As Time Goes By

The world seemed more innocent then compared to today, even when it was on the brink of a great world war.  The difference between good and evil was less subtle, more black and white.  A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is still a sigh, the fundamentals of loving as time goes by.  We look back on the past we never knew with rose colored glasses.  The hopes of our future realities lie buried in the disappointments of our past.  Let the dreamer beware.  Preston Wallace traded in such stocks of the future, the market of hope, charity and change.  His religion was the church of the impossible dream, redemption through struggle, salvation through accomplishment.  His only mortal sin was that he never truly believed, that bit of Scottish ancestry held him back, made him doubt in the wee hours of his sleep.

 

I met Mr Wallace at a seminar he was giving.  The woman I was dating at the time and who shall remain anonymous to protect me, a woman scorned and that sort of thing, had dragged me to this circus of happy feelings.  It was a small group, perhaps twenty some odd individuals sitting on oversized pillows arranged in a circle with a small mat in its middle.  for a small introductory fee of ten dollars a piece and fifteen dollars a couple, we would be introduce into the world of the eternal sunshine mind of existence.  I must admit that his entrance was masterful.  Preston was one of those men who are blessed with that eternal thinness that accentuates their average height.  High cheekbones, not too broad forehead, and delicate chin gave him that aura of great intelligence and wisdom.  Dressed as he was in a thin cashmere turtleneck top with white flair legged trousers, might have been a silk blend, for the legs, when he walked gave a sense of animation to his bare feet.  One had the opinion that here was a man in tough with his feminine side and completely comfortable with such feelings.  But the image projects was more force of personality rather than charisma, although the rich baritone voice certainly suggested as much.

 

Preston entered the circle at the prescribed time, punctuality matters in this line of business, and facing the east, sat down in the most graceful manner into the infamous yoga pose of the lotus.  Arms best outward with hands outstretched and the first two fingers meeting the thumb gave testimony that a master was in our midst.  A minute of silence with his eyes closed brought a sense of peace to the group.  Without opening his eyes he began to speak. “I am Master Rumi.  Let peace enter into your mindfulness of the moment.  May the spirit of light enter your consciousness.  Allow tranquility to rule your soul.”  Master Rumi allowed us another minute to take it all in, then he rose as gracefully as he had sat.  He was now wearing the benign smile all mystics wear in public, beaming his spiritualness as rays of eternal sunshine.  In short, the man was good, he was very good.  Now some of you may be wondering why I have a sardonic tone to my writing in this piece.

 

When I was a young man seeking truth, as all good young men always do, I went through the years of encounter groups and personal routh groups, and ,well, you name it.  I came to know them very well.  They gladly took my money and time.  But that was it.  There was no exchange of goods or services of value.  I had to find my own way through this spiritual life and they merely impeded my progress.  But all that aside.  Personal growth comes from within, not from without and certainly not from some yogi or swami or other such teacher.  Back to our story.  Preston, pardon me, Master Rumi, had added a few new twists to the presentations and group exercises.  I was impressed for the man had a natural and intuitive feel for things of the spiritual world.  that aquiline nose gave sensuality to his spirituality while the long thin fingers punctuated the points made by the ease of his voice.  Words flowed as if from a spring, bubbly but never hurried and carried a sense of cosmic laughter.  I could have been converted on the spot.  Was he an Elmer Gantry reincarnated?

 

Marie, my companion, was lost to the experience.  Our initial meeting had seemed fortuitous at the time.  My acquaintance with John Allen had been the basis for an invitation to their dinner party in the city.  My role in these affairs is more that of the gadfly.  Every dinner party of any rank needs a gadfly or two, not too many or us ruffins will be fighting in the salon and upsetting the antique relics, both human and nonhuman.  Marie was a designer friend of Rose, our hostess, and in need of a male escort.  Back in my salad days we never worried about civilities, but since I was deemed interesting and available, well, I was elected.  And in this world of social progress we had gathered for the obligatory meeting that established our reason for existence on this planet.  John was a lawyer and a damn good one.  And honest, I might add.  For a very modest fee he would read over the contracts I had to sign as I made my living.  It is understandable that many of his guests were other men of the law as well as businessmen and a few other professions.  I had learned to carry my business cards as it was always good form to exchange them with strangers.  Mine read: International Spy and Assassin and had a 1-800 number, the White House, actually.  Either you got the joke or avoided me.

 

Back to the party.  I must say that Marie was not a great beauty.  Her figure was trim to the point if thinness but not quite the anorexic look.  The face was moon shaped and the eyes and nose and mouth were pleasantly arranged, the chin suggested some strength but not aggressiveness.  She claimed to be a natural blonde and her skin had a sort of natural tan, if you know what I mean.  One might call her pretty but never beautiful.  The other asset she displayed was the willing expression on her face that gave hope to batchelors such as I of enjoyable times.  For the most part, John told me later, by way of Rose, that Marie found me interesting.  Me?  Not intriguing, not endless fascinating, just interesting?  So much for my business card.  Still, I’ll settle for interesting and made the first of several dates.  So the mating dance begins, or at least the seduction phase.  I am not much of a seducer and perhaps that is why she was never too willing on our initial dates.  I was beginning to think I had failed at reading faces and body language.  Then the seminar, such as it was.  Willing was written all over her face but the message was not for me.  And I was not the only male or female to read her lips, so to speak.  Preston, I mean Master Rumi took a cordial interest in Marie.  His female assistant was, understandably less cordial.  Obviously Master Rumi could burn a candles at more than both ends, just don’t ask me how.

