The Power of the Universe is in the Mind
I pull a Twisted Dog album from the classical section when a woman with a Betty Boop tattoo parks her short, plump body across from me. She flips through albums and lip-synchs to the song "He Left Me for a Pink Cadillac" cranking over the speakers. She bends forward for a record at the back of the bin and reveals breasts, nestled like two ostrich eggs, behind a low-cut blouse with a ruffled collar. From her left breast, a tattoo looks up at me with a permanent smile and winking eye. Betty Boop has one hand on her hip, the other points a finger in the air, like a frozen metronome. I once dated a woman with the same tattoo in exactly the same location. She told me the tattoo was saying, "You're a naughty boy." The appearance of the woman across from me and the woman I dated don't match, still there's something about her.
"Wayne?" she asks.
I've heard that voice before. "Marjorie? That is your Betty Boop."
"My sweet Betty." She glances down at the tattoo and strokes it. "Life's been a real roller-coaster ride at times, but she's never jumped off like some people I know." She stares accusingly.
I stretch my neck and roll my shoulders to ease a sudden stiffness. "I didn't recognize you. I thought maybe you'd shaved off your mustache or something," I say with a laugh that sounds more like a hiccup. "You know how it is when people change something about themselves and you're not sure what?"
"I colored my hair auburn and had a nose job," she says in a matter-of-fact voice. "Why are you raising your eyebrows?"
"I sort of liked your nose. The way it was. It had character. It was beautiful!"
"You told me it reminded you of your mother's nose. I'm the one who was stuck with it, and I got tired of people staring. So I changed it. I've changed, Wayne, since we last saw each other. How long now? Six months? You stopped calling me."
She takes a quick look around the store. Behind her in the front window, a painted whale spouts musical notes.
"So, you work here at Moby Dick Records."
"Yeah, I still work at the market, too, Healthy Rabbit, but they cut my hours."
"Manager?" She squints at my nametag.
I glance at it and feel self-conscious. I go back to sorting records.
Her hand wrestles out a business card holder from a shoulder-strap purse. She reaches over the bin, offers her card, and smiles. In the center, it reads, The Power of the Universe is in the Mind. Below that, Cerebralbonics Advisor: Marjorie Tortanelli. Her phone number is in the corner.
"Call me," she says and struts out the door. I watch her disappear behind the painted whale, then reappear and wave. Wow, she really has it together this time.
I'm not sure why I broke off with Marjorie. I'm sorry I did, now. I guess because she talked about us moving in. Dating Marjorie was one thing, but living with her, well, that was something else. We had some wild times, though. She got us involved in a small theater group and pulled me along on cattle calls. The acting never came to much, but at least we tried.
"Excuse me, do you have any Silver Sound Record Cleaning Brushes?" asks a middle-aged woman with frizzy hair.
"Yeah, wait a minute."
I light a cigarette in the back room. A box of Silver Sound is in the corner, at the bottom of a stack of boxes filled with eight-track tapes. A folded newspaper rests on top. I check out the horoscope section. Pisces—Good time to make a fresh start in new direction. Let go of past fears and doubts. An old flame but a new kind of love is on the horizon. Avoid heavy lifting.
I remember the customer—the boxes look heavy. I peek through the swinging door. She's waiting near the checkstand.
"I'm sorry ma'am, but we're out. Check back tomorrow." I smile and duck in the back room where my cigarette still burns in an ashtray.
I had met Marjorie at a party my roommate threw. She plopped down next to me on the couch. I was smoking a joint and watching TV. She asked me a bunch of questions like, what do I want from life or what's my darkest secret? Everytime a question made me squirm, Marjorie seemed pleased. She called her questions truth seekers. They were designed to help me shatter my illusive self, created by our TV-make-believe society, and discover who I really was. The next morning, Marjorie had me trembling and crying. She hugged me and said in a soothing voice, "Wayne, you've discovered new ground, the inner self."
No one ever cared that much about me before.
"Hey, Wayne, anything you want to hear?" Gloria asks, sitting on a stool at a shrink-wrap machine, sealing returns. A faded peace symbol in the center of her tie-dyed T-shirt ripples as she works. Her tie-dyed skirt bunches around her knees, exposing unshaved legs and bare feet. Birkenstock sandals lay nearby.
"Some downer music. I'm down," I say.
"What about the Downbeats' new release?"
