The Hotel Dresden is one of those mammoth places on South Beach, and back when I worked there, before the Recession, there was this job: Oil Boy.  The guy who did it was Marco Curio, a steroidal dude who strutted poolside behind a pushcart of Hawaiian Tropic, tantalizing pretty spouses and overheated daughters prone on lounge chairs, dressed in tangas.  I swear, as he strolled past, their supple legs curled heel-to-glute. 

Marco was a seriously segmented man, with veins jumping and lats throbbing under freakish electronica pumped poolside morning, noon, and night, enough to make your head spin.  We had those sideways blenders, too, like you find at Fat Tuesdays, ours on line-up behind the tiki bar, built as an overpass midway around the enormous, winding pool so that you had to swim under it.  The bartender would reach down and hand over your drink, and when bathers needed some shade, they’d head below. 

I’d sit out at the pool during break, hypnotized by Curio’s muscles, hypnotized by electronica, and hypnotized by those spinning sideways blenders like kaleidoscopes.  My partner on valet, Juan Palacios, a nervous smoker who’d finished law school two years back but hadn’t taken the Bar, would join me when he wasn’t supposed to, while precisely no one but our manager, Jimmy Jack, ran the valet stand.  So when there was a lull, J.J. would appear like a bad trip and yell at us both to hump it back to the stand pronto and “get crackin’,” and low and behold some douchey mortgage broker or playboy doc who’d hung his medical license on a “Wellness Clinic” was always waiting with his ticket for a Maserati or Bentley we had the honor of retrieving.

The truth is, I loved to get behind the wheel of those beasts.  We parked in an overflow garage down Collins Avenue, and when you ignited the engine in one of those bad boys, it echoed so deep and strong the garage became a warzone.  It was like driving a Sherman tank.  When valet got slow, Juan would come along, and we’d partner down Collins, windows down, arms out, heads cocking doofily, feeling like a million bucks, on display for tourists and baby dolls we envied and pouted over. 

Back at the hotel, during break, I’d stretch out around back—maybe take lunch there—and watch Marco Curio when a mother or daughter called his name and held up a feminine wrist so that her bracelets glinted in the winter light.  I’d watch as he thumped his way, barefoot and Herculean, to her lounge chair; gently and carefully pulled her, in her chair, off the row; dropped a kneeling pad onto the pool deck with his job title stitched in white cursive on magenta microfiber, “Oil Boy;” and rubbed her shoulders, lower back, and the backs and insides of her thighs deep with tanning oil as she giggled at his witticisms. 

He had a remarkable way with women, one I envied because I assumed it came from simplicity.  I’d already decided he was a mitz—a male ditz—but ladies laughed at the clever things he said, and one day during summer, in slow season, out at the tiki bar, I got a chance to listen to Marco, and learned there was more than met the eye…

II

“… Fundamentally, you must understand the egg.” 

This was Curio, dressed in a red Speedo, veins jumping with synthetic adrenaline, holding up a hardboiled egg like a clue to a murder, while gathered around him were the usual suspects: Juan Palacios; our afternoon bartender, Tanya Gook, who pulled back her short hair and extended it with a fake ponytail, kept her flesh spray-tanned to the red-brown of a leaf bed in a forest, and wore with pride the Dresden’s outdoor bartendress uniform: a red bikini top, red tennis skirt, and red Keds; the lifeguard Dick Nickovitz—Richard, but we called him Dick, in his low visor, short red shorts, and white tank top that announced his position, with a whistle around his skinny neck like a substitute gym teacher; and J.J., our manager, sporting a beer paunch made neat enough by his valet polo tucked into khaki shorts.  It was downpouring, summer in South Florida, and we’d taken refuge behind the bar to watch the rain dollop the pool water.  There, Marco Curio had been leaning on his elbows, enjoying a lunch of brown rice and hardboiled eggs, with strawberries soaked in balsamic vinegar for dessert. 

Like a press conference, he was asked a question here and there and kept his answers short, but soon after I arrived, something must have inspired him—it wasn’t me, that’s for sure—and he started his lecture on the egg. 

“The egg is not the perfect food.  That’s a misunderstanding.  The perfect food, the most perfect food of all, is fish of a certain type: salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi, depending upon need, and gentlemen and lady, I rate those from fattiest to leanest.  But remember, fish oil, fat from fish, is essential to a healthy, balanced diet.  The trouble is, these are expensive proteins.  For cretins such as Frank Malone over there—“ Marco winked at me, and I flushed with pride that he’d said my name “—the egg represents a fine choice.  Why?  Price.  A dozen eggs, like frozen versus fresh spinach, is always a bargain.  You’ll spend your time in those sections of the local grocery, Mr. Malone, should you want to turn that puny frame of yours into something the Oil Man would be proud of.

