Permissions                                                               GREEN  3.4

       No matter where she stands in the room, Susan has the illusion of being far too small. She is standing in the interior of a restored ballroom, apparently built during the early thirties, and everything, from the height and breadth of the room to the proportions of the regally trimmed furniture, is intentionally oversized. It is a grand and impressive space, in spite of the odd dimensions. The black and white interior has Susan feeling like she is inhabiting an old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie. The occasional flashes of color in the room - blue hair, red sashes, red hair, blue fingernails - felt like details from a painted still.
     Susan wanders over to a plush black brocade sitting-room chair and pushes herself up onto the seat – her feet don't even touch the floor, and she's 5'8" for Gods sake – then slowly surveys the crowd. There are perhaps two hundred people in the room at the moment and they are all dressed in the same type of outfits. A visually striking surprise. Amusing and creepy.
     The men are all wearing knee length black pleated shorts. These were authentic Sansabelt Formal shorts, matched up with starched white shirts and short skinny black ties. Oh, weren't they a funny looking bunch.
     The women were offered a choice of two different outfits; they could dress in either pleated plaid skirts with plain white blouses buttoned up to the neck, or navy blue jumpers with plain white blouses buttoned up to the neck. The plaids seemed  to be the popular choice tonight.
      Everyone wore shiny black leather shoes and white knee socks.
      Susan felt like a bit of a misfit in her black razor jeans and black/white Cannibal Corpse t-shirt.
      In a sense, as a first timer, Susan was more than appropriate for the room. Melinda had known that she would be. Susan was now sporting a bright red nylon sash, Miss America style, with the word VISITOR spelled out in shiny silver letters. Scanning the room, she picked out a couple dozen other people who were similarly identified as newcomers. Many of the other visitors looked as if  they had known in advance what was expected from them style-wise. They seemed puppy-dog eager, dressed in clothing that approximated the standard attire of the members. Melinda had given Susan no hints about the club, even insisting on meeting her inside, so as not to spoil the surprise.

      Susan watched with bemused detachment as a Nun with very big hair approached her from the far side of the room. The Nun's eyes were made up in heavy Carnaby-style sixties blue.
      “Susan,” said the Nun, (proving that she at least had the intelligence to read name tags), “Would you care to join the other boys and girls?" Her mouth was split in a full smile, revealing red lipstick stains on her teeth.
      "You are invited, Susan.”
      This was kind of gross and kind of funny, but the words felt particularly evocative, right out of 'Blue Velvet'. Susan was amused. Wouldn't it be funny if they played the 'Blue Velvet’ theme? The Nun’s words came across like a shy request for an audition. Tonight’s entertainment – the Fabulous Susan! But then that was so obviously the charm of the place, the reason people were lined up outside behind the purple velvet rope. What club used a purple velvet rope these days? Susan hadn’t even been on the list. Melinda knew she wouldn’t need to be. Susan had been escorted right inside the moment the doorman spotted her.
      The funky Nun took Susan firmly by the hand, and balancing precariously on four inch heels, led her across the ballroom floor and into a brightly lit dressing room. Her heels made a metallic clacking sound. No, wait. Her shoes had taps.

      Throughout the room, there were schoolgirls primping. A few gave quick, shy glances at the newcomer. Reproductions of Bosch and Bruegel morality plays were ornately framed above a gleaming line of gold-fixtured basins where one would expect to find mirrors. There was a row of dressing mirrors, running the full length of the opposite wall, decorated in a pink frost vignette and framed by velvet cranberry curtains.
      “Skirt or jumper?” asked the Nun. The Sister does have a name tag, but the script seems to be in Assyrian.
      Susan chose the jumper.

      Permissions was the name of the club.

      Permissions had opened three months earlier and was becoming somewhat of a sensation exclusively through word of mouth. Susan’s presence here tonight was a present, something completely different for her forty-first Birthday. It actually seemed a little too different to have been planned by Melinda. No way that she would have come up with this. Susan thinks that it must have been Stan's idea; she’s pretty sure that he reviewed it a few weeks ago in the City Paper. Presuming that was the case, she was most interested in seeing how her friends would react to the evenings entertainment. Susan knew for a fact that whatever happened, she was going have a good time, but it would be quite funny to see how timid little Melinda reacted. This was such an amusing place.
      Susan felt that her consciousness might not be quite ready for the room yet. She could go for another couple of lines, so she ducked into a stall the moment the Nun left. There was nothing she enjoyed more than ranking on people - everyone looked so ridiculous to begin with, it was a scream - but this didn't seem like a good time for her to start laughing. Not yet, anyway. Everybody seemed to be keeping a straight face.

      The uniform rental was surprisingly cheap, only twenty bucks. The Nun returned in a few minutes with a jumper and blouse, without ever having asked for her size. The Sister had nailed it.
     Susan didn’t have on the requisite black shoes - black sneakers would have to do - but after she bought a pair of knee socks from a very interestingly stocked vending machine, the rest of the outfit seemed to look apropos. Studying herself in the long mirror, framed in a fairytale frost, she felt that she looked absolutely… absolutely… uh, whatever. Oh why not, she thought, just one more little touch. She selected a wide white ribbon from the accessories machine and tied back her honey hued hair in an oversized bow.
      Reentering the main room, Susan was no longer among the outcasts. She had been 'invited'. I’m cute as a little button, she thought. Most of the visitors were still milling around, hoping to be selected. Look at those losers. On the Invited side of the room, properly dressed boys and girls were all smiling and nodding at her now. Tiny white Christmas lights sparkled throughout the room. The air smelled of Brylcreme and White Shoulders.

