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The Road Ahead
(Photo Source: Peter Marlow)
“God, should we? That’s a lot of driving, either way. I don’t want to wear you out.” Mick was at the wheel, at the intersection of 287 and 200 and the decision between Great Falls or Butte. He and Hannah, flush with an inheritance from her grandmother and winging their way across the map, had started the day nearly eight hours earlier in Moses Lake, WA, and were debating continuing on to Great Falls and then back to Glacier, or pushing on to Miles City and, the next day, Little Big Horn, North Dakota, the Badlands and the Continental Divide. Butte to Miles City looked on the atlas to be about another six hours, as did Butte to Kalispell. Either way, another half day on the road.
Hannah ran her hand up and down Mick’s forearm. She was so happy to be able to give him this trip, to see his kid-with-a-new-toy exuberance, to traverse landscape so ingrained in her DNA from growing up in Missoula. She was so happy to give all this she would have driven on to Boston if Mick had wanted to. “I’m game for whatever you are, hon. It’s your midlife crisis! And how often are we going to have a chance to do this?”
Mick thought about it, playing eenie-meenie with all the places he had dreamed of while growing up in Boston and devouring every book he could find about Custer, Louis & Clark and the West in general. Going to college and then staying in Seattle was probably, subliminally, partly due to proximity to the land of the pioneers. And now here he was, living it, breathing it…
Losing gram was, obviously, not the best way to make money. But Hannah hadn’t seen her in over twenty years, and she was, frankly, shocked to even be remembered. She and Mick were finally doing okay, finally self-sufficient with her photography and his film production, after all those years getting their souls sucked in corporate Cubes and building the dream nights and weekends. She knew how hard Mick had worked to make it happen, how much he sacrificed and how freaked out he was about money and about pushing 40. So she was going to surprise him with an extremely modest mid-life crisis trip anyway. Having that inheritance payoff gave them serious extra flexibility. It was the greatest gift she had ever received and the greatest gift she could ever give.
It seemed like ages that they sat at that intersection, staring at the vast prairie ahead. Mick was lost in thought. He saw himself at ten, reading through all 26 leather-bound volumes of the Time Life “The Old West” set; at eighteen, skipping class at U Dub to soak in the history of Pioneer Square and Underground Seattle; at twenty-three, practically memorizing Ken Burns: Lewis & Clark and Thomas Jefferson; and now, almost forty, finally clean, an in-demand film producer, and scared shitless about missing out on life, never seeing all those landmarks he had envisioned all those years…And now it was happening, and he could pick-and-choose what to see. Turn left, and it’s Glacier. Turn right, and it’s Little Big Horn and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Heads, I win. Tails, you lose. Jesus…
The Montana landscape was other-worldly, spectral and incomprehensible. Nothing but prairie and mountain, wheat and rock. At least on this side it was, having passed through the Bitterroots and the surprisingly verdant western flank earlier. They had lunch at a Perkins in Missoula, with a hot wind coming down from a mountain monogrammed with a big “M”. And Mick and Hannah both realized how out of place they were for not sporting a cowboy hat. It was a totally different world, and they both dived into the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to subsume themselves into the foreign and recontextualize their lives and work after the fact. They would never be the same, and they were so much the better for it.
Mick was almost scared to continue either way, being so overwhelmed at the fact that his lifelong dreams were finally being realized. He was thankful every day, but today, with his rock and better half at his side, his newfound sobriety, his independence after all those years of bending over for the man….it was almost too much. So many convergences at one intersection in the middle of fucking nowhere Montana! And he won no matter which way they went.
“So, Tiger, what do you think?” Hanna smiled over at Mick with all the love and support in the world. This was a new world for Mick, and he was never happier. “Well,” he said “let’s see where the road goes!” He turned the car and they headed for the next dream-come-true…
(Photo Source: Christopher Anderson)
Jesus, why is it always so much FUCKing harder to get a cab when it’s raining? And the only thing you want in the world is to go home and hide?
Well, almost the only thing. Shit. Shit, Shit, SHIT. Why?!? Why do I keep fucking up? WHY DO I KEEP BLOWING IT?!?
