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Sweat the Debt



"Take a ride with me to Jimmy Chimachanga's," I urge the Professor. "He owes me twenty bucks and ever since then, I've seen more of Ronald Reagan than him."

The Professor ponders this kindly and says, "You lend people a twenty and then not see them again? It's probably worth it." But he consents to come along, because I owe him ten bucks and if I get paid, he might get paid.

"Besides, I wanna check out Jimmy's new girl," I say as we get in the car. "She's from Harvey."

"Ah, well. If Helen of Troy had the face that launched a thousand ships, Helen of Harvey had the face that launched a hundred tugboats. Er ... didn't this car once have seat belts?"

When we get to Jimmy's, all the action is in the backyard: Roach, the new girl (who is pointedly observable), and Jimmy, sitting without a shirt and twirling the knobs of a boom box. "Pick your poison, boys," he says.

I shrug. "I abhor music, from Paul Whiteman to Puff Daddy," the Professor says. "Say, James. You're sporting quite a Gentilly tan these days." He gestures at Jimmy's torso, which is equally divided between brown and white skin. The white skin is in the shape of an undershirt ... .

Jimmy just laughs and says "You're looking good yourself, Prof, spiff-wise. You look like the hit man for Mr. Rogers. Now say hello to the pride of Harvey, Ronni Catalanotto."

Instructions are bumbled through. "Gee, your parents gave you a boy's name," I bumble. "Wasn't they worried about the confusion?"

Jimmy is pointedly amused. "Not much chance of that," he says, indicating her assets under the Green Bay Packers jersey. "Gawd, even an NBA referee could see that."

Roach is just standing there, hands on hips, waiting for the conversation to get around to him, as sadly it must.

"Where ya at, Roach my baby?" I say, with a cheerfulness I did not fully feel ... .

"Life's a party, baby," Roach answers. "But it's a party mostly full of black balloons. I'm starring in a movie based on my life story. The name of the movie is The Death of Sex."

"Honey, don't you believe that somewhere there's the right girl for you out there?" Ronni asks sweetly. She is lying on a folding chair, polishing off her toenails.

"Yeah, I believe that," Roach answers, lighting up something that just says no to just saying no. "And when I find her I believe she's gonna dump all over me. Probably leave me for a cop or somethin' like that."

"So you think that somewhere out there destiny has the right match for you," the Prof summarizes. "But ultimately this right girl will do you wrong. ... Why, Roach, you're a true Romantic Skeptic. One of the few."

Changing the subject, I query Roach about his latest gig, as that of "personal trainer" to some aging debutantes. He admits that he lost the gig when one of their sons challenged him to do more than three push-ups.

"This was B.S.," Roach insists. "Plenty of these personal trainers can't do three push-ups. That don't matter. All you gotta be able to do is talk about being in shape. That and throw the names of a few vitamins and Chinese vegetables around. I mean, anyone can become a 'personal trainer,' right? That's why I became one. Now I am Tap City again."

"Roach finds poverty the way trouble finds Mike Tyson," suggests Jimmy Chimichanga.

"Money's nice, but it can't buy you poverty," offers the Professor.

It turns out that Roach is here to paint a three-foot sign that says, "Talk to Me." It further turns out that Ronni Catalanotto is not merely a conical brassiere, but is a near graduate of one of those West Bank community colleges, majoring in communications, sociology and institutional nutrition.

"So this is my idea for a Senior Project," explains Harvey's latest contribution to Western intellectual thought. "Roach and I get this sign, a couple of lawn chairs and just go to different places -- bus stops, parks ..."

"Retirement homes," interrupts Roach. "Retirement homes oughta be great."

"Wherever," continues Ronni Catalanotto. "Anyways, we are simply there to listen. Just let it happen. Talk. Chit-chat. A few tirades. Random, disconnected conversation. We're not there to be judgmental, we're not pushing any ideology or religion. We're just there to listen. We'll talk back if you really want us to, but if you want to do all the talking ... ."

"You think people are so hard up that they'll stop and just talk to total strangers?" I ask. I look in Roach's direction. "Totally strange strangers?"

"Indubitably," replies she. "Haven't you experienced the total alienation modern man feels towards his society, the great communications disconnect? Eating alone, sitting all night in a room full of people in front of a large-screen TV and not saying anything? Yet, people need to talk. Because human conversation for its own sake makes the world a better place."

"Me and Ronni'll just be there to listen to them lost souls that nobody knows if they dead or alive," piously says Roach.

"If you think nobody cares if you're dead or alive, just try missing a couple of car payments," recommends the Professor. "By the way, what's in this for you?"

"Well, this young lady's gonna maybe use the ... uh, results ... of all this in her Senior Project. I will be available in case someone is willing to support this fine research with some ... donations."

"The money is secondary, of course," insists Ronni. "The main thing is opening and re-opening the channels of communication for those who may have been shut off from the history of ideas. I'm even hoping that we might discover the next Freud or Pat Robertson."

"Get your twenty and let's fly," Prof urges me. He jerks his head in the direction of Roach and Ronni.

"Dwarfs to tall towers come," he snorts.


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