Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2018

Archive for the category “Coffee”

Throwback Thursday from September 2015 – “Don’t Panic! OK, Go Ahead – Panic!!”

Throwback Thursday from September 2015 – “Don’t Panic! OK, Go Ahead – Panic!!”

 

THERE ARE SOME THINGS that Mankind should just not tinker with – Forces ofgiphy-6Nature that, if disturbed, can have cataclysmic repercussions. It is foolish to think that you can control the weather or the motion of the planets. We have tried to go against Nature with things like The Designated Hitter in Baseball or continuing to bankroll Adam Sandler movies and the results have been appalling.

This morning it happened again. I got up, abluted, dressed, made tea for my wife, the lovely and sound asleep, Dawn, and then I headed off to St. Arbucks. When the young barista handed me my coffee she said something that chilled my soul.

“The Power Company has to work on the transformer on the pole outside, so we are going to be without power. We will be closed for about a half hour.”

“When, for God’s sake? When?” I asked her calmly.

“In about three minutes.”

Why not just try to reverse the rotation of the earth like Superman or rewrite the first season of “Sherlock”? Empty the fish bowl and tell the goldfish to chill out for a half hour. Mess with Texas.

There are some things you just don’t do! Don’t spring things like that on me.

With no other choice I skulked back to the car. I sat there as the lights winked out and a poorly written sign was taped to the door. I sat there and sucked on my straw. It helped me to not hyperventilate.

I had my first coffee. I would survive as long as I didn’t panic-sip and “Empty the Venti.” But what about those other poor souls who didn’t get there on time? I sat there in the car and watched a procession of vehicles pull into the Drive-Thru Lane only to see another sign saying, “Closed. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

Well, maybe it just said, “Closed for thirty minutes. Sorry,” but after seeing the word “Closed” the rest of it must have looked like a death threat.

In just five minutes I saw about 40 cars and trucks pull in expectantly, and then leave looking dejected and desperate. It was more than I could take.

In an effort to save myself I took emergency measures – I went across the parking lot to Kroger’s and did some shopping. I needed some distraction. I took my coffee with me. I wasn’t going to leave it, visible and unguarded, in the car.

When I had made my pedometer click enough, I “self-checkout-ed” and slowly approached St. Arbucks from the rear. It had been thirty minutes at least. It felt like a week chained to a prison TV showing only Benny Hinn.

The lights were still out. “And darkness came over the whole land.” – Mark 15:33.

It was then I remembered that I had received a call from my pharmacy telling me that they had a prescription refill ready for me. Never was I so happy to get more meds to swallow. I have downed enough Potassium Chloride to perform a dozen lethal injections. And now I was going to pick up another month’s supply. Oh, Happy Day!

This time when I returned to St. Arbucks I could see from a distance that THERE WAS LIGHT, and parked cars, and a long line in the Drive-Thru Lane. Life as we know it had returned.

I wept a little.

I took my last sip from my original coffee and went inside to claim my refill. It was Ambrosia. It was Nectar of the Gods. It was Iced Coffee, a splash of cream, but unsweetened – the way Nature intended.

I wish that they had posted a warning about this shutdown a week or so ahead of time. I could have prepared myself – driven to the Auxiliary Chapel in the south end of town, or taken a sleeping pill to just miss the whole thing.

Plans are already being made to deal with a scheduled two-week shutdown in November when they close for remodeling. So far, the best option for that time is a two week sabbatical to Seattle.

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Throwback Thursday from September 2015 –”Downwind Of Upstage Is No Place To Be”

Throwback Thursday from September 2015 –”Downwind Of Upstage Is No Place To Be” 

 

 

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THERE IS A GOOD REASON my wife, the lovely and unfailingly perceptive, Dawn, calls my trips to St. Arbucks, along with, “The Usual Suspects,” my “Play Group.” I admit that there are some days when the maturity level drops below Pre-School closing in on Pre-Natal.

For several days now the main topic of conversation among the group has centered on the television western series, “Gunsmoke.” This show hasn’t been on the air since 1975. Why this has become important enough to warrant two days of conversation is unknown.

I understand the lure of nostalgia – the being able to share common memories with contemporaries who are now getting along in years. What I can’t understand is why it has become necessary to dramatize scenes from the show – right there in the corner of the coffee joint. It mystifies me and I think it scares some of the staff and other customers.

The conversation seemed to center around one character on the show: “Chester Good” – portrayed by Dennis Weaver, a mediocre actor at best.

“Chester” was the Deputy to Marshall Matt Dillon, played by James Arness and irrelevant to this discussion.

The character of “Chester” was disabled on the show. His character was gunned down in an early episode and for the rest of his time on the show he ran around with one leg, unbending, and stiff as a pool cue.

Week after week he would scuttle around, getting in over his head with the local bad guys. He would then run, after a fashion – stiff leg swinging out like the line on a weed eater, and yelling, “Mr. Dillon, Mr. Dillon, come quick.” Not exactly a showcase for Mr. Weaver’s acting chops, but it paid the bills.

How all of this was remembered by The Usual Suspects in 2015 is where things got dicey.

After describing “Chester” and his “mobility issues” it was determined by one Suspect that more was needed to illustrate his point (Whatever it was). He also thought that it would help if he performed Chester’s lines, but his recollection veered a bit from reality.

The Suspect hauled himself out of his chair and began to stiff-leg it across the floor. Then his dialogue came out, loud enough to reach the back row at the Hollywood Bowl.

“Holy Sh**, Mr. Dillon. Come quick. Holy Sh**!

It was at this point that I tried to hide under a table. I’m positive that “Chester” never said that on network television – ever.

This breach of nostalgia etiquette had the other Suspects trying to force him back in his chair.

“Sit down! You’re going to get us all thrown out of here!”

I peeked around and all of the baristas and other coffee drinkers looked like prairie dogs – alert with eyes wide open, wondering what was happening. Was the big guy with the bad leg going Postal? Was he a threat or merely nuts?

The answer to that particular question was: All of the above. But I’m not being judgmental.

Now, all of this could be written off as a quirky, one-time event, like Ross Perot or World War Two, except that there was an encore performance the next day.

When I arrived on the scene this “Faux Chester” was already wound up like a Joy Buzzer and moments later he was off and running, albeit with a significant limp. I was still near the door, so I just sidled over toward the recycling bin and pretended to be checking that things were being sorted properly.

If this was going to be a daily performance, I told him, he was going to have to join the Actors’ Equity labor union. It was either that or he was going to be hauled off for a 72 hour observation at the Bubble Factory. Personally, I’m voting for the 72 hour gig.

Most days at St. Arbucks are quiet, contemplative even, but this week it was more like being trapped inside bad Community Theater.

Somedays…

 

“HELLO, MY NAME IS JOHN AND I’M A LUMP”

“HI, JOHN.”

That’s how I would introduce myself at a meeting of “Lumps Anonymous.” Some days are like that. Yesterday was one.

I don’t want to say that I had a lack of energy, but I felt the need to put a mirror up to my own mouth just to be sure that I was still breathing. Rolling out of bed was easy. It was the getting up off of the floor that took a while.

