Sunday, May 9, 2021

Not So Fast Dubinsky

Old joke.  A navy official has been reprimanded for being insensitive to sailors when he has to relay bad news. He has been particularly insensitive when informing sailors that a parent has passed away.  Having been so scolded, the next time the admiral has to tell a sailor that a parent has died he promises to be more diplomatic.  A few days later, the admiral is notified that Albert Dubinsky's mother has died.  The admiral gets on the horn and calls for "all Hands on deck."  When the sailors arrive he relays the sad news the following way.

"All those who have mothers who are still alive, take one step forward...Not so fast Dubinsky."

On Friday I had my stress test to ensure the cardiologist that I was healthy enough to go through with hip surgery. The cardiologist had, upon examining me in his office, said that I was likely "home free."  I felt fine on the stress test.  However, when I got home there was a note from the cardiologist indicating that there was a mild irregularity and that I need to take another more sophisticated test.

This stunned me. I feel great and figured that I would get the kosher go-ahead. And, also, this was precisely what occurred prior to my first surgery. An irregularity caused another cardiologist to suggest another test.  That time the second test indicated a problem. This time, though, the doc emphasized that the irregularity was mild and that, in his words, there was nothing "at all" alarming about the results.

Still it was jarring news.  I did not get the it is "not at all alarming" correspondence until Saturday morning. So Friday night was not joyful.  

I'm fine now. Had some more exchanges with the doc yesterday and he knows I am going away for a week. (Again precisely the scenario as last time when I had the equivocal results. Then, as now, I was heading for Florida for a week and had the second test when I returned). The doc is not concerned and even suggested I might stay off a medication I've been taking for two years which you take if you have a problem.  And I walked my five miles yesterday and did not feel anything approaching pain or shortness of breath.

Still Friday evening was a "not so fast Dubinsky" moment.  I have a friend who is dying. We all are of course, but she has only weeks or days left.  I've had contemporaries leaving us with sobering regularity.  I do not want to join the parade.  (I was so fakakt on Friday night that I went to make sure I had declared my beneficiaries accurately on the accounts I have).

Count your blessings. I figure I have twenty more years to go at this ultimate amusement park. Seize the day.

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 identify the killer but a stronger 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.

She 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.  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 made breakfast and we sat around schmoozing over it and coffee 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. 

She 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 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 was supposed to attend. 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-a stiff wave, what in another context could have passed for a salute--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. Now I am an older guy. Then I was a not yet 25 year old--and I knew from nothing.

 

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.


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Eighteen

 

1974

We stopped in Winnemucca.  Mostly just to stop driving.  We got out of the car, bought sandwiches and drinks from a grocery store that had a deli, and sat on a patio that had been created for outside dining.  The proprietor had not gone all out to wipe the tables and chairs. It took us a spell to find a table that did not have bird droppings on it. Then it took some testing before we could locate a couple of chairs that did not wobble.

“So, who are you?” Maurianne said once we settled. We had opened up our sandwiches, spread out across from one another with the food and paper cups in front of us. She asked her question with food still in her mouth as if she had been debating whether to ask me the question and decided, what the hell, in the middle of a bite.

“What do you mean?” I said, though I knew.

“I mean, who are you.  I know you are a graduate student and visiting your aunt and trying to make it out and back in thirty days.”  All this I had told her during the driving.

“All true.”

“Never mind.” She said while waving her hand, sensing I did not want to open up.

“Sorry. I know what you are asking.” I stopped for a second before I repeated her question and got on a roll. 

“Okay. Who am I? Well, decent guy.  Honest.  Responsible. Lonelier than I want to be. Not where I expected at nearly 25; not sure if I will ever finish my degree. I wonder now and again if I should have stayed an English teacher.  Spend a lot of time sitting on my ass thinking that I should not be sitting on my ass.” I pause for a bit. Wondering how much more to relay, I look away from her chewing face and stare at nothing to her right. “I think that about summarizes it. Good heart, not self-actualized, and I know it.”

“Hmm.  Interesting,” she said, mouth still full.  She swallowed part of the sandwich, wiped her mouth with a napkin, and took a sip from a straw.  “Ask me.”

“Alright.  Who are you?”

“I have no idea.” She blurted as if she needed to get that out. “I was a wife and a mother up until this past year. Then I became just a mother, and now with my kids in Salt Lake City with a guy who beat me up, if I stop to think of who I am, I can’t stand it, so I keep on moving figuring if my feet move quickly I won’t have time to dwell on the fact that I messed up, don’t have any direction and am embarrassed.”

“Maybe, you are being a little hard on yourself.”

“I had no plan. Here I am talking to you in Winnemucca and how I arrived at this spot, if I sat back and thought about it, makes no sense.”

“Come on”

She continues like she hadn’t heard me.  “Like I got in the car and started driving without a map and then turned here and there because of something that at the moment seemed exciting without any notion or intelligent consideration of where the turn would predictably take me.”

“Everybody does that to some extent.”

“Maybe. This girlfriend of yours.  The steamy one who is a pain in the ass.” I had talked some about Becca.  “How long do you think the steam is going to sustain you.”

“Good question.”

“Hey, I’m not hitting on you.  Don’t get me wrong on this.  You are a little too young for me, no offense, and who knows what is going to be with Marvin, and I have these kids, but I’m thinking—just thinking—that maybe you ought to start working on being self-actualized instead of trying to cross the country to beat some kind of record.”

I knew she was right.  She said, “no offense” again and yammered away a while at how this was none of her business and we hardly knew each other, and she was just saying.

A crew of kids kerplunked themselves at an adjacent table.  Took out their cigarettes and started to smoke and talk about nothing. Three couples.  Very hoodlum looking. When I was in high school we called these kids Greasers.  

A very short guy was puffing away next to a much bigger young woman with enormous breasts.  Black hair, piled high on her head, heavily made up, puffing away mostly saying, “cut it out Billy” when he moved his elbow into her chest.  “Can’t help it” he laughed. “They’re always in the way.”  The other two couples cackled, but I had the sense this was a longstanding routine.  “I mean it, cut it out.” Said the woman with the chest after Billy had again elbowed her. She was smiling as she pushed his arm away. 

“I wish I had your problems, Teri,” said a relatively flat chested teenager with frightening long fingernails.  

“More than a mouthful is a waste” said her central casting gangster wannabe looking pimpled boyfriend. 

Again there was chortling all around, and again I wondered if this wasn’t a regular script.  

Then the greasers segued into a string of epithets maligning every non-white race.  During an ill informed conversation about sports, Billy opined that he did not like the San Francisco Giants because they had too many niggers on their team.  A third pimply guy with hair slicked back, commented that at least there are no Indians on the Giants. “Indians are the worst.”  

