From above the sidewalk, she watches as the indifferent shoppers pass the young man playing trumpet on the corner. He hasn’t had a tip in an hour. The cold is getting to his lips, and he’s hitting notes imperfectly. She rides a gust down closer to him and listens, hears the music struggling within him, pleading to be teased out. She drifts up and plants an ethereal kiss on the man’s cheek. In under a minute he’s blowing a rousing jazz take on Carol of the Bells, accompanied by change clinking into his open case. She smiles and spins away into the sky. It’s just so damned gray. The storm that’s been threatening the region has veered out to sea. No doubt her father’s doing. In its wake hangs a bleak ceiling of low clouds dragging like mourning crepe across the sky, leeching warmth and color from the city. The lights and ribbons on the buildings and in the windows make feeble attempts to be seen, but this dreariest of days defeats them. Once it’s dark they will do their jobs well; right now they are just pathetic. The people below are a mass of heavy bundled coats, their collective breath nearly a fog at street level. They are so cold, so tired. Her smile fades as she watches them. Days like this take their toll, tune spirits to more sorrowful frequencies, drag regrets up from the vault of memory, and obscure the existence of beautiful things. She wants to kiss them all, infuse them with verve and tenacity, but her blessing does not work that way. Her recipients must need her. It pains her. It would be so easy to diffuse herself, grow even more insubstantial and allow the wind to carry her away from all this gray. From below she catches a whiff of something, a churning nexus of activity, bustling and frantic. Awareness wide open, she follows the sweet sensation to an oblique edifice called the Expo Center… “And the nice thing about Dynalon cookware—” I slid the omelet onto the plate, twirled the fry pan by its handle, and held it up like a talisman so its black interior faced the seated audience. “—is that you hardly have to clean it!” I smiled, as behind me Joyce turned from the cutting board, brought her head up over my right shoulder and said “Not that you ever do the dishes.” I rolled my eyes theatrically as a few people in the audience chuckled. Joyce stepped up along side me and said, “now move over, Gabe, so I can show these good folks how well this double boiler works.” “I’m afraid not even Dynalon can save your cooking,” I said. Joyce swatted me on the shoulder with a spatula, then leaned forward conspiratorially to the audience and mock-whispered, “Fortunately, the kitchen isn’t where I do my best work.” The same few spectators laughed. She used to get a bigger response on that line. Undeterred, she dove right into her demonstration. I put the fry pan on the counter and looked out at the fifteen or so attendees. There had been over thirty when we started. There was plenty at the Holiday Expo to draw folks away. From my vantage point on the stage I could see children lined up for Santa near the big tree, and carolers moving through aisle after aisle, past visitors laden with bags and boxes. Professional curiosity urged my eyes to fall on the other pitchmen and spokespeople working the crowd. Two aisles over, I saw Rich frenetically declaring the wonders of the SuperMop. Beyond him, Paula was luring some older men into her VibraLounger massage chairs. Around the corner I heard Timothy hawking spray sealant. Or was it food storage containers? I also looked down at the Dynalon salesperson behind her register at the end of the stage. She was on her phone. I couldn’t hear her or read her expression, but I swore I saw her hand unconsciously gesture to the stack of unsold cookware boxes behind her. Dynalon had spent a lot on the very nice kitchen stage for us, and we had done six demos a day for five days, but I doubted they would consider this a success. Joyce was pulling asparagus from the double boiler with tongs and piling them on a platter. “…it’s the only way I can get him to eat his vegetables. Isn’t that right, dear?” I looked out to the seven remaining spectators, smiled, and nodded. She descends, wafts unseen through glass doors and under the garland arch entrance to the exhibit hall.
Inside is another world. Hues and sounds envelop her. The air is rich with the hybridized aroma of pine, mulled cider, and scented candles. There are crafts for sale, as well as decorations, lighting displays, wine, gift baskets, and baked goods. Oversized bells hang from the ceiling. The pillars of the place are wrapped in wide swaths of red, green, and gold ribbon. Immense candy canes stand like street lamps.
