Sunday, December 28, 2008
Then she went to her knees and cradled his shattered head to her breast, his warm blood soaking the thin fabric of her silk blouse. She would probably have to burn it and her overcoat as well. She looked into Edward's empty eyes and wept for Henry.
Both men had loved Elizabeth in their own way. Henry was gentle. His strong arms would encircle her petite waist. She would rest her cheek against his shoulder and he would kiss the top of her head, smelling the lavender soap in her clean hair. She would wrap her arms around him and feel warm, her cheeks flushing, her heart beating faster. He would whisper her name into her auburn hair, feeling her tremble slightly.
Edward would beat her, tearing the bodice of her dress as she tumbled to the floor before he fell upon her and raped her.
But Elizabeth understood both men. She loved Henry, the man of science, the scholar. Dear, gentle Henry. They had met on a fall afternoon. She worked in the college library. He was a professor, newly transferred from Oxford. He had made an inquiry at her station and ended up taking her to dinner. Eventually she had quit her job and became his assistant, taking a room near his house and laboratories.
Ten months later she met Edward. He was exciting where Henry was unsure of himself. Edward took her to music halls and stage plays. Henry had her transcribe notes and measure compounds for his experiments. Edward dared to make love to her while Henry blushed when he accidentally brushed her bare wrist with his hand. At first, she loved both men.
Until Edward began taking what he wanted, when he wanted it. He no longer felt a need to woo her. To seek her favor. His only desire was to satisfy his ever growing lusts. He was always drunk. He insulted barkeeps and hansom drivers. And she submitted. Fearful of his beatings.
Henry asked her about her bruises and she lied to him, knowing he could not protect her from Edward, fearful of how he would react to her submission to the stronger man. She yearned for Henry to take her as Edward had so often done. She looked into his green eyes wanting to tell him. Afraid to reveal her shame. Then later that night, she would flinch from the intensity of Edward's brown eyes.
Her revulsion of Edward grew in proportion to her love for Henry until, one day, Henry declared his love for her, as well. Elizabeth could no longer keep her shame a secret. But she could not hurt Henry either. She would do whatever she needed to do to protect him, knowing his gentle spirit could not stand the truth.
In the end it broke her heart that the last eyes she had to look into belonged to Edward Hyde and that she would never again see the gentle, loving gaze of the kindest man she had ever known, Dr. Henry Jekyll
Friday, December 12, 2008
Remembering them is a complete other matter.
I honestly cannot tell you how many times I've sat around with several people, on the next day, and all we could remember was laughing. Not one of us could remember what we were laughing at. But we all remembered saying how blogworthy it would be.
I have scratched my head raw trying to remember ideas from the previous night. I may as well have been scratching my ass.
Which got me to thinking. The problem may be more solvable if I broke it down.
First is the subject matter. Which I can't seem to remember. Nor can anyone else. So, like, that doesn't help.
Second is the people. Most of them, apparently, have faulty memories that do not improve with the introduction of alcohol. No help there. Some of them are pretty funny in their own right. But looks and taste in who they date isn't everything. Also, I can't let most of them know how funny they are. It is the same principle that says every experiment is contaminated by the observer (which is bad enough). But what if the experiment were self-aware? Although... there is little chance of that in this case.
Third is the location. Which usually comes down to my place or theirs.
And, lastly, is the alcohol itself. I have tried every combination I can think of. Clear drinks, amber drinks, mixed drinks, straight up, on the rocks, high test, wine coolers, lite beers, dark beers, redheads, blonds, brunettes, is she big, is she small, is she short, is she tall, is she any kind of dreamboat at all...
Wait a second! How did I drift into the theme song from Dobie Gillis?
Obviously, this problem is going to require more research with exhaustive overtime and late night sessions with several of my female interns. After which I should return refreshed and somewhat relaxed. Scratching my ass and wondering what the hell was so funny last night...
Monday, December 01, 2008
I first met Richard Kimble in 1964. I was twelve years old and he was working as a handyman for my father. My dad owned several apartment buildings. Kimble would cut the grass, empty the trash, unclog the drains. He used to deliver babies until his wife, Helen, was killed. Now he ran errands for my dad and kept his head down.
Later, after he had to leave, I found out who he was and what he was accused of. From what I knew of him at the time, I didn't believed it. My mother was horrified that we had had a killer in our midst. My father thought he was a hard worker and a pretty good guy. I just remembered his eyes. They were kind and sort of bewildered looking. When we would talk, he would never look at me for long before his eyes would flick sideways at a creaking floorboard or some sound in the street. Then he would give me that little twitch of a smile, as if apologizing for the interruption.
Eventually we heard that Kimble found Fred Johnson, the one armed man, and almost fried anyway when Gerard shot Johnson after he confessed to Kimble. Fortunately, a witness to Helen's murder, who was being blackmailed by Johnson, finally came forward when the one armed man was killed; ending Richard Kimble's long nightmare.
I'm not sure why all of this has had such an impact on my life. I wasn't that old at the time and I only knew Kimble for about six weeks. Maybe it was because I lived in a small town and any brush with fame (or infamy) was notable and long remembered. Maybe it was because of my age. Maybe it was Kimble, himself.
He had a gentle patience when other men would have raged at life's injustice. He was willing to work honestly when he was already on the wrong side of the law. He was willing to put his fate in the hands of strangers even though another stranger had ruined his life. He believed in people.
Along the way he made a lot of friends. People who were willing to protect him after knowing him only a short time. People who believed in his innocence. People who saw something in those haunted and hunted eyes. People like me.
He changed our lives by being who he was. An everyman. A guy who needed a break and still took the time to help others. He never let his ordeal change who or what he was and he never gave up.
By the time I heard he had died of a heart attack on February 13, 1980, I was twenty-eight years old. I was working hard at a job I enjoyed and looked people in the eye when I talked with them. Sometimes I would see Kimble, or at least someone like him, looking back.
I've heard about a lot of people over the years who claimed to have had a close encounter with Richard Kimble. A number of them have written books about their experiences - cashing in. Few of them describe the man I knew so I'm not too sure of their veracity. A smaller number of them got it right. Most of those people mention his eyes.
I had a small problem during those six weeks; a kid's problem, really. It doesn't even matter what it was. But Richard Kimble took the time to notice a kid with a problem and he gave me a hand. In the end, when Gerard was coming in the front door and we were at the back door he didn't even have to ask. Our eyes met briefly before his flicked sideways towards the back yard and the tree line. He looked back and gave me that twitchy, apologetic smile and was gone.
A moment later, Gerard came running down the hall shouting questions at me. My eyes flicked sideways to the basement stairs and I said I hadn't seen him. Gerard hesitated, glancing out the back door, then turned, flung open the basement door and shouted, "Kimble!"
I watched him ease down the first few steps, wasting time, and a slight, twitchy smile flashed quickly across my lips.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
...Just in front of the street signs was another signpost. Atop that post, adorned with Kiwanis and American Legion insignias, was a sign that read:
Welcome to Topton.
I felt a premonitory chill run through me and the Blond Bombshell found my hand in the dark and squeezed tightly...
I let the car drift forward a little, seeing if it knew where to go. After a moment I figured I should decide. Since this all started by not taking a left, I chose left. For good luck. As I drifted down Haas to the next intersection, the Blond Bombshell spotted some headlights about three blocks in the distance. "Look!" she shouted.
