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 – 2019

Archive for the category “Life”

Throwback Thursday from January 2016 – “Am I Religious?”

Throwback Thursday from January 2016

Am I Religious?

WHAT KIND OF A QUESTION IS THAT TO ASK? Before I’ve had my coffee even? After all, what makes a person “religious?”

If there was to be a survey taken I couldn’t accurately predict the outcome. Yeah, well, maybe I could, but it wouldn’t really matter.

You see – God and I have this arrangement. Actually, it’s the same arrangement He’s made with all of us. All that God asks of me is that I give Him a respectful nod for who He is and what He has accomplished and that I try to get along with the guy who lives next door. I mean, is that too much to ask? I think not. It is simply worded without any “whereases,” “wherefores,” and “party of the first part” stuff to gum up the works. Neat. Clean. To the point. No trap doors. I think it all boils down to, “Don’t be a jackass.”

I do go to church on Sunday, although that is really just a one day a week expression of an everyday thing – but with music and lunch afterward.

Another thing that is part of my “Arrangement” is that I try not to make too many demands on God. After all, I am not the only person who has His personal number.

There have been times when I have said, “God, please let that guy score from third base. It is really important.” It is at times like that when I am reminded of the meaning of the word “Important.” It will be three days later when that guy on third base finally scores, when the score is already 17 – 0.

It is then that I look up and say quietly, “God, I don’t want to complain, but why couldn’t you have helped out three days ago when I asked?” And God says to me, “Three days ago? I was busy, and besides, your batter can’t hit a slider to save his life. Some things are beyond even Me.”

So much for that.

The world being what it is, I’m sure that there are some people out there who will complain that I refer to God as “Him” or “He.” Why do I do that? Because that is what I have done all my life and God has not told me to change it. Also, it is less cumbersome that saying, “He, She, It,” each time I refer to Him. See? There, I did it again. If you are offended, outraged, or miffed that I do that – all I can say is, “Is that the biggest fish frying in your pan? Get over it. If you want to call God, “She” or “It,” – go right ahead. It’s no big thing to me. Take your complaint upstairs.

Marvin the Martian

If there are beings living on some other planet I’m sure that God has made His presence known in one form or another. He may have even helped that guy score from third on their world.

So, am I religious? I think so, sort of. There are a lot of people who would disagree, but that is their problem, not mine. Some of them I would not want living next door. I have my arrangement with God, and, so far, He seems to be OK with it too. I try to give Him that nod of appreciation and recognition, and I try to get along with my fellow humans. It’s not always easy. Can we agree on that?

All in all, I think my biggest challenge in keeping up my end of the Arrangement is this: “Don’t be a jackass.” God help me.

Coming Of (Middle) Age

WHILE I DID MISS OUT ON SEEING THE NEW MARY POPPINS MOVIE while down in Texas recently I did manage to catch one of my all-time favorite films just the other night. Some people classify it as a “Chick Flick,” but I think that it is better thought of as a “Human Flick.”

“Shirley Valentine” was released in 1989 to less than raving reviews. Well, you can’t please everyone. The reviews may have been rather tepid, but Pauline Collins got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, along with a number of other awards. I guess that it was liked only by the people who saw it without any preconceived ideas.

Shirley (Played by Pauline Collins) is a British housewife mired in middle-age, and wondering where everything she hoped for has gone.

“I’ve led a very little life.”

— Shirley Valentine

Shirley feels that she has disappeared into a mind and soul numbing routine. Her husband is caught in

his own rut that has isolated them from each other. They share their house, but are living separate and unsatisfying lives.

Shirley’s life takes a remarkable twist when one of her “lady friends” wins a contest that offer a two week vacation trip to Greece and she asks Shirley to accompany her.

And now you need to download the movie.

Every year there are countless movies made that are “Coming of Age” films about the difficult and awkward transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. There is a big market for those. Less frequently does one find a different kind of “Coming of Age “ film – one about the transition from our prime adult years into “Middle-Age” when we begin to look back on our lives. We look at where we have been and where we are now, and what do we have ahead of us. And what are we going to do about it?

While the basic story is light and entertaining with other characters adding to Shirley’s mountain of things to think about there is an undertone that hits home easily. Life is a serious business.

I don’t often recommend movies – mainly because I don’t think most of them warrant any kind of recommendation. “Shirley Valentine” is thirty years old now, but it doesn’t look it or feel it. It has a freshness that makes it as pertinent as today.

That’s it. Short. Sweet and to the point today. Go get a snack.

At Least You’re Getting Paid

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN START YOUR ENGINES!”

Today is that day when we really start the New Year. It is time to put away the Aspirin bottle and the Ice Pack. Get dressed in something other than your Snuggie and Hospital Footies. It’s time to get back to work – like it or not.

For me today is just a Wednesday. The only thing that could be considered “work” for me today is that I will have to take the trash down to the curb tonight. Whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about that. For just two people we sure do generate a lot of trash.

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I Refuse To Accept Just Any Old Reality

THERE IS ONLY ONE THING THAT I DON’T LIKE about this time of year: The Cold; The Snow; The Icy Roads; The Crowded stores; The Nonstop Ads on TV; The Crowds at the Airport; and The Cold again.

Not that I’m complaining mind you.

I stepped out of the back door this morning and was greeted by a blast of cold air and sixty-two million snowflakes coming by at a 90° angle. That was not in my plans for the day. I was all set for it to be 85° and sunny. The fact that it was Mid-December in Indiana notwithstanding.

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Reblog – From David Kanigan Live and Learn – “Flight AA2632 to DFA”

Flight AA2632 to DFW. And Dreamin’ of Just One Time.

 

 

Flight AA2632 to DFW. And Dreamin’ of Just One Time.

Flight AA2632 to DFW. And Dreamin’ of Just One Time.

Photo: Alex maclean – on roll (via The Cosmic Inspiro-Cloud)

5:15 A.M. Monday Morning.

Terminal B LaGuardia Airport. Not America’s finest example of its greatness or its Might. Dark. Dingy. Beyond Stale. Earning its status as the Worst Airport in the Country. Dead last in surveys. Sad, really.

Lines are backing up at Security, including TSA pre-check.

One hour and 5 minutes to boarding: Flight AA2632 to DFW.

I clear security.

And I walk.

  • AA2126. Boston. 6:00 a.m. Sit in the stands at a Red Sox game.
  • AA4752. Washington. 6:00 a.m. Sit on the steps at Lincoln Memorial.
  • AA4527. Atlanta. 6:05 a.m. Lounge in the Georgia Aquarium.

What if. Just what if. Just one time. You call it in sick. A Sick Day. What’s that? You walk back out of the terminal, stroll up to the American Airlines ticket counter, pull out your credit card, pay full price for a ticket and…take off…to…anywhere else. Like take a day trip. By yourself. To anywhere else. Turn off your cellphone(s). And disappear, for one day. Off Grid. Just one time.

  • AA3803. Raleigh Durham. 6:29 a.m. Sit in a diner and read Murakami’s new book, uninterrupted.
  • AA3549. Portland, Maine. 6:29 a.m. Sit on a bench and watch the leaves turn.
  • AA349. Chicago. 6:29 a.m. Walk Michigan Avenue. 
  • AA2510. Miami. 6:50 a.m. I pause here. South Beach. Beach chair. Cool drink delivered. Long Nap.

I approach my gate.

  • AA2632. Dallas. 6:59 a.m.

And here it comes.

To Do’s. Commitments. Responsibilities.

I walk up to the Gate attendant. “Good morning Mr. Kanigan. You are seated in an Exit row. Are you willing and able to assist in an Emergency?”

Exit. Now. Do it. This is your last chance.

I smile. “Yes. Yes I am.”

I walk down the jet bridge. And I note that the heaviness lifts. Peace.

I get comfortable in my seat, 24E Exit.

You Need This. Murakami’s ’emotional morphine.’ 

You just couldn’t have it any other way.

All You Really Have…

 

“All you really have, in the end, are your stories.”

– – Burt Reynolds on the TV drama “Burn Notice” 2010

We are born; we live our lives, and as we see the final curtain beginning to come down our material things become meaningless. Most of the people we have in our life become exasperating as they can’t understand where we are and where we are going.

What is left?

We have our memories and even those begin to fade away. What can we do? We take our memories and we speak them aloud or write them down. We tell our stories. We move them from the fragile causeways of our brain to a place outside ourselves.

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Watching On An Afternoon

AH, YOUNG LOVE, WELL, MAYBE CLOSER TO MIDDLEAGE LOVE. The two people had to be in their forties, maybe a bit more. But looking at their eyes and body language they could have been teenagers

If there is one thing St. Arbucks is good for, other than filling up that empty lot on the corner, and the odd cup of coffee, it is that it is a good spot for People Watching. And that’s what I did yesterday afternoon.

