Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

The Body Parts Shop


The Body Parts Shop: Stories
by Lynda Schor

Paperback
2005
Price: $14.95

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The Body Parts Shop is a collection of intriguingly perverse, provocative tales that encompass both the beautiful and grotesque nature of human interaction. The stories combine as a wayward declaration to the physical form, while independently delving into the secret and sordid recesses of our darker subconscious.


Like J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories, The Body Parts Shop offers a vision that is at once oddly poetic and clandestinely morbid. In “The History of My Breasts” Schor weaves an enchantingly bizarre tale of outrageous and unapologetic infatuation, all centered on the perfect, huge bosom of one woman. “The Scalp Agency” chronicles the efforts of a bald stockbroker to buy himself a new head of hair.


Schor has concocted a satirical revelation of the new America, where every message is an advertisement and everything is for sale — our beliefs, our thoughts, our private moments, and even our body parts.


 

"Lynda Schor’s stories are as dazzling as her readers have come to expect."—Lynne Sharon Schwartz


"...her stories were a thinking woman’s exploration of sex, the body, and relationships. Her provocative new collection shows that her work continues to be relevant as she skewers our culture’s preoccupation with self-help manuals and pokes fun at our (and her) obsessions."—The Brooklyn Rail


"Lynda Schor's most recent collection of short stories, The Body Parts Shop, is filled with dazzling observations and witty prose. [...] when Schor shines, she shines brightly."—Rain Taxi

"Lynda Schor's The Body Parts Shop is that deliciously creepy storefront off the main drag, the one whose wares are so personal they're frightening, yet so universal as to be mundane. She is brazenly graceful...and aborbing her words makes a reader feel both a little brasher and a little more introspective."—Rain Taxi

"Schor’s touch is light and her humor finely adjusted. The stories are meditations on sensuality. Most of Schor’s men and women (and in one story, chimpanzees) are lost and seeking – without much hope of finding it – the comfort in and for their bodies that they sense to be their heritage. They are homesick for a lost paradise that is overgrown by a sophisticated and hollow society whose only gratifications are material... These stories are calculated assaults on much that we hold dear. This gives them enhanced value. Malice as an artistic tool cannot be ignored, but it can – as in this collection of freewheeling stories – be enjoyed. Highly recommended."—The Compulsive Reader

"Lynda Schor is the type of writer who knows how to dig through the detritus of American culture and find gold....The Body Parts Shop forms a portrait of an America on the brink of sanity, all sketched in perfect detail by one of the country’s finest writers on the fringes."—Fanzine

Lynda Schor, deservedly widely published, has been honing her original and satirical voice , her writerly craft, for years, and its shows: She’s an immensely gifted, completely eccentric writer, unafraid of risks, whether in form or context. She’s funny, sexy, quirky, adventurous and brave. Lynda’s work scares some readers, and delights others. I’m among those who are delighted.—Janice Eidus

 


Excerpt


Still The Top Banana


Cheetah, the chimp who starred in Tarzan movies back in the 1930s, is still hanging around. The beloved animal actor turns 63 in April, making him the oldest chimp in captivity.

Cheetah sits in his cage drinking a Bud from the can. His girlfriend Suzy, much younger than he, lopes over and begins chattering and nattering at him for drinking beer at his age. Frankly, he's lived longer than he'd ever thought he would. He deserves a beer now and then. He's worried about his daughter, and his grandchildren. Jeeter seems to be growing into a ne'er-do-well just like his father, Cheetah's son Peetah, who disappeared years ago. He knows Jeeter is living in a condemned building with some other homeless youngsters, and believes he might be using. On top of that, it seems his daughter Sheenah is pregnant with a third child. She's on welfare, and there's no man around, it seems to him, except when she's in heat. Chimp family values have really gone to hell. He sips his beer and wonders whether it's urban life that's at fault.

He pays no attention to Suzy's complaints, just brushes her away with an enormous leathery hand the way he'd brush annoying flies from his face.

"Cheetah is happy and healthy," says animal trainer Tony Gentry, who cares for the 4 1/2-foot-tall, 175-pound chimp. The trainer is the talented chimp's original owner, who brought 1-year-old Cheetah back from Africa in 1933 and launched the animal's Hollywood career.

Cheetah hates to recall old, painful memories, but he can't seem to control them. It's strange to him how early memories seem more vivid, more important, even more part of his life, now that he's reached old age. It's as if his life is turning in on itself like a snake eating its tail. Whether Tony really brought Cheetah from Africa he can't corroborate. In his memory, he is not on an ocean liner, being carried around by Tony, as he's been told. He recalls the hold of a steamer, packed full of chimps, each one, like him, in a crate. He couldn't move much. He doesn't recall how he was fed. He still remembers the smells. He remembers his cries as an empty tune in his head, but his mother's angry roar as her baby Cheetah was carried away remains in his body, so that whenever he roars, he can't help thinking of her. He can practically smell her milk. Perhaps the person who pulled him from her weakened arms was Tony.