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Words, Words, Words

I WANT TO WRITE ANOTHER NOVEL, but right now I don’t have an idea what kind of story to write. I will though.

I WANT TO WRITE ANOTHER NOVEL, but right now I don’t have an idea what kind of story to write. I will though.

It’s a strange thing about ideas. They come by the millions. Some are better than others, but they all are viable to one degree or another. It just depends on the skill of the writer. There are some ideas that could easily be turned into a decent story and there are others that would take a hundred years to open up.

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She Hates Bats

 

IT’S STILL DARK. IT’S RAINING CALICOS AND SCHNAUZERS. When I walked through the door at St. Arbucks I am greeted by the Barista with, “I hate bats.”

There was not much I could say to that except, “And I hate Komodo Dragons. Now, can I get some coffee?”

As I stood there politely paying for my coffee I was presented with a non-stop confession of everything that was making the Barista unhappy. I was waiting to see if I had made her list. I didn’t.

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Look Into My Eyes

YOU KNOW ME. I’m a pretty easy going guy. I really don’t care how you choose to live your life – as long as you don’t scare the dog or foul the footpath. If you want to have blue hair and walk around all day wrapped in aluminum foil like a baked potato I say – Go for it. I’m cool with it as long as you don’t expect me to chip in to help you buy your supply of Reynold’s Wrap.

In my personal opinion, there are too many laws trying to regulate how people want to live their lives. Part of that is because there are too many lawyers, but that is an issue for another day.

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Throwback Thursday from August 2015 – “Our Lady Of The Crosswalk”

Throwback Thursday from August 2015

Our Lady Of The Crosswalk

I THINK I SAW EVIDENCE OF A MIRACLE THIS MORNING.

I was driving down Wabash Avenue, heading toward home after morning services/brewing at St. Arbucks, when I stopped at the red light. It was then that I saw it.

Across the intersection at the crosswalk, leaning up against the light pole, I saw a single aluminum crutch. “Shades of Fatima,” I said to myself. “Right here in Terre Haute (That’s French for “What the heck is that?”).

Nobody would absentmindedly forget that they were using a crutch and just walk away and leave it there. Nobody would think that they didn’t need the crutch and just abandon it at the corner. It has to be a relic of a recent miraculous event.

Picture if you will – an injured, ill, or otherwise disabled soul galumphing down Wabash Avenue using their new aluminum crutch for support. What was it that happened at the corner of Wabash and Brown? There were no reports of miraculous visions, cosmic phenomena or angelic choruses in the area. Whatever happened must have been extremely private.

Our Hobbler got to the corner and had to wait for the green light when something happened that caused him/her to become restored to full bipedal status. Was it a vision, an apparition that delivered a cure or merely a warming glow that entered and told him/her that it was time to ditch the crutch? 

How in the heck would I know?

I saw the crutch leaning up against that pole and I knew that it couldn’t be accidental – no matter how much you’ve been drinking. In fact, the more you would drink the more you would rely upon the crutch to get you home. And besides – I didn’t see any drunken bodies lying there on the sidewalk.

Ergo: It has to be a miracle.

OK – I admit that another possible explanation or two exist but, really… does anyone think that the crutch may have been placed there as a gag? Or was the crutch thrown there from a passing car? If that had happened, the fact that it landed upright, neatly leaning on the pole, would be yet another miracle.

No – the only logical answer is that Divine Intervention took place at the corner of Wabash and Brown today – and the beneficiary of that intervention is toddling around town and doing just fine, thank you.

Miracles like this don’t happen every day, especially at the corner of Wabash and Brown.  If such miracles did happen every day more people would notice and there would be crutches leaning up at almost every intersection.

Of course, what the future holds for that intersection remains to be seen. Who knows if there will be more miraculous events there and that a devout following will turn it into a place of pilgrimages? If that happens the Mobil station at the opposite corner will see their mini-mart business really take off – Soft drinks, snacks and little plastic crutches made in Korea. It could turn into another Fatima or even a Super Target.

This isn’t like those people that see the face of Jesus on their taco or grilled cheese sandwich. This is a real, tangible aluminum crutch standing up at the corner. Those things don’t just walk there all by themselves. Somebody in need had to have gotten that far and then said, “Oh, I suddenly feel better. Aw, screw it. I don’t need no stinking crutch. I’m outta here.” Not poetic or very liturgical, but what do you expect at a busy intersection?

Today – one person leaving a single aluminum crutch.

Tomorrow – a shrine to Our Lady of the Crosswalk.

It could happen.

 

Throwback Thursday from August 2015 – “A Man’s Gotta Do What A Man’s Gotta Do”

Throwback Thursday from August 2015 

A Man’s Gotta Do What A Man’s Gotta Do

Saint ArbucksTHIS MORNING WAS DIFFICULT.

I got up at my usual time – 7 AM-ish and got my act together so I could leave the house without either scaring the neighbors or getting my butt arrested. Up to that point the morning was going along uneventfully.

My wife, the lovely and early rising today, Dawn, was already up and more or less “at ‘em.” She had an 8:30 appointment and set the alarm for some ungodly hour to ensure that she would not be late. I applaud her for that.

It was at this point that things began to go downhill like a Chevy with a faulty parking brake in San Francisco. I had my own appointment to see my Doctor at 11:20 AM.

11:20? 11:bleeping 20? What moron scheduled an appointment for that late in the day? Oh. Never mind. My bad.

The main reason I see this Doctor at all is because I have “Blood Pressure Issues.” That means that, untreated, my blood pressure tends to creep up to rival that of a charging Cape Buffalo. After that my head would explode, I would spontaneously combust and I would hit the ground like an overcooked baked potato.

By scheduling an appointment for that late in the morning it meant one very significant and overriding thing: I wouldn’t be able to have my morning coffee until after the appointment.

Dear God! Whatever will I do? Wherever will I go?

If I go ahead and drop by St. Arbucks for my morning coffee my blood pressure will spike like Vlad The Impaler on a bad day. I had doomed myself to a morning without my coffee. Sheesh!

My solution to this self-inflicted wound was to nurse along a cup of Decaf and hope that it wouldn’t rat on me when they wrapped that cuff on my arm.

I know what you are thinking –“Decaf?” That is just like kissing your sister. It is technically a kiss, but it’s not the same. It’s not like the Real Thing.

So, bowing my head in shame, I ordered the coffee that isn’t coffee and I skulked to my chair in the corner. The barista got a bit teary, The Usual Suspects – The Brotherhood of the Cup, stared and whispered to each other. Even the flies moved to the far side of the store, ashamed to be seen near me.

I sat there waiting for it to be time to leave. I sipped at the dark liquid, wondering what do they do to make it taste like that – and why, for Heaven’s sake. Why?

Deep in my heart I knew that I had a good reason for doing what I was doing. It was my health, my very life, which was in the balance. With my meds I had the blood pressure of an adult human male of my age. Without my meds no one within splatter range was safe. I was like a human paint ball. I didn’t want to mislead the Doctor with a BP reading that would be artificially goosed up by my cup of real coffee.