 

At the end of the session Master Rumi, now Preston, invited the two of us to stay for tea.  His assistant, Anne was her name if I recall, was not exactly the gracious hostess.  On the other hand, since I was among the chosen she made friendly gestures towards my welfare.  Like a good hostess she inquired: “What do you do for a living?”

“I am a writer by trade.”  I never know a professional writer, that is, one who hangs out a shingle and a sign that says open for business.  No editor or reader ever flocks to my door asking me to write a novel just for them.  Sometimes I get lucky and write something that actually sells and puts pennies in my grubby paws.”

Anne was amused at my forthrightness but not really by my humor.  I would have expected her to ask if Marie was my wife or at least my intended, but I sense that Anne had been through this kind of affair before.  “How long have you known each other?”  This woman could go for the jugular.

“Only a few weeks.  I met her at a dinner party given by the John Allen’s.”  Perhaps I could impress her with my social connections, such as they weren’t.  “Marie is a decorator to the social elite.”  Anne merely smiled and asked if I would like more tea.

I escorted Marie home that evening, she was floating like a wispy little cloud after her tete-a-tete with Preston.  Normally she is courteous to invite me up for coffee but tonight she was ‘too tired and worn out’.  She would take a bath and recover her spirits.

 

Three days later Marie called me.  “Bill, you can’t believe what has happened!”  Actually I could and in graphic detail but since children might be reading I will spare them my imagination.  Preston was so impressed with my aura and spirit that he has decided to offer me private training.  Of course he extends the offer to you as well.  He believes you could do with a bit of refreshing.  It might help your writing.”  Everyone’s a critic, even fake spiritualists.

“Yes, Marie, I will accompany you.  I think it absolutely amazing that this has happened to us.”  I made note of the date and time.  “Yes, I will pick up you in my car.”  I gathered that I was the sacrificial lamb for Anne.  Somehow she must be distracted while Master Rumi worked Maries spirits into a frenzy and I could imagine what those spirits would look like.  But again, children may be present so I must keep my imagination to myself.

 

After the third session Anne decided to confide in me.  “I’ve been through this before but Preston doesn’t keep these women this long.  I don’t know what hold Marie has over him.”

“Well, she’s not my Marie, never was.  And the hold is simple, it’s money.  She has a trust that assures her an ample living with many top notch amenities.  I suppose Preston is trying to convince her to part with some of it.”

“Yes, I’ve seen the checks, I’m his bookkeeper and office assistant, and chief cook and bottle washer.  Truth is, I think he’s in love with her.  I think he’s trying to get her to marry him.”

“Tell me more about your boss, and might I add love interest?”

“Ex love interest.” I detected a note of bitterness, the scorned woman.  “Preston used to be a used car salesman until they fired him.  The sales manager caught him with his wife.  He’s a very good salesman but he can’t keep a dime or his, ah…”

I interrupted, “Yes, I know the part of anatomy.  Continue.”

Anne blushed for a moment.  Well, while he was unemployed he attended a few free classes or seminars in spirituality.  That’s how I met him.  I was younger then, much thinner and far more pretty.”  Anne was a little taller than Marie and at five feet nine could hold a little more weight on her frame without showing it.  She had one of those rectangular faces, reminded me of that actress, Lee Remick.  Where Marie was late twenties – early thirties, Anne was middle forties.  Or so I would have guessed.  I think she would have been called cute until her mid thirties, judging from her features.  Her lips would have been thinner then and embossed with an infectious smile.  Her voice held charm, the real kind, not the affected typs so many try to project.  “So now what will you do?  Will you wait until he finds out that marriage to her would stop the trust money.”

Anne looked surprised for the moment, then the started to laugh and I saw traces of the infectious smile.  “How do you know her trust stops if she gets married.”

“John allen is her lawyer, knew the family.  He’s the one who drew it up.  When I started to take her out he cued me in.”

“Oh, that’s too precious for words.  In answer to your question, No, I’m not going to wait.  I saw the signs, I know we, Preston and me, can’t go on.  I’m tired of this spiritual thing, tired of the charade.  I’ve been out interviewing and think I found myself a bookkeeping job in the business district.”

“Do you have somewhere to stay?  Living in the city is a bit expensive.”

“Oh, don’t worry.  One of the pigeons from last week is going to rent me a room for a couple of months.  A real nice man.  If he’s a gentleman I just might stay longer.  Besides, thanks to your Marie I’ve got some money saved up.  Preston will never know what happened to it.  You know, Karma’s a bitch.”

 

 

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The Girl from Ipanema

A buddy of mine from my service days had ventured down to Brazil. Mark was a surfer dude and a damn good one before Uncle Sam made him an invitation he couldn’t refuse. Happens to be the best of us, we somehow end up being members of that merry band of pranksters. That is usually enough to put a little of the wanderlust in the soul of an ex prankster.  Mark took off in August of 1970 after his membership was cancelled by mutual consent and he drew his last bit of wages from the accounting office.  I remember how he had discussed his plans amongst us non short timers.  I always though Mark was the more serious type and this expedition into the unknown certainly would sound, at first blush, quite the risky venture.  But he had savings to tide him over and a plan.  “Bill, if I come back in a year or two it means I failed.  I think there’s opportunity down there.”  Such were the utterings of Mark, made in all seriousness.  So he left after all those goodbyes were exchanged and all the good wishes were gathered into the standard package of slaps on the back and handshakes.

