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All he wanted was a tender young thing with needs:

"Me and the Flesh"

by Albert Ujcic


Nugget: The Man's World

Vol. 3, No. 4, December,  1958

     The reason we were in the Clinton Cafeteria was not to drink tea, Phil and I. We were straining our eyeballs through the heavy glass between us and the stuff passing by on Market Street. Only there wasn't so much stuff. There was sailors, and old people buttoned up against the night cold but not much to excite guys nineteen going out of their heads with lust. I told Phil, "A man reaches his peak at seventeen. Imagine that! We're over the hump and what are we getting? Nothing!"
     "How about the broad I had over the place the other day?"
     "the spinach soup cooker?"
     "How about her?"
     Phil was right. He was getting that. But the spinach soup cooker! I'm ashamed to give a description. Phil found her in a bar on Sixth Street picking ashes out of her beer. Revolting. But after all, he was getting it. "What there ought to be," I said squeezing my tea bag, "is a law. For young men in their physical prime. A place."
     "A brothel."
     "No. Where you could meet cultivated dames. I suppose cultivated dames need it. They must! Well, the government ought to face the problem and get people together."
     "A big lonely hearts club."
     "No. Not just to get together and shoot the breeze. You could do that at the YMCA."
     "The YMCA's no good," Phil said. "I tried it. Dancing classes. It's full of spies."
     "So the government should..." I didn't know how to put it in words but I knew the government should do something. It couldn't be too quick for me. I was looking for something now. "Depriving guys like us, with our volatile spirits, is a menace to law and order. Hell, I'm ready to jump right through this window and tackle the next dame that walks by. What I mean is, tea makes me nervous when I'm in this state."
     "Not so loud."
     "Same old rotten Saturday night!"
     "Let's go down Sixth Street. Maybe we'll run into the spinach soup cooker. You can have her."
     "Thanks." I didn't want the old bar fly. "Look at us. Two clean cut American boys ready for action. And somewhere out there, dames. Our age, I mean. Soft!" I was making motions with my hands. "Boy! It kills me thinking about it. Educated dames. Book-of-the-Month club members. High class topics to talk about. What the hell does spinach soup cooker talk about? I ask you, Phil? What does she?"
     "Talk about?"
    "Don't she talk? After? What do you talk about, after? That's a part of it too. You know, lighting up a cigarette. Relaxing..." This was getting nowhere. I saw Phil and the spinach soup cooker didn't talk. Not before, during, or after. It made me mad as hell that stuff like that didn't matter to some people. "Look, Phil," I said, "maybe you want to go to Sixth Street. Go ahead if you want to. I'll just drift around town until the cops pick me up for attempted rape or something."
     "Want some more tea?"
     "No." I didn't give much of a damn about being poor company. In my condition I had more guts than I knew what to do with. "Young stuff, boy. Nice smooth hands. No appendicitis scars." I hated myself for feeling this way. It was my glands.
     "There's one," Phil said.
     There was one strutting by, all right. Young and chubby. Nice all right. But what the hell do you do in a civilized country, throw the teapot through the plate glass window and pin her to the sidewalk? Then she went out of range. "Chubby," I said. I stood up. "Am I chubby? Hell no, I'm not chubby. I got some respect for my appearance. I'm not a bad looking guy, Phil. Neither are you. We're entitled to stuff as cultivated as we are. That's what I think. There's a law of compensation, I think."
     "Sit down will you, before the special cop kicks us out of here."
     So I sat down. I wasn't afraid of the cop. Not in my state. I wasn't afraid of anybody.
     "More tea?"
     "The government's crazy to keep us all pent up like this."
     "You're pent up," Phil said. "I got the spinach soup cooker."
     "Can't you raise your sights, Phil old pal? Somewhere in San Francisco right this minute there's a couple of tender young things. Lacy pants and perfume and needs. Just waiting. Just waiting.:
     "How do you know?"
     "I know!" I was using my hands to talk with again. "I know there is. I got some kind of radar tells me. I'm getting reception Phil, I'm telling you."
     Phil said, "Let's take a walk down to Sixth Street and see what's doing. In the dark the soup cooker don't look so bad."
