Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mr. Y at the Beach

by Dan Leo

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

Mr. Y was a slight little chap.
He always dressed in black or dark clothes,
years before it was fashionable to do so,
the only other person who dressed in black
at that time was Johnny Cash.

Mr. Y also always wore a pair
of black “Beatle boots”,
and I wondered where he found them;
these also were not the style of the day.
He told me that his mother bought them for him
at some shop up in their neighborhood;
I’m not sure where he said she bought them,

probably Thom McAn, or possibly the
shoe department at Sears or Robert Hall;
years before she had gone in
and bought him his first pair
of black Beatle boots,
with the zipper up the side
(Mr. Y never went with her;
she did all his clothes shopping for him);
anyway, Mr. Y would wear the boots for
a year or so and when they started to wear out

his mother would take them back to the shop
and say, “Look, these boots have worn out already;
I want a replacement pair.” For some reason they
always gave her a replacement pair.
Mr. Y’s mother had been recycling the same pair
of black Beatle boots for Mr. Y for years;
the store must have kept in a permanent supply
just for her, so that they would always have a
another free pair ready when she came in
again in a year, complaining that the boots
had worn out.

Mr. Y always wore clip-on dark lenses over his
prescription glasses, day or night, inside or out.

He was from Northeast Philadelphia but he spoke
with a slight mid-Atlantic accent, sort of a cross
between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley
and Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in
From the Cold.

He never smoked, but at one time he would
walk around with an unlit cigarette in his
mouth; he called this “Robert Blaking it”
because Robert Blake walked around
(and chased criminals)
with an unlit cigarette in his lips in Baretta.

One day we were all down the shore, in Cape May,
the whole gang of reprobates.
We went to the beach
and we sat on our towels and blankets,

hungover, putting in an hour or two
until it was time to hit the bars again.

Everyone wore bathing suits or cut-offs
everyone that is except for Mr. Y.
He sat there in the hot sand in his dark clothes,
and his Beatle Boots, with his clip-on shades,
sweating, his face turning red.

Then the beach tag checker came by.
If you didn’t have a beach tag you had
to buy one.

“Hey, Mr. Y, the beach tag checker is
coming. You gonna buy a beach tag?”
Mr. Y was no fool. He was not about to
spend the little pocket money his mother
gave him on anything but beer.

And so he lay down, face-first, on the sand,
no blanket or towel, in his dark clothes
and his Beatle boots, and his glasses with the
clip-on shades.
The beach tag girl came by;
those of us who didn’t have
tags bought them. All except for Mr. Y.
The girl looked at this small slight figure
in dark clothes and Beatle boots,
lying motionless face down in the sand,

like a man who had been taken out here and shot
the night before,
and then she walked on.
After she had moved safely off down the beach
I said, “It’s okay, now, Mr. Y. She’s gone.”

Mr. Y pushed himself up, and sat up again in the sand.
He took an old cigarette out of his shirt pocket,
put it in his mouth,
and gazed out toward the ocean.


Peter Greene said...

It's true about the beatle boots and Sears. That's where you get them.

This rules.

Unknown said...

Is this the same Mr. Y who was a kind and generous friend to that dullard with a car, Mr. X?
Compared to a man wearing Beatle boots, I imagine anyone not wearing them, whether on a sandy beach or not, must seem brutally boring.

Dan Leo said...

Peter, thank you for answering that important question, which has been nagging me for years! Now I must hie myself to Sears at once, but not before answering Kathleen's question: yes, this is the same Mr. Y. If Mr. X was also there that day at the beach, he had no lines.