Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Snake Lady, and Dancing in the Moonlight

I want to tell you a story about a girl named Cathy Cee, a legend among my high school sophomore class—referred to in excited whispers among the guys I knew as being the Snake Lady.

These events occurred during the summer of my sophomore year, which I alluded to in an earlier post about football. Freshman year, I'd begun reading subversive books, skipping workouts, and growing my hair long. I injured my knee first week of fall practice, and was out for the season. That summer, I skipped nearly all the workouts, and began hanging out with a guy named Danny Dunbier, who became as close to me as a brother.

Danny had Roger Daltrey hair, a pretty badass Torino, parents who were away in Europe for the summer, and a cousin in Santa Fe (Texas) who grew reefer. I had a job, working as a busboy at Alfy's Fish & Chips, but only worked about 20 hours a week. Most other moments of that summer were spent in Danny's company, in what seemed like a never-ending party.

Last day of school ended at noon on Friday. We were on West Beach in Galveston by 12:30. The party was epic, lasting all through the night, punctuated by several trash cans of jungle juice, and an epidemic of girls dancing topless around a huge bonfire, a couple of whom OD-ed on quaaludes—we all took turns walking them around, during the night.

Not sure how I got there, but I woke up at about 5am, back of Danny's Torino in the library parking lot, and that's how I met Cathy. She was in the front seat, naked, next to my friend Steve, a junior I knew from football, who was passed out beside her. She wasn't embarrassed at all. "Hi, my name's Cathy. What's yours?" We talked awhile, until I found out the time, and freaked out—I had to take the SAT at 7am, and I was still pretty buzzed, and grungy from the beach, so I split.

I didn't see her again till about a week later. I was hanging out with some guys I knew from the tennis team—we were standing outside a Little Chief convenience store, talking, and she drove up, in her green Chevelle.

"Hey," she called out, looking at me. "Let's go for a ride."

I heard a voice from behind me. "Oh my God. It's Cathy Cee!" Someone else: "The Snake Lady!"

We kept company that summer. Cathy was 28 at the time, blonde and gangly, and trailer-park pretty—I don't mean to be offensive, or classist, because I have nothing against trailer parks, and I surely never had anything against—had any problem—with Cathy Cee. She had a thing for young guys, and every so often would choose a protege, for lack of a better term. There were numerous benefits to her attention, some of them not obvious, one being that she worked the early nightshift at Zackies convenience store in South Texas City 5 nights a week, and she sold me beer, even after I moved on. And for another, she was very kind—thoughtful, generous, and patient.

There were drawbacks, though, or rather one huge drawback, and his name was Bubba. He was an especially violent member of the Bandido's motorcycle gang, and Cathy was his Old Lady (not sure if that meant they were legally married, though to Bubba it wouldn't have mattered either way). Several guys made it a point to tell me of others that Bubba had sliced and diced because of their attentions toward Cathy, and pointed out he was liable to do worse to me. And God, he was fucking enormous—decked out in his gear, astride his huge Harley, he looked like a monstrous demon, straight out of hell. Thing is, he was rarely around—Bandido's mayhem required his presence at beatings, stabbings, shootings, bludgeonings all over our great state, so Cathy was free most nights, sometimes for weeks at a time. She never really talked about Bubba, only told me that I'd better never let him catch me, 'cause there wasn't a whole helluva lot she could do to help me once he did.

The summer progressed, blissfully—one party and one adventure after another, new experiences and ideas, progressing I thought to something...tangible. There was a place we often gathered at, a clearing in a wood, in the middle of town. There was only one way to access it—there was a canal at one end, dense woods on every other side, with a dirt road leading in. At a certain point, on a small rise on the road, arrivals were required to hit their headlights 3 times riding in, so everyone knew they were OK. There would be 8 or 10 cars gathered there just about every night, in a rather large circle, with a fire in the middle. Music always playing, people hanging, talking, drinking, smoking, and usually dancing.

A couple weeks before school started back, we were out there late at night, and I fell asleep in the back seat of Cathy's car, and woke up in the early morning hours, feeling really, really good. Maybe it was the way it all fell together that makes the memory so vivid, maybe there was some larger significance, I dunno, but I had a gush of feeling that was as close as I had ever come to something sublime. Looking out into the moonlit night, I saw my friends dancing around the fire, without any trace of irony at all. Cathy was stroking my hair, and I remember she was very serene. I saw Danny and Steve, and Tommy and Will, all swaying with their girls, and I was sure these were my friends forever, and that somehow we had become enchanted—unencumbered from time and responsibility—etched in the amber of this moment, forever. The song playing on the radio was Dancing in the Moonlight, which was ridiculous and perfect and funny and fucking spine-tinglingly absurd. Really, how many perfect moments are there?

Bubba rolled back into town that week. Several days after that, I was on a break at Alfy's, and decided I was fished-out. I snuck a draft beer into a paper cup when Roger had his back turned, and walked next-door to have a Bonus Jack from Jack-in-the-Box. I walked in, saw the girl with the gap in her front teeth standing next to the grill, and she saw me, and everything changed, instantly.

Danny and I drifted apart, and actually had something of a falling out later on. God knows what happened to Steve—heroin, last I heard. Tommy, too, just kinda fell away, and Will was killed in a motorcycle crash the next summer.

I saw Cathy Cee whenever I bought beer, of course, and occasionally I would see her around town cruising in her green Chevelle, often with a new protege. Sometimes, I would hang around and make smalltalk—she often seemed kinda lonely, and she was always happy to oblige. But we, too, finally lost contact, and I have no idea what happened to her.

The gap-toothed girl wound up beneath several thousand pounds of tangled metal, beside an ugly man-made lake, plunged from the road atop the Texas City levee. Again, everything changed. Instantly.

How, and if, these moments connect, I don't know. Got no especial lessons to offer, no real wisdom gleaned, or anything like that. I have it on good authority that the gap-toothed girl is dreaming dreams so sublime and so colossally dazzling that she doesn't give a rat's ass about this earth, or give it or me a second thought. And Cathy Cee—wherever you are, darlin', I hope you're as serene as you were that last night. That Bubba is retired from the Bandidos, become fat and bowlegged, and utterly devoted to you—and that sometimes, at least, somehow, some way, you and he find time to groove beneath the moonlight.

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