Episode 1 — Loretta Cassey
José Miguel López
James, the Lobster Man
Milo opened his eyes seconds before the phone started to crawl across the night table. Slowly pushing his weight up with both arms, he sat on the bed and let his bare feet touch the floor. Then he made his way to the bathroom, stepping carefully on the floorboards as if crossing a creek on stepping stones. He took a long piss, aiming at a spot just above the water line to prevent any noise. Then he went to the kitchen and made coffee. It was 6:15 AM.
Milo was a man of pretty regular habits. He generally liked waking up early, but he especially loved it on Sundays—sipping coffee and looking out the kitchen window from an apartment engulfed in silence. The strip of backyards, isolated by buildings from the relentless grind of the city, offered a protected habitat, one he wishfully wanted to consider reminiscent of what nature might have been like before buildings were raised and streets were laid down. Witnessing its interactions before most of the city was fully awake was a privilege he’d learned to enjoy even before he was married. This bustling of animal activity on the back stages of New York City had never ceased to amaze him, not since he moved east of the East River from Michigan, almost a decade before, and realized that the drama of an entire food web could uncoil right before one’s eyes in a few square yards of tamed green space, all this in one of the busiest cities of the western hemisphere.
How did he allow anything to change this cherished ritual was not an easy question to answer. Milo liked to think that he wasn’t good at lying to himself. Yet he knew that lately it was not the chirping of the sparrows in the yew tree, or the flash of blue jays in the neglected rosebush that kept him waking at quarter past six every Sunday with all the discipline of a jogger. Not even that quiet moment of caffeine bliss, before the din of Liz and the twins saturated their small Astoria apartment, could really count as the reason for his early rising. Not anymore, anyway.
He was almost positive that there was nothing untoward about this recent addition to his early Sunday routine. Granted, there was something about the intensity of his yearning that he could not, in all fairness, call normal. But he wasn’t hurting anybody. Objectively speaking, he did need to check out the weather before making plans for the day ahead. One could even suppose it was his duty as the family’s early riser. It would have been reckless to only count on predictions based on his own observations from the kitchen window.
But couldn’t he just get a quick and impersonal prediction, as accurate as any, right there on his phone screen? Certainly. But it was Sunday! Glorious, useless Sunday: a day of leisure and grandeur, a day pregnant with possibility, a day to take stock of before facing it, a day to watch the projected path of a storm on a big TV screen while a flesh and blood meteorologist interpreted the color-coding and suggested appropriate garments to wear. Only then he would be able to decide on the best course of action to carry out whatever family plans he had in mind.
Satisfied with this rationale, Milo took his position in the living room sofa with a fresh cup of coffee. He turned the TV on, lowered the volume until it was barely audible, and quickly found channel seven.
A surge of disgust made him grunt as he recognized the chords from London Calling being used to sell an Audi. He would have changed the channel, but he knew the alternatives were wide-eyed capitalist pastor Joel Osteen and two simultaneous Ninja infomercials. Plus, zapping further away from the Audi speeding down the Pacific Coast Highway was out of the question: he did not want to risk missing a second of the Early Show’s weather segment
Milo didn’t expect her radiant, full figure on a white V-neck dress to light up the screen so soon, right after the Cialis commercial urged viewers to call their doctors in case of an erection lasting longer than four hours. Caught off guard, he felt it all again, just like the first time he saw her: casual and elegant, she moved her pouty lips while pointing at a sunny icon on a seven-day projection. But the heavenly vision lasted less than a second; half a dozen other broadcasters paraded right after her on the screen, as an overly excited male presenter announced their names—it was just an ad for the same show he was about to watch. But the false alarm spiced up the waiting.
Another ad followed, this time for a Bette Midler show on Broadway. Milo snorted impatiently and took a big gulp of coffee as real-life theatergoers, some of them teary, praised the show with competing degrees of eloquence.
Then the Sunday edition of the Early Show came on with a fanfare. Following the introductions over a background jingle, an unremarkable brunette greeted the viewers and read a piece of breaking news. Still images showed a bus sliced right down the middle by a light post near Atlantic City. Back in the studio, after the account of the horrible incident by a male reporter on the scene, another hostess —remarkably similar to the unremarkable newscaster, only blond instead of dark— announced the dish of the day in the upcoming cooking segment. But first, she said, let’s take a look at the weather today with Loretta Cassey.
