Wednesday, January 23, 2008

THE ROAD TRAMPS by Kevin North, Playtime Books, October 1962, 158 pages, 60¢




“Her pointers were poking their saucy rosettes at him.”

During a party at which is being played “a game of charades that was fast growing naughty,” the curvaceous and narrow-waisted Marianne Lowe receives a certified check for $1,000, bequeathed her by a recently-deceased uncle. When Marianne wonders what to do with the windfall, the slightly drunk group of revelers suggest she “find another gal and tour the country.” At this point Meg Davis, a tall woman with “the figure of a dancer, lines like a greyhound, no excess poundage,” volunteers to tag along. Bill Lyons, editor of the magazine “Creed” (for which both women work, and with whom Marianne has been intimate, “not because he was her boss, but on those few occasions she felt her need of him, and he of her”) offers the aspiring writer the chance to chronicle her experiences in an article for the magazine, and in a PoMo touch even suggests a possible title for the inevitable book: The Road Tramps.

A contract is scribbled, in which the rules of the trip are laid out: Marianne and Meg must visit each of the lower 48 states, acquiring signatures from some official within the state; they can only use money they earn en route; and they must complete the journey within six months. If they make it, they’ll receive the regular salary they would have earned if they’d stayed at their jobs, and a $1,000 bonus.

Marianne and Meg sign the contract. After the party, Bill takes Marianne home, and she feels that need for him. It’s sort of a goodbye, after all: “She hated hands. But not his hands. Somehow they were gentle in each touch. She felt his hands now, unbuttoning her blouse. And finally they reached back, for the snap of her bra, and she heard his sudden gasp- of admiration, or surprise- when he bra slipped off, and her breasts were released from their silken prisons. Always it was this way. He seemed to be amazed and incredulous at the firm, youthful protusion of her breasts. She knew the nipples were taut and erect now, swelling even larger as his finger tips caressed them, ever so gently.” I don’t know much about Kevin North, the author, and there seems to be very little information about him online, but one thing is certain: He (or, possibly she) is a breast man. Specifically, a nipple man, as we’ll see.

The next day Marianne’s mind drifts from the sweet distraction of her night with Bill to the more practical concern of starting her “safari.” In the classified section of the newspaper she finds an ad requesting a car driver for a trip from LA to Salt Lake City, which seems perfect for their purposes. The man who placed the ad, Norman Beel, has a “roving eye,” and “a smile that was half sneer.” He’s also got a broken leg, so Marianne doesn’t find him too threatening, and isn’t too worried about his making passes at them. She says, “We’ll handle him easy, honey!” but Meg isn’t totally persuaded.

And when the trip starts, we learn that poor Meg was right to be skeptical of Norman. Marianne takes the first driving shift, and for some reason that makes sense only in a sleaze novel, Meg sits in the back seat with Norman. He doesn’t waste a lot of time in starting to maul her: “The hands started to wander now. Marianne saw Meg’s face. It was stern, possibly even a bit frightened. She wasn’t crazy about the guy for one thing- just tolerant. Finally, Beel got a finger hooked in her blouse, the top buttons loosened. Meg was showing him some mighty interesting scenery. He got bolder. Suddenly she saw Meg pull back, still tolerant, but firm.”

Then Meg takes the wheel, and for some reason Marianne climbs in back with Norman, who sneers, “I suppose you’ll be just as frigid.” But Marianne surprises him by promising that when they stop at a hotel for the night they can get adjoining rooms with a connecting door. The promise of meeting Marianne alone, at midnight, to explore her “interesting topography” stops his wandering hands for the rest of the day. However, that night, she uses a 2x4 and a length of wire to bar the door connecting their rooms closed, and Norman is unable to get to Marianne. The next morning, Norman has a pathetic look on his face as Marianne teases him: “What happened? I waited for you to open the door... I was triggered, pal- triggered!”