"There's a car!" she pointed excitedly.
"Wow." I replied. "And there's a truck." I said pointing to a parked vehicle.
She wasn't amused. "I have to pee." she said flatly.
"Oh... well then... I don't think that car can help." I answered. "Let me try to find an all night gas station."
I turned right on a residential street. Few lights were on. I was going towards where I remembered the illumination was, from the trip in. Hopefully, the downtown area. Suddenly I heard a deep throated rumble behind me and was blinded by my rear view mirror. A huge engine revved menacingly, headlights turning the interior of the car white. Bleaching the color from everything.
"What the..." I began as I turned in the seat, my seat belt holding my left shoulder in place. As I turned back to fuss with that, the vehicle behind us roared again and shot around us in a squeal of tires and a cloud of blue smoke. All I saw was a squat, black, boxy sedan, flames spewing from the tail pipes as it accelerated towards downtown.
"Let's see where this street goes." I suggested making a sudden right.
"I don't have to pee any more." she informed me in a small voice.
Eventually I found my way back to the intersection of Centre and Haas. Uncharacteristically, I said, "I think we're lost. Let's just back track." and I headed out of town the way we had come in, the industrial plant now on my left.
After about two or three miles I said, "I think we turned left to get onto this road so we need to make a right up here, somewhere."
"Uh, huh." she replied, sulking. I began calculating how much more booze it would take to salvage this evening. It was 12:28 and the bars stopped serving at 1:00. We had to get un-lost. Fast.
I saw a road teeing off to the right and said, "I think this is it." Slowing down to make the turn, I cracked my window a little to get some night air and heard a powerful engine revving in the distance. I quickly pushed the button to close it again.
We continued on this road for several more miles when we spotted a smudge of light on the horizon, in the near distance. As we approached I commented, "Wow. All these towns look the same at night. That's just the way Topton looked coming into town."
When we got a little closer, the resemblance increased. Suddenly we were passing the industrial plant on our right and I let the car slow down and stop at the intersection of Centre Street and Haas. The railroad tracks were on our left.
"How the hell did you manage that?" she demanded.
"I dunno." I answered slowly, clearly and utterly dumbfounded. "I made one right turn. I was headed out of town, made one right turn and we are back here on the same road we left by. It just isn't possible."
"And yet, here we are!"
I looked at her, thinking how unfair all this was to me.
I looked to my left, up Haas, and saw a fiery glow crossing an intersection about four blocks away. "Let's go." I said, spinning the steering wheel to the left, making a U-turn onto the berm next to the railroad tracks. I headed back out of the town of Topton again.
This time I was determined to find out how the hell I got turned around. I didn't tell the Blond Bombshell what I was doing but I had to know how a single right hand turn brought me back onto the original road, heading the opposite direction. I mean, everybody knows that two wrongs don't make a right but three left do.
So I headed back past the industrial plant on my left and into the Topton countryside. A little over two miles out I spotted the right hand turn and began slowing down.
"What are you doing?" she asked from the dark.
"Uh... trying to get out of here?"
"This is the same road we turned on last time. You can't keep making the same mistake until you get the result you want. It will always be wrong."
"Actually my Uncle Ray married my Aunt Ruthie three times and they are quite happy now." I argued.
"Honestly, Johnny, let's just go straight."
"I'm sorry. I have to do this. If I can't figure out how one right hand turn takes me back to where I started it'll drive me nuts."
She sat in the dark, her porcelain features illuminated by the dash lights, her back against the passenger door. Her long blond hair glowing goldenly in the moonlight. After a moment she said, "Yeah, me too. Go for it." That is why I loved her so much.
So I turned right onto the side road and we both watched the countryside and the farm houses. We paid attention to the curves in the road. Eventually we saw some light on the horizon. I slowed the car a little and said, "Uh, oh."
About a mile later we passed the industrial plant on our right and coasted to a halt at the intersection of Centre and Haas. "No fucking way!" we both said simultaneously.
I opened my door and stepped out onto the pavement. There was a slight breeze blowing and I thought I smelled something like ozone in the air. Possibly a hint of sulfur. I looked back towards the industrial plant and wondered what they did in there. Possibly quantum physics? Maybe a quantum janitor had bumped into the holographic universe projector with his mop and we were stuck in a sliver of time? Maybe Rod Serling was having a wet dream? Who knew?
All I knew was it was time to leave. I saw a squat shape at the far end of Centre Street. Heard the throaty rumble of a modified engine and the burble of straight pipes. I pictured a boot clad foot pressing the accelerator as the beast roared to life. Headlights came on and blinded me despite the distance. Tires squealed and the lights shot towards me.
I jumped into the driver's seat and the Blond Bombshell shouted, "Go! Go! Go!"
I spun the wheel again, my own tires screeching as they found purchase and propelled the car in another U-turn. Spinning and fishtailing on and off of the berm next to the railroad tracks. We passed the industrial plant, now on our left, as we exited Topton for the last time. The lights behind us were still gaining rapidly.
As I shot away from town I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the fiery lights skid to a halt at the intersection of Centre and Haas. Just inside the WELCOME TO TOPTON sign. Then I rounded a curve and it was gone.
This time we did not make the right hand turn. We continued straight and eventually came to Route 222. We knew where we were from there. It was 12:57 and I had just about given up on keeping the Blond Bombshell's buzz going. Surprisingly, she put her head on my shoulder and her hand on my upper arm. "That was pretty cool back there." she whispered.
Cool, I thought.
Later, in the light of day, I tried to find Topton. I drove the roads, looked at maps and asked the locals about the town. No one has ever heard of it. But the thing I cannot shake is that black car, stuck in some crazy space/time continuum, roaring endlessly up and down the streets of a forever sleeping Topton. Searching for a way out.
I guess we got lucky that night. And then again later, too.
We had spent part of the evening seeing Sara Ayers at The Pub on Main and then migrated to The Summit Bar@Grill to listen to EFB. Admittedly, there were a few drinks involved. But blaming what happened later on the drinks would be like blaming venereal disease on having sex. I mean, there's not always a one-to-one correlation. Is there?
Anyway, when we left The Summit we should have. Turned left that is. What we did was discuss it and, being with a date with whom I was willing to test both above theories, I took her advice and turned right. That was the last right thing I did.
Almost immediately she said, "I don't recognize this road."
Having never been on the road myself, but being a guy, I pretended to. "We're O.K." I said. "I think we passed that barn coming in." This is usually a safe gambit because all barns look alike and blonds aren't notorious for observing things outside their personal space.
"No we didn't," she replied. "that barn has an earthen ramp and the one we passed earlier tonight was wooden."
"I think you are mistaken." I muttered. "Our turn off is just ahead."
Another thing you need to know about guys is that we will defend to the point of absurdity a course of action, once we have committed to it. Even if it wasn't our idea in the first place and even if we didn't originally agree with it at the time. I think this is why they send men to war.
Women, on the other hand, are willing to look around an unfamiliar place, admit they are lost, talk to five perfect strangers, take their stupid advice, and come home with three pair of shoes. Then tell you about the quaint little village they found. Yeah, right.
So we continued forward in the dark, the lights from an occasional farm house our only markers in the night. "Johnny, I don't like this. I have no idea where we are." she said with a tremulous voice.