Milo could confirm that the sole mention of her name triggered a clearly physical response: his heartbeat raced, his palms sweated, his mouth became completely dry. Each pronounced syllable carved out a precise silhouette in his brain, one that dilated his pupils and sent blood rushing to his penis. Arousal, he realized, could also come in the form of a proper noun. Just when he felt his head was about to explode in anticipation, one of his fourteen-month-old twins stumbled into the living room, dragging a battered Buzz Light Year.
Lenny! What the hell are you doing up so early?
Lenny just stood there, hardly swaying, gazing at his father’s flushed face and unable to reply. Milo was being an asshole, even for someone just startled by a lurching toddler. But there was no time to say sorry. Instead, he signaled for Lenny to keep quiet and anxiously stared back at the TV. Loretta Cassey’s outfit—that one powerful element of surprise he could always count on—was going be revealed any second now. Then he noticed a white, middle-aged man in a brown suit had just made his appearance on the screen overlapping the meteorological map of the Northeast. Smiling awkwardly, he introduced himself as Lorenzo Bazzoli, substitute meteorologist, and explained that Loretta Cassey was on vacation. There was a burst of lighthearted laughter in the studio, as the hostess who mistakenly announced Loretta Cassey apologized to the audience. Milo cursed under his breath, passionately hating the two unremarkable women and loathing the inept weather fellow, who, on top off it all, was remarkably ugly. He exhaled noisily as he let his body slouch on the couch. Then he looked back at Lenny’s confused face with a sad, apologetic smile on his. Let’s have some breakfast, buddy, he said as he picked him up and walked to the kitchen.
It had all started a little over a month ago. Kora and Lenny were having a terrible night. Exhausted, Milo felt tempted to snore his way through their newest round of cries, but Liz reminded him with a short jab whose turn it was.
Soon after running out of crib tricks, he took them to the living room and the merciful TV. Milo surfed the channels, hopefully looking for sharp animated colors on the screen, while trying to endure Kora and Lenny’s dueling sobs. But their bawls didn’t subside. Instead, the two clashing sounds grew into one formidably loud buzz he feared capable of depriving him of reason before brining his life to a halt, like some Nazi era secret weapon.
But suddenly the twins fell quiet. On the setting of the Early Morning show that filled the screen, Elmo and Cookie Monster were trying to command the attention of a male host. To appease his two guests, the man promised he would find a cookie, but first he wanted to know if they cared to learn what the weather was like today. Both monsters nodded repeatedly, cheering as the camera panned toward the studio’s weather station.
Then a miracle happened: a full body frontal shot revealed the figure of a strikingly beautiful female meteorologist in a short indigo dress. The children started to sob again, but Milo no longer cared. He was transfixed by the glowing vision, like an intoxicated shepherd boy. The woman greeted the audience and introduced herself as Loretta Cassey. Then she opened her arms beatifically to welcome Elmo and Cookie Monster, who came running into frame from the other end of the studio.
Back in the living room, the children stopped crying again. Milo smiled at the audacity of the puppeteers, as each monster clung to each of the meteorologist’s legs. She graciously kneeled down to kiss the two furry puppets and her melodic laughter infused the stale air of the apartment with its youthful vitality. Milo’s exhilaration verged on euphoria, and Kora’s satisfied gurgle indicated he was not alone in this feeling. One last close-up revealed the tiny freckles that dotted Loretta Cassey’s nose, right before the commercial break blew it all away.
Milo was thus mired in this recollection of this first encounter with Loretta Cassey when Liz rushed into the kitchen to open the window with Kora in her arms. He shut the burner off and moved a chair closer to the smoke detector. I’m sorry, he said fanning it with a placemat. I completely spaced out.
After a few more seconds the alarm stopped. The bacon didn’t burn, and Liz did like her bacon crispy anyway. But he didn’t even have to say anything. From his highchair, Lenny was now forcefully demanding the same privilege enjoyed by his twin sister, who laid there in her mother arms, grabbing boastfully one of the breasts that had only recently been taken away from him, the first of many privileges to be revoked on his long and tortuous path to adulthood.
It is going to rain all day, said Milo, trying to hide the lingering disappointment over Loretta Carrey’s vacation time.
I guess we can go to the Children’s Museum in Brooklyn, replied Liz with both children now in her arms. Lana, from the day care, gave me two passes.
Milo thought about the long ride to Brooklyn on such a damp day. Ms. Ferraro, from the playground, had mentioned it was not really a fun place for a baby. But he didn’t feel he had the moral authority to oppose Liz’s idea. He also regretted to think that Loretta Cassey would have probably inspired him to come up with a better plan.
I guess we can, Milo said tamely.
He noticed that some of the bacon did burn, but Liz didn’t say anything.
To be continued….