After Norman drops them off in Salt Lake City they hitch a ride to Wyoming, then back down to Arizona where they encounter Norman’s brother, Steve Beel, driving Norman’s Cad. He’s apparently a successful businessman with several restaurants and clubs, and they stop at one of his restaurants on the way to Phoenix, and he buys them sizzling steaks which they avidly eat while he tries to convince them to ditch their silly safari and come work for him, as call girls. They refuse. When they get to a hotel just outside of Phoenix, the girls try to ditch him, but he tells Marianne to check her purse. He’s put $311 in there, and if they try to leave he’ll call the police and claim that Marianne stole it from him. Of course they can’t leave now, so they all go up to the hotel room.

They order drinks and Meg and Marianne start laying it on: As they remove their blouses, Steve explains that they could each make $100 a night, of which they would keep half, and could get “a swank apartment, a sports car, a mink coat, little things like that.” Steve takes off his clothes. “Marianne reached back, and suddenly the bra snapped loose. Her heavy breasts literally popped from their silken prisons... Meg stood back, wolf whistled. ‘Isn’t she the mostest, Steve?’ Then her own bra was off. Her pointers were poking their saucy rosettes at him.” At this point, Steve’s got his guard down, thinking he’s about to hit the holy grail and make it with two hot chicks with nice boobs, but they attack him with some judo chops, and tie him up with his own clothes.

They take the money Steve planted in Marianne’s wallet and head over to a used car lot where they manage to get a jalopy for $125. They get a break because they’re not wearing bras, and the salesman keeps his eyes low, on their jiggling blouses. They drive it for awhile, eventually hitting a gale storm, and pull into a $3-a-night-hotel.

Next morning, they’re awakened by two men in their room, one around 19, the other around 17: “Juveniles. But not exactly beatniks.” Their intention is to rape them, steal their money, and then take their car. But they’re just too damned distracted by their jiggling cleavage: “Marianne pulled herself up to a sitting position in the bed, unmindful of the fact that her full breasts tugged at the gaping negligee, revealing quite a bit of cleavage. She saw the tall boy jerk up, stare. Meg pulled herself up alongside Marianne. And again the cleavage was a bit amazing. Dewey pulled in a lungful of air, in an audible gasp. ‘Mel, we got babes with the mostest-“

A few quick judo chops is all it takes (Meg learned some sweet self-defense moves from her “Oriental friend”), and in a few minutes Mel and Dewey, the semi-retarded would-be thieves are tied and gagged in the middle of the room. And the girls are back on the road, looking for more adventure. Unfortunately, in the fight, one of the toughs threw a purse at Meg, bruising the side of her breasts, making it too painful for her to wear a bra for awhile.

The car conks out in the middle of Nowheresville, Texas, and while it’s being serviced, Marianne calls Bill back in LA. Bill tells her he loves her, and he wants to get spliced. He also wants her to come home, immediately, but Marianne is having none of that. She wants to turn her adventures into a weekly serial, about 2,000 words per week (I guess “Creed” is a weekly magazine). But Bill still wants her to come home to him, so she goes into the old “since I was a girl” routine: “Bill, since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to write. But I’ve never felt I had anything personal to write about. But now I have. This is the first big opportunity. We’ll take care of ourselves, never fear. You’ve got to let me do it!” He says okay, and she tells him that she’ll “come home to you, a virgin... Or almost a virgin.”

Later, back on the road, the girls make a philosophical statement about the nature of celebrity: “Meg was deep in study. ‘...This might not be such a crazy safari, after all-‘
“’It promises to get us in the headlines- and that isn’t crazy in my book.’
“Meg, suddenly, was laughing.
“’The crazy part is the fact that we’ve got a tramp label tacked on us. We look, act, and talk like tramps.’”

Finally, the car conks out for good and they manage to sugar talk a gas station attendant into giving them $17.50 for it. They head out, on foot, toward the next town, about 17 miles away, when a trailer pulls up and out of it climbs an old man at least seventy years old, with “kindly eyes,” “a strong, friendly face,” who must be “too old to be dangerous sexually.” So the two women agree to ride with him to Miami.

During the drive they learn that John Blair is a sweet widower, recently retired. But Marianne has a nagging doubt about him. “Perhaps it was pure woman’s intuition. Perhaps it stemmed from the fact that not once, but several times, when she had turned quickly to face him, she had found his eyes on their bosoms.”

