What Becomes Of the Broken Hearted?

As I walk these empty hallways, thinking about the love I once had, I can’t help but think of those who have suffered broken hearts like mine. Call it unfaithful love it you like, I don’t care, the effect is the same. How do I reclaim that sense of love I once had? What had started out as a joyful expression between two people is now the lamentations of one individual. Are we just fools in love, people who can’t see this painful future?  People, let me tell you something.  Some people just play at love.  That’s right, They want your love but don’t give nothing in return.

I’ve seen too many times.  a man and a woman become interested in each other and one misreads the signs, starts to think that romance is building into true love.  My, My, such happy people, such happy lovers.  Did I tell you about my friend Leon?  Poor fool, thought that little girl was his.  Man, he had it bad, know what I mean?  They met at the club and hit it off real well.  I mean she was giving off the charm, if you know what I mean.  Looking into his eyes and stroking his arm, being very physical in her attractions.  You would have thought he was the only man there by watching her actions.  I mean, he couldn’t do nothing wrong, the fix was in.  What’s a man to think when his advances are met a woman’s advances.  Man, just like a rocket launch, everything was go.  We got us a moon launch.  So what’s it take, a couple of weeks, a month or so, and then what?  She starts to cool off a little bit at a time.

Sherry was her name and collecting scalps was her game.  I told Pete that she was no good, but did he take my advice?  Man got to double down on that love bet, got to make it work if its the last thing he does.  A friend can’t say too much or he destroys that friendship.  Just got to let it ride, you know?  Let the dealer play the house card.  First it was a “girl’s night out” thing.  You know the routine.  They’s got to go out and play the field with their friends.  Got to sit around in bunches and giggle their way thought the night.  Maybe go home with a guy.  You know how it is.  Got to make sure they are still desirable.  Yeah, man, life is all about them.  But I can’t tell Leon that, man, he got to find out for himself.  He got to see the truth about his girl.  Yeah, everybody’s girl, really.  But Leon can’t see yet, moonshine still in his eyes.  and oh lord, does she had that soft voice that men just can’t question.  You know the kind.  Kind of soft and dreamy, bound to make a man loose his mind.  No, man, Not much a friend can say or do.  Just got to ride it out with your friend till he knows he’s a fool.

So leon takes her to the club and she is dancing with everyone except Leon.  Wake up fool, she’s trying to tell you something.  No, you don’t get it.  you’re too much in love.  Damn, man, wake up!  well, by now Leon is about to duke it out with every guy who has thoughts of hitting on Sherry.  But fools in love never see the light till it’s too late.  Then she’s like, right out of Leslie Gore about how he don’t own her and she can make her own decisions and doesn’t need his permission and all that stuff.  Leon is, like, what the hell?  She’s doing the humiliation number on him and he just doesn’t get it. He got to sleep on it, if you know what I mean.  All that money he spent on her, all that time he invested on her, that relationship just blew up in his face a claymore mine.  So Leon is all confused.  Man, he’s got it bad when it comes to her.  How do I explain to Leon that she’s just been playing for a fool?  Maybe I can’t.

So Leon starts carrying the torch for her until his fingers are burnt to a crisp.  I mean, he wants her back under any condition and she won’t acknowledge her past with him.  Kind of sad, if you ask me.  I mean, he’s got to find some kind of piece of man and that just ain’t happening.  Hell, I could of told him.  I’ve been a fool a couple of times in my life.  Always the same, little girl comes into your life and then departs without much explanation.  Yeah, we’re all fools for these little girl.

 

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I’ve Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good

Late at night when the moon is rising and the crickets are singing their torch songs to any female within hearing my eyes reflect the light from the window and my heart burns with loneliness.  A light breeze pushes the warmth of May into oblivion as cooler air descends in shadows of mist, leaving traces of dew upon each blade of grass.  It was on such a night like this she said good bye.  I sat all thought the night trying to comprehend but dawn brought no more understanding than I have now.  Call me irrational but I believe a man falls in love only once in his life.  He may come to love another woman eventually but never in that same manner.  He has settled for something less, something ordinary, something imperfect.

She came into my life like the breezes of spring, spirited, sometimes warm and sometimes cold.  But always caressing your face with dreams of summer yet to come.  Fragrant with flowers first bloom, sweetness in the air, she walked with a lightness of a leaf skipping along the grass.  The cafe was crowded inside so I sat at the only unoccupied table.  My thoughts filled the small notebook on the table as I sipped my coffee.  You can find me here most Sundays when the weather’s good, the sun warms the air in early spring and brings new promises with the ease your favorite uncle gives them.  She was a tall girl and I judged her age about twenty two.  Strands of long brunette hair caught by the breeze swirled around her head, almost halo like in the sunlight.  I think it the most favorite memory of her I possess, and I possess many favorite memories of her.  “May I share your table, all the others are full up.”

“Of course.  Please. Do sit down.”  I was taken somewhat unawares.  I am an awkward person when it comes to social graces.  My heart is in the right place but my lack of appropriate words always betray me.  “Have you called a waiter yet?”

