Writer Allen Kopp takes us into another world and teaches us a little about life.
Walter was dressed in a cheap and unflattering suit—standard prison issue for paroled convicts. He was new to the city and a little bewildered by the crowds and the noise. He walked the streets, not certain where to go or what to do with himself. He had a little money in his pocket and not much else in the world.
When he came to a movie theatre, he thought about buying a ticket and going inside and seeing the movie; it didn’t matter what was playing. He stepped up to the little glass cage to buy a ticket but changed his mind.
He saw a woman standing off to the side, under the theatre marquee against the building. She was looking at herself in a little mirror, applying lipstick to her lips. He approached her hesitantly; he was going to say something to her but he didn’t know what to say. Maybe he would ask for directions and if she seemed friendly enough it would lead to something more. As he was walking toward her, though, she turned to him and snapped “Get lost!” like a cornered animal. It happened so fast he was surprised and just a little embarrassed. He felt like a whipped puppy.
Down the street a couple of blocks he came to a place called Dream Land Dancing. He stopped in the doorway and looked up a broad flight of stairs, which seemed for some reason to beckon to him. A sign beside the doorway said 75 Beautiful Girls. Another sign said:A Refined Placefor Refined People.
At the top of the stairs he stepped through a doorway and found himself on the edge of the dance floor where couples were dancing languidly to a small orchestra on a little raised stage across the room. The bouncer, a thuggish man with a big stomach and a bow tie, looked him up and down and when he caught his eye gestured toward the ticket booth that he hadn’t noticed before. He approached the ticket seller hesitantly and said to her, “How much?”
“Can’t you read?” she asked, not unkindly, pointing to the sign on the wall behind her.
“Oh,” he said. “One.”
She handed him the ticket and he handed her a dime.
“Out for a big night, huh?” she said.
A man stepped up behind him and said, “Two bucks’ worth.”
The girl measured out two dollars’ worth of tickets and the man paid for them and left.
“Give me the same,” Walter said.
With his twenty tickets he stepped onto the dance floor. He hadn’t gone more than a few feet when a buzzer sounded, meaning the current dance had ended. A frowzy brunette in a form-fitting gown with a see-through bodice approached him with a smile.
“Just in time, honey,” she said.
He tore off one ticket and handed it to her. Her smile faded as she began dancing with him to a song called I Cover the Waterfront.
“You need a little practice, honey,” she said, after a few steps.
She looked at him closely and decided he wasn’t bad at all; she could go for him if given half a chance. “A few private lessons will fix that, honey,” she said smoothly.
He pressed her to him and began enjoying himself.
“Not so tight, hon-ney,” she said, pushing away a little.
To his surprise, the buzzer sounded again.
“That’s it!” she said.
“Is that all?” he asked.
“What do you expect for a dime?”
“More than he got,” another voice behind him said. “I told you you were slippin’.”
He turned around to see who had spoken and saw a blonde woman sitting on a chair a few feet behind him. She was much more attractive than the brunette, not as shopworn. He looked her up and down, taking her in, especially her legs.
“The name’s Mickey,” the blonde said. “When you get bored.”
“Back away, you two-bit chiselin’…” the brunette said.
“Ah-ah-ah!” Mickey said. “Remember, this is a refeened place for refeened people.”
Turning his back on the brunette, Walter held a ticket out to Mickey invitingly. She smiled and stood up from where she was sitting. She took the ticket from him and they began dancing.
After a few clumsy steps, Mickey said, “You can’t dance. What did you come up here for?”
“To meet somebody.”
“I don’t give private lessons.”
“Uh, how about a drink?”
“Okay, but you’re wastin’ your dough.”
“Well, it’s my dough.”
They moved off the dance floor and sat at a table.
“It’ll cost you a ticket for every dance we sit out,” she said. “That’s ten cents a minute.”
A waiter came over to the table.
“The usual, Joe,” Mickey said.
“How about you, sir?”
“I’ll have a ginger ale,” Walter said.
“A ginger ale and what?”
“A ginger ale and nothing. Any objections?”
After the waiter had gone, Mickey looked at him with a sly grin. “Quick on the trigger, aren’t you?” she asked.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Simmer down. You’ll live longer.”
The waiter brought their drinks. “One eighty-five, mister,” he said.
He gave the waiter two dollars and waited for his change. The buzzer sounded again.
“You owe me a ticket, mister,” Mickey said.
He started to tear off one ticket but instead gave her all the tickets. “Take ‘em,” he said. “That’s all you’re waiting for.”
The orchestra began playing a song called Blue Skies.
“What else do you think I’m waiting for?” she said. “I work here. I get a nickel for every ticket.”
“My name’s Walter Jessel,” he said.
“Here’s mud in your eye,” she said as she downed her drink.
He put his hand over hers. “You got me all wrong,” he said.
“Let’s not make a big thing out of it.”
“I just wanted to meet somebody.”
“So you like me, huh?”
“I’d like to know you better.”
“One way is to spread a little joy around.” She touched her bracelet suggestively and looked at him.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Joy?” she said, fingering the glittery pin on her dress. “A little present?”
“What kind of a present?”
“That’s up to you and how much you like me.”
He stood up unexpectedly, surprising her. “What time do you get through here?” he asked.
“It’s the house rule against datin’ the customers,” she said.
“Do you always stick to the rules?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “My own.”
He turned around and walked out ofDreamLand. She watched him until he was out of sight. She wasn’t sure if she would ever see him again. They come and they go.
At a nearby table where one of the dance hostesses sat with a customer, the hostess got up and left the man sitting alone. As Mickey walked past him, she looked at him until she caught his eye.
“The name’s Mickey,” she said with a smile. “When you get bored.”