Now me, I’m no surfer dude.  I don’t swim all that well, can’t even kneel on a board, and don’t have the upper body strength needed to paddle out to catch the waves.  My childhood disability limited my athletic ability.  But I would watch Mark off Santa Cruz’s Steamer’s Lane and could see that he knew his stuff.  As for Brazil, I knew what I remembered from the Disney Cartoon created back in the fifties and the music that drifted up to the states in the mid sixties and made Brazil 66 very popular in the late sixties.  Beyond that I only knew its history in a cursory manner, you know, read a few books written in the late fifties and scanned a few Look and Life magazines in the sixties.  When it comes to South America, I am not totally ignorant but I am hardly up to date.  Like Mark, I had an inkling of desire to drift down to Brazil or Argentina, maybe Peru.  It seemed like one of those exotic ideas that pop up in your youth.  But now Mark had blazed a trail for those who might wish to follow.  Seems I got bushwacked and all pretence of world exploration was purged from my memory.  I think we have as many regrets about what we never did as we do from what we have done.

Mark was the one who traveled in our stead and the time passed, as it always does, and fifteen years had flown by when he returned.  One thing leads to another and we finally caught up to compare notes.  Mine were plebeian while his were herculean.   Well, he had been somewhere and I had not.  About fifteen years later I chanced upon Mark at a former haunt of his in Aptos.  It was a restaurant where those in the know would go for brunch.  The omelettes were impeccable, individual works of art.  As I recall, they had a very good house chardonnay.  I was sipping my coffee while reading the Sunday SF Chronicle, not really aware of the coming and going of customers, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  “Bill, is that you?”  The voice was strangely familiar.  Familiar because I thought I had heard it before and strange because I hadn’t heard that voice in a decade or two.  Mark quickly sat down in the chair across from my table as I was turning my head in his direction.  “Hey dude, you look surprised.”

Well, I am pleasantly surprised to see you here.  I thought you had permanent residence in Brazil?”

“I did, dude.  But I had to get out.  Things were getting ugly down there.” Mark sounded a little depressed or at least sad.  Normally he had that happy go lucky personality.  This was a new dimension I saw in his demeanor.

“So what happened?  Why’d you leave?”

Mark gave me a tired look and then spotted someone in the crowd.  “Look, I’ll tell you more later.  Can we meet tomorrow night?  say about seven?”  He quickly wrote ad address and a slip of paper and handed it to me.  “Got to go.  See you then.”  Then he left as quickly and he had come.  I saw him accompany a woman out the door and that was that.

Tomorrow night came and i was arrived at the address.  It was a run down apartment complex in Santa Cruz.  One would expect students UCSC to occupy the premises.  Santa Cruz had gone through its boom and bust periods and this way definitely one of the busts.  I climbed up the stairs and walked over to the door.  In my hand I held two bottles of decent wine, nothing expensive but drinkable.  Wine was one of the ties that held us together, strange as that may seem.  So I knocked on the door and waited the few seconds before it was opened.  “Hello Mark, how’s it going?”

“Good to you, Bill, come in.  You remembered!  What are we drinking tonight?”  A bottle of wine or two between friends does much to keep that friendship in good repair.

“Oh, just a couple of Haut-Medocs, nothing special.  You got a cork screw handy?”

“You know I do.  By the way, meet Chris, I’m staying with him.  Good thing you brought two bottles.  Here, you do the honors.”  as he handed me the cork puller.  Chris was a tall and dark complexion man of about thirty, a little younger than Mark.  He held out his hand in a timid manner.  Well, I was a stranger and dressed better, a bad habit of mine as I tend not to dress too far down.  As if to ease my concerns Mark continued, “Chris is a surfer friend of mine.  He’s helping me get back on my feet.  He’s good people.”

Mark found three glasses suitable for the wine as I opened the first bottle.  Then I poured out what seemed to be about four ounces into the glasses.  Mark motioned to me to sit in the chair as he and Chris occupied the couch.  “You know Bill, I always had that dream to travel to Brazil and I just had to take the opportunity.  Say, this is good Medoc.  Nice.”

“My pleasure, Mark.  I found half a case in San Leandro at a really cheap price.  Sort of like the old days.”

“Yeah, I remember.  You always had the nose of good wine.  Of course in Brazil one couldn’t always find good wine, at least not for the first five years I was there.  But Rio had other compensations, you know?  I tell you, some of the spots I found the surfing was really gnarly.  Some of the best I have surfed.  There are maybe half a dozen spots in the Rio area and I’ve suffered them all.  You know, we used to go on treks both north and south and I swear, some fantastic places to grove, you know?

“Yeah, but you were doing more than surfing, Mark.  I’m sure the locals had their own surfer culture.”  Well, it was something of a challenge to Mark’s way of thinking.  Mark was usually more excited when talking about surfing.  I mean, the man lived and breathed surfing.  There was much that he was not telling.