“No, I was having enough trouble to find a place to sit.  I suppose it shall take ages to order anything and longer still till it arrives.”  Her face showed a certain line of frustration.  As she sat she crossed her legs and began to bounce her foot in that absent minded way women have, almost cat like when not at ease with the world.

I stood up and turned around.  I spotted my waiter and shouted across the maze of tables. “George, would you bring another pot of coffee?”  I turned to her and asked, “Coffee all right with you?”

“Yes, with a little cream and sugar, please.”

“George, bring another pot and another cup.  And, oh yes, some cream and sugar for the lady.  Thank you George.  I’m a regular here and George knows me.  Well, at least who I am, anyway.  By the way, my name is Braxton Addams.  That’s with two Ts.  May I inquire yours?”

She sat with a quiet look on her face.

“I’m sorry.  Am I being a bit too forward?”

She smiled and said, “Not at all.  I adore your formality and language.  It’s almost English like, isn’t it?”

“Ah, you must forgive me.  I write Victorian romance novels and my manner of speech has become a frightful habit.”

“I think it delightful.  It’s really quite charming.  I confess, it makes me feel ladylike as Eliza Doolittle once said.”

Yes, it makes her feel ladylike.  Another favorite memory.  Truth is I write ad copy, quite mundane stuff.  “When you’re having more than one, have two.’  Yes, killing the Queen’s English one adverb at a time.  You know we make verb out of anything and then throw in some obscene adverbs for good measure.  To insist on good grammatical usage as Edwin Newman did has now become to newmanize language.  Well, what are nouns for but to become adverbs.  That was one of the little jokes we shared.  Of course I didn’t tell her until late that I have never sold a manuscript, that Victorian romances are past their season and no one reads them any more, not even editors.

April was an artist, a third rate one and more dependent on commercial illustration for an income.  We were two for the road as it might seem.  I thought the only thing about us that was first rate was our love.  It was not an affair but a calling much like a religious thing.  Our hopes and dreams were mismatched to our abilities, yet we were happy.  It was what the English might call a proper courtship.  Or as Flynn in the Quiet Man would have said, “No patty fingers, proprieties will be observed.”  I think she wanted to move in with me although she never said as much.  The idea moved in the back of my mind but never reared its ugly head until she walked out that night.

We did the usual things lovers do.  We spent time window shopping for furniture and dinner ware.  Items of decor came under critical scrutiny as did the furniture.  We tried to abstain for that middle class look.  Danish Modern and Ikea were anathemas to our senses as was Martha Stewart.  No, better to be a bit Bohemian in taste than middle class disaster.  No, it is a gift to be eccentric in all things.

I should have guessed that April wanted to feel less ladylike and more common folk.  Items of clothing where the first hint of trouble, which I ignored.  A man should never tell a woman he loves how to dress unless he wishes to pick a fight.  Yet I am convinced that was the reason for her sartorial change.  Well, as I have said, I tend to lack those social graces that rule society.  There were other signs as well.  Spirituality became a cause of increasing importance.  I find it revolting.  grown men and women claiming that some dubious spirit ran their lives and we must all accept their notions of religious fervor.  Well, not the most logical conduct, I must say.

Now you see my story is the more unusual kind, is it not?  No, this is not unrequited love or some other such nonsense.  This is like being jilted at the altar.  You see, she had stopped talking about what date would be most appropriate.  Indeed, we stopped, or rather she stopped talking about marriage.  She seemed to put it out of her mind.  I was becoming more distressed each day.  I became afraid of what she was thinking about me and our marriage.  I was starting to dread that eventual last conversation.  Would she really leave me?  Was it possible that she had stopped loving the very person who loved her most in the world?  I was quite at unease, almost manic with the fear of being left alone.  I felt the fear that any lover does when he fears that his competitor for the love of another has won her hand.  No, it could not be so.  I would never permit it.  No, never!

I became determined, whatever the cost, to keep her favor, to keep her with me.  So that night when she told me it was over.  That she was leaving.  That, no, there was no one else.  I knew what I had to do.  so when the moon is rising and the crickets singing to their lady loves, I reflect on how much I still love her.  For she is mine forever.  She lives here, in the garden, under that Jasmine tree.  Now we talk every night.  But I am still lonely and the time passes like summer madness.

 

Author’s note:  This may become the core for a novel.  There are some interesting possibilities.

Hello Stranger

Friday night saw groups of men and women arranged in their accustomed places in the Elysium Lounge trying to ease the strains of the week while nibbling on pretzels and nuts and imbibing something alcoholic.  A figure with a dark mop of hair and a boyish face strode in as if he were one of the regulars.  Most of the men stopped talking for a few moments to give their stern looks of disapproval while most of the women assumed a casual posture that invited approval by the stranger.  Sam was tall and well proportioned in that classic slim hip and wide shoulder profile while exuding that youthful charm that covered his age well.  The ease of his stride and the slight upturn of his nose gave notice of the confidence and ease he felt in any social situation.  He was a man who knew his passions and his passions were luxury and women.  His attire was fashionable bespoke without that air of proclamation, truly understated ease to match his aura.  The men went back to their loud conversations edged with tension, a consequence of the arrival of Sam in their midst.  The women were chattering in an idle manner as if waiting for the usual pick up line, sure that they were worthy of Sam’s attention.

