Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Twenty-Three

 

2019

I was on the subway when I was finishing the book, Presumed Innocent.  I had not sleuthed out who had done the killing, and I was nearing the part where the killer would be revealed.  I was so engaged that I decided that if the doer was not revealed by the time I got to my stop, I would keep on reading to make sure that I could finish and find out who did it, uninterrupted by the commotion of exiting and then needing to find a spot to read.

And I didn’t finish when I got to my stop, so I let Kenmore Square come and go and was down by the Park Street stop when I bolted upright.  

This killer I had never considered.  I’d wondered if the narrator had, as accused, been the perp and had wondered about several others—the judge, another prosecutor, a former lover—but this person, the doer—certainly presumed innocent by all—I’d not imagined.  Then when it came together after the explanation, I likely gasped out loud.

 It was not only that the perp was the perp, but that someone, besides the killer, had known nearly from the beginning that the perp, presumed innocent by all, was the perp. And that person-- also, at least nominally presumed innocent--had a strong reason to remain silent.  

I stayed on the train for three more stops, Government Center, Haymarket, and then North Station. All the while I gazed at the riders on the subway who looked innocent and unlikely to commit murder. And then I thought that every person on that train, under the right conditions, could be a murderer.  When I saw my reflection in the dark window, I knew that I too was not exempt.

I figure there are different kinds of killers.  You have your certifiable crazies like the Son of Sam who heard voices telling him to kill.  Then you have the political crazies, people who think they are killing for a cause like the cowards who flew planes into the world trade center or who drive dynamite loaded trucks into buildings.  Of course, there are rotten eggs who are not certifiable or political--thieves or hitmen--who consider killing their trade of sorts—something one does if they are in a particular line of work.  Gangsters of various stripes.

But then there are others, people who are not legally insane or motivated by a cause, or just taking care of business.  You have people who when a certain confluence of events occur can become killers-- temporarily insane perhaps—but motivated by a logic fueled by emotion as if a short circuit in their wiring triggered what seemed, in a particular moment, justifiable.   

And when this happens we all can become killers.  Some of us are wired so well that it would be difficult for us to short circuit. We have, most of us, insufficient emotional damage to spark sudden irrational violence.  Like a decent road we don’t easily buckle even with heavy traffic. But we all, trust me, can think for a moment that it is right to pull a trigger.   A composite of fear, rejection, bruises, sense of inadequacy, and emotional hunger can make just about anyone believe that murder is a right thing to do.   

 

Twenty Two

 

1974

Maurianne was up when I awakened. It is very unusual for me to sleep later than someone else. Typically, I am a very early riser, even when I go to sleep late, or have had an exhausting day. But there she was in the kitchen trying to stay quiet moving about my sleeping self on the couch.

Maurianne said she would fix us breakfast but had almost nothing in the house, so she asked if I wouldn’t mind going to the grocery for a few items.  I did not mind at all. She started to give me money, but I told her that after she saved me from a charged wire in Utah and drove me close to 750 miles I could spring for eggs, bread and milk.  

Pacifica, as the name suggests, is right on the Pacific Ocean and this grocery was only about 50 yards from a beach, not more than a half mile from Maurianne’s home.  I bought the eggs, milk, bread and a sweet treat from a bakery section.  It was a charge to see Jack Daniels and all forms of alcohol on display next to the animal crackers and boxes of Cheerios.  In New York groceries could carry beer but the hard stuff was sold in dedicated liquor stores.  Not in Pacifica. Pick up a liter of Johnny Walker, the pancake mix, and a Hershey bar on your way out.

Maurianne fixed scrambled eggs and we sat around schmoozing for the entire morning.  She and I had become fast friends in 24 hours so much so that she offered to lend me her car to drive out to my aunt who lived in Santa Rosa about 60 miles away.  She said she didn’t need it for the next few days.  I am not sure if I would have taken her up on this largesse even if I could have driven a stick.  Still it was a kind gesture and I gratefully thanked her. 

Maurianne brought up Shel and Barbara again. 

“In Elko. Something about that visit with Barbara was not good. Something was not good. Something was off.”

“I didn’t sense anything.”

“What about the kid neighbor?” Said Maurianne.

“I thought nothing of it until you mentioned that Barbara thought there was an affair going on.”

“An affair? Hah. You call it an affair?”

“Well, you’re not even sure if it was anything going on, but if there was. I mean what do you call it.”

“I call it taking advantage of a kid. I call it pissing on your wife and rubbing her face in it.”

“Barbara wasn’t sure.”

“Something wasn’t right. The kid seemed surprised when she saw us. Then she got fidgety. And it was like the visit was planned.”