“Well, the first couple of years I was establishing myself.  You know, showing the locals that I could surf, perhaps better than them.  It’s that fitting into the pecking order and I has at the top of that order.  But you and I know that surfing doesn’t pay much.  Yeah, a few competitions and a bit of prize money, but not enough to keep to feed the habit.  It’s a different culture down there, you know?  So after a couple of years while I was banging on an old guitar I chanced to come upon a small club that needed a quartet to boost its sales.  So I make the right connections and I start learning that Bossa Nova style and I’m playing in the club and surfing in my spare time.  I mean, Bill, we are there at Ipanema and it’s all really beautiful.  You Know?”

Mark’s descriptions and tale of adventure had worn through the first bottle so I was obliged to open the second one.  “So Bill, I’m making a little money playing music and I make a few bucks teaching the upper middle class women how to surf.  It’s a racket, Bill, a license to steal.  I mean, I must have has half a dozen women paying me for lessons and, well, let’s face it, sex.”

Contrary to Gidget and other “surfing” movies, it’s an expensive hobby.  Mark had taught me that early in life.  You learn how to surf as a teenager because that’s when yo have the time and the money, even if it’s mom’s or dad’s.  “So how long did that go on, Mark?”

“I just fell into the habit, you know, it was so easy.  I mean most of the dudes surfing were doing it.  But I was the novelty, the American.  Then I noticed that my skills weren’t as good as they had been.  My mind wasn’t on surfing, it was on who would I take on next.  You know Bill, I was becoming addicted to the money, I was growing fat.  There was a sort of isolated beach area where the waves were really good and there weren’t any crowds.  Just small towns with maybe a hotel and a few hundred houses.  Sort of cut off from the world.  I mean, that’s where I needed to be, get my head together.”  Mark paused to sit back and take a few sips from his glass.  I could tell he was almost in another world from the look his eyes get when he is concentrating hard.  Suddenly his head jerked forward.  “Dude, this is really good wine.  Where’d you get it?”

“I found it up in the city.  One of those mom and pop stores was going out of business and I bought two cases on the spot.  Just a couple dollars a bottle.  You want a few bottles?”  I usually don’t go around hand out bottles of good wine to just anybody but Mark was a good friend back when and we were renewing that friendship tonight.

“Thanks dude for the offer.  Maybe when I got my own place, know what I mean?  I’ve got a deal with one of the board makers, he’s looking for someone to do some design work.  Kind of foot in the door position.  Got to do some of the epoxy work and help with sales.”  He paused for almost a minute then continued, “Last couple of years I tried to go into the business but things got tough down there.”

“How so, too much competition?”

“More than that.  As I was telling you, that little village on the coast changed me.  I had enough savings to surf for four or five months.  I didn’t need much.  Had a small tent to sleep, go to the market for some food.  There were fruit trees and wild vegetables in the hills.  The only misery was the occasional rain storms.  Sometimes I would go into one of the cafes at night and listen to the music.  It was the music, Bill, that saved me.  You know how we used to make fun of that commercial Bossa Nova junk they played on AM?  This was the real stuff.  They played and sang with real feeling and it had a lot of variation.  I mean, it got to the point where I was in one of the cafes almost every night.  I was picking up the language reel good too.  Some one gave me an old guitar and I started practicing chords and later fingers.  Me and some of the locals would be on the beach surfing and practicing and singing.  And then we go to the cafe and play all night.  A couple of months turned into a couple of years.  I’ll tell you Bill, I should’ve stayed there.”

I sat amazed by Mark’s tale.  Only a few individuals can take an ordinary life and turn it into an exotic adventure.  “Sounds like the perfect surfer’s heaven to me.  What made you leave?”

“One of the young women had a good voice and wanted to go to Rio.  She wanted to be a professional singer with all the fame and fortune she could get.  So I went with her, you know, as kind of a protector.  I did it as a favor to her father.  The old man had been good to me, let me use a room in his barn and made sure I had regular meals.  So I told him I’d look after her.”  He studied me for a minute.  “I know all this sounds crazy but I’m telling you what’s real.  In Rio everyone is a hustler, one way or another.  I should have remembered sooner, but I wanted things to be different.”  I saw the mist forming in his eyes and his voice lost his normal ease.  He spoke a little more slowly, a little more deliberate, almost as if each word was an individual pain accumulated over years of suffering.  “We went to the small clubs and cafes, not the best places to work but that’s where you get your foot in the door.  I didn’t know the business and we got fleeced a couple of times, but we survived.  Ana, that was her name, was starting to get known locally.  Well, after a year or so of struggling with small clubs we got a break.  A larger club in Downtown Rio signed her to a year long contract.  Ana was attracting a good audience.  She was becoming a hot property.  Bill, that’s when the real trouble started.  Ana became impatient for the fame and the money.  I tried my best to look after her but that music scene is full of sharks and cutthroats.  I was being edged out.”

Mark dropped his eyes to the floor for several minutes.  When a man has a painful story to tell you don’t rush him.  I could have guessed the ending if this had been the usual Hollywood movie, but I was in for a rude surprise.  “Bill, I really tried to protect her, I really did.  I still came round to the club and watched her.  The owner was making every attempt to seduce her.  Then one night I saw a look in her eyes that chilled me.  She was staring right at me, Bill.  She was pleading with me.  Then the owner noticed her look and followed her stare to me.  Five minutes later a couple of big guys were hustling me out of the club.  They beat the shit out of me, Bill.

