[Dr. Philbin and Luke are sitting on the driveway next to the bobber. A cooler of beers is between them. Dr. Philbin is wearing his leather riding jacket.]
Dr. Philbin: Let’s talk names. The bobber already has a name. It’s named Polly. But you can rename her. Once we fix her up and you take ownership it’s your right to name her.
Luke: I didn’t know that. I’ll think of one.
Dr. Philbin: Let’s get a brainstorm going. It should be a woman’s name. A woman who was really important to you. Maybe a first love, the first girl you saw naked, the first girl you cried in front of. Someone like that. I don’t want you naming her Pamela after Pamela Anderson or Angelina Jolie or something like that. It can’t be a woman you’ve only jacked off to and never met. It has to be someone whose eyes you’ve looked into and told your hopes and fears to, someone you’ve written letters to, someone you secretly loved but never told how you feel about her, maybe someone you didn’t want to introduce to your mother because you knew it wouldn’t go over well but if you had a second chance you would do everything differently and run away with her. Was there ever a girl like that?
Luke: Not really. Well. There was a girl I used to be with, years ago, before I met Sarah, but I would never name a bike after her, she wouldn’t like that, it would give her the wrong idea. I’ll think about a name and get back to you.
Dr. Philbin: Who was she? You can tell me. I won’t tell you-know-who. This is guy talk. What you say on the driveway won’t leave the driveway.
Luke: There was a girl, years ago. We were together forever. She lived with me and some dudes after high school in a shitty old house. I have some good memories, that’s all. But I’m not going to name the bike after her.
Dr. Philbin: Why did it end? Did you mess it up? You messed it up, didn’t you? We always do, don’t we? We always find a way to blow a good thing. Maybe it’s in guys’ DNA. We’re hard-wired to shoot semen all over this good earth and hope that a seed or two gets up in a girl and then the minute things are going good we find a way to mess it up and then we torture ourselves for months, years even, over how and why we messed things up and we beg them to reconsider but by then it’s too late. You can tell me. How did you mess things up?
Luke: So we lived with these dudes. There were three dudes. Four counting me. And her. She was our den mother and our carpool driver and our maid. I didn’t realize it at the time but she was my mother too. She put Band-Aids on my fingers when I cut myself and she’d make me an omelet at four in the morning when I was drunk and hungry. She was good in bed too.
Dr. Philbin: You gotta love a woman who can cook AND make love. I’ve always said that.
Luke: And she would pant the rooms without us even asking. Me and the dudes would come home from the bar and we’d discover that one of the dudes’ bedroom had been painted orange. We’d ask her what the hell is going on and she’d say, Oh, I was just feeling orange today so I drove to Sherwin Williams and bought a can of orange paint and did up a bedroom. You like? She painted clouds on the ceiling of our bedroom because she said that when we have sex she’s in heaven so she figured she would make the room look like heaven. She also painted wizards in the walls in the bathroom.
Dr. Philbin: Why did she do that?
Luke: No reason. She was high at the time. We used to get high all the time. We were nineteen so why not.
Dr. Philbin: Oh man, I know what that’s like. Being high is the best. In dental school Popeye would buy jars of rubber cement and we’d smell them after studying.
Luke: We were high a lot too. That’s why I messed things up with her.
Dr. Philbin: What did you do? You can tell me.
Luke: I don’t think I’m going to. Maybe later.
Dr. Philbin: Luke, my boy, what is said on this driveway doesn’t leave the driveway. These beers can’t hear anything. This cooler can’t talk. I’m not gonna say anything. Want to make a blood oath or something? Come on, man, I’m giving you the bobber. The least you can do is tell me what happened with this girl.
Luke: I shouldn’t. Let’s talk about something else. Why did you name the bobber Polly?
Dr. Philbin: Oh I see what’s going on here, you want me to talk about Polly but you won’t tell me about your girl. I see.
Luke: You don’t have to tell me about Polly. I don’t care, really. I mean, I care, but you don’t have to tell me.
Dr. Philbin: No. I AM going to tell you. Because why not? It’s been so many years now. And when I’m done, you’ll tell about yours. We will share things that have happened to us. You know, there’s a great line from a poem, I forget who wrote it, but you should take it to heart because I think it would help you. Seems like you’re having trouble talking about your past. We read the poem back in college a hundred years ago so I might forget some of it, but bear with me. The line is: But sometimes everything I write seems a snapshot. Or maybe there’s a word before snapshot. Then is goes: it’s lurid, rapid, garish, grouped. And yet paralyzed. All’s misalliance. Yet why not say what happened? OK. So the key part here is: Why not say what happened? Why not talk about the stuff you’ve done, the bad stuff, the good stuff, the stuff that makes you look like a monster, the stuff you would pay anything to erase from your memory forever. Why not tell people about it? That’s what the poet’s saying. Because if you don’t say what happened then what happened will always be in your head torturing you and preventing you to do other stuff and the worst thing you can do is not do stuff. So say what happened and then what happened won’t bring you down anymore. So tell me: what happened with the girl?