Not so, said the third woman who, up to that point had said next to nothing but had been, almost continuously, kissing her boyfriend with long slurping smackers.  She came up for air long enough to weigh in on race issues. “Nothing is worse than the Mexicans.  Do you know that Jose, the one whose sister works at Penny’s?  He asked me out.”  The others considered this an outrage. 

Maurianne and I looked at each other and nodded as if to say, let’s get out of here. We said nothing to the greasers, just tossed our litter into a bin and got back into the van.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Seventeen

2019

Could I have done this? Under the right circumstances, could it have been me? Can anyone with the right combination of parenting, experience, heart breaking disappointment, and, yes, maybe genetic composition behave reprehensibly and yet rationalize irrational and indefensible behavior.

I’m in a meeting now. I’m on a committee.  We are here as a jury of some sort, listening to a tenured faculty member explain behavior so reprehensible that it is head shaking stunning to each of us sitting around the table--except for the person who has behaved so reprehensibly. He is sitting there, alternatively calm and incredulous.  I look above this guy’s eyes and wonder how his brain is wired.  How can he think this behavior is justifiable?  But he does, occasionally smiling at the rest of us as if he is baffled as to why we are making such a fuss.  Smart guy. Advanced degrees. But his logic in this instance that justified and is now justifying unconscionable behavior is so skewed that the rest of us would be staring frozen in a collective, drooling, jaw dropping gaze had we not been listening to his explanation for an hour already.  

But do we all do this? Do we all rationalize indefensible behavior the same way- our otherwise logical wiring, ramming into a dead end before, during, and after we commit offenses.  

I knew this would or at least could have happened. I was not so much surprised by the article in the Las Vegas newspaper as I was reminded of my culpability. Could I have done it? Did I, in essence, commit the crime as much as the bemused professor looking now at his watch as if to say, “Isn’t it time for this silliness to be over?”

When I was a junior in college I took a course called Ethics. It was, for the most part, a very dry class. The instructor was well meaning but his classes consisted mostly of him posing a question to the class that was uninspiring. Then the number (dwindling weekly) who attended a particular session would squirm musing more about why we had decided to attend that day than about the specific inquiry.

However, despite this there was something about the class for which I will forever be grateful. To satisfy the requirements we had to write three opinion papers. One asked us to compare the wisdom of two philosophers, John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant. If these thinkers had been discussed during a class session I must have been dwelling about something else at the time. So, as the deadline approached for the paper, I hauled out the textbook and read about Mill's Utilitarianism and Kant's Categorical Imperative.

I was aghast. I could not believe that Utilitarianism was a philosophy of ethics that had earned any traction. Utilitarianism is often called the Greatest Happiness Principle. It means essentially that things are ethical or right in proportion to the extent they tend to promote happiness, and wrong if they tend to produce unhappiness or pain. The Categorical Imperative appears to be antithetical. It argues that behaviors are right because they inherently are right, and wrong because they inherently are wrong, and it does not matter if something that is right does not cause pleasure.

I saw no merit to Utilitarianism. My 20-year-old self was outraged by the idea. The only good news was that my revulsion made the writing of the paper relatively easy and made the course more interesting than it had been previously.

Since that time I find myself attracted to lectures and debates and some articles that discuss Utilitarianism. Proponents (still around despite my Sophomore five page rant) attempt to quantify pleasure and pain by counting hedons and dolors. A hedon is a unit of pleasure. A dolor a unit of pain. So to determine if something is right, count up the hedons, count up the dolors, if the hedons outweigh the dolors an action is right.

At one debate I attended I was fascinated listening to two philosophers contentiously argue that there were more dolors than hedons in a particular case therefore rendering a decision unethical. One fellow in particular was really piling up the dolors because he became more arrogant and condescending when he couldn't seem to convince anyone that he was correct. What struck me as odd about this debate and any other attempt at quantifying, was the subjectivity in determining what constitutes a hedon or a dolor, and the ease with which one could claim how an act, clearly dolorous when you considered all stakeholders, could be seen as not inappropriate by someone who had a powerful urge to do the deed. 

I knew that someone had had a powerful urge to do a deed.  And I knew, as best as one could know about the future, that there was a good chance that it would be done.


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Sixteen

 

May 1974

The toothless driver left me off by the entrance to route 80. I was still unnerved by the electric fence and the collective stink eye that had been coming my way since I’d arrived in Salt Lake.  Outside of Phil, the health food motorcyclist, nobody had been close to friendly.  I wanted out of Salt Lake City. And then along came Maurianne in a Volkswagen bus.  She stopped said “hop in.” I hopped in.

Maurianne looked California, talked California, and was travelling all the way to San Francisco.   Blonde, blue eyed, friendly, and maybe a year or two older than me.  Jackpot.  Maurianne in her blue jeans, peasant blouse, and easy morning smile was what I needed after having been jolted backwards by an electronic fence.

She had to clear the front seat off for me and did so by tossing assorted junk behind us. I saw that the seats were down in the back of the van. Blankets, pillows, and sleeping mats were there without much order. A guitar case was open and in it was a guitar on one side and what looked like clothes ready for a washing machine in the other. Scattered around, I noticed an opened road map, candy bar wrappers, the board game “Chutes and Ladders” and a few YooHoo bottles that looked like they had been careening off the walls of the van.  

I settled in and we headed toward the Nevada border. We got to talking and I told her why I was hiking and about my kin in the San Francisco area.  She opened up easily like someone who wanted to talk. She had just dropped her kids off with “her old man.”  I wasn’t sure if she was referring to her dad or her husband, but it soon came out that she and her husband had separated. He was from Salt Lake and the kids were going to be spending the summer with him and his family. They had been living together in Pacifica, a suburb of San Francisco.  And it was to Pacifica that she was returning.  Leaving her kids, she told me more than once, was not an easy thing to do.  In an indirect way her burden resulted in my good fortune. She had, in large part, picked me up because she, now without husband or kids, did not want to face the very long 14 hour drive through the desert by herself.  

I did keep her company and think she did not regret her decision to stop for me.  But I disappointed her on at least two fronts. She thought maybe I played the guitar and we could sing together as we drove.  Also, she’d hoped I could share with the driving. Now a committed driver of standard transmissions, then I’d never driven one.   I did drive for a stretch, jerking it into fourth, and then driving for about 60 miles.  It was not a relaxing 60 for her since every time I had to slow down it was an adventure, so she took over the wheel for nearly the entire 14 hour drive.

There was not a whole lot between Salt Lake City and Reno.  It was miles of nothing despite exits appearing now and again that seemed to take drivers nowhere. We were both amused by the signs for exits and then the ramps to them.  Nothing at the end of these ramps. No Texaco, McDonalds, motels, nothing, just ramps that went nowhere.  She and her old man had made this drive before, but still she chuckled as did I when we saw an exit for nowhere and a ramp off the interstate that took you there.