 

The tree-climbing movie idol played second banana in 50 films before leaving the Hollywood jungle. He now lives a cushy life of retirement in Santa Monica, California.

Cheetah moves from one spot to another, back and forth, in his enormous cage in Tony's yard. He can feel the arthritis in his shoulders and the joints of his fingers.

Suzy lies on her side, one knee over the other, smoking a long strand of grass. He knows she gets impatient with his obsessive wandering back and forth. She always wants something from him; she seems always to be in heat. Suzy knows he's in a ruminative mood, and that usually makes her want to roughhouse. He realizes he shouldn't be with such a youngster (Suzy is only forty years old) but just looking at her lips spreading and contracting flexibly around that straw in her mouth, even when she's annoyed at him, like now, makes his old knees quake.

The cuddly creature debuted in the 1934 movie "Tarzan Finds A Mate" starring Johnny Weismuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.

At first Cheetah had enjoyed being part of the Tarzan movies. First of all, they filmed in locations that reminded him of his home. He got to shriek, pound his chest, and swing on vines. (Chest-pounding was something gorillas do, not chimps, but people loved it.) He'd begun to feel like part of the Tarzan family, almost as if he and Boy (Tarzan and Jane's son) were the children of the family. And he usually got to save Tarzan from something horrible, like vicious headhunters, or Europeans who wanted to destroy the jungles. He didn't realize the movies were fantasy. Then suddenly a picture shoot would end, and he'd have to leave his family once again, to stay with Tony, his owner. Not that he didn't love Tony. But it wasn't the same.

Cheetah also costarred with Weismuller and other "Janes" in a string of Tarzan movies.

Though Cheetah enjoyed making movies, and loved the attention he got, it wasn't easy. He worked really hard. He had to do whatever was asked of him over and over again. It was painful for him when they wanted him to act silly or stupid. The sillier he acted, the more people seemed to like him.

It took him a while to realize that though the characters remained the same, the actors and actresses changed, so that, though he was part of the Tarzan Family, the humans he'd become attached to, would suddenly disappear, and others appear in their place. He recalled acting very spitefully, throwing food and feces, and not doing what he was told, when there was a new, a different Boy, but he just got a wallop across the butt from Tony.

Cheetah enjoys watching his old movies on TV

Tony and his friends love it when Cheetah watches his own movies and sees himself and points and jumps around. So he does it to make them happy. But what he really feels is a mixture of shame and nostalgia. Looking at these old films that he made when he was just a kid, he studies them and deconstructs them:

Tarzan is a white European, who comes from a wealthy family. His parents, who are anthropologists studying simpler cultures, are murdered by natives who live in the area and don't give a hoot how wealthy and handsome this white couple is. The precious (rich, so good looks and intelligence are in his genes) baby is saved by the indigenous animals (apes), which have just enough human characteristics to bring up the little boy. Now there is a switch. Suddenly evil white men (hunters and exploiters) begin to murder and capture these apes (noble savages). Tarzan's adoptive family is killed, and some are trapped to be sent to zoos. Though he cleverly hides, these hideous humanoids finally find him, and recognize him, with difficulty, as one of their own. He is sent home to England (the imperialist owner of that section of Africa being pillaged at the time), to live with a wealthy relative, so that he can be educated to his full potential, and taught some manners befitting his noble class (like how to use silverware and napkins, as well as toilets and baths, and hairbrushes, and how to say please and thank you, and how to properly court the female, etc.). But somehow, while he has incredible sensitivity, certain potential is already down the drain, and he never progresses as far as he might in communicating with his fellow humans. "Me Tarzan, you Jane," is about as verbal as he gets. Neither the English boarding school nor the private tutor make him happy, but he learns enough to understand the problems of humans, the problems of animals, politics, imperialism, anthropology, and the politics of the rich and poor. Needless to say, he never feels at home, and perhaps this is why he reviles the hypocrisy around him and decides to return to the jungle (the simple, honest, noble culture) where, because of his special skills swimming, calling aaa-eeee-aaaahhhh-ooooo-oooooo, pounding his chest, climbing trees, and getting across large distances and formidable landscapes by swinging on vines) he can act most nobly, and with the greatest integrity.

Though Cheetah can see those movies objectively, they still move him, cause his eyes to sting, his nose to run. He understands very well the pain of belonging to two cultures, but not really belonging to either one.

The Chimp's No Chump

Eventually he gets tired of making the same old movies with slight variations in plot, but Tony says he has to keep doing them because of the money. Also because people love him. "Would you want to deprive people of the chance to see the most talented chimp in the world?" he'd cajole, cooking up some flapjacks, Cheetah's favorite food at the time. One day Cheetah realized that he was earning quite a bit of money from his movies. He'd heard a joke . . . well-he can't recall it now, but it ended with, "I'd be happy to earn as much as Cheetah."

