It was about a year later when Bug saw me on the street and stopped his roadster and said come on along to my place for a hot dog and a Coke, and I jumped in and we drove over with the top down and the wind really hitting us and Bug talking and talking at the top of his lungs, about life and the times and what he wanted to show me in his front parlor-front parlor, hell, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom.
What was it he wanted me to see?
Trophies. Big ones, little ones, solid gold and silver and brass trophies with his name on them. Dance trophies. I mean they were everywhere, on the floor by his bed, on the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, but in the parlor, especially, they had settled like a locust plague. There were so many of them on the mantel, and in bookcases instead of books, and on the floor, you had to wade through, kicking some over as you went. They totaled, he said, tilting his head back and counting inside his eyelids, to about three hundred and twenty prizes, which means grabbing onto a trophy almost every night in the past year.
“All this,” I gasped, “just since we left high school?”
“Ain’t I the cat’s pajamas?” Bug cried.
“You’re the whole darned department store! Who was your partner, all those nights?”
“Not partner, partners,” Bug corrected. “Three hundred, give or take a dozen, different women on three hundred different nights.”
“Where do you find three hundred women, all talented, all good enough, to win prizes?”
“They weren’t talented or all good,” said Bug, glancing around at his collection. “They were just ordinary, good, every-night dancers. I won the prizes. I made them good. And when we got Out there dancing, we cleared the floor.
Everyone else stopped, to watch us there out in the middle of nowhere, and we never stopped.”
He paused, blushed, and shook his head. “Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to brag.”
But he wasn’t bragging. I could see. He was just telling the truth.
“You want to know how this all started?” said Bug, handing over a hot dog and a Coke.
“Don’t tell me,” I said. “I know.”
“How could you?” said Bug, looking me over.
“The last aud-call at L.A. High, I think they played ‘Thanks for the Memory,’ but just before that-“
“ ‘Roll Out the Barrel’-“
“-‘the Barrel,’ yes, and there you were in front of God and everyone, jumping.”
“I never stopped,” said Bug, eyes shut, back in those years. “Never,” he said, “stopped.”
“You got your life all made,” I said.
“Unless,” said Bug, “something happens.”
What happened was, of course, the war.
Looking back, I remember that in that last year in school, sap that I was, I made up a list of my one hundred and sixty-five best friends. Can you imagine that? One hundred and sixty-five, count ‘em, best friends! It’s a good thing I never showed that list to anyone. I would have been hooted out of school.
Anyway, the war came and went and took with it a couple dozen of those listed friends and the rest just disappeared into holes in the ground or went east or wound up in Malibu or Fort Lauderdale. Bug was on that list, but I didn’t figure out I didn’t really know him until half a lifetime later. By that time I was down to half a dozen pals or women I might turn to if I needed, and it was then, walking down Hollywood Boulevard one Saturday afternoon, I heard someone call:
“How about a hot dog and a Coke?”
Bug, I thought without turning. And that’s who it was, standing on the Walk of Stars with his feet planted on Mary Pickford and Ricardo Cortez just behind and Jimmy Stewart just ahead. Bug had taken off some hair and put on some weight, but it was Bug and I was overjoyed, perhaps too much, and showed it, for he seemed embarrassed at my enthusiasm. I saw then that his suit was not half new enough and his shirt frayed, but his tie was neatly tied and he shook my hand off and we popped into a place where we stood and had that hot dog and that Coke.