Dance With Me

Fall is a glorious time in the wine country just as it is in New England. The end of August starts the harvesting of rich ripe grape clusters and continues through the beginning of September while the work of crushing and fermenting is usually complete by mid October.  Then the wine has been put to a long eighteen months rest in new oak barrels. By the end of October the fall celebrations are under way and autos full of people are flocking to the highways watching the leave first turn varying shades of yellow then red and finally that dark brown that marks the end of their yearly lives. Later when soft rains of Thanksgiving fall they will be disked into the ground and provide the nutrients for the vines.  This work is done each year around the world, from France, Italy, Germany, and many other countries on the European continent to America, Canada, and Mexico on the North American continent to India.  It is an age old practice from the time man first harvested grapes and made wine.

 

Michael and Paula had invited me to their vacation home in the wine country, a modest bungalow that had belonged to his parents, a wedding gift for the couple.  The last of the turning leaf army had straggled back to congested cities and suburban tracts of ticky-tacky yet the leaves still retained the last vestiges of color as if they had waited on my approval.  I approved most gratefully and thanked them for their patience.   The dark grey stone gave the house a sense of age and presence, a lesson of endurance for the younger stucco that sometimes crowded the hillsides.  Michael’s great grandfather had built that house before the turn of the last century, the tremors that so delight the inhabitants in the coastal cities had failed to even move it out of square.  Most of the original land tract had been sold to a couple of grape growers but Paul had one or two acres left on which he tended the few apple and plum trees clustered around the house.  One sprawling oak dominated the property, it was planted in 1895, not long after the house was built.  The gravel lane from the main road was half hidden and one had to traverse a little more than a mile up that path to the top of the hill.  I remember the first time I was on that crest, the view was impressive as fog press the colors into grey wisps and flowed like the sea across row after row of vines.  It was a million dollar view that I hoped would never be disturbed.

 

Sam, golden retriever greeted my car with an air of authority and waited until I opened the door to give me close inspection.  Michael followed behind and gave the command, “Sam, sit!”  Which he did as a good and obedient dog should.  “I have to watch Sam, he likes to jump up on strangers.  Never could break him of that habit, don’t know where he picked it up.”  “Maybe from Paula” I said.  We both chuckled at the thought.  And on cue, Paula came running out of the house and leaped into my arms with a welcoming, “Hello, stranger.”  Michael and I both looked at each other.  I put her back on her feet and she led the way to the door.  Michael had my overnight case in his hand while Sam brought up the rear.  “It’s a stunning time of year, thank you two for having me.”  Paula spoke in the quiet but assertive manner of hers, “We love it here when we can get away.  And you know we love having you stay with us.”  We walked through the door and Michael took me to my room, a cozy little place just large enough for a regular bed, a wash stand and a small dresser.  The view out the window more than made up for it’s lack of size.

 

In what used to be called a common room and not is today’s open concept, we sat and sipped a glass of white wine.  Two of the old growers always gave Michael and Paula a couple cases of their yearly vintages as a gesture of good will.  The couple snuggled on the couch while I reposed in the wingback.  Paula knew I had a preference for the old wingback style and had added this one to their decor, ridding themselves of that hideous barrel type one considered chic decades ago.  Their style of living here, away from the pretence of the city, was one of old comforts and ease of life.  As Paula once explained, “In the city we need to keep some pretence of current style because of our work.  But we never feel as ease there.  Here, we can let down our hair and be horribly middle class.”  Michael cut in, “Time is measured in seasons here and moves slowly, in tune with nature.  I feel relaxed, I can think about life.  But you’re a writer, you know all about that.”  I envied them, not because they had this getaway but because they had each other.