Things had not gone especially well with Maurianne and her husband.  Alternately she described him as a dick and then moments later “basically a nice person.”  She told me he had a mean streak and had hit her—more than once.  This I felt was cause enough to dump the guy, but she was not so sure.  “I’d been messing around.” She told me.  “Not right. Still no reason for him to hit me. He scared me. I didn’t want to be frightened anymore. He sorta was a good dad. But he had this mean streak.”  Maurianne teared up, got a tissue, blew her nose. “It’s hard,” she said. “Hard.”

There is so much nothing on route 80 that we stopped whenever there was a bonafide something. Wendover, Wells, Elko, and Winnemucca—the four somethings on the way to Reno. We hit them all.  Got out, stretched our legs.  

It was around one when we approached Elko.  By that time we were getting along and joking at the same things.  When she decided that I was not a bad egg, Maurianne announced that she had a buddy who lived in Elko and we might stop and visit.

We exited off the interstate.  Maurianne found a pay phone, made a call and soon we had directions and an invite.   I got the back story on Barbara.  She had been wild, “like me” said Maurianne.  A partier and city person in San Francisco doing her share of drugs. Then--and Maurianne relayed this with more than a degree of incredulity--she met this guy close to twenty years her senior who was visiting relatives in San Francisco but lived in Elko. Within no time, Barbara decided to move out with Shel to the middle of the desert and share a life.  Maurianne could not really get it. She said they were apples and oranges; she a hippie, he a redneck. 

We pulled up to a cute white house sitting on a bit of a hill.  Three or four steps leading to a porch and then the front door.  A couple of rockers on the tiny porch.  Similar houses on the same block.  Barbara hugged Maurianne before we even got to the steps. Big hug right near the van. Shel was waiting for us on the porch. Maurianne gave Shel a hug with a little less oomph to it.  I was introduced: “This is Alan—he’s riding with me.”  Barbara was tall, close to 6 feet, with brown hair that curled all over the place, as if no one hair was particular fond of any other. Kind of a cool hippie look. Shel was clearly older and, as Maurianne had told me, just different looking.  He could have passed for Barbara's bachelor uncle there for a visit.  He was thin, almost scrawny, an inch or two shorter than Barbara.  Not much hair on top of his head, with a recently slicked down combover. Brown glasses, ready smile, but I could not tell how long it might have taken him to paste that smile on his face.

We came into their home and settled into a comfortable if spartan living room.  A couple of easy chairs, and a love seat. And there I sat with a stranger, Maurianne, in the home of someone stranger still, and her redneck husband Shel.  Barbara made bacon and eggs for us and Shel regaled us with tales of Elko. He said that there were times in Elko that were more fun than “you could shake a stick at. They’re called Indian Days.  Lots of Tonto around here.  Sometimes not so much fun with Tonto if you know what I mean. But Indian days are great.”  Barbara waved at him to criticize.  

A teenage kid stopped by.  There was a knock on the door and then immediately the door swung open.  The kid had not waited for anyone to answer the knock. She just came into the foyer holding a handful of mail.  Bathing suit top and cut off shorts.  Big California smile, a little surprised to see the group of us.

“Whoops. You’ve got company.”

“No problem. Come in. Come in.”

“They delivered the mail to the wrong house again. Mom asked me to bring it over.”

Barbara took the mail. While sifting through the items she absentmindedly introduced Maurianne and me. Referred to Maurianne as “an old friend” and me as “a hiker.”

“Hey,” said the teenager, “I’ve done my share of hitch-hiking. All over.  Great times.”

“They can be.” I say. “Not so much fun in Salt Lake City.”

“I would not expect fun in Salt Lake. ” says Shel chuckling at his quip.

We stood around for a second or two.  “Well, off I go." said the kid. "Nice to meet you all.”  And out she went, seeing herself out the door, and bouncing down the steps.

This Shel was nice enough to me, but there seemed something not quite right there.  Like Maurianne, I could not see the attraction between Barbara and him.  She seemed kind of cool, and he was like the guy you see at the bar who has been sitting there for hours with a sourpuss not saying anything, just pushing his glass toward the barkeep when it was time to reload.  We ate in silence after the teenager left.   

When we got back in the van, Maurianne told me that she did not want to say anything before we got there, but that Shel had spent some time in jail for stealing and assault.  “He’s calmed down now,” she said.  “At least I hope so.

“It was very nice of them to feed us, particularly me” I said.  "She doesn't know me from Adam."

“So what.  You're riding with me.  Besides,  Barbara told me that we saved her. She was supposed to go to some Historical Society luncheon that she'd dreaded."  

"She was real happy to see you. Not just to get out of the other thing. That was some monster hug you got when we got there."

"Always liked Barbara." 

It would be two and half hours more to Winnemucca. About halfway into this stretch, after speaking disparagingly about her own husband and how he had given her a shiner once, Maurianne paused and said, “Damn, Barbara is out here in the middle of nowhere.  I hope she’s okay.”

“Seemed okay” I said, not that I really felt she was or was not.

“The girl,” she said, “the girl who came in with the mail.  The neighbor.”

“Yeah,”

“Barbara took me aside when we were in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, so.”

“She thinks Shel is doing her.”

“What? Come on. She is a kid.  Probably not 18. He’s got to be pushing 40.”

“She’s 17. Shel’s 43. Barbara thinks he’s doing her.”

“Wow. Come on. I mean, she’s a kid.”

“You see that tattoo?”

“Well, sure, you couldn’t miss it.”   

“I bet you couldn’t miss it.”

Monday, March 1, 2021

Fifteen

2019

The phone rings in my office. I say, hello.

“What is it, Alan?”

“Becca?”

“Rebecca.”

“Rebecca?”

“At work I am called Rebecca."  

“Are you being paid by the syllable?"

“What is it, Alan?”

“’ What is it Alan?’ No hello. No how are you?”

“Alan, we haven’t spoken in years.  The last time I saw you was in Harvard Square and, if you want to know, you were not exactly welcoming.”

“You were with Richard.”

“Yes. I was married to him.  We are allowed to go out together.”

“Was?”

“Am.  I meant that at the time I stopped to say hello to you in Cambridge and you barely acknowledged me, I was married to him.  Look, I feel a little uncomfortable talking to you.  But, the message you left sounded like it might be important.”

“It is.”

“Okay.” She said.

“Okay.  I was in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.”

“Your kind of town.”  Becca had little use for Las Vegas. People throwing their money away, and half-clad women serving free drinks to keep people gambling, sports betting, and late nights.  Nothing about Las Vegas seemed to be attractive.

“I was there for a conference.”

“Bet they had to drag you there.  What happened in Las Vegas?”