She changes albums. A polished stone hangs from a thin rawhide strap tied loosely around her neck, draped over her Manager nametag.
"Say, Gloria? What kind of energies does that stone have?"
"It's an amethyst. It balances the mind, calms the emotions. It has smog protection and blood purifying properties." She giggles then grabs her macrame purse underneath the table and shows me a red ruby. "I'm wearing this tonight. My boyfriend complains that my sexual energies are out of balance lately."
"Maybe I could stop by the shop sometime," I say.
"Why don't I schedule you for a reading tomorrow?"
The next day, I'm at the Psychic Eye Mystical Shop. Jasmine incense and a recording of sitar and tabla music float through the store. I'm wondering if that's Ravi Shankar on sitar. I find Gloria in a small room behind a red drape partially closing off the doorway. She sits with a deck of tarot cards at a table covered by a red cloth. Her pale violet stone, hanging from her neck, catches the light as I take a seat.
"What do you want to know from the cards?"
"Will Marjorie and me get back together?"
She draws ten from the deck and lays them face up in a spread.
"I feel the Queen of Cups and the Wheel of Fortune. You must go on a journey into an unconscious world of emotions." She studies the cards some more. "The Chariot tells me your subconscious has blocked energy channels. But don't worry. The power of the stone will help you find a meaningful relationship."
She leaves and comes back with a tray. It has square compartments, filled with crystals and polished stones.
"You must find the right stone."
"How will I know?"
"Breathe through the stone. Feel its warm vibrations dissolve the disharmonious energies."
I close my eyes and circulate my hand over the tray, like a metal detector. My hand tingles. I open my eyes.
"If it's right for you, the stone's vibrations will stick to your finger."
My finger presses a kidney-shaped stone. It holds on when I raise my hand then loses its grip.
"You are both in harmony," she says.
My roommate left me a threatening note, so I'm washing five-days worth of dishes stacked on the tile counter. The phone stares at me on the wall next to the stove. I slide Marjorie's card out of my shirt pocket, The Power of the Universe is in the Mind. I get out my coin purse and toss my Indian head nickel—heads. I feel better about calling Marjorie. My hand rubs the six jades hanging from my neck to make sure they're charged. But I'm not sure if the stones are sweating or vibrating. Gloria told me jades have powers of love, security, peace, and mental stamina. Plus healing properties for poor indigestion and weak hair shafts.
Marjorie's phone rings seven or eight times. I go back to washing dishes. After I scrub a few, I take a seat at the kitchen table, facing north. I throw aside a couple of dirty shirts and remove my I Ching book and three Chinese coins from a carved wooden box. After six throws, I consult my I Ching. The ruling line of the hexagram reads, While gnawing dried meat, he encountered a piece of gold. Another line, Bury most prized possession under a rock. The thunder and lightning trigrams predict I'll bite through my confusion and discover cosmic truth.
My head is clear. I know what I want. I'm ready to bite through. Her phone rings three or four times.
"Marjorie, uh, it's Wayne. How's it going?"
"Fine. What's up? Did you just try to call? I'm busy with someone, a member."
"A man?" I ask.
A long silence.
"I was thinking maybe, if you wanted to, what about lunch on Sunday?" I ask.
"The afternoon sometime."
"How about two-thirty?"
"Yeah, sure. Two-thirty is good. How about a picnic at our old hangout?" I ask.
"I guess so." She hangs up.
Next Sunday, I wait on a white marble bench near Tyrone Power's grave. A '63 VW bus drives through the front wrought iron gates of swirled vines, curling at the top into the words "Hollywood Cemetery." The faded red van huffs and puffs its way along a winding dirt road and passes rows of headstones and small monuments belonging to dead film stars, directors, and producers of silent and talkie films.
Marjorie and I last met here right before we broke up. We like this place. It's quiet and tranquil, unlike the public parks where noisy families with dogs and portable radios gather and black-and-whites cruise, looking for trouble.
She parks the VW close to a tiny lake stocked with orange-yellow koi and two white plastic swans. She has on dark slacks, open toe sandals with red wool socks, a snug-fitting blazer over a white blouse with the top three buttons undone. Her mood is no Fourth-of-July.
She checks me out. "Isn't that what you wore the last time we were here?"
I'd wondered if my knickers, argyle socks, and sweater vest would be a mistake.
She huddles down on the edge of the bench next to me and stares at the lake.