“Of course,” he held up the hardboiled egg and smiled at pretty, tattooed Tanya, “the egg has a history of being misunderstood.  Originally considered the perfect food for the accessibility of its protein and its macronutrient ratio, it became anathema to dieters and pudges alike.”  When he said pudges, he gestured matter-of-factly at J.J.’s beer hump, meaning no insult.  “In the Eighties, the egg was vilified.  No one would go near it but your average truck driver or Southern housewife.  It made a resurgence, but in the form of the egg white

“I do business with the egg white.  I respect the egg white.  But I do not trust the egg white.  Tremendous protein, lacking the fat and cholesterol of the yoke—though you’ll note that’s where the flavor is.  But my belief is, the yoke is helpful in making the protein of the white more accessible, so it’s a balancing act, depending upon need.  If you’re willing to take in fat and cholesterol, you’ll gain more protein, but if your goal is more in line with a yogi’s body, as is the case with many women, I think to their detriment, as they should be building lean muscle and strong bone through resistance training, I would recommend the white alone. 

“And that’s how I saved her life,” he concluded. 

Tanya nodded, the only one who understood the context of that last comment. 

“Saved whose life?” J.J. asked. 

“A famous child who stayed here not long ago,” Marco answered, being playfully vague. 

He spooned some strawberries into his mouth, volunteering no more info and wearing an expression that told us he held all the cards. 

I got this feeling—a feeling I thought came out of nowhere—that I would always be exceedingly lonely. 

I went around, asking here and there, who was this child?  You had to start and possibly end such an investigation with the clerks at the front desk, real snobs with college degrees waiting on promotions into this or that corporate department.  There was one up there who liked me—took a shine to me, as my grandfather used to say—and she really, desperately loved Marco Curio, who I told her was too old and Burt-Lancaster-suave for her, though she, being a Florida girl, found men acceptable at twice her age.  Plus, Marco drove a Lamborghini she was hot to ride in. 

So one day, to pick her brain, I took her to lunch.  I’d lifted Marco’s keys from the valet stand, and we went driving around South Beach in his Lamborghini with the stereo blasting, which was nuts, but I wanted to impress her that I could be devious against the man she adored. 

Soon, we got to talking.  I really liked her—her name was Alison Cummings, born in Australia, raised in Boca Raton, and she had blond hair down to her shoulders and a soft, angelic, pouty, round face, one nostril flattened, and blue eyes that fired orange sparks, like molten lava bursting through the pristine surface of the Atlantic.  I kissed her for the first time in that Lamborghini, and she told me all about the girl, who was not a girl but eighteen years old, the tabloid “daughter” of one of the most famous entertainers to ever walk the earth.  

She told me, “You used to see Marco go up to her room at lunch, in his Speedo.  She wouldn’t come down.  He’d take the cart up.  I always assumed he was sleeping with her.” 

“Maybe he was.”

She shook her head.  “Marco’s a strange person.  He’d consider that unethical.  Plus, he may not go that way.”

I didn’t care, gay or not, except Marco was my definition of the perfect male specimen, a soldier and, therefore, a destroyer of vaginas. 

“If he’s not into girls, why do you have such a crush on him?” I asked, jealously.

“Because who knows.  And he’s kind.  He’s a genuinely kind guy.  Patient.  So are you.”

That was when we kissed. 

III

For the first time in my life, I made love to a woman.  It was enthralling.  I would kiss every inch of Alison Cummings’ body.  Her pink nipples, her soft belly, her thick backside.  I loved to kiss her lower back, and she loved when I did, would reach around and pet my hair and press my face to her flesh, and really soften below me, the first time I’d ever felt a woman soften like that. 

All my life, I’d been a humper and thumper, pumping my skinny atop over bored victims.  But now I had a woman, and she loved being there—it was the first time I can recall being with a woman who wanted to have sex with me as much as I did with her, which likely had been my fault, guilty as I was of lover-ish shortcomings. 

I spent some time, while with Alison, brooding over former girlfriends, but I learned, at the same time, that there is a homeostasis to the planet.  It will end when an asteroid whacks the earth or the sun implodes, and until then, one usually gets what one deserves—victims of the corrupt state and so forth aside. 

I learned this lesson in a roundabout way from Marco.  I became an egg and spinach nut, would eat brown rice cakes and egg whites and natural peanut butter, gulp water made viscous with whey protein and creatine powder, and work out before or after my shift six days a week—before if I was going to see Alison, after if not.  I spent hours working out, posing in the gym’s slimming mirrors.  Weights four days a week, swimming the fifth, and if I went in for a sixth, it was to take a yoga class at the Dresden with Yoga Dan, who hated Marco. 