I glanced over to see if the booze was wearing off yet and decided I was still safe. "How lost can we be?" I tried to reassure her. "We are less than ten minutes from where we were and at least twenty minutes from Deliverance lost. Besides, that was in a whole 'nother state."
"Deliverance. Ned Beatty? Burt Reynolds? The banjos?" I silently shook my head in the dark and lamented the loss of women my age. I wondered where they all went? Were they hanging out with guys twenty years older than them? And how far could that go before all that was left was a bunch of little old ladies bitching about the men they had known?... Oh wait... Aunt Nellie. That's where she came from!
"Huh?" The car had drifted towards the berm. A piece of paper or an old shirt fluttered in the short distance then whipped past the passenger side window as we passed it. I involuntarily yanked the wheel to the left, over-corrected, felt the rear end begin to drift and downshifted, the tires grabbing at macadam and loose gravel, and finally lurched forward. Once the car straightened out I slowed down again, pretending I had meant to do that.
"Nice driving, Slick" she mumbled from the dark. "Do you know where we are yet?"
"Why get all hung up on details?" I asked.
Up ahead we could see the lights of a small town illuminating the horizon. I glanced at the clock on the dash and saw it was 12:17 in the morning. "Maybe there's a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts open? We could ask for directions." By we I meant her. Everybody knows guys don't ask for directions. They give them. Then I began hoping there was a man working. Otherwise we would end up with three pair of shoes.
As we came into town we passed some kind of industrial plant on the right of the road before approaching an intersection parallel to some railroad tracks on our left. I peered ahead, trying to read the road signs in the car's headlights. "It looks like we are on Centre Street and the cross road is Haas."
"Good." she said. "Let's leave now."
"I'm trying to." I answered a little too sharply. Geeze, what a buzz kill.
Just in front of the street signs was another signpost. Atop that post, adorned with Kiwanis and American Legion insignias, was a sign that read:
Welcome to Topton.
I felt a premonitory chill run through me and the Blond Bombshell found my hand in the dark and squeezed tightly...
TO BE CONTINUED
Saturday, November 15, 2008
My friend says that is just like when the priest says, "because The Pope says so." It's not really much of an answer.
Which is a pretty good observation but, also, why this stuff should only be done by professionals.
It did get me to thinking, however. What if we really did treat our little children the way Catholics are treated by their church? Like, when a child does something wrong, instead of punishing the child (or even better yet, teaching the child why the behavior is wrong), what if we set up a system where they can endlessly repeat the same mistakes with virtually no consequences?
You know, like Billy breaks Suzy's doll so he anonymously confides in a relative stranger who basically says, "You know what, Billy? Just say the alphabet four times, count to 20 three times, and don't worry about it."
How cool would that be?
Pretty soon, little Billy (and all of his friends) would be breaking things with impunity. They would probably branch into other areas of mis-behavior. They may even begin stealing dolls and holding them for ransom. Or forcing them to perform at tea parties. Or maybe hiring out targeted acts of doll destruction. You know, just to keep them in line.
My God, where would it end?
Fortunately, all of this is just humorous speculation and kidnapping, prostitution, and murder for hire cannot be excused by some anonymous stranger in a darkened booth with a wave of his hand and some nonsensical command to repeat a rote expression ten times.
I mean, c'mon! Where would that end?
Saturday, November 08, 2008
It is a soon to be well known internet fact that, in the days of our forefathers, lobsters were considered to be one of the lowest forms of seafood. Not a delicacy by any stretch. Bottom feeders. Virtually garbage.
As such, lobster was routinely fed to the slaves of the period.
Which got me to thinking. Who figured it out first?
Did the poor, grizzled slaves with work calloused hands, and shoulders stooped from picking tobacco, shuffle home at the end of a long work day, their legs tired, their backs aching, into their unpainted shanties - to lobster dinners?
Did they suddenly straighten as they shrugged out of their soiled work clothes and slipped into dress slacks and velvet collared, silk smoking jackets? Was the dining table in the center of their one room shack covered with a white linen table cloth, the tapers lit and sitting snugly in their silver candelabras, lobsters steaming on the fire in the corner of the room, drawn butter bubbling in silver chaffing dishes? Did they wear lye scrubbed lobster bibs and complain that they only had one nut cracker and tiny fork with which to extricate the delicate sweet meat of the lobster's claws? Were the little ones already in bed having feasted upon their daily portions of shrimp and cocktail sauce?
We may never know but oral history would suggest that the irony was not lost upon the slaves, or at least their ancestors who got to retell this story with benefit of hindsight. As the story goes: One night after the crustaceans were sucked empty and the butter and lobster juice stained bibs were thrown carelessly on the table, Jasper sat with his feet upon a small hassock before the fire, lighting his cigar with a piece of kindling, talking between puffs, "Massa went a huntin' today... Uh, huh."
"Did he ketch anythin'?" his mate whispered, not wanting to wake the little ones.
"Yes'm. Him and that ol' dawg of his kotched them up two scrawny squirrels and a tired ol' groundhawg... Uh, huh."
"MMMM, mmmm!" the female replied, picking a stray piece of lobster meat from between her teeth, wiping her hands on her butter stained apron. "That do sounds like some mighty fine eatin'!"
Monday, November 03, 2008
...What? You're still reading? This is my point, exactly! I have been noticing a correlation between my readers and vapid stares. Empty gazes. Silly grins. A certain diminution of IQ.
I write about Wife Whisperers and I attract more female attention. I jump out of an airplane and everybody wants to jump out of an airplane. I stop dating red heads and I'm inundated by blonds. Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate the attention, but I'm thinking something else is going on here.
Like the time I rushed to Victoria Secret's 50% Off Sale and they were still modeling the entire ensembles. I never know what people are thinking.
Take my friend Kenn for an example. When I first met him, his name was Ken. But after three years of reading my blog he can't even spell his own name correctly. What's with the extra n, buddy? Did you flunk Abbreviation Class in grade school? Were all of the cool nicknames taken? And he's just one example.
Apparently several of my blogs have been read during a study group exploring Spiritual Enlightenment. As Larry the Cable Guy says, "I don't care who you are - that's funny."
So it got me to thinking. How can these otherwise bright people find themselves going after the shiny lure? It's not the brilliant writing. Or the original ideas. I've actually looked up the word derivative in the dictionary and copied it into a blog, for God's sake!
Something else must be going on.
Maybe the neo-Gothic architecture of my blog's typeface was once used in a voodoo zombie sacrifice and the residual demonic aura is still working it's hoodoo? Maybe the steady drone of my uninspired wording is hypnotizing my readers into a passive state of non-productivity? Maybe the letter n is stuck on Kennnnn's keyboard.
We may never know.
But I can tell you three things. I'm not getting the benefit of the extra IQ points being left behind. The more points you lose here the more likely you are to return. And, but for a difference of 3 points, this would be Kenn's blog.
Monday, October 27, 2008
"So, like, what?" I asked. "You only want to cripple one?"
I dunno, I thought it was funny.
Later, over a dinner of burgers and sweet potato fries she asked me how my bucket list was coming. I took a sip of Guinness and said that maybe I ought to add making a bucket list to my bucket list. Then I asked her why she thought I needed one.
"Well, I thought since you just went skydiving you'd be thinking of other things you would like to do..."
"What... before I die?"
"Uh... that is sort of the point of a bucket list, isn't it?"
"I guess." I replied. "It just seems... kind of morbid."
