Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tina on the Beach

By Terence Poltrack

The fans didn’t work, and it was already hot at 6:00 a.m. as the boys sat slumped in the no. 11 bus. CD dozed against Denny’s shoulder, occasionally jerking awake, only to repeat the cycle. Denny killed time watching the streaming images from his window of shops and gas stations and neighborhoods, choosing which house he’d most like to live in, sometimes examining his own face or secretly spying on other passengers.

Only a few others rode with them, mostly Key & Lock night laborers just off their shifts. They looked worn out. Denny couldn’t sit still.

He and CD had attracted attention when they first boarded. Denny blond, pale, thin, 12 years old, CD just slightly shorter, darker though, and all of 7. Two boys on their own, wearing mismatched clothing, carrying brown paper bags, towels over their shoulders. Even the most passive passengers eyed them. The driver hesitated.

Hey, now, where’s your Aunt Janie? Does she know where you’re at?”

They were regulars on the bus to Porter Beach, but always later in the day, and Janie always accompanied them, dressed fully as if going to work, a suit, heels and stockings, a shiny purse. She’d sit quietly as they rode, then see them through the gate on arrival; wait for them to change into the cheap, synthetic suits that embarrassed Denny by their snugness; settle them on some visible spot on an old blanket; and then position herself on the pavilion in the shade, sipping her Coca Colas slowly, chain smoking, idly watching the water and the gathering mayhem of a summer’s load of children on the small stretch of sand.

Exactly 90 minutes after arriving, she’d take off her shoes and wander down to the boys, their sign to collect their things, hide their disappointment, and begin the reverse trip home.

Yesterday, though, their dad had announced that Denny was old enough to make the trip without troubling Jane, and not wanting him to go alone, said CD could go along. The two of them were inseparable anyway. Larry, Denny’s 19-year-old brother, could pick them up when he got off his grocery shift at noon.

The request to leave so early, though, took dad by surprise.

Is the beach even open that early?”

Yeah, dad, that’s when the lifeguards start.”

But what’s the rush? The sun isn’t even high yet.”

Denny struggled, then let it out.

The movie.”

It was all the talk among the kids. They were actually going to make a movie at the beach, a teen-age movie with music.

Oh, yeah, right. I saw that in the paper. Jeez, I don’t know…will they even let you in?” He sipped his coffee, took a bite of the last remaining piece of the cake Grandma had sent on Sunday.

They actually want people to show up, dad, Even kids. To fill the beach, as extras.”

And that was how Denny, CD in tow, arrived at exactly 6:34 a.m., Tuesday, July 16, 1963, at Porter Beach on Long Island Sound. The trucks were already there, as were dozens of people wandering around in groups, animated, pointing, building sets, looking through each of the cameras already on booms, swinging them this way and that, making them look like T-Rexs.

Why are we here so early?” CD whined. “Why couldn’t we show up later with the normal people?”

Shut up and learn something,” Denny said. He made CD put on his sweatshirt against the surprising cool of the morning breeze off the water, then took a deep breath.

No one took any notice of them, though he and CD had a bit of a scare when the gatekeeper wasn’t sure if they could, in fact, come in unattended. Luckily, he couldn’t figure it out and couldn’t find anyone who could, so, in teenage fashion, he just shrugged them through.

Men were building a stage platform on the old pavilion, a low, wide and weathered structure of natural wood with pine green trim painted thick with layers of summers, pock-marked and chewed but again shiny. They had roped off the prime sitting area, which could become a problem, Denny thought, as there wasn’t a lot of room to begin with. It was a very modest beach, narrow if long, a poor second cousin to the more expansive and developed one across the channel. It was the only one the crew could get for the shoot.

Denny gravitated towards the channel’s far end, as it afforded good views of the beach lengthwise, ensuring he could take it all in. Besides, the channel was the place to swim for anyone truly interested in getting wet. The sandy banks fell fast, the water deeper and colder.

The beach filled up fast now, everyone more agitated than usual, all keeping one eye on the pavilion. CD curled into a ball on his towel and tried to recover some sleep. Denny waited.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls!”

The voice screeched from the tinny loudspeakers, and everyone fell dutifully silent. “We’re gonna have some fun today, but we’ll need your help. We have a lot to do, so please, follow directions closely and don’t interfere with the crew. Do whatever they ask. Now, first thing, we need some crowd scenes, so anyone interested in being a star, come on over to the pavilion.”

Denny bounced up. “Here we go, kid.”

CD blinked awake and looked at his brother, the whole thing finally sinking in. “For real?”

Let’s hope so.”

The guy Denny assumed was the boss, a striking looking guy with those cool sunglasses Denny knew from in magazine ads, stood on the stage and nursed the mike to try and get some order. “OK, now, everyone get behind the cameras.”

The crowd, mostly teenagers, a few kids, a mom or two, continued to goof around, obviously in a high mood.

Now, folks, you gotta calm down. I need you to use your imaginations. Our monster is just behind you, and you are trying to get away. You can’t be laughing, OK? You’re scared.”