“She would have been surprised seeing us.” I said. “We don’t live there. What do you mean like the meeting was planned?”

“Mail is delivered on Saturday. Why didn’t she bring the mail over on Saturday?”

“Maybe her mother didn’t mention it to the daughter until Sunday.”

“Well, why didn’t the mother bring it over?”

“Could be lots of reasons.”

“No.” said Maurianne. “Barbara was supposed to be away.  At that meeting she told me about. She didn’t go because I called.  Shel could have told the tattooed kid that the coast was going to be clear.”

“I guess that’s possible.”

“And what’s with that bathing suit top.” 

“It was hot. Maybe the kid was sunbathing or going swimming later.”

“Maybe.  Maybe just showing off that tattoo.”

“It was hot.”

“It was hot, alright. I told you about my brother didn’t I?”

The shift to the brother seemed like a non sequitur. “Your brother? All you said was that he, like you, was angry at your dad. He, even angrier. What’s that got to do with Shel and the kid?”

“Nothing. Never mind. Forget about my brother.”

“I can listen.”

She waved her arm.  “Never mind. Not important. You’re leaving.”

Maurianne drove me to a road in Pacifica where she thought I’d have a good chance of getting a lift and dropped me off.  We hugged more meaningfully than I had with Becca forty years later.  I started getting some ideas about maybe Maurianne being someone I could have gotten to know beyond a hitch-hiking companion, but I’ll never know since I did not see her in the flesh again.

I told her good luck with her kids and family.  She thanked me and gave me a little kiss before turning away abruptly.  She got back in her car pointed in the direction where I had to go and waved goodbye while driving away.

I was back again on the road looking for a ride. I was not standing long before a young couple, probably not out of their teens, stopped and drove me all the way over the Golden Gate Bridge.  I started singing, “Open up that Golden Gate, California Here I come” as we drove over. The couple laughed at me.  

“You’re excited for an older guy.” Said the girlfriend; her head was facing mine having turned around in the passenger seat using her knee as a pivot.

Older guy.

 

Home Free

Yesterday I met with my cardiologist.  I am in need of a hip replacement and wanted to make sure that my ticker was sufficiently healed to endure the operation. His office is in the city and I scheduled the appointment for 840 am, so I first tested my heart by stressing with rush hour traffic. I left Waltham in plenty of time, particularly given the relatively non congested highways of the COVID era, but still ran into traffic on what we call The Exit from Hell.  For those who live in the Boston area you will likely identify this as the city exit on the left off the Mass Pike that can lead to Storrow Drive.  Always a blast to take that exit, but it was necessary yesterday given my destination.  Still got to the doc with ten minutes to spare. I was glad I did so because in the waiting area was a person truly trembling because he had arrived late and was told he would have to reschedule the appointment.  That would have made my day.

Some background may be necessary for those who do not know me.  Two years ago I had hip replacement surgery scheduled.  My annual physical coincided with the examination needed before the surgery. At that check-in, I reported some uncharacteristic fatigue when I exercised on the elliptical machine. The doc suggested a stress test. That test's results indicated I needed another more sophisticated stress test. That test indicated that I probably needed a stent or two.  When they went to put in the stents, they saw that I was too blocked for stents to do the job, and I needed bypass surgery.

So, instead of taking care of a limp that makes me--in my assessment--look like Grandpappy Amos from the old tv show, "The Real McCoys",  I had bypass surgery instead.  Under normal circumstances I might have mused about the metaphor of a blocked heart, but at the time I was focused on preempting my demise.  They cracked me open, inserted three new highways, and told me I did fine.  The scar which was a beaut is now nearly gone, and I feel pretty good.  What remains debilitating is my hip.

And that is why I was being examined yesterday morning--to see if my heart is strong enough. The bottom line is that the prognosis is life and that I am likely fit to be opened again and receive a new hip.  To be sure I have to now take a bona fide stress test and wait for the results. Positive results, when coupled with my primary care physician's thumbs up, will allow me to make an appointment so that I can walk sans limp.

I came to the appointment yesterday with several questions.  One question was about my diet and whether the new highways that were put in two years ago, have given me some license to enjoy foods that, for two years, I've avoided. I have not had a red meat meal for two years.  No steak or ribs or meatloaf.  I am crazy about american and muenster cheese. In the last two years, I've consumed less than 1 % of my pre heart surgery intake on that front.  

The doc asked a number of questions and concluded that I did not need to refrain entirely from meat or cheese. He said given the medication I am on, coupled with the very good results of the surgery, and-assuming the upcoming stress test goes well--there's no reason why I could not have, say, some ribs now and again.  He asked me how old I was.  When I told him, he smiled and said, "You should be home free."