"It doesn't have to be. You could make it fun. You know, like an adventure."
"Fun huh? Well, I guess I could do that." I thought for a second and said, "How about I divorce my estranged wife of 36 years to see if her mother really is unavailable?"
"Very funny." She said. Her frown belied her words. "I had in mind something more like teaching yourself Greek."
"I did that 25 years ago."
"I could ask Ann to teach me how to scoff in German." I suggested.
"You could learn how to swing dance."
"Swing?" I said, my voice brightening. "Maybe I could try to figure out why 3-ways are O.K. for light bulbs but not for other stuff."
"Could you even try to be serious?" she asked, her hazel eyes flashing.
"Let me see..." I answered, seeming to look deep inside myself. "Nope. I don't think so."
She leaned over and kissed my cheek. "I didn't think so, either. You know there are a lot of things that could be fun to try, though."
I waggled my eyebrows and pretended to flick an imaginary cigar ash, saying in my best Groucho voice, "What did you have in mind, little girl?"
After a brief silence she said, "You could learn how to fly an airplane."
"I doubt it." I answered. "But I could petition Johnson & Johnson to bring out a more gender neutral version of Ben-Gay."
"You could learn how to play the guitar." she said, ignoring me.
"Or I could let them call me back for one more covert mission."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, brushing her long blond hair from her bare shoulders while nibbling delicately at her burger.
"Uh, never mind. I really shouldn't have said anything."
She stared at me for a moment and finally said, "I never know when to take you seriously."
"Oh... " For a moment it was like she had lost her place. "Well, uh, how about going over a waterfall in a barrel?"
"What're you - crazy?" I asked as I daubed some chipotle sauce with a sweet potato fry. "If I wanted to do something dangerous I could just whistle Flight of the Bumble Bee in a crowded elevator."
"Or you could pick a foreign country that you've never been to." she ventured.
"O.K. Now what?" I asked innocently.
"I've picked one. Brazil. Now what?"
"You can go to..."
"Careful." I said. "Your Irish is showing."
While she was thinking about that, I said, "You know, I could try to read an entire page, silently, without moving my lips."
"You've never been quiet for that long." she shot back.
"Touche." I replied. "Nicely played."
Finally, while she was dabbing her lips with a napkin, she asked me, "Isn't there something that you really, really want to do before you die?"
"Well... yeah, I guess." I said, staring at my empty plate. "I'd really, really like to find a cure for whatever it was that was killing me."
You know, I have never understood why people look at me that way.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
We would like to submit another in our series of Soon To Be Famous Quotes by our beloved founder, philosopher and occasional boy toy:
We are not all victims but are, each of us, the chief perpetrators of our own lives.
Yes, we realize it is no "Carpe Diem" but he has been saying it a lot, lately, and we here at Escape Velocity's Corporate Headquarters are up for our annual review - so please read it again.
Monday, October 20, 2008
They have a pretty cool web page with video of people skydiving, testimonials about how much fun it is and payment options, etc. My first indicator that this might not be safe was in the payment options. Listed among Cash, Visa, Mastercard, and American Express was the statement that they do not take personal checks on the day of the jump. Which makes sense. Mangled corpses are notorious deadbeats.
When we got there we had to sit through an instructional video. Now keep in mind, we were about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and were a little nervous at the prospect. So we were literally hanging on every word of instruction. Sort of like our lives depended upon it. The instructional part of the video lasted about 45 seconds.
The other 23 minutes of it were legal disclaimers and a guide to filling out the paperwork. We had to agree not to sue anyone, ever, for any reason, ever, nor could our heirs (survivors), ever, even if they (the skydiving company) completely screwed up and packed an anvil instead of a parachute, ever, or if they ran out of gas, ever, or if the jump master forgot to hook onto you, or for anything else. Ever.
My sense was that they were more afraid of lawsuits than we were of jumping out of an airplane, at 10,000 feet, for the very first time.
Next, we were told that we would be getting a discount on the videography. It seems that their regular guy who jumps with us and wears the camera on his helmet to record our jump and rapid descent could not make it that day. He was in the hospital. Geeze! I hope he watched the video.
Now here is something that should have been in the video. Most of us were wearing jeans. Then we were put in a pair of zip up coveralls. Then we were strapped into a jump harness. Which, by my count (including my under shorts), is four layers of very tight material and straps surrounding, compressing and pinching my private parts. Only after we are all strapped and cinched tight does the jump master tell us that we should make sure that we are comfortable down there because when the 'chute opens we could get hurt. So there I am trying to rearrange my junk through all of the tight materials that have been strapped into place, while there are women standing around watching and snickering, and I'm trying to be cool about it.
Fortunately, I am very cool.
Eventually, I got into a very small airplane with the pilot, the jump master, and the guy who owns the skydiving business. He has made over 38,000 jumps and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most skydives. (I'll bet he arranges his junk before they cinch his straps.) And we were off.
About 4,000 feet into our ascent, the old guy opened the door and leaned out and was whipped away by the 120 mile an hour wind. It happened so fast it was like a special effect on Heroes. That was my reality check. Up until this point I had been remarkably calm. It hadn't really hit me what I was about to do. But suddenly, I'm sitting cross-legged on the floor of a flying canoe, three feet from the open door and the guy who opened the door was whipped away in the blink of an eye and I'm not strapped down or connected to ANYTHING. And the jump master yells over the noise, "So, what do you think?"
What do I think? WHAT DO I THINK? "Holy shit!" I yelled back. "Close the frickin' door!"
Eventually the pilot reached over and pulled the door down. The next thought I had was "that is going to be me in a couple of minutes" and I wondered how many people have thrown up at 120 miles an hour and what kind of mess that'll make.
Then I thought, "At least my junk is comfortable."
When the moment came the jump master told me to get on my knees and scoot around so that I was between the pilot seat and the door. All of this is in an unsteady, vibrating, rocking, flying Volkswagen. I have less than 2 inches leeway on either side, I'm swaying with the jarring movements, I am not strapped to anything and I am not wearing a parachute and the jump master cautions me not to touch the door. YOU THINK? I wasn't about to touch that door! I wouldn't touch that door if my... well, actually, it did.
Then he tells me to sit on my heels and lean back into him. And, finally, he hooks onto to me. Two at the shoulders and two at the hips. This the the first time since the old guy was whipped away that I think I actually breathed. When he reached over and around to re-tighten the cinches I did not care how tightly I was pressed into his junk. I thought if it's another place to hold on to I hope it's a big one!
This is when the pilot reached over and opened the door. It snapped up and my whole world became a 120 mile an hour wind storm. The jump master yelled into my ear, "Swing your knees out of the plane, look up and arch your back." I think the last part was so that he could rearrange his junk.
The next thing I know is that he leaned forward and we are in a rushing river of air. I can see the entire world laid out before me but the torrent of air is buffeting me so badly that I can hardly catch my breath. I am peripherally aware that he is strapped to my back. All my senses are alive. I am totally aware of everything around me. He yells in my ear to look up and to the left and give a thumbs up at the camera strapped to his wrist. A moment later he yells, "Your other left."
Hey, I had a lot going on! O.K.?
That was the longest and shortest 45 seconds of my life. And then the 'chute deployed. My shoulders were snapped back. I grabbed my shoulder harness, the wind virtually disappeared, and we were floating.