“I was sitting in the airport waiting for my flight and I saw a newspaper article about some parents who have been looking for their daughter for 40 years.”

“Ok. Yeah, So.? Get to it. Richard is nearby and he doesn’t like me talking to men”

“Any man?”

“Look what is it?

“Any man? That limits networking some.”

She snorts even though she did not want to. “What is it?

“Do you remember when I came back to Buffalo after hitch-hiking across the country”.

“Yes. I remember how you left me for the month we would have had together, before you went to work in Pennsylvania for the rest of the summer.  I remember that you came back for a week for sex and then left.  Is that the time to which you refer?”

This was not getting off to the start I’d hoped, but it was not far from what I thought would happen when I called.

“We were not exactly getting along before I left for California.”

“We never got along except for when we were having sex or about to have sex or had not seen each other for a while and therefore had forgotten how we do not get along.”

She was not off target with any of this.  But still. “There was a there, there.”

She paused. “Yes, Alan. There was a there, there.”

“Can we meet somewhere?”

“Not sure that is a great idea.”

“I need to talk with you about this.”

“What? What is this about?  So, you read an article and it reminded you about your hitch-hiking trip. And what?”

“Do you remember what I told you about the trip?”

“Some.”

Then I asked her about a few events that I had relayed when I returned.  And then I described the article I read in the newspaper.  It took her a while to get the connection.  When she did, she asked the same questions I’d had that prompted my computer searching.  When I told her what I had discovered there was silence for a spell.

There was a joke that had circulated when we were together that we both had gotten a kick out of and repeated now and again when apt.  The joke was about newlyweds. The woman was shy and inexperienced. She did not want to talk about sex and was totally frightened about failing at intimacy. She asked her husband not to initiate sex by speaking openly, but by asking in code.  

“If you want to, you know do it, say something else, say ‘you want to do the wash.”  So, on their wedding night, the husband asked if the wife wanted to do the wash. She said that she was too nervous, another night. The second night he again asked if she wanted to do the wash, again she asked if it could be postponed.  This happened for an entire week until such time that the husband just gave up.  But by the end of the week the newlywed wife was getting frisky herself, so when the husband failed to speak the code words, she asked slyly, “don’t you want to do the wash?”  His response: “No, I already did it by hand.”

We had gotten a charge out of that joke.  And Becca apparently remembered it. When I asked her again after the silence if she would meet me for coffee, she said she would. But then added quickly, “I’ll meet you for coffee, okay, but no doing the wash.”  We both laughed at that, agreed on a place and hung up. Damn if I didn’t feel a buzz after the call.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Fourteen

14

May 1974

When he told me how to get to I-80 from his home, Phil, the motorcyclist godsend, had drawn a map.  I’d been turned around, the way he explained it.  I was now closer to the highway than I’d been when I was floundering near the Truckstop.  Once I found my way to the interstate it would be a straight shot out of Utah, across the state of Nevada, and into California.  It looked like I was going to make it across the country in four days.

It is early Sunday morning in Salt Lake City.  I begin to follow the map, walking toward the interstate. I have my thumb out.  Initially the only reactions to my thumb are unfriendly stares from those driving by in their Sunday duds en route, it seems, to church.   My hair is long; my clothes suggest college student leaning to the left and my thumb is out. I must be a heathen.

Eventually, a middle-aged fellow stops and tells me he will take me to the best entrance to 80 West.  Very good. However, it turns out that he is not quite sure about where to go. He is lost, he says eventually. He has taken me to a place that is nowhere. He apologizes, tells me he can try to find the way to the highway and, with his nose wrinkled up, points in the direction where he now thinks I-80 is. I decide to get out and find my own way.

Again, I stick my thumb out, now disoriented.  It’s been an hour at least since I left Phil’s and I’m not sure if I am closer to the Interstate than I’d been when I left his house.  I can’t follow his map anymore since I got the ride to the wrong place. A police officer stops.  He wants to know where I am going. I tell him California and I hope he will give me a lift to the Interstate. Not a chance.  He is not interested in me much and tells me to get the hell out of town.  No hitchhiking is permitted in this municipality he said. Am I no longer in Salt Lake City? 

“What municipality?” I ask.  He does not respond.  He snorts, and shakes his head either to mean there is no answer forthcoming or I am subhuman. There is no offer to drive me to the interstate ramp. No offer to drive me anywhere.  It is before 9 a.m. and I am unnerved.

I think I see a way to get to the interstate without walking on the roads where, apparently, in this municipality--wherever the hell I am--I’m forbidden to be. If I have my bearings right I can walk through a long field, probably 300 yards, and over a fence I see way in the distance, and then that would get me to the I-80 ramp.  

I trek through the high grass and eventually get to the fence.  There is barbed wire at the top of the fence, but I do see a ramp on the other side.  I have hopped over barbed wire since I was 8. A Brooklyn boy and then a suburban New Yorker, hopping over fences to retrieve baseballs that went off course was a regular occurrence. When I worked in the Catskills I hopped over a barbed wire fence every day for two months.  

When you confront a fence with barbed wire, you get to the top, put your foot on the top rung of the barbed wire, make sure it is on there securely and vault over.  Not hard. Hardest part is landing on the other side without spraining an ankle or splitting your head open.

I can see the ramp, so the barbed wire fence is almost welcome.  I want to hop that fence and get to that ramp as fast as I can and then flee from what seems like the most unfriendly place on planet Earth.  I toss my bag over the fence and begin to climb. I get to the top rung of the iron and then put my left hand on an un-barbed part of the barbed wire.  I’d then swing my right leg to the top of the three strings of barbed wire. Once I have that foothold, I’d launch myself over the fence, grab my bag, scram to the ramp, and get out of Dodge.  But I don’t do that. I don’t do that because as soon as I place my left hand on the un-barbed part of the wire I am flung backwards onto the tall grass and weeds of the field from whence I came.

The damn wire is charged.  Not charged enough to electrocute anyone, but charged to discourage people like me, I am thinking, from coming or going. Maybe to discourage animals, but I do not see any strolling livestock.  I am flustered and frazzled.  It doesn’t matter if the barbed wire is charged for animals, humans, or sub-humans.  I have to get over this fence. All my stuff is on the other side—my wallet, map, change of clothes, everything. Who knows if I could figure out how to get to my bag by going around the field.  And even if I could find the spot after circling around, who knows if the knapsack would still be there by the time I got all the way around.  I am panicky.

I have sneakers on.  I figure if I can get to the top of the iron portion of the fence, and then carefully not touch the barbed wire with anything other than my insulated foot, I will be able to vault upward and over the barrier. So, I try that-- but I am trembling.  I get to the top of the fence, see my bag on the other side, put my sneakered right foot on the barbed wire and, bracing myself for the charge that might come through even my sneakered foot, vault up in the air, clear the wire with the rest of my body, and fall clumsily to the ground.  I am unhurt and safe, but am  buzzing internally like I have had a dozen cups of coffee. I don’t stay on the ground long.  I grab my bag and start to run, just run away from this scary place.