I was out and about taking care of some errands and I stopped in at the Chapel on 25th Street for a nice iced tea. I sat over in my usual corner, the better to watch the world.

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Throwback Thursday from October 2015 – “What Am I Looking At?”

Throwback Thursday from October 2015 – “What Am I Looking At?”

What Am I Looking At?

eyechartSOME DAYS YOU HAVE TO GO OUT HUNTING for something to write about. Some other days it walks up and sits down in front of you. Today was one of the latter.

Let me preface this by saying that I have the utmost respect for and hold in high esteem the members of our Armed Forces, both present and past.

But this morning I witnessed something that just flat out bothered me.

I was finishing up my coffee down at St. Arbucks, chatting with a couple of the Usual Suspects when I noticed a tall fellow in Army garb crossing the parking lot. Trailing him by a few steps was a rather scruffy looking young man, arms dangling by his sides and his eyes cast downward.

I said out loud, “Here comes the Sergeant with a new recruit in tow.” I was joking, I didn’t even know if they were together, but – they were.

When they came through the door the Army guy led the younger man to a table near us, sat him down, and handed him a small bundle of papers and a pen.

“Here, fill these out. What are you drinking?”

I watched the young man look over the papers then take out a pair of glasses. When he put them on I could see that they were what we used to call, “Coke Bottle Glasses,” thick, heavy lenses in black frames.

Even with the glasses on he still had to bend over the papers until his nose almost brushed on the table. This did not bode well for his time on the firing range.

The kid (Anybody under forty is a kid to me) worked diligently filling in the blanks. His tongue stuck out periodically to help with the tough parts.

After a couple of very long minutes The Recruiter came back to the table carrying one short cup of hot coffee and one huge Frappuccino topped with whipped cream. As he passed by our corner he glanced at us and smiled. His smile spoke volumes. It said –

“Yes, this just what you think it is and I know that you know.”

He set the whipped cream drink in front of the young man, still busy with the paperwork. Then The Recruiter sat back and began to text away on his phone, smiling all the while.

I turned to my Partner Suspect and said, “This sucks. Would you want to be in a foxhole with that kid? He can’t see worth a darn.”

“Nope. Yup.”

When the new and unshaven Guardian of Freedom reached page three he paused. He lifted his head from the table and located the man sitting across the table from him.

“What does this mean?”

Not to let anything foul up his “Catch of the Day,” The Recruiter got up and, looking over the kid’s shoulder, took the pen and said, “Here, let me help you with that.”

Not surprisingly, the rest of the paperwork went quite quickly.

It took no more than two minutes for every blank to be filled in and every dotted line signed and dated before the two of them were heading out the door. The kid clutched his Frappuccino, but the small hot coffee sat where it was from the start. He had never touched it. It was strictly a prop.

I can’t see how this kid could ever pass the Army induction physical with eyesight like his. I doubt that he could read the big E on the top line of the eye chart.

I understand that the recruiters have quotas to fill, but really now – taking this kid into the Army isn’t doing anybody a favor – except Starbucks, if he keeps bringing his enlistees in to fill out the papers and slurp up the whipped cream.

Reblog: From FIERCEFABULOUSFUNNY – Velma Dunkin

Reblog from – https://fiercefabulousfunny.com/2018/08/24/george-carlin-8-23-18/

VELMA DUNKIN

http://gravatar.com/velmadunkin

FIERCEFABULOUSFUNNY

She’s Fierce, Fabulous, Funny

GEORGE CARLIN 8-23-18

George Carlin’s wife died early in 2008 and George followed her, dying in July 2008. It is ironic George Carlin – comedian of the 70’s and 80’s – could write something so very eloquent and so very appropriate.

An observation by George Carlin:

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

Remember to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, ‘I love you’ to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.

Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.

And always remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away.

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Conclusion

Conclusion

“Some Monks pray while farming, some while cooking, or writing. I walk. I walk without a physical destination. Today I am here. I think I am here to talk with you.”

“And with the fish?”

“Yes – And with the fish. Walking is my way of praying. Each step is a prayer – a prayer for understanding and for thanks.”

I was getting confused with all of this.

“’Thanks? For what?” The Monk smiled at me and I relaxed.

“I give thanks for each step because I know that a time will come when I can no longer walk and the steps will have to be taken by someone else. Aren’t you thankful for something – your life? For your mother and father, for your home, your friends, and for this lovely spot by the river?”

“I guess so. I never thought about it before. Now that you put it all that way though I guess I do have a bunch of stuff to be thankful for.”

“Good. Now let’s be quiet so this fish and I can talk things out.”

The Monk and the fish might have been talking, but I didn’t hear anything. I stayed quiet because I know that you are supposed to be quiet while fishing and I didn’t want to scare the Monk’s fish.

It seemed to me like we were going to be there all day when the Monk broke the silence.

“That fish,” he said, “Makes a very good case for himself. Much better than me. Tonight I go hungry. My young friend I might as well be on my way.”

“You’re leaving? Where are you going to go?”

“Like I said earlier, I m going nowhere and everywhere as well, but I think I will start by going through your village. How far is it from here?

“The village is around that bend in the path and then an hour – less for you – you take bigger steps than me.” While I spoke he gathered together his things. He pulled his empty hook from the river, dried it and the twine on his red sash before carefully folding it and wrapping it around his body and over his shoulder. I wondered how many times he had done this before when a fish out talked him. When everything was in its place he stood up and bowed to me.

“It has been a pleasure to have spent this time with you and I wish you wisdom and happiness as you grow.”

He started across the grass toward the path. I hurried after him.

“Mr. Monk, can I walk with you awhile? My house is that way too, around the bend.”

“Of course, my friend. Let us both pray with each step we take.”

He was taller than me and I had to take more steps to keep up with him. He saw me trying to keep up and he slowed down to make it easier for me.

“What will you do when you get to the village?”

“I will beg. I am sure that some kind person will feed me and give me a place to sleep tonight. There is almost always someone in each village I visit. People are good.”

We walked on.

“This path goes on all the way to The Great Ocean they say. What will you do when you get to the end of the path?”

“I will turn around and walk back to the Monastery high up in the mountains. It is my home.”

“How long have you been walking?” He looked down at me.

“I began my prayer when I was no bigger than you. It is my entire life, my prayer.”

I was amazed. I could not imagine leaving everything behind and walking for such a long time. He was an old man compared to me – older than my father.

“I’m sorry that I ask you so many questions, but I’ve never really talked with a Monk before.”

“There is no need to apologize. How else can you learn? I ask questions all the time.”

We rounded the bend in the path and up ahead I could see where the path split. One part went on to the village. The other led to our farm.

“This looks like where we part ways. I go on to the village and you to your home. Again, I thank you for our time together.”

I had an idea. I had one more question.

“Do you have to go to the village tonight, a rule or something? I’m asking because my mother and father are kind people and I’m sure that they would be happy to give you something to eat and a warm and dry place to sleep. Would you come with me? I’m sure they won’t be upset.”

“Even your father who thinks we Monks are all wealthy?”

“Yes, I’m sure. He likes to go fishing too. You two could talk about that. But I don’t think he talks with the fish. He uses bits of bread as bait. Please come there with me.” The Monk paused. He looked at me and at the path into the village.

“Young man, every road that I walk splits, and I have often wondered where my life would be if I chose to take that other pathway. My prayer is in my step, not in the road beneath my feet. All roads go somewhere. This road,” he said, pointing off down the path, “It goes to your village and eventually to The Great Ocean. But this other path would take us to your farm and your family. The village and the ocean will be there tomorrow, but if I go that way today I will miss the gift of seeing your family. That chance is only mine for today, never to return.”

He sat down in the dust and looked at both paths.

“I need to think and pray. Give me a moment.”

I watched him close his eyes. He folded his legs like I had seen him do when he first came and sat by the riverbank. I said a prayer of my own that he would come with me.

After a couple of minutes the Monk opened his eyes. He smiled at me.

“My young friend, you prayed. I could feel it. It was a very good prayer. You prayed and I listened for the Wisdom to tell me what to do.”

“What did you hear?” I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

I heard that you are an honest and truthful boy and that I am blessed by having this time with you today. Today is not done and there is more time to share.”

“Does that mean you’ll come back to my home with me?”

The Monk held out his hand to me.

“It does. Now help me up and let me get this dust off my robe. I don’t want your father to think that I am there to beg.”

And so we walked together to my home and with each step I learned more of the power of prayer.

Throwback Thursday from September 2015 – “She Just “Sort of” Robbed The Bank”

Throwback Thursday from September 2015 – “She Just “Sort of” Robbed The Bank”

I WAS CHATTING WITH THE USUAL SUSPECTS the other day when the topic of bank robbery came up. Sometimes they scare me. This bunch of Geezers couldn’t rob the Food Bank, let alone an actual – “Money in the vault, Can I see some ID, please,” type of bank. This group would be called the “Don’t forget to take your meds gang.” Even so, they would be a bigger threat than a person I once knew who really did try to rob a bank.