Luke: I’ll tell you later on, maybe when I’m drunk sometime.
Dr. Philbin: Fine. I’ll say what happened with Polly then. Polly, tall Polly. She was a lifeguard at my old swim club. We joined the club after my dad got a new job because the club was expensive and we could never have afforded it when he had his old job but he would always tell my mom that once he got a better job the first thing we’d do is join the fancy club. I think it was called The Willows. Or maybe the Willow Club. I’m gonna call it the Willow Club. It was called the Willow Club because there were weeping willow trees lining the driveway to the club. We joined it in, what was it, 1960, ’61? GOD I’M OLD! I was fourteen. I didn’t know anyone at the club so I didn’t like it there at first. My parents would play Euchre all day and drink with other parents and I’d be in the pool alone, day dreaming or whatever, or watching the other kids, the ones who had been members for years, chase each other around. The girls were pretty, but did they talk to me? No. I didn’t know it back then but they were probably begging for me to talk to them but I was always too shy and I didn’t know that girls like it when you go up to them and talk to them. So I’d swim by myself. I spent all of June alone and it was miserable. There was a swim team I could’ve joined, but I didn’t want to. And there were kids’ clubs where the kids played shuffleboard and did cotillion but I didn’t want to join that either because the boys all seemed so big and the girls were pretty and they looked mean because they weren’t smiling but like I said if I had only gone up to them and talked to them I things would’ve been different but I was a chump back then so I hung out by myself. I never talked to anyone at the club. Until the Fourth of July. That’s when I met Polly the lifeguard. She was sixteen years old and she had breasts the size of my head. I would stare at her sitting up there in her chair. I would stare at her legs. Sometimes she would get in the water to cool off and then she would climb back up on the chair. Water would drip from her legs and I would wade in the water under her and catch the drops in my mouth. It was sick. I was a sick boy. But I never talked to her. Not until the Fourth of July. There was a big party at the club and all the staff were allowed to party with the members. So Polly was off-duty. She was sitting poolside with her feet in the water and drinking a beer. I was sitting next to her. She turned to me and asked if I wanted a sip of her beer. Now, at the time I had had sips of booze. I was allowed to have sips, but only if my parents gave it to me. At Christmas my dad would give me and my cousins the gin-soaked olives from his martinis. He’d been doing that since I was four years old so I had had little buzzes all my life. But when Polly offered me a sip I said yes, I’d like a sip. I took a sip. And then another and another and we got to talking. She told me about a boy she kissed but then decided she didn’t want to kiss anymore. The boy got real mad and told her one day after school that he wanted to be her boyfriend. But she didn’t want to. She didn’t know why, but something deep down said that she didn’t want to be his girlfriend. But the boy wouldn’t let it go. He started calling her late at night and her dad was getting mad about it and she even got grounded because this boy was calling her so much. But it’s not my fault, she said. But her parents didn’t care. She said her dad hit her because of it, but not too hard, but he still hit her. Her parents said she probably led him on and that it was her fault. But she swore she only kissed him once, and with her mouth closed no less. The boy was in a band, and his band played at pep rallies sometimes, not every pep rally, but maybe one pep rally a month. At the last pep rally of the year in May they played a song called “Tall Polly.” Polly knew it was about her. There was a line in the songs about her girls, something about how Polly’s girls are the best girls in school. She knew the line was about her breasts so she complained to the guidance counselor, but he was no help. He said the band can play what they want to play. He said it’s art. So she tells me all this while we’re sitting on the side of the pool sipping beer. And she’s on the verge of tears. It was crazy for me to see her like that because here was my lifeguard, the person who’s supposed to save us all, the rock of the Willows, the beauty from whose dripping legs I drink, and she’s crying about some boy’s song. She said that everyone knew the song was about her and everyone said she should be his boyfriend but she didn’t want to be and all summer long the boy has been waiting for her outside her house and she was scared he’s going to try something. At one point she held my hand and said, But you won’t let him try anything, will you? I said that I wouldn’t. And then she kissed me on the mouth. It was an open-mouth kiss, too. Not like the kiss she gave the other boy. And then she touched my dick and said, Will you protect me from him? I could use a bodyguard. I’ll be your lifeguard at the pool if you guard my life outside the pool. Sound good? I said that sounded good. She said, Thank god the boy is poor and can’t afford to join the Willow Club or else he would and he’d stalk me at work. But he can hang out outside and follow me home. So after my shifts I’ll need you walk me home. And in the morning I’ll need you to show up at my house and walk me to work. Can you do that? I said yes. She said she would kiss every time I walked her, one kiss in the morning before work and one kiss at night after work. And when the summer’s over she said she would have sex me. Summer ends on Labor Day. So we will have sex on Labor Day. But only if you protect me from him all summer. If you don’t show up one day and he attacks me then I won’t have sex with you, she said. Are you a virgin? I said yes. She said she was a virgin too kinda.