"I have a lot of money now from my movies," he told Tony, one glorious California evening when the sun was reflected in the swimming pool. "I want to join Actors Equity. I want to handle my own money. I want to go to school to learn how to read and write."

"It's my money," said Tony, "not yours." Though it was evening, sweat ran down his chest. He snapped the waistband of his swim shorts. "I mean, some of it may be yours, but who trains you? Who coaches you? Who feeds you, and buys your clothes, and gives you a nice home? All that costs money."

Chimp's No Champ

Eventually Tarzan movies go out of style. When Tony uses up all their money, he sells Cheetah to a group of scientists at a university who want to prove that they can teach chimpanzees to speak using sign language, and to write using computers.

Tony wept when he handed Cheetah over. The scientists, all of whom had beards (except the two women), had to hold Cheetah down. He felt betrayed by Tony, yet he longed for him too. "You wanted to learn to read and write," Tony said. Cheetah's shrieks were so loud the women scientists both put their hands over their ears like hairless earmuffs.

Chimps learn to speak. Five chimpanzees learn sign language. They not only learn words, but also put them together creatively.

Cheetah falls in love with his teacher Ivy. She holds him, hugs him, feeds him. When he learns to ask for things, she gives them to him. She kisses him on his wide mobile mouth and his small eyes, and massages his long fingers and the wrinkled brown bottoms of his feet, which makes him smile from ear to ear. She combs his hair for hours with the blue brush. Ivy teaches him to sign by making the sign herself. He loves the nimble way she moves her tiny fingers. She then takes his long, leathery digits in her warm hand and moves his fingers for him. He can feel a sign throughout his entire body when he is successful. It feels something like Ivy combing him straight down his back-like a long, exotic chill. He learns how to sign: me, you, want, hungry, face, hug, eat, banana, out, sleep, I love you.

Talking chimps tie the knot.

Even though he was in love with Ivy, Cheetah found himself responding to some strange thing that caused him to notice Chloe. Ordinarily he had nothing to do with her, but at certain times he found himself following her around, becoming obsessed with her. Ivy encouraged them to groom each other, and soon the scientists hugged each other excitedly while they watched Cheetah and Chloe sign to each other. Chloe had very long, straight, orange-brown hair, a slender, smooth butt and long hairy legs. The inner corners of her hazel eyes looked like black grape pits. Cheetah was at first concerned about theirs being only a physical relationship, but that worry dissipated. He learned to sign: hot, estrus, horny, cute, smile, bed, banana.

The two years of their grant had almost run out, but the scientists were far along with another grant proposal describing their successes, and requesting a renewal. "I hate this grant stuff," said Phil. "Did I get a PhD in Biology, and another in Psycholinguistics, so I could write grant proposals?"

Babies born to famous talking apes.

Cheetah regrets being far from the best father in the world. He spent all his time on his thesis, which was called "Jane: Gender and Culture in the Tarzan Series." He read all the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan books, and reveled in their complexity. He loved the baroque language and descriptions. The stories were gut wrenching, political, and full of rage, so different from the movies he was in.

Talking gorilla project successful, yet funding is withheld.

The scientists wept. They couldn't believe that, just as they were achieving real success, their grants were denied. "This country is going down the tubes," wept Ivy. "No one cares about humanistic and scholarly pursuits anymore," says Chris. "Not what this country's about," said Barbara.

Cheetah couldn't believe that he was being deserted once again. Ivy held him, wept, and said they couldn't afford to keep the chimps they'd taken care of so lovingly. She signs, "My baby," to him, and whimpers, running her finger around his eyes, where the hairs are very short, and his cool nostrils. He stroked her long, wavy banana-colored hair, trying to comfort her, while tears ran down his face and tickled his nipples. "We are trying to find zoos for you, or other projects where you'll be taken care of," she said, hiccupping, her nose all rosy. "There's nothing else we can do."

Cheetah couldn't find a publisher for his thesis, and became morose. If he hadn't been removed from his native Africa, he'd be able to live naturally, by climbing trees, foraging for food. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself," said Chloe.

Former trainer saves derelict chimp family. "I'm so glad I found them just in time," says Tony Gentry.

By the time Tony discovers Cheetah, they'd been living on the streets for nearly a year, surviving by sleeping in parks and subway tunnels, and dumpster diving for food. Chloe, addicted to drugs and alcohol, had disappeared. Cheetah is afraid she'll die, or be killed. His son disappears soon after. Cheetah and Sheenah and tiny Jeeter are in bad shape.

As soon as Sheenah, Cheetah's daughter, is well, Tony and she agree that she should be on her own. She takes tiny Jeeter, her brother Peetah's little boy, with her. Cheetah, who can't take care of her, regretfully lets her go.

