by Aaron Pease
There stands Dean Martin: his hair newly pompadoured, suit pressed, pants cuffed, a cigarette dangling from his lips as he rests his elbow and a martini on a crate backstage at the Sands. His eyes are humorously vacant as he chats up two girls just off the bus from the Midwest. They are young and want to dance. They know enough not to know too much, and that is the way he likes them.
Jerry Lewis is fuming at the snack table. Why does Dean get all the girls? Does he really need two of them? The least he can do is call his friend Jerry over and introduce him. After all, don't people pay just as much to see him as they do Dean? He can't remember how many times he has dragged Dean to rehearsals, to the show, Dean drunk and stumbling, muttering, heaving desperately for the tequila bottle by the nightstand. But no one notices when they are on stage. How could they? Dean just stands there, whipping off one-liners that he has said a thousand times before, that he can say in his sleep, and the audience just adores him. So handsome, so charming. And then he sings! Jerry cringes. He earned his way to the top. If he ever showed up drunk to a show, people would notice for sure.
Conversation from Dean holding court drifts over to Jerry. “Ohio, you say, that's where I'm from, too. Steubenville, a little town on the east side. Just like Pittsburgh, but smaller. Well, whatever they've got, we've got it too, just a little less of it…” Jerry doesn't want to hear it. He picks up a celery stick and shoves it in his mouth. A woman is on the other side of the buffet filling her plate. He chews as loudly as he can with his mouth open making “maw-maw” sounds. Her smile is perfunctory as she hurries back over to a stand of bigwigs in knotted conversation.
Jerry sighs and looks around. No one is within at least 10 feet of him, as if standing at the edges of the spotlight that Jerry's red cheeks and clammy hands seem to indicate is illuminating him now. He shifts his weight to one leg and then back, feet pointed out, feet pointed in, feet tapping, while his hands perch restlessly on his hips, suit lapels, then behind his back, and finally useless at his sides. He settles for lifting himself up to his tip toes and then down in a herky-jerky motion with hands in his pockets, as if an impatient husband waiting for his wife to get ready for the Elk's Lodge gala. He is about to lean nonchalantly against an imaginary wall when his gaze wanders over to Dean and the girls. Every muscle on his face snaps taut, and his eyes open wide. He's got it! He disappears behind the curtains and heads to the main floor of the casino.
Dean continues to lay on the charm. “Well now ladies, I can cut the rug a bit myself. I wonder if you two can keep up with me.” The girls gasp with expectation. Dean remains slouched as he sips from the martini. He puts the drink down and a semblance of movement ripples through his body. The girls step back to give him room.
“Dean? Dean Mawtin? Is dat weawy you?” Jerry cries as he bursts back through the curtain. Arms windmilling, he hurtles across the room. He falls at Dean's feet, wrapping himself around his leg, and kisses Dean's smartly creased pants. “It's weewy you, Deany, I wuv you so much. I wuv you I wuv you. Mm. Mm. Mm.”
“It's Jerry,” the girls squeal. Dean's eyes widen ever so slightly as he stands up straight. “Hey there. Whoa, there, Sport. That's too much. Well, now, how's this for a greeting? Whoops, you missed a spot.” He shakes his leg and chuckles as the girls admire his panache. Jerry is up in a rubbery instant. He smiles at the girls with his head cocked and eyes blinking fast. He puts his hand to his cheek and waves. “Hi wadies,” he says.
“This is Clarissa, from Hamilton, Ohio, and here's Mary, from Peoria, Illinois.” Dean stubs out his cigarette and fishes through his pockets for another as the girls flush with pride.
“Hey, wadies, want to pway a game?” Jerry sidles up to them.
“Sure,” they reply in unison as they step back.
“I need some help, wadies. I got to get some candy at the store, but I lost my roll of qwaters. Can you help me find 'em? I'll check dis pocket and you check de udder, okay?”
The girls exchange glances. They look to Dean for guidance, but he is still rummaging through his suit. Maybe it's part of the routine; they don't want to disappoint. Clarissa moves her hand hesitantly towards Jerry's pants pocket. He mumbles to himself and jerks his hand down his pocket as if it were a drainage pipe he was trying to unclog. She edges her hand closer to the lip of the creased fabric and slowly inserts the tip of her index finger.
“Hee' wit is!” Jerry shouts, the roll of quarters in his hand. A look of intense relief flashes across the girl's face as her hand whips back to her side. “I found it! Ha, ha, you wouldn't have found nuttin' in dere. Wait, maybe I got anudder roll in there. Wanna look?”
Dean's eyes narrow. “Sure you're not looking for a roll of pennies?”
“No, Deano! Quarters, see?” Jerry pulls another roll of quarters from his left pocket and holds it up. “Hee' you go, wadies, dese are for you.” The girls snap open their purses and drop the coins in with shallow smiles of appreciation.
“What's your name, little boy? I didn't catch it.” Dean's eyes are slits.
Jerry plays along. “Hey, it's me, Jerry. Don't you remember? You know, Jerry!” He starts to tap dance.
“Jerry, Jerry, Jerry…” Dean muses, then snaps his fingers. “You're Jerry Lewis, I remember now, you do comedy!”
“I do comedy, all right!” Jerry stops his maniacal dance and mimics an ape, scratching his armpits and hooting. The girls take another step back.
“Now, tell me something Jerry,” Dean continues, “Who's that handsome devil who does comedy with you?” He winks at the girls. “I can't seem to remember his name, but he sure can sing.”
“Sing for us, Mr. Martin, sing for us!” The girls crowd close to him.
“Now ladies, the acoustics here are just awful,” he confides, pointing upwards; their eyes follow his gesture and they nod appreciatively. “Tell you what. Let's go up to my suite. It's got cathedral ceilings and a fabulous view of the Strip. That's where I practice, when I get the time. Maybe I can teach you a thing or two. How 'bout it?”
The girls look at each other and giggle. “Oh, we'd love to, Mr. Martin.”
“Please...call me Dean,” he purrs as he wraps his arms about their slender waists. The threesome move away, then stop. Dean turns toward Jerry, his eyes twinkling like stars light years away, which if ever they spun off into gaseous oblivion, millions of years would pass before anyone found out.
“Hey Jerry, wake me up tomorrow? Ten or so? Thanks, Ace.” He turns to the door and opens it. The girls sashay out and he follows. Jerry stands, mouth agape, as the brazen casino clatter fills the room. He flinches as the heavy door crashes shut with deliberate finality, like the Gates of Heaven cutting off the pleadings of lost souls. But it is the hollow hush of the auditorium that to Jerry is the true sound of despair.