About ten years ago B.R. (Before Retirement) a female coworker whom I knew and liked working with, called in to her Supervisor one sunny morning. She said that she was going to be in a little late because she “Had some business to take care of.” Little did we all know that her “business” was knocking off a bank.

While I and everyone else at work were getting ready for another day on the job, she was out pulling into the parking lot at a local bank.

From later reports it went down something like this –

My coworker drove to the bank, checked her .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun to be sure it was loaded (it was), got out of the car and walked up to the front door of the bank. At this point things began to fall apart for her.

She pulled the handle to open the door – nothing. It wouldn’t budge. The door was locked. It was locked because, in an effort to rob the bank and still get to work, she got an early start to her day and arrived, fully loaded, before banking hours. The bank wouldn’t be open for another half hour.

There is an old adage that says, “Plan your work and work your plan.” My friend, the would-be bank robber, skimped on the first part of that. If this plan was to be as easy as 1 – 2 – 3 you can’t skip the 2 and go straight to 3.

So, there she is – standing at the front door of the bank, holding her shooting iron, and she can’t get the door to open. It was then that she made the decision to try again another day. Perhaps it was best to just go on to work like nothing had happened. No harm – No foul.

No way.

While she was standing there contemplating her “Plan B” the people who worked in the other bank, just across the street, witnessed this entire fiasco and had already called the Terre Haute Police Department. Terre Haute – that’s French for, “Mama don’t ‘low no bank robbin’ round here.”

Before she could get back to her car and go off to work, she found herself surrounded. It was not even 8 AM and her day was not going to get any better.

Since she never really robbed the bank, they couldn’t charge her with that crime, but they had a list of others to present her with.

It turned out, upon further investigation, that she had lied on her job application – in that part about “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” She had done some hard time a few years back for some other failed misadventure. This, of course, made her possession of the .45 caliber semiautomatic weapon a serious “No – No.” Added to that – she had no Concealed Carry permit for the gun – which was not registered anywhere. At least she did have a valid driver’s license – but the car wasn’t hers.

Fast Forward about three years –

I was tooling up and down the aisles of a store in town when I hear a voice behind me call out, “Hey, John!” This happens a lot to me. It is usually a former client or parent thereof – not this time. I turned around and there was our own local Bonnie Parker Wannabe.

“Hi, John. Remember me? We used to work together.”

Now this was one of those moments when you really don’t want to say the wrong thing. So, of course, the first words out of my mouth were,

“Sure, I remember you. Where you been keeping yourself?”

“Oh, I’ve been out of town for a while.”

Courtesy of the State of Indiana.

I really don’t remember the rest of the conversation.

I always enjoyed working with her. She was friendly, confident, and easy to get along with. Lucky for me she never needed an accomplice.

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part Two

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part Two

Staying up in the tree once he knew that I was up there seemed silly to me. I climbed down. The Monk had moved back to his spot – my spot – by the riverbank. He didn’t pay any attention to me. I stayed by the tree trunk not knowing what to do next. He told me.

“Come and sit down. It’s a beautiful riverbank you have here.”

I went and sat down next to him by the water’s edge. He ignored me.

“You’re a Monk aren’t you?” As soon as I said that I knew it was a silly question.

“Yes, I am. Are you a farm boy?”

“Yes, I am,” I said, but being here in the middle of all the farms around here and with me looking like I do, his was a silly question too.

“What does a Monk do, Sir?”

“There is no need to call me ‘Sir.’ And as to what a Monk does it is really very simple – we pray.”

“What do you pray for?” I thought that was a reasonable question.

“We pray to understand.”

“To understand what?”

“To understand why we are here and what we should do to be worthy of this life, this river, this conversation we are having.”

“You must pray a lot,” I said to him.

He began to fiddle with his red sash. He took out the twine and the fishing hook.

“Yes, I pray all the time.”

“You don’t look like you’re praying now. You look like you’re going to try to catch a fish.”

He tied the hook to the frayed end of the twine.

“Fishing calls for a lot of praying, my young friend.”

He dipped the hook into the water and sat quietly. At least he got that part right. After a few minutes I had to say something.

“You really are going to need to pray. You don’t have any bait on that hook. You won’t catch any fish that way.” For a man who looked so smart he seemed pretty dumb when it came to fishing.

He looked at me and smiled.

“I’m not trying to catch a fish. I am waiting for the fish to put himself on my hook. It has to be his decision. It is his life and I cannot take it. He must offer it up.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“That’s asking a lot of a fish, Mr. Monk.”

“Very true. I have a life and so does the fish. Our lives are of equal value. They both came from the same place – from The Creator. I want to eat to stay alive and so does the fish. My hook has no bait because that would be cheating, tricking the fish.

“The fish and I must negotiate and debate about whose need is more important today. If we agree that the fish is more important today – who knows what lies just downstream for him, then I will go hungry today. If what lies down this path is more important for me, then the fish will take the hook and I will eat. Do you understand?”

He turned back to focus on his empty fish hook and I looked at him and then down into the water. There was a fish looking at the hook, but he didn’t look convinced.

“That must be why my father says you Monks are always begging for food. You can’t talk a fish into biting on an empty hook.”

“Your father is a wise man,”

We sat there, silently, for quite awhile. It was a nice day and I was enjoying my time with the Monk even though I really didn’t understand him a lot. Before he came down the path I was just sitting here daydreaming. Now I am, thinking. I’m not used to that. He had me thinking and climbing a tree.

“I saw you coming down the path for a long time. Where are you going?

“Nowhere. Here.”

“What does that mean?”

To Be Continued…

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part One

A Conversation By The River

The banks of the river are my favorite places in the whole world. In the afternoon after my chores have been done and I’ve finished my studies too I go to the river.

The river is not very big, but it has come a long way. From high in the mountains the river has wandered down through forests and the hill country, by the city where the Emperor lives, and then to us and our farms. I have been told that, eventually, the river ends as it flows into the Great Ocean. Someday, when I am grown, I would like to make a boat and sail it down the river all the way to the sea. But now I just go to the river and sit by the water and dream.

Yesterday I was sitting on the grass by the river. I was watching the fish swim around in the water. The sun was still hot and I had found a spot underneath one of the big trees. Its leafy branches kept me from the heat of the sun and made it the perfect place to be.

From my place under the tree I could see down the dusty path from our village and, in the other direction, I could almost see the hazy shape of the mountains to the west.

As I looked up the path I could see someone, a man, walking slowly in my direction. As he got closer I could see the little clouds of dust that his sandals kicked up with each step he took. In the bright sunlight it looked like he was dressed in a golden robe. When he got closer I could tell that he was dressed in yellow with a red sash around his waist and over one shoulder.

I have seen men dressed like him before. My parents said that men dressed like that were Monks, holy men, who travel throughout the country. My mother said that they bring good luck. My father said that they were pests, always begging and wanting food for free.

The Monk was coming toward me down the dusty path. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t have anything to give him, so I decided that the best thing for me to do was to hide. I climbed the tree and hid myself in the branches.

I could see the Monk clearly as he got close and, instead of passing by and going toward the village, he stopped and sat down under my tree in the very same spot where I had been. I watched him. He didn’t make a sound. He sat there with his eyes closed.

The Monk was bald. There was not one hair on his head and he was clean shaven like my father. He sat with his legs folded up underneath him and his hands rested in his lap/ I didn’t move either. I didn’t want to make any noise that would tell him where I was hiding.

After a few minutes the Monk opened his eyes and stretched out his legs. He took off his sandals and dipped his dusty feet into the water of the river. He sighed and smiled. He had a kind face.

He undid his red sash and unfolded it on the grass next to him. He had several things, but not a lot, that he carried with him.

I saw a spool of twine and a fishing hook, a small knife – not big enough to scare anyone, a book not much bigger than my hand, a flint, and a cup. That was all he had. He was not a rich Monk like my father said that they all were.

He took his cup and bent over to get himself a drink of water. Even though it was a hot day the water in the river was always cool having come down from the mountains.

He drank his cupful of water and then he did something most strange. He bent over again very close to the water. It looked like he was talking to the water, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. When he finished talking he put his hand onto the surface of the water, like he was petting an obedient dog. That made no sense to me. It was like he was thanking the river for the water he had taken,

The Monk sat quietly by the water for a few minutes and then dried his feet, put his sandals back on, and stood up. I thought that he was going to leave and continue walking down the path. Instead he walked over to the trunk of the tree and, without looking up, he spoke.

“Why don’t you come down? I won’t bite.”