Black sheets of rain. Rain and black. BLACK. Five cabs in a row passing by, splashing waves of noxious water and sodden leaves. Perfect.
THERE’S my nightcap! Not gonna get one with her tonight, me and my big FUCKing mouth. Christ. Everything was going great, and then BAM, I had to blow it. Like always. All the talents in the world and I had to get the talent for saying something fucking STUPID.
And where’s the kind of cab that STOPS?!?
I’ll never hear from her again. And I’ll blow it again the next time, with the next girl, and the next time with the next girl because I can’t stop saying stupid shit at the WORST time. I just…I don’t mean it! I’m a good guy! I just don’t know how everybody else in the world knows how to be CONFIDENT enough to not TRY TO HARD. SHE WAS INTERESTED! And I had to try too hard and I BLEW it! SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!!!
A pile of dried maple leaves had collected under an awning, all looking like puzzle pieces lying about on the sidewalk, ready to be put together.
Why do I do it to myself? Why do I always feel like an unconnected puzzle piece? Never to fit in. Why do I continually live this self-fulfilling prophecy?
Why can’t I just get a cab to STOP, go home and never try again? It’s so much easier. Keep the circle small…just my closest family, occasionally, maybe one or two friends who “get” me…no maintenance, no hurt…
No connection…NO HURT…
After the Snow
(Photo Source: Marion Post Wolcott)
The snow started gently around 10:00 AM and ended gently around 5:00 PM. In between it was a heavy, driving white-out snow, the kind that meant business. I spent the day stoking the fire and listening to reports on the radio. Mother made cider donuts on the stove, and we found a program of Christmas music.
It was fairly quick work to clear the driveway, as our neighbor, Tom Stoddard, came along with his tractor and Walter snow plow. We invited Tom in for supper, but he refused and set off to plow out the rest of the world. Had a quick supper of franks and beans, fed the cattle, then set out for town, as we were out of liquor, lard and stationary. The roads were passable, thanks to Tom, and I had no problems making the short drive.
After getting provisions, I decided to show myself the town. There is something of an evening in a small New England town after a day of snow that stirs me like nothing else. The temperature drops and the night turns bitter cold, the nostrils burn, the moon pops out and the fresh snow twinkles like diamonds against the lights of storefronts, street lamps and automobiles. Passers-by, freshly liberated from the day of imprisonment, carry gay greetings and good tidings, and the world, so troubled by the happenings on the war front, seems as right as it should be again.
I walked along the main street, back and forth, seeing the sights and greatly enjoying the new world. These are the things I keep for myself: the crunch of the fresh snow under my feet, the soft glow of candles and the smell of balsam, the joy of being out and about after such a long day of being snowbound, the muted sound of autos and the feel of peace on earth during these dark days… These are the things I treasure.
I came home, mixed martinis and listened to Bing on the Kraft Music Hall. A perfect New England winters evening after a perfect New England winters day.
(Photo Source: Ida Wyman)
“Madame, for your patronage and your exQUIsite beauty, in consideration of ten cents on top of the fifteen for your key, that I may purchase a cup of coffee, I will sing you on your way this fine morning! Two bits only! An exceptional value!”
They called him The Tudor, an’ the reason why varied dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was, see? Some say it was ‘cause he was secretly rich an’ lived in Tudor City, o’er by the Chrysler Buildin’. An’ some say it was ‘cause he got hit by a Ford Tudor a time or two, or even three, again dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was. The likely story was the car story, since The Tudor been known to Ride the White Horse, an’ bein’ old and frail, his reflexes wasn’t any hot even when we wasn’t on a White Horse bender. But who knows about these things?
Anyway, they called him The Tudor, an’ he was out e’ry morn’, come rain or come shine, makin’ keys, shinin’ shoes an’ singin’ for tips. He had a high talkin’ voice, almost like a girl. But son of a buck if that old guy couldn’t sing in the most beeUTEEful bass you ever heard! An’ he knew all them old songs, like Oh Danny Boy an’ The Sidewalks of New York an’ all. The Tudor could sing like nobody’s bidness, an’ he could charm your pants off an’ then sell ‘em back to you!