 

A few years ago I first met Michael at a party, one of those affairs where the hostess needed an extra man and I was pressed into service at the last minute.  Dora was member of a class who collect literary agents, owners of art galleries, and so forth.  A regular socialite with a dubious day job.  She chaired or sat on various committees of good works and social agenda.  So when the writer she invited had to cancel at the last minute, my name was suggested and I was immediately whisked into service to round out the usual cadre of artists, writers, and musicians.  The average upper class individual, or at least those middle class individuals with newly acquired money, love to think that we are extremely interesting and profound.  I’ve never met one of us who were.  But it meant a good mean, good champagne, good wine, and if I was lucky, good single malt.  After the usual grazing of the herd on canapes and champagne we were ushered into the dining room and took our assigned seats.  I was sandwiched between a woman who was a member of the local school board and a man who was a legal counsel for a for one of Dora’s charities.  Michael sat across from me, hemmed in by an outspoken woman performance artist on one side and a well known but, in my opinion, mediocre musician.  I remember being asked to pontificate on a number of idiotic ideas and like a fool I addressed that idiocy as it should have been addressed.  Needless to say I was not employed by the hostess in any capacity in the future.  Several times I caught Michael looking very amused at my comments and once I detected that he actually had great difficulty suppressing laughter at one rejoinder I issued point blank at that local school board member.  I think I called her lack of intelligence on issues of education a crime against humanity.  The lawyer next to me had actually given a hearty chuckle.

 

After the ordeal of dinner was over I had been standing in the corner doing my best wall flower imitation when Michael walked up and said,”Follow me, old man, you look in need of a serious drink.”  I’m not sure if my age was showing that night but I had at least ten years on him.  He led me into what I concluded was the library, for it actually contained a few volumes artfully arranged on built in shelves.  But I would lay odds no one ever opened them. It was apparent he knew his way around the very large house for he went to the right cabinet and pulled out two short glasses and a bottle of Glenlivet.  “Ice or a splash of water?” was all he said.  “Water, thanks.” was my reply.  “Sit down, let’s have a decent conversation.”  I was a little stunned by that remark.  “What’s on your mind?”  “You gave such a splendid performance back there at dinner, I’m sure Dora will hear of it.”  “Ah, is that Ms Worthington’s name?  You must be on intimate terms with her.”  “Oh, by the way, my name is Michael Banks, pardon my manners.  I know her husband, John.  I’m in his law firm as a junior partner.  By the way, I thought the lawyer joke rather funny.”  “Thanks, er.. Michael, if I may call you by your first name.”  “Oh please do, I don’t stand on ceremony.  I’m only here as a favor to John.”  “Mr Worthington?”  We had another single malt and parted our ways for the evening.  I skipped out knowing Ms Worthington would never call upon me again.

 

Michael called me the next Wednesday, would I care to have dinner with him on Friday at Le Bistro?  My first instinct was to turn him down.  I have little in common with lawyers and certainly junior partners with a national reputation are beyond my perceived worthiness.  But I was curious as to why someone like him would wish me for a dinner companion.  I had no money or social position, so the reason intrigued me, I accepted.  “I’ll meet you in the bar.  Just give them your name and a libation will be waiting for you.”  Apparently he knew of my reduced circumstances.  I had a small pension, so I turned to writing thinking I might actually earn a few dollars each month.  The operative word is few, by the way.  And he had the courtesy to suggest a good restaurant that was past it’s incrowd prime but still offered excellent meals at a decent price.  I was at the restaurant at five past the hour for I did not want to appear too desperate not inconvenience him by being fashionably late.  I shouldn’t have worried, he was fifteen minutes late and most apologetic for his tardiness.  His mother had taught him good manners, that was a mark in his favor.  The decor was understated in accord with the idea that the parton should be delighted with the food and not the embellishments of the room.  I was half way through the standard serving of a very nice but not well know white burgundy, a village Meursault of good vintage.  My enjoyment of the wine was evident when he came in.  He asked me what I was drinking and I told him.  “Ah yes, a very good wine, excellent value.  It has nice legs, a hint of floral notes, a touch of citrus, and acid enough for the long haul.  How did you come to chose that one?”  Michael was a man who knew his wines well.  So my credentials were offered by way of a few past wine experiences and we felt an immediate bond.  We went in to dinner and got down to cases.  I need not bore you with the menu and wine list, let’s just say it was a very good meal, the finest I have had in the last five years.