The next five minutes were magical. I got to see the world as few others do. I saw the mountains become nothing more than rolling disturbances in the landscape. I saw the highways as mere lines connecting areas of population. I saw the fall colors as an even brownish-orange and I actually saw the curvature of the Earth.
Eventually I was able to process familiar places and got my bearings above the familiar roads and malls and housing developments. We drifted lazily across the landscape, catching the thermals, steering in and out of the now gentle winds. It was cold that day but I really did not notice it until later. I was flying, man. Flying.
After a while I saw the airport, then the landing area, then the people, and we were down. A perfect landing exactly where the jump master had intended.
I had gotten to know a few of the other jumpers while we were all waiting earlier and as I walked over to the fence line where they were standing, a mile wide grin on my face, Tony asked if that was me he heard screaming like a little girl. Suddenly deadpan I replied, "No it was the jump master. When I pissed my pants it ran up his leg."
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I know. I know. You're thinking, "How can that guy get any frickin' cooler?" Either that or, "I get dibs on his liquor cabinet!"
Which probably isn't a bad idea. The dibs part I mean. Because, actually, I kind of pegged the Cool-O-Meter a while back.
So I got to thinking - Last Will and Testament.
I know you are supposed to be of sound mind to write one of these things but if a million monkeys on a million typewriters can, theoretically, eventually write Shakespeare, I figure one homo erectus on an Apple should be able to cobble something together good enough to satisfy the legal arm at Escape Velocity's Corporate Headquarters.
Speaking of lawyers. In the event of my death, I would like to leave all of my former wife's worldly possessions to my divorce lawyer.
In addition, I want to leave my collection of body oils and lubricants to the Baptist Church.
I would like to leave my collections of Playboy, Penthouse, and other erotic art to the Boy Scouts of America; and my partial sets of Melmac dishes to the Waldorf Astoria.
I hereby bequeath all of my winter outerwear to the American Association for Nude Recreation.
And I would like to leave my five-gallon jug of pennies and nickles to Bill Gates.
I would like someone to put the call-to-donate 800 number for The Seven Hundred Club on the National Do Not Call List.
I would like science to work on a better use for the passenger side of my bed.
I would like to donate one gallon of whole milk and one can of air freshener to each of my lactose intolerant friends.
I want to leave my collection of antique beer steins to the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I would like to donate my brain to science and my fingers to simple math.
And on a personal note, I would like to thank all of my very dear friends for allowing me the pleasure of knowing them and to congratulate them on the privilege of knowing me.
Now get out of here. I have a plane to catch.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
"Oh, hell!" I responded as I slammed a bottle of something onto the bar, shot glasses bounced and a couple rolled to the edge where Mike's cop-reflexes caught them. "Woa! Woa! Take it easy!" He set the glasses upright and reached into the cooler for a cold beer. "Now," he continued. "What's the problem?"
"The Petite Red Head is dead." I stated flatly.
"Really?" he raised one eyebrow. "I thought she was fictional?"
"She mostly was."
"So how can she be dead?"
"Well, as you know, she was a composite character. A little feistiness from one girl, a little stubbornness from another, a little playfulness from another, and the intellect from my dream girl. The red hair was from several other girls I've known and the petite part just seemed to fit into the Johnny B character's arms."
"Yeah, I know that." Mike said. "But that doesn't explain how she can die."
I looked at the gloomy sky, thunderheads roiling in the distance. A slight breeze was picking up and I could smell the honey suckle at the far end of the tiki deck. I chose not to answer his question directly. "Remember when she first showed up in the Help Yourself blog? The one about the "A" and "B" type hosts and guests?"
"She was just a minor bit of window dressing. A bit player. A walk on part. But she just felt right, man. You know what I mean?"
"No, not really. But then, you are the writer." He answered truthfully.
"Then a little later, I had a mis-understanding with a girl I was dating and I brought the petite red head back in I Can Do That! to help me illustrate the humorous contrasts between how men and women think."
"At this point, I was beginning to see the potential of a female character who was slightly smarter than the Johnny B character and I began using her sometimes as a straight man and sometimes to set him up as the fall guy of the piece. I did this in The Trouble with Hairy (Legs) and in Giving Good Foot. But she really came into her own in Breakin' ALL the Rules!. That's the one where she gets me for being so anal. Remember?"
"Yeah, I do." he smiled. "It was actually pretty funny."
"That's when I knew she had to die." I said.
"That's when I knew she had to die."
"I didn't mean what did you say. Didn't you see the exclamation mark? I said 'what' in the sense of 'what the hell are you talking about!'." He explained.
... "So? Like, what the hell are you talking about?"
"Well... it's just that... well, she was stealing my thunder, man."
Suddenly Mike got very patient and began talking in slower, more measured tones. "Johnny, how can she steal your thunder? You are the one making it up."
"Hey, this stuff isn't easy. And it's even harder to explain. It's sort of like when you date a girl and after about a month or so you realize she has this whole other life going on outside of you. Like... who knew? You know what I mean?"
"Anyway, I figured if I let her have her way, she was about a couple of weeks away from having her own blog. Which could have been one way to get rid of her but, logistically, that would have been a nightmare."
"So I decided to phase her out."
"How did you do that?" The skin around his eyes tightened and I could tell he was sorry he asked the question. So he took another sip of his beer.
"Well, that was when I wrote The Stripper and the Toilet Bowl. I was kinda hoping to divert the attention away from the petite red head." I explained. "That was also about the same time I quit dating red heads... I figured maybe I was channeling some of their crazy energy into the petite red head. It's a shame, too. There was this one chick..."
"Ummm, Johnny. Back to the story."
"Oh. Yeah." I said shaking the fog from my head. "Anyway, I still needed her. She was a good foil and my raison d'etre. So she popped up again in The Great Beard Rebellion."
"That's when I began playing around with different female characters. Trying to find one that resonated. I thought I hit pay dirt with the Frankie character in So This is Love, but it turned out that she was too flighty."
"But... never mind."
"This is when I started writing more introspective stuff and the true stories from my life. Things like The Polish Blog and The Gift. I even tried my hand at writing a country/western song. Remember Every Fool has a Heart?"
"Yep. And if I remember correctly, you haven't written about the petite red head since. But isn't that kind of what you wanted? Is the character irreplaceable?"
"No. Oh, Lord, no!" I said. "In fact I'm already working on a new one."
"What's her name?"
"I'm not sure she'll have one. But I'm thinking of calling her the Blond Bombshell. What do you think?"
"I just need to keep this one on a short leash. It is, after all, my picture on the page."
"O.K." Mike said - then he paused before continuing. "So, if you killed the petite red head on purpose and you have a replacement in the wings to serve as your straight man and foil, etc., why are you so upset?"
"Well, I was thinking about throwing a party for the Petite Red Head, sort of like a wake, but I can't remember how to mix her favorite drink."
Friday, October 03, 2008
I was sitting in my outdoor office (on the bar stool behind the tiki bar), doodling on a yellow tablet. This is how I kick-start a lot of my ideas. I heard a knock on the inside of my sliding door into the living room and, as I looked up, it slid open and my buddy Al walked out onto the deck. His tousled hair and tight physique belied his sixty plus years.
"What're you working on?" he asked as he glanced at my note pad.
"Just an idea." I replied vaguely.
"Yeah," he said, "like Guy Stuff at the Mall was just a story about a sporting goods store."