That was an interesting comment. My translation was that I am sufficiently long in the tooth such that I will no doubt kick from something else, before any detrimental effects from having a cheeseburger now and again would do me in.  

Home, is an interesting euphemism for death.  I've been consulting a financial analyst to ask about moneys I have saved and how much I can take out.  She did some study and came up with an amount that would exhaust my income at "end of plan."  "End of plan?" I said. "Well, yes", she chuckled. "Kind of when you won't need the money any more."

I rarely think about Home. I figure when you start thinking about Home you accelerate the rate at which you get there. And when you get to that Home, I don't think you are free--though I know the doc did not mean it that way.  When you get Home, you are dead. End of Plan. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Twenty One

 

2019

On the way to work today I saw there was a hitch-hiker standing on the ramp to 95 south.  He looked like an anachronism. There he stood with a big sign made from a corrugated cardboard box.  PROVIDENCE it read.

When I was in hitchhiking mode, hitchhikers with signs like this one were omnipresent.  I worked as a toll collector for a stretch in 1970 and we would see the hikers lined up on the ramp to the Thruway.  Unusual for there not to be a hiker in the middle of the day.  Not unusual for three or as many five groups of hikers with signs.

I was a summer replacement and my colleagues were twenty to forty years my senior.  I was a long hair, they—from all appearances and later I found out from all that they said--very much conservative.  Not real fans of the “revolution” and their comments I am sure were muted because of my presence and the presence of a few other summer replacements.  A fellow named Mr. Morris, an occasional supervisor, once went on a rant about protesters which extended to hitch-hikers.  

“I break my goddamn back so my kid can grow his hair long and carry a sign.  I am working 60 hours a week and these ragpickers stand on the side of the highway all day smoking drugs.”

Occasionally, I or one of the other young-uns, tried to explain the philosophy of the student left to these fellows.  They often listened politely, but the breach was still there at the end of the day.  I’d explain that the war was wrong and one guy there said, not confrontationally, that “we” didn’t feel that way in World War II.  The generation gap was very apparent at exit 24 on the New York State Thruway. 

So, I pass the hiker going to Providence comforted in part that I am not taking 95 south, but 90 east this morning. I don’t have to make a decision about whether to pick him up or not.  When I returned from California in '74 I picked up everybody, but haven’t done so in a while.  And not sure I would have picked up this kid going to Providence.  

Is there still a generation gap and this time I’m just on the senior side of the divide?  I think there may be, if not philosophically, then by virtue of other phenomena.  I find that references to media stars now mean-- much more often than not--absolutely nothing to me. I hear a reference to a sound and recording personality who will sing the national anthem.  The fans go wild when the person is introduced.  I wouldn’t recognize the singer if we were the only two in an elevator.  I attended a meeting the other day when I clearly could have been the father of each and every one of the polished professionals.  And a father who had started off late in life.  The five women and two men were speed talking using jargon that made me feel like my grandfather must have felt like when he listened to Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman spew their revolutionary wisdom.  Nothing political from my university colleagues, but the language.  It was like listening to a person who occasionally tossed Arabic into the spiel making it impossible for someone without the language to follow.   Not sure there is much difference now relating to the divide between the generations.

I am concerned that when I approach the authorities regarding the murder that I might be considered irrelevant and the evidence dismissed as the ravings of an old timer who speaks a dialect from the 60s.  

Friday, March 19, 2021

Twenty

May 1974

It is about four and a half hours from Winnemucca to Reno. We were mostly silent during the drive.  I took the wheel for a stretch, but Maurianne became exasperated when I couldn’t downshift smoothly. She was somewhere between nervous and annoyed--as if she was thinking, “How tough can it be to drive a stick?”   We were both tired and getting cranky.  Maurianne had just driven this 14-hour trip in the other direction a couple of days prior. I had spent the last three days in many cars and had had strange adventures. Not sure how much sleep I had gotten the night before in Phil’s backyard. And the frightening episode with the charged fence, which seemed like forever ago, had taken place only earlier that day.

Reno, Maurianne said, was like a poor man’s Las Vegas.  We exited the highway, rode around a while so I could see lights flashing.  Reno made Winnemucca and Elko look like towns created for a movie. Not the other way around.  As unusual as it was to see all the neon lights, the quick ride around Reno made our stops in Winnemucca and Elko seem like we had been visiting the sets there for a Hollywood show. As if a director had fabricated and plunked down houses, stores and even characters like the greasers, Barbara, Shel and his tattooed kid lover in the middle of nowhere.  