 

“You’ve guessed I have an ulterior motive in asking you to dinner.”  “Well, yes, I am hardly in your social crowd and the thought did occur to me.”  “Let me put you at ease.  Dore is not the reason you are here although she is very put out by you.  She was trying to convert that ignorant Ms Meacham to her cause.  You’ve set Dora’s plans back by a month.  But to continue, I became aware that you are the father of Ms Rebecca Lynn, are you not?”  “Yes, but what does my daughter have to do with all this?”  “Simple, your daughter is a member of a dance group run by Paula Johnson.”  “Yes, go on, how does this affect me?”  “Since I do not know either woemn and would like an introduction to Paula Johnson I thought perhaps you might arrange with your daughter to introduce me to Ms Johnson.  I’m afraid that if I tried to do it myself I would be looked upon in a most unfavorable light.”  “You mean something akin to a stage door johnny?”  “Yes, yes, that’s what I thought.  And while tonight’s dinner was an obvious bribe, please don’t get me wrong.  I rather like you, you have that odd sense of humor.  You have wit and intellect.  I think you might like to see me in a more relaxed setting with a few of my more modest friends.  We all aren’t society hounds.”  “So why this woman and wouldn’t it be more direct to intrude upon her at some social bash or something?”  “Paula is too busy for such trash as Dora and her friends.  And Paula is a bit of a recluse, likes to guard her privacy, hates society parties.  I mean, I’ve tried, but no gambit seems to get past her defenses.  Look, this is not a case of unrequited love or anything like that.”  “Well, I’ll broach the subject with my daughter.  I can’t say how much influence Rebecca has since she is a substitute for the regular dance cast.  But tell me, if you wouldn’t mind, just what attracts you to Paula?  What do you see in that woman?”  “I suppose I could say that I see the grace and style of the world at dance in her movements and that her smile was line the sun shining just for me.  The fact is, I saw an interview of her last year and she touched my heart.  There is something that rings true in her, reverberates in my soul, if you understand my meaning.  I think, given a chance, we might find a way to make our burden’s less odious.  But until I do meet her and have some time spent talking with her I doubt I shall ever know.”  “Then I will enlist my daughter’s aid to get your foot in the door, so to speak.  After that is shall be up to you to make your plea.”  “Thanks so much, Bill.  You don’t mind my calling you Bill, do you?”  “Only my friends have that right, Mike, and I think you just may qualify on that point.  I shall talk with my daughter and see what can be done.”  Well, you should have seen the grin on Mike’s face.  Like a little child with a lollipop in hand.  He ordered some port and a plate of Stilton, walnuts, and gravenstein apple slices.

 

So the following week I talked with my daughter.  We met at the theater during rehearsal.  When a break came for the company we huddled in the front row seats and I outlined my dilemma.  I had a friend, Michael, who would appreciate a private audience with Paula as I tried to so delicately put it.  We did not notice Paula as she stood just behind us but out of our of direct sight.  I heard Paula’s voice in that quiet assertive way ask me who did I think I was to come here to her theater and try to monopolize one of her girls?  Rebecca turned around and said, “I’m sorry madame, this is my father and he had some important information for me.”  “Oh!  I though he  was hear to play cupid.  I have been listening.  Am I to be the target of one of his arrows?”  By now I was very red faced and was stammering what poor apology I could muster.  “Oh, please don’t go on like that, Mr Lynn.  Now tell me more about this secret admirer.” The stage manager called “Time, Places.” But Paula held up her hand while the company dithered a bit on the floor.  I tried to be succinct in my message, it took about five minutes.  “I can’t be sure but my opinion is that he is interested in you as an individual.  Call it a simpatico attraction, if you will”  “Interesting.” was all she said.  “Stay here for a moment or two.  Rebecca, time to join the rest.”  Then she quickly glided over to a man standing by the person I thought was the stage manager.  I saw him disappear for a few minutes and then return to the foot lights.  He came down to the row where I was sitting and handed me an envelope.  “Madame says to give you this.”  Turning, he took two steps and leaped upon the stage.  I had just spoken to one of the principle male leads.  I looked into the envelope and saw a pair of tickets for Saturday’s premier and an invitation to the backstage reception after the performance.