That startled me and I almost fell from my place in the branches.

“Come down and we can talk.”

To Be Continued…

Reblog From The Koolkosherkitchen “Immersion Pie”

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s blog is originally from the Koolkosherkitchen: A blog that is about both Food and Life. I am sure that you will enjoy it – even if you don’t take the recipe into your kitchen.

Enjoy!

https://koolkosherkitchen.wordpress.com/

Immersion Pie Featuring Freud, Elephants, Polar Bears, and Noah’s Ark

This story was shared by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson, a fantastic public speaker with a great sense of humor. A renowned psychologist was giving a lecture on his theory of the flood. According to him, a myth about the flood of catastrophic magnitude has been present in every culture and religion in the world. He postulated that it was primitive people’s way of expressing their insecurities and fears for the future. He unequivocally stated that there has never been an actual flood. One of his listeners asked permission to comment.

“And what if there really was a flood? What if it isn’t a myth?” he asked.

A stunned silence enshrined the audience of professional, highly educated men. After a prolonged pause, the lecturer replied, “My teacher Zigmund Freud would ask who is stronger, elephants or polar bears. He would then answer that it is impossible to judge as they never meet; they exist in different climates. You and I, sir, are an elephant and a polar bear; we exist in different climates: you allow that the flood might have happened, and I don’t. We will never meet.”

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There are several different locations where Noah, a righteous man in his time, supposedly parked the Ark when flood waters receded. Amateur archaeologist Ron Wyatt, among others, claimed that he found the remains of the Ark and some artifacts to prove the veracity of his findings. His discovery has been highly disputed, but the location is spot on: Mount Ararat, as it is identified in ParshasNoah (the view is from Armenian capital Yerevan). The following video is shot by a drone flying over Wyatt’s discovery.

Take it with a grain of salt, if you will, but today hardly anybody disputes the flood itself. “Now the earth was corrupt in G-d’s sight and was full of violence” (Genesis 6:11), He got outraged, and set out to obliterate everything. It was a total immersion: “The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth… and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered” (Genesis 7:18 and 7:19). We can’t help but reflect upon the Biblical flood as thousands of people in (sic) Huston are trying to cope with a disaster of the same nature, torrential rain that flooded the city, leaving its inhabitants, human and animal alike, homeless and in need of help.

 

 

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Among many photographs of immersed buildings and drowned cars, there are quite a few of “modern Noahs,” righteous among the people of our times, boating four-legged friends to safety. As the waters are receding now in Huston, and relief is pouring in, this Immersion Pie might serve as a reminder to love and care for each other and all His creatures.

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The idea is to imitate earth boiling under torrential water, so there is no crust. You mix spelt or gluten free flour with soy or almond milk,  add some brown sugar and cinnamon, a little baking powder, and a pinch of salt.

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You can immerse any berries or diced fruit, but blueberries are still in season, huge and juicy, so first I immersed them into a mix of vanilla extract and brown sugar. They should sit and contemplate their fate, while you are mixing the rest of the stuff. After all, Noah spent 120 years building the Ark, to give people a chance to abandon their corrupt ways and make corrections, so give your blueberries a chance for 10 – 15 minutes.

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Since my first rule of dessert clearly states that it’s not a dessert if it doesn’t have chocolate, I also mix in unsweetened cocoa powder. It looks like mud already!

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The process of immersion is about to start! Melt Smart Balance or any butter substitute of your choice and pour it into a pie baking form. Pour your mud – batter, that is! – into it and spread it evenly. Empty your blueberries, juice and all, on top of batter and also spread them evenly.

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Let it bake at 350 F for an hour or so, and the immersion will occur naturally while you are not even looking – the batter will rise and cover most of the berries. There is another, much more positive meaning of the term total immersion. It is one of the most effective methods of language acquisition: drop a person into target language environment where nobody speaks his native language or any other language he knows, and, according to S. Krashen’s Natural Language Acquisition theory, he’ll start communicating in target language. It’s a sink-or-swim method, and Krashen is right: in about three months, give or take, they start swimming, i,e, talking. By the same token, I choose to believe that dropping a person into a loving environment full of kindness will force him to acquire the same behaviors. From there – Existence Precedes Essence! – is only one step from behaviors to attitudes, and from attitudes to values!

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So sprinkle some more cocoa powder on top – the more chocolate, the better! – add some crushed walnuts, if you like, and cut yourself a nice juicy piece of the Immersion Pie – total immersion in love and kindness!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup fresh berries or any fruit cut into small chunks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup spelt or gluten free flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • ½ cup soy or almond milk
  • ¼ cup Smart Balance or other butter substitute
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder plus more to sprinkle
  • Optional crushed walnuts

PROCEDURE

  • Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
  • Mix berries with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and vanilla extract, put aside for 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder, salt, and cinnamon,  add soy or almond milk. Do not over-mix.
  • Melt Smart Balance, pour into the bottom of baking pie form. Pour batter over melted Smart Balance, spread evenly. Spread berries, including juice, on top of batter, spread evenly.
  • Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown and crisp around the edge.
  • Remove, sprinkle with cocoa powder and crushed walnuts. May be served warm or cold.

Enjoy!

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Eight

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Eight

At least the sun was shining and the winds were warm, out of the East, down from the Sierras. The fog was pushed out to sea hiding the offshore Farralon Islands from view. It made San Francisco seem like it was a part of the popular image of a Sunny California.

Luco wasn’t scheduled for release from the hospital for another three days, but he was raising such Holy Hell and threatening to crawl out of the place on his hands and knees that the medical staff voted to give him an early trip home.

“Mr. Reyes, as your doctor I must advise you to give us a couple more days to make sure that your internal injuries are on a healing track. But… as a member of the human race and someone who has to be around you all day I’d just as soon kick you down the stairs. Of course, I’d have to take a number and wait in line for the privilege.”

“Doc, I don’t mean to be trouble, but I hate it here. I’m feeling OK and I want to go home.”

The young doctor, who looked like he was there earning a merit badge, drummed his fingers on the side rail of Luco’s bed.

“Mr. Reyes, you may feel alright, but you’re not. Frankly, you’re lucky to be alive. If I sent you home alone you might end up dead on your bathroom floor before sundown. Of course, if I don’t let you leave, you might succumb to the night nursing staff.”

“I’ve been that much of a pain?” said Luco. He winced as he shifted his weight trying to get comfortable. Looking in the doctor’s eyes, Luco saw a mixture of professional concern and a weighing of the odds with a jury of his peers.

“Pain?”said the young man in the white lab coat. “Mr. Reyes, there was talk of starting a pool to predict which shift would report your sudden and unfortunate death. I’ve been here six years and I’ve never seen a grown man behave in such an immature and irritating manner.”

Luco blushed. He had never been a “good patient.” Even as a child being home sick from school could drive his mother to tears.

“Doc, I’m really sorry if I’ve been difficult. Do you think I should go and apologize to everyone?”

“No, Mr. Reyes, I couldn’t guarantee your safety. I think it best if I just sign your release and get you out of here. Who can tend to you when you get home?”

“I’ll take care of him, Doctor.”

Both men turned their gaze toward the doorway. There stood Marlee, dressed in tan shorts and a striped tank top. A large straw hat and matching bag completed the look.

***

“Oh, Jesus God, why didn’t you just leave me there to die?”

“I told you those steps would be rough, Luco.”

Marlee helped Luco ease himself down onto the sofa.

“Rough I could handle, but those last few steps…. I thought I was going to split open like a ripe watermelon.”

That’s why the doctors wanted to keep you a few more days.” Marlee spread a light throw over his legs. He had his head back, with his arm crossed over his eyes. “Inside, you’re still hamburger according to one of the Interns.”

“I feel like hamburger.” His eyes were closed.

The short ride home and the climb up the 18 steps from Stanyan Street had exhausted Luco’s body and drained his reserve of mental toughness. He fell asleep within seconds.

Luco had maintained that the vehicle that cracked and crushed his body had been steered with malicious intent. There had been no eyewitnesses. The people in the coffeehouse had nothing helpful to add.

The official police report concluded that it could come to no conclusion. There were no unusual skidmarks on the pavement. The intersection of Cole and Waller was busy during the day with diesel buses and tourist’s rental cars. Collisions and skidmarks were not uncommon. When the investigators looked at the scene they just shook their heads. The intersection looked like every other intersection in the city, except for the broken glass and the blood.

Marlee sat down at Luco’s desk and stared out the window. The grassy slopes of Golden Gate Park were still damp from the morning fog as it retreated offshore. The sunlight sparkled off the grass and made the world look clean and inviting.

She turned away from the window and looked at Luco’s sleeping form on the old hotel sofa. With his short hair and relaxed features he looked like a small boy napping. One part of her wanted to take him in her arms and rock him, nurturing, caring, protecting. Another part was coming to accept that she wanted to be held in his arms.