Some days you just have to take one for the team. Some days you have to lean in to the fastball.  If I had to pretend that the stuff in my cup was really coffee I would do it. I would hope that the stress of making this sacrifice would not, in itself, raise my blood pressure, but I would do it.

I had to think of my family, man!

I want them to be proud of me. I want them to see me happy. I want them to see me above ground.

Throwback Thursday from August 2015 – “If You Don’t Hear From Me – It’s The Moles”

 

Throwback Thursday from August 2015 

If You Don’t Hear From Me – It’s The Moles

20150729_114750IT HAS BEEN A QUIET MORNING.

After stumbling through the process of making tea and doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper I felt that I was sufficiently conscious to drive to St. Arbucks.

“Oh, great nectar from the mountains of Abyssinia, you awaken my mind and soul to all the wonders and possibilities of God’s creation.” 

— From the Gospel of St. Arbucks, Patron Saint of Jittery people.

This afternoon, however, is a different story.

As I stepped out of the back door I was made immediately aware that things were happening – big time.

First of all my ears were assaulted by the cacophony of a million Cicadas nestled high in the treetops. There is no other sound quite like the half buzz, half whine of the ugliest insect around. I don’t know if these are the 5-year, 7-year or the 17-year Cicadas that seem to like this part of the country, but they are noisy. When they are going full blast it can make earplugs a nice accessory.

After regaining my equilibrium from the aural assault I headed to the car, but I stopped when I saw what is in the picture displayed above.

We had a bit of rain overnight and I think it inflated the mushroom that has been growing by the tree near the car. I have put a book into the picture to give you some idea of the size. It first popped up about three years ago and has somehow survived some truly bitter winters. Now it looks poised to take over the whole yard.

I’ve seen squirrels nibble at it and birds too, but I’d be afraid to sample it for fear that it might bite back. I have no idea what kind of mushroom it is other than Honking Big.

After snapping the picture of the Mega-Shroom I walked around to the driver’s side of the car and noticed yet another sign of activity.

We have either a collection of moles living in/under the backyard or the city is putting in a new subway tunnel, which would surprise the heck out of me because Terre Haute (That’s French for “Mama don’t ‘low no subways around here.”) doesn’t have a subway system. It barely has bus lines. I don’t think they’d want to dig too deep around here anyway – you never know who you might bring up.

It must be moles – lots of them. It looks like they’ve all been drinking too. None of the little raised piles of dirt go in a straight line for more than six inches.

Then again, maybe the moles haven’t been drinking. They might be disoriented from sampling that giant Magic Mushroom over by the tree.

Or maybe it’s those darn Cicadas. They make enough noise to drive me crazy – just imagine what they could do to the nervous system of a mole.

Wait a minute…

Did I just compare myself to a mole?

If someone else said that to me I would ask them to step outside, but under the circumstances I would find myself out there alone. Then what?

Besides, it’s too hot and muggy today, so I’ll just stay inside and give myself a stern talking to.

I will continue to monitor the activity in the backyard and report on any significant changes.

If you don’t hear from me – it’s the moles.

Rolling Away

 

OH, GOD, IS THIS ANOTHER MONDAY?

I’m retired and I don’t have to get up and go to work anywhere, but my body and soul are reacting like I do. It’s not fair.

I should relate to Mondays like I do to Wednesdays or Saturdays – I think I’ll just roll over and catch a few more winks.

What’s the point of being retired if I respond to Monday mornings by having my stomach clench up like a fist and my brain trying to come up with some good excuses to stay home? Something needs to be done about this – something short of going out, getting a job, and then quitting the job all over again.

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A “Green” Solution

 

THE SOUND OF CRASHING AND YELLING has taken over at the neighborhood Chapel of St. Arbucks. It must be Summer and the Annual Sport of Fly Swatting while having coffee.

The way the Chapel is constructed with doors on opposite sides of the store there is a constant flow of air and flies passing through. With a setup like that and an endless supply of retired geezers hanging out with nothing productive to do you have the perfect ambiance for “The Killing Machine.”

Give those geezers a copy of the local newspaper and the flies don’t have a chance. Just the other day our resident Pickle Ball Champion bagged 14 flies in less than fifteen minutes.  It was like watching the legendary 300 Greek Spartan Warriors slicing up those pesky Persians – without all the leather skirts, and in English.

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This Has Not Been Fun

 

WE ARE BACK FROM CALIFORNIA where everything was sunny, bright, and cold. Every day it was mostly in the 60s where we were and I was toddling about in a Hawaiian Shirt designed for the 70s and 80s. Naturally the souvenir I brought back was a head cold.

Summer colds are the worst. While the outside temperatures might bump into the 70s or higher I am already running a fever and battling the best of Corporate America’s Air Conditioning.

We are in Indiana and it is Summertime. I am still feeling chills and fever so I am wearing a sweatshirt and drinking iced tea. It’s just not making any sense.

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Where Was Sacagawea When We Needed Her?

WE HAVE BEEN SPENDING A FEW DAYS OUT IN SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA. It is a lovely city with a great climate. I was, however, feeling a serious lack that needed filling.

My wife, the lovely and actively involved, Dawn, and I have been attending an annual church meeting/conference. While she is working hard I am here mainly to serve as “Arm Candy.” I can handle that.

Because my function is not really needed in Meetings, Seminars, and Committee sessions I have a fair amount of time on my hands. That is when things began to go south in a figurative sense. I needed some coffee and I was a stranger in a strange land.

Google Mars told me that there were several oases of coffee nearby – one of them a scant 0.2 miles away. One of the other conference attendees said that she walked there in 9 minutes – and she uses a cane.

I stopped at the front desk of the Marriott Something Hotel and asked for directions. The young lady on duty smiled constantly as she gave me specific instruction to steer me to the 0.2 miles away Starbucks.

“Just go out of the front door here and turn left. It is about a 10 minute walk. Would you like a cup of coffee right now?”

She must have had one of those Yeti gizmos stashed behind her desk. I took a raincheck on her offer. I wanted the real thing. All I had to do was to remember to “Go out of the front door here and turn left.” I could do that. I am a college graduate.

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Four

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Four

 

It was already 65 degrees at 7 A.M. With a high-pressure system out in the Pacific and a warm wind coming down from the High Sierras, it promised that things would be heating up in San Francisco. This Sunday would be a day for shorts and a tank top.

Marlee was up and feeling invigorated by a restful night’s sleep and a hot shower. She had already started her wash in the basement laundry room and had a few minutes to kill until it was ready for the dryers. The vague memory of last night’s dreams led her into the bedroom. She got down on her knees, reached under the bed and slid out the black, hard plastic cello case protecting, at one time, the most important thing in her life.

Marlee carried it onto the sunny living room. It never seemed heavy to her. She had been toting around her cello since high school and she liked its heft. It had a substantial quality that carried over into her playing.

