day she’s teaching me some new yoga moves, and these workers are making all this noise in the corner and I say Margie what the hell is going on? And she says they’re installing stripper poles. And I say, Oh! Are you going to have classes? And she says Yes, but I haven’t found an instructor. Where the hell do you find a stripper pole instructor? And I say, I know just the woman for the job.”
Zelda can’t speak, because her mouth is full of Big Sur.
“Put your resume together, Z. You are so in.”
Zelda nods and chews. “Zhee! Ah wuv oo!”
“Ah wuv oo too.”
A dozen brave women sit on their stretching mats as “Lady Marmalade” plays over the PA. A curvaceous brunette struts to the center pole, takes a couple of recreational spins, then grabs it with both hands, flips herself upside-down and splits her legs into a dangling spread-eagle. The women gasp and applaud. She rotates around the pole, hand-over-hand, pulls her legs together, pointed at the ceiling, then flips backward into a dismount. The song cuts off; her students hoot and holler.
“Thanks you! I wanted to make sure that you knew, that I know what I’m doing.” She pauses to catch her breath. “Now the bad news. You will not be doing that.”
“Aww!” the students moan.
“Uh-oh,” says Zelda. “I’ve got one of those entertaining classes. Anyways, I do hope that you will learn some fun moves in this class, maybe live out some fantasies and develop a little attitude. Along the way, you may find yourself in some very unexpected positions, and that is why I am declaring this studio a non-judgement zone. Just remember, the next woman with her ass stuck in the air might be you.”
She stops to allow some snickering.
“You will find that pole-dancing requires much strength and flexibility, so if you want to maximize what you get out of this class I would recommend you also pursue yoga and weightlifting. Aesthetically, I will spend a lot of time stressing two important basic skills: pointing your toes like a ballet dancer or gymnast to elongate your legs, and keeping your shoulders back to produce the best posture. Now! Why don’t we start with some basic stretching, and then we can introduce you to your poles.”
At first, Zelda was hesitant about having friends in the class. But the idea of speaking to a room full of strangers scares the bejeesus out of her, and it helps to see a couple of familiar faces. Afterward, they adjourn to a neighboring juice bar to conduct a recap.
“Well, Z, I gotta say, the yoga training gives you a distinct advantage. You’re very graceful.”
“Now we just have to build up those biceps and you’ll be flipping around like Cirque de Soleil.”
“Okay. As long as I don’t look like Popeye.”
Zelda takes a sip of her Mango a Go-Go. “As for you Countess, there are certain subtleties to pole dancing that come not from learning but from doing. Perhaps occupational doing.”
Roxy gives a sneaky, close-mouthed smile. “How do you think I worked my way through college?”
“For that matter, how do you think I snared Carson Alameda?”
“But that inspires a question, dear Zelda. How did you get so good at this?”
“I was quite the hot gymnast as a kid, but then I began to develop hips, and the gymnastic world is pretty brutal when it comes to body types. So I quit competing, but I still found time to mess around on my own. A few years later, I got hooked on that show The Sopranos, and I especially liked the scenes at the strip club. Lots of different bodies working those poles, and it sure looked like fun. I found that studio in Campbell with the proper equipment, and I visited a few strip joints to pick up some moves. I never dreamed that pole-dancing would become this, like, female empowerment thing, but I gotta say, I like the way it worked out.”
“You’re a natural teacher,” says Roxy.
“You are!” says Zarita. She finishes her Very Berry and stands. “Well, sistahs. I need to get home to my husband. ‘Husband.’ I still feel funny saying that.”
“How does hubby feel about the class?”
“Oh, he thinks this is an aerobics class. He’s going to be very surprised when I break out some of these moves.”
Zelda laughs. “You may have to install a pole in your bedroom.”
They exchange a round of hugs and see her off, then Roxy and Zelda sit back down.
“How are you doing?” asks Roxy.
“Fine,” says Zelda. “Like I said, it’s the public speaking part that…”
“No,” says Roxy. “I mean, how are you doing?”
“Oh!” says Zelda. “That. Well, I’ll tell ya, the avalanche was building force. It’s so great to have this class to focus on. I mean…” She covers her face and laughs. “I was getting bad, wasn’t I?”
Roxy smiles and touches her hand. “You were getting to be a scary-ass bitch.”
Zelda swats Roxy’s arm. “You don’t have to be so fucking honest all the time.”
“That’s okay. I knew that really wasn’t you. It’s good to have my Zelda back. Hey, but I need to head out, also. Take care, sweetie. And congrats! You were terrific.”
Zelda gives her a kiss on the cheek and watches her saunter away. She powers up her phone and is surprised to see a text from Mr. Piccone.
Hi Zelda. Got a new guy covering the games, but I need a second Gigante to do a fundraiser Thursday. Would you be interested?
Well! thinks Zelda. The avalanche is in full reverse.