We found a cheap steak restaurant. Salad bar and what passed for tenderized meat.  Maurianne told me about her mother and father.  Betting machines jangling their one-armed bandit sounds as I listened and hacksawed my way through a tough piece of something.

“You hear people speak about why they stay together for the kids.  Ours was a situation where moving apart would have been right for the kids.  My parents did not speak.”

“You mean they did not speak much.”

“No, they didn’t speak.  Not a word.  They had separate bedrooms which is no big deal, but there were no words uttered in that house between them for as long as I can remember. “My mother would say, ‘tell him, that dinner won’t be ready until 8 tonight.' ”

“She still cooked him dinner?”

“Every night, she would put it out for him.  We didn’t eat as a family. He came back from work after we were done. She put out the food, left the room. Came back in to clean up.”

“They still with us?”

“Yeah, but after we grew up he moved out of the house.  Got an apartment. Once saw him in town with his girlfriend.  That was interesting.  She looked like a tart.”

“A tart?”

“Yeah, I know it is an old-fashioned word. Sounds funny. But that’s what I thought when I saw the two of them. ‘What a tart’ I’d said to myself.” Maurianne snorted something approaching a laugh.  “We found out that her father was in the mob.  That made my mother nervous, but nothing came of it. Not even sure it was true, but dad got a new car at one point.  That might not mean anything.  My brother said he was going to kill him one day.”

“Kill who, your father?”

“Who am I talking about?”

“You mentioned the mob father of the girlfriend.”

She waved me away. “No, my father. My brother has a lot of hate in him.  I think that’s why I am okay with my split up and the kids leaving.  I don’t want them to see this negative energy between me and my old man. My father was a real bigot. Hated the Chinese and Japanese, had a special hate for blacks let me tell you.  Hated pretty much everybody.”

After dinner we began the stretch run to San Francisco. When we crossed into California I threw my hands up and said I made it.  I started singing “California here I come” Maurianne smiled and  said, “what the hell” and joined in. Then for about twenty miles we sang all the California songs we could think of.  

It was close to 2 when we arrived at her home in Pacifica.  She had offered me a spot on her couch and it was a genuine offer.  We slogged into the house more than halfway beat. She gave me a tour of the place. It was a small ranch. Decent sized living room with a space for a dining room table, two bedrooms off the living room, one was the kids’ room and it looked it both because of wallpaper and hangings, and also because there were kids’ toys and junk on the floor.  Her bedroom was across from the kids', separated by a hallway and a bathroom.  She showed me her bedroom. Above the bed was a huge blown up photograph of her with her husband. The two kids were curled up around their legs.  I saw that her old man was black, and the kids light skinned.

I pointed to the picture.  “Your dad get along with your husband?”

“Yeah, right.” She said.

Go Huskies

 On the morning of the first full day of March Madness, I want to utter a loud shout out to the Northeastern women's hockey team.

We (note the pronoun) won in overtime yesterday afternoon to advance to the championship game against Wisconsin tomorrow night.  

I've written on a number of occasions here and in the book that, to me, there is nothing more exciting than an overtime hockey game in a one and done tournament.  As readers of The Madness of March know, the epilogue describes the most thrilling sporting event I've ever attended, when the New York Rangers defeated, in a game 7, the New Jersey Devils in double overtime. 

Every single rush down the ice could have ended the Rangers season. I am not, ordinarily, much of a hockey fan--but in that game what in the sports communication business is called "eustress"--good stress associated with watching sports contests--was something that I will remember for a lifetime.

Late yesterday afternoon, in the semi finals of the NCAA Division I Frozen Four, the Huskies of Northeastern found themselves down 2-0 to the University of Minnesota at Duluth.  We scored two goals in the third period to tie it. In the first overtime both teams were exhausted and each team had an opportunity to send the other packing.  Every rush down the ice was hold your breath in stuff. Every shot by the opponent was edge of your seat worrisome

With the end of the first overtime on the horizon, after nearly 80 minutes on the ice, Northeastern scored to end the game. Teammates rushed the ice to hug each other in a way that has been forbidden in this COVID era--but even Dr. Fauci could have excused the exuberant behavior.

Very exciting. I shouted so when the goal went in that my cat jumped high enough to make the Pussycat Olympics.  

So, tomorrow, Saturday March 20th, cheer hard for the Northeastern Huskies as they play for the National championship against the big bad Wisconsin Badgers. You may remember from The Madness of March that in Las Vegas during March Madness the Wisconsin faithful dress alike and call themselves (when sober and you can understand them) The Grateful Red.  Well tomorrow, the Black and Red of the Huskies will be a formidable foe. Supporters of Northeastern are indeed grateful that the women have worked so hard representing the university.

