You know, the last few days, old customers of mine from little Boheme just keep running through my head in an endless loop. So many I need to write about, but I just haven’t really allowed myself to think about them all for over a year now. I guess I’ve just tucked Boheme away, feeling like a failure, feeling ashamed, not allowing myself to look at the other side of the coin — at things I actually did accomplish or learn. The business went belly up so, in my head, I label the whole experience a washout. I’m very apocalyptic in my thinking. But, through Boheme, I encountered so many amazing, real, funny, and, yes, frequently flat-out demented people, and all of that — the entire frenetic grab-bag — needs to be reprogrammed in my mind as a unique kind of treasure. Because, really, it is. I’m trying to gain a little perspective, rather than just bashing myself about the head for it all, and honestly, the people I met and still know from little Boheme have left real lasting imprints on my heart and mind. It’s not fair to lock them away, like I do so often with things. It’s time to unlock, let them free, acknowledge their impact, good or bad, even.
So, today, I’m thinking about El Dukay.
El Dukay was not a customer at Boheme. Oh, no. He was much more than that. He was my savior, no two ways about it. He serviced my espresso machine; he serviced my grinders; he serviced my water heater. He did everything. Once, he even showed me how “he” made a cappuccino, we debated about that for at least an hour, and, well, I still think I’m right on that one, which is neither here nor there. His last name was Duke, so I called him El Dukay and he seemed to revel in having a “title,” puffed out his skinny chest just a little more. Just knowing El Dukay was around made me feel much more secure about things. Come what may, I knew I could call him and say, “Wah! Help! I don’t know what’s wrong!” and that man would come running. There was no coffee-related emergency he couldn’t fix and there was no coffee-related emergency he would ever really charge me for, either. Or if he did charge me, it was always some ridiculously low figure. I’d protest and say, “Come on, El Dukay. You have to charge me for REAL.”
“Oh, well, I’ll just overcharge you next time, okay? Come on, pony up the ten bucks.”
For, you know, keeping my espresso machine from blowing up.
El Dukay was not handsome. Far from it. He was goofy-looking. He was skinny, tall, perhaps balding but he always wore a baseball cap so I never knew for sure. Tufts of red hair curled out from under his cap. His eyes were always huge, as if perpetually surprised. His face was pale and freckled in a Howdy Doody way but his smile, his laugh, were completely ingratiating. Kind of left a girl a little defenseless. And he was goofy looking, I tell you! Thing is, he was just one of those men whose sheer force of personality made him so much more attractive. The whole was definitely greater than the sum of the parts with that one. He always reminded of The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz and I love The Scarecrow. Whenever something broke down, I was almost happy because that meant El Dukay would be coming and hilarity would ensue. I mean, he and I could banter for hours like warring siblings. Actually, we did banter for hours like warring siblings, because, well, he was basically impossible in your typical big brother way, and desperately needed my nosy goody-goody intervention in his life.
Because, you see, El Dukay lived his life like Hugh Hefner.
Almost immediately upon meeting him, I discovered my skinny scarecrow was a playah. A 56-year-old playah. He knew I was married and rolled his eyes at the very idea. Not that I couldn’t be married, no, but just that marriage in general made him roll his eyes. Actually, he rolled his eyes quite a lot and I would imitate him rolling his eyes and he’d just roll his eyes some more.
So no. No marriage for this scarecrow playah. And what kind of sucker was I, anyway? Married? Tsk, tsk, tsk.
He would date multiple girls at once. And when I say “girls,” I mean girls. Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-five years old. If a woman was over thirty, ugh, he’d roll his eyes, wrinkle his nose. Blech. Disgust.
My Beloved would say, “El Dukay has a crush on you.”
And I’d say, “Ha. I’m too old for that man. Just ask him.”
He’d tell me, a great impish gleam in those green eyes, about taking these girls home to his hot tub, his “spa.” He’d speak in worshipful tones about his personal massage table in his “massage suite” at home. He’d start to tell me about things that happened after the “spa” and after the massage table and I’d hold up my hand, roll my eyes, and bark, “STOP!”