I was in the charity hospital for a month trying to recover.  Finally they told me to leave, I was well enough and they needed my bed.  Hell, I was still on crutches, had no money and no where to go.  I had to sell my board for what little money I could get.  There was no way I could go back up north to the village, her father would kill me.  No, I’d have to go the the consulate and see if they could get me back to the states.  That took a few days to arrange and I was books on a flight for the next day.  Bill, I had to go back and see Ana one last time, I really did.  So I went to the club that night.  I saw the change on her face, in her eyes and in her voice.  She had a hard melancholy look about her, you know, that lost woman look.  Anyhow, her eyes sought me out.  It was as if she knew I’d be there that night.  And when she did, she started screaming about all the abuse the club owner had given her.  I mean, what she was saying about him was really bad, criminal.  The band leader tried to shut her up but she persisted.  As they dragged her off the stage she broke free and her accusations were even worse.  Something about two murders she had witnessed him doing.  I think that last confession is what did it.  The owner was suddenly on the stage and I saw him slice her throat.  The blood just flowed.”  Mark stopped his story, his face drained of all its blood.

Still The One

After all these years, you’re still the one.  I had an appointment downtown in the city and since I am averse to traveling on the commuter trains during rush hour I had taken a mid morning train.  The meeting was scheduled for late afternoon and not wanting to waste the entire day worrying about its outcome, there were some picayune details that could affect my tax return and hence my income, I resolved to spend a few hours shopping.  My daughter’s birthday was coming up and I had no idea what I should give her, I am not up on the latest fad or fashion.  Besides, she is of an age where the gift must either be practical or esoteric.  I detest practical so I opted for esoteric and that meant searching in the out of the way shops.  You know the ones, sort of second hand and Asian import places when one just might find a real bargain or even a hidden antique.

 

I walked up the boulevard a couple of miles, a good stretch of the leg as they say, to an area where the streets are narrow and the buildings past their prime by several decades.  Red brick with soft edges, the decades of erosion, face the store fronts and apartments above them and the mix of inhabitants, both young and old seem to have that sort of worn look to match the neighborhood.  The haberdashers, dressmakers, green grocers, and dry goods stores left long ago after the invasion of the A&P and the cut-rate chain stores.  Customer loyalty switched by necessity to lower prices, the affect of lower wages and higher rents.  Life here is a struggle, survival of the fittest.  It was the third shop I entered that was, by chance, a fortuitous adventure.  The owners were in the process of liquidating their inventory as best they could before selling the lot to consignment brokers.  The doors to the courtyard in the back were open and a small group of people were gathered around a couple seated at one of several tables.  Curiosity propelled me into the courtyard to witness this event.  Several minutes passed as I stood observing what looking like a celebration of some sort.  Perhaps it was a wedding anniversary or the retirement of the couple, I could not tell.  A young man of forty something approached me (at my age, most people are younger, believe me) and stared rather hard at me for at least a minute.  “I’m sorry if I have intruded upon a private party but the door was open and the joyful noises were so inviting.”  I hoped that my apology would be accepted.  “I know you.  I know who you are!” the young man was quite enthusiastic on this point.  “You’re the writer!  I bought your book.  Look, momma, papa, this is Mr Lynn.  The writer.”  I was stunned.  True, I have published two novels and a few short stories but I am hardly a household name.  My sales and income will bear that point out.

 

I found myself being ushered into the presence of a couple who might have been into their seventies together.  A strange thing about age is that the longer a couple remains married the more then tend to look like each other.  If it were not for the long hair of the one I would have had difficulty telling the husband from the wife.  Well, the dress helped identify her, too.  Another son brought a chair for me and placed it beside the couple, obviously I have become a person of importance in their lives.  The husband started, “I’m Joseph and this is my wife, Margret, Joe and Maggie to our friends.  This is our fiftieth wedding anniversary so we are celebrating, as you can see.”  Joe pointed to the man who identified me, “That is John, my oldest son and that’s his wife, the one in the yellow dress.  Behind me, ‘come here Joe’, is Joe junior, my second son.  Maggie always said the second son should have my name, it gives him an equal position with my first born.”  Joe paused for a minute and beamed at Maggie and then looked around at the other guests.  “Joe junior’s wife isn’t here at the moment, she went to fetch so more food from the Italian place around the corner, Luigi’s Place.  It’s not like the old days when Luigi was alive.  It’s all canned sauce and over cooked pasta.”  A few of the other guests were giveing assenting nods and sighs.

 

One by one Joe introduced his guests, neighbors of many years, many decades.  Occasionally Maggie would have something to say about  them, “Elenore used to babysit John and Joe when I had to see my mother when she was ill.  God rest her soul.”  Or “David was always handy with the electricity in the building.”  I could feel the affection she had for each of her neighbors that were present.  My life was shifted back in time to the “old days”, times of which I still retained a few memories however dim today.  So I asked, “How did you meet each other?”  There was a prolonged silence, a couple of sighs, and then Joe spoke.  “We grew up in the same neighborhood in Baltimore.  We went to the same schools and the same church.  It was June and I already had received my draft notice.  Well, one thing led to another and the next thing we knew, we eloped.  Maggie had to skip her senior year and I had to find a job.”  I worked general labor, you know, not very good pay.  Life was hard and her father hated me.”  “Joe, you know that wasn’t true, my father just didn’t think you were ready for marriage.”  “Maybe your old man was right, I don’t know.  All I know is that we had a one room apartment and your were pregnant.  I was working for a small factory that only paid minimum wage, what that, a dollar an hour maybe?  We either walked or took the bus, couldn’t afford a car.  God, how I hated those days.”  “Joe!  We were happy, you know that.  Remember?  We’d eat crab at that place two blocks around the corner.  It was cheap then, not like today.”  “Then the factory went bust and I was out of work again.  You were pregnant with Joe Junior then.  I didn’t think we were going to make it.  I felt so crazy trying to find work and make ends meet.  Sometimes I think I should have enlisted, learn a trade and maybe have a nest egg when I got out.  You remember how bad it was, Maggie.  But my aunt gave us the money for the hospital bill.  What was that, about four hundred.  That was a lot back then, about eight or nine weeks work before taxes.”