Sam strode over to the bar and ordered a Manhattan and then began to survey the room, casually searching the occupants as if he were a vice squad cop.  He singled out several women in one small group and then picked up his glass and headed unhurriedly towards them.  As he approached, Delia lifted her head and sighed to the others.  She waited until he stood behind her, then she spoke.  “Hello stranger.  I see your back in town.  Are you here to stay or just passing through?”  The words seem to sting Sam for a moment.

“Been such a mighty long time, baby.”  Those words eased out of his mouth in a soothing manner, searching for a response.  “Mind if I sit with you ladies?”  Two of the women with Delia giggled an assent while Delia remained silent.  But Delia had other ideas.  “Mary, Flo, would you leave us for a while?  I’ll see you later tonight before I leave.”  The two women were reluctant but complied after offering their compliments.

“Yes, it’s been a mighty long time.  Almost an eternity.”  Delia stated in a seductive manner.  “I’m so happy to see you again.”  Her voice quivered with a sense of anticipation and a large dose of emotion.  “You’ve been gone quite a while.”

Her emotions were asking Sam for an account of his absence, something that made him a bit uneasy.  Sam was not one for accountability.  “It was business, baby.  You know how it is.  Man’s got to make a living.”  His answer was met by that snorting laugh that signals incredibility.

“Seems like a mighty long time to be taken care of business.”  Her answer came as a sigh short of understanding.  “I’ve never stopped loving you, you know that Sam?”

“Baby, how can you doubt me?”  A standard reply issued by rote came from Sam.  A moment of silence as though he needed to gather his thoughts together.  “I’m back in town now.  Even got my old apartment back.  Got me some big plans, baby.  Mighty big plans.  Business bound to come on through now.  Got me some backers and things are going to be alright.”

“Same old Sam.  Not much has changed.  So what’s the game this time?

“Baby!  I’m telling the truth.  Ain’t no game.  Everything is respectable.  This is the real deal.  Nothing fake here, all on the up and up.  Go ask Doc if you don’t believe me.”  Sam was acting aggrieved, as if to even question his business was an insult to his manhood.

“I’m so happy to see you again, Sam.  So very happy you’re back now.  God, I must be crazy.  I can’t believe I’m doing this again.  I’m just so happy to see you again.  I mean, after such a mighty long time, I’m so happy to see you again.  You’re not going to toy with me again, are you?  I don’t think I could stand it again.”

“It’s alright, baby.  I’m back and I’m going to take care of you.  Trust old Sam, he ain’t going to fail you.”  Sam was at his unctuous most.  His voice was soothing and relaxing.

“Welcome back, stranger.  Seems like a mighty long time.   I’m so glad your back.  You know I love you so.”

Sam felt her melt at the touch of his hand.  Yeah, it was a mighty long time.

 

Rainy Night In Georgia

Seem like I’ve been on the road for years, tho it’s only been nine months come May. Lord I feel tired, got to rest my bones tonight in some boxcar on a siding. Hoping the bulls don’t catch me. Rain been coming done for days, got me soaked as wet as a fish. Wish’d I’d one, I am hungry tonight. And cold. Got these wet cloths on and need a fire to dry out. But if I start one the bulls will know where I am and it’s one thing or another and six months on Maggie’s farm. No, No, don’t want to go there. The man is mean and a fella might get hurt bad.

What? Damn! Think I hear something out there. Can’t rightly tell if it is the bulls stirring or just another bum like me. Been asleep for a while. rain still coming down, don’t think it will ever quit. Wish’d I had me a hot cup of coffee right now. Been, what? Maybe two, three days since I had my hands round a hot tin cup. Fingers feeling the warmth of the metal against my skin. Maybe get a lump of sugar and let that sweet hot liquid slide down my throat. Yes sir, got to make a man feel good.  Yes sir, makes a man feel mighty good.  Uncle Joe in Macon got some good coffee.  He never asks much for a cup.  Maybe some yard raking and a bit of splitting wood for a couple of hours.  Then he gives you a couple of eggs and a mess of grits.  And maybe, just maybe, if he takes a shin to you he’ll pass some bacon your way.  Let’s see, been a month since I saw Uncle Joe.

Light is starting to come into the car, got the door wedged bout a foot open.  Got to watch out for bulls.  they like to slam the doors shut and lock you in for the duration.  I knowed a couple of fellas who got locked in a box car and spent months riding the rails.  Fella took a high pressure hose and wash them out like so much dirt.  Yeah, that was Joe and Pete.  Nice guys but not much sense between the two of them.  They sat around my fire for a couple of day and then they was gone like they never existed.  That was…that was…a month before I spent ninety days on Maggie’s farm.  Yeah, me and Randy was talking about it.  Just don’t seem right people get treated that away.