I arrive at the ramp and then, to my horror, see that this is not the ramp to I-80 but to a secondary road.  This morning is like one of those bad dreams where you cannot get to your destination because something or someone keeps getting in the way.  I grab my Rand-McNally and see that this road will connect me to I-80 but not for a while.  I have no choice but to stick my thumb out. Almost instantly, a car stops.  It is a long hair and that is comforting until he starts to speak.  The guy has no teeth.

He says “howdy’” and looks like maybe he was an extra in "Deliverance.”  Another bizarro character in this bizarro morning. I tell the toothless guy that I’m frazzled. He laughs and mumbles something like I bet you are, being down here in redneck country. Then, he half chuckles while he drives me the few miles to the ramp for I-80.  I am still shaking a half hour later as I stand on that ramp trying to get a lift through Utah to the desert in Nevada en route to California.  Before I get out, no teeth gives me his card.  He is a rock band promoter, and he knows a band that will be bigger than the Beatles.  He’s always looking for new talent, he said to me.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Thirteen

Ever since I returned from Las Vegas I’ve come to recognize that I need to lose some weight.  Not in the conventional sense. I don’t have problems with that kind of weight. What I need to purge is the weight I’ve accrued by justifying behavior that I knew was not right at the time I behaved as I did. That sort of thing, even when it is minor, can create an unhealthy foundation.  One extra jelly doughnut, okay not such a problem. But there is a cumulative effect. After a while you stop noticing that you are knocking back the jelly doughnuts. And it becomes difficult to maneuver around this life with the extra pounds.

I’ve done some rationalizing in my day. Since Las Vegas events are surfacing.

Sixth grade.  Early months of 1961.  I’m a newcomer to the neighborhood having moved into town less than a year ago.  I’m still learning the ropes of the new hood, making friends, doing okay in that regard, but most of the kids in my class have been at this school since they were in kindergarten.

There is a hot television show which is now in its second season. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.  It features Dobie, his beatnik friend Maynard G. Krebs, Dobie’s mom and dad, and assorted young women that Dobie would like to meet. He has limited success.  

The kids in my sixth-grade class are crazy about Dobie Gillis.  This enthusiasm is encouraged by our teacher who also claims to be a fan of the program.  On the show, Maynard is regularly referring to Dobie as “good buddy” as in “how you doing good buddy”.  Our teacher Mr. Hatfield likes the “good buddy” handle and so do we.  

What happens is that a group of the cool boys in the class form what they call the GBA, the Good Buddy Association.  This is a male only club, and it consists of charter members who regularly refer to each other as Good Buddy Jim or Good Buddy Joe.  About eight fellows in the GBA. It’s all in good fun.  I don’t feel particularly like an outcast because I am not in the GBA and the teacher is not fostering any kind of in crowd out crowd.  

We are often asked to go to the front of the class and solve math problems. Mr. Hatfield will call on four students to go up to the board, stand strides away from each other and, for example, divide 2121 by 11.  Each kid would then write their name on the board and proceed to do the long division.

The GBA group affiliation ratchets up when a really good kid, who went on to be a solid citizen as an adult, goes up to the board and writes his name, Bill, but above it writes GBA.  The teacher gets a charge out of this, so whenever a GBA kid goes up to the board they write GBA Joe or GBA Jack before solving the problem.  Again, all in good fun.

One day I get called to the board and decide to be a wise guy.  I write my name on the board, but next to it write, Anti-GBA.  Hatfield really gets a kick out of this.  I was probably a little ahead of the curve so the teacher has to explain to some of the others what I’d done.  Well, I created a following. Every kid not in the GBA, goes up to the board and writes Anti GBA Charlie or whatever when it is their turn.  There are now two groups in the class. The GBA and the Anti-GBA. The GBA, the cooler group for sure. The anti-GBA is a loose confederacy of newcomers, iconoclasts, pariahs, stinkers, and several fledgling delinquents, one of whom grew up to be a bona fide nogoodnik and has even spent some time in the slammer.

In gym and at recess when we would play games it was the GBA against the Anti-GBA.  We’d come back to class after one of these contests and Mr. Hatfield would ask about the score. There would be a running tally of how the GBA was doing against the anti-GBA on the blackboard.

I caught a break with the jock genes.  Pretty decent all-around athlete. One thing I was particularly good at was catching things. In touch football I was terrific at judging where the ball would come and could catch passes easily and also intercept them. But what I truly excelled at was little kid Dodgeball.  The way we played two sides competed by throwing a ball or several such balls at the opponents. If you hit someone that someone was out.  Or if you caught a pass thrown by an opponent, the person who threw the ball would be out.  Once a team was out of players, the opponent was the victor.  

Well, I was an asset to the Anti-GBA in most athletic contests, but in Dodgeball I was a killer.  Not so much in throwing the ball, but in catching the balls.  My teammates might get eliminated but I had a knack for catching most everything that was thrown my way.  We were playing Dodgeball regularly in gym, and the misfits who were the anti-GBA were dancing through the halls and could not wait to tell Hatfield that we had beaten the GBA again.

One morning we were lining up by what passed for artwork that was taped to the walls of the school. This was a daily drill. Lining up by class before being led to our classroom to begin the day.  I was tall for my age then, so I was at the back of the line when a GBA fellow came to pay a visit.  He wanted to know if I wanted to be in the GBA

This was flattering but startling at the same time. I was the face of the enemy contingent having started the whole Anti-GBA thing. I thought, they must really like me, respect my courage, and leadership. I must no longer be the outsider. The GBA was cool. They had already organized a trip to Yankee Stadium and were going to a game in April. To be sure, the Anti-GBA probably could not organize a trip at lunchtime to the vending machines in the front of the cafeteria.   

Still, would it be right to abandon the anti-GBA? I knew I was the glue to the anti-GBA.  Without me the anti GBA would become not much of anything. I told the kid I would have to think about it.  The emissary said okay and walked back to the front of the line.

I started to consider the offer.    

I was going back and forth in my head, when less than a minute later the GBA kid returned to where I was standing in line.  “Look,” he said, “We need you to make up your mind, now”

“Right now? Why do I have to tell you now?”

“We need you for Dodgeball at recess.”

Oh boy. Well, that was it. Charm was not my ticket.  The GBA had not gotten together and mused that I would be a valuable character to add to the group.  Nothing like that. I was good in Dodgeball.

Maybe this was not a big deal, but I knew they were asking me to join for the wrong reasons. I should have told them to hold on to their GBA invitation.