A portly middle-aged man approached Susan from behind, tapping her politely on the shoulder and introducing himself as Milton. He looked strangely familiar to her, but she couldn’t place him, and didn’t really care to.
      Milton was a sight. He was dressed in the same schoolboy outfit as the other men in the room, with the exception of a black baseball cap which had a delta symbol embroidered in silver above the bill. His white shirt was just barely capable of constraining a sizable beer belly, which hung down a full three inches beyond his too tightly belted shorts. His wiry beard looked as though it had been shaped with hedge clippers. Susan wished that she had brought a camera, even at the risk of having it confiscated at the door.
      "Would you care to accompany me for the next dance, Darlin?" Milton had a shy boyish grin. That was the sole thing that looked boyish about him, in spite of the outfit.
      "I'm sorry, I'm very well behaved." Susan thought that this seemed like an appropriate response. She was actively ignoring Milton, scanning the room, trying to locate her friend.
       An elderly severe-faced woman approached her, dressed formally in 1950's dragon lady red and black party attire, with long black lycra gloves extending nearly to her armpits. She glided up beside Susan, and placed a firm hand on her shoulder. She applied a surprisingly strong grip with her gloved fingers.
      "Go ahead Dear. I know that you're shy, but you just go ahead and have yourself a nice time. We all want to be your friends here. As a newcomer to our happy gathering, here are some basic rules for you to remember.  When you are dancing, the rule is six inches, no closer. Hands at all times above the waist. The chaperones will be watching. Now get out on the floor and have fun.”

      Well, alrighty then. This guy Milton had a seriously disturbing look about him. She noticed that his mouth was forming funny shapes, as if he was making an unsuccessful attempt at silently talking to himself. Susan took another look around the room for the friend who had set her up for this delightful evening and spotted her across the room watching her. She was accompanied by Vickie, a friend of hers that Susan knew slightly. They were making woo-woo mouths. The girls were too far away to shout at. If shouting was allowed. Melinda had her hand up to her mouth. Susan knew that she was laughing.  Vickie wasn’t even trying to keep a straight face.
      Well, this would be a night to remember. Milton held out his hand for Susan as the sounds of Bobby Vinton filled the room crooning 'Blue Velvet'.
      "You know what, darlin?” Milton drawled. “You've got a couple of the prettiest blue eyes that I've ever seen in my life."
      "They're green."
      "No shit!" Milton stopped dead in his tracks and stood motionless, looking at Susan's eyes in disbelief. He seemed genuinely stunned by this revelation.
      "You know what? You're right." His face crinkled up in laughter and he shook a scolding finger at her. “You’re right!”
       A Nun with long red hair approached Milton from his blind side and whacked him across the wrist with a wooden ruler.
       "Watch your language, young man, or we'll march you right out of here." The nun was at least 6'2", with a rather lumpy complexion.
      "Oww, shit! Wha'd I say?" The nun looked outraged as she whacked Milton once again.
      "Oww. Oh fuck, I said shit!"  WHACK!
      “Oww. Oh shit, I said fuck!"  WHACK!
      Milton's eyes become wide and round, and his complexion quickly turned an alarming shade of red. "If you’ll pardon me, darling, I think I'm gonna go catch me a break."
      Under his breath, Milton spoke urgently to Susan. "You got to watch out for these bitches. They can be pretty damn mean sometimes. They keep a detailed record of everything you do when you’re here. Oh yeah. They're watching you now." He hesitated a moment as if he were on the verge of telling her some alarming secret. "I'm gonna get me a drink. You want something?"
      Susan says no.

      Susan quickly tracks down Melinda and Vickie, who have been pointing in her direction and making faces for just about long enough now. Soon the three are breaking out into spasms of laughter. A Nun with a blond beehive cautions them to hold down the volume if they have any intentions of staying for cake and punch. This makes them laugh even harder.
      “Melinda, you look absolutely adorable.”  Susan is sincere with the compliment. With her petite figure and schoolgirl plaid, Melinda could probably pass for fifteen. She has her long brown hair pulled into pigtails, and is wearing light pink lipstick that she has bought from the cosmetics machine in the changing room. Melinda has no eye shadow or mascara – some mean Nun had said that it made her look like a young whore and told her to wash it off – so her pale blue eyes are unadorned. She has a dreamy expression. She knows she planned a good surprise. Susan probably thinks that it was Stan's idea.
      Susan points out Milton to the girls – unnecessarily, since Melinda and Vickie have both been spying  on her the entire time – and tells the story of his crime and punishment in mouth-watering detail. They giggle and snort as they watch Milton make his way over for a drink. The bar is at least five feet high, and manned by a bartender in red Cardinal’s vestments. People have to reach up high to retrieve their orders, and if they spill anything, they get whacked. The last time Susan sees Milton, the Cardinal is making him blow up a balloon.
 

start    previous