Over the years audiences and critics alike, upon seeing this slim young woman take the stage, had dismissed her off hand as an ornament. It was when she played, coaxed and cajoled the music from the strings and wood that they fell under her powerful spell. Many reviews commented that she handled the cello with the tenderness of a lover and the brute strength of a longshoreman.

When Marlee was onstage people believed that the music came from her and that the cello was merely an instrument of transmission. She was in total control and never wavered or hesitated.

She got one of her dining room chairs and set by the bay window so that the sun would wash over her as she played. Seated in the chair she stared at the case, sizing it up like a boxer waiting for the bell to ring.

The sun played off the varnished wood and it flared into her eyes. She slid the bow from its place and the small tuning fork as well.

She lifted the cello out of the case and adjusted the tail spike. The neck felt hard and strange in her hand. She had not played in months and both she and the cello were out of tune.

Marlee opened her thighs and welcomed home her first love. The varnished curves of the fire-blasted Maplewood felt warm and clinging against the skin on her legs and she wondered why more women didn’t take up the cello.

She tapped the tuning fork on the windowsill and checked to see how much tuning would be necessary.

“Not bad,” she said with a smile and made some adjustments to the tuning pegs and left the fine tuners alone.

She picked up the bow again, tightened the hair and began to do some simple scales and arpeggios. It felt good and sounded comfortable and “at home.”

Tonic, Dominant, Sub-dominant. Triads. Yampulsky’s Exercises: scales in four octaves, chords and harmonics. Faster. Louder. She heard the overtones as her fingers danced up and down the carved wooden neck of the 80 year-old French instrument.

She also heard a scraping sound and then a loud thump from the apartment above. Her fingers froze in mid-arpeggio. Dennis was home.

In her hunger to play again, she had forgotten that it was still only a little past 8:00 A.M. on Sunday morning. She would have to find a practice space.

Marlee waited, and hearing nothing more from up above, resumed her exercises, but softly. She fought the urge to tear into some Baroque Period piece by J.S. Bach, just to feel it in her hands. She resisted because it would have gotten raucous and also because she was out of practice and would not have done it justice. Another time. Today was a day for getting reacquainted with the instrument and for it to do the same with her.

As they age, fine musical instruments take on a patina. The highly buffed varnish on hers had an almost 3-dimensional quality and glowed as if there was a fire inside the F-holes, shining through and heating every note.

Such quality does not come cheaply. Marlee’s cello cost her over $32,000, the bow was over $3,000 and a decent set of four strings was at least $100. Someday she hoped to step up to a first-class kit. At the top there were those made by Stradivarius. The genius from Cremona made more than just violins, but those were very rare and far beyond Marlee’s credit line.

It felt so natural and right to be playing again, even if it was so muted that she could barely hear it, but the vibrations were there.

Leaning in close to the strings, embracing the cello, Marlee poured out her emotions, hopes and fears through the silver tipped bow. Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart responded to her touch across the centuries.

She had worked up a sweat, but it was the sweat of sweet accomplishment. A quick wipe with a towel and a glass of juice would get her ready for another round of exercises. She could already feel the burn in the muscles of her arms.

With the refrigerator door wide open, she stood there drinking straight from the carton. Nobody else was there to scold her. The cold air felt good on her skin. She shivered.

As she put the half empty carton back on the shelf next to some white grapes that were getting too ripe, the doorbell rang, quickly followed by several short raps on her apartment door.

“Oh, get real. It was so low I couldn’t even hear it myself.”

At the door she looked through the security peephole, but couldn’t see anyone.

“Who is it?”

“Marlee, it’s me, Dennis Thayer.”

“Go away.”

“Please, I need to talk with you. I have to apologize.”

“Apology accepted. Now, go away.”

“Marlee, please. I have behaved badly.”

“Behaved badly? You attacked me.”

“You’re right.” He had his face up against the door. “I was way out of line, but I have to explain.” Marlee stood silently, glaring at her side of the door. “I have a medical condition and I’d rather not discuss standing out here in the hallway, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t know, Dennis. I’m still very angry.”

“I know and that’s why I need to talk with you face to face. Please, let me in and I can explain everything.” He lowered his voice, forcing her to move closer to the door.

“I’m really a nice guy, a pussycat even. Meow.” Unseen by Marlee, he rubbed up against the door and licked the wood. “Meow.”

Marlee smiled at his cat impression and leaned against the door, thinking. Dennis had gotten out of line, but she had been able to handle him easily. He was a strange one, but also charming and witty.

“Marlee? Are you still there?” His voice was soft and pleading. “Meow.”

“OK, Dennis, but know this: any funny business and I’ll toss you out the window in front of a bus.”

“No funny business, I swear.”

Despite the hard bits of foreboding in her stomach, she turned the deadbolt and opened the door to a smiling Dennis Thayer.

He stood there in her doorway, dressed in chinos and a bright green Polo shirt. With his blonde curls just touching his eyebrows, he looked like a Preppie leprechaun.

The man had a twinkle in his eyes that made people want to invite him into their lives. In one hand he was holding a pot of steaming coffee and in the other, a rose colored plate piled high with croissants.

He gave Marlee a nod. “I hope you have some cream and some jam.”

He walked past her, into the dining room. “I hope you like croissants. They are so melt in your mouth delicious. And these are still warm. Honey, they are to die for.”

She followed him into the room. “Dennis, I don’t want breakfast. You said you wanted to explain why you attacked me when I was trying to help you. Get on with it. What should I know about the man living above me?”

He set down the coffee and reached for the cups and saucers on the built-in buffet next to the table.

“What should you know? Well, let’s see. Oh…you should know that I usually like to sleep late on Saturday mornings.”

Marlee took a deep breath as he reprimanded her.

“I’m sorry about that, Dennis. I forgot about the thin walls and floors in this old building. I’m sorry I woke you.”

“That’s OK, but it makes a lousy alarm clock. Some of the people in this building might complain, but not me. I’m in a good mood this morning.”

She caught his non-complaining complaint about her music, but since she felt that it was deserved, she let it go. His cheerful mood relaxed her. Her agitation and anger ebbed as she went into the kitchen for some utensils, plates, butter and the half pint carton of half ‘n half she had picked up across the street the night before.

“I don’t have any jam. Do you like sugar for you coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“It’s in the kitchen. I couldn’t carry it all. On the shelf next to the microwave.”

“I’ll get it.” He went into the kitchen as Marlee arranged the place settings. He picked up the sugar bowl and a few paper napkins from the top of the refrigerator. Marlee moved a small vase filled with Sweet Williams in from the living room.

“A centerpiece. How elegant, Miss Marlee.”

Marlee tensed a bit when she realized that he was standing behind her. He had a habit of silently entering the room. It unnerved her.

He pulled out her chair and, even though a bit uneasy, she allowed him to play the gentleman.

“Shall I pour,” he asked.

Over the clink of knives, plates, cups and saucers, Dennis carried on a nonstop monologue about how happy he was, the weather, anything, but the reason he said that he needed to be there.

“Dennis, stop it!”

