Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Pike

Anyone who believes that human behavior patterns develop early would conclude that Brock Banning was destined to be a creep. Banning, the major villain in "The Leather Man," is a sensualist, a bully and an egotist wrapped up in an athlete good enough that Canyon State College, which he hopes will be his steppingstone to the NFL, can't afford to bench him. As the middle linebacker in coach Ben Steinbrecher's defense, Banning plays just well enough to hold onto his starting role while wearing on everyone's nerves like a pebble in a running shoe.

Referred to earlier in the book, he gets the stage to himself in Chapter 15, turning up back in his hometown of Long Beach, Calif., after completing his junior year at Canyon State. True to the instincts of many predators, he visits one of his favorite hook-up spots _ the Cinnamon Cinder dance hall, which flourished on a traffic circle near the intersection of the Pacific Coast Highway and Lakewood Boulevard during the Vietnam Era, the time setting of the novel.

Finding nothing promising in the Cinder, he drives to The Pike amusement park. As many of his Canyon State teammates would put it, even Banning had a childhood, and he spent a lot of his at The Pike, riding there on the Pacific Electric Red Car line fondly remembered by long-time residents of Southern California. He recalls that it had seemed special then:
The Pike was a perpetual, seaside county fair, with weight guessers, barkers, bumper cars, arcades, fast-food places and peepshows where prepubescent boys tried to sneak a look before the proprietor shooed them away. It had carousels, sideshows and a huge roller coaster that formed a Figure Eight over the ocean.
Banning recalls the charm of the Cyclone Racer, which seemed in his youth to be "a wooden toy from Mount Olympus, an archetype of coasters, hiding a world of speed, excitement and pelagic mystery behind its mass of support beams."  Now, however:
It was the last double-track wooden coaster left in the United States, a dinosaur on the verge of extinction _ not from an asteroid impact but from wet rot in the pilings and competition from real-estate developers on the prowl for oceanfront property.
Although he's getting impatient at the lack of prospects for an amorous evening, Banning reminds himself that being on the beach is still better than life back in Canyon City, Idaho. He doesn't spend long beating up on the college town, though. Instead, he remembers his chance encounter with the wives of two Canyon State coaches, including pretty Gloria Steinbrecher. Banning, who transferred to Canyon State after two years of junior-college ball at Long Beach City, has already wounded Ben Steinbrecher once without Steinbrecher knowing it. It was Banning, the new arrival, who came up with the sarcastic sobriquet "Leather Man" for Ben, his defensive coordinator. It quickly gained currency among players and other students because of the coach's melanin-saturated skin and powerful build.

Banning flirts with Gloria and Sandy Wilson in late March, buying them gimlets in a bar close to the campus before he finds out they are coaches' wives. A few months later on the beach he is still considering whether to push his luck even further when he returns to Canyon City for training camp. He quickly dumps the thought when he decides to visit a former Long Beach Polytechnic teammate, now a fraternity member at nearby Long Beach State. He finds his former buddy, Paul Nash, at the frat house, and they discuss Banning's experiences at Canyon State (3-7 the previous season), ways to beat the Selective Service draft, the Vietnam War, and entertainment options in the area and nearby Orange County.

Nash finally proposes hitting the Red Witch, a Los Angeles Harbor bar which usually has something exciting going on:
Their eyes met, and both grinned. The Red Witch was a dive in the Harbor area, a haunt for longshoremen, bikers and other habitues of bare-knuckle excitement.
"Far out," Banning said. "Do you want to take my car? I'm parked out front."

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