What You Should Know About Him
No one does what he does. No one does what he does where he does it or within the sound of his shouting voice. No one does for anyone what he does for everyone who wants him to do it. No one.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does that mean “what he does”–is it a habit, a hobby, or a job of work? It is each of but chiefly the third of the three. Is it absolutely necessary that he does it? No, but it is good. Who is it good for? It is good for you and those you designate. Is it good for little children? Yes, it is good for little children and animals (if not savage), elders (if not sickly), and people. Is it good for God? This cannot be known. However, God looks out at him from every eye and does not strike him down. What would happen if tomorrow he stopped doing what he does? A question worthy of asking. Here is the answer. What he does is something he does that if tomorrow he stopped, few may note, but many may miss, without knowing what or why. Someday grown children may remember and say, “Someone did this. Do we remember rightly?”
Less Frequently Asked Questions
Where is he? He comes then goes. When he’s here there he is, then he’s not there at all. That’s obscure, how about a clue? Where the sun shines hottest wait for him. Where it rains he doesn’t do what he does. Where is he when it rains? He’s at the library writing slim volumes of instruction and handouts with FAQs. What sort of volumes does he write? Here are those he wrote the last three times it rained: “How to Talk to Strangers in Strange Places” by Susan Hornser Flayman; “Low Hanging Fruit Over Fences” by The Society for Happiness Here and Now; and “Safe Adventures with Big Michelle” by Ackerly Jones, MD. Does he use pseudonyms and if so why? He does, for he is only who he is for what he does. Does he ever go to the movies instead? Yes, he goes to the movies in his mind. His favorite is “Gooseneck Lamp” starring Betsy Dupont. Ms. Dupont lives on his block. Wei Fun fortune: “Patience is soon rewarded. 6 11 17 33 43 48.”
Hypotheticals and Definitives
If someone saw him doing what he does, where would someone be? Someone would be by the edge of the sea. In doing what he does, what is the tool he uses? The tool he uses is a jumbo polystyrene pump action spray bottle. What is inside the pump action spray bottle? Cool, clear water. What does he do with this bottle of water? He moves up and down the beach spraying people who are hot for 25 cents a squirt, a dollar for wet all over. Who is he who does this? He is Clarence of Coney Island. And he is the I who am.
Dresses: in white shirt/black slacks/white hat/black shoes. Proceeds: from the corner of West 37th Street and Surf Avenue, out past the boardwalk to the beach, and down the beach to Ocean Parkway, a distance of 1¾ miles. Whistles in his mind: “Bridge on the River Kwai” if restless or “Theme From A Summer Place” if serene. What he won’t do: Accept payment to spray the face of an unsuspecting third party. His own surface temperature: Elevated. (However, does not spray self. (That would be like the ice cream man licking a cone while the little children watch waiting.)) Shouts: “COOL WATER – GET SPRAYED – QUARTER A SQUIRT – DOLLAR ALL OVER.” What he’s observed: “Most people want it all over. If they give me a dollar but only want one or two squirts and I don’t have change, tough titty says the kitty. They pay the premium. Because people don’t take quarters to the beach. They leave them in a jar for the laundry. Or in the car for the meter. But I never stop saying QUARTER A SQUIRT because a quarter sounds like nothing. Small change is as small as nothing at all. Litter in the couch cushions. A dollar means more, but not enough to not want it all over. And I give it to them.”
Slice of a Life
With two fingers curled around the lever he holds his bottle high and shouts. On a thousand blankets people open their eyes, go up on their elbows, crane their necks. “Clarence,” they say out loud. “Clarence!” They know his name because it’s written on his bottle, Clarence of Coney Island all the way around, spiraling down. They reach inside their bags for dollar bills.
Up and down the beach he moves, toward the water, away from the water. The people who want it most are furthest away from the water. They never go in the water. Not even to dangle a toe. They won’t. He heard one say, “You’ll never catch me in there.” He heard one say, “It’s icky.” He heard one say, “I don’t go in anything I can’t see the bottom of.” Makes him want to put the ocean in his bottle. They’d see the bottom then. He’d spray them with it.