     We flipped for who paid for the tea and I lost. The cashier was young and distant. Correct as hell. Just to be nasty I said when she gave me change, "Thank you very much." I stood right in front of her until she had to look me back in the eye. Still, I don't think she saw me.
     "Maybe that's it," I told Phil as we hiked along Market toward Sixth.
     "What's it?"
     "We've got a right to be seen. By dames. In this stupid civilization people don't see each other."
     "Listen," Phil said, "why don't you take the soup cooker? She'll do you a lot of good."
     Phil's a nice guy and all that. But he wasn't getting the idea. I didn't say anything. If there'd been a rock to kick along the sidewalk I'd have kicked it.
     So went went into the restaurant on Sixth Street where Phil's spinach soup cooker cooks. Only she wasn't there. The woman who owned the joint was there. She figured her cook was on a drunk. "How you?" she said to me.
     "I'm fine."
     "You look like hell."
     "This is my good suit." It was my only suit.
     "Your face."
     There was a mirror behind the counter. I did look like hell all right. Wild eyed.
     Phil said to me, "Let's go find her."
     "The soup cooker. She must be in one of the bars down the street."
     "No," I said. "she must be seventy-five. We got a right to something better." I figured I had anyway.
     "I'm trying to help you out. Where do you want to go, Top of the Mark?"
     "Why not!" Why the hell not? What was keeping us from going to a high class joint like that?
     "You mean it?" He saw I did. "We can't pick up dames there."
     "How do you know? And what if we don't Hell, it's a convenient place to jump off of and kill myself from."
     My car was parked in the alley near Phil's place. We went and got it and drove up the California Street hill to whatever the cross street is to the Mark Hopkins Hotel. I found a parking place in the from of the Union League Club and we hiked into the courtyard of the Mark Hopkins. We walked right into the lobby.
     He said, "I hope we don't get kicked out."
     Maybe he was worried about my condition. Well, it was a condition. "I think the Kinseys figured it wrong. I think you reach your peek at nineteen."
     Upstairs nobody asked us for identification cards. A waiter led up to a lousy table we couldn't see the view from. Not that I wanted to see the view. Every little thing bothered me. We ordered highballs. After the waiter brought them and took off I said, "I like it here. Boy, youth! We got rights we don't know about yet.:
     "How much do you figure these drinks cost?"
     "The hell with it. I got ten bucks." I was beginning to think. A place like this could take the edge off. I still wanted stuff. But if I wasn't going to get any, it was easier to miss out here than to smolder to death staring out the window of the Clinton Cafeteria.
     Phil was staring across a bunch of tables toward the bay. "What's that?"
     "Looks like a fire." It was. Over toward Richmond. "Maybe the refineries are burning off waste gasses." The I felt them! Smelled them! How does a bat explain it when he knows he's close? Dames.
     They were looking at us.
     "We're not staring at you," I said. "It's that fire over there. Could be Boy Scouts." The dames weren't more than a few steps away so I didn't have to be loud. "Could be toasting the scout master." They were both class. I was on my feet now, moving toward them. It was like there was a vacuum at their table and I was being sucked into it. It was like that. Physics.
     I glanced back at Phil and there was a big man beside him. He had on a black tie and shiny lapels, and his hand was on Phil's shoulder. The big guy said to the dames, "Do you know these gentlemen?"
     "Yes, we do," the smaller of the two dames said.
     The big guy looked robbed. He let go of Phil and went away. Phil came over. We introduced ourselves. The smaller dame was Iris. "You did wonderful," I said.
     "I felt sorry for you."
     That was a good start. I read once in a book the two sure ways to get girls were, number one, to grab and, number two, to get a dame to feel sorry for you. I ordered a round of drinks.
     Phil said, "Either of you women belong to the Book-of-the-Month club?"
     "I do," his girl said. She was nice too but I liked Iris. Iris was small. Not like a cow but there was enough there. And it was soft looking. Not all braced like a construction project. Her dress was two black stripes over bare shoulders. It filled out to cover her front and back. But those shoulders. Like whipped cream. Aside from shape, Iris had a washed-looking face. Her nose looked like it was used to breathing fresh air. I needed her. Bad.