Go Huskies.



Sunday, March 14, 2021

Nineteen

 

2019

On Soldiers Field Road near where a large liquor store named Martignetti’s used to be that occupied enough space to convince an alien that we, denizens of the planet Earth, like to thoroughly numb our consciousness, there is a McDonalds restaurant.  There are several tables in the back of the establishment that are often unoccupied.  I thought this would be a good place to meet Becca. If the weather was nice there is a public park nearby that abuts the river.  But if it was cold or crummy I figured we could sit in McDonalds and talk without much disturbance for as long as we needed to. It was a crummy day.  Looked like any second it might pour which it did within minutes of Becca’s arrival.

“Your type of place.” Becca said to me as soon as she got close enough for me to hear her.  I’d gotten there a few minutes early.  She right on time.  I stood up when I saw her and after she had commented on my culinary choice, we hugged.  The kind of hug that forms sort of a triangle with a floor; careful not to touch from the waist down, and not much of a squeeze on top either.  

Becca had aged as I had.  She had wrinkles around her eyes and her hair was no longer blonde but some combination of gray and blonde.  She’d gained some weight around the waist, and she no longer was going to turn heads because of her body as she once had.  However, she still had the looks.  Still so penetratingly pretty with blue eyes that, when she looked into my face, I felt the attraction that once made me want to unite.

“You lost your hair,” she said.

“I did.”

“I see some gray along those sideburns, Mister.”

“Yes, it’s been years.”

“Still, kind of cute.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t get any ideas.”

“No ideas it is”

“Good.”

She said she wanted some coffee and left to go the counter. I had already had a paper cup filled.  She returned a few minutes later with the coffee and one of those parfaits they sell at McDonalds. She brought two plastic spoons and handed me one. “Here you go, Alan.  We’ll share. They make just the best desserts here.”

"Very funny."

"Thank you."

I asked her about Richard. She waved me away. “He’s fine. And you?  Linda?  It's Linda right?”

"Yes, Linda."

"How is Linda?"

"Swell."

“Very good. Richard's fine. Linda's swell.  Now let’s talk.”

I told her what I knew and what I guessed.  She asked some more questions indicating that she had done some homework before coming to meet me.  I was surprised at what she recalled.

“I’m not sure that’s the killer.” She said. “It could be those other two you told me about.”

“Which other two?”

She went on to tell me who she was thinking of.  We talked about them. I told her I was nearly certain who was the perp.

“Maybe so. I am not sure. But now what? You know there was a perp. What do you want from me?”

The “now what” was of course the key question. But the second one was reasonable as well. 

“I thought you could help with this.”

“How?”

I explained what I had in mind. She nodded a few times as if what I said was reasonable or that she had anticipated that this was what I might suggest.

“Richard will not be happy about this.”

“Okay.”

“But I don’t care.  We’re not doing any wash Z, let’s be clear about this. I am with Richard and I am going to stay with Richard and I am not going to even discuss with you why. And I do think you are still cute, and must say that I have imagined some of our escapades since you called and they bring up some warm recollections, but there will be no doing any wash.”

“Okay.”

“Got it?”

“I said okay.”

“Yeah, but I know you.”

This riled me a bit. “Well, yeah, I know you too. I was no predator. You liked to dance.”

“I know.  I am saying this as much to get it in my head as yours.”

“Alright. Thank you."

"You're welcome" she said.

There was a pause then. We looked at each other for a few seconds. "You remember that time by the Quabbin reservoir?” I said.

“That has crossed my mind in the last few days, yes.”

“The time we were late to class that afternoon?”

“I remember it all, Buster. But no doing the wash.”

“I agree, Becca.  I do. The memories just waft up."

"I know. They do. They have and they do." She said that with some finality.

"Alright. Never mind. Are you in? You will help with this?”

“You don’t have any choice. And now that I know, I don’t have any choice either.”

“Good." Another pause before I said, "that time in the tiny apartment in Alston, after the automobile accident, when we had the window open…”

"Was that you?'

"Right."

"Of course I remember that time in Alston. That particular tape has surfaced as inspiration frequently."

"That's good to hear."

"I'm sure."

"Should I be getting residuals?"

"It's not a speaking part. " She sighed. “No more talk about steam, Z. It was great. It really was. But no more talk.”  Then she made a face and reached across the table and touched my nose.  “Okay?”

“Right. Deal.”

“Asshole,” she said with her finger still on my nose. Probably the first time I had heard that word used as an endearment.