The Long Day Lingers
He moves up and down and sprays the people. Sometimes it’s extremely crowded and he has to walk in the tiny slots between the blankets. Sometimes his black shoes kick sand on people because they can’t help it. Some people say, “Watch it, asshole.” These are the people who don’t want spraying. The people who want spraying don’t say, “Watch it, asshole,” especially when they want it all over. He makes a good deal of money.
In His Own Words Why
“Most people who want it want it all over. And if they want it they get it from me. Even people who pay for one or two squirts want it all over in their minds. And eventually, I give it to them. For a dollar. Some of them are very large and it takes a while. If I figured my hourly rate, this is where it would plummet.”
One time a very large lady called out to him, “Clarence, yo Clarence!” and he came to where she was squatting on her blanket with a soggy folded dollar sticking up. “All over,” she said and closed her eyes. Then she opened them and said, “Especially my head!” and then she closed them again. Then she opened them and said, “My head feels like it’s been boiled in a pot!” and then she closed them again. Then he began spraying her head. At first he sprayed her face and after a while she said, “Don’t forget my hair, my hair!” and then he began spraying her hair. Her hair was larger than her head and made a wide arc around her head like a lion or the Virgin and he sprayed it. “More, more!” she said and he sprayed and sprayed until her hair began to collapse, shrinking and slithering like wet snakes over her ears, and he kept spraying because he wanted to see how small her head could get and he lost track of time and she said “Clarence.” She said “Clarence.” She said “Clarence.” Then he stopped. He had to go get more water for her body. Her head was totally saturated. For a dollar.
If he runs out of water he has to go up on the boardwalk and fill the bottle at a drinking fountain. When he does this he keeps his back to the beach when he does because he doesn’t want anyone to see him do this and spoil the mystery. (Even though it’s lukewarm tap water, his water feels as cool and fresh as a mountain spring when it’s pumped in fine mist mode on an extremely overheated human body. This is the mystery.)
What Bears Repeating
“I make a good deal of money. I put it in my pocket. Sometimes I’m handed a 5-dollar bill. If I can, I’ll make change. If I can’t I’ll keep it but keep in mind, all over is all I can do. To one person. But to the person who gives me a 5-dollar bill I can do it all over, then do it all over to four of the person’s designated family or friends. When all four have been designated they can say, ‘Okay’ and line up for me, turning as I spray them like gyros on four spits.” What if the person doesn’t have four family or friends? “Then I tell them, ‘Donate the extra all-overs to the little children’ because there are always little children on the beach without dollar bills so the person who gave me the 5-dollar bill will say, ‘Alright, alright, but just make sure you spray ME first, wise guy.’ And I say, ‘I will.’ But then I hurry up and spray the little children.” Why? “Because they’re small and fast. Because they scream and dance. Because they like it best but they don’t need it. They go in the ocean. They immerse.”
Hard Feelings and Their Sources
Once a large man playing volleyball gave him a 20-dollar bill to do it all over to everybody on his side of the net, everybody on the other side of the net, three girls in bikinis who were watching, and an ancient mariner sitting with his back to the game. This took an extremely long time and more than one bottle. One of the girls said, “Clarence, you need a bigger bottle” and giggled. But she was wrong, for there is no bigger bottle. She may search and one day find one but it will never belong to him. She could have come to understand this, but he was too busy spraying her to explain. He let her laugh.
The radiant Betsy Dupont triumphs in this
artful adaptation of Stillwell’s classic tale
of the redemptive power of fondness.
Rated PG-33 for lingering glances and
brief situations. Citywide.
A Note on the Russians
“I don’t do what I do on Brighton. I move up and down, refilling as needed, until I reach Brighton. Then I turn around. The Russians don’t want me to do to them what I do. They look at me but don’t call my name. I know why. They don’t need it. Like the little children they immerse.”