At the center of the hall stands a colossal tree draped in ornaments. On a modest stage a choir sings. A man dressed as Kringle hoists children onto his lap. The hall is thick with anticipation and expectation, steeped in distilled joy. She breathes it all in. This is more like it. “That could have gone better,” Joyce said. “Or it could have gone worse,” I responded. “It’s the last day of the Expo, you can’t expect a sellout crowd.” She looked at me with that mixture of sadness and gratitude, the way she always did when I tried to defuse her pessimism. “Those grandmothers were quite smitten with you,” she said. “What can I say? The ladies like a non-threatening man willing to wear a hideous Christmas sweater. And you had a few suitors yourself.” I almost said “People still remember us,” but that wouldn’t have helped. Joyce grabbed her purse and said, “C’mon, I want to stop at the Best Buy pavilion and get some stocking stuffers for the girls.” “We’re on again in an hour.” “Plenty of time.” I glanced over at the salesperson, still on her phone. There had been a few sales from that last demo. Not a lot, but not none. I followed Joyce towards the pavilion. She enjoyed events like this, and when we were working she didn’t get much chance to take in what they had to offer. We stopped at a craft booth selling glass icicles, and another with seasonal throw pillows. She mentioned wanting to stop at the mock orchard of artificial trees, and the reindeer petting area. We passed Rich as he wrung the SuperMop into a glass bowl, showing how much liquid it could absorb. He caught my gaze and gave me a wink. As we walked, I caught the usual hints of recognition beginning to manifest. One passing woman held my gaze a touch too long, as if knowing my face but unable to identify it. A couple took a double-take at Joyce as she passed. I heard the usual whispers of “I swear I know who they are” and “they’re on TV or something.” I knew Joyce heard them too. This was our life: Joyce and Gabe Matherton, the “Bickering Barkers” as they used to call us. Most people remembered us from the food processor informercial we had done in the mid-Nineties, the one so campy it was parodied on Saturday Night Live. Some pop-culture website listed it as one of the top twenty most embarrassing moments on television. It garnered us a bit of a cult following. A few years later a twenty-second clip from the program appeared in a comedy about a clueless immigrant trying to fit into American society. In the scene, the immigrant is flipping through channels and stops on Joyce dropping Granny Smith wedges into the processor. The scene ends with an over-the-top parroting of my exclamation “That’s what I call applesauce!” It would have been deeply upsetting if not for the modest royalty checks we still received every quarter. There had been other infomercials, and a few spokesperson gigs, but mostly it was the fair and expo circuit for us. Dynalon calling us had been a stroke of luck. Their scheduled demonstrators had backed out a week before. Joyce was happy to make a little extra money for the holidays. It had also gotten us some welcome exposure. A local lifestyle show had done a segment with us, and we had a pretty funny interview with a pair of morning radio DJs. During the expo, a handful of folks had asked to have photos taken with us. It did Joyce a world of good to know that people still remembered us, even if it was for nostalgia’s sake. Still… Everyone has a moment or two in life where the foreseeable future will be dictated by what happens next. Somehow, this seemed like one of them. For the last five days, we had never brought anything less than our full effort to the stage. But I wanted the last demo to be something more. We passed Paula, “the peroxide Delilah” as Joyce sometimes called her. She was enthralling a trio of men with the six-point massage action of the VibraLounger. One guy gave a soft “mmmm” as the chair started up, and Paula deftly placed her fingertips on his shoulder and asked, “Can you feel it?” At that moment I saw on the man’s face that he was going to buy the thing, or at least place it high on the wish list he gave to his wife. Paula could hold an audience, and follow up with a sale. The way we used to. She is admiring the Victorian garb of carolers when she feels it: the urge. A desire to strut upon the stage and enrapture an audience thrums somewhere nearby. It is a deep and seasoned longing emitted by souls who have done it often. It tastes of loss and obsolescence. It tastes of need. She sees him, the man in the horrible sweater, accompanied by a woman carrying bags. Within them there is a performance brewing and readying itself, but it is hobbled by doubt and tinged with frustration. They stop and look at the massive tree. The moment is perfect. We poked around for a while, until I told Joyce we should be heading back to the stage. Just then, we turned the corner and saw the Expo’s tree. It reached almost all the way to the exhibit hall’s girdered ceiling. It was wrapped in decoration and tinsel. It was so utterly bright, as if made of some substance more real than everything else. The whole of the Expo orbited this thing. You could get your bearings anywhere in the hall by looking up at it. More than that, it nourished the place. You could see it in people’s faces. That’s when the carolers started singing. My hand automatically went to Joyce’s. She took it and tipped her head onto to my shoulder. For a few seconds, the entire place felt alive, imbued with something potent yet