"Well... it was!"
"O.K. So what's this one about?"
"Remember a while back I wrote a piece poking fun at the male/female thing called Are Women Aliens? I was kinda pokin' fun at that book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and came to the conclusion that Women are from Venus and that Men are from Earth. Remember?"
"O.K., so I got to thinking about why a lot of relationships end and being a man, and assuming women do things and make decisions for un-earthly reasons, I thought if I could dissect a past relationship... you know, like what makes a girl tick?, I could call it an Alien Autopsy."
"It's funny... but I don't know..." Al muttered. "You could be shooting yourself in the foot."
"C'mon, everyone knows I'm only kidding around! Besides, if we can't laugh at each other, who can we laugh at?"
"So, what're you thinking?"
"I dunno." I said looking down at my tablet. "It is a lot of contradictory behavior. Stuff like: 'If she's already been divorced five times, how can I be the problem?' Or: 'She drinks wine for three months and, just when I buy a case of the stuff, she switches to rum.' Or: 'She doesn't want to go to the night club any more but still wants to take dance lessons.' "
"What else have you got?" he asked.
"How about: 'She wouldn't tell me until 30 minutes before if she was coming on a date but she had to know two weeks early if I was going to one of her functions.' Or: 'She would blow off three dates in a row and when I would mention it she tells me she can't take the drama.' Or, listen to this one: 'She insists on a "monogamous" relationship but isn't ready for a "committed" one.' "
"Oh, and never, ever, ever use the word 'whatever' even though she wants you to accept what ever she throws at you."
"O.K." Al finally said. "I am beginning to get the alien part. And... I guess it's safe to say that you are dissecting it after it's dead... hence the autopsy."
"See? You are getting it. But you know," I replied, "the alien analogy doesn't end there. Asking someone what they are thinking during an intimate moment is a lot like vivisection. You know - dissecting something while it's still alive? Aliens are supposedly doing that when they abduct humans."
"You don't mean...?"
"Yes..." I answered. "I think I've been probed!"
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Cathcart kept his methods secret, but people who managed to observe him noticed that he would stand face to face with the troubled woman. They seemed to think that he must be saying something to her in a way she could understand and accept because the women were quickly gentled by his mysterious techniques. Sometimes he would practice his methods with the females in a prone position.
His techniques were passed over to Ignatz Yoder who learned them well and traveled widely in the Americas to help the most severely restless women. His fame spread, and more and more females sought his help. He wrote a book about his experiences and later cooperated with John Bonus.
Bonus, at first a very talented amateur, was protective of the tradition he had thus learned, and in early versions of his own book did not reveal how the most recalcitrant women were salvaged by the methods Cathcart originated. He did, however, always give Yoder full credit for his particular methods of gentling women. Finally he became convinced that it was better to reveal the secret method to the world than to risk its loss. That method is fairly faithfully represented in the novel and motion picture The Wife Whisperer.
Today, numerous "neighbors" and so-called "friends of the family" call themselves wife whisperers, often building on the work of David Cathcart, Ignatz Yoder, and John Bonus in the early 21st century. Although the work of these modern practitioners is often derivative and sometimes sloppy, the techniques are solid, and a reminder to all, of the subtle refinements that Bonus brought to the process.
His gentle humor, searching eyes and subtle hands have become the trade-mark of the modern wife whisperer. As has the much heard catch phrase, "What are you doing with my wife?"
Monday, September 22, 2008
His rumors kept hope alive when logic dictated sure death. He touched the souls of men hardened by toil and weakened by despair and fired the imaginations of newly forming minds. He broke the hearts of young lovers and restored faith in a tarnished God.
His stories made strong men seek refuge in the purity of a woman's heart and drove inexperienced women to betray the men they loved. He brought adventure to the home bound and domestic tranquility to the wanderer. He led nations to war and back again from the brink of destruction.
His purpose was obvious and an enigma.
His heart was open yet mysterious.
His methods varied.
At times his hatred would choke the flow of vitriol spewing from his twisted lips as he sprayed spittle on his fearful audience. Other times a single word from him would turn away a darkening crowd. He laughed and he cried as he told his tales of life.
And he made people think. And wonder at the magic and absurdity of a perfectly formed world in total disarray. He understood his oneness with all of creation and eventually he stood on a desolate planet in a distant future with no one to hear his tales. But this he told, too.
His audience varied yet was eternally the same. He spoke to all and he spoke to none. He spoke to himself.
He spoke because he had to - for he was the storyteller.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
On my party deck, The Taki Tiki, things are still fairly normal. I won't start putting the outdoor furniture away for at least another month. My new fire pit is getting a work out and I keep the hot tub going all year long. And, although my last big party of the summer is history, I will still be having smaller gatherings of friends over until it gets too cold. Then we'll move the parties indoors.
All of this does not, however, prevent a certain kind of nostalgia from setting in for the recently departed season. This struck me as I was putting things away from last weekend's party. I have a spare bedroom that I use for storing party supplies, masquerade costumes, linen, beach towels, and anything else that does not conveniently go with the neat freak motif in the rest of my house. This is where I keep my Lost & Found.
As I was standing there, adding a pair of rhinestone studded sunglasses to the mix, I felt a weird sense of joy for the accumulated memories of the recent past as well as a sadness for its brevity. I handled a catalog for a winery in the Napa Valley, an oven mitt, a little red lace choker that some babe must be searching frantically for, a green table cloth, a Giants tee shirt and two more pairs of sun glasses. There is a set of keys that no one has claimed or asked for; a small leather bag, a bottle of tanning oil, and a little silver serving tray.
Over the course of the summer, various items came and went from my Lost & Found. And I usually had the same mixed reactions as I added or removed the items. It could easily be summed up in the phrase "good times". But when I tried to analyze the feelings, to compare what I was feeling with what I was holding, I came up empty.
This puzzled me for a while until I realized that I was feeling nostalgic about things I could not even remember. After all, if I knew whose sunglasses these were I would get them back to them. I have no memory of who was wearing the Giant's tee shirt or (God help me) the little red lace choker thingy. So I was basically getting emotional over a box of junk that other people aren't even missing themselves.
On the other hand, these memories are not missing because of an alcoholic black-out. They are missing because I was busy with my guests at another part of the party. While I was making Liki Tiki blender drinks at the Tiki Bar someone at the hot tub was putting her sun glasses down. While I was happily munching on a grilled burger, listening to the Not An Exit story for the first time, someone else was tucking their small leather bag behind a chair leg so it wouldn't get lost. And while these minor items were being carelessly cast about, my friends and I were having some of the best times of the summer.