“Stop what?” he said as he paused to take a big bite of his buttered croissant.

“You said you needed to talk with me. You begged to be let in. I don’t think it was to give me a weather report.”

“I’m just making sociable chitchat.”

“Dennis, you said you came here to apologize for pawing me in your apartment. Let’s hear it.”

He looked at her, unblinking. He wasn’t used to being spoken to with such directness, especially by women. From women he expected reverential doting, like from his mother, polite helpfulness, like the girls who bagged his groceries at the Safeway, or eventual, fearful surrender to his will. Marlee’s controlled quiet was unfamiliar. One side of him found her strength arousing, while another part of him thought it was too masculine and unattractive.

When he didn’t speak, she went on.

“Let me show you how it’s done. ‘I apologize for playing my cello this early and waking you up.’ There, now it’s your turn.”

“Oh, Miss Marlee, there’s no need to apologize again about the music. It was really quite lovely.”

“Get out.”

“What? Why?”

“Get out of my apartment.” She stood up and looked down at him.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. How stupid of me. Please sit down. You’re making me feel so small, like a boy being scolded by his mother. That hurts and you’re not a hurtful person. Are you, Marlee?”

She sat down.

“You have five seconds to start this apology business or I’ll throw you out of here.” She looked him in the eyes, hoping her nervousness didn’t show. It did.

“Five…four…”

“Marlee, you’re right, as always. Please allow me to sincerely and deeply apologize for my behavior. You offered me nothing but kindness and hospitality and I acted like a boorish jerk.

“I have a chemical imbalance in my brain and it can throw me for a real loop. On top of that and the pain killers, about which you already know, the night before your beautiful and delicious brunch, at which, incidentally, you served some of the best hollandaise I’ve ever had. I’d love to get the recipe from you. Do you use fresh lemon juice? I think that’s the key, don’t you.”

“Three…two…”

“Oh, sorry. The night before your brunch I couldn’t sleep from the pain and I took a couple of Vicodin. One used to do the trick, but not any more. And, when I drank that champagne, well it just hit me like a moving van.

“I needed your help getting home, obviously, and I guess that my barbaric and uncivilized nature came out and I…Oh, Marlee. I am so sorry. I am not that kind of man at all.

“From what I recall, you put me on my ass. I don’t remember the details, but I’ll always have the pictures. What did you do to me? I could barely walk for two days.

“I know that what I did was wrong and it was stupid and I swear that I will never, ever, do anything like that again. Please forgive me.  I feel like I should be doing an act of contrition. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” He tapped his heart three times as he chanted.

He looked at her, not knowing what else to say to convince her of his regret.

“Am I forgiven?”

Marlee didn’t say a word. She took a sip of coffee and stared at him over the lip of the cup.

“Marlee? I apologize. Please forgive me.”

“I forgive you, Dennis, but you have a problem with those pills that needs addressing.”

“I know. I’m going to the Free Clinic about that. They’ve assigned me a counselor.”

“There’s one more thing I need to bring up before I can feel comfortable with you again.”

“What’s that?”

“The pictures. All those photographs on the walls of your bedroom.”

“Its ‘The Haight.’ I take pictures of the neighborhood. It’s my Art.”

“You told me you were a sculptor.”

“I am. I take the photographs and mold them onto forms. ‘Photographic Sculpture’ I call it.”

“You had a picture of me on your wall. A shot of me and Luco Reyes.”

“Well, aren’t you part of The Haight now?”

He waved his hands in the air as if to say, “I thought that was self-evident.”

“I’m sorry. I never meant to offend you.”

“I took it down, Dennis, and ripped it up. I’m sorry too. I was just so shook up by what had just happened. I saw that picture and I felt…”

“Violated?”

“Yes, violated by that picture.”

He nodded. “It will never happen again. I promise you.”

Marlee refilled both their cups.

“You know, Luco warned me about you. He said that you were trouble. He called you a ‘bad egg.’”

“He and I have had our problems. It was all my fault, but I bumped into him last night and I think that my problems with him are a thing of the past.”

“Oh, I’m glad to hear that. I know only two men in San Francisco and I don’t want them hating each other.”

Dennis wiped his hands with his napkin and extended his hand across the wooden table. “Friends again?”

Marlee looked at him, her head tilted and her eyes, slits. Just as his smile began to fade a big grin appeared on her face. “Friends again, and I hope forever.” She took his offered hand and they made an exaggerated shake.

“Oh, this is silly,” bubbled Dennis as he got up and came around the table. “Give us a hug.” They gave each other a big bear hug and exchanged “Hollywood Kisses.”

“Miss Marlee, I am so glad we are friends again because I already got you a little gift to celebrate.”

“Dennis, no. I don’t want you spending your money on gifts for me.”

“Don’t worry. It’s nothing. Let me go get it. I’ll be right back.” He hurried out of the door and took the stairs two at a time. Marlee moved over to the door and listened as he quickly came back down from the third floor. He was carrying a large cardboard box. She had to move so he could get it through the door. He set it down on the living room floor.

“Dennis, you crazy nut, what in the world is it?”

He grinned like a circus clown and with a flourish, lifted off the lid.

“Ta DA!”

“Oh, my God, Dennis. What have you done?”

Dennis squatted down, reached into the box a held up a small, yellow kitten.

Marlee put her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream of delight.

“Good Lord. It’s a kitty cat.”

“I know that, girl. I brought him here, remember?”

They were both laughing. The past was seemingly forgotten.

“Miss Marlee Owens, I’d like you to meet Mr. J.P. Cat. Marlee, J.P., J.P., Marlee.” She reached out and shook the kitten’s tiny paw.

“J.P.? What does that stand for?”

“I think it stands for ‘Just Plain’. He is ‘Just Plain Cat’,” said Dennis as he put the cat down.

Marlee got down on the floor and petted the animal as he hopped around inside the box.

“He is just the cutest little thing, but I can’t accept him. I love him already, but I’ve never had a cat before. I don’t know anything about cats.”

“There’s nothing to it.”

“Is he housebroken?”

“Already done. Momma cat teaches them the proper etiquette. Wait here, I’ll be right back.” Again he bounded up the stairs. She could hear him running around his apartment.

Marlee lifted J.P. Cat high overhead as he mewed and pawed at the air. She was definitely smitten with the tiny, yellow ball of fuzz.

Inside the box was a red foam rubber ball the size of a small peach. She set J.P. on the floor and then rolled the ball toward him. He watched it roll by and scampered after the bright red toy, losing traction and sliding into the side of the steamer trunk coffee table. Marlee was fascinated by this furry little bounce of life.

“Isn’t he sweet?” Dennis was back and holding another cardboard box. “I’ve got a few of the necessities here.” He set it down and J.P. scurried over to investigate.

“All right, here are a few things that you and J.P. will need. It’s not much.”

“Dennis, I have to tell you, I am so in love with this little guy. J.P. is so precious.”

“Ain’t he though? I got him from a friend who just got transferred to Terre Haute, Indiana of all places.

“Anyway, here we have the most important item – the litter tray. I’ll set it up for you.”