But they were going to Yankee Stadium. And they were way cooler than the Anti-GBA. One of the girls had come over to the GBA lunch table and dropped off tootsie rolls. There were perks.

By the time we were led into our classroom that morning I was a member of the GBA.

One of my first jelly doughnuts. A small one, but a start.

Have to lose some weight.  If you get really heavy, you're probably capable of justifying anything.

In a few minutes I'm headed to a meeting where we intend to discuss the department's values.  We will be posting a value statement on the college website.  I know this is all for the optics.  I feel like I'm on line waiting to get into the all you can eat buffet.

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

12

May 1974

I fell asleep in the car en route to Salt Lake.  It was probably not what the driver was hoping for when he picked me up.  You rarely get drivers who are looking for silence, because they already had silence. Usually there is a desire for conversation.   A few years later on the way from Ellenville, New York to Buffalo I was picked up consecutively by women who unearthed heart breaking stories about men in their lives. The first told me, after a spell, about her husband who she found out after twenty years of marriage, was more interested in men than women.  The second provided a very long monologue about a rat bastard that she had married who had threatened to kill her.  When she said the part about being threatened with death, she turned and faced me eyeball to eyeball so that I would understand the severity.  I did, but wanted to tell her--without indicating anything less than compassionate understanding--, that if she did not return her gaze to the road we both would be a statistic in a matter of bone crushing seconds.  I lifted a finger and sort of pointed at the road. She nodded and raised her brows as if to say, “I know. I have this under control, but my husband was a menace.” When she looked back at the highway nodding her head again for emphasis, I wheezed a comment about how awful that must have been.  “You have no idea” is what she said, and again felt a need to stare right at me risking both of our lives.  “He was a rat bastard,” she said deliberately. “Rat bastard,” she repeated. One more rat bastard and I figured we both would be through the windshield.

The fellow driving to Salt Lake was actually traveling to Layton, Utah a destination twenty miles further North.  He dropped me at a Truckstop not far from the intersection of I-15 and I-80. By now it was after midnight.  My first two nights finding a place to stay had been easy.  This was different and I did not know what to do.     

I tried to get someone at the all night Truckstop diner to tell me where the University of Utah was, but I could not get a straight answer when I received an answer at all.  I had wild curly hair and looked the part of an anti- war protestor.  Not many sympathetic faces at this diner.  I ordered something to eat and took my time essentially killing time.  The vibes emanating from the twenty or so others in the joint ranged from apathy to antipathy when I was able to sense any reaction to my presence. I left the diner about 1.

I started walking around to find a spot that felt safe where I could put down my sleeping bag for the night. There just did not seem anywhere suitable that would be off the beat of someone who might be a ne’er do well.  I tried to check if I could find a school yard or park but the area was commercial. There was a strip mall with a grocery, an out of business hardware shop with wooden boards where windows had been, a bank, and a dry-cleaner. All closed of course. The bank parking lot had some possibilities.  I found a corner, not far from a streetlight, but not so close that it would keep me up all night.  There was a level place for the bag and I tried to get some sleep.  

I couldn’t. I was not there for more than twenty minutes when I decided this was not so good. If I did fall asleep and a police officer came by and put a light in my face I thought I might panic.  So, I got up and started walking, not hiking. I thought I knew how to get back to the interstate and figured I would walk towards the ramp--somehow kill the four hours or so until first light.

This plan, as I hatched it and as I started to implement it, was only a little bit wiser than trying to hike from Colorado to Utah. I was nowhere and would not break my no hitchhiking at night rule. I did not see anything approaching a university or a motel.  So, I walked around in what amounted to circles for a long while. And then a godsend.  A fellow pulled up next to me in a motorcycle.

“Lost?”

I explained I was hiking cross country and was looking for some place safe to sleep for the night. And asked for recommendations.  He could not suggest any place safe—“not around here”-- but asked me to hop on the motorcycle. And then this motorcyclist from heaven, Phil, took me through the streets of Salt Lake to his suburban home.  I’m not much of a fan of motorcycles, but I was that night.

It was close to 3 when we got to his mother’s house.  He had the late shift at some factory and was coming off work when he spotted me. Phil could not let me sleep in the house because he figured his mother might wake up and have a fit, but he fixed me a sandwich for breakfast that he called a nature sandwich with sprouts, told me I could sleep in his backyard, and I would do just that. It had been a scary night.  There was one fellow in the Truckstop who especially made me nervous.  A buzz cut guy who had eyeballs that were staring at me, the long-haired stranger with the backpack.  I thought that Phil might have saved me just at the right time.  He was going to sleep late, he said, but showed me on my map how I could get to route 80 from his house.  I’d explained that it was my goal to get to San Francisco, a 14-hour drive away, by the following night.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

11

2019

Becca did not answer the phone. No surprise there.  Becca did not answer the phone before there were answering machines. Caller ID and voice mail must have seemed like a gift from the almighty to her. I left a message after hearing a predictable Becca message.  Flat voice, matter of fact: “Richard and I are not here now. Please leave a message.”  

I knew there was a Richard or knew that at one point there had been a Richard. Apparently, there still was a Richard.  I’d met him a couple of times, once only a couple of years after Becca and I had stopped dancing.  Another time about a decade later. Not much to Richard. Did not say much. Lugged a camera around his neck and grunted hellos.  A doctor of some sort.  The kind that made money unlike the kind that I had become.  After the beep, I said hi to them both.  Then I asked Becca to call me, trying to relay an urgency without ratcheting up anxiety.  Must be an urgency she’d have to think. I had not called her since the Carter administration. 

The first thing that Becca did when I got back from the trip in 1974 was suggest I take a bath.  I did not think I was that ripe, but she met me outside her apartment, gave me a hug and a kiss that reflected longing but also some reluctance.  We walked up the stairs to her apartment and she immediately turned right and headed into the bathroom. She left the door open and started running the water in the bathtub.  It was only about 5 in the afternoon. I looked at her. She nodded her head and said, “You need a bath.”

Then afterwards we had sex, pretty good sex as I recall it.  A month without sex when you are 24 kind of sex.  Becca was a prig in many ways for sure, but she liked to dance.  It was in fact she who first seduced me.  We had gone to Niagara Falls for a date. Probably our third or fourth. Drove back to my apartment and had a drink.  We were kissing in the living room on a couch that came with the apartment and looked like it came with the place when Al Jolson starred in the Jazz Singer.  The living room/couch was right on the beat of anyone who came into the house.  After two of my roommates-- strangers to her--plodded through the living room and did not even register our necking presence she nudged me and whispered that we should go upstairs to my bedroom.  She came into the bedroom, told me it was sweet, and then went into the bathroom. When she came out I could smell the spermicide used on diaphragms.  I figured either she liked me, or this was the 70s, I was available and—as far as she could predict—I was likely to be armed.  

