I worked graveyard at Donut King for about three months, and it wasn’t too bad. The place has been there for at least fifty years, which is a long time for anything out here in the West. It’s a downtown Portland landmark, and tons of musicians and sex industry types crawl in during the wee hours, looking for a legal fix to go with their illegal ones. We put all kinds of crap on the donuts, like peanut butter and jelly beans and butterscotch chips. My boss Frank even let me create one of my own, with raisins, cherry syrup, sour cream and whip cream, and we called it Karen’s Kick-Ass Kreamation.
Before you start thinking Frank was some kind of great guy I should let you know that he grabbed my ass on the very first night, but I kicked him in the shin and I didn’t have to deal with that anymore so the next three months weren’t so bad. He claimed he was reaching for a donut and that he wasn’t into young chicks anyway, but I told him it’d better never happen again if he wanted to keep all of his teeth. It’s not like no one’s ever grabbed my ass before, but it catches you off guard when your 50-year old boss tries it two hours after he meets you.
Some kids came into Donut King about three a.m. one night. I could tell they were high on something. It was probably just pot, but it took them five minutes to figure out the door opened in, not out, and they kept punching each other in the shoulder and yelling “Does that hurt?” and asking the names of the donuts over and over again. The fat one told me he wanted a chocolate donut with jelly beans that just happened to be on the far left of the case, then he just happened to want a strawberry one with rainbow sprinkles on the far right, then another chocolate one on the far left, then strawberry on the far right, and so on, until I had about 12 donuts on the tray and I was winded from the back-and-forth. They were laughing and coughing hard and tears were pouring out of their beady little red eyes. I dropped the tray on the counter. “Why don’t you just get them yourself, you fat fuck.” Frank fired me at the end of the shift, right in front of everyone just as the morning crew arrived. It was totally unfair. You have to keep the customers in line or they’ll walk all over you. Besides, I think that guy kind of liked it. I kicked Frank in the shin again and told him he should just kill himself for having to work at a donut shop when he was 50, and stormed out.
I started walking home. It’s about an hour and a half on foot, but I do it whenever I can, when I’m not hung over or it’s not pissing down rain or so cold my feet feel like their going to fall off. I always go the same way. Due East on Belmont Street for the whole hundred blocks. More than anything I guess I just like to see the same things everyday, and notice the little changes. Like the old guy who’s building a wooden boat on the side of his house. He’s out there every time I pass by, sun or rain, and every day the boat changes just a bit. It has those little round windows and a small house on top painted with a yellow moon and I told him it made the thing look like a floating porta-potty. He thought it was funny and asked if I needed to go to the bathroom.
About a third of the way home I pass by the Dixie Mattress Company. I always slow down when I walk by, and turn and feel time blurring, like I’m a kid in a slow-motion movie scene with her face pressed to the window while her whole family drives by on the way to some holiday gathering, marveling at some great object of wonder. Only I never had much of a family and the way things are going it doesn’t seem like I ever will. I’m just walking by alone, peering through the retractable metal caging at the stacks of ancient mattresses and piles of Hollywood frames and wooden bunk beds. On most days after I pass it there isn’t much to see on the street, so I pick up the pace until I get to Walgreen’s where I can try my hand at a little innocent pharmaceutical shoplifting.
When I reached the mattress company on that morning I noticed a small, hand-painted sign hanging over the side door. It read “Female Tongue Model Needed, Inquire Within, $100.”
A tongue model? I’ve heard of hand models, foot models, runway models, underwear models, but I had no idea what you could model with your tongue, so I turned and went inside. Plus, I knew I’d be needing money soon with no job.
The hallway was dark, narrow and long, illuminated only by bare incandescent light bulbs. It led to a black metal door. After about ten minutes of knocking and waiting a small hatch opened at eye level, and an old man’s face appeared.
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“You here for tongue model?”
“Uh yeah, I think so. I saw your sign.”
“Stick it out.”
“Stick what out?”
“Stick tongue out.”
I stuck my tongue out really far and fast and sucked it back in with a big slurp and sucking sound, like a drunk frog catching giant flies. I’d been doing that my whole life as a gag so I was really good at it. It was strange to do it for a job interview. He laughed.
He closed the hatch and opened the door. He was an old Asian man with a kind, round, cracked face and a thick gray mop of hair on his head. He was wearing white pajamas and looked like I must have woken him up. I towered over him, even though I’m only five foot six.
“Come, come in.”
I clutched my bag tightly and walked in. The small room was nearly bare, with black walls and a card table and folding metal chair in the middle.
“You want to be tongue model?”
“I guess so. But what exactly, may I ask, is a tongue model? I’m not up for anything kinky.”