insubstantial. I can’t really explain it except to say that I swear something passed through me. She kisses the woman’s cheek first, and then the man’s. As she does she sees the landscape of their lives. The bond between them is strong, enabling them to endure peaks and valleys. They have crossed rivers of uncertainty together, and burrowed into great veins of strength when needed. They are actors, jesters, and merchants in equal measure, practiced in peddling experience as well as wares. She sees flickers of potential within them, latent possibilities they are unsure they have anymore. Oh, but they do. She gently exhales onto those flickers, and smiles as she sees them blossom into delicious flames. She calls upon the essences of the actors, jesters, and merchants of the past to attend these two as they ply their craft. It is a heady blessing. She hopes it will be enough. To be honest, I don’t remember most of it. We got back to the stage five minutes before we were scheduled to go on. The salesperson gave us a disapproving look, and continued her phone conversation. There were few folks in the seats, but that was to be expected. Crowds didn’t usually gather until the demo was well underway. We started with the usual opening shtick, taking light-hearted jabs at each other. When we reached the point where Joyce hands me the fry pan, she looked at me, and then tossed it. I caught it, and before I could react she tossed another. I lobbed the first one back. Suddenly we were juggling six pieces between us, all while espousing the virtue of state-of-the-art non-stick coating, easy-grip handles, and rugged craftsmanship. When we finished, there was applause from at least twenty spectators. It did not dawn on me until much, much later that we had never juggled before. Joyce cooked a panful of hash browns while singing Need A Little Christmas, as I kept four lids spinning on the edge on the counter like oversized chrome coins. When it came time for us to switch places, we improvised a gimmick where we would both grab the same pan and try to wrestle it away from the other. Then she took a pot from the counter and handed it to me while turning towards the cutting board, letting go before I could grab it. I caught it as it fell, reacted as if it was hot, and fumbled it into the air. It landed on the counter exactly where she had picked it up from, just as she turned back around. She did a perfect Oliver Hardy double-take, which got a big laugh.
Next, she began telling a story about her childhood Christmases as she chopped up a zucchini, working the blade in such a way that each cut sent a slice up and over her head. I ran frantically back and forth behind her catching the slices in a saucepan.
She began sautéing. As she sprinkled in some pepper, she emphasized some point in her story by gesturing with the shaker. I made as if I had gotten a noseful of pepper and was fighting to keep from sneezing onto her cooking. Then she “accidentally” spilled some salt and threw a pinch over her shoulder. I acted as if it had hit my eyes. When Joyce asked me to hand her the lid to the saucepan, I blindly rummaged the back counter, making a mess. The audience roared. There were some slapstick routines, a couple vaudeville gags, and quite a few double-entendres. Like I said, I don’t remember most of it. What I do remember is that not only was all this was popping unbidden into my head, but it was obvious that Joyce was getting it as well. As the demo went on, we became synchronized to an extent we had never felt. It was exhilarating. By the time I started the omelet, all the seats were full. I flipped the omelet high, once, twice, but waited until I got the crowd to cheer before doing it a third time. I caught it on the plate while twirling the fry pan. To my utter surprise, the audience shouted along to “hardly have to clean it!” There was soon a standing crowd filling the aisle. As Joyce was dishing out asparagus, I saw phones held up, recording us. Paula, Tim, and Rich were among them, smiling at us. When we did our big wrap-up and gave the low, low prices for the eight, twelve, and twenty-piece sets, everyone was on their feet. For the first time in our professional careers, we took a bow. As I descended the stage steps I noticed two things: there was a line at the register, and a small throng of folks at the bottom of the stairs holding Dynalon boxes. It took me a full half-minute to realize they wanted me to sign them. I turned and looked at Joyce, who smiled and shrugged back at me before being beset by requests to have pictures taken with her. We finally made our way to each other and hugged. A moment later Paula came up and told us that videos of our demo were already on YouTube. The salesgirl appeared and handed me her phone. It was the PR rep from Dynalon, asking if we were available for the Home Show in February. The Expo wound down after that. It was time to go home. I helped Joyce with her coat, then turned her around. I held her face and kissed her on the forehead. “You were great,” I said. “We were,” she corrected me, as she slipped her arm around mine. The city is dark now, but she sees the lights are ablaze. She rises into the clearing sky as stars begin to show themselves. Ripples of contentment spread below her as people head home, leaving their doubts and fears behind. She looks down, smiles, and blows the city a kiss. She wonders who else needs her tonight. And she wonders what an omelet tastes like.
Copyright 2012 Bad Day Studio
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