I asked if we were going to have sex when I smelled the stuff. She looked at me and said something like, “well it does not have to be right now.”  Usually right now was fine with me, but that night for some reason I felt we might be rushing it a bit.  Then after a couple more passionate smooches I stopped wavering.

I had a tiny single bed in a room that was probably 10 by 8.  A single bed, a small dresser, a desk, a tiny closet, and that was it. Roll out of bed, take two steps and you are out the door. One more step and you are in the one bathroom for four men, bathroom.  

She must have just about died having to use our bathroom to put that diaphragm in.  When I stayed at Becca’s apartment, nothing was out of place. She lived with two other students, none of whom got along with any of the others, but the place was dust free.  The bathroom had three toothbrushes standing at attention, the soap in a proper soap dish, some knick-knack around the sink for who knows what and a picture on the wall, again for who knows what.  

Despite the apparent uniformity suggested by a tidy three-person apartment, the tension between the women became such that by April Becca had moved on to a place she had by herself.  And it was there, where she ran the water for the bath when I returned, and it was there that she listened to some stories about my trip.  Not sure how much she heard as, being a child of the 60s and 24 herself, and also having gone a month without a fellow, she was sort of anxious for me to soap up.  But I told her about the trip while I was washing. I left out the scary parts then.

The next day, I showed her the map and the log.

10

 

May 1974

The record collector did not have success in Grand Junction and seemed blue about the lack of luck. It is hit or miss he tells us.  “Sometimes there is a bonanza.  Not today.” We hear a good deal about the tribulations of being an itinerant record collector.  I listen puzzled about why he chose this line of work or hobby if the very activity of driving about and sleuthing brings him down.  Strange; driving cross country, stopping in towns, looking for old records. When I asked him why he does the collecting, he snorted a noise and waved his hand forward. “Long story” he said.

Because he is headed for Las Vegas, the driver will stay on I-70 once we pass a town called Green River. At that point, I will hop out and veer North on route 6 on my way toward Salt Lake City.  It is late in the afternoon now and I figure that we will hit the junction of 6 and I-70 with about an hour left of sunlight.

Of all the places I remembered on this journey, the stretch from Fruita to the Utah border, and the next 70 miles or so to Green River was the most desolate.  More desolate than even Nevada.  There was nothing west of the Colorado/Utah border on I-70.  No exits no gas stations, nothing. The signs that we saw were for Green River and because of the absence of everything else, Green River seemed like it would have to be a haven, a large town of some sort.  A few hours earlier I’d considered (and begun) walking from Colorado to Utah to avoid the cop’s warning.  Had I continued on that walk to the promised land of Utah I would have died since for seventy miles past the border, I did not see a single human made thing besides other vehicles until we got to Green River.

My hitch-hiking partner opened up during this journey through nothing.  From Baltimore originally, he’d had it with college, his parents, his siblings, his fair-weather friends and was seeking some place where people were, “you know, true.”  Fellow’s name was Billy and Billy did not seem to like much of anything.  During the time we were on the ramp in Fruita he had not said much though he often spoke disparagingly about the vehicles that passed us.  “Bleeping station wagon”, for example, “Bleeping Chrysler. 

“Let me tell you something about Chryslers. Forget about Chryslers.”   

The driver seemed to be developing a connection with Billy, muttering “I know what you mean” regularly after some comment about a problem with this or that. “Don’t talk to me about guidance counselors” he said a couple of times in a row when Billy discussed how he had wound up at “the wrong school.”  “Just don’t talk to me about guidance counselors.” The driver said again.

We arrive in Green River expecting gold in the streets after all the signs and found it hardly worthy of our anticipation. There was a gas station with an attached grocery.  Across the street from it were a couple of stores and around this hub were homes scattered in an elevated area.  Green River was a something in the midst of nothing.  They were not going to get a major league baseball franchise. Doubt if there were enough kids to field a single little league team and I wonder now where the kids went to school.

Billy and the driver were up in the front and began to schmooze like old buddies.  I was glad, and so were they, that I’d be leaving the car when the road split.  When it did, we said our goodbyes and I was not out of the car for a few minutes before another car stopped.  I was disappointed to hear that he was only going a few miles down the road but was nevertheless considering taking the ride, when not one, but two other cars stopped.  I’ve done a good deal of hitch-hiking in my day and this spot, though I was only there once, has been the luckiest.  I guess if you have been driving through nowhere and you are about to pop because you have had nobody to talk to or even see except the soul selling coffee and pumping gas and stocking the shelves in the superette in Green River you might get itchy for some conversation.

I had my rule about not taking a ride after dark and there was probably only an hour before the sun would be down for good. It was great news that I now had my pick of rides.  One of the drivers was going all the way to Salt Lake City and I thought that this was one lucky moment as I threw my gear into the backseat and hauled my body into the front.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

9

 


9

2019

It is difficult to make out my scribblings.  The ink on the cover of the phone book is blurred as if I had used a pen near the end of its run.  

I see that I wrote down a license plate, the make of the vehicle, and where the driver was headed.  There’s a phone number but no indication of whose and more importantly I can’t make out one of the digits.  The rest of my writings describe the conversations we had. I must have thought that his comments were sufficiently damning, and they would be enough to convince a police official that it might be worth their while to take preemptive action.

One thing that recurred, and I would have remembered this without any scribbled notes, was how the perp claimed there were lovers in a number of cities.  This, as I must have guessed at the time, was just baloney bragging but it was a topic that very regularly surfaced.  Lots of talk of this one and that one and how each lover would wait for his arrival lusting to engage.

I thumbed through the old phone book and saw names and numbers of people who were nowhere near my current orbit.  Old buddies, relatives who had died twenty years previously, a professor or two.  Several names reminded me of a story, and I found myself holding the booklet and staring into space for a couple of hours after I had scanned the phone book. Each of the people in that book contributed to the theatre flats of my life.

When I was a kid I’d gone to a summer camp.   There was a recreation hall which served as an indoor basketball court, square dance hall, boxing ring, movie house, discothèque and theatre.  The rec hall, as we called it, had a stage. Five times during a camp season the stage was the set for musicals performed by the campers and counselors. One week, Brigadoon, then My Fair Lady, then Half a Sixpence, then Guys and Dolls.  For years the directors used the same flats for the various performances. Some artistic counselor would be asked to paint the flats to look like a grassy field one week, and then a pool hall the next.  In the dozen years I went to the camp, those flats must have been painted and repainted one hundred times.  And like that, our histories are painted and repainted. I look through the names of my address book and I see a sweetheart and a college crony, and a professor, all gone from the day to day of my life, but they are back there under some layer of paint as backdrop to the set of my strutting and fretting.