***

Marlee walked down Haight Street after getting Luco settled in and safe. The bright morning sun was shadowed by conflicting emotions. She and Pete from the cafe had arranged for a home healthcare staff to tend to Luco until he was farther along in his recovery.

She was comforted just knowing that he was alive and going to survive his injuries, but she was still scared for him. Luco was so sure that the driver of the van had hit him intentionally. The blend of relief and fear was exhausting. She hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. It was catching up with her now. A good solid week’s worth of deep, comforting, sleep would be good, but she needed to be back at Luco’s apartment. Five hours would have to do.

She made a short detour into the Haight-Central Market to get a couple of onions, some canned tomatoes and a green pepper. Tonight Luco was going to eat her Swiss Steak, whether he was hungry or not. He needed some red meat.

Standing at the counter, Mike, the young Lebanese owner rang up her purchases. He liked Marlee. She never gave him any grief and she never asked for credit.

“Hi, Marlee. How you doing? Don’t take this wrong, but you look terrible. Can’t sleep? Haight Street can get noisy at night.”

“It’s not the noise, Mike. I just haven’t had the chance to get any rest. Hopefully I can grab some this morning.”

As he listened, Mike let his eyes dart up to the large parabolic mirror in the corner. Shoplifting was an ongoing problem on the street and the mirror let him see clearly down both aisles of his small market.

Anyone who tried shoplifting from Mike had to be incredibly stupid. There was only one way out of the store and that was right past Mike and the 9mm pistol he kept tucked in his waistband. It was usually covered by his shirt, but not always. His eyes quickly scanned the store.

“I heard about Luco. Too bad.”

“It was horrible, Mike. He is a very lucky man, just to be alive.”

“A real shame. My brother got killed crossing Stanyan Street a few years ago. They never caught the guy who hit him. My Mother still cries about that.”

“My sympathies, Mike. At least Luco will survive.” She saw Mike’s eyes move up to the mirror. “He was released from the hospital yesterday afternoon. He’s not getting around too well yet. He needs time to recuperate.”

“Good thing he has a friend like you to help him out.” His gaze was fixed on the mirror. “Son of a bitch.”

“What?” Marlee turned and looked up at the mirror.

Crouched down in front of the beer cooler was Dennis Thayer. Marlee and Mike watched him slipping cans of beer into the pockets of his coat.

“Look at that. I finally let him back in here and the first thing he does is try to rip me off again. Marlee, here, take your groceries and get home. Me and this clown are going to have a talk and I don’t want you to be in the middle.”

“Oh, good Lord, Mike, be careful. Do you want me to call the police?”

“No. You go home and get some rest.” He smiled at Marlee, but his eyes stayed glued on the image of Dennis in the mirror. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

He unfastened the bottom two buttons of his shirt. Marlee could see the textured black grip on the pistol and the polished chrome of the barrel as Mike shifted it and flipped the safety to “off.”

“Marlee, please leave. Now.”

She picked up her plastic carrier bag and, taking one last peek at the mirror, left the store.

“Please be careful, Mike.”

Mike could see that Dennis was heading toward the front of the store.

Marlee hurried across the intersection, her keys out. Opening the front gate to the building, she glanced back and saw the front door at the market swinging shut.

There was little doubt that Mike could take care of himself, but it still made her uneasy. She knew, all too well, how quickly things could go sour and become deadly. Heartbeats are fragile.

“Sleep, girl. Get some rest,” she said out loud as she opened her front door.

Within three minutes the groceries were on the kitchen counter, the blinds were closed, alarm set and Marlee was underneath the soft blankets. Her breathing was slowing and sleep was only seconds in coming. Fives hours would come soon.

“Just a loaf of bread today, Mike.”

“Sure, Dennis. That’ll be $8.87.”

“$8.87? For a loaf of bread?”

“For the bread and for the three beers you have in your pockets.”

“What beer?”

Dennis smiled. He knew that Mike had seen him hide the cans. This was the fun part, the sport of it all. He saw that the front door was closed. It was just the two of them, alone in the store.

“Mike, I’m not trying to rip you off.”

“Thayer, I’ve had it with you. I take pity on you and let you back in my store and you thank me by trying to steal from me again.” He let his hand rest on the butt of the pistol so Dennis would get the message. “Either put the beers on the counter or pay for them. Either way, I don’t want you in here anymore.”

Dennis grinned and fondled the butterfly knife in his left pants pocket. He was enjoying this. The sight of Mike’s 9mm was an added treat.

“Are you threatening me, Mike?”

“Yes, I am you stupid junkie. You think this is a game show we’re playing here?”

Dennis’ smile vanished. Name-calling was out of line. This was just a game. There was no need to get personally nasty.

He pulled the cans of beer from his pockets and, one by one, slammed them down on the counter. They would be undrinkable for hours.

“Don’t call me names, Mike…ever. I don’t like being insulted. You understand me, you stinking camel jockey? There’s your beer. Why don’t you pop one open, Osama?”

“Get out of my store. Don’t come back. No more games with you. Go!”

Dennis pushed open the door. A bright orange Municipal Railway bus was stopped at the corner. He looked back at Mike.

“You’re right about one thing, Mike. No more games.”

Dennis quickly crossed Haight Street and headed down Central toward the Panhandle. He looked up at the 1298 Haight building. He saw the blinds snap shut in the windows of apartment number six.

“So, Miss Marlee, your macho stud is still alive. Don’t get too into playing nursemaid for him. It’s going to be a temporary job.”

It was a dry cleaner, working off $750 in traffic fines by picking up trash in the Park, who found the body of the sixteen-year-old runaway, stuffed into the trash bin behind the playground in the Panhandle.

Life Is Full Of Dusty Buttons

SOME THINGS ARE BETTER LEFT ALONE. That’s another way of saying my personal motto: “Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean that you should.”

Would you pick up a stick of Dynamite with a short lit fuse? You could I suppose, but it wouldn’t be a good idea. Would you go up to every stray dog on the street and try to pet it? You could, but again – not a good idea.

“Oh, look, Harvey, he has foam all around his mouth. He must have been getting a shave.”

Yeah, right.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

The fifth floor of St. Mary’s hospital was indistinguishable from the fourth or the sixth. All of them had the same aqua and “seafoam green” colored walls, recessed lighting and the smell of disinfectant.

Using the hint offered by the helpful nurse in the Emergency Room, Marlee learned that Luco had been moved from “post-op” to room 534. With her heart in her throat Marlee took the large and spotless elevator up to the fifth floor.

Forcing herself not to run madly down the corridor Marlee walked along the painted line on the floor, gazing into each room as she passed the open doors. It was a slide show of semi-private tragedy. She was ashamed of herself for peeking into other people’s lives. Looking ahead she saw several empty gurneys parked along the walls and a large laundry cart filling up half of the hallway.

A man came out of the room just beyond the cart, and as he walked past her, Marlee could see that he was a priest. Doing some quick counting, she guessed that he had come from room 534. She picked up her pace. To Hell with decorum.

“Oh, dear God. Oh, dear God. Please, not Luco, not Luco.”

Another flicker of shame burned her cheeks as she realized that she was wishing the Last Rites onto someone else.

The door to 534 was partially closed. From inside Marlee could hear the sound of someone crying. Slowly, she opened the door, fighting back tears, and entered into the room. All of the lights were off, putting the room into shadowy darkness. The curtain was drawn around bed. Behind the thin green fabric there was sobbing and praying in Spanish. Marlee felt her knees buckle and she had to grab the back of a chair to keep from falling to the floor. A nurse, wearing a stethoscope, pushed the curtain back and saw the reeling Marlee. Over the nurse’s shoulder Marlee saw a gray-haired man on the bed, his eyes and mouth open in death. Gently stroking his papery cheek was the sobbing woman, a look of despair and unbelieving sorrow on her face.

The nurse pulled the curtain closed behind her and looked at Marlee.

“Can I help you? Are you all right?”

“Luco Reyes? I was told he was in this room. I’m his wife.” Marlee moved her left hand behind her back.

“Let’s go out in the hall for a moment,” she said and, taking Marlee by the elbow, led her into the corridor. Once there, she told Marlee the details of what had happened and about the treatment he had received so far. Marlee blanched, hearing how they had cut Luco open to repair his torn lung. His condition was still listed as “Serious”, but barring unforeseen complications, he would survive. Marlee shed tears of joy at this news and asked if she could see him.

“Of course, Mrs. Reyes.”

Silently the nurse took Marlee by the arm again and led her to a second bed sitting by the far window.

There was Luco. Marlee stood and looked at him. He was unconscious with a sheet pulled up high on his chest. He had an intravenous drip line going into his right arm. “He looks so small,” was her first thought.