If you only believed half of what you heard, you could say he was full’a it. He was married forty some years, or so they said. ‘Course ain’t nobody seen his wife, jus’ like ain’t nobody knows where The Tudor REALLY come from. He jus’ showed up with his key makin’ tools an’ his shine kit an’ his hat an’ a song. An’ that’s how I like to think of him.
I worked the north corner of 44th an’ Lex, sellin’ my papers, an’ The Tudor worked the south side. It was a logical arrangement for those commuters heading south to Gran’ Central, see? First you get a paper, then you sit down to read it while you’re gettin’ a shine, or a key made. Perfect, right? Anyways, we had that unspoken arrangement for years.
Come to think of it, I don’ know as we ever did really speak. But we had a certain unspoken bond, you might say. Just a nod ‘cross the street e’ry day. An’ I heard that voice’a his echo all up an’ down Lex, an’ somehow the day just seemed a little better with a song from The Tudor.
Last I saw The Tudor, he was snowin’ the pants off’a that woman he was tryin’ to get coffee money from. She gave him the two bits, an’ he started singin’ “Will You Love Me in December (as You Do in May)?” Which, you’ll ‘member, was written by our former mayor Jimmy Walker. Anyway, he started singin’ that crazy old song, beauteeful as a phonograph, an’ that woman jus’ beamed. 100 watts, at least. Then she was off, headed west on 44th toward Park, an’ I had run outta papers, so’s I went home for the day.
Never saw The Tudor after that, an’ I got no idear what became of him. Some say he went home sick himself an’ never got out of bed. Some say he retired to Miami an’ was livin’ the good life with some dame half his age. Who knows about these things? Dependin’ on who you talked to, an’ what time day it was, anything could’a happened to The Tudor. But I’m glad I was there for his gran’ finale.
“Christ, you remember those old one-piece mask and pajama costumes?” Alton asked Rachel, breaking into a giggle. “The ones our parents used to get at…”
“K-MART!!!” Rachel and Alton said at the same time, breaking into hysterics. “Yeah,” Rachel continued, patting Alton on the forearm,“what were they thinking with those?”
“I’m amazed none of us burned alive in those goddamn things! They were as much of a fire hazard as the Pinto was!”
Alton and Rachel were taking advantage of the open bar at the reception. He had gone to high school up north with Brad Collins, the new groom, and she worked with Beth Dunn, the new Mrs. Collins. They both snuck glances at each other during the ceremony, squinting as the Halloween sun went down over the lake, and they ended up seated at the same table.
It was supposed to be a costume wedding, celebrating Brad and Beth’s love of Halloween, but they figured most of their guests would lame out, so it ended up being business casual. The wedding and reception were at the Sedaguncook Lodge on Lake Dirigo, the dinner was steak and salmon and the specialty of the house was the 10-31 Pumpkin Martini. After a few beers and wine with dinner, tongues loosened, Alton and Rachel slid over next to each other and started talking about Halloween past.
Alton pulled out his iPhone and pulled up a picture of himself, age 5, in 1979, wearing a Spider Man costume. “I remember cutting my face on the damn plastic, and I almost choked on the rubber band! Can you imagine?”
Rachel, holding her martini at an alarming angle, put an arm around Alton’s shoulder, laughing hysterically at the photo on the screen and the story. “Oh my God! That happened to me too! I was Snow White that year!”
The evening went on, the drinks flowed and Alton and Rachel talked well into the small hours, walking down to the lake in the icy chill, holding hands, laughing. They met again for breakfast, exchanged e-mails and agreed to meet again later that week. And they both drove home thinking “greatest wedding ever” and loving Halloween more than ever…
The Heart Wants…
(Photo Source: Vivian Maier)
There it was, there in the window. Joe McGillicuddy passed by the display in the department store window daily, and had for years, always dreaming of what it would be like to walk in someday and walk out with such a wonderful gift. Something to have, hold and treasure. Something that meant everything and would be his forever.
He dreamed the dream every day for all those years. He even tried to put a little aside, but it seemed like something always came along and screwed the deal. And Joe always was left just standing outside the window, staring, dreaming and wishing, like a kid outside the ice cream parlor watching all the other kids who got dough for ice cream from their parents. None for him.
