Below is an excerpt from my novel, The Last Laugh.
Joey strode into the restaurant, straight past the sign requesting guests to wait to be seated, with the air of a man who has just bought the whole place. He stopped at a table where a couple in their 50s were dining with a young man and woman. The young man looked impatient, brewing a fight for later. Had to be their son, the resemblance was striking. The older woman was obviously disapproving of everything. The young woman looked nervous, fiddling with a diamond ring, ready to do handstands at the drop of a hat, if that would help her chances of being accepted. Must be the prospective daughter-in-law.
“Are you enjoying your lunch?” Joey asked the elder lady. She assented dismissively, but that did not dissuade Joey. “How are the fries?” he went on.
“They’re just fine, thank you,” the woman replied curtly.
“Yep,” said Joey. “I like ‘em crispy. Now you look like the kind of woman who’s never going to be happy in a restaurant.” Everyone at the table tightened. “Because I bet you know you could always do better at home.”
The woman’s manner changed completely. She looked up into Joey’s eyes, as though he were announcing himself as her long lost brother. On he went, “I can tell a good cook a mile away, because all the men in her life look well-fed and well-loved. You could put these fries to shame any day of the week, couldn’t you?”
She flushed. Joey bent down and took a couple of fries from her plate and put them in his mouth. She looked up at him in wonder, and pushed the plate toward him in case he wanted more.
“She’s got a world of good things to teach you, my dear,” he said to the younger woman. “She knows the secret to making a man happy.” He did that funny thing with his eyebrow. The younger woman leapt into an animated monologue, as though she had been waiting for her cue at a school play. “Oh yes, Maude is a wonderful cook.” She flashed a nervous smile at Maude, and giggled. “Dan loves his mother so much, and I feel so lucky to be joining this family. She’s also a really wonderful seamstr—”
Joey moved on, leaving the table in electrified confusion. His next stop was a table where an overweight couple was sitting with their five overweight children, all fighting indiscriminately among themselves. Both parents looked exhausted, with each other, with the whole chaos they had landed for themselves. The man was wearing a very loud sweatshirt, Christmas greetings blazing from it in neon letters, in every language known to man.
“Now that, sir, is a magnificent garment,” said Joey. The wife beamed, as if to say “See, I knew it was a good choice.” The kids stopped and stared up at Joey in fascination.
“Your Dad is a great man,” Joey went on. “I admire him more than . . . ” he made big eyes at the oldest child, only about eight, “ . . . Superman.” The child took a sudden sharp in-breath. “Make very, very sure,” Joey bent toward the child in a conspiratorial whisper, “That you do everything he tells you to do. That’s important, if your mission here on Earth is to succeed.” The father straightened his back and knitted his brows, trying to remember where he had met Joey before, coming up with nothing.
“And,” Joey went on, looking at the wife. “He’s easily the best-dressed man in this whole joint.” She shuddered a little and looked rapturous.
And so we finally found ourselves an empty table, right in the middle of the restaurant, and sat down. Joey looked back at the five kids and waved. The table near the entrance where Joey had taken the fries was by now bubbling with animated laughter.
“Ah,” said Joey. “God I love humanity.”
The waitress arrived with our menus.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen.” She greeted us in a thick Australian accent. In her early 20s, she was beautiful and buxom. Her blonde hair was tied back into a little ponytail, she had bright blue eyes, a freckly nose, and a strong athletic body. She had the look of a woman who had grown up with Marlboro men, had wrestled many a fully-grown kangaroo to the ground, laughing all the while. As she bent down to clear the dishes from the table, Joey looked unabashedly down her white shirt at the top of her full brown breasts.
“Beautiful,” he murmured, like an art connoisseur at an exhibition, “Just beautiful.”
The waitress stood up again, dishes in hand, and smiled, cocking her head to one side. A healthy clean country smile. “Well, thank you,” she grinned, as though she were just done with shearing 200 sheep and taking a break before doing more, “A girl does sure like to be appreciated.”
“No, thank you dear,” said Joey. “Your radiant and alive beauty has brightened my whole day. You are like a beautiful painting.” His gaze was unashamed, as he took in her whole body with complete relish.
We ordered. A cup of tea each. Joey also wanted dessert, and insisted on hearing in detail about every item. He settled on chocolate chocolate-chip cheesecake. “And do you suppose you could manage that smothered with hot fudge sauce?” he asked. He tickled her with the word smothered. I writhed.