 

Joe and Maggie told me the story of their lives together.  All the hard times and the good times.  The sons chimed in with their accounts.  It was not your typical Hollywood story with special effects and neatly written scripts and that happy ever after routine.  well, perhaps they were having that happy ever after routine now.  So I asked,”How did you come to buy this place and how long were did you have it?”  Joe continued,”Oh, the big factories like Martin closed down, went down south or where ever.  what was left was still heavily union, know what I mean?  You had to know a couple of guys in the union to find work.  No union card, no work, that simple.  A lot of the small places folded up, went out of business.  Seems like every two years, when I could get a job, the place I worked for went bust.  What year was it, Maggie?  About 1982?  Yeah, the year Reagan got elected.”  “Yes, dear, that was the year.  And my uncle John, in this city, died and poor Aunt Betty was left with this shop.”  “Oh yeah, I remember now.  Yeah, your aunt Betty didn’t know anything about this business and she said for us to come and live with her and run the place.  Well, not that we had any other options then.  But hey, Maggie has a head for figures so she took to the bookkeeping real quick.  And me, I could talk to customers, you know.  A little positive talk, a little smooze, and I would have me a sale.  Between Maggie and me, we did all right.  I ain’t saying we got rich, but the business kept us in body and soul and a little more.  And then when Aunt Betty died she left both the business and the building to us.  Well, you got to figure, eight apartments can give you a decent income.  Now we’re fifty years older and a developer offered us a nice price on this building.  this neighborhood is suppose to undergo renovation.  So we took the money, gonna go to Florida, maybe.  Well maybe not that far, I here North Carolina is a good place, cheap living and railroad access for half a days trip back here.  we’ve got grandkids to spoil, you know?”

 

I was about to leave for my appointment when Joe pulled me aside in front of Maggie.  “Babe, you know I was so tempted at times to cut and run on you and the kids.  But you know, after all these years you’re still the one I want whispering in my ear.”  “I know, dear, I know.”

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

Sweet Blindness

Her father called her Prudence but friends knew her as Pru. She was the daughter of a Pentecostal Baptist minister and was know for the very conservative clothing she wore in school. But looks are deceiving and Pru was not to be judged by her cover nor by her “official” behavior. I had a few classes with Pru and I must confess, she seldom looked my way. Tall, thin, with high cheekbones that gave her face a definite heart shape, and a mane of black hair held back with a broad white ribbon, that is the image she portrayed. Most of us would guess she was meant to be a minister’s wife by age twenty one. the man would be of her father’s choosing, of course.  The Reverend Mr Black was well deserving of his name, for the man was tall and wiry with the same full head of black hair and very piercing gray eyes.  I never saw him in any suit but black, as if life was a continuous funeral.  Pru had her mother’s eyes, a kind of light blue like the early morning sky, still pale and just waking up.  Mrs Black, I never knew her given name as Pru always called her Momma and her father always referred to her as Mother, was of middling height and a little more full in both body and face yet she had not succumb to that middle age expanse of skin and weight most mothers of teenage girls acquire as their submission to retirement from child rearing.

 

Fate, or chance, depending on whether one is religious, took part in my affairs during my senior year.  Pru was failing geometry and she needed a math class for graduation.  I was a wiz at it and was not adverse to being her tutor.  So the math teacher introduced us and made out a schedule for our tutor sessions in the last hour of classes for the day.  You might remember, the one devoted to clubs or study hall.  It took me a couple of weeks but I helped her understand not only geometry but how to learn it, how to think through the problems.  Now at first Pru was quiet and reserved, but I, being as I like to think, a natural clown, had caused her to let down some of those defenses and she became quite charming in manner.  She too, had a sense of outrageous humor that had been suppressed by her father’s religious view of the world.  I can still remember to this day the grin on her face as she cracked her first pun, oh what a shameful expression.  Oh, there was no thought of romance, not that I wasn’t willing, but because she never regarded me as anything other than a casual friend.

 

I was invited one night, a Tuesday because that was the one night that Pru’s father wasn’t at the church with some committee or bible study group or other such work.  The Rev Black wanted to meet the boy who had guided his daughter through the educational sea to safe harbor, as he put it.  I did not make a good impression, to say the least.  Oh, I looked clean cut, my parents wouldn’t let me do the long hair (at least I didn’t have to get those horrid crew cuts), and my dress was not the most preppy by any means.  No, there were three things that happened that night.  First, I knew little about the bible.  My parents were Methodists and the new Methodist church didn’t go in for bible study as a rule.  Rev Black saw that as a sin against god and told me as much.  The second event is that I cracked a few jokes and Rev Black though such levity was frivolous to good living and belief in god.  And the third event was that Pru forgot herself and actually made a pun, most unintentional, but its presence did not please her father.  After diner there was the formal dismissal of thank you for your help and nice to meet you, but no please come and see us again sometime.  I got the hint, not that I am all that socially adept.