“Curio?  He’s on steroids!”

“Everyone down here’s on steroids,” I said.

“Are you?”

I shook my head, ashamed.  “I don’t have the courage.”

“You’re an idiot, Frank.  Get him in here.  He’s as flexible as a tree trunk.”

“But he saved a girl’s life.  A woman.”

“Bullshit,” said Yoga Dan, the angriest yoga instructor in the U.S.—and he smoked, though they were hand-rolled cigs made with bootleg tobacco he procured from a pot dealer down Collins. 

So I told him the story. 

IV

So this girl, this woman—eighteen or not, she was like a girl, who knew nothing and had been protected not merely from the harsh world but from herself, from the truth of her own life and genetics—was “’very bad off,’” Alison’s words, quoting Marco’s words.  She arrived at the Hotel Dresden after it first went up, came with her entourage and took the most palatial suite we had to offer, the Clinton, five rooms, regally appointed and full of precious art, so that whoever stayed there had to pay an additional fee to insure the pieces against vandalism, thievery, or hip hop. 

One by one, over the first few days she stayed—she was only supposed to be up there three days—she dismissed her entire entourage until she was alone.  On the fourth day, a “doctor” arrived.  I put that in quotes not because he lacked a license.  But he was exactly the sort I mentioned earlier.  He ran a “wellness clinic.”  When they busted him, down in South Miami, in Sunset Plaza—or busted his place, because he wasn’t there—they collared an “office manager.”  This office manager wore a black V-neck with a thick gold chain captured in foresty chest hair (never a good sign in a doctor’s office).  They also paraded out two women in heels, one of whom turned out to be a minor porn star.  And they found a pile of cash in the back room, a literal pile, accumulated start to finish each day and which the doctor would pick up in a canvas equipment bag, evenings. 

This doctor, known as Jake T., though when he was arrested his real name, Franklin Kirk, came out, was witnessed twice per day carrying a medical satchel onto the elevator in the lobby of the Dresden, distinguished looking though relatively young for a physician—thirty-two or –four.  He nodded at Allison each time he passed the front desk.  He would climb onto the elevator with head and chin high, holding his bag against the front of his thighs, and nod and converse self-importantly with fellow riders, dignified as “The Use of Force.”  It came to be known, after he was arrested, that he had been giving her straight shots of morphine. 

On the ninth day, she called down to the front desk.  It was Alison who took the phone call.  “If that doctor shows up, call the fucking police!  I think that asshole raped me!”

Alison, precious Alison, responded as a woman should.  She tried to keep the young woman on the line, but no luck.  As soon as she could, she slipped away and rode up to the Clinton Suite and knocked on the door.  “Ms. ----, are you all right?  Can I come in?”

“Go away!”

More knocking.  “Please?”

The door swung open.  The young lady was positively strung out, sallow—wilting.  “Go! Away!”

She slammed the door in Alison’s face.  From behind the door, she cried, “Send up Oil Boy!”

Marco could be seen, minutes later, crossing the lobby behind his cart. 

What was said between them, besides the egg lecture, which cracked the young woman up, so that she said, “That’s the first time I’ve laughed in months—“ but what else was said between them remains a secret.  What is known is that Marco was summoned to that room twice per day, morning and evening, the first hour and last hour of his shift, and in the days that followed, a normalization took place.  The young woman brought her manager back from California, alerting the front desk the manager—also her oldest friend—would arrive late at night.  On the fourth day of Marco’s visit—the twelfth day the stay—there appeared the famous young woman herself, right down in the lobby, wearing a nice little cover-up.  She looked like a different person.  The color and fat had returned to her cheeks. 

Her figure had rounded out under her bikini.  Her manager, her bodyguard, and she went out to the pool.  She only waved to Marco that day and mouthed very sincerely the words, “Thank you.” 

But in the coming years—through the recession and out to where we are now—she remained Marco’s patron.  His Lamborghini?  A gift from her.  She sent a handwritten note, during the bad times, that things would bounce back.  She paid to furnish his condo, paid for the condo itself.  And she never showed up again, and was never in the news again. 

Rumor has it she leads a relatively normal life and keeps herself busy through charity work.   

V

Brown rice, hardboiled eggs, strawberries in balsamic vinegar.  I ate exactly what Marco Curio ate, six small meals per day.  I worked out like a maniac, stringing myself out to the point of joint pain—I was nineteen years old.  I made love like an old man to Alison Cummings, preferring the relaxation posture of cunnilingus—about the only muscle that wasn’t overworked was my tongue. 