Thought I heard some rustling of leaves in the woods by the track.  Got to be careful these days.  World acts like it’s be set on fire.  Rain still coming down.  Might be the end of the world for all I know.  I took your picture out of the plastic bag where I keep my valuables such as they are.  Folks say it just junk, should have been throwed away years ago.  But I kept your picture.  I guess it gives me that glimmer of hope, know what I mean, Baby?  Funny how things turn out.  Your Pa kept telling the sheriff I was no good and sure enough, I caught the blame for something I never did.  Been on the run all this time.  funny, he bulls never check me for priors and let me go after I serves my time.  Go figure.  But that still don’t make things right.  I guess your Pa gone to get you married off to one of the Bower boys.  Lord knows their daddy got the hold on the county.  But money don’t make it right.  No sir, money don’t make it right at all.  All I got now is your picture and even that is starting to fade a bit.  I keep thinking we had a fair shot at love and marriage and work and a future.  All that’s gone.  Like last years crops, gone to the ground and sitting for a couple of years in fallow.  Just like farm work.

Must be mid day.  Lord I am starved.  wish the Christ Jesus was here with his loaves and fishes.  Tho I’d rather have some ribs bout now.  Rain still hasn’t let up.  But I’m somewhat dry now.  Humidity still oppressive, keeps my clothes a bit damp.  But it’s tolerable, just tolerable.  With some luck I might make it down to Tallahassee in a day or two.  Just this rain is a bitch.  Must be raining all over the world for all I know.  Wish’d I’d someone to talk to.  Been a mite lonely these past days.  Haven’t seen anyone.  Hell, everyone might be dead for all I know.  God, this rain just keep my head down, you know?  If I can just get to Tallahassee I  can get to some folks I know.  They’ll help me.  They’s good people.  Maybe we can find a way for you and me to live together.  Maybe we can have a future together.  I don’t know.  Got to try.  I mean, it don’t hurt to try.  You feel the same way, don’t you Baby?  I mean, a man needs something in life, you know.  His own piece of the world.  God!  Ain’t this rain ever going to stop?

Engine coming down the line.  Might be a local freight.  Maybe a yard switch to rumble the boxcars around a bit.  Might be time to ease on out and into the woods.  Thought I hear a car pull up outside?  Yep.  I see four bulls headed this way.  Think it time to slip out of here.  Might make it to the woods and then find some shelter closer to town.  Son of a bitch!  Yard is full of bulls.  Must be looking for someone.  Got to think.  Need a way to get by them.  Oh Baby, it’s gonna be close.  I don’t know.  It’s gonna be tight.  Gonna be tight.  Slip out of the car and onto the ground.  Crawl on the ground and over the rail, got to get under the truck.  Stay low, stay low.  Over there!  Lot of commotion.  Looks like they got someone.  Just saw a couple of bulls walk pass, never even looked down.  Think I got lucky.  I just might make Tallahassee tonight.  Just crawling to daylight.  Woods close on the right.  Just got to crawl down the track.  Not much cover right now.  I might make it.  Just might make it.  Except the bulls see me.  Now I got to race them to the woods.  Got to get their first and try to disappear.  Almost there.  Almost there.  There’s a man waiting for me.  Got a baton in his hand.  Try to side step him.  No good.  Club has hit my head.

Blackness.  The rain has stopped, don’t feel no more rain.  Head is starting to clear.  I see the outlines of a wall.  Bars on one wall.  dull throbbing in my head.  Body aches.  Feels like I’ve been through the mill.  I see bruises forming on my arms.  Face feels pain.  They must have worked me over.  guard is coming with another man.  Looks like a detective.  they stop to look at me.  then they look at a piece of paper.  “Looks like the one.”

Ordinary People

The world is full of ordinary people, you know the ones I mean, those who never really stand out in a crowd. They are not part of the “Smart Set” or the “Beautiful People” or “Movers and Shakers”. These are the people who merge or blend into the background that you can’t pick them out of a crowd.  Every day tends to be like the last and like tomorrow.  Outside of flat tires and broken windows nothing much happens, nothing much changes.  These are your neighbors where changes are trees growing taller and children growing older.  There was one couple in the neighborhood, the Olsons, who were steady, like a rock, as some might say.  You could set your watch by them.

 

We had moved into the neighborhood when their two sons were in high school.  Richard and Martha were the first to make us feel welcome, introduced themselves as we were moving the furniture and boxes into the house.  “Come on, boys, lend a hand.” Rich was speaking to his two sons.  Well, it’s not often you get that kind of reception in today’s world.  Martha brought over a hot supper for us later as we were starting to unpack.  Very nice people.  Not flashy or ostentatious in dress or manner.  Their sons were clean cut in their appearance.  Their two cars were both late models about four or five years old.  Just ordinary people, or so one might think.