 

The next time I saw Pru, it was Friday.  Her mother had called the school to report, not excuse, mind you, that Prudence was ill and would return that Friday.  All that Friday she avoided my glances and didn’t wish to acknowledge my presence, I was a stranger.  So when study hall came I cornered her in the hall just outside the door.  “Pru, what’s wrong?  Did I do something wrong, something to hurt you?”  “No, nothing.  You did nothing.” And then Pru turned and went to her assigned seat.  She kept up the pretence for two weeks and then finally came to me during the lunch period.  “Let’s go outside an talk for a few minutes.”  Pru led the way and I followed meekly, I mean she seemed so serious.  We sat on one of the bleacher seats and she began by putting her finger to her lips when I attempted to speak.  “You’ve opened up a world to me, not a very big world, but big enough to make me think.  My father was furious with my behavior that night at dinner.  It was the first time we ever had humor in the house.  By the way, He thinks you are possessed by the devil.”  I laughed at that thought.  I am not very religious and was in my own rebellion against the religious authority my parents sometimes tried to exercise on me.  Pru continues in that quiet voice of hers: “Father spent a lot of time trying to exercise that “devil inspired” humor from me and it took two days.  I eventually had to go along with him and go through all the confessing and acts of atonement and believing and, well, it was a “Come to Jesus” moment.  Not that I have changed or accepted what he wills for me.”  I was kind of stunned that a father would do that.  I mean I knew some girls whose fathers were strict and some whose fathers really didn’t give a shit.  Bu I never knew one who would stoop to that depth of dominance.  I mean, from early childhood on I had been beaten by my father a few times and really didn’t like being around him.  But to me her house was like a prison.

 

We sat and talked about other things for a few minutes and then she stood up.  “Mike, maybe we can talk a little over the next few months until graduation.  I’d like that.”  “Pru, just tell me where and when, I’ll be there.”  I felt a slight bond between us.  I found out later that children who are beaten by either the hand or the brow seem to be attracted to others of similar circumstance.  Others may not understand but I always though of it as our own red badge of courage.  The next few months until summer arrived and signaled the end of innocent childhood Pru and I did talk a dozen times or so.  Mostly for the reassurance, I think, but also for some new perspectives on the world.  That fall I left for college, a small liberal arts school that my parents could afford and that would accept my poor grades.  I occasionally wrote to Pru by way of a mutual friend or she would never have received my letters.  Back then, legal age was twenty one and colleges exercised parental control over the undergrads.  Most underage drinking went on in the fraternities and I was never considered for membership.  I had to sneak my beer and alcohol by other means and make sure it was kept well hidden in my dorm room.  We had our monthly inspections for clean bodies and clean minds.  Even Playboy was forbidden lest we forget the reason for marriage and especially sex under the sanctity of holy wedlock.

 

By my third year my mutual friend began to report those chances in Pru that were causing concern not only in her family but in my friends minds.  Not soon into my first year of college pru had found the taste of cheap wine intoxicating.  And that taste kept growing as long as she was kept in her prison.  By the middle of the third year her father had arranged her marriage to a young minister a year out of seminary.  There was to be a June wedding.  I use the past tense because there would be no wedding, not then and not to him.  Pru was becoming an alcoholic and in that May had run away with a man who drank heavily as well.  They eloped and spent half a dozen unhappy years together.  Maybe it was the need to take that bad tasting medicine for a long time that made the difference.  I caught up with her ten year later.  she was sober, clean as AA says.  Pru worked in a Goodwill store in the very town I had settled seven years before.  My first job and I was still single, still living a bachelor’s life.  The booze has changed her, given her added age to her face.  But her thinness persisted, still very trim in her late thirties.  Pru’s voice had gained a little of the gravel that sometimes afflicts alcoholics, but her eyes were clear and for the first time I saw them dance.  She was another woman, no longer the old Pru I knew.  I took her out to dinner and we sat and talked for a few hours.  She was now full of laughter with that sense of irony that only strong conflict can bring out.  “I never knew what life could be, never knew there was anything more to life that total devotion to some god.”  “Did you lose your faith” I enquired?  “No, I gained it back, I took it back from my father.  It now belongs to me.”  I saw a bit of defiance in her eyes and that telltale firmness in her chin.  “How are your parents?”  “I don’t know.  We’ve never spoken and I’ve never been back.  I am dead to my father and that’s enough for me.”  “Do you have a love interest these days?”  “There is one man, a good man, a kind man.  We see each other and talk over lunch.  Sometimes we go to the movies.  I think he want’s to ask me but he’s not sure yet.  We both need time.  You know, love take time and I can wait.”  “Sounds like sweet blindness.”  Pru just laughed at the reference.

Advice For The Young

My god, you know how vain that sounds?  Some old man writing advice to the young, like it really makes a difference.  Well, younguns, I suspect you know something of the truth on that score.  When old people start offering advice oh how to live they either want to sell you something or they believe they have a corner on the market of some absolute truth.  I use to believe in absolute truths but they have a way of contradicting themselves which makes them less absolute and you and I fools for believing in them.  The reality is that there are very few absolute truths in this world.  Life and death is one of them.  Death is a final end of life.  Oh, I know, there are many who believe in life after death but no one had ever come back from the dead to prove.  Should you believe in life after death?  I can’t say that it hurts but I can’t say it does much good either.  It is largely speculation and if you feel better believing a thing is so, well, then so much the better.  If believing in life after death makes you a better person in this world then, please, do believe.