It’s not the best year for the Giants. They fall into a slump in August and find themselves out of the playoffs for the first time in years. After the final game, a week after Labor Day, Zelda showers up and reports to the seats behind home plate, where Tee awaits for a post-season strategy session.
Zelda has been developing a theory of mascots. The classic high school mascot is an energetic nerd. College, an energetic nerd with a major in dance or theater. Once you get to the pros, the mascots tend more toward former athletes with theatrical leanings. This is certainly true of Tee, who possesses a lean, gangly physique and a tremendous wingspan. The long arms, once useful for blocking shots, now fit nicely into playing a gorilla. Zelda teases him, calling him a “knuckledragger.”
What’s more helpful to Zelda, given her recent history, is that Tee is newly married, to a shapely brunette named Luisa. In addition to the differences of thick and thin, short and tall, Tee is black and Erin is about as white as a woman can be. Their kids, four-year-old Eric and one-year-old Grace, are freakin’ adorable, a testament to the benefits of interracial breeding.
Tee’s face is sleek and aerodynamic, a bit like a friendly viper, and he’s got a snake’s wide mouth, as well. At the moment, he’s using it to grin as he pops the cork on a bottle of champagne.
“Well!” says Zelda. “And here I thought we were having a business meeting.”
“Yes! And the business is celebrating.” He pours the bubbly into two Giants beer cups and passes one to Zelda. “Have a seat. Enjoy the view.”
The sun has just ducked behind the Santa Cruz Mountains and is sending up a crown of goldenrod. The groundskeeper, Caravel, is dragging the infield one last time, the dust rising in his wake.
“Hey Tee, I always wondered, when the kids come to the games, do they know it’s you in there?”
“Well, not Grace of course. But one night Eric saw through the screen and said, ‘Hey, it’s Daddy!’ I spoke with him later and said that Daddy’s job was to help out the team by pretending to be a gorilla, and that is was very important for him to play along.”
“Oh yeah. No kid can resist a game of pretend.”
Tee laughs. “I hear you encountered one kid who didn’t want to.”
Zelda hides her face. “Oh God. They told you about that?”
“Through the grapevine. You’re a hero, you know. You know how many mascots have wanted to tell off one of those little shits?”
Zelda laughs out loud. “I’m a hero. Haven’t felt like a hero in a long time.”
Tee takes a drink and swishes it around his mouth. “Hero to me. Your little Tourette’s attack got me some much-needed work.”
“Glad I could help. I hope my return didn’t cut into your wages.”
“Your return saved my ass. Remember that heat wave, late July?”
“Second game of a doubleheader, got a full-body muscle cramp. They had to put me on an IV! That’s when they decided I needed some help.”
“So what do you do in the off-season?”
“Well, I teach a… class.”
Tee points a finger. “What’s that about?”
“That pause. ‘I teach a… class.’”
“I teach a stripper pole class.”
“Well! Innocent little Zelda.”
“Yep, that’s me. And in two months, it’s gone from one class to three.”
“Yeah, I’m trendy. Hey, speaking of, I really like your moves.”
“Thanks,” says Tee. “I’ve been studying with a friend.”
“You’re very smooth. I was wondering if you’d like to do some couples dancing?”
“No! I used to do this, well, human counterpart, Gigantina.”
“Awesome! Yeah, let’s meet sometime and see if we can come up with something.”
That decided, they lie back in their seats and watch the darkening field.
“What about you?” asks Zelda. “What’s your off-season like?”
“I work with a D League basketball team in Santa Cruz. I am a dancing sea turtle.”
Zelda laughs. “Does he have a shell?”
“Yes. But it’s very aerodynamic.”
Zelda looks past the right-field fence, where the final cars are leaving the parking lot. “So your job description is sea turtle-slash-gorilla. That is wild.”
“Hey, whatever feeds the kids.”
“And what cute kids they are.”
Tee smiles. “What about you, Zelda? Family? Family to be? Hot dates? Just tell me if it’s none of my damn business.”
Zelda flashes on Edward’s latest post, a rust-colored salamander. “Boyfriend.”
“Yep. That’s serious. Does he come to the games?”
“Used to. He’s away right now.”
“Ah, that’s too bad. Business?”
“Yeah. He’s a photographer.”
“Yeah. He’s really good.”
Tee’s eyes get bigger. “Hey, hear that?”
He trots to the fence behind home plate. “Hey, Caravel! Crank it up.”
Caravel grins and runs to his radio. It’s a salsa number, “Suavamente.”
Tee holds out a hand. “C’mon. It’s your audition.”
Zelda hops down the steps and takes Tee’s long arms. She lets the rhythm climb from her feet into her hips. Tee pulls her into a wrap, reels her back out, and then keeps the spin going – two, three… Zelda whips herself away, kicks a leg high and out, and returns to the salsa step, her hips in full swivel.
“Oh, yeah!” says Tee. “This’ll work.”
He pulls her back in.
Photo by MJV