 

Well, we were invited over for a barbeque two weeks later so we could be introduced to a few other neighbors and friends.  Seems they were Mormons.  Rich worked for a local firm as a production manager.  Martha, now that the sons were in high school, had gone to work as a bookkeeper in a large dental practice.  The two sons, Rich Jr, and Matt, were honor roll students and decent athletes in basketball and baseball.  the family was involved in the church, which meant all the worship services, the auxiliary meetings and activities and the youth organizations.  Mormons are very family oriented, perhaps to the point of suffocation.  Occasionally Rich and I would sit and talk about the stock market or more academic subjects.  Now the usual run of the mill friendship with Mormon families is that one is socialized to the point of conversion into the church.  But if there is resistance to converting or even refusal of any appeal to listen to their “truth” then gradually that friendship declines until it no longer exists.  I think socializing with outsiders is greatly frowned upon by the church.  Still, by the time both boys were off to BYU Rich would still drop by once or twice a month.

 

One night Rich came by, a sort of surprise visit, and we talked for quite some time.  “Bill, ever since the boys went off to college Martha has been spending more and more time away from the house.  She has really busied herself with Relief Society and Genealogy work and quilting.  I come home in the evening and we eat dinner but then she’s gone for the evening.  The house is starting to get lonely.”

I would have been a little shocked at this confession but I’ve always been seen as the father confessor type.  Besides, I wasn’t in his church and among that hierarchy of friends and leadership.  In such a closed society such as an closely organized religion one must put forward a formal front.  Oh, one can confess belief to one’s content, but dissent and complaint are poorly tolerated.  “Well, Rich, I can see how that might be.  Perhaps you need a hobby, something to take your mind off her absence and occupy your time.”

“You know George, he’s the one who lives two blocks over.  I think you met him last year, May barbecue.  He’s been saying that I need a hobby.  Wants me to come over to his house.  Did you know he has a large wood shop attached to his garage?  Built it himself.  Bill, I just don’t want to get into that manual labor thing.  I deal with the guy in the plant all day long, you know.  It’d be like going to work.”

“I think it’s more of a man cave with George.  Maybe he needs the comfort of another man to talk to.  Not to knock your religion, Rich, but sometimes I think your church doesn’t leave enough breathing room for the individual.”

“I don’t know.  I just feel I am missing something, that’s all.  My whole life has been the church.  After high school I went on a mission for two years.  Then I went to college.  And I got married in my sophomore year.  Rich Jr and Matt came along before I graduated.  And I’ve been working for the company my whole career.  Now Martha’s hardly ever home and we never talk like we used to do when the kids were little.  Don’t get me wrong Bill.  I’m not losing my faith, I just feel I’m losing my life.”

I really had no advice for Rich.  What do you tell a man who has lived that straight and narrow life everyone expects him to follow?  To my knowledge, Rich has never had even a traffic ticket.  Besides, my own life has not been ordinary.  I’ve had my ups and downs in more ways than I care to state.  To my mind, a straight and narrow life holds a certain appeal.  I just doubt I’d be very good at it.  So for the next four months I listened to Rich one and sometimes two nights a week.  But where I had once enjoyed our conversations about the world I was starting to dread his confessions.  Rich was in danger of losing his status as an ordinary person.  That day came sooner than I expected.

 

Martha came to the door one evening.  She has George and another man with her.  We hadn’t seen Martha in a year and a half.  Since we didn’t become Mormon she saw no reason to continue her offered friendship.  I didn’t blame her, we weren’t her type, had little in common.  But here she was and it was obvious that she had been crying, the tears had stained her puffy face.  “What did you tell my husband?”  Her voice was loud and angry.  “I know you were up to something.  What did you tell him?”

I looked at her and then at George.  “I don’t understand, what’s going on?”

“Don’t give me that!  Rich has been over here every night for the past month.  What did you do?  What did you convince him to do?”  Her words were stinging my ears with their rage and volume.

“You’re George, right?”

George answered in the affirmative.  Then he quietly told me that Rich hadn’t been home for over a week.  Martha started to rage again but George cut her off.  “Sister Martha!  Let’s hear what the man has to say.”

“Please come in and tell me from the beginning, what has happened.” was my reply.  the three stepped into the house and I led them into my study.  “Please sit down.” was all I said as I sat in my chair.

George looked at me and then at his companions.  “I should introduce our bishop, Brother Simmons.”  Brother Simmons was silent as he and Martha sat on the couch.  George continued to stand.  “Brother Rich appears to have left home and we don’t know where to find him.  Do you know where he is at the moment?”  His voice had that restrained calm.

“No, I was unaware that he had left.  And no, I have not seen Rich for the past month.”

“He’s a liar, I know it.  Damn you!  You’re hiding him, aren’t you?”

“Please, sister Martha.  Control yourself.  Outbursts like this won’t help.”  So Simmons could talk after all.  He directed his gaze to me.  “Won’t you please help us?”

“If I knew anything I would tell you, but Rich never confided his plans, if he had any, to me.”  I tried to sound as sincere as I could.  “I take it he has moved out of your house, perhaps taken some clothes.”  I directed my question to Martha.

Her anger was still showing but at least she reigned it in for the moment.  “Yes, he did take some of his clothes.  And he even left his job at the plant.  I bet you told him to do it, didn’t you?”