So I guess its alright to feel nostalgic when I look into the Lost & Found box. But not so much for the baubles that were lost as for the treasures that were found.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I've been trying my hand as a lyricist again. I have written a number of songs over the years, for the amusement of myself and the amazement of others, with mixed results. I must admit, however, that I am fairly pleased with my most recent effort. It is a country/western style song. I have a basic melody in my head for it but if any of my readers would like to collaborate on the music, I would love to hear from you. The name of the song is:
Every Fool has a Heart (in the Night)
Every once in a while
When you answer a smile
And you end up with someone at night
You can feel her heart beating
At the casual meeting
And somehow you’ll know that it’s right
You can spend the night dancing
And feel that your day was all right
Yet she’s gone the next morning
Without any warning
Every fool has a heart in the night
Every fool has a heart in the night
Even though you were feeling all right
She’ll be gone the next morning
Without any warning
Every fool has a heart in the night
You can tease her and please her
And never release her
And end up with someone tonight
You can feel her heart racing
And mem’ries erasing
And somehow you’ll know that it’s right
When she is dancing along
To that special love song
You can feel that your day was just right
But she’s leaving by daybreak
And making your heart break
Every fool has a heart in the night
Every fool has a heart in the night
Even though you were feeling all right
She’ll be gone the next morning
Without any warning
Every fool has a heart in the night
Every once in a while
When you make a girl smile
And ask her to stay through the night
She’ll spend the night dancing
And somehow she’ll know that it’s right
You can feel you’re heart breaking
Through giving and taking
Yet feel that your day was all right
The mem’ries are burning
And your heart’s still yearning
Yet somehow you got through the night
Every fool has a heart in the night
Even though you were feeling all right
Every fool has a heart
Though it’s breaking apart
Every fool has a heart in the night
Thank you... Thank you very much!
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
As he approached the door he was stopped by one of the office managers. "You can't go out that door."
He turned, his hand already on the push bar. "Why not?"
"It's a rule. Employees must use the front exit only."
"I just need to get something out of my car. It is twenty feet on the other side of this door."
"I'm sorry," the manager replied. "That is not an exit."
"But it says EXIT in lighted letters above the door." The new guy was starting to get a little heated. "See?" He pointed to the white box with illuminated red letters which clearly read EXIT.
"I'm sorry." The manager repeated. "You need to use the front door."
The new guy stood there for a few seconds, looking at the manager, weighing his options. Finally he put his weight against the push bar, swung the door open and said he would be right back.
When he returned ninety seconds later from his car the door was closed and set so that it could only be opened from the inside. No one was in the break room. It took him eight minutes to get back to the break room to retrieve some papers he'd left on a table. He was already late for his next meeting. As he grabbed his stuff he noticed a hand written note taped onto the inside of the door about sixteen inches below the illuminated EXIT sign. The note read: NOT AN EXIT.
Later that day, the manager returned to the break room. In addition to his hand written NOT AN EXIT sign was a sign on the refrigerator that read: NOT A REFRIGERATOR. The table sported a sign reading: NOT A TABLE. Each chair had a sign declaring: NOT A CHAIR. In fact everything in the room had signs. The walls, the ceiling, the drawers in the sink cabinet, the sink, the plasticware next to the coffee pot. The coffee pot. Everything. Inside the refrigerator were yellow sticky notes announcing that this bag was NOT BILL'S LUNCH or that that container was NOT ANN'S YOGURT. The light bulb inside the 'frig had a note.
The manager's original note had a NOT NOT AN EXIT NOTE note.
All of the notes were in different hand writing.
While the dumbfounded manager was standing there, other employees began drifting in. Acting as if everything were normal. Ignoring him. When he got back to his office it had received the same treatment. His office door, the rug, his desk, scissors, his suit jacket, his desk chair.
He angrily removed all of the little signs and threw them into his waste basket that was clearly marked NOT A WASTE BASKET. He left early that day and drove home with a sign taped to the car trunk announcing to the world that what he was driving was: NOT A CAR. Finally he got home where everything was normal. He explained to his wife that he was home early because he was just a little tired.
As he was pouring a beer and raiding the 'frig his wife asked him "Why is there a note on your back that says: NOT A MANAGER ?"
My friend tells me that there has never been a problem using the exit in the break room since that day and that the new employee decided not to take the job after all.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
In the picture in my mind.
You are smiling at me sweetly
With a love still undefined.
The sun was shining brightly
Upon the flowers laced with gold.
And I touch the picture gently
Of the girl I used to hold.
I hear you laughing softly
As you often used to do.
I imagine you are thinking
Of the days of me and you.
But time has come between us
As I recall our loving home.
Through the image in a picture
That I cherish all alone.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John Bonus
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I have people ask me all of the time, "Is that a real Anniversary Clock?"
I usually tell them, "No, it's imaginary."
At this point in the conversation, I actually had one girl go over and try to touch it. But then again, that's kinda why I like having her around.
Getting back to the clock. I guess it's real. It is made by Elgin. It is under a glass dome. It has the four-ball pendulum that rotates back and forth in a flat arc. It chimes every hour and I bought it for one of those big deal anniversaries. (You know, like twenty years or twenty-five years. One of the anniversaries that everyone fusses over ((except the kids)) and you are supposed to think you accomplished something other than stacking time.)
Anyway, my Anniversary Clock has a weird quirk. It chimes ten minutes before the hour. I have tried everything I know to make it chime on the hour. I have stopped it dead for ten minutes - then restarted it. It still chimed at ten till. I loosened and moved the hands to no avail. I had it in storage for six months one time and when I set it back up it chimed at ten till the hour.
I can, however, move the hands to be ten minutes fast and it will chime on the hour, but then the clock is wrong.
All of this is not unlike the broken marriage that the clock represents. I was better at keeping time and she was better at making time. No that's not it. How about: While I was counting the seconds - she was running a little fast? No that's not it. I guess the best way to say it is just that we had bad timing.
But from a distance it was all golden and shiny under the crystal globe that kept outsiders from seeing that the gilt trim was painted plastic and that the simulated movement was more the result of batteries than the finely balanced cogs of a lovingly crafted timepiece.
We have another anniversary coming up. But this year the marriage as well as the clock are on a shelf next to some dusty tomes about imaginary things that happened a long time ago and no one really cared about at the time. Part of the clock is still keeping perfect time. Part of it is still running a little fast. And I guess it still looks good from a distance.
In the mean time, my early chiming clock is a good ice breaker. Especially when they hear the early peals of the distant chimes and I can say, "Relax Baby, we have plenty of time."
Thursday, August 14, 2008
My father worked a heavy construction job during those years but it was seasonal work. In the winter time we would live on welfare checks and eat government food. I remember going to the local firehall and carrying home tins of cheese and canned meat and bags of potatoes. As a child I never thought this was unusual. I thought this was the way everyone lived.
I did not know that we were poor.
Having said that, I thought my grandfather was poor.
He lived in a single room above a local bar. It was a bleak room. I remember going to visit him by myself one day. There was a door next to the entry for the bar. My father sent me up to room 11 while he went through the other door. I could hear the sound of the jukebox and someone laughing as the bar door opened and closed.
Just inside my door was a steep flight of stairs. The walls were painted green at one time but were now a smudged dirty brown. The stairs creaked under the weight of my tiny feet. I could smell beer and fried onions... and something else, I guess. Not healthy. I could feel the vibrations from the jukebox through the rough plaster wall as I slowly climbed the stairs.
At the top was a long hallway. There were battered wooden doors down both walls. These walls were painted a slightly newer version of the stairway green. My grandfather's door was about halfway down on the right. Number 11. The floor was worn and sticky in spots. Empty beer bottles littered the hall. I could hear voices arguing behind a door on my left. Further down the hall I could hear someone playing a scratchy Hank Williams record. For some reason I tried to be very quiet.
When I got to number 11 I tapped on the door with my small knuckles. I waited quietly. Then I knocked again. I was about to leave when I heard him clear his throat and spit into something. I waited a little longer and knocked again. This time I heard a chair scrape on the floor and his heavy footsteps approach the door.