“Oh, I dare say we could do that for you,” she joked back. “Anything else now?”
“Marry me!” said Joey.
The waitress left, looking quite perky. I was seething. Joey looked back at me in surprise.
“Got a problem?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“How can you talk to women like that?” I blurted. “I mean, you were looking at her like an object.”
“Hmmm,” said Joey considering. Then he smiled back at me. “But a very beautiful one!”
“Yes, but she’s a human being, not just a sex symbol.”
“Well, isn’t she a beautiful human being?”
“Yes, she’s gorgeous, stunning, but that doesn’t mean that you can just stare right down her blouse.”
“Why not?” said Joey. “That’s what everyone is doing, in their minds. And secretly, that’s what every woman wants: for her beauty, both inner and outer, to be relished. When her beauty is overlooked, she dies a small death every moment.”
I had gotten heavily steeped in feminism at college, and he was committing every politically incorrect chauvinist blunder that had been hammered out of me by various girlfriends. “Well, aren’t you making some sweeping generalizations? Don’t men want to be appreciated for their beauty too? Don’t women want to be appreciated for their brains and beliefs, and not just their breasts?” I was indignant now.
“Sure, every one of us has masculine and feminine energy. But the trouble with your present generation is you have mixed it all up. Men and women are different. Their bodies are shaped differently, just in case you hadn’t noticed. And their psyches are shaped differently too. A man has about 30 times more testosterone in his body than a woman does. And the woman, she has way more oxytocin. So you see, the average man’s life is more bound up with breaking through barriers, and accomplishment whereas most women identify more with being beautiful. If you want to support a man to feel his deepest essence, talk about what he has accomplished. If you want to do the same for a woman, notice her inner beauty.”
The waitress returned with our cups of tea. “Here you go, gentlemen!”
“Thank you, my dear,” said Joey. He took her hand. “Tell me,” he said. “My friend here is very upset that I complimented you on your lustrous beauty. Did it disturb you? How did you feel about it?”
The waitress seemed amused. “Well . . . frankly I rather liked it. I mean there are not too many men around who are that honest. You know, direct. I like that. Reminds me of home.”
“Ahh,” said Joey, reflecting seriously. “Yes, very direct people, the Australians. And how does it feel to be living inside such a young and alive body?”
Now the waitress was more than amused. She flushed. “Mmmm . . . ” she made the tiniest sounds with her out-breath. “Well, it feels great actually! I love to be in my body. I am just doing this job for the money, you know. I am really here in the States for the skiing.”
“Yes, skiing,” said Joey, “I used to love to ski, too. Too old now, mind you. I am sure that your radiant healthy body gives you a lot of pleasure.”
“Well, yes, it does.”
“And you give me pleasure too.” He paused. “My friend finds you beautiful too,” he said. “But he’d rather not tell you about it.”
“Oh well,” said the waitress, “Sounds like most men.” She smiled at me. “You’d better let your mate here give you some training in girly appreciation, he’s a pro.” She turned and left.
“I can’t believe you, Joey,” I blurted.
He was right, I had to admit it, he was only saying and doing what every man feels, but keeps hidden.
“See, the way you are with a woman is just like you are with all of life. One mirrors the other. If you hold back, if you are half-assed, life will turn from you and close to you. If you give everything of yourself,” Joey swept his hand to indicate the whole restaurant, and the canyon beyond, too, “she reveals her deeper beauty to you. All of life is a just one huge beautiful woman. You have to learn to love her deeply, all the time. Find her ticklish spots, tease her, notice her infinite beauty and tell her again and again and again.”
The waitress came back from the kitchen with Joey’s cheesecake. She was standing behind him, waiting for the right moment to interrupt.
“Kiss her, lick her, bite her. Give her everything you have. Whisper sweet nothings in her ear. She is craving for your presence. Give everything to her in every moment, like there has never been any other moment, and there will never be. She is screaming for you to make love to her.”
The waitress didn’t move a muscle. I was making little eye movements to Joey, a pained expression on my lips. I was dying.
“Huh-Hmmm,” said the waitress, transfixed. “Here we go.” She gave him his cheesecake. “Extra chocolate sauce. Can I get anything else for you?”
Joey looked up, with a twinkle in his eye that would eclipse the northern star. “I’ll let you know, my dear.”
She laughed. I could feel her opening to Joey like a rose. It annoyed me that he could bring her out like this with his crudities. She tore herself away from him.
“Now it’s your turn,” said Joey. I groaned, wondering what could possibly be next.
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