Luke: That’s nuts.
Dr. Philbin: Polly was nuts. So the next day I showed up at her house and walked her work. She didn’t talk much, so I did all the talking. I told her everything I could tell her, until I had nothing else to say. I talked about how bored I’d been at the pool, how my parents drink and play Euchre all day and how I was excited for school to start because then I would have something to do. But I don’t think she ever listened to me. When we’d get to the club she’d kiss on the mouth. And sometimes she would touch my dick and say, Do you like that? Do you like it when I do that? And I’d say, Yes, very much, thank you. Then she’d go to work. I’d rub out my boner into toilet paper in the club’s bathroom. During the day I’d sit near her chair and we’d talk sometimes and sometimes we’d eat lunch together but we would never kiss at the club because she said it was against policy. I don’t think it was against any policy but I didn’t complain because once we left the club she would kiss me. It was a marvelous summer.
Luke: Did the boy ever show up?
Dr. Philbin: Not once. But every day I was worried he would. I would think, Today’s the day when the boy’s gonna show up with a baseball bat and beat the snot out of me and rape Polly in front of me. But we never saw him.
Luke: Crazy. So you lost your virginity to a lifeguard?
Dr. Philbin: WELL. NOT EXACTLY. So Labor Day comes around. I’ve been escorting Polly to and from work since the Fourth. She’d touched my dick just about every day and everyday I’d go and rub it out in the bathroom. One time she showed me one of her breasts but I wasn’t allowed to touch it. Not until we had sex. Here was the plan for Labor Day: Her parents were going to Lake Cumberland all weekend. Polly was supposed to sleep at her grandma’s, but she told her grandma that she was sleeping at a friend’s house. I was to meet her outside her front door at ten o’clock. She tells me to dress up fancy to make it special. So that night I put on my confirmation suit and brush my teeth three times and put on extra deodorant and walk over to Polly’s. I ring the doorbell. No answer. I ring it again. Still no answer. Now, we didn’t have cell phones back then so I couldn’t call her. So I ring it again. Still no answer. So I sit outside her front door and wait. I wait for an hour, another hour, I’m waiting and waiting. It was torture.
Luke: Let me guess: she shows up with the other boy, the boy you were protecting her from.
Dr. Philbin: That would have been hilarious. And terrible. But no, that’s not what happened. She never showed up. I waited until two in the morning and she never showed up. So I walked home all bummed out and called her house, but she didn’t answer. She had work the next day, and I had to escort her, so I woke up early and walked over to her house. I ring the doorbell. Again, no answer. I knock and knock, but there’s no answer. It’s torture, man. I’ve been waiting since the Fourth of July to have sex with this girl and now she’s disappeared. I walk to the club and ask a manager there if he’s seen her. He says he hasn’t. I walk to her grandma’s house and knock on the door. Her grandma opens it. She’s very old, and very sad-looking. I ask her if Polly’s home. And she says, No, she’s at a friend’s house. Can I leave a message for you? I tell her to have Polly call me and I go home and wait by the phone all day and all night. Then what do you think happened?
Luke: She calls late at night and you go over to her house and throw it to her?
Dr. Philbin: Wrong. She never calls. I stay awake all night, but she never calls. I walk back to her house around midnight and knock some more. No answer. I sit on the sidewalk in front of her house and, no joke, I start crying. Something was wrong. Something had happened to her, I was sure.
Luke: Jesus. Did that boy murder her or something?
Dr. Philbin: That’s what I thought. I thought I had failed her. She was out of my sight for just day, Labor Day, and she’d been raped and killed by the boy and it was my fault. But that’s not what happened.
Luke: What happened to her?
Dr. Philbin: I don’t know. Nobody does. She didn’t show up at school the next week. Some cops came to the house and asked me a hundred questions. They asked if she talked about running away, and if she had another boyfriend. They asked if she was suicidal. But I didn’t know anything. I had to tell them about our plan to have sex in front of my parents and my mom was livid but my pops was like, Thata boy, she was a babe. And then a cop said, yeah, Maybe a dead a babe. Maybe a runaway babe.
Luke: Do you think she ran away?
Dr. Philbin: I hope so. The alternative is she got kidnapped and or murdered. So I hope she ran away. I really do. I hope she ran away to LA or San Francisco. Maybe she worked as a lifeguard out there. She probably married a painter or a some other kind of rebel type but he would fuck around behind her back so she left him. Now I hope she’s living somewhere cool like Vancouver and smoking pot all the time and taking it easy in a house full of cats. And I hope every Labor Day when she wakes up she thinks, I wonder what that Philbin kid is up to? Is he still in Dayton? Maybe if I’m ever back in town for a wedding or a funeral me and Philbin will meet for a drink and then we’ll sneak into the Willows Club and fuck. That’d be a nice thing to do.
Tags: Luke and his bobber