As the door opened I saw that he looked very tired. He was about six-four and weighed around a hundred and fifty-five pounds. He had a full shock of gray hair and about three days of white stubble on his sunken cheeks. His eyes were watery and bloodshot. I recognized the red flannel shirt he was wearing as one my mother had given him for Christmas. It was tucked into a baggy pair of corduroy pants. His work shoes were untied.
He squinted down at me and gave me a quick smile. "Johnny!" he cried. "Git in here, you little shit!" He was happy.
"Hi Gran'pap." I said. "Daddy's down at the bar." I pointed down the hallway.
His work calloused hand guided me by my shoulder into the room. He pushed some magazines off of a wooden kitchen chair and told me to sit down. He sat opposite me at the little table. His chair was made of chrome tubing and torn vinyl. There was also a sway back bed and a night stand in the small room. Inside an opened closet door I could see a battered chest of drawers and a few shirts and pants on metal hangers. The tattered curtains were gray and dusty looking. He had a great view of the alley behind the bar.
After we made some small talk he offered me a warm bottle of orange pop. (We called it pop back then. I had never even heard of soda. I guess it was a western Pennsylvania thing.) He opened the bottle of pop with a tool on his key chain. I took a big swallow and he said, "Did you finish it?"
I looked at him with my big hazel eyes and nodded gravely.
"It... was... sooooo neat!" I said. "It was the best one yet!"
We were talking about a paperback western called Buffalo Wagons. It was written about five years earlier by Elmer Kelton.
This was our thing.
My grandfather was an old coal miner from the hills of Pennsylvania. He had raised his family in a series of wooden shacks and lived from pay to pay off of the company store. It was a rough life and I guess he never really got ahead. He was a hard worker and a hard drinker. By the time I got to know him he was a burned out old man, down on his luck, with failing health. I don't think he was much older than I am, right now.
But he loved to read. He always had a box of paperback westerns in the corner of his closet. The covers were creased, the bindings broken, the pages dog-eared from reading and re-reading. I guess it was his escape.
He would get his check at the beginning of each month. He would pay his rent, give my mother some money to hold for him, go to the drug store to get a couple of dime novels and then get rip roarin' drunk. Several days later, most of his money would be gone. My mother would dole out what he needed for necessities and feed him several times a week. And he would sit in his room and ride the range with Zane Gray and Louis L'Amour and Elmer Kelton.
I honestly don't know which part made him happier. But I do know he loved to share his books with me. We would sit for hours and discuss the gunfighters, and the settlers living in the mountains of the old west. We'd talk about the Indians and wagon trains and skinning buffalo. And for just a little while we were there, too. Riding the trails, sleeping on the ground, eating beans and boiling coffee.
And I know it is because of him that I have a love of reading. He taught me how to think critically and how to look into the story, beyond the written words. He taught me that imagination and adventure are often the same thing. That your circumstances should not narrow your world. That history is not a bunch of dry facts and boring details but is the living, breathing essence of who we all are.
And he taught me that even poor people can be rich.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
What you have to understand is that basic training is designed to break you down to simple yes-no responses. However, most of the answers the military were looking for from you were of the yes type. We were just a bunch of kids from many backgrounds from across the country. We needed discipline, commonality of purpose, and a knee jerk follow-the-orders response. In combat it could save our lives and the lives of our fellow soldiers.
After eight weeks of yelling (them) and cringing (us), it had mostly taken. We marched and ran, did calisthenics, made bunks, cleaned toilets, pulled k.p., studied, took tests, and shook with fear. Our DI's name was Sgt. Dooley, a giant of a black man in starched and creased fatigues, who never smiled nor, apparently, sweated. His deep voice and rapid fire commands and questions kept us constantly off guard. If I had not been so deeply involved in the process, I'm sure I would have found some humor in it.
I was in the Captain's office because of the testing.
I have always tested well. In my pre-enlistment aptitude test, apparently, I did quite well. I enlisted in the Air Force because I had pulled a low number in the draft and because of George C. Scott's portrayal of Patton. I chose the Air Force because the infantry did not sound very appealing. I'm sort of a neat freak and did not think I would be permitted to reorganize my backpack during a fire fight.
During basic training we underwent some more testing. Again, I did well.
Which brings us to the terrified Airman, too afraid to make eye contact, being led by the most fearsome human being he had ever met, into the lair of a man who could make Sgt. Dooley snap to attention. Nothing good could come of this. I was certain.
We stepped into the office and Captain Goodman glanced up and bade us to come forward. Sgt. Dooley stepped smartly up to the olive drab desk, saluted crisply and stated, "Master Sergeant Dooley reporting as ordered, sir."
I was half a step out of pace with the sergeant and a hair behind on the salute. I held the salute tremulously for what seemed an eternity and was, in reality, slightly under two seconds.
"At ease." Goodman commanded as he returned the salute.
I had practiced the at-ease move tens of thousands of times but I could not perform it without looking down to make sure my feet were where I hoped they were. "Oh God, what am I doing here?" I thought.
After several more moments of silence the Captain addressed me. "You may be seated."
I looked at Captain Goodman, glanced over at Sgt. Dooley, and almost did one of those point-at myself "do you mean me?" moves. Finally I sat in a chair facing the desk, trying my best to be seated and at attention at the same time. Then I realized I had last been at ease and tried to formally relax without slumping in the chair or crossing my legs. I only squirmed slightly.
"Airman Bonus, you are here today to discuss your placement options for technical training."
"Yes, sir." I said a little too loudly.
He looked at an opened file folder on his desk then back at me. "You tested very well in a number of areas."
"Yes, sir." I said again.
He gave me a look that said, "Knock it off."
"In fact, we feel that you would be wasted in most of our training schools. You have excellent abstract reasoning, excellent verbal skills, outstanding associative skills and you did very well in several other categories, as well."
I remained passive. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
He stared at me for a moment or two. Trying, I suppose, to reconcile the apparent imbecile sitting before him with the person represented by the data on his desk. He cleared his throat. "I would like to recommend that you take your training as a Radio Communications Specialist Analyst. It would require a Top Secret Crypto security clearance."
I continued to sit still. Finally I realized it was my turn to speak. "Ah..., sir! Thank you, sir. But... I... don't really know anything about radios..., sir."
I saw him glance at Dooley, then back down at the papers. "This isn't about radios. This is about code breaking. You would have to go to school to learn Russian and how to be a code breaker. It would mean a lengthy technical training at great expense to the Air Force. We have to make sure you want to do this."
I still wasn't completely sure what this was. As I sat there, trying to process what I had just heard, I felt a heavy hand descend upon my shoulder muscle. Sgt. Dooley's thumb and index finger probed the muscle. Squeezing. Finding a tangle of nerves. Hurting.
I sensed him leaning down, his mouth next to my ear. His voice was fatherly and menacing at the same time. "You don't need to understand it right now. What you need to do in sign the damn papers and quit wasting the Captain's time."
I was still facing forward. Looking at the Captain. I glanced sideways at Sgt. Dooley. For the first time in eight weeks I saw warmth in his eyes. "We're trying to save your life." he explained.
So I signed the papers and I spent the rest of my enlisted time in San Angelo, Texas learning Russian and code breaking and on a little military base along the coastline of Turkey breaking codes. I never went to Viet Nam and so I never really needed my basic training instilled discipline to save my life.
Except for that one time.