I started pulling away.  It wasn’t her.  It wasn’t even me, exactly.  It was who I wanted to be. 

I’d was having memories.  I hadn’t for a while, just lived and enjoyed the ride, like the drive back from the parking garage in Curio’s bad-ass blitzkrieg-of-an-automobile, when for a little while on Collins, with Alison, I’d convinced myself it was mine.  The memories were all fears of my childhood—heights, wide open spaces, my mother’s anger, my father’s bitter silences, the way the house filled with their middle-aged dislike of one another, who they’d turned into compared with the people they’d started out as or longed to become.  I knew their lives disappointed them for lack of thrill and edge. 

I’d always told myself I’d be a swashbuckler.  There I was, a valet—a decent-paying job at one of the top hotels in the country.  I was… one of the winners.  Spouses thought me adorable and touched my shoulder gently.  If I had been a real swashbuckler, I would have swung through their windows and mounted them on satiny pillow-tops. 

There is this saying: “Be the change you want to see.”  There is another saying: “Fake it until you become it.”  Then there is a third saying: “Bullshit.” 

The day came when Marco Curio called out.  He had a summer flu.  It was dead-September, and even the Europeans and S.A.’s (South Americans) had fled Miami.  We were all alone with stay-cationers, pale Midwesterners retired to the west coast of Florida who wanted to sample the swarthy fare and tall waves of our bustling metropolis.  Palacios was in heaven.  Claimed this was his favorite time of year.

“Redheads love me.  They think I’m Ricardo Montalban.  You know, from Fantasy Island.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a Ricardo Montalban reference.”

My mother always thought him a hunk, would bring him up to make my father jealous: “I love ya, but you’re no Ricardo Montalban.” 

Which got me into memories.  Like I said, a floodgate had opened, and I remembered what I was doing with my life in the first place, and why—or, at least, what I’d intended the reason to be.  What struck me most was that I’d forgotten, sort of like Juan.  So on a slow day, particularly at valet—because if you were a guest, the city was so quiet it wasn’t worth leaving the hotel, at least not to go someplace too far to walk—Marco Curio called in.  It wasn’t worth it to work sick.  This was my chance.  I went to Alison and, through her, to the food and beverage manager.  I begged to sub as Oil Boy. 

“Strip,” the manager said, a skinny dude with a face full of wide open features like a plume of razor blades and beady, obnoxious eyes.  He was straight as an arrow in the personality department.  He looked frustrated as he crossed his arms over his tie. 

Half naked in an office, beside a computer desk and a water cooler, I felt out of body, a wee too clothing-optional and fluffer-ish. 

“Good enough.  You’re no Curio, but you’ll do.  Do you know the drill?  Bill the room.  Don’t ever take payment at the pool.  And no cash tips.”

Alison wanted to be happy for me.  She congratulated me on the way out, but she was jealous, which actually bolstered my confidence, because if she was jealous, maybe there was something worth being jealous over.  I was queasy and dizzy as I stepped through the lobby, dressed after being half-naked, and about to oil up west-coasters bearing sunburns and dripping with yeasty perspiration. 

***

Fifteen minutes, and it was over.  Fifteen minutes, and everything crashed.  I put the cart in the pool.  It only took fifteen minutes. 

I was out there, strutting around with the cart, dressed in a pair of red Speedos the hotel provided.  I was shaved and lean, though I had a farmer’s tan from my valet uniform.  Still and all, I wasn’t half bad.  Except the thick redheads and blondes of the Midwest were sun-worshipping in full force—daughters and granddaughters of Naples and Tampa / St. Pete—and I hadn’t seen enough of them in my life and longed to study them from too many angles.

It’s a winding pool, slithering like a serpent, and the blenders were really going.  Everyone who worked out there was watching me—all eyes on my body and perhaps how ridiculous I looked compared to Marco (which wasn’t fair)—so I watched the blenders to pretend I hadn’t noticed them watching me, pretend I didn’t care, had a job to do, looked good enough doing it, and would do it with my own flare—and what did they want from me anyway, I was just a sub, and… wham!

I had been hypnotized and forgot to turn the cart.  Long and winding pool, you were my enemy!  I turned a corner, lost my footing on the pool’s edge, and I and the cart went in with a crash and a scattering of lotion bottles. 