What does he look like?” someone yelled.

Well, we haven’t finished building him yet” the director said with a laugh as he exchanged looks with the crew. “Just picture something big, slimy, lizard-like…and mad!”
Denny could see him.

When I say go, I want you to run like crazy toward the shore. And whatever you do--please!--don’t look back into the cameras. Are we ready on the cameras one and two?”

The operators of each gave a thumbs up.

OK. Let’s do this. On three. One. Two. Three. Action!”

A roar went up, and everyone took off, Denny and CD among them, doing all they could not to burst out laughing at the sheer rush of it all. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to Denny, he was sure of it. The noise at first scared CD, so Denny slowed his pace and flashed him a look. CD got it, and the two of them took off in a race.

It went on like that for the next hour. They ran away from the camera. They ran into the camera. They ran out of the water. They ran across the beach. The screamed themselves hoarse, and none it ever lost the magic for Denny. When it was time to shoot some dance scenes, Denny and CD were judged too young to be in the shots, so they found a spot on the railing to watch. A bad imitation of the Ventures, all dinky guitars and snare, hit the first notes, and the cast immediately went into carefully choreographed routines of twisting, touching, turning, as sexy as things could get without causing the producer grief. CD even got off the rail at one point and did a dance of his own, writhing Elvis-like and creating enough of a distraction to get busted by a crew member.

OK, folks, break,” the director yelled. “Cameras, let’s do the set ups. Folks you can all go back to your blankets and help make the beach look like any other summer day.”

Denny and CD turned to oblige, thinking of their peanut butter sandwiches, then sensed a change in everyone’s attention and turned to see what the commotion was about.

She wasn’t anyone you’d recognize, this being a low budget teen flick, but when Tina hit the beach, stepping from the woman’s changing room, trailing a bevy of production assistants, everyone stopped to watch. All the school drones and would-be hoods, the moms with kids, the guy at the hot-dog stand…they all followed Tina Daniels as she made her way to the shore.

She was very pretty, but in a bad-girl kind of way, making her all the more attention-worthy. Her dark teased hair was held back by a band of scarf whose ends trailed down between her shoulders. She wore a lot of make up, but somehow shone through it rather than relying on it. Her two-piece bathing suit, while modest for the time, fit her just so, and she smoked her cigarette with a Hollywood self-awareness that insisted on being noticed. She appeared oblivious to the looks, to the chattering of the folks in tow. The boss joined her midway, and they entered the roped off area locked in discussion.

Denny felt a curious guilt as he watched her make her way across the beach. “Let’s go. I want to see this.”

He and CD headed for the shoreline and wiggled their way to the front of the ropes.

Tina had finished her cigarette and was standing at the water’s edge about 10 feet from where the two boys stood. As the techies positioned the cameras around her, Tina laid down on the wet sand and arranged herself as she imagined a beautiful victim of mayhem to appear. Half in, half out of the water, the tiny waves ebbing back and forth. The director stood directly over her, faming with his fingers, and she reacted to his instructions by moving a leg this way, turning her arm just so. As the director took his position behind the scene, a prop person arrived and dribbled a stripe of chocolate syrup on Tina’s neck.

What the…,” Denny whispered out loud.

Blood, in black and white,” the kid next to him answered with an all-knowing attitude. “Able to stand up to the water.”

CD, bored now, wanted to go back to the blanket and sat down on the sand to wait Denny out. Denny didn’t notice..


The cameras slowly moved in on Tina. The closer they got, the more Denny lost control of his breath. His heart raced. His head went light, his body, heavy. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Tina, the lapping water, the oozing syrup now spreading cross her throat. Without really thinking about it, he walked into the water past the crowd, then towards Tina very slowly, hands slightly out from his side, his gaze one of confusion, almost pain.

What the hell…hey, kid…”

No, no, let him. We might be able to use this.”

Denny stopped at Tina’s feet and froze until, sensing a change in light, she opened her eyes, startled to find him there. She sat bolt upright.

Is he supposed to be here?”

As they left the beach, CD couldn’t stop talking, exhausted, over-excited, as Larry peppered him with questions. Denny remained quiet, holding the day in, afraid to say anything at all in case the events would somehow evaporate, that feeling would somehow fade. He didn’t see Tina, with a couple of girlfriends, getting into a convertible. They gave Larry and his bow tie a look-over as if he was an alien, but then Tina spotted Denny.

You alright? That was some move, kid. You spooked me,” she said smiling, putting one hand on his shoulder. “Tommy, the director, thinks it might work.” She turned to Larry and held out a hand. “Tina,” she said. “Is he your brother?” They made small talk, none of which Denny can remember but which clearly befuddled Larry.

A horn beeped, and the moment ended. “Well, gotta go bye-bye.” She waved her fingers and headed for the car with a studied walk, then turned her head. “Hey, see you at the drive-in!”

Larry let out a long, quiet whistle. “I have to get to the beach more often,” he said. Denny shot him a glance, and Larry studied him for a moment. “Huh. What do you know,” he said with a smirk.

Let’s go home.”