Cheetah, the Tarzan ape, becomes an artist. "He's very good," says Tony.

Tony buys Cheetah all kinds of paint and canvas, and encourages him. Suzy, another chimp belonging to Tony, paints too. She helps him, but his work son surpasses hers in intensity and complexity. Tony is soon selling almost everything that Cheetah creates.

Both Tony and Cheetah are upset because, while Tony has to ask for a fairly low price for the paintings, the wealthy collectors who buy them cheaply sell them to other collectors for huge amounts of money.

Some reviews of Cheetah's artwork:

"Highly charged as a Tibetan tanka. Though Cheetah's work can be confounding in its variety, this show, more black and white chronicle than spectacle, seems to communicate the essentials."—Art Views

"Moves from a quiet, perceptual realism into a self-consciously symbolic mysticism. Cheetah's present style is an open echo of Vincent van Gogh's without seeming directly imitative. Using a darker, more primary color scale, he paints in thick, richly colored strokes meant to convey an immediate and emotive response to a resplendent natural world. Cheetah's paintings are, in a sense, offerings to the sources of his own enchantments, even as they are public expressions of a private sadness. Fortunately they are executed by a talented hand with sure intuitions about the craft of painting."—Los Angeles Chronicle

Before long Tony can't afford to buy Cheetah or Suzy the art supplies they need to work, much less food.

Cheetah goes bananas

Cheetah discovers that his daughter, who has two boys, Cheater and Cheetos, is pregnant, on welfare, and that his grandson Jeeter, who'd been in her care, is off living on his own. But just as he thinks life can't get any worse, he finds out that he is going to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest (longest living) chimpanzee, surpassing a female chimp named Gamma, who lived to the age of fifty-nine. What a thing, finally, to be known for.

Chimp-rock star, son of Cheetah, strikes it rich.

That night Tony gets a call from someone who says he's Jeeter's agent. Apparently Jeeter is making tons of money recording and giving concerts with his band The All-Chimps, formerly The Eating Death. The agent is making a celebration party at the new mansion he's bought for Jeeter and himself. "It's Jeeter's house, really it is," he says. "Jeeter wants his relatives there."

The party is out by the pool, which seems to be carved out of one side of the highest of the Hollywood hills. Quite a bit of attention is being paid to Jeeter's family. Sheenah, looking kind of dumpy and depressed, and beginning to show that Cheetah was right about her being pregnant again, has brought the boys, Cheetos and Cheater. They've been giving her a lot of trouble lately, never listening to her, and running around with a fast crowd. But watching them swim in Jeeter's new Olympic sized pool, they look like they should-like carefree little chimp kids having a good time.

When the crowd thins, Cheetah tries to get Jeeter for a moment. "Why not give Sheenah some money, and get her a place to live," he says, rejecting the caviar canapés the caterer is sending around, waving his creased leathery hand. "You have enough for fifty or a hundred chimps to live well." "Careful of the palm plants," Jeeter says. "Want a drink, Pop?" Cheetah presses, "Well, what do you say? "I don't know," says Jeeter. "She's a fat, lazy slob. I earned my money myself. It's a free country-let her strike it rich herself. I'm getting a drink." "Jeeter," Cheetah pulls him back, "she has all those kids." "I should give her money to take care of them?" Jeeter's eyebrows practically go over the top of his head. "She made her bed, let her sleep in it." "She took care of you," pleads Cheetah. "You were just poor and homeless yourself. We need to help each other." Jeeter scratches his head with his huge hand, and stirs his drink with his index finger. A woman who reminds Cheetah of Iris thinks it's cute and giggles.

Cheetah watches his grandson pulling at the three earrings in his pendulous earlobes, enjoying his wealth and his new mansion, thinking how he doesn't yet realize that his agent owns him, and how much of his good fortune was just that.

"Don't splash each other," Sheenah yells at the boys. She looks down at herself, with her slumping shoulders, and protruding belly. Then she looks at her boys again. Drops of water sit in their terracotta fur like silver coins. When they dive into the clear aqua their thin dark limbs create a crude calligraphy. They haven't looked so happy or behaved so well since they were small. She looks over the pool and down at Santa Monica below. She sees blurry layers of color that someone told her is really pollution.

Is that all it takes to make everything better? she wonders. Just lots of money? Her eyes begin to sting and tear, until she has to wipe them with the back of her hand. She's not sure whether she's weeping or if it's just

the smog.

Cheetah looks down, then out toward the mountains in the distance. If he looks out at the horizon, at the lavender, vermilion and rose sunset, and then squints his round eyes, he can imagine he's looking out across a dry African savannah. He can almost hear Tarzan call, "Ohhhhh-eeeeeehhh-oooohhhhehhh-eeee-ooooo."