“No” was all I said.  I couldn’t tell the whole truth.  For one, it would have been far too painful for Martha.  And it would have cast doubt among her peers on her ability as a wife.   No, for once in their lives these ordinary people would have to deal with an extraordinary event.  Their church had never prepared them to do other than pray for guidance.  I had no guidance to give.

 

There’s a large town about forty five minutes north of us and we were heading that way for lunch one Sunday.  My wife had read about a restaurant that opened last year there and the cuisine was highly rated.  The affair of the runaway husband had been going on for over two years.  I had been accused in the neighborhood of instigating his disappearance, so getting out of the area on a Sunday gave us a certain relief.  The neighbors had been a little less friendly since that episode.  I wonder why?  So we put the top down on the Miata and indulged in the nice fall weather.  Blue skies and turning leaves makes a nice drive.  We found the restaurant and didn’t have to wait long for a table.  As I opened the menu I saw a couple several tables over looking at us.  Then I realized it was Rich and some woman I didn’t know.  As we ate I noticed that they had finished their meal, paid, and left.  On our way back home my wife turned to me.  “That was Rich, wasn’t it.”

“Yes, that was Rich.”

“He doesn’t look very happy.”

“No, he didn’t” I thought a bit and then I said. “I’m not getting involved.”

 

Appointment In Samara

Back when there was the selective service draft many of us used to our about our chances of being drafted.  The thought of having to spend time in the Army was not a very pleasant one since one was obligated to three years service and Vietnam was just starting to enlarge in scope.  As I recall the news of the day, 1965 was the great turning point when the United states was sending far more military personnel and materials to that southeast Asian country.  Fact was, one either went to college and applied for the usual student deferment or got married and had one or two children quickly.  Everyone else was fair game for the selective service boards.  Then came the lottery for the draft and a low number mean you were going to serve your country if you were sans deferment.  But just before that time I had been drafted so I never had a number.  On the other hand one of the guys in school was deathly afraid of being drafted.

Junior, as he was known to the small world of community, had managed to get accepted to some vary small liberal arts college in upstate New York.  I remember him waiving his acceptance letter all over school.  “John, Bill.  Hey Peter.  Yo, Bob.  Look what I got.  I got accepted to Podunk U in Uncas New York.  Too bad about you suckers.”  Yeah, too bad about us suckers.  Peter was going to a state teachers college next year on a football scholarship.  Bob was getting married to his sweetheart at the end of summer and going to work for his father in construction.  Bob and I were going to take our chances.  Neither one of us had bothered to apply for college since we were graduating with the bare minimum C and our collective SAT scores wouldn’t have been high enough to gain entrance to a junior college.  Amazing how things changed in the seventies.  So we had to endure Junior’s great triumph until graduation.

Ours was a small town, not rural enough to be a farm community but not close enough to be city folk.  If we wanted excitement then it was off to the big city and tangle with whatever big city boys we might run across.  Junior had done that a couple of years ago and decided that he was more afraid of getting hurt than he was in need of excitement.  As long as he was with a large group, say half a dozen or more guys from the football and wrestling team then he was willing to take part as a peripheral participant.  Junior’s problem wasn’t that he lacked size, for he was a big guy, over six feet and close to two hundred pounds.  No, he was the youngest of four brothers who were all larger than himself and had made reputations on the football field or wrestling mats.  Pecking order made him meek.  Now Bob and I were over six feet and close to two hundred pounds but we weren’t exactly Mohammad Ali when it came to fighting.  Neither one of us was psychologically made that way, you know what I mean?

Now Junior was good in track and on the basketball court, sports that were non contact.  So it wasn’t for lack of ability that he avoided direct one on one contact.  He simply didn’t have what we use to call heart.  He was used to being dominated by his brothers that he simply lack the confidence to stand up for himself.  So he wanted no part of the Army.  I think the Marines would have cause him an immediate heart attack, to tell the truth.  I mean, speaking form experience, service life is no bed of roses.  I mean, maybe if you went into the Air Force like my cousin did, then sure, life there wasn’t too hard.  But Junior wasn’t much for getting dirty.  And let me tell you, Army is about getting dirty, unless you luck out and get one of those soft jobs in company headquarters or over in supply.  No, Junior just wasn’t going to run the risk of facing undue hardship if he could help it.