For the next ten minutes Dennis and Marlee sat on the floor like two kids on Christmas morning going through their toys. They held each item out for the little kitten to sniff. He was learning about his new home.

“Dennis, I am just flabbergasted. I’ve never thought about getting a cat, but now, after just a few minutes, I can’t imagine life without him, Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I thought you two would make a ‘Love Connection’.”

“More coffee? I think it’s still hot.”

“No, thanks. I have to go. You know, places to go, people to see. Maybe later.”

Marlee walked him to the door.

“Dennis, I am so glad that we have things worked out between us.”

“Me too.”

“And J.P. will be here whenever you want to come down and play.”

She gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek. Dennis smiled from ear to ear. His smile didn’t disappear until he closed the door to his apartment, leaving Marlee behind.

Sailing On Lake Starbucks

 

WELL, I STARTED OFF TODAY IN FINE FORM. No sooner did I set my coffee down on my sacred corner table than I hit the straw and flipped the whole thing into the air and created Lake Starbucks on the floor.

What a dump.

I guess I’m off the Bomb Squad.

The Barista who had handled my transaction was quite pleasant, jovial even – not an easy trick at 6:30 AM. Her twinkling eyes and lilting voice disappeared when she was pushing that mop around trying to clean up my mess. So much for good customer relations. The look she shot in my direction when she finished mopping up my coffee could have melted plastic. I have a feeling that I am now on her “Spit in his coffee” list.

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Three

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Three

“You OK, Sport?”

The voice came from beyond the light. Luco opened his eyes and put his hands up to block the painful beam.

“I said, are you OK? Oh, Hi, Luco.”

“What? Who is it?” As the light was lowered Luco dropped his hands.

“Luco, it’s Dave Mulroy, from over at the Park Station. They got a call about a crazy man on the Buena Vista steps. I was nearby, so…are you OK? The reports said you were yelling.”

“I’m sorry. I’m fine, Dave. Just not ready to sleep yet, I guess.”

“Do you want me to give you a lift?”

“No, thanks. The walk will do me good.”

“OK, Luco, but be careful.”

The police officer pressed the key on his radio and spoke into the microphone on his lapel.

“4210 here. Everything is fine on the 5150 at BV Park. Just a husband afraid to go home.” He shook Luco’s hand, walked down the steps and drove off into the night. Luco stood up and headed in the opposite direction, up Haight Street, toward home.

While he was quiet the rest of Haight Street was active and alive with the sounds of a weekend in the city. The traffic on both the sidewalks and the roadway was bumper to bumper. It was too much for Luco. He turned left at the corner of Ashbury and walked past the Gap store, up the hill to Waller Street. On Waller he left the crowds behind. His way home on Waller, a residential street, would be quiet, with flowering trees hanging low over the sidewalk. His change of route made Dennis Thayer smile, if you could call the tilted stretch of his mouth a smile.

Dennis had watched Luco sitting on the Park steps in the rear view mirror of his van. He had shadowed Marlee and Luco from the moment they left Martin Macks, watching them, and getting angrier with each touch and shared word. He couldn’t hear them, so he supplied his own obscene dubbed in dialogue. In his mind he was sure that they were exchanging the details of what they were planning to do with each other’s body.

When Marlee went inside alone and Luco moved over to the stone steps by the Park, he was certain that it was to make a drug buy to spark their greasy rutting.

“God bless the Police for ruining their plans for tonight,” he said to no one. “And now I’m going to ruin their plans for good.”

He watched Luco move wearily up Haight Street and pulled out into traffic to follow him home. When Luco turned off and went up the hill, Dennis had to make a quick change of plans. He stayed on Haight, sped up and made his left turn at Cole Street, several block further on. He backed his dark gray Dodge van into the driveway of a brightly painted Victorian house. Its vibrant colors were muted by the darkness. The van was all but invisible in the shadows, and it offered an unobstructed view down Waller Street.

The comparative silence of Waller Street was welcome as Luco walked slowly, pausing to take in the aromas of the blooming lilac bushes. This had been an amazing night and he knew that his life was never going to be the same. Dennis Thayer was forming a similar thought as he saw Luco step into the pool of light under the streetlamp at the corner of Waller and Cole.

Luco stopped and looked at the small cafe on the opposite corner. They were still open. He thought that maybe a cup of chamomile tea might help him get a restful sleep rather than spend a fitful night, exhausted but restless. It was only two minutes from home and here he wouldn’t have to wait for the water to boil. In the van, Dennis was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and talking out loud to Luco.

“Come on, come on, come on, come on, you son of a bitch. I saw her first.”

Luco stepped off the curb, set to jaywalk across the intersection. His tired eyes focused on the warmly lit interior of the small cafe. Dennis turned the key in the ignition and slipped the van into gear, headlights off.

Luco looked around and saw that there was no traffic for at least a block in any direction. His path was safe.

When Luco was halfway across the intersection, Dennis pulled out of his driveway hiding spot and pushed the accelerator toward the gray carpeted floor. He was giggling.

The next two seconds seemed to move through glue. Luco heard the roar of the van’s engine as it revved up. He turned to look and saw the van coming straight at him. He was trapped; not knowing which way would be his salvation. Dennis flipped on the headlights. He wanted to watch this.

Luco desperately moved to his right, hoping to get out of the way. Dennis matched his move. The headlights were blinding Luco. The survival instinct took over and Luco made a wild dive for the space between two parked cars. Dennis anticipated him and got there first.

The right front bumper of the speeding van hit Luco while he was in midair. His right hip took the force of the blow and lifted his body higher above the pavement. The off-center impact made his body propeller through the air. Head first; Luco hit the hood of a Ford Tempo. His shoulders peeled off the wiper blades as he bounced across the windshield.

Still airborne and spinning, he flew over the sidewalk and slammed, spine first, into the large window of the cafe. The plate glass shattered, sending jagged shards knifing into the crowded room. It was a glittering rain of shrapnel.

The van veered back into the center of the street as Dennis felt the satisfying dull thud of Luco’s body against sheet metal and chrome.

It was chaos on the corner of Waller and Cole. Inside the cafe, the flying glass had instantly killed a young man seated by the window. Several other customers were injured, cut and bleeding on the black and white checkerboard floor.

It was five minutes before the first ambulance arrived. It was ten before anyone noticed the man in black lying outside in the planter box, hidden in the flowers.

Dennis didn’t stop until he reached the parking lot at Ocean Beach at the western edge of the city. He needed to check if the impact had done any damage to his van. He carefully inspected the chrome work and painted areas for any scratches.

“Perfect. That was positively surgical.”

Driving along the ocean, up the hill past the Cliff House, perched high above the crashing waves, and then down crowded Geary Boulevard, Dennis turned on his radio and heard a deep voiced announcer reading a news story about a hit and run accident in the Haight/Ashbury District. Dennis whooped loudly and hit the horn when the radio said that one man had been killed.

Speeding through the heavy traffic, he headed back toward The Haight.

At home, as he drifted off to sleep, he smiled.