Marlee took a side chair and sat down next to the bed. The rails were up and he looked like he was sleeping in an aluminum crib.

For the next ten minutes she just sat and looked at Luco. His face was scraped and there were small bandages on his chin and forehead. He was still under the lingering effects of the anesthesia. Lowering the rail, Marlee reached out and smoothed his hair.

“Oh, Luco. My poor, sweet Luco.”

Thoughts of their talk at Martin Macks the previous evening went through her head. “Was that only last night?” She remembered how they had both cried as they told each other the stories of their lives. She recalled the feel of his hand in hers as they walked down Haight Street and how very much she wanted to hold him, but didn’t.

Marlee looked at him and wondered about “unforeseen complications.” Was she going to lose this man from her life? Unconsciously she took his hand. His skin was warm and soft, just like last night.

“Marlee?”

She looked at his battered face. His eyes were slits. “Luco.” Her voice leapt from her throat. She lifted his hand and kissed it.

“Where am I? What happened?” His voice was hoarse. He struggled to focus his eyes, with only marginal success.

Even though his vision was blurred, he could feel her hand on his and turned his palm up, closing his fingers around hers. “Where am I?” She squeezed his hand gently and he squeezed back with a strength that surprised her.

“You’re in the hospital, Luco. You were hit by a car.”

“It must have been a tank.”

“You had surgery last night to fix some damage to your lungs, but you’re going to be fine.” Luco just nodded as he began to lose consciousness again. As the anesthesia wore off the pain medication mixed into his glucose drip would smooth the rough edges, but he would sleep for most of the day.

Marlee got up to lower the blind to keep the glare off of Luco’s serene and regal face. He looked like a king in Marlee’s eyes. Somewhere lost in his lineage, generations ago, there must have been royalty in his family. Even now the bearing and grace shone through.

It wasn’t long before hospital protocol geared up and a tall man in a crisp white linen coat escorted the new widow from her station at her husband’s bedside. As soon as she left the room two muscular men tenderly, respectfully, moved the lifeless body onto a gurney. They covered him with a fresh white sheet and took him away. Marlee could hear the squeaking wheels on the gurney as it rolled slowly down the hallway.

While Luco slept Marlee stayed by his side, watching him, willing him protection from “unseen complications.” Occasionally Luco would stir or moan softly and she would sit up straight and take his hand until he quieted again.

Seeing Luco so helpless and seemingly small in that large metal bed, with tubes running into and out of his limp and injured body, sent her back in time. Back to the night when she cradled the body of her husband in her arms, feeling his life escape, a modern Pieta.

Marlee wanted to crawl into the hospital bed next to Luco and hold him, to come between him and any harm. In her heart she had failed to save Phillip, but she would not fail again. Not this time, not today. Not with this beautiful, scarred soul.

The night before they had laid bare their deepest wounds to each other. It was then that she learned about the real Luco Reyes. It didn’t matter if no one else ever saw past the facade of the flirting, glib barista who traded unanswered invitations with the women who drank in his special brews. Marlee Owens would know the real Luco.

She saw that that cavalier behavior was Luco’s way of staying alive. Get close enough to smell the perfume, but not so close as to inhale the explosive aroma of the woman herself. That he would not, could not, allow himself to do.

Luco was stopped by the idea that to caress too gently, to hold too closely, to care too deeply, would be a betrayal to a Love who was gone and beyond return. All that he had left was the memory and if he let that go he would be lost. That memory was his anchor and he was afraid to search for another.

Marlee knew that she was battling a similar enemy. Despite her dreams of Phillip releasing her, she still held a tangible guilt about her feelings for Luco. In the years since Phillip there had been no one else in her mind or her heart. Now, however, this frail looking man the hospital bed had gently invaded both.

Luco moved his head and Marlee leaned forward. “Luco?” His eyes fluttered and opened. He looked into Marlee’s eyes.

“Te amo,” he whispered. Marlee understood the phrase and searched for the right words with which to answer. She found them deep in her heart. “I love you too, Luco.” She laid her cheek on his hand. He reached over and stroked her hair.

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Marlee couldn’t move. Luco continued to run his fingers across her pale blond hair as he spoke in slurred Spanish to his deceased wife. Marlee’s knowledge of Spanish did not allow her to follow all of his words, but he said Alicia’s name several times. As he spoke silent tears spilled from her eyes. Each touch of his hand tore at her heart. How could she ever hope to find love with a man so married to a memory?

When Luco fell silent, Marlee moved his hand and sat back in the chair, looking at him as he slept once again.

Marlee wondered about what was going to happen now. In her mind it was clear that Luco was not ready to love her, or anyone. But she had spoken out loud the words “I love you” to him, even though he had not heard them, she had.

Deep within the hemispheres and ridges of his brain, Luco Reyes was moving from dreamless unconsciousness into a dream-hungry sleep. A mad projector in his brain was flashing images, sounds and people before his mind’s eye. Events raced by at an incoherent rate. Nothing made sense, but he understood that he was subconsciously reviewing and evaluating his life, judging himself in preparation for…for what he did not know.

He was seeing every moment of his marriage and as, in his haunting memory, he sat again at the horrible funerals in the chapel at Mission Dolores. He heard someone call his name.

“Luco?”

He knew the voice.

“Te amo.”

“I love you too, Luco.”

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Not knowing how long he would have, he poured out his thoughts to his wife.

“Alicia, I need to tell you that I realize you told me the truth. I have been wrong to cling to you the way I have. It’s been unhealthy and unfair to your memory.

“Alicia, I have met a woman, a beautiful and good woman. She makes me feel like I did when I first saw you. We have talked and she has suffered a great loss in her life too. She understands even though I can’t explain it all to her.

“Alicia, I love this woman. I need this woman. I hunger for this woman.

“Know that I will always love you and Regalito, but this woman makes me want to live again.”

An unheard voice spoke to Luco from the depths of his life.

“Go to her, Luco. Love her.”

In the silence and dim light of the hospital room Marlee sat with her head in her hands, feeling lost in her California exile and thinking that she had lost again to Death. First it was Phillip’s life and now it was her own, to the memory of a dead woman.

She had come almost 3000 miles to get away from a lost love only to have it happen again, but this time it was far more cruel. The man with whom she loved and could not have, was in love with a ghost.

Her thoughts drifted to her cello and she wondered if it was to be her only source of loving sounds in her ear, responsive and giving in her arms and solid and sinuous against her skin.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Six

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Six

 

 

Dennis heard Marlee close her front door and a quick peek out of his window confirmed it. He pushed aside the stalks of his large red and white hibiscus to follow her with his eyes as she crossed the street and headed up Haight Street. He needed a few minutes. As he watched her pass the corner market he idly plucked a leaf from the hibiscus and stuffed it into his pants pocket.

Grabbing his keys, Dennis went down the steps two at a time. He stopped outside of number six. Using the key that he had stolen from the previous tenant he silently let himself into Marlee’s apartment.

J.P. Cat was sound asleep inside his cardboard box bed. He never stirred when Dennis walked past him and into the bedroom.

Knowing that he was wasting time and risking discovery, Dennis opted to push his luck. “This is what makes it fun,” he said out loud.

He opened the closet and looked at the clothes. He took the sleeve of a white cotton blouse and put it next to his face, inhaling deeply. He closed his eyes, imagining Marlee in the blouse and then bit off the button from the cuff, swallowing it.

Dennis took a step back from the closet and appraised what he saw. “Cheap, frumpy, knockoff, knockoff, Gap, for God’s sake. My mother had one of these. Oh, Miss Marlee, you need a fashion consultant.”

He took a quick trip through her dresser drawers, running his fingers across the fabric and noting her preference for red.

A glance at her clock radio warned him to curtail his pleasure trip and get down to business.

Dennis walked into the kitchen and pulled a four-inch butterfly knife from his back pocket and the hibiscus leaf from the front. He grabbed Marlee’s cutting board from the shelf over the sink as he flipped open the scalpel sharp knife.

He worked rapidly, cutting the leaf into pieces, chopping and dicing the bits smaller and smaller. Using the flat blade he scraped the wooden board clean of every atom of green. He dropped the green slivers on top of the mound of cat food in the blue plastic bowl. He mixed them into the chicken and tuna until they disappeared.

“Let’s see whose door she knocks on when little ‘Just Plain Cat’ starts to vomit his cute yellow head off tonight. ‘Help me, Dennis. Oh, help me’.”

While Marlee was hearing about Luco being hit by a mysterious “hit and run” driver, Dennis was cleaning up after himself. He replaced the cutting board, walked past the still sleeping cat and plucked a CD of Yo Yo Ma playing the cello from the top of the stack. “Now, where did I set that CD?”