"So, what about lunch?" I ask. "I made my famous potato salad you always liked and fried chicken and I brought some wine and a joint for later."
"I quit smoking. Period. No cigarettes. No weed. No drugs. I'm happy. I'm doing things. Cerebralbonics has really changed my life."
I carry the picnic basket to the lake and spread a red-and-white check tablecloth. I motion for her to join me while I set out the food containers.
She slips off her coat, crouches down on the tablecloth, lies on her side.
"My mind operates on a higher mental plane now," she says and pats her hair to emphasize her point.
Her eyes study me as I dish food onto paper plates.
"Did it ever occur to you, a picnic at the cemetery is a little inappropriate?" she asks. "Aren't we too old for this? People come here to pay their respects to the dead and we're out here chowing down."
"You used to get off on this. What about that time I drove over those graves at Forest Lawn? You said it was great how everybody was shocked, but when a gardener on a lawnmower does the same thing, nobody cares."
"I didn't say that. That's sick."
"Yeah, you did. Remember, I had that blue Plymouth with the slant-six engine. You liked it. Said it got good gas mileage and you wished you had one."
"Well, what if I did? I don't anymore. And if you think driving over graves is great, you're sicker than I thought."
I pull a rawhide pouch from the small front pocket of my knickers and loosen the string, shaking out a blue stone on a leather strap. I loop it over my head and around my neck.
"What are you doing with those rocks?"
"Gloria told me chalcedony stone repels negative vibrations. I had a feeling I'd need it."
"So, do you always do what people tell you? When I tell you to drive over graves, you drive over graves?"
"But you said to."
"Wayne, you're twenty-nine years old. Look at you. You work two jobs. I bet you still live with Martin and you still lug that lucky nickel around."
"Well, we moved out of that dumpy apartment in Hollywood. We're living on this great houseboat in the marina, now." I didn't mention that the air turned sour at low tide. Our barge was tied to a dock without sewage line hookups.
"Don't you want more from life? What are you planning to do? Spend your whole life living like those—those fish and wearing a bunch of rocks, longing for the old days? Don't you want to evolve? The mind can function far beyond what you dare to believe."
I slip off the chalcedony, point the stone's tip at the ground, and snap my wrist with a whipping motion to energize it.
"Now, what are you doing?"
"I'm clearing the stone. Its energy channel must be weak. It's not working at its optimum level."
Marjorie springs up. Her lips part as if she's going to speak. But nothing comes out. Her eyes widen. She turns her face away, then suddenly takes a step toward me, jumps, and with all her weight, lands with the heel of her shoe on my right hand. The stone falls to the ground. I yank my hand away as she steps back. She observes me like a scientist performing some experiment on a rat. My hand feels numb. And then it happens: a surge of pain explodes and radiates outward.
"MY GOD THAT HURTS!"
Marjorie kneels down in front of me. I instinctively draw back.
"Wayne, listen to me. I'm going to help you through this."
I grip my hand, hoping to choke back the throbbing pain. She eases in closer and takes my other hand. I jerk it away. She unbuttons her blouse and unhooks her black-laced bra. She grabs my right hand again and gently guides it to Betty.
"Wayne, feel Betty. Doesn't she feel good? Betty is there for you. We care about you. Shut your eyes. Focus on Betty. How is the pain?"
"How is the pain?"
"The pain's still . . . my hand's on fire!"
She presses her hand on mine, encouraging me to massage Betty.
"Focus on Betty. That's it."
She lays me back. I feel a light friction against my crotch, my pants' fly being unzipped, and after that, something soft and warm.
"Wayne, is the fire dying down? Is the pain less?"
"Huh? Yeah it's—it's better."
She pulls away and hooks her bra. I feel like I've been thrown from a hot sauna into ice water.
"What was that all about?" I try to zip my pants with my left hand.
"It's the power of the mind. We have the power to control so many things in our lives—if we choose to. Even pain. I'm sorry about your hand. But it did prove my point." She glances at her watch. "Dr. D. D. Powers is offering a free Cerebralbonics seminar in about half an hour. Why don't you sit in on a session with me? You can learn more about it. Look, I still care about you, you know. At least, let me give you a ride home. You're still using the buses, right?"
"How did you know?"
"I watched you leave the record store last night."