End of Beach
He takes a break at this juncture. Because the people he just sprayed are the first people he sees on the way back. He gives them a chance to get hot again, to forget him before they remember. Moreover, it allows for turnover. Because there are always new people. He walks along the wall of the Aquarium. Puts his ear against it and listens for the dolphins, hears them nodding Yes. Sometimes he eats a frank. Sometimes he sits in Asser Levy Park where he once sat with his father. Sometimes he stands up and speaks from deep inside the bandshell–“Today . . . I Consider Myself . . . The Luckiest Man . . . On The Face Of This Earth”–and listens to it come back to him.
Then he goes back to the beach. He moves up and down and back where he came. The second sweep takes half the time of the first, the third half that, the fourth, fifth, sixth, half, half, half. He wears off. “It’s Clarence again,” they say as he goes by. “Anybody need Clarence?” Seven sweeps is a day. 12¼ miles. He goes back to the beginning at the end, walking along the boardwalk, looking down at those he sprayed, then turns away. On his block he sits on his neighbor’s stoop and counts his money. It says Dupont on the insulation around the doorway and she pouts in the window like a Betsy Wetsy doll. He counts out five bills at a time, looking up at her in between. She has a long neck but she doesn’t look down. Then he goes home and sits in the armchair. Counts it again. Flattens out the bills, presidents up, put them in his box. He makes a handsome living.
He puts his box in a drawer. Puts his bottle in a drawer. He has a large chest of drawers. It had belonged to his father. His father told him it had belonged to his mother. “When your mother left,” he said, “her drawers stayed.”
“My father lived here before. He worked on the beach too. He had a rake and a screen. Dimes and nickels, lockets, rings. He went down Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. He wasn’t the only one. There was nothing left by Tuesday. Nothing worth his trouble. Summers he made about twenty dollars a week, sometimes more, later less. Our rent was twenty dollars a week. It’s a long beach and he raked it all, even Brighton. Winters he put his tools in the closet and rode the trains. I work all day Saturday and all day Sunday and all day Monday through all day Friday. I MAKE FAR, FAR MORE MONEY THAN MY FATHER DID.
“He quit when the machines came. The metal detectors. Screw it, he said. A person I know named Lou does that. Rakes and screens, but he’s got a machine too. He zeroes in. Coin Mode. Gem Mode. Precious Metal Mode. Other Mode. Each has a different kind of beep. My father said he wouldn’t wear the earphones. He said he liked to hear where he was going. When he died they took him to Kings County morgue. They said they buried him in a good place, don’t worry.”
If Not There Where
Did they bury his father on the beach? Something tells him. The more he thinks about it. He asked Lou, “Do you think they buried my father on the beach?” Lou looked out and said, “Why not?” He looked where Lou was looking and remembered something. His father had shrapnel in his ass leftover from the war which was why he couldn’t get a job of work. He didn’t tell Kings County so they must have buried him with it. He said, “Lou, if one day you’re on the beach and you get a beep for shrapnel, will you let me know?” Lou said he would. But then he said, “Lou, if you get a beep for shrapnel and you dig it up and it’s the shrapnel in my father’s ass, will you not please touch it?” Lou said he wouldn’t. He and Lou were having a frank on the boardwalk. He had eleven ones in his pocket that he’d gotten out of his box. He said, “Lou, I’ll buy you another frank.” Lou said, “Thanks Clarence.”
One Last Question
Which drawer does he keep his box in? He keeps his box in the top drawer. In case anything happens, now you know. There’s a good deal of money in there. He won’t need it forever.
Jack Garrett has worked in radio in Colorado and New Mexico and performed onstage in New York where he helped found a theatre company. His fiction publications include The Literary Review, The New Orleans Review, Fugue, Natural Bridge, The Portland Review, The Santa Monica Review, Quarter After Eight, The Los Angeles Review, Monkey Bicycle, Witness, and The Superstition Review. He is also a voice actor and audiobook narrator.