Joe knew that things weren’t important, and that love and being loved were the real treasures in life. But gee whiz, when you’re all alone sometimes things are all you’ve got. And the treasure in the window was all he had, all he wanted, and always just out of reach.
He lived in a room, worked odd jobs, didn’t have any callers, didn’t really trust that anyone could care about an old, broken down fella like him. All he had was his dreams and that window display. And the all-consuming want, not just of the treasure, but of the comfort and security everyone else seemed to have and he didn’t know how to get.
All Joe knew was alone. Alone and wanting. Somehow that was comforting, knowing that want was his, the suit he wore alone. But he would trade it in a heartbeat for belonging, and having treasures belong to him.
Joe McGillicuddy took a last look at the window display, feeling the ache of unfulfilled desires and the weight of his life. He had managed to scrounge up enough for a bottle of skull-pop, which he purchased on the way back to his room. He crawled into his bed, sensing the mid-day sun behind the blinds and ended another unfulfilled day.
(Photo Source: William P. Gottlieb)
It was eight blocks and a gorgeous night, so what the hell? Tommy and Frankie left the car at their apartment on 44th and started walking north up to 52nd. They were looking sharp and looking to have some kicks on The Street. It was summer in the city, and anything could happen.
What a great day. They had already seen Don Newcomb toss a four-hit shutout for Brooklyn at Ebbets Field, and now they were off to The Street. 52nd between 5th and 6th: jazz alley. There was The Onyx and The Famous Door and The 3 Deuces and Leon & Eddie’s and Club Samoa and The Yacht Club and The Downbeat and Jimmy Ryan’s. There was Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday and Count Basie and Errol Garner and Billy Eckstein and Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach and Kenny Clark Mary Lou Williams and Coleman Hawkins. There was hot jazz and hot girls and small rickety tables full of drinks and cigarettes and matchbooks and cocktail napkins with telephone numbers and the basement clubs were hot and the air full of smoke and nobody could move and nobody wanted to go home. And it was all there on one block, there for the taking.
“Man, I can’t WAIT to see Bird & Diz!” Tommy yelped, lighting a Camel and taking a pull from his flask as they crossed over 47th. “They’re playin’ at the Deuce. An’ Hawk is at the Onyx. I say we catch some of his set after seein’ Parker.”
“That’s a plan, Stan!” Frankie replied. “I heard that Prez might be sitting in with Hawk. Imagine that jam session?!?”
They stopped in a drug store on 49th for more cigarettes. Three blocks away! It was going to be one boss night on The Street. Frankie continued, momentarily distracted from thoughts of seeing Lester Young jamming with Coleman Hawkins. “I have further heard, according to good authority, that the apple of your eye Wanda may be among those hopping from club to club tonight. Not that you have a chance, or anything…”
Tommy gave Frankie a sock on the arm. “Ya fuckin’ ball buster! What you talkin’ about? You couldn’t get laid in a morgue!”
Frankie grinned over at his pal and said, “anyone who doesn’t get laid tonight is a feeb!”
Tommy and Frankie howled their approval, tousled each other’s perfectly combed pompadours and picked up their pace north. The night was just beginning. No time to waste…
Composition Book is off this Thursday. Here is a timely favorite from the first incarnation of this page, Phantomas. Happy Series, all…
It was a typical Saturday afternoon at Kelly’s: Cards/Cubs on the tube, Old Style on tap and in pounders, armchair analysis going around the bar. Tim and John, both Cubs fans but, more broadly, both baseball fans, were arguing the game on the TV and the games already played.
“Okay, you’re tellin’ me the Cards are more universally beloved than the Cubs?” John asked Tim, mocking his jaw falling to the bar.
“I’m not saying more beloved!” Tim replied. “I’m saying more historically significant!”
“What in THE hell you talking about?” John spat back. “Hack Wilson, Ron Cey, Ernie Banks! Hey, let’s play two! Harry friggin’ Caray and Wrigley Field!”
“Yeah, well Harry Caray was the voice of the Cardinals first, ya know!” Tim replied, proud at scoring a point. “And think of this: the St. Louis Cardinals changed the game twice.”
“Twice?” John asked?