 

I made a point of phoning Michael and telling him I had to see him at once.  I wouldn’t say one way or another, but I told him that if necessary I would stop by his offices if he deemed me presentable.  “Of course, old man, do come on by.”  When I stepped out of the elevator there was a young man waiting for me.  Since I did not look like the client type he came over immediately and said, “Mr Banks is waiting for you.  I’ll show you in.”  Mike rose from his chair when I came in, he was wearing that grin of anticipation as I approached his desk.  Sit down Bill, please.”  “Sit yourself down first, you might faint.”  I handed the envelope to him as he sat back in his seat.  He took the tickets out slowly and seemed quite amazed.  “No one has been able to get tickets for me to this event, not fifth row center, no one!”  Then he saw the cards for the reception.  His shoulders collapsed and his head sloped forward in thought.  A few seconds later he looked at me and said,”How on earth did you ever do it, Bill?”  ” I think Paula wants to meet you.” was all I could say.  I think you can guess the rest of the story.  My daughter finally obtained her dream and became a regular member of the dance troupe.  She will, of course, never be another Paula but I hear she has a junior law partner interested in her.  I am still writing and trying to sell short stories to whoever will publish them.  And I have a book started, one I think just might see the light of day.  Dora has forgiven me, she wants me to use my supposed influence to get Paula into that society social circle of hers.  But I demuir, claiming that I am just an acquaintance and have no powers of friendship.  I also never review this secret hideaway to anyone.  It’s more than a secret, its a good way of life.  Life and love are too precious to waste on superficial people.

 

Dance with me.  I want to be your partner, can’t you see.  The music is just starting, night is calling, and I am falling.  Orleans

Operator

Everyone has a picture of what they believe their life will be like.  Some are so sure that they have this movie script complete with technicolor.  But that time between teenage adolescent and adulthood is a slipper slope and some find to going difficult.  to say there is often confusion in the minds of these young individuals is to issue a broad understatement.  When I was in the service my speciality was communications and I had my fingers in a lot of pies.  I dealt in a black market, but I took payment only in favors, never money.  Money is too easy to trace and I was no fool.  an article fifteen is not the same as a military court marshal conviction and ten years in Leavenworth.  Besides, favors are a lot harder to trace and easier to cover.  The service is a harsh teacher of life and successful attitudes.  Either one performs or one doesn’t and in Vietnam that difference could prove deadly.  So I traded favors.  I also formed a network of favor traders.  I mean, maybe someone wants a 45 caliber sidearm he normally wouldn’t be issued.  Well, what do you have to trade for it?  Maybe you can’t directly trade but maybe you know one or two others who can assist you in this trading business.  You know, this is how economics works, the whole present value thing reduced to what do you have to trade and what is it worth?  Bartter operates on the idea that everyone has something to trade and wants something in return.

 

Now this kid came to me because he had heard that I could arrange things.  He seemed to be a good kid, unassuming and somewhat truthful.  Well, you’d be surprised how truthful people can get when they want something and you press them hard enough.  I deal in black market favors, you know, I don’t have time for clowns and idiots nor do I want to spend ten years in Leavenworth.  And true enough, given a little time I could usually find a way to satisfy all parties.  I didn’t deal with officers for the simple reason that they couldn’t be trusted.  They were two faced sons of bitches and I did them no favors.  An officer and a gentleman my ass.  But sergeants were different.  I knew how to get around inspectors when it came to imports and exports.  You just had to have something to trade.  Back to the kid.  He was a driver in transportation, a PFC driving a two and a half ton straight truck between the big bases.  He was in a jam because, as he put it, he wanted to make sure that his girl knew he wanted to marry her when he got back.  You know how that goes, you’re gone and the girl thinks you have access to harems and somehow you are going to forget all about her.  Hey, it’s a legitimate concern and this kid wants to make sure that she is tying the yellow ribbon around his tree and not some other guy’s.  So he wants a phone call or as many as he can get, back to the states.  He didn’t know it, but he had something to sell.   The only guys who had direct line back to the states were the SAC people.  One didn’t believe that the SAC people were on any of our bases, but they were.  sure, the B-52s were out of Japan, Okinawa, and guam, but the older B-47s were SAC and the Australian Air Force.  They called them Canberra bombers but these were the older Boeing made bombers.  The question was, what did the SAC telephone operators want?  Well, maybe a few cases of beer would do the trick, so I sent the kid to enquire since he wanted the telephone calls.  Well, he came back crest fallen.  They wanted a couple of quarts of Jack Daniels.  Not that hard to come by if one knew where to look.  What did a supply sergeant for the officers club need?  He wanted to send a bunch of souvenirs back to his brother in the states.  But all shipments were to be searched for drugs and AK-47, while not exactly drugs were automatic weapons.  Okay, the MATS guys had the C-140s, what would they take to slip a couple of crates aboard their aircraft?  They flew out of Cam Ram Bay and they wanted better quarters.  Would they settle for their own clubhouse?  Yes they would.  Wow, this is getting very complicated.  Let’s see, who would build the clubhouse?  Ah. Seabees, of course.  What would they want in return?  a couple of cases of Jim Beam.  where do we get the supplies for the building.  Ah, Army Corp of Engineers.  What did they want?  They wanted a walk-in cooler and quite a number of cases of beer.  Uh, no can do.  But how about a couple of refrigerators and say twenty cases of beer?  Done deal.  You see, barter is about locating the various wants and needs so that they can be exchanged.