     They were student nurses. Now Iris asked what we were. I said, "Mail clerks." Phil's girl seemed disappointed. "What's wrong with mail clerks?" I said. "We're not going to be mail clerks all out lives."
     "What are you going to be?" Iris said. She was saying you in the singular. Me. She was interested.
     "I don't know," I said. "Hey, Phil."
     We went to the men's room. "What's up?" he said.
     "We got to separate them," I said.
     "Do you think they will?"
     "I got to get Iris alone."
     "I don't know about my dame."
     "They're women! They're female!" But it wasn't just that anymore. "Iris. I got to get her alone."
     "I notice she likes you."
     "Okay," I said. "They know all about it, don't they? They're nurses. So okay. So what's standing between me and Iris getting together like our chemicals say we should?"
     "Ask her."
     "I'm going to!" Back at the table I played it cool through another round of drinks. Then I suggested taking Iris somewhere for a hamburger. Phil followed up by saying he'd take the other one home in a cab.
     Iris might have. But the other one said, "We made a pact we'd come home together."
     "Break it," I said. Maybe it was the drinks.
     "Don't get us kicked out," Phil said.
     "I think it makes no difference if we get kicked out or not."
     Phil said, "It makes a difference to me."
     "Ladies," I said. I was looking at Iris. "You saved our necks with the bouncer. Why? Huh? Why?"
     "We better leave," Phil said to me.
     "Why the hell won't they go with us?" I looked back at Iris. "Do you dislike me?"
     "I like you," she said.
     "Iris!" her girlfriend said.
     "I...like him."
     Iris was scared of her friend.
     "You like me. I like you. Begin with that." Her girlfriend looked at me like I'd gone completely nuts.
     I wasn't even making a pass anymore. This is no way to make a pass. What I wanted to know was why I sat in the Clinton Cafeteria every Saturday night guzzling tea and aching to get close to a dame. And why, now that I was close to one who admitted she liked me, why she wouldn't be herself. Not why she wouldn't go to a room with me. Why she wouldn't make contact. The goddamn government wasn't going to help. It was up to people, boy. Individuals.
     A hand clamped down on my shoulder. I looked up into the bouncer's face and the next thing I knew I punched him. I'm not a natural born trouble maker. I didn't have the talent to land again. He hit me and knocked me almost cold.
     It all happened in a second. Probably people across the room didn't notice. Me and Phil and two more bouncers left by a service elevator. In ten minutes we were down the Hall of Justice getting receipts for our valuables.
     We landed in a cell with a couple dozen other guys. I said, "Did they mention which hospital they were nurses at?"
     Phil said, "No."
     Anyway, I felt okay. The awful need was over. I sublimated it by clobbering the bouncer.
     After daylight they let most of us out. I got my wallet and car keys and jogged to the door after Phil. "Hey, let me give you a lift." He was sore at me but it didn't matter. He'd get over it. "I'll give you a lift if you want it."
     "No. I'm going to find the spinach soup cooker." Phil moved down the Hall of Justice stairs.
     I stood awhile, giving him lots of time to get on his way. Then I started down the stairs myself.
     She stood on the sidewalk. Iris. Just like that. Like it was the most natural thing in the world to be waiting for me. She said, "Hello."
     I said, "Hello."
     "Did that man hit you hard?"
     "All his might, I guess."
     We walked up the California Street hill and got to the car. I unlocked the door and held it open while Iris got in. I walked around the back of the car and got in on the driver's side.
     I drove to the Clinton Cafeteria and guided her along the chrome counters, then to a table. Up by the front window overlooking Market Street. We started to eat breakfast. In a while I stopped and looked at her. I said, "What do you want?"
     She gave me a nice smile. Just for a second she glanced around. Then she took my hand. "You're nice."
     "Go on and talk."
     "Well, being a student nurse...I know about these things, but I couldn't go with you last night because my girlfriend was there." She squeezed my hand like that explained everything.
     I thought about Phil dragging his paws over the spinach soup cooker. "What do you want?"
     She said, "What do you want?"
     I looked around the Clinton Cafeteria. The most beautiful room in San Francisco.
     "More coffee," I said.

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