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Fish Lips

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"Life is for kissing and horrible strife." -- D.H. Lawrence

The plot was hatched at the far dark corner of the bar, between the popcorn machine and golf video game.

"Pucker up, Doc! Yeah! You can win with those lips!"

"Looks like the south side of a two-hump camel."

"Sweet 46 and never been kissed."

The conspirators were myself; the Professor; Sidney Goldolphin, barrister at law; Jimmy Chimichanga; interpretive dancer Dawn Parfait; and Dr. Barqs. Also Floyd Botts, the only bar bouncer I know of in a wheelchair. It ain't much of a bar, though Floyd likes to say, "Mess with me and I'll roll over you like you was roadkill."

Under discussion was the entry of Dr. Barqs in this kissing contest. Put on by one of those superstores that are open every minute of every day to sell everything to everybody. The idea is to promote their new tropical fish department, and the contestants have to kiss a fishbowl until there's only one set of lips still kissing.

"You're nuts," Sidney said. "My kid's got things in her toy box smarter than you."

"Yeah, well, there's a $2,000 prize. Even if it takes 100 hours, that's still 20 bucks an hour!" Doc Barqs glared at the barrister. "We can't all pass the bar, ya know."

"You've never passed a bar in your life," Sidney answered.

"All you gotta do is stand around and do nothin' for a coupla days," reasoned Jimmy Chimichanga. "You do that every week anyways."

"That's right," agreed Floyd Botts. "I spend more time on my feet than Doc and I'm in this wheelchair."

"Tut, tut!" the Professor said. "Doc's inertia will be an advantage here. We set him with his lips on that fishbowl and he doesn't move! But light labial contact. That's the key."

"But after a certain number of hours, your brain shorts out," cautioned Sidney. "The brain needs more rest than your feet. You could really and truly go inside."

"And how would we know?" Dawn Parfait sweetly asked.

And so a few days later, we all gathered in the super-aquarium. Doc looked ready; he was rubbing extra-virgin olive oil on his lips.

Doc Barqs had drawn a fishbowl of neon tetras for an object of his affections. "I wish he coulda got a bowl of them scum-sucking catfish they use to clean out the bottom of the tanks," opined Floyd. "Their lips might inspire you."

There were about a dozen contestants in all, but the Professor had already handicapped the field and mentally eliminated those he deemed "the curious and the cowardly." The Prof summarized the remaining competitors. A bassist for a rock band called Liver Spots who'd painted his face like Gene Simmons and wanted to know if he could put his tongue against the fishbowl. A rodeo clown from Winnemucca, Nev. And a woman with tone-on-tone hair coloring and a Q-tip body.

"She's got lips like Mick Jagger," worried Jimmy.

Prof waved off any hesitations. "It seems like our chief opposition is from a clown, a bass player and Olive Oyl's skinnier sister. Now who will join me in seeking out the friends and agents of these losers in life and engaging them in a friendly wager?"

The contestants got a 10-minute break every two hours. We had brought Doc some Stoli in water bottles and some dropping-off-the-bone shortrib sandwiches. The skinny broad came over to our table. "I'm visualizing sending a cosmic kiss to my boyfriend, who's at an ashram in Indiana. What's your motivator?"

"Vodka," grunted Doc. After that, Jimmy got some yellow police tape and roped off our table and chairs.

The hours dragged on. We began staying in two-hour shifts. I was there around the 18th hour when some unemployed landscaper broke his smooch with a bowl of angelfish. They carried him out 10 toes up and speaking in tongues.

On the break after the 30th hour, Doc looked a little wan. "This ain't easy money," he said. His lip was starting to look like Louis Armstrong's. "It's hard work avoiding work," agreed Prof. "Remember, Doc. Light labial contact."

Around the 36th hour, all of us who'd bet on Doc reassembled because the field was down to him and the four that Prof had predicted. Midway in the 37th hour, Doc's body began to twitch cap-a-pie and suddenly he howled as if his cornea had just absorbed a full splatter of pico de gallo. He grabbed up the bowl of neon tetras and began to chug-a-lug it. "Cease, you scabrous miscreant!" Prof yelled.

Chaos. Floyd drove into the Gene Simmons bassist, calling him a "pre-vert" as the wheelchair took his legs out. The skinny broad collapsed in laughter. The rodeo clown just kept kissing his bowl of guppies. I'd bet on the wrong clown.

"I couldn't take it any more!" sobbed Doc. "Their little eyes were looking right into my brain! I had to have them!"

"That's what Sister Mary Fridiswede usta tell us in school," said Dawn Parfait. "You start out kissing, next thing you know, you're goin' all the way."

"You just can't beat one of them parochial educations," Jimmy Chimichanga sadly acknowledged.

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