They stop for the night at a campground, and John heads out to the lake to do some fishing. Marianne types up the first chapter of their serial, to be airmailed to Bill the next day. Then, feeling “adventuresome,” Marianne and Meg head down to the “mighty nice swimming hole,” the perfect spot for two curvaceous beauties to take off their clothes and wash each other’s hair. Which is what they do.

When Marianne removes her bra, Meg again tells her that she is “the mostest,” and Marianne tells her “You’re definitely no midget, you know!” In the water, they get very close, comparing their breasts: “’You’re taller than I am, but look at our boobs-‘
“Marianne leaned slightly forward, and their breasts touched.
“’I’m taller than you are, but your breasts are higher on your ribcage than mine.’
“... She reached forth, ran her hand over Marianne’s breasts, lathered them with soap.
“’You feel anything, honey?’
“’You mean a tingle?’
“...’No, of course not.’
“’Aren’t you glad of that fact?’ Marianne asked.
“... ‘If we responded to each other’s touch or kiss- sexually, I mean- we’d be Lesbians, wouldn’t we?’”

Their fascinating conversation in which both assert they are not Lesbians and thank gosh for that is interrupted by what Marianne thinks might have been the sound of someone stepping on dry limb. Or, maybe not.

Anyway, they travel with John for another couple of days, on to Florida. Marianne tells Meg that if she were a tramp, she’d cuddle up to John, to see if the lonely, seventy-seven year old man could “make the grade.” But she’s not a tramp, so she doesn’t. But then on their last night together, Marianne is awakened by the nude John Blair, hovering over their bed, watching them. Apparently, the poor guy saw Meg and Marianne down at the swimming hole, lathering each other up, and mistook them for Lesbians, and was hoping he could watch some sweet girl-on-girl action, right there in his trailer. “’Daddy, we can’t help you,’ Marianne said, not unkindly.” They take off, leaving the humiliated old man standing nude in his trailer, visions of Lesbians dancing in his head.

They get a ride with a truck driving up to Virginia, where Bill Lyons meets them at a hotel. While they’re waiting, they have a talk about bosoms. “’Falsies!’ Meg said. ‘If I was a young man, and found falsies on a gal I was dating, I’d blister her rump-‘
“’You’re talking big, honey, because you know you’re in a safe corner. But what if you were actually flat-chested, and you knew you held no appeal whatever to a man? Wouldn’t you do the next best thing?’” I knew it! Men are only interested in those orbs of flesh that hang just so on a woman’s ribcage!

Okay anyway, Bill brings a guy named Jerry Hunt along with him. Jerry is a “cultured intellectual” with eyes that seem to be “two pools of liquid obsidian.” The dreamy man takes Meg out while Bill and Marianne get reacquainted.

Bill wants to get married right away, but Marianne wants to wait until the safari is over, if he’ll still have her. He puts his hands on her again, and she wants his hands. “Now she felt his lips anew, and the fire kindled into flame. She knew her nipples were hard and distended now. And his mouth was a vacuum, spreading the fire through her body.”

Then it takes an almost Sunday-school turn: “It was more than mere physical gratification this time. A deeper longing obsessed her, filled her with a strange abandon. In the few other instances when she had allowed him to be intimate, it was solely gratification of physical desire. It was all of that now, with a new additive- love. It made all the difference in the world... It made the ecstasy all the sweeter, the more fulfilling.” Truly, this is the sleaze novel that, if your mother found your stash, you would give to her to read. See? It’s not so bad. It’s about how great and important love is! It’s got a powerful message.

Luckily, just a few pages on, the women meet a painter named Felipe Broussard, who wears the “usual beret and enough chin fuzz to make him look continental.” He agrees to drive them up the east coast if they’ll pose for him. In the nude, of course. As they leave with him, in his car, they pass the Cad which carries the infamous Beel brothers. They seem to be following the girls, but how?