Of course you know the story by now,  Yep, Bob and I got called up the same day in late June.  Maybe we should have enlisted so as we could have has choice and not chance.  We got chance and the chance card said: “Go directly to the infantry, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.”  Of course the Army made sure to keep Bob and I in separate companies lest we conspire to commiserate our lack of luck.  No, we would have to do that with complete strangers, wouldn’t you know.  So we passed a very hot summer in basic training and then off to AIT, or for those of you who don’t like abbreviations, Advanced Infantry School.  Well, we became full fledged dog faces, got the stripe of PFC, that’s private first class, to prove it.  But you ani’t nothing if you ain’t at least a corporal, as we were nothing.  and as nothings, we fount ourselves on a MATS aircraft, that’s Military Air Transport, headed to the land of hell, Vietnam.  We spent the last of 1966 and most of 1967 serving our time in hell, like all the other dog faces.  Our mission, Mr Phelps, was to play tag with the North Vietnamese Army regulars who had the silly idea of attacking Da Nang Air Base.  Bob got hit a couple of times, the last one was pretty bad and he spent the rest of his enlistment in and out of Army hospitals.  Me, as luck would have it, I spent three hundred and sixty six day in country without a single scratch or medal.  they shipped me back to the US to Huntsville where I stood guard on some warehouse that contained missiles or some such stuff.  At least I could attend U of Maryland taking courses on base.  It was a start towards reclaiming my self respect academically and the stepping stone to attending college.

And Junior?  Well, he never was an academic grind.  He was put on probation his first semester and the second semester he was out, expelled for poor grades.  Where upon the selective service board was immediately informed and his name drawn for enlistment that June.  His college attendance might had stood him a chance for OCS, that’s Officer Candidate School, but the friendly sergeants were unimpressed by his lack of leadership.  So off to AIT he went and then he became a replacement for a company in Vietnam.  I understand from my contacts back home than he was in Hue during the Tet Offensive.  Of course he came back in a box with a purple heart for his mother to keep in her keepsake box.  Oh the officer I hear, was quite poetic about Junior’s sacrifice.  And they awarded him a purple heart for his sacrifice.  Seems he was on a truck headed for Hue when it came under fire.  Direct hit and that’s all she wrote.  Well, ain’t that life.

And I Think It’s Going To Rain Today

I stepped off the bus into what may have once been a prosperous part of town.  One can never accurately tell a town’s history by simply looking.  This could have been a movie set for all I know, something out on the back lot where they filmed Dragnet or one of the other TV cop shows.  But it was typical small town California on the fringe of LA.  The object of my search matched the address I held in my hand, a small hotel in the standard fake Victorian motif, the gingerbread molding tacked on as an afterthought.  Behind the counter was a woman of indeterminate age, she could have been forty, she could have been seventy.  She was thin as a scarecrow and dressed in what might have been the latest style thirty years ago, her smile was as frozen as a dead mackerel laying on a bed of ice in a fish mongers basket.  I placed my week’s worth of money on the counter while she recited a litany of arcane rules.  This ritual when she proffered with her claw like hand the room key.  I took it, carefully avoiding any touch that might accidentally occur and trudged down the hall devoid of any furnishings.  My room wasn’t much, barely eight by ten with a single bed, a straight back chair, a small bureau, and narrow coat closet.  Considering I didn’t have much and my prospects were slim or none, it was enough.  I was tired and I needed sleep.  There was one swallow left in the flat pint of cheap whisky I took out of my coat pocket.  It would do for tonight.

Next morning I was up and out, walking the town.  The local library was seven blocks to the north, decidedly in a better part of town.  Three things tell you a great deal about a large town or small city.  The first is its library.  Is it in a prominent part of town and does the building reflect the pride the people have in their public institutions?  The second is the newspaper.  No, it’s not the front stories or the editorials that count but the advertisements.  That tells you about local businesses.  And the third is the telephone book, the yellow pages.  If you see a large number of bail bondsmen listings then you know the crime rate is high.  You also know that if the crime rate is high the police will roust you far more often just to show the locals they are on the job.  I needed a job right now.  You see, a job gives a man instant respectability no matter how low the pay, and respectability keeps tho cops off your back.  So I size up a few prospects from the help wanted ads and the yellow page listings.  With some luck I might have a job by this afternoon, albeit a menial job, something that will pay the rent and a little food.

The dinner over by the warehouse and factory area needs a dishwasher, so I take the job.  A man without a job can’t be too choosy about what is offered in the way of employment.  Besides, it’s the only job offered at the moment.  Other jobs will come along, experience tells me that.  Besides, men talk when they eat in twos and threes.  I can pick up information about new opportunities, maybe be noticed as I bus their tables.  The ones I want to avoid are the cops, they get too nosy, got to keep an eye on you, make life hard for you.  Sooner or later I’ll have to deal with them, but for now I’d just as soon keep them at bay.  One thing I’ve learned though, always carry a book under your arm.  A newspaper in your hand or pocket is a dead giveaway if you’re not wearing a suit.  But a book suggests you want to better yourself even if you are wearing work clothes.  Even the owner of the dinner is impressed by the book I carry, he treats me different.  I may be down on my luck but he thinks I’m really trying.  Besides, reading helps pass the time and I got a lot of time to pass.

People don’t ask questions when you establish a regular routine, regular habits so to speak.  I had free meals at the dinner and spoke a little about myself, never revealed too much.  People don’t ask about your past when you tell them about your future.  they only worry about where you’ve been when they don’t know where you’re going, so I figure a little about my past told in general terms is safe enough.  A man may have a few broken windows in his past but human kindness is always the same, help a man mend those windows and make them shine.  People love success stories, even the cops.  So I sign up for an adult education class one night a week.  I tell the education people I never finished high school.  their eyes light up and they are ready to help me obtain that GED.  We agree on what I need to study.  I’m a good student, careful to score just high enough to make the teacher think I’m doing well but not high enough to make them wonder why I bother to come, why I’m not in the community college instead.  I get to know a couple of the teachers and the administrators, they’ll give me referrals to better jobs and references about my character.  It takes me a few months but now I have a new identity, a new life.