 

Now one of the advantages of being in communications is that quite a bit of “intelligence” moved through our hands.  I knew where to locate a couple of refrigerators that had been destined for officers clubs.  Those brass hats would never miss them, just send more next time.  Besides, it was easy to duplicate request and get extra in country.  And as I suggested to my boy in transportation, why not use that five fingered discount to supply the SAC operators?  It was easy enough to sent some messages to the right people to have him assigned to pick up goods at certain warehouses.  I mean, I was developing a license to steel here.  Eventually the favors get done because people have the ability to fudge one way or the other.  You see, it is really just a matter of keeping track of the favors owed and delivered.  As for the kid who just had to talk to his girlfriend back home, that went on for several months.  He kept that spark of romance alive while he served his time.  In the meantime he became one of my trusted transport workers.  You know, with a little bit of ingenuity one can transport a B-52 under the nose of any MP, or officer, for that matter.  The MPs are a little smarter in my book.  He was a hard worker and I do believe that we own him more favors than he collected.  But he was a gracious individual and declined more than he needed for his own use.  I mean, that is the meaning of teamwork, seeing that people feel they have a stake in the system and that the systems gives them their due.  Why generals find that so hard to understand is beyond me.  So this kid, name was Eddie, by the way.  Kind of figures it should be Eddie, you know.  He was a good guy, a stand up kind of guy.  Put one of his buddies into the program.  That is enough to renew your faith in human nature.  Yes, many of our deals came to pass and those that didn’t, no hard feelings.  But as I said, the minute you turn it into a cash operation you leave a trail and hard feelings.  So when it came my turn to rotate to the states I left my operations to a couple of gentlemen who promptly went to a cash and carry system.  Last I heard, they were doing ten years in Kansas.  Yeah, they tried to implicate me but there was only their word.  No Office of special Investigations would bother me when there was no evidence to tie me to anything.  A favor is quid pro quo, but greed knows no such bounds.  It’s your word of honor the way cash never can be.  A man’s honor determines his character, cash has no honor or character.

She’s Gone

I’ve never been a catholic priest or minister or any type of clergy, but I must have one of those faces to whom so many individuals seek to confess their “sins” or problems. Almost without fail if I am sitting in a bar or pub someone will come up to me and start talking. The next thing I know is I am their father confessor and they are pouring out their hearts to me and almost asking for absolution. If there was good money to be made I swear I would put a confessional in several bars around this town and make a very good living listening to people and taking donations for the poor box, namely my own.  Needless to say I do not spent much time in bars or pubs as the price of refreshment is about four times what I would like to pay.  There are times when I do seek a bit of human companionship, or at least the close contact of a crowd of people.  Usually I prefer a couple slices of pizza and one or two half price beers on a Friday or Saturday night before heading home for the weekend.

 

About two months ago I had worked that Saturday, over ten hours extra of overtime, so I came home and changed my clothes.  Then a short walk to the sports bar for a few slices of pizza and a pitcher of beer.  I had barely made it in time from happy hour, not that I couldn’t had afforded to pay full price but it’s the principle that counts.  Lucky for me there were no games scheduled that night so the usually loud mouth crowd was elsewhere.  The waitress came over with my pizza just as I finished my first mug.  Just as I was about to take a bite of my first slice a man I judged to be about thirty sat down in the chair on the opposite side of my table.  His mug was half full an his eyes looked a bit watery and bloodshot.  I suspect he had been drinking earlier in the day and was still at it.  It was obvious what he was going to say, they all have that lost little lamb face, baa, baa, baa.  At first I ignored him, which is means they take that as a challenge.  I took a couple of bites from my first slice, I was hungry and was thinking about ordering another couple of slices if these didn’t do the trick.  The day had been cold and rain soaked so I looked forward to clearing my mind.  there was an old movie on the big screen and I would have liked to watch it.