Finally they make it to Maine, and Felipe has Meg and Marianne pose on some rocks by the shoreline. As Meg notes: “He was drooling, Marianne- actually drooling as I pulled off my bra. You’d think my boobs were endued with some hypnotic power-“ She’s not far off, because a few days later, while she’s posing, Felipe attacks her. As she explains to Marianne after the fact, “First, he made some pretext that I wasn’t posing the way he desired. So I let him touch me... Then he started telling me how much he loved me, that he would die if he didn’t get to love my boobs, and the rassle started.” She delivers a few quick judo chops that send Broussard somersaulting, and knocks him unconscious. The women are on their own again.

Next they get jobs as cooks on an ore boat in Michigan, and they’re attacked by the randy captain. They escape and make their way to Ohio, where they start working at a diner. One day, in walks Steve Beel, who seems to know everything about where they’ve been for the past few weeks. Steve’s brother, Norman, has been dating one of Bill’s secretaries, and the little jerk has been feeding the women’s itinerary to the Beels. Marianne’s got little time to think about that, as she rips her blouse and throws herself into him, to simulate an attack. The young police officer who had been sitting at the counter (who has a smile like Bill Lyons’) arrests Steve and hauls him in. It turns out, the police officer’s brother is going into the service in two days, and has a jalopy to sell. Also, his mother has an extra bedroom where the women can stay and hide out, because Steve calls in some favors and gets out of jail early.

That night Marianne goes out with the police officer, and both admit to and struggle with their attraction toward each other. The ensuing conversation is a fine explanation of the dichotomy between physical desire and emotional loyalty.
“’It would be satisfying- very satisfying physically- to be intimate with you right now. But would it be right?’
“’Would it be wrong?’ he asked. ‘We are two adults... We are not in love, we both know that. But you do have an attraction for me, a deep physical attraction, a warm sexual stimulation. Perhaps we both feel this same compulsion... We are young, healthy, in our sexual prime. So why shouldn’t there be this desire?’”

Finally the boobs come out. “’I hope my hands are gentle,’ he said. ‘One should never crush a beautiful flower-‘ She pushed her breasts up to him. ‘Bite me!’ she whispered. ‘Please-‘”

Later Marianne meets up with Meg back in the mother’s house. Meg has spent the evening with the police officer’s brother. Marianne believes that Meg might have made it with the young man about to go into the service, and Meg doesn’t answer her. “But when they stripped down, Marianne noticed Meg’s pointed breasts. The nipples were taut, swollen. She never questioned Meg as to what kind of evening she had enjoyed. But if Meg’s rosettes were honest, Marianne was quite sure that she had told the young soldier goodbye in her own womanly way.”

The next chapter is a bit of New Journalism in which the women become migrant workers, picking berries alongside mostly Mexican laborers. Bending over those berries, with their cleavage the way it is, gets a lot of the migrant workers hot, but they mostly leave the women alone, except for one, Alvarez, who gets drunk and attempts to rape Marianne, who gives him some judo chops. Later they spend the night in a ghost town (in Idaho? Wyoming?), where they stop two teenage boys from raping a teenage girl. They use some judo chops on them.

Finally they make it back to California. Out of funds, they have to get off the bus in Maricopa, in the middle of the desert, where they begin walking down the highway. They’re met by the Beel brothers one last time.

SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know the fascinating wind-up to this scintillating road trip, please stop reading now.

The Beel brothers force Meg and Marianne into their Cad, with the intention of kidnapping them back to Las Vegas where they will force the women into a life of prostitution. Marianne has a vial of salt tablets in her purse, and she takes them and immediately becomes nauseated. Not wanting to get puke in his Cad, Steve pulls the car over, and Marianne gets out and retches. Then the women start using judo chops on the Beels. As everyone’s struggling, they hear the sounds of sirens, and then Bill and Jerry and a couple of police officers race up to the scene. Bill explains that the last information leak from his secretary to the Beels was an attempt to trap the Beels, so that they could be caught in the act of kidnapping, for the purpose of prostitution. So the women win their bet, complete their zany safari, and get a couple of lousy cads arrested. A pretty nice six months’ work.

“The Road Tramps” is a story about a road trip that reads like a road trip. It meanders, it’s exciting, it’s dull, full of unexpected twists and blind curves. Voluptuous, womanly curves. The sex is hot, the rosettes are plump and honest, and it ends happily for everyone who deserves a happy ending. It’s actually kind of sweet.

Three stars.

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