And he would. He’d stop. He just liked to see me blush.
Despite this, El Dukay was a truly decent fellow. He was not a pervert, even though I accused him of being one every time I saw him. Yes, he was a satyr and, yes, his whole life was one long Dionysian revel, but, still, he was the nicest sugar daddy a twenty-something girl could hope to have.
As time went on, I couldn’t keep track of his girls by name and, frankly, neither could he. I felt like Lucy Ricardo on that candy factory assembly line. I literally could not keep up. The girls! There were always more and more and more of them rushing by faster and faster and faster. In frustration, I simply began to label them Spa Girl 1, Spa Girl 2, Spa Girl 37, etc., ad nauseum, and our conversations would go like this:
“So how many Spa Girls are there now? Tell me the truth.”
“Well, uhm, there’s three.”
“Only three? Wow, you’re slipping, old man. You disappoint me. Okay. So we have Spa Girl 1, Spa Girl 2, and Spa Girl 3?
“You know, seriously, what is wrong with you? Do they know about each other? Do you tell them?
“You’re a disaster.”
Laughing. “No, I’m not!
“No. You are, Rico Suave. Okay. How old is the oldest one again?”
“And — let’s review, again. You’re what? 93?”
Eye roll. “I’m 56.”
Eye roll. “Same thing.”
“And I’m going to Italy soon with one of them. One of them gets to be Italian Spa Girl!”
“I haven’t decided.”
“I don’t even want to know what’s involved in that selection process.”
“No, you perv. Shut up.”
“You married people.”
“Look, I’m sorry you’re defective — that you’re missing the commitment gene.”
“Ohh, I’m definitely not defective …..”
“Oh, hahaha, Hef. Mazeltov on all your working parts.”
“Just thought I’d clarify.”
“You know who’s a nice man?”
“Your brother, that’s who.”
“Yeah. He came out one day when you couldn’t make it and we talked all about your illness and how happily married he is.”
“Now that’s an illness.”
I’m telling you, we’d go on like this for hours. He’d stay, long past completing my repair, bantering like this with me, wasting time.
Finally, I’d say, “Don’t you need to go make money? I mean, you don’t charge me anything. How are you gonna afford to have ‘Italian Spa Girl’?”
“Oh. Don’t worry about me. Now, I’ll be gone to Italy for two weeks. Try not to break anything, okay?”
“Ha. I’ll just call the nice brother if I do.”
Two weeks later, my phone rang.
“Tracey, it’s El Dukay.”
“Hahaha. Hey, Hef. Are you back from Italy?”
“How was it? How was ‘Italian Spa Girl’?”
“It was awwwful.”
“Hahahaha. I knew it, you dummy. What happened?”
“She drove me crazy.”
“Hahahahaha. I don’t feel sorry for you, but please continue.”
“Tracey …. I took her clothes shopping.”
“Most girls would like that.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Ughhhh ….. none of the Italian clothes fit her.”
“And she had this huge hissy fit right in the middle of the store.”
God forgive me, but I was howling at El Dukay’s pain. Crying tears of laughter at the anguish and horror in my scarecrow playah’s voice.
“No, you’re not.”
“No, I’m not.”
“It was horrible. She was freaking out. I couldn’t calm her down. She just kept wailing, ‘I’m fat in Italy, I’m fat in Italy!'”
“I finally dragged her out of there and took her shoes shopping instead. I mean, how fat can feet be?”
“I … don’t know. Uhm, so how was the rest of the trip?”
“Torture. I couldn’t wait to bring her home.”
Still laughing. “Sorry, Dukay.”
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘Maybe Tracey was right. Maybe she’s right about everything.'”
“Well, obviously, I am.”
“Maybe. Maybe you are after all.”
Ah, El Dukay. My skinny scarecrow playah. Yes, I’m thinking of you today.
Actually, now that I think of it, I need to send you a harassing email, you pervert.