Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Rita Hayworth. You are forewarned.
[Dream sequel: An obviously very worn out (mainly visible through the telltale rings around the eyes) young working-class lad just off the boats, maybe having just worked the banana boats off the Central American coast or some oil tanker steaming to some South American city port, lands on all four’s in Rio at Faro Jack’s Casino half-drunk, half-dazed and half-crazed with lust, woman lust. Darkly good-looking, a woman’s man, a woman’s man for sure in that good-looking young working- class minute way before the hard labor and hard drink take their toll. Cleaned up, shaved-up, white Panama-suited up against the tropical sweats, some manly fragrance lightly splashed for effect, he has left the stink, the rot, and the rut of his previous travels behind and for just that minute he was standing on the rim of the world.
As he walked the long entrance way to the bar (the sound and sights of the gaming tables and slots over to the right telling him that the real play here was gambling not tight-fisted drinking), the smoke almost making it impossible to see. Impossible despite the elaborate lighting that makes the place seem like daylight 24/7, although it was almost midnight. And despite his own cigarette, a Lucky, perched in his mouth adding to the smog (his mother, his damn French-Canadian mother, always trying to make him stop that nasty Protestant habit as she called it).
Suddenly he stopped in his tracks, or rather took a series of side-steps, hearing some half-forgotten tune from a woman’s sultry voice as he looked up at the outlines of the empty bandstand. There she was. Sitting on a piano bench alone which seemed to hold her well enough as she methodically strummed her guitar and sang, laconically torch sang there was no other way to put it, If I Didn't Care, to no one in particular. He was/is transfixed for the moment, from that moment.
She raised her head a bit in his direction, still singing laconically, and gave him a smile, no, the essence of a smile. A smile that promised adventure, hardship, romance, and hell and back but it promised something. He moved toward her, stopping the waiter on his way to order a scotch, best house scotch, straight up, and whatever she was having. He continued to walk toward her, noticing her flaming reddish-brown hair, noticing her well-turned legs and ankles, noticing her deep-cleaved dress (and thoughts of undress and it pleasures), noticing her ruby-red lips built for nothing else but love, noticing…]
He awakens from his semi-trance, or rather is startled out of it by the waiter’s plea for him to take his drink and pay the tab, noticing like some déjà vu mind trick that there was something very familiar, very childhood familiar about her, about the look of her, some cinematic she vague mist remembered look. In a second, as he continued, relentlessly, if more slowly now toward her he had it. The last time that devilishly sweet-smiling, buttery-voiced, long-legged, big-haired (heck, that's the best I can do, the way he described it to me, I don't know what they called that style but other "hot" 1940s women stars like Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake wore it that way too), been around the block and is still standing, femme fatale, relentlessly sexual, very relentlessly sexual. Rita Hayworth, that’s it.
Rita’s name came up from the time when his mother (now estranged, very estranged, for the past few years, father long gone, long seven seas gone, maybe explaining his own sea chases) took him to the Strand over on Elm Street just off Main Street (really U.S. Route One but everybody called it Main Street) in his ocean edge hometown of Olde Saco up in Maine). That was when her photograph, just her big blow-up photo nothing more, was used to cover (literally) actor Tim Robbins’ escape route in the film, The Shawshank Redemption. Of course, that flash had him thinking about the film Gilda which he had to see at some art house festival in his the old ‘Frisco road days before he headed out on to the China seas.
Thinking back to that Gilda plot he looked around quickly trying to make out forms, male forms, mainly in the smoke-besmirched room. Trying to make out some down and out American expatriate fellaheen, some Johnny Farrow who found himself in Buenos Aires doing, well, doing the best he can. And Rita came with the best- you- can package, strictly private property. Sometimes though doing the best one can, as he himself well knew from a few bumps and bruises he had suffered along the way when down and out at the lumpen edges of society is risky, very risky, and not just in Buenos Aires, as the French writers Genet and Celine can tell you too. He saw a couple of guys, a couple of dressed up tux guys, but decided that they were strictly hired help, strictly bouncers, paid by the hour (or maybe, the scotch, best house scotch, was going to his head a little and his judgment was off a little ). He thought to himself no Johnny yet so he was ahead of the game.
He took another look, a hard look in her direction again as she smiled at him again, lifted her his bought drink to him and gave a silence “Cheers” that spoke unmistakably of adventure, maybe tonight, and danger. His look, his hard look by the way, was induced by that careful (lump and bump careful) check point about her possibly being married. And in his mind up stepped a “savior” candidate, a Ballin, illegal night club owner of Rita yore, power-monger and all-around megalomaniac. Maybe Faro Jack himself, although he had no proof there was even a real person named Faro Jack. He looked around again, and made a special point of looking toward the back of the house, toward the offices where some evil genie might reside. No white-haired devil on the premises. Still ahead.
As he made his final approach (thinking furiously, as furiously as that best house scotch would permit, some snappy line to break the ice, or bring that smile, that essence of a smile once again, as he thought about it later) a guy, a guy in a white Panama suit too against the oppressive Rio heat bumped into him. Half-drunkenly bumped into him but with just a touch of purpose and began to harangue him on the subject of women, and other subjects, most importantly, on the advice front, that gambling and women don’t mix, especially for up-and-coming guys like him. She gave the half- drunk one fierce look, and he returned to his seat at the bar, mumbling. Mumbling some number scheme and, well, to make the story short, with this Johnny (his Rita name for the bumper) denying on three (maybe more) bibles that he is over, done with, finished with, couldn’t care less about, is not smitten with, she. [Turned out, he found out later, that the bumper and she knew each other and had previously held the "torch" for each other.]
He thinks through the plot of Gilda again. As he knew, having sat through many lonely no money double features in odd-ball waterfront old timey movie houses in far flung ports of call, it was very routine in 1940s “boy meets girl” films in the end for things to work out, although it was close for a while in that film. Ballin (Faro Jack?), despite his off-hand desire to rule the world, was so smitten with Gilda that he could not think straight. Johnny (Bumper?) was so smitten with Gilda that he could not think straight. The 1940s male audience was so smitten with Gilda that they could not think straight. He was so smitten with she/ Gilda that he could not think straight.
Finally he was standing just in front of her, he went to open his mouth to speak but she cut him off with a smile, no, again no, with the essence of a smile, and with her hand, her wedding ring-less hand, directed him to the back door, that same back door which he had canvassed before looking for the ghost of Ballin. His heart started to beat rapidly, drink heart rapidly, adventure heart rapidly, hell and back heart rapidly. For a split second, maybe less, maybe some Nano something or whatever they call it when it is less than a second he hesitated, then moved forward following her swaying hips to meet his fate…
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