Double Your Pleasure

8 Short Stories from the 1960s: With gratitude and apologies to Émile Zola, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, J.D. Salinger, John Updike, and Kurt Vonnegut ... among others

Paul M. Clemens

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ISBN: 978-1-57733-294-7, 128 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, paperback, $15.00
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“Nothing but love has any meaning....”

In the 1960s the literary custom was that everything began and ended “in medias res”—in the middle of things. These eight stories focus on “slices of life” in the daily lives of a few individuals to spotlight our human condition. The stories emerged at a time in the U.S. between the hope, then assassination of President Kennedy, civil rights marches, the U.S. entrance into the Vietnam conflict, and the “summer of love” in San Francisco and rebellious birth of the hippie generation.

The writing here is experimental. “Having read hundreds of novels from many genres and cultures, I found myself imitating my favorite authors. That is, there are bits and pieces of style, dialogue, character representation, descriptive detail, and story-line themes all amalgamated into a new voice—my voice—which at that time, was still emerging and developing.”

In the first two stories, perhaps readers will notice “hints” of John Updike’s Rabbit. Or the short declarative sentences of Ernest Hemingway. Or the intimate inner monologues of William Faulkner, revealing the labyrinth of the mind’s twists and turns. Or the naive, sensitive young man of the narrator (James Joyce, J.D. Salinger)—who encounters the stark reality of daily life amidst the natural cycle of birth and death. Or the satirical meaninglessness of personal experiences which few know or even care about (Kurt Vonnegut): young couples having babies, working dead-end jobs, having fast cars, and questioning sex and their infidelities. The words, thoughts, excuses, fantasies—are all props to feel “good,” to feel personal power, to “be somebody.” What still lingers is the deeper desire to find “love”—not just between bodies, but between souls.

Endorsements

“Double Your Pleasure is a colorful glimpse into an era of our culture and society now somewhat gone ... a classic example of ‘innocence coming to age.’” Prof. Wallace Williams, Indiana University

Table of Contents

Introduction

Just Like the Old Days

Fireworks

Running Mail

On the Right Side

The Artist

The Music Box Girl

Music to Drown Things By

Double Your Pleasure

About the Author

Excerpt

The next morning I awakened to the sound of my watch ticking under my ear. It tried to be one of those sleek svelte evening watches, but the gold had tarnished into silver after a few weeks and all it really ever did was distinguish between the hours. I was fairly sure it was between 10:30 and 11:30 in the morning when it said 11:05.

Jim was still asleep. We were going to catch the evening train. He still had another business meeting at two. I untangled him from his pillow. We were quiet for awhile, and, after a shower, all he had left was a cough.

While shaving, Jim talked into the mirror. “Man, do I have a headache. That’s what you get for too much drink, too much life, Stevie. Take a lesson.” He was talking with his mouth distorted from shaving. The water was running. “I’m glad I don’t come over here too often. Virginia would never understand. But the funny thing is, I told her before we finally got married that it was all right with me if she wanted to make it with somebody else. But she doesn’t want to come with me. She prefers to stay home.”

He turned towards me as I was drying myself from the shower, and re-lathered his cheeks carefully.

“She won’t know, will she, Stevie?… I think I got a real deal working if those guys just give in. They’re just waiting to see how many cards I’ve got up my sleeve. I’m putting on a real show for them, but they’ll give in at the end. They’ve got to. They can’t resist. We can set ourselves up in France and Belgium, two in France and one in Belgium, for a slight initial loss and then really sock it to ’em good. How does that sound, Stevie?”

“Yeah,” I said weakly.

“What she doesn’t know isn’t going to hurt her. She’ll feel hurt, right? Say, Stevie boy, are you sore about last night?”

“No. Why should I be sore? We both got what we wanted, I guess. There’s nothing for me to be sore about. It’s just that I think sex is a spiritual … more a mystical thing with me.”

“Bullshit.” Jim turned off the water. “Sex is physical, it’s two bodies getting their kicks. That belly dancer last night was nothing to me. I can’t even remember that girl’s name.”

“Carmen,” I offered. “Or, maybe, that one was Juanita.”

“It doesn’t matter. Last night I imagined I was making love to Virginia the whole time because she wasn’t there.”

“Virginia? Your wife?” … I acted surprised, because I was.

“Yeah, but forget it. It doesn’t matter.” Jim turned back to the mirror and spoke to his reflection. “You’re going to ask me how I can think of Virginia at a time like that? Well, I can. I can do anything.”

“How can you still love your wife after making love to some other girl? Do you still love Virginia?”

“Sure I do. Why not? I just felt sorry for her, that’s all. That girl last night … that wasn’t love. It was sex. You only live once, Stevie. You got to take what you can get. You can love somebody and have sex with somebody else, can’t you? Nothing the matter with that. You can have both, can’t you?”

That was the first time Jim ever asked me a question, but I couldn’t answer him. Nothing but love has any meaning, I thought. I thought that Rilke, page something or other, had defined the word adequately … a carpet, another world, two people (lovers), angels tossing coins of happiness. But Rilke laughed at me last night, as if to say, “When two souls have sex, so do the bodies … and when two bodies have sex, so do the souls.”

All I knew was that Jim would see Virginia when he arrived home and she would smile and everything would be all right because he was thinking about her last night and he would make it all right because he could do anything. My only hope, illusory and fragile as it was, was that the Universal-Waver girl would be waiting for me on the platform in Newark and that somehow, in some dream land of my imagination, everything would be all right—because in my imagination, I can do anything.

On the train back to Philadelphia, we talked a little about Drys­dale’s pitching arm and the fate of the Dodgers. I took out Rilke again, but I began to think about the two lovers on the carpet, the Universal-Waver-girl, the belly dancer in the caftan, and Rilke laughing at me, and put the book away. Instead, I told Jim about the guy I read about in the newspaper who changed his putting grip and made $80,000, and Jim said he just might do that.

Pelican Pond, 2015


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