The VW's brakes squeal at a stop sign a few blocks from the cemetery. The streets are quiet and empty. The engine rattles. Marjorie's face shows a strained expression. Her fingers struggle to twist a metal stem, missing its radio knob. Her nose doesn't crinkle along with the rest of her face, I notice. The Bad Boys new single blares from a six-inch speaker hanging by two wires under the dashboard. Marjorie's hand taps out the song's beat on the steering wheel.
"Can you just drop me off at my place?" I ask.
Majorie seems surprised.
"It wasn't the rocks that stopped the pain. It was your mind. It's what Dr. D. D. Powers calls high gain."
"I think I'll stick with these stones for awhile."
My hand looks like an inflated surgical glove. It's reddish, throbbing, swollen to about twice the size of the other one. The skin's broken where the heel of her shoe gashed it.
"Wayne, look at my hands, look. Because I know how to turn this wheel, I have the power to choose the highways I travel in life. That's how the brain works. Imagine turning your life around with that kind of mental direction."
Marjorie turns right on to Slauson Avenue. We're getting farther from my place. I don't say anything.
"There's a Quick-Stop near the meeting hall. I can make an ice pack for you. Your hand looks pretty bad. Can you move your fingers?"
I don't even try. I stare out the side window, watching my old neighborhood pass by. My days there seem far away to me now. Maybe I can get a handle on my life. I'm afraid, but I've got to do something.
"Wayne, you dating anyone?"
"I'll never forget that time at the hospital. You were there for me. No one else was," she says. That's the time she thought she was having a heart attack, but the chest pains turned out to be heartburn from enchiladas.
"Are you seeing anyone?" I ask.
She punches in a different station on the radio. The end of a rock ballad fades with a guitar solo. It sounds like Ray-Ray Stevens in the song "I'll Get You in the End."
"Wayne, why did you stop calling me?"
I look out the window for awhile. I decide not to lie, even if it means losing her.
"After we'd been dating, we started fighting all the time. You weren't happy with me. I mean, I know I've got my problems, but you're not perfect either, Majorie. Sometimes you were a little pushy—I mean, I needed it. And you started talking about moving in. It didn't feel right then. I can't explain it."
"Heads, Marjorie moves in. Tails, she doesn't. That's what made your decision, isn't it? Show me you can take charge of your life, right now. Throw that damn nickel out."
"Don't you care about me?"
"Yeah, but, my nickel. It's kind of sudden."
Marjorie's right hand paws at my pocket.
"Watch out," I shout. The van weaves in and out of the next lane.
"You want us back together, don't you Wayne? Well?"
"Give me a minute."
The van's blinker tick-tocks. Marjorie impatiently waits for a big rig to pass in the right lane so she can swing the van over to the curb. My good hand dives into my pocket and grabs a bunch of loose coins. Just as the van stops at the curb, I throw a handful of change out the window. Marjorie's eyes follow the motion of my arm. She scoots toward me and stretches her upper body and neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the nickel. She gives up and assumes her slouched position.
She quietly observes me. "Was that really your nickel?"
"Yeah! Didn't you hear all that change bounce on the sidewalk? It wasn't an easy thing to do, Marjorie."
She reaches for the door handle.
"Look, Marjorie." I pull out the pocket lining, but her hand doesn't budge from the handle.
I pull out the other lining.
"What about your back pockets?"
"These pants don't have back pockets. See."
"Wayne, I'm proud of you. I know it was—" She looks at her watch. "Shit! We're running late!"
"You know, Wayne," she says, maneuvering the van back into a lane of traffic, "being a Cerebralbonics advisor isn't easy. I help Dr. Powers with the Advancement programs, but I'm pressured to bring in, well, you know, new members. Of course with you, it's different."
She pushes in the cigarette lighter knob and fishes around for something in her side coat pocket—a pack of Virginia Slims. I decide not to say anything.
"Wayne, I don't know if I ever told you. I was a candy striper at Huntington Hospital as a teenager. I always wanted to be a nurse and help people. I think I found my true calling."
The lighter knob pops out. She lights up. Smiling through a cloud of smoke, she says, "Remember, the power of the universe is in your mind. Only you can control your universe. Only you can stop the pain."
"You said you quit smoking," I blurt out, blood pounding in my hand.
Majorie puts on that face, gritting her teeth like a Doberman, warning me not to trespass. I pat my pants for the coin purse, I've stuffed inside my underwear. It's still there. We pull up to a red light. I hop out.
"Wayne! Wait! Where you going?"
I've got my lucky nickel and I don't look back.