Still laughing, he quickly relocked Marlee’s front door and walked slowly back up the steps to the third floor. The morning sun was streaming through the large window on the landing. Dennis could see the Buena Vista Park steps. There was a drug deal going down. He turned around and ran down the stairs and out of the front door.

Dodging a bus and a motor scooter, Dennis ran across Haight Street.

“Hey, you two animals! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Get out of here mister, unless you want hurt. Do you?” The dealer lifted his shirttail to show Dennis the hilt of a large knife.

“Is that supposed to scare me, you subhuman filth?” The teenaged buyer started to back away, wanting no part of what looked about to erupt. Dennis glared at the boy. “Get out of my neighborhood and don’t come back or your ass is mine.” The kid took off running up the hill, scared and anxious to get back to his suburban home.

Just the two angry men were left, facing each other. The dealer pushed his floppy hat back on his head. He stroked his straggly beard as he took the measure of the blonde haired do-gooder.

“You just cost me a hundred bucks, partner. I think you should reimburse me.” He smiled a gap toothed smile at Dennis and casually reached for his knife.

Dennis whipped his butterfly knife from his pocket and had the blade pointed at the dealer before the buck knife had cleared its leather sheath. Dennis stepped closer, backing the longhaired drug pusher up the steps.

“You know what, you damned piece of garbage?”

“What’s that, Batman?”

“I could kill you right here and probably get a medal from the Mayor.”

“Yeah? If you think you’re such a John Wayne, try me. Right here, right now.” He lifted the silvery knife and waved it at Dennis. Before the street dealer could react, Dennis’ hand flew out and sliced his left nostril.

The dealer let out a soft scream and lashed out with his own knife. Dennis sidestepped it and punched the dealer on the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. A small audience of pedestrians, other would-be drug customers and the passengers on a bus parked in the stop zone twenty-five feet away, watched the lopsided fight. The bus driver picked up his radio and summoned the police.

Dennis stood over the prone, bleeding and frightened dealer. The butterfly knife was digging into the eyelid of the man on the ground. Dennis tossed the buck knife into the bank of zinnias and pansies that lined the sidewalk.

“Pay attention to me. I’m only going to say this once. I could kill you right now, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be any fun and if it’s not fun, why do it. Right? Right, Idiot?”

“Right. Fun.”

“So…I’m letting you go…for now.”

He lifted the bloody faced criminal to his feet and, careful to not get any blood on himself, ran the razor sharp edge of his knife in a swift race down the bridge of the dealer’s nose, peeling the flesh away, down to the cartilage. Another scream and more blood were released onto the stone steps. “Now, run for your life.”

The wounded and humiliated drug merchant ran up the grassy hill, into the Park, disappearing and leaving a red trail on the lawn.

Dennis turned around and saw the small assembly that had witnessed it all. His face was red from the anger and the stress of the encounter. He had a headache and an erection.

“What? What are you looking at? Get out of here and don’t come back.” He waved the knife in the air and started down the steps. The people moved out of his way. Nobody wanted anything to do with him.

The police squad car arrived ten minutes later and found nothing but a smear of red on the steps and a trail of more red on the grass leading up “Hippie Hill” deeper into Buena Vista Park.

Dennis stared at his door. He looked around the hallway and rechecked the brass numbers. “This is number eight? She lives in number six.”

He looked at his wristwatch. Twenty minutes had passed, but he had no memory of going into Marlee’s apartment, no memory of going through her clothes, no memory of poisoning the cat food. Dennis sniffed at his fingers. He could smell the hibiscus leaf. “Why am I sweating?”

There was only one beer left in the refrigerator. Dennis took it and plopped down on his sofa. It was hard to tell if the garish ruby lips were spitting him out or about to swallow him whole. He knew the beer was a mistake in light of the Percodan he had just taken dry. He pulled the tab and heard the welcoming rush of air into the can. He wanted it. He needed it and there was a third reason, but it was too faded to make out.

As he drank and the painkiller roared through his bloodstream, the present was disappearing behind a resurgent past. Morning was being painted over by Midnight and San Francisco was becoming the Boston of seven years previous.

 His desire had always been to be a man of Science, but, as a 21 year-old, middle of his class graduate in chemistry, his superiors at the University Hospital kept demanding that he stick to his duties as a lab technician. He hated doing the same tests, over and over again, day after day.

“Let somebody else do this. I’m a researcher. I’m out on that cutting edge of discovery. Or I would be if you’d stop demanding that I waste my time doing tox screens on rent-a-cops. Give me the tools and I can cure the world.”

Dennis moved from job to job, sliding from the prestigious and endowed to the threadbare and under-funded, downward to the fraud-ridden Medicare mills. He always had the same complaints and always ended up on the sidewalk ranting at a closed and locked door.

It’s a small world and it didn’t take long for him to gain a reputation as a troublemaker and an all-around pain in the ass. Even the pet hospitals turned him away.

Dennis was a good-sized young man and he was never late for work. That was a ringing endorsement for the Manager at Novicky Moving and Storage.

It wasn’t science, but it paid enough to cover his expenses and there were the unofficial perks: almost unlimited opportunities for petty theft from the customers and very limited dealings with bosses.

Dennis refurnished his apartment with items “lost in transit” from the moving van. The customers had little recourse. They rarely bought the overpriced and worthless insurance coverage.

His prize piece of booty was the sofa stolen from another recent Harvard grad. Somehow, the sofa, shaped like a pair of bright red lips was “lost” during the short drive from Cambridge, across the Charles River, into Boston and to a new condo near the Massachusetts General Hospital complex.

Even though it wasn’t his dream job and there were no likely cures to be discovered in the back of a truck, Dennis did the work and was surprised to find that he enjoyed the companionship of the men in the crew.

Some were ex-cons and drifters who stayed only long enough to get rearrested or scrape up a stake to get to the West Coast. There were others who came from failed academic backgrounds, either alcoholic professors on the skids or men like Dennis – perpetual square pegs.

It was during a job on Gainesborough Street, near Symphony Hall, that Dennis’ life was changed. They were moving a stereo cabinet from a fourth-floor walkup. Coming down off a narrow landing, Dennis slipped. He felt and heard something tear in his back.

Rest didn’t help much. When he tried to lift anything over 25 pounds it felt like someone was driving white hot nails into his lower back.

The other men in the crew liked Dennis. He pulled his weight and bought a round now and then. They decided to help him.

One of the guys, a wiry man known as “Zigzag”, fresh out of Walpole State Prison, gave Dennis a handful of pills. “It’s called ‘O.C’ and it’ll fix you up good, Dude.”

Dennis had been in enough labs to know that “O.C.” was an opium derivative called “Oxycontin”, and addictive as hell, but the pain was keeping him from working. No work, no money…no money, and he’d end up working for guys like Zigzag. He took the pills and kept working.

Dennis thought he could deal with the danger of addiction, but he couldn’t get around the side effects. His growing paranoia made him hard to work with. He thought that the other men were dumping the heavy loads on him, slacking off while he did their work.

Things got worse when Zigzag was arrested for setting up a drug lab in the basement of his apartment building. Dennis had to get his pills off the street and his brain told him that Zigzag was going to implicate him in the lab fiasco. Dennis ran. He left Boston and headed west

It took two years of day labor and five doomed attempts at kicking his addiction before Dennis rode a bus across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was as far as he could run without getting wet.

Still paranoid about Zigzag, he avoided going back to work as a mover. He was living in the sordid “Fogtown Hotel” in the Tenderloin when he saw the ad for “Manly Maids.”

After a year of working 60 hour weeks, saving every spare penny and being mugged six times on the street, Dennis found an apartment in The Haight. Far from being an improvement as he had hoped, the move to 1298 Haight punched his ticket on the express train to Insanity.

The first time…Dennis laid his head down on the sofa as he tried to recall the first time, the first murder. He remembered doing it, but not in any reproducible imagery. It was the feel of his fists hitting soft flesh. It was the sound of his own heavy breathing and the final gasps and silence from the other person. It was the sweaty stench of the man’s crusty jacket and the sweet piquancy of the blood. It was the roaring headache beforehand and the soft tones of restful sleep afterward.

The man Dennis beat to death that first night in the Panhandle was a street dealer who had sold him placebos instead of actual Vicodin. When the pain didn’t go away his rage was triggered and ignited a headache that threatened to “split me open and let the universe see my degradation.” 

Dennis went hunting.

After the first, it became easier, and more importantly to Dennis, it became a mission. He was a drug user, yet he saw the path to his salvation lined with dead drug dealers. Save the soul of the user by eliminating the occasion of sin.

When the pain was not relieved and the rage was too much to bear, Dennis would cruise through the streets looking for the young, vulnerable and dealing. He was known to the people on the street as a regular customer, so going into the shadows with him was not considered a risk.

