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LABELED: Ceres Singles Club by John Sammon

Reader’s Note: This is a true story. The following character is desperate for love, or sex rather, and seeks it at what he sees in the newspaper is advertised as "a meeting of The Ceres Singles Club." Singles clubs, he thinks, have a reputation for having lonely women as members. The following character is me.

I find a singles meeting set for Saturday; a meeting of the "Singles Club." It’s in a place called Ceres. Where is Ceres? I’ve been living here for five months and I’ve never heard of it. I get a map. It’s a town just about seven miles south of where I live. Easy, I’ll just drive down there and check out the action, I think.

Saturday afternoon arrives and I get cleaned up and ready: I iron my best pair of tight slacks, put deodorant on, shining my shoes, comb my hair, put on a tight-fitting sexy red shirt that shows that my chest muscles are about ready to pop the buttons.

I begin my drive in my red sports car into the countryside, expectant of the glories of the evening to come. Where is Ceres? It ought to be around here somewhere, I think. Here it is....I guess. I see a gas station and a trailer with nothing else around but a few dilapidated buildings. My heart and my crotch begin to sink with the rapidly descending sun.

This place looks like a dead-dog town. A couple of yokels are out in front of a small convenience store. I ask them for directions, and they stare at me as though baffled at my appearance. They give me a few mumbled directions and point down a two-lane country road, looking at me like I'm from Mars. I drive off in the direction they indicate.

They had mentioned something about a Guard Armory, which sounded odd for a Singles Club swinging party. My train of thought went something like this: here it is. There are cars out in front. This has to be it. Boy! It sure is out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know about this. It’s sort of creepy. Everybody must be inside. The building looks like a run-down kind of old...I don’t know what. Should I chicken out? I’ve already pulled up, and nobody’s seen me. It’s not too late. I could drive away and nobody would know. But it’s Saturday night. And I took a shower and got all cleaned up and pressed my shirt for a wild swinging night. And for what? To go home and watch wrestling on TV? No. I’ve got to go in. I’ve got too much riding on this. It’s a Single’s Club. They got to be some good ones in there.

So, I enter. I look around. It’s dark, like a cavern. There’s a bar. A jukebox is playing Country Western. My eyes adjust to the light. The enormity of my luck now becomes apparent. They’re all elderly. We're talking old people! Wrinkled up old farts sitting in metal folding chairs. I can’t believe it. I think about backing out through the door, but they've spotted me. I can’t run. I move toward the bar, uneasy, and nod at the bartender, who looks to be in his fifties. Except for me, he's the youngest person in the place.

"What’ll you have chief?," he says.

"Is this the Single Club?," I practically whisper.

"Yeah. The Ceres Singles Club. What’ll you have?"

I wipe my brow and shut my eyes for a moment. Then I order a Whiskey and 7-Up.

I sit down at a tall bar stool with a ripped black pleather seat. He brings my drink. This place may be a dump, but they sure know how to pour a drink. How much did this cost? Seventy-five cents? I don’t want to look behind me at the several women in the room, but eventually muster up the courage. I take a look around. These are old people who come here to get drunk. A few old men are standing around an old pool stable. A smoke haze fills the place from wet old lips on cigarette tobacco. The people stand with vacant eyes staring, nursing their drinks. Old people getting loaded.

I decide to take my drink and sit down at a table and if nothing else, play the part of a mystery man, a kind of Humphrey Bogart, like Rick in the movie Casablanca. As I pass a table I hear one old lady ask another, “Where did he come from?” This is the most hopeless, sodden group of pathetic people I’ve ever seen in my life. What’s even stranger is that I’m here too. The more I drink, the more I get into it. All the exciting things and people that are happening everywhere, and I’m here, with these pathetic relics and their strong drinks, silently getting stoned and listening to lilting hillbilly music. But, I decide to make the best of it. No, that wasn’t it. That’s too noble, idealistic. I'm really enjoying this, being the only young man, parading myself up to the jukebox to put in a coin in front of old ladies, some advanced enough to be my mother, or grandmother. They couldn’t do anything, but they could look. And wonder. And remember. And the men. They probably wanted to kick my ass. Several of them probably could have once, long ago.

I swagger over to my chair. They all try and go about their business and pretend I’m not there. Which of the old dolls shall I cast my lustful glances at, I think. I’m having trouble controlling my urges to misuse my power. I spot a woman in a bright yellow pants suit, as bright as a canary. I look at her. She looks over at me. She has an allure about her. What I mean by that is that she not only looks showy and younger by a large degree than anybody else, but she looks like she might be easy. I’m feeling the affects of two strong drinks and my sordid blood is up. I can feel myself working up my nerve, and it’s a lot easier now than it would have been an hour ago. I walk over. With an Elvis Presley sneer I say, "Want to dance?" She does. Oh boy!

She whispers something in my ear and laughs. This is going to be a wild night, I’m telling myself as we slowly glide around the dance floor. That she is old enough to be my mother isn’t so apparent because in this dank, smoke-filled chamber she holds up well. She wears her hair up and sprayed like Country Western star Tammy Wynette. She uses heavy makeup and thick lipstick that in the bright light of a hospital waiting room would make her seem ludicrous, but not here. The light and my condition make her seem to be a Venus rising. There would be a song later that recited the words, "looking for love in all the wrong places." So true. It only seems incredible now as I write this and you read this. Not then. It all seemed to be perfectly acceptable behavior. We sit down at a table and I sip my drink and slur some jokes.

The smell of her 1950s style hair wafts through he air. I have to have her. Eventually, we leave together and everybody in the bar watches as we walk arm-in-arm outside. I follow her in my car even though I’m drunk as a skunk. I could be arrested, but this is Ceres. There aren’t many police around, luckily. My car swerves off the road onto the gravel twice, but I don’t lose her headlights ahead. I’m determined. We’re here. It's a sort mobile home park. Trailers. I follow her up the tin steps into her mobile home. The inside is dark. She turns on the lights. The place is white: white shag carpet, white sofas, white walls. I’ve sobered up a lot, though I’m still a little drunk.

"Okay," she says.

I look at her.

"Thank you for escorting me home."

"What?," I ask. I’m puzzled.

"What?," she repeats.

We look at each other.

"You mean I’m not going to stay the night? Can’t I stay the night?," I bluntly ask.

Instantly, she has an expression of surprise that hardens into contempt. In a flash, she is a woman who would never have any such improper relation with a boy half her age. “Get out of here,” she says. “Go!”

She’s angry that I would ponder such a thing, as though I considered her cheap.

“Get out!,” she yells. “What kind of woman do you think I am?”

I’m deflated, but also frightened. The neighbors will hear. They’ll come running.

How quickly I, the swaggering, heroic sexual god become the shaking, craven little boy begging for quiet understanding. I lurch for the door, flee down the tin steps, and run to my car. I speed off into the night, much more sober than three minutes before. My courage returns. You ugly old prune, I tell myself. You must be out of your mind. You must be crazy. I give you the one chance you’ll ever have left in your miserable life for the greatest sex you’ve ever had (I believed), and you throw it away. I roll down the widow and gulp the night air. I yell back over my shoulder in the direction of the trailer park, “You ugly scag!”

What a fool I was to leave LA.

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