“Today has been a good day.”

Dennis Thayer slept well and dreamed of flowers and gardens.

In the apartment below, Marlee was dreaming and working out her conflict between loyalty and desire. She dreamed of Luco and Phillip. She was making peace with one and love with the other. Her brain was showing her the way to clear the path to tomorrow.

In her dreams, for the first time since Phillip’s death, she felt enthusiastic about the future, not just accepting. She had hopes that there could be, would be, should be, days, weeks and years of happiness ahead for her. She also decided that upon waking she would pull her cello out from under the bed and see what music came out. It was time.

Lord, It’s The Flies

FLIES! I HATE FLIES! FLIES HATE ME! We have a mutual Destruction Agreement. I try to kill them and they try to drive me bonkers.

With the advent of warm weather the fly population has skyrocketed. It’s either that or they are being imported from elsewhere to torment me.

Something must be done and yet some people say that it is my own fault. There are those who put the blame on the way I dress. I disagree. Flies are not attracted to my Hawaiian Shirts. Just because my shirts are brightly colored and floral looking doesn’t mean that flies are drawn to me. Hummingbirds maybe, but not flies. I could accept their theory if I was wearing shirts that looked like rotting meat or cow dung, but not a bunch of Hibiscus blooms.

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Two

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

With that, Luco closed his eyes and thought about how long his life had been since that day when he kissed the closed coffin and said farewell to everything that mattered.

Marlee just looked at Luco and felt her heart ache for him and for her own lost love. She thought she might start crying again.

“Luco, I have to go to go fix my makeup. Please, be here when I get back.”

He looked back at her and in a soft and weary voice said, “Of course. I can’t think of any place I could go right now. Go on. I’ll be fine.”

A few minutes alone would give them both the chance to clear their heads and ask, “What just happened here?”

Standing in front of the restroom mirror, she looked at her tear-stained face and saw a new, more mature woman than the one who had walked into Martin Macks and ordered the lamb. She no longer felt alone with her past. And it was a past that was now more manageable.

She turned the tap, took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. When the water was hot, Marlee washed her face and, thankful for the fluffy cloth towels, wiped off every trace of makeup from her face.

The hot water and rubbing made her cheeks pink. Her eyes still showed the effects of her tears, but it didn’t matter any more.

Luco turned and watched Marlee walk away from the booth. It was not the usual look that a man takes as a woman walks past, although he did notice and appreciate the graceful sway of her hips and the extension of her long, slender legs as she moved. Almost like a dancer, he thought, elegant, purposeful and strong.

He watched her walk away because he wanted to make sure that she was real. Was this an actual person who had come into his life and unlocked the padlock and chains around his emotions? Or was this some angel or demon that was here to torture him for his blasphemies and weaknesses?

Seeing an opportunity, the waitress came with the check and Luco paid the bill. He tipped too much, thankful for her consideration and discretion.

She had overheard a bit and seen a lot during the evening. Knowing that it was impossible, but still, she wished that she could take this man home with her and make love to him and hold him until his tears were dry and forgotten.

When Marlee returned and sat down, she unconsciously reached out and took Luco’s hand in hers. He closed his fingers around hers without a thought. It seemed natural and right.

“Luco, I want to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For trusting me. I know that this has been terribly difficult and I hope you feel better for having let it all out.”

“I sure did that, didn’t I?” He noticed something different about her. “You’ve washed off your makeup.”

“It was a mess, beyond repair. Am I still passable?”

“You’re beautiful. That’s all I can say…beautiful.”

She blushed. “It’s been a long time since a man has said that to me.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve said it.”

“Luco, let’s go for a walk. I need to move.”

This time as they walked through the bar there were no wisecracks from the regulars. One look at Marlee and Luco as they came by and they were aware that something had changed. It was respected. While two people had passed by on the way in, one couple was leaving.

Marlee and Luco held hands as they walked down Haight Street. It was still early and the sidewalks were crowded. Some of the people moved with a nervous intensity, as if they were late. Late for a very important date.

It was a Friday night and the small clubs with live music would soon be overflowing into the street.

Standing in front of the People’s Cafe was the strawberry blonde with the knockout figure. She was taking a cigarette break and the busboy was taking a chance. He was using all of his charm to get a smile from her and maybe a date for later. Maybe it was the faint aroma of eucalyptus and cinnamon sweetening the air, but his smile and boyish looks were having an effect. She tossed her cigarette into the street, turned to go back inside and paused long enough to slide a fingertip slowly across his young lips, giving him a flame of hope and more.

Marlee and Luco walked in an isolation and noticed none of it. They heard and saw only each other. She told him how glad she was that she had moved to Haight Street. He said that it was sometimes called “The Street Of Second Chances.”

“Is that why you moved here Luco, a second chance?”

“I came here to get away from the Mission District. Everything and everyone I saw triggered a memory. I still don’t go back there even though its fifteen minutes away. It’s just too much.

There was a bit of a festive mood on the street. It was unseasonably warm and the fog was holding offshore, letting the stars shine though. The Locals have long memories and warm, clear weather stirs up memories of the earthquakes that regularly pound The City and drive away the faint of heart. They call this “Earthquake Weather”.

Marlee’s apartment was just a few blocks down the street. “Kitty-corner” from her building was “The Haight-Central Market”, a grandiose title for a tiny store stocked to the roof with a few basic foods and sufficient impulse items to satisfy most appetites. Marlee and Luco went in so she could get some cream and a lottery ticket. “I’m feeling lucky.”

They stood under the streetlight outside her door and she scratched at the ticket with a quarter.

“Well?”

“Hmmm…not tonight.”

They stared at each other and felt as awkward as two thirteen year-olds on a first date.

“Thanks for having dinner with me, Marlee.”

“Thanks for asking me, Luco.”

“Marlee, how do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“How do you go on, survive?”

“I don’t understand, Luco. How do I survive the loss of my husband?”

“Yes.”

She looked into his pain-filled eyes.

“Luco, How could I not survive? Would me dying as well or withdrawing into myself accomplish anything? Would my husband’s memory best be served by me losing my life too? No, my survival, as you call it, is the only honest thing I can do.”

“Can you teach me how to do that? I see you, going on, living. You actually seem happy. How did you accomplish that?

“Marlee, you have such strength, such power, such courage, that I am amazed. I feel so out of control by comparison. How do you sleep with those dreams and memories? I can’t.”

“Luco, I don’t have any special secret strength. Any power I have, any control I seem to have over my life has come to me at a horrible price.

“I still have the dreams about it all, the nightmares, but not as often, not as bad. The memories…are just that, memories. I’ll never forget and I don’t want to. It is a part of me. I can’t cut out a part of my life. It would be useless to even try.

“Can I teach you how to get through this? No, I can’t. I would if I could, but I can’t. The terrible losses that you and I have had are different for each of us as individuals. The pain is so very personal that what I’ve done wouldn’t work for you. Nor will yours work for me.”

“Marlee, I don’t want to go on living like this. It’s killing me, but I don’t know where to begin. What can I do? Help me, Marlee.”