I am becoming more respectable, the cops smile at me as I walk past them.  I even join a local church.  You know, you got to pick the right one.  The Methodists are middle class and not too strict in their social rules.  Baptists are a little more rowdy and blue collar, if you know what I mean.  But avoid those independent types, the ones that want you to act like them and spend all your free time in church.  They want to suck all your money out of your pockets.  Episcopalians don’t want the poor and the needy.  Lutherans are okay as far as that goes.  So I join the Lutherans,  a nice quiet group, maybe two hundred members, if that.  They area good cross section of social and financial classes.  How do I know this?  People are happy to tell you about who is in their congregations.  So now I am making new acquaintances and in a couple of months some man, a business owner, will ask me to come and work for him.  For now, I stay in the background, help out on committees and be an usher once a month, that sort of thing.  Just try to fit in a little without being obvious.  Some social workers call that being reserved, I call it being smart, playing my cards close to my vest without being obnoxious.

Sure enough, wouldn’t you know, a guy asks if I want a job with his company.  He’s got a small manufacturing business and needs a good dependable man in his warehouse.  The pay is a little low but he says he’ll rent a two bedroom cottage he owns at a cheaper rent so as to make up the difference.  I say, why not.  I want a step up in the world and once again human kindness is overflowing.  John at the dinner is sorry to see me go but he understands.  Says he’s got a high school kid coming in just after graduation.  I make him a deal, I say I stick around at night until the kid can take over.  I can use the extra money and I have a friend for life.  My boss hears about my deal and is impressed, thinks I am loyal and think of others first.  Very good impression, very good.  Funny thing is that when you start making good habits they tend to change your life, you think differently.  Oh I’m careful not to be too friendly with the boss, the rest of the men don’t like it.  They don’t know me yet and always keep an eye on me.  It’s enough to be polite and a little friendly, you know, just say hello here and there while calling them Mr X or sir if it’s the foreman.  Soon enough they will tell you to call them Frank or Bill or John.

But life is more than loading and unloading trucks for the factory, not much room for advancement here and I need to rise a little higher than shipping clerk.  So I take more adult ed classes.  Business English and Communications is a start.  Maybe add a second night and take bookkeeping, always handy in the business world.  By the time I’ve got a year’s time in at the loading dock I’ve accumulated enough courses and enough recommendations, and enough references to move on in this town.  And sure enough there’s an opening in a large plumbing supply warehouse for an buyer.  The owner is a member of the same church and my boss has talked to him about me.  I have made myself worthy in their eyes.  Besides, their wives worry about me on the social scene.  I make a point of going to a few of the church socials but I don’t act as if I’m looking for a girlfriend, let alone marriage.  The older women are already trying to match me up with single women they know.  So now I forestall some of that by taking more education courses.  Gives me an excuse to avoid too many matchmaking attempts.  Besides, when you are focused on your future women are more concerned with that future than with your past, and I am not about to let on about my past.  I figure that so far, half way across the continent I have out run it by now.  Odds are no one who could even recognize me would ever stop here.

Six years have come and gone and I am starting to feel secure.  I’ve moved up to senior buyer and make good money.  Even got money in a savings account, almost enough for a down payment on a house.  A woman from church, Jill, is interested in me.  I think she has her cap set on marrying me.  Smart and attractive slim brunette, about middle height, good personality, wants to be a mother of two, maybe three children.  Not sure I want to be a father.  Her father is a partner in a local law firm and she works as an executive secretary for the director.  Her family isn’t rich but they have money, more than enough for their needs.  They also have a real estate firm and there is a vague hint of needing someone to manage their properties.  I must say, it is a tempting offer but it means marriage to Jill.  Perhaps I do have some love for Jill, haven’t really thought about it.  Well, a bit of a courtship might help that along.

Life is good.  So far seven years of good luck.  I took a couple of courses in real estate, sales and contracts and the whole nine yards.  Helped Jill’s father a couple of times in the management of his real estate holdings.  He gave me a modest bonus for my efforts, went for the down payment of our house after we marry.  Jill’s all caught up in wedding planning, my god, how we talk about this and that about furnishings and paint colors and everything else.  The wedding is planned for the second Saturday next month but I am apprehensive.  I felt a cloud starting to form.  There was a name on the guest list that bothered me.  A name that knew me back east more than seven years ago.  I wonder, I wonder.  I asked Jill who that person was.  “Oh, that’s a friend of Daddy’s.  He’s a district attorney for one of the big cities back east.  Daddy says he made his name in a famous case years ago.”  Now I am filled with dread.  I recognize the name, I see the face, and I can hear the voice.  I want to run.