 

He looked at me for a few minutes and then hung his head as if to give me time to finish that first slice before he launched into his story.  True to his look, as soon as that first piece had be eaten he began.  I really didn’t want to be bothered but I knew it was impossible to ignore him or get rid of him with out creating a scene.  So I took a couple of sips of beer and looked into his eyes.  “She’s gone, man.  My baby’s gone.  You know?”  “That’s really tough, sorry to hear that.”  I started to pick up the other slice and he continued.  “I just came home one day and she was gone.  She’s gone, gone.”  Hey, damn it, I’m hungry, so I took a couple more bites with out looking at him.  But he was not to be discouraged.  They never are.  “I mean, I don’t know why.  She’s just gone.”  A couple more sips of beer and then another bite of pizza.  “Hey man, can you tell me why?”  “I wouldn’t know why.  I don’t know who she is and she is to you.”  Well, not the most tactful thing to say but in his state tact has no currency.  I knew he was now going to tell me the love story of his life.  Hell, I might have to order another pitcher just to get through this story.  “Oh, but it’s not like that, you know?  I mean she and I were madly in love, you know?”  No, I don’t know.  She’s gone for two hundred, Alex.  The clue is anything.  I’d pay the devil to replace her, Alex.

 

Yeah, the man is hurting inside and the alcohol isn’t killing the pain of rejection.  So he continued this story of love and happiness.  It’s always the same, you know.  Life is beautiful and then suddenly, without a clue, life is shit.  I mean, this guy had it bad.  I mean the torch he was carrying was far larger than a blow torch.  Man, this was statue of liberty size.  “I worked so damn hard to give her everything, man.  I put in the extra overtime, you know?”  Now I am not going to tell this guy that perhaps his absence was a possible contributing factor, not in his condition.  Might as well as throw a match on a pile of oil soaked rags.  “You know, we used to come here every Saturday night just to have some pizza and a pitcher of beer,  Every Saturday, you know?  You don’t think she got tired of that, do you?”  Well, yes, there is a strong possibility that she might have wanted some seafood and a glass of white wine.  what do I know, I never met your girlfriend.  Okay, so I am feeling a little hostile and I need to collect myself.  I get up and excuse myself, “Got to piss, you know.” and head for the men’s room.  some cold water splashed upon my face and I am ready for another hour of his miserable life.

I sat back down and notice that his glass is full and my pitcher is lighter.  so I fill my mug up and now the pitcher is empty.  The waitress takes both the empty plate and the empty pitcher away.  The beer is starting to mellow me and I am feeling a bit more disposed to my guest or my jailer, I’m not sure which.  So I listen to this litany of perfect love and companionship.  Yes, he sacrificed for her and where was she now, now that he needed her?  I know the color of her hair, the color of her eyes, the softness of her lips.  Hell, I even know the brand of tampon she uses.  I think I need more beer, so I signal to the waitress for another pitcher.  she brings on in a few minutes as I listen to what their favorite sang was.  “We’ve only just begun by the Carpenters.  That was our song.  OH, Oh, and she loved Bon Jovi.  Yeah, and that Boston thing, eh … oh yes, More Than A Feeling.”  The waitress returns with a full pitcher and I start to pay.  “Later, later.” is all she says and walks back to the bar.  Now he is starting to describe their love life in detail, so much more than I want to know.  I really don’t do pornographic confessions well.  So I must put my hand up in front of his face.  “Stop, I don’t really want to hear about your love making.  Okay, that is inappropriate.  If you need to tel someone, tell your doctor.”  That stuns him for a moment.  “Oh, yeah, right, sorry, er I guess I should do that.”