You see, it’s not so much that equivocation that is at fault, without absolutes one is forced into equivocation.  It’s that we should have some continuity in our equivocation.  Well, yes, that does sound a bit circular in argument.  It’s like morality.  One shall not steal.  That seems fairly straight forward.  Yet, are there times when we may feel justified in stealing from others?  Perhaps, depends on the circumstance.  Back in the day when there were coin operated pay telephones, coins that were discovered in the coin return slot wither belonged to the individual who did not take them or to the telephone company.  To take those coins out of the chute and put them in your pocket was the same as committing an act of theft, according to the telephone company.  One can say the same about coin operated machines that dispensed a double of whatever it was that your were buying.  Very often you were benefiting from someone else’s loss.  Yet few of us would think of robbing a bank.  Would we take advantage of insider information to make a profit in the stock market?  That is stealing according to the laws.  Or perhaps we world in a call center that sells some service.  Is overselling the customer more than what he needs theft?  In my book, yes.  When we do that to make our quota for the day or week or month, we are stealing from another person who trusts us.  I think that is the worst kind of stealing, when we violate the trust of others.  I have more respect for the armed bank robber than someone who trades upon my confidence for his own gain.  But I need to make a living, provide for my family.  I am not against salesmanship as an advocation or profession.  I respect the work.  People need to be convinced to part with their money when the cause is good, when it is to their future benefit.  But to over represent, to sell me items I don’t need at the moment, to try and rush me into to a decision to buy from you some product or service simply because you have a quota to meet, well, now we have entered into that grey area which requires good judgment.

 

Integrity is a much abused word these days, yet it is a most powerful concept and often misunderstood.  For myself I would define it as being true to those ideals I hold true.  Of course even that definition has a slippery slope that can lead one astray.  Our ideals may be far from true in the reality of living.  But if I believe that I should be honest in my dealings with other people and I expect the same in return from them, then my actions should reflect such an ideal.  Of course there are those who are scrupulously honest with others and yet lie to themselves.  We all are guilty of misrepresenting ourselves to ourselves.  I may think I am a good singer or artist and yet my ability may be less than I believe it is.  These are our personal flaws, aspects of that image we see in the mirror that is distorted in some way from how others see us.  But other individuals are also mirrors.  If some person we know seems overly vain about their appearance or some other aspect of their being, we see that the image does not match our own perceptions.  Yet what we see is something within ourselves.  This also works for the positive images we observe.  I have grown to admire how efficiently a man or woman does a job, some work operation.  I have learned several crafts and do them quite well.  So I can so easily spot a good worker who works at his job in so easy a manner as if his craft is second nature.  I let others teach me something of their work and ability by taking the time to observe them.  Believe it or not, this is a point of integrity, taking a sincere interest in someone’s presence.  We want to be noticed for our own presence, to be admired for what we do at work or in social situations or in our family lives.  We automatically project these images and recognize the projected images of others.  This is one of the great beauties of life for it provides a linkage to other individuals.  These links help us to form groups of various stripes and give us great satisfaction.

 

My last bit of advice is the hardest to give let alone express coherently.  When we are young we search for love and truth and many times confuse the two.  Both are ideals, something the Greeks during the time of Socrates and Plato discussed so very often.  I like reading Socrates.  I know the rage is for the old Stoics and Epicureans and their search for wisdom.  Funny that much of their writings were more entries in personal diaries than theories of philosophy debated in the society of philosophers.  Much of what they wrote were observations of the actions and the imputed motivations, a bit of mind reading, something we all do.  But the main influence of Socrates is in his investigation of ideals and their ultimate meaning.  Meaning, now there is a loaded word.  How often do I hear or read how so many young want meaningful work.  Yet if I were to ask each of you just what do you consider meaningful work most of you could not give much of an answer.  Well, work that is a benefit to society.  Any paycheck earned and spent is meaningful to society, so what?  I want to do good in the world.  Does that mean that being unemployed is doing bad?  Does doing good in the world end with retirement?  nd what about love?  Most of us felt loved by our mothers, although love from dad was different, wasn’t it?  Just what is this ideal named love?  Just a bunch of jangly emotions that make you tingle for hours on end?  Or could it be a kind of quiet contentment with the presence of some individual whether physically present or not?  We know that loyalty is a type of love but it never quites fits our wants, does it.  Men and women have spent millions of years and billions of words trying to describe and define love, yet we know no more about it than if nothing were ever said or written.  It is that indescribable individual personal experience.  Note that that individual personal is a redundancy.  No two perceptions of love are ever exactly the same.  Like Socrates, we can spend our lives trying to define love and truth, and beauty, too.  The end is not the correctness for the definition, for one shall never find it.  The end is in the doing, in loving and in finding truth.  It will never be a completed process.  One never retires and stops loving or searching for truth, the two have a habit of turning up at odd times when we least expect them.  But isn’t that the meaning we seek in life?  Doesn’t that make the difference in the world?  Isn’t that the real legacy one leaves his fellow man?