“I think you began tonight, Luco. You trusted someone. You trusted me and I thank you for that. Now you have to start trusting yourself again. To trust yourself with Alicia’s memory and how to keep that memory and still move forward.”

“I’m not sure I understand all of that, but intellectually, it makes sense. I don’t know, Marlee. I thought I’d ask and I do thank you for offering me a sympathetic ear if I need it.”

“You will need it.” She took a piece of paper and a pen from her bag and wrote quickly. “Here is my number. You call me, day or night, if you need to talk. I’m serious, Luco.”

“I know you are. Thank you.”

He put the paper in his pocket, wondering if he’d ever have the courage to call her.

I’ll see you at the cafe.” He started to turn and head home.

“Luco, wait! This is too important. Tonight was amazing and I think that you and I have connected on a level that I haven’t felt in years. Thank you. Thank you so much for tonight.”

She reached out and put the palm of her hand over his heart. She could feel it beating. He pressed his hand on top of hers. Marlee moved close to him and gave him a soft, slow kiss on the lips. They inhaled the scent of each other’s skin, seeking the pheromones of the opposite sex.

“Marlee….”

“I know, Luco. I know. Me too.”

There were still too many ghosts.

Marlee Owens walked up the stairs to #6, alone. She was exhausted. It had been an emotional evening and, while old and painful memories had been brought to the surface and faced, something new and fresh was now in play.

She took a hot shower and slipped in between fresh sheets that had a bright rainbow motif.

Even though she wanted it, her brain would not let her sleep. Old thoughts of Phillip and new ones of Luco Reyes were colliding. What she had thought and felt before were running head on into what had happened tonight. And what was it that had happened tonight?

Her thoughts of Luco and tonight were, she knew, a mixture of things. There was an undeniable sympathy, what she would feel for any human being who had gone through what he had. Deeper than any sympathy though, was a concern. He was being swallowed whole by an undiminished grief. Six years, she thought. How has he managed to survive at this level of pain? His weeping was down to the bone. A stranger would have thought that they had died just the day before. During the day he hid it well, but what did he do at night?

Luco watched her go through the gate. He didn’t want to go home yet. The emptiness and silence that he knew would be waiting there for him would be too much right now.

Across the street is Buena Vista Park and Luco went and sat on the stone steps facing Marlee’s building. He looked at her window and thought about the evening that was turning into night.

“Alicia, my love, I think that something has happened to me tonight. But you know that I love you?”

“Yes, I know, Luco.”

He stood up and looked around. There was no one else nearby. He was sure that he’d heard a voice. Alicia’s voice.

“Alicia?”

“Sit down, Luco.” He craned his neck to find out who was having some fun with him. He sat down, a bit shaken.

Silently he asked for help to calm the turmoil in his head and heart, and just as silently, he heard the voice again.

“Luco, be still. You are asking for help and I’m here to offer it.”

“Are you really here Alicia?”

“I’m always here. Both of us are here with you, inside of you. You carry us with you.”

“I miss you both so much. It’s killing me.”

“I know, Luco. I’m here to stop you before it does. Before you let it kill you. Luco, it’s time, past time, for you to get back to living.”

“You want me to forget you? I can’t do that. I won’t. Never.”

“Of course not, Mijita. You’ve always been a pit bull of a man. You grab on and never let go. But, now, you have to let go. Let us go, my dear.”

“How can I go on without you?”

“We’ll always be in your memory, but you need to let us out of your heart. You need to let in someone else and there just isn’t room. You need to write poems for someone new.”

Luco, filled with confusion, pain and longing, stood up, lifted his arms to heaven and cried out loud.

“I know that. God help me, I know that, but I can’t.”

A couple walking past, jumped as the man on the steps yelled. The woman moved to put her partner between herself and the crazy man.

“Luco, be quiet and listen to me.”

He sat down and pressed his hands over his ears.

“Luco, you and I were in love, but I died and our baby died. That happened a long time ago, but you act as if it was yesterday. You’ve allowed your pain to cripple you. A man like you shouldn’t be living like you are. You are a man who needs family and you have cut yourself off from yours. Your mother lives fifteen minutes away and you haven’t seen her in years. And why? Because seeing her reminds you of me and our time together. So, to save yourself some pain you inflict that pain on everyone else who loves you.

“I always knew you to be a man of courage, strong and unafraid to do the right thing. But for the last six years you have been running and hiding from everything that is important in this world.”

“But its all for you, for the both of you. I can’t let you go. If I do, I’m afraid that I’ll forget you.”

“Luco Reyes, I am ashamed of you. If I could, I would slap your face. You are using our memory as an excuse to avoid life. The easiest thing in the world to do is nothing and that’s what you have chosen.

“If you want to die a lonely and bitter old man, go ahead, but don’t you dare say that you are doing it for me and Regalito. Shame on you.”

Luco moaned as the memory of his wife scolded him. More passers-by were noticing and avoiding him. He sat there, replaying her words over in his mind, trying to come to grips with this personal chastisement from the deepest part of his soul. His exhaustion was complete.

“What do you want me to do Alicia? I’m too tired to go on with this.”

This time the voice was a whisper, comforting and healing, but still forceful.

“Luco, I want you to go home and get some sleep. And then I want you to take the books of poems you wrote for me and get rid of them.”

“No!”

“Yes. Burn them, bury them, throw them off the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t care. When you do that I’ll know that you’ll be all right.

“I want you to be happy, not eaten up inside like you are now. And then, after you get rid of the poems I want you to find someone, fall in love and get married. Luco, you are a man who needs to be married.”

Behind his closed eyelids he could feel the burn of a bright light washing over him.

Names, Nicked And Otherwise

 

THE OTHER DAY AN ACQUAINTANCE OF MINE moseyed up to me and asked me about the license plate on my car. What is on the car is called a “Vanity Plate” – a customized message for which I pay extra every year.

The plate on the Toyota reads: “KRAFTY.”

My acquaintance asked me what that meant, or to quote him – “What’s that all about?” If we had actually been friends he would have already known.

I explained to him that KRAFTY has been my nickname since childhood. It was a rational play off of my last name. Duh! He then asked me if I had any other nicknames. I didn’t know what he was fishing for, but I played along.

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Cockatoo News

UH, OH, THIS COULD COME TO BLOWS unless a cooler head steps in. I’ll see what I can do until that Sainted person arrives.

Yesterday morning at St. Arbucks the rack that is used to hold the various newspapers for sale disappeared. It didn’t take long to discover why.

I am completely innocent in all of this.

Every morning the early bird customers, AKA either “The Brain Trust” or “The Usual Suspects,” come in for coffee and they plop down in the corner like so many Hutts of Jabba. Several of them also like to pore over the newspapers. The burr under the saddle of the management is that none of them ever buy one of those newspapers. They just read them, occasionally cop a coupon, and then, more or less, refold the papers and put them back on the rack.

They are not always neat. Most mornings the newspapers look like they had spent the day at the bottom of a cockatoo cage.

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