“Twice.” Tim affirmed. “First, Branch Rickey – the man who later signed Jackie Robinson, no less – was the Cards General Manager, and he developed the farm system and spring training. Used to be a ballplayer would go home
after the season and spend the winter drinkin’ and gorgin’. Rickey put ‘em to work in the hot sun before the season to get ‘em in shape. An’ he developed the farm system and hid his best prospects low in the system. Used to say that every small town in America in the ‘30s had an A&P and a Cardinals farm team.”
John was suitably impressed. He knew about the influence of Rickey, of course, but hearing it from Tim was revolutionary. But there was more to hear. “Okay, that’s once. How did the Cards revolutionize the game twice, smartass?”
Tim knew he was about to deliver a roundhouse to the chin. “Okay, think about this. In the course of twenty years – less than a generation – the Cardinals went from being one of the most fiercely segregated teams in the game to one of the most fiercely integrated teams in the game.”
John just stared at his friend.
“1947. Robinson breaks the color line with Brooklyn. At the time St. Louis was the farthest stop west and south in both leagues, and the closest thing to a home team for the deep south. Those were the Cards of Harry Walker, Whitey Kurowski, Enos Slaughter and Joe Garagiola. Some of those Cards agreed to boycott games against Robinson and the Dodgers. Slaughter and Garagiola, in spite of his later sunny persona on the Today Show, were notorious for spiking Jackie, race baiting, all that crap.”
John continued to stare, disgusted and fascinated in equal measures.
“1967. A mere two decades later. Tim McCarver, Orlando Cepeda. Roger Maris, Bob Gibson. Steve Carlton, Curt Flood. Total integration and a team that was completely there for each other.
“Think about that. Twenty years! It happened in Chicago, but not as dramatically. Sure, Ernie Banks was first for the Cubs in 1953, and the Cards integrated in 1954. But the integration of the Cards was absolutely unprecedented, and frankly one hell of a great American story.”
John was absolutely dumbstruck and silent. Kelly’s grew quiet, the most prominent sound being the play-by-play on the tube.
“You win!” he said, turning back to his beer and a slick 6-4-3 double play live from Wrigley.
Steel and Shadows
(Photo Source: William Gedney)
…damn…damn, Damn, DAMN! GodDAMNit, why didn’t I do it sooner?
Harold paced up and down the block, through the shadows of the el, smoking like a fiend, replaying the evening and lamenting the fact that it took so long to play out. It was so easy! It was just like any night with Doris at her place.
Just like any night with Doris when she wasn’t out whoring around, making a fool out of me…
Easiest thing in the world, 1-2-3, like falling off a log. What was all that worry about? Harold kept thinking about how silly all his fretting seemed in retrospect. In comparison to the worry, it was like…like taking candy from a baby.
Or a kid in a candy store…
A train screamed overhead: express. Where the hell was a local when you needed one? Anyway, yeah…it was so easy. Just like any night with that cheap whore…up to her apartment, play some records, smoke a little reefer…only Doris wasn’t entertaining Harold. No, not this night.
Harold thought of all those evenings he waited, lurking behind the stanchions of the el, watching, observing, waiting. He would call Doris on the telephone to make a date, but she had a headache or was going out with her girl friends. Yeah, that’s how it was.
It’s so easy for a girl like her to lie. Easiest thing in the world, 1-2-3, like falling off a log, RIGHT?
So finally his night had arrived. Just like any night with Doris at her place, only she’s got company she ain’t supposed to have. So Harold walks in, and for the last time he walks out. Just…BAM!…walks out.
No more Doris, no more third wheel…sorry, what was your name again? Oh never mind, it don’t matter, HAH!…no MORE! Harold felt great. Better than he had in weeks. It was all over, and the relief washed over him like the shadows of the tracks above. What a great feeling! And all that worry over nothing!
Easiest thing in the world…
An IND train pulled in, pushing the sound of approaching sirens into the background. Harold stood for a second, feeling the piece in his pocket. Cold steel never felt so warm. It felt like…happiness. He ran up the stairs, jumped the turnstile and got on the train just as the doors were closing.
The train pulled out and Harold headed away, replaying the evening and looking forward to doing it all over again…