Dennis would lull his targets into the Panhandle, a driveway or a hidden spot in the bushes. When the drugs were presented his knife would appear and, with the surety of the saved, he would plunge the blade into the throat of his prey. Swift, sure and fatal, but not enough to make his message understood. There had to be something more, a warning to the other dealers.

That is why Dennis started his mutilations. To make his point, his final cut was a paring down the bridge of the nose. Destroy the face, he reasoned, and make the world see them as all alike, creating the agony that would drive a decent man like himself to such necessary extremes.

Dennis was sure that, if it were not for the drugs, his life would be pain free and filled with joy and the love of a faithful woman. But the drugs did exist and his life wasn’t pain free and filled with joy and the women weren’t faithful, even Marlee. Didn’t he see her first? Didn’t he bring her gifts? Didn’t he show her that he found her desirable? She, however, had shown her favor for that lowlife coffee puller who thought of her as just another notch on his bedpost. Well, as of last night, Luco Reyes was out of the picture and now he could get back on track to woo and take Marlee for his own.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Five

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Five

She spent the next hour following the kitten around the apartment. When he climbed into the litter tray he let out a high-pitched meow to let her know that a little privacy was in order. She was learning about cats.

In the kitchen she set up his food and water. She loved his matching blue plastic bowls. With the supplies that Dennis had given her, J.P. was taken care of for at least a week.

Marlee was happy to have something to take care of, to help her exercise her nurturing side.

“Luco,” she said out loud. “I’ve got to tell him about this and that Dennis and I have worked things out.”

Better than nothing at all, she took a “bird bath”: a quick washing of strategic, sweaty pits. Another shower would have been best after her cello workout and the frenzy with Dennis and the new cat, but she was anxious to see Luco.

From the moment she walked through the door of the People’s Cafe, Marlee could see that something was wrong. Luco was not behind the counter. Instead, the strawberry blonde, looking angry and exhausted was there pulling Lattes. She had worked until closing last night and here she was early the next morning.

The owner, Pete, was busy spreading cream cheese, too much of it, on a sesame bagel. He rarely came into the cafe before noon.

“Good morning, Pete. I didn’t expect to see you here this early in the day. Where’s Luco?”

Pete looked up from his chore. There were tears in his eyes. Marlee’s heart stopped.

“Pete? Where’s Luco?”

“Miss,” he said in his lightly accented English that hinted at his Middle Eastern roots. “Luco is in the hospital.”

“Oh, dear God, what happened? Is he sick? Has he been hurt?”

“He was run over by a car last night, a hit and run.”

Marlee grabbed the edge of the counter to steady herself. She felt her legs turning to rubber. Her hands were ice cold. “No, not again” raced through her brain.

Pete had stopped working on the bagel. “He is like my own boy. According to the newspaper, it was very bad.”

“Where is he? I’ve got to go to him.”

In the moments following his discovery by the Paramedics, Luco was deemed the most seriously injured survivor. He was in shock and broken ribs had collapsed a lung. That much they could diagnose there on the sidewalk, in the dark, amid the crying and moaning of the other victims.

A second and then a third Emergency unit arrived. St Mary’s Hospital was notified that multiple casualties were 5 minutes out.

Luco was the first person transported to the nearby hospital on Stanyan Street, on the far side of the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. He had numerous cuts and abrasions, but the life-threatening injuries were internal. The broken ribvoices had done more than just puncture his lung. It had nicked the pulmonary artery and he was in danger of drowning in his own blood.

While the medical team worked to save Luco’s life, a clerical aide went through Luco’s wallet searching for identification and contact information. If things went badly, decisions would have to be made.

The bored aide looked at everything and sorted it all into small piles. There was a driver’s license, a plastic library card, an ATM card from Wells Fargo Bank and a Blue Cross card. In another neat stack he put fourteen dollars in cash. Tucked away in the center section of the wallet, he dug out two more items: a dog-eared business card for a band called “Besame” and a color photograph of a pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform.

Behind the glass doors down the hall seven people in green scrubs hovered over the unmoving form of a man with jet-black hair and the muscular body of a fighter.

The noise level in the room went down noticeably when the medical team stabilized Luco’s vital signs. They then passed him onto the OR people who would deal with the internal bleeding and broken bones.

From the moment Luco was wheeled through the ER’s automatic doors until he rolled into surgery was only seven minutes. The paper traces of his life were left behind and overlooked in the mayhem.

At the Nurse’s station, amid the usual furor of a Friday night, a man’s life sat in untidy piles. People hurried by, intent on one task or another. An intern set her coffee cup down on top of a picture of the pretty young nurse. No one noticed.

On the fourth floor the surgical team, led by a doctor from Malaysia who looked fourteen, but who had more time in an operating theater than anyone on staff, smiled and told someone to turn up the music. Tonight he wanted John Coltrane to assist.

The damage from the broken ribs was not as bad as it first looked in the initial X-rays. There was bleeding and there were tears in the lung tissue, but it would heal after some needlework from the surgeon. The dislocated hip was an orthopedic matter. The “bone people” fixed that in short order and two hours after entering St. Mary’s, Luco was in Post-Op, alive and sleeping the dark, dreamless sleep of anesthesia.

Marlee ran, not sped, not flew, not raced, but ran toward St. Mary’s Hospital. She ran, filled with fear of what she might find when she got there.

Her heart pounded as she crossed the Panhandle. It would have been pounding just as hard even if she had hailed a taxi. The few blocks to the hospital were a congested area, always filled with traffic. Tourists, local residents, hospital visitors and students from the nearby University of San Francisco combined to create a nonstop gridlock in the area. Marlee would get to the hospital quicker on foot and it let her burn off some of the undertow of emotion that was threatening to pull her down.

The morning fog was still hanging in the trees. It looked like it might be one of those San Francisco days when it never completely burned off. The red lettering on the hospital signs were blurred at the edges. The letters were almost illegible in the mixture of fog, tears and sweat that burned in Marlee’s eyes.

The automatic doors opened and Marlee, out of breath and in a near panic, paused a bare moment to collect her thoughts, then walked into the whirlwind of the Emergency Room. There were people moving in every direction. Injured men and women walked around, in too much pain to just sit and wait quietly. The staff, dressed in various colored coats and uniforms moved around in an educated frenzy.

Looking around for someone, anyone who could tell her what had happened, who could take her to Luco, Marlee walked up to the receiving desk.

She tried to ask a tired looking doctor, but he turned and walked away, not even hearing her. A rumpled young resident did the same. He had been on duty for eighteen hours. She moved down the counter to a man who was sorting through some papers. Frustrated, she reached over the counter top and put her hand on his papers.

“Sir, sir, please help me.” He looked up at her. His eyes said that it had been a difficult shift.

“What can I do for you, Miss?”

“I’m trying to locate Luco Reyes. He was brought in here last night. He was hit by a car.”

“Reyes? Are you family?”

“No. I’m a friend. Please where is he? How is he? Can I see him?”

“I’m very sorry.” Her heart froze. “I’m sorry, but unless you’re family, I can’t give out any information on patients.” He looked down again at his papers, hoping that she would just go away and bother someone else.

“Please don’t do this,” she begged. The clerk refused to look up. In her frustration and rage Marlee reached out and swept his papers off the painted veneer and onto the floor. He looked up.

“Don’t ignore me. Please, where is Luco Reyes?” He glared up at her, silently cursing her for complicating the last few minutes of his workday.

Marlee felt as if she was going to explode. Her head was throbbing. Not knowing what else to do, she stepped back from the receiving desk, looked around, closed her eyes and let loose a blood-curdling scream. Even the people who were along the far wall sleeping off last night’s drugs opened their eyes and looked at her. Security guards came running. Two doctors poked their heads out from behind drawn curtains, expecting another trauma. They got one.

“Luco Reyes,” Marlee yelled to the whole room. “Please, all I need to know is…is he alive. Someone, anyone, tell me that much or I’m going to die right here.” She believed that it was true.

A middle-aged nurse walked up to the counter and picked up a black binder that was sitting next to the clerk who had been sorting papers. She turned several pages, paused to read a moment, and then looked up into Marlee’s fearful face.

“He was admitted. Go to the Lobby desk and they can help you see him and, Honey, tell them that you’re his wife.”

“Oh, God. Thank you. Thank you for telling me. The Lobby desk? How do I get there?”

Pointing over Marlee’s quivering shoulders, the nurse said, “Take that elevator to the Main floor and follow the green stripe on the floor.” Marlee turned and rushed across the crowded room to the elevator.

The nurse bent over to pick up the papers that Marlee had knocked to the floor.

“You know,” said the clerk, “That was a violation of hospital policy. I should report this.”

The exhausted nurse looked at the small picture of the pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform. She dropped it on the desktop.

“Marty?” she said with the night’s weariness in her voice.

“Yes?”

“Screw you.”

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.

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