 

It must be going on eleven pm and his speech is a little slurred.  So I start in, “You are going to learn how to live without her, you know?  You can’t go on this way.  She’s gone for good and is never coming back.  You got to pull yourself together and find another woman.  Man, the world is full of them.  Just look on any corner.  So forget her, learn to live without her.  But another toothbrush and put it tin the holder if you must, but forget her.”  Well, he is in agreement and he isn’t, you know what I mean.  Unrequited love is the pits and innocent bystanders suffer because of it.  By this time I’m trying to give him absolution.  It’s okay to forget about her, god is surely please when you do, almano dominae, all you drunks get off my lawn.  Meanwhile he’s drunk most of my beer and has his head on the table, starting to snore.  So I get up and head over to the bar to pay my bill.  The owner is a good man, he runs a clean place.  “what do I owe you?”  “Forget it, I owe you.  Next time you come in it’s on the house.”  “What about what’s his name over there?”  “I called his brother, he’ll be here soon enough and take care of him.  thank you for listening to him, you did me a service.”  “I guess, it’s not easy listening to these guys.”  “By the way, my wife and I have a bet on you.”  “Yeah, what’s the bet?”  “She says you’re some kind of therapist.”  “She loses.  I work outside construction for the phone company. ”  “But there’s more to you, the way you talked to that man.  I think you have training.”  “Well, if you must know, I also have a degree in psychology.”  “Ah, I thought there was something else.  good night and come back soon.  Remember, we owe you one.”

 

Take It To the Limit

The last arc of red has been extinguished by the dark blue of the sea leaving a calm in the air before the evening breeze picked up. Michael leaned the broom against the wall as fine particles of saw dust settled to the floor and work benches. Almost heaven, he thought, shame to have to leave this place. A few steps to the right sat the small fridge with cold bottles of beer insides. He opened the door and chose a bottle. Then Michael walked over to his chair under the awning attached to his small trailer and sat facing the distant coastal outline. As his sipped the porter his mind was engaged in thought. Another week, maybe ten days and it’ll be time to pull out, head north again. The bright light of day was quickly fading to blue, changing into a purple hue that became darker every minute.

“This next job will be a hard one. Some fool of a man wants a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Bet it’s gonna be a bitch getting there. Just a few miles north of Vancouver! Yeah, sure! More like two hundred and half that off road. Says he has all the machinery and supplies on sight. Yeah, we’ll see. Still, never been to British Columbia. Lot of hemlock and fir, some spruce, should make for some interesting work.” He took a few more sips from the bottle, feeling the warmth of the sun still on the air. It was quiet now, no hum of machinery or the whining of drills or the buzzing of saw blades. Just quiet and still until the first rush of evening breeze stirred the leaves and whispered through the redwoods boughs.

Far off he could hear an owl, a great horned waking up to the job ahead. One had come and sat briefly on the ridge beam before it glided off into the forest. The owner had dug up and leveled the building pad and surrounding site displacing any respectable family of field mice. Maybe in six months to a year this would be good hunting ground again for the owl. Meanwhile, like the owl, he’d be moving on to the next dream. These dreams were all the same, they just weren’t his. Micheal’s dreams burned out years ago, the way a wild fire sweeps though and reduces everything to ashes. The winds blow what left around until the rains wash it out to sea, the way it washed the women out of his life. Yeah, there were a couple but he could never grow the roots fast enough or deep enough to suit them. They wanted that nine to five boredom that drove him crazy. He needed an edge in life, that constant change in horizon you can’t get from an urban apartment window. Besides, it was all about their dreams, not his. Yeah, a few nights with a woman might be good for the soul but permanance made for a lousy life.

Yeah, that last one, Alice. She wanted to lock his freedom up, nail up the door on him. It took him such a long time to find the door, find his freedom again. Still, the temptation to go running back for more haunted him, sometimes kept him awake. A few more sips and the night was almost black, stars appeared, came out of hiding like old friends. He was glad to see them. But they kept reminding him of a woman who might have loved him, he didn’t know, he never knew. He gave a sigh. Doesn’t seem to be much left to believe in. Then, as if someone, perhaps a woman, was standing in front of him. He spoke aloud, “A few more days I’ll be on a highway. I’ll take it to the limit one more time. One more time.” He threw the bottle into the trash pile and looked up to the stars again.