He walked to a desk in the corner and grabbed a large, black, artist’s sketchbook labeled Cartoon Tongues. He started leafing through pages. There were pages upon pages of detailed pen and ink drawings of women sticking their tongues out. The drawings were complex and busy, but in the center there was always a large figure of a woman, most of whom were in a mundane but surreal setting, like riding a bike, chopping celery, or crying at funerals. Surrounding the center image were smaller images of the same woman doing similarly mundane things but depicted the same bizarre style, always with her tongue showing. I’d taken enough drawing classes to know that his perspective and composition were near perfect. He’d drawn them beautifully, with their tongues in all kinds of positions, like hanging way out as the woman screamed, or just the tips poking out with implied motion, turned and curling to the side, or touching their noses. One or two were naked, but their huge tongues were the focus. In my favorite drawing the center drawing showed a woman with tongues with wings and jet engines flying all around her, as she fought them off with her tongue by shooting tongues back at the attackers.
“These are very cool. But they don’t look like cartoons to me. They’re too good. Too serious.”
“Cartoons tell a story. Story in all of them.”
“Okay. I guess it doesn’t mater. So what exactly will I have to do?”
“Sit at table and stick out tongue for one, maybe two hours. I draw.”
“And that’s it? Nothing else? No one else here? I keep my clothes on?”
“Yes, everything fine. Look at pictures, other models happy to do it. First stick out tongue now, so I see if it’s good.”
I stuck it out. I’d never thought much about my tongue before till then. It’s not a long curving rock star tongue, or a short Irish tongue you might see some kid sticking out with a huge grin on his face hamming it up for the camera in an old National Geographic. It’s just a normal, pink tongue that seems to get me in a lot of trouble.
“Stick out further.”
I stuck it out as far as I could, like he was about to use his tongue depressor to check my tonsils.
“Good, you have beautiful tongue. Here 50 dollars. Come back tomorrow at three, I give you 50 dollars more if you sit for two hours. Read this and follow tonight, very important.”
He handed me a set of instructions written in hand, labeled Taking Care of Your Tongue For Modeling.
The instructions were simple. No coffee. No spicy foods. No excessive licking. No direct sunlight. No citrus. No biting. No dairy. No skydiving.
“No skydiving?” I said.
“That just joke,” he laughed.
“Okay. I think I can handle that for one night. I’m Karen by the way. What’s your name?”
“Name not important, only tongue important. See you tomorrow.”
I arrived promptly at three p.m. the next day. The door was locked so I rang the bell.
“Hi. It’s Karen. I’m here to model.”
“Here to model what?”
Puzzled, I answered, “I’m the tongue model.”
The lock buzzed and I went in, down that same hallway lit by dim incandescent bulbs. The door was ajar, so I continued it. This time the old man was wearing a white lab coat that hung just above his bony his knees, and black sandals. From what I could tell that was all he was wearing. The room was the same as before, but a large wooden lectern had been setup opposite the table, with his sketchbook laying on it.
He didn’t seem to be in a mood to talk much. Not mean, just focused. He pointed to the chair next to the table, and I sat down.
“Stick tongue out as far as you can. If it starts to get sore bring it back in and let it rest, then stick it back out as far as you can. Important to let it rest before it gets too sore, or you’ll have to stop. Tongue not used to this.” He handed me a small spray bottle containing a slightly cloudy liquid. I’m sure I looked concerned. “No worry. Just sugar water to keep tongue moist and shiny. Bottle very clean. Very safe.” He sprayed it on his own tongue. “Mmm, sweet.” He smiled.
I knew I should have been more cautious, but I grabbed the bottle and sprayed a bit on my tongue. It was sweet, probably just sugar water.
He talked while he drew, telling me a long story about growing up in Japan. It was touching and sweet, and there were lots of tongues involved.
After about an hour and a half he told me he was done, and that I should come back the next day to see the drawing.
The drawing turned out beautifully. It showed a picture of me holding up the Kick-Ass Karen Kreamation, with my insanely long tongue shooting through the middle and licking some of the cream off one side. There was a man and two kids in the background, and we were on the little boat with the round windows and yellow moon. We were all dressed up like superheroes.
I asked how he knew about the donut, and who the people were.
“Doesn’t matter how I know. I comes to me. Some future, some past, but always true. If it bad I don’t show, but yours good.”
Since the man and the kids weren’t in my past I knew they must be in my future. I cried a little.
“Here, copy for you.” He handed me a full-sized copy of the drawing and fifty dollars. He continued, “Can I ask one favor?”
“Yes, anything.” “Stick tongue out and close eyes.”
I did as he asked.
I felt a tickle as licked the tip of my tongue, once, very gently, then kissed me on the cheek and said, “Thank you.”
I smiled and walked home.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED