3: Heart


The 1980 Plus One Plastics Mid-Atlantic Management Convention wasn’t the largest event ever hosted in Analomink, Pennsylvania. The 76+ members of Plus One’s East Coast Corporate Team were not the most impressive guests to visit the Olde Waterfall Lodge and Resort (they’d evidently had Dom Deluise and Dorothy Hamill last summer, but not at the same time). For Skip Bickley, however, the weekend was one for the ages.


He’d taken a rare half-day at the office and left Dover just after noon. He took the scenic way up, stopping at not one, but two Howard Johnson’s—the first for a crab roll, the second for a box of saltwater taffy, just in case. He treated himself to his first-ever valet park when he checked into Olde Waterfall, tossing the keys and a shiny silver dollar to a smiling young man in a windbreaker, just like he’d seen men do in the movies.


“Keep the change,” he said, with a wink.


At the front desk, he reviewed the weekend’s schedule of events, and felt a thrill at the amount of social hours, games, and cocktails stacked around the polymer symposiums. He put a little star beside the First Night Mixer, which encouraged all Plus One Plastics staff—whether in fabrication or financials—to get out on the dancefloor for a little Friday night fun.


“You know, I was voted Best Dancer in my high school senior class,” Skip said to Todd, the front desk clerk. “I had moves that Travolta kid never dreamed of.”


He did a little two-step and threw in a pelvic thrust for old times’ sake.


Todd looked impressed, or possibly alarmed, and apologized in advance for Skip’s room, “We’re all filled up on singles in the front lodge. I’ll have to put you in the Honeymoon wing. I’m so sorry.”


It was no problem. These things happened. And Skip could sleep anywhere. “Did you know that I fell asleep standing up at my own brother’s wedding? True!”


Todd gave him a free drink coupon for the inconvenience and a heart shaped key ring embossed with a gold 107.


The room was huge. Skip tossed his duffle onto the sunken sectional and imagined warming his feet on the heart-shaped fire pit. The bed, also heart-shaped, soared overhead, under a vaulted dome of pink-tinted mirrors on a platform accessible by a spiral of heart-shaped stairs. And the bathroom, Christ, it was as large as his condo’s living room, lushly carpeted and mirrored with a kiddie pool-sized, heart-shaped bathtub surrounded by a forest of artificial greenery. Skip fingered a leaf on the mostly lifelike Ficus tree and thought, Wonder if it’s made by one of our subsidiaries?


He knew—as a single, heterosexual man of average tastes—that he should find the room ridiculous, even a bit insulting, but he loved it. He fell back into the bed in a sigh of pleasure and wished everyone he’d ever known could experience such contentment.


Skip showered, put on a fresh shirt, and skittered down the stairs to the Bucks and Does Tavern. He half-skipped over the tasteful tartan wall-to-wall, pretending to admire the mounted stag’s head over the bar where he talked to Chuck from Accounting and Howard from Engineering. Beyond, in front of the stage where the acting president of Plus One Plastics would soon be welcoming them to another excellent weekend with some of America’s Preeminent Polymer Party Animals, was a glowing checkerboard dance floor. Very cosmopolitan.


“Yep,” said Chuck. “These Poconos joints have everything these days. Hot Tubs. Discos. It’s like Studio 54 in this bar. You halfway expect to see that Travolta kid or something.”


Skip wondered if he should mention to Chuck that he’d been voted Gunning Bedford Jr. High School’s Best Dancer, Class of 1968, but no, better to surprise him once the music kicked up.


That’s when he saw her. Marsha. She was standing just across the way, by the fireplace, between a dart board and trio of surprised-looking taxidermized quail. There were only a half-dozen or so women in the room. There were only a half-dozen or so women who worked in management at Plus One Plastics, and Marsha was the one he’d never forget. Skip figured her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in real life. He’d only seen her once before, at Plus One’s Trenton headquarters. He’d taken her for a secretary, and someone important’s secretary with face like that, with a body like that, then felt like a spectacular asshole when she told him she was a chemist and a product designer. He could hardly make eye contact with her for the rest of the meeting.


In a sea of sport shirts and polos, Marsha glowed in a white satin dress with a full skirt. Perfect for dancing, he thought. He wondered if she could dance. He wondered if he could work up the nerve to ask. He wondered if she was single. He tried to take an inconspicuous gander at her ring finger. Bare, but she saw him looking. She smiled. He blushed and went for liquid courage. He slid the drink coupon across the bar.


“Harvey Wallbanger’s the name. Extra shot’s the game.”


The bartender poured him a drink. He sipped. He swallowed. He took a greedy lap around the snack table. He brushed the cracker crumbs from his mustache. He threw his shoulders back, and stalked across the floor toward Marsha.


She smiled when she saw him, which was so surprising he fought the impulse to look behind and make sure she wasn’t smiling at someone else. When he arrived, she said, “Skip, right? From the Dover office. I’m Marsha Kline. From Trenton? I think we met last spring.”


He nodded, touched she remembered, grateful she’d initiated conversation.


“Nice to see you again,” he said.


“Great conference,” she said.


“They’re always good,” he says. “There are some really smart people here.”


“Oh yeah, I know,” said. “Dr. Rheingold? The one doing the polymer workshop. He’s a genius. He really knows about everything. He’s like a—”


“Polymer polymath?”


Marsha laughed. It sounded like summertime and the church bells on Christmas morning all at the same time. He could die right then a happy man.


“Shame you went into plastics,” she said. “You would have made a great comedian.”


“You know, Don Rickles played here,” he said, pointing to the stage, where the band was vamping. A nice mellow disco beat, a shimmery keyboard.


“That’s what they said at check-in. Somebody said maybe Manilow was here last summer, under a pseudonym. You like Barry Manilow?”


He didn’t. “I love him,” he said


“Me too,” she said, swaying a bit.


He took a long draw of his drink, feeling the vodka wrap around all his cylinders. He said, “You know comedy is really not my strong suit. I’m kind of a better dancer.” He tested the soles of his loafers and without much thought, executed a pirouette.


It was perfect.


Marsha raised her eyebrows. “Wow.”


He nodded to the dance floor, still empty. “Feel brave enough to give it a whirl?”


She put down her glass and offered her hand.


As they stepped onto the floor, each tile brightened beneath them, each step matched a note. Skip took it as a sign. She locked into his rhythm when he put an arm round her waist. He twirled her out. She moved like a ballerina, matched him step for step. Skip became aware that they were being watched.


When Marsha drew close, he said, “You’re really good.”


She said, “You know I was voted Most Likely to be a Rockette by my senior class.” She kicked and did a little complicated footwork. The Plus One financial team from the Scranton office cheered.


“You’re incredible,” he said. What he meant was, I love you.


Later, tired, feeling sore and tipsy, hair mussed with dried sweat, they accepted the congratulations of the team and teetered out across the lobby together. Now that the dancing was over, he worried she would drift off and away, but she couldn’t keep her hands off him and he couldn't take his eyes off her.


“I have one of those Honeymoon Rooms,” he said. “With the-heart shaped tub the size of a swimming pool.”


“Can we get in?”


They scrambled up the stairs. He barely got the key in the door before they were kissing all over the place—on the sectional, on the floor, on the heart-shaped stairs. Breathless, he pulled away. “Let me start the bath,” he said, and slipped out of his Sansabelts and into the bathroom. He stoppered the tub and poured in the better part of a heart-shaped beaker of scented soap. He’d just gotten himself situated under the first mountain of foam when she came in the door, equipped with a roll of towels. She fiddled with her pink bra. He looked away, strangely modest, as she stepped out of her panties and into the bubbles.


They touched each other, bare skin to skin. It was electric. He kissed her neck, and held her lovely arms, as she tossed her glossy hair over a shoulder.


“Look at us,” she said, pointing to the mirror.


“And they say no one has fun at a Plastics Convention,” he said.


“Who would say that? Plastics are all about fun. In fact, let me show you what our design division is working on up in Trenton.” She reached into the towel and pulled out a long conical object, red and white. She held it in her hand like a cigar.


“What is that?” he asked.


“Just a prototype from our personal pleasure line,” she said. “I call it The Teasler. Want to know what it does?


Ecstasy is terrifying and transcendent. When Skip cried out, the sound was raw, primal, the roar of a new world being born. People said they could hear in the hall, in the lobby, at the Bucks and Does Tavern (where the old guys from Financial Services department from Philly were still playing canasta). They maybe heard it in Swiftwater, in Paradise Valley, perhaps all the way to Pocono Pines. They heard a man’s life changing. They heard Skip Bickley, Teasler-ed into pleasure beyond language, asking Marsha Kline to be his wife.


They did not hear her response.


But reader, I’m here to tell you: She said yes.

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