The cart floated for a few tense moments like the car in Psycho, then started to sink as I got my bearings, telling myself, Do not look around!  Do not look at the laughing people!  Yet I did.  Pretty much everyone was cracking up and pointing and laughing, having a nice time and expecting me to take it with good humor.  Marco Curio would have joined them.  He would have laughed right along with them, would have climbed out, taken a bow, told them, “That’s why they pay me the big bucks,” and gotten Dick to help him gather everything up.  He would have asked Dick—kindly, making it a request—to go ahead and jump in while he, Marco, stayed on the pool deck.  Dick would have handed him bottle after bottle, and Marco would have gotten each arranged on the cart, which he would have already rescued with his enormous arms. 

I told myself, Whatever you do, don’t scatter.

I scattered, slapped my bare, wet feet across the pool deck, tearful, humiliated and hurt, about to quit not only as Oil Boy but valet, blaming the Dresden, the guests, Alison—who should have convinced me never to sub—in short, everyone but myself.  All of this as though it was the end of the world, as though it was the height of tragedy, the worst thing that had ever happened or would ever happen. 

I felt very much unhinged.  I’d had this naïve belief that I could offer something gorgeous, my youth and energy, as though it could be bottled and pushed around on a cart. 

I went and hid behind a gigantic, fake potted tree in one of the dark corners that led into the hotel.  Dick Nickovitz had arrived on scene, and he waited there, figuring I’d return.  Once he realized I’d pulled full-coward, he climbed into the pool, towed the cart toward the low end with a painfully slow stride, fished it out while backing up the steps, and set it, soaking and dripping, on the poolside near the stairs.  Two by two he gathered bobbing bottles of lotion.  He tossed each onto the cart, retrieved the custom kneeling pad—it was ruined—and went back to his post.  The cart sat there, drenched in the sun, building a puddle on the pool deck.  The chlorine of the pool water had already faded the pad so that the magenta fabric bled onto the writing like a horror movie credit.

I stayed hidden a long time, so long that the Food and Beverage manager came out with Alison, searching for me, and finally pushed the wet cart behind the tiki bar, which Tanya confronted with a scowl, as though to say, Why is this my responsibility?

When the afternoon downpour hit, I slinked inside, found my uniform, and left the Speedo with Alison at the front desk.  “F and B is looking for you,” she told me. 

“Tell him I tried my best,” I said.  I swear Taps was playing in the background as I handed over the still-damp pair of skivvies. 

“Meet up tonight, after work?”

“Sure,” I said. 

But that feeling came over me again as I made my way out to valet—that I would always and forever be lonely.  By then, word of my mishap had spread to the boys at the valet stand, and Juan Palacios dropped a hand on my shoulder.  “Welcome back, brother.” 

When I didn’t cheer up, he said, “Man, it’s no biggie.  We all fail at something.  Besides, half the people you have to do that for are exactly the kinds of people you don’t want to do that for.  That’s why I could never understand Marco.  Smart guy, but he deprecates himself.  You and I, we have the best jobs for our personalities.  We retrieve.  We move.  We make space.”

I sat down on a half-wall by the stand.  A ficus shrub, planted in the wall, poked me in the back.  I itched my ankle, which had been eaten up pretty good, while I was wet and hiding, by this one mosquito I couldn’t kill or capture. 

And the whole time I was hiding, I remembered this dream I’d had, one of those that’s so vivid it moves past being a dream, becomes real, and lingers with such force you have tell yourself over and over again it is not a memory but fiction.  I was flown to a place that was supposed to be Seattle, but it was not Seattle.  I was brought to the headquarters of a famous think tank, and I lingered around the offices as young, smart people made pithy comments and seemed either to avoid work or have little work to do, like a sitcom.  They sat on the couch and watched the news.  They fetched coffee for more mature workers, world-beaters pumped up with big, furtive plans that at the proper time would be unleashed on the masses.

One of them, a woman named Susan, told me she had been impressed with my work, that they did not yet have a place for me, but they’d wanted to fly me out and have a talk with me about my future.  After lunch, she left a note telling me to stick around, that she had business she wanted to discuss at five o’clock. 

Instead, we got into her car and went driving along this beautiful, thin river, bridged in many places, walking bridges with thick, driftwood railings stained deep brown.  The road we drove was cobblestone.  There was a matching road, across the beautiful river, where traffic flowed in the other direction.  She told me I was important. 

Now, sitting out at the ficus, I realized who she was.  A woman I’d seen Marco spread oil on, who had relished Marco’s services.  He had been her fantasy, and now she was mine, and I was the girl, the one he’d saved, yet in the form of a man—in short, nobody at all, a figment, and I knew I would lose Alison even as she lost me, and I knew Juan would come to his senses and study his butt off and pass the Bar, and Marco would stay out there until he wilted, like the girl before he’d saved her.