I haven’t spoken to Becca in decades, but I find her coordinates on the internet and go to give her a call.  I pick up the phone, think of maybe contacting her by e-mail instead, but go ahead and push the numbers on the receiver. It’s a local call. According to the address on the internet, she lives less than five miles from where I last saw her, and a short drive from where I now sit.

8

May 1974


Getting out of Denver took some doing.  I have found that many people are not as knowledgeable as they claim to be about local highways. I’ve been living in and around Boston for over thirty years and I’d be hard pressed to describe routes to places not on my regular beat.  

A driver who picked me up near the university where I'd slept said he would be able to get me to the highway.  We drove in circles before he scratched his chin clearly lost.  “Hmm” he muttered, by way of apology.  This sort of thing happened on several occasions during my journey. People certain they knew where they were going, but drove circuitously ending up nowhere near where they had set out to go. And where I knew I needed to be.  The guy in Illinois on the way back was the worst, but I’ll get to that. Eventually, I found my way to I-70.

Day 3 was not like the first two.  I had more than ten rides before I got to the other side of the Rockies. It had taken me only three rides to get from where Becca dropped me off, to Denver. Four if you counted Nelson’s lover taking me the University. Not today.  In and out of cars all day long.

 I-70 goes right through the mountains and the scenery is spectacular. My most vivid recollection of that multi ride snowcapped stretch (in May) is of a stoner who was, go figure, holding onto a joint and smoking dope like an extra in Easy Rider.  One hand on the wheel, one hand on the smoke as he chattered on while driving through the mountains.  At one point Easy Rider dramatically exhaled what he had been holding in,  and wheezed, “Hitch-hiking cross country. Far out, man.”  A hippy from central casting.  Probably a Republican now. One of the many strange ducks I rode with that day.

On the other side of the Rockies I met up with Ted. Ted, not a schmoozer, was going to LA.  We happened to be left off at the same spot and I tried to chat him up.  Not much luck there.  Ted probably said less than 100 words to me in the hour or two we were together through two rides.  At one point when we were waiting on the side of the road I asked him if he wanted to share a sandwich I’d bought at a convenient store. His deadpan response I will never forget.  “No. I ate yesterday.”

After the first ride, Ted and I met two women who were wild.  Very bouncy, drug inspired happy, and wearing not a whole lot.  One was named Marnie. And the other kept calling her Marnie. "Isn’t this cool, Marnie.  The mountains, Marnie, are so beautiful."  Marnie and her chum got picked up before Ted and I did.

I lost Ted somewhere and wound up in the town of Grand Junction, Colorado.  A fellow who was an old record collector had picked me up.  He said he travelled to small towns looking for hard to get 45s and was now going to spend time in Grand Junction hunting for records. After Grand Junction he would be off to Las Vegas.  He deposited me at the Grand Junction ramp when he exited to do his sleuthing.   

I could not get out of Grand Junction.  Stood there for a long spell and, to make matters worse, another hiker was dropped off at the exit.  It is always more difficult to get a lift when there are two of you unless you happen to be hiking with someone who looks like Marnie.  It was late in the afternoon when a fellow driving a pickup truck stopped.

We, myself and the new companion, were not sure if this was good news.  The fellow was going only one exit to a town called Fruita.  He was a local so we asked him if there was much traffic in Fruita.  Oh sure. Plenty of traffic in Fruita according to this young fellow.

We take the lift one exit to Fruita. And we are standing there twenty minutes before a single car drove up on the ramp. Plenty of traffic in Fruita. Sure. An hour later and maybe three cars have driven up, the last of which was a state policeman.  The officer told us that hitch-hiking was illegal in Colorado unless you were on the interstate itself.  I knew this. Each state has its quirky rules, but Colorado’s then was the opposite of others. Most states allowed hikers on the ramps to the interstate but not on the interstate.

We were not sure what to do.  Our first inclination was to wait until the officer took off and get back on the ramp hoping that we could get a lift before he returned.  This seemed risky to me, so I decided on another approach which was then, and is now, on the very far side of foolish.  Fruita was only 17 miles from the Utah border where hitch hiking was not illegal. I thought I would begin walking to Utah and perhaps get fortunate to get a lift part of the way by a local driver.  Within twenty minutes the absurdity of this approach became evident. I needed to walk back to the ramp which I did while muttering a mantra of “what-could-you-have-been-thinking.”  

I was not thinking of metaphors at the time, but in retrospect the idea of going nowhere while still moving around surfaces.  How much of my life have I been moving, but going nowhere? It is something I thought about on the plane after I found the newspaper article. Now when I reflect about my time in Fruita, Colorado-- the experience seems analogous to how I’ve spent too many years.  And the next step of the journey was even more symbolic. 

I returned to the Fruita ramp where my hiking colleague still stood hoping the cop had gone home for the night.  He wiseguy asked me if I enjoyed the walk.  I did not say much of anything. Then a car stopped and we both thought that finally we would be out of Fruita and on our way west. Yes, we were out of Fruita but the driver was going back east to Grand Junction.  My hitch-hiking buddy and I decided to go back to Grand Junction. So we wound up back where we had been when the record collector dropped me off.  And then as if it had been prearranged, up drove the record collector again. Done with his search for 45s. He was ready to continue west to Las Vegas.

Friday, February 19, 2021

7


2019

I remember that I had made some notes at the time.  It was after he had driven off.  I’d had a personal phone book, the kind the phone company used to give you when you rented a phone from them.  I’d taken the book with me as some sort of link to the people I knew in the world.  As if I had friends in my pocket.

I must have just yanked the book out and scribbled information about the incident on the white cover. I planned to write a letter, a warning, but I never did.  My guess was that it would be useless to try to find that phone book now, but it was worth a try. And, to be honest with myself, I knew I went looking because the activity would take some time, time that would not be used to take any action.

If you went into my basement you would find, among assorted paraphernalia, plastic containers filled with keepsakes. I hold onto things.  You’d have to get through the portable clothesline, air conditioners we no longer use since we splurged for central air, a bunch of suitcases none of which have all four wheels, a duffel bag I bought for a hiking trip I took with my brother over a decade ago and have used for nothing else since, and a damaged cabinet which we were able to get replaced.  I thought that I would find some use for the damaged cabinet.  I thought that seven years and three months ago. It still sits like an item on an obstacle course near the center of the basement.  

But if you maneuvered past these items and others, you could find boxes that have magic markered labels on them.  Alan’s nostalgia pre 1975 reads one.  When I was a kid such plastic containers did not exist. You put things in cardboard boxes and when you went to get items from them, they smelled—no matter what you did—of basement and age.  But progress. These plastic containers surfaced. Remarkable the evolution of things when you dwell on it.  For years, diners banged and shook glass ketchup bottles trying to get the stuff to come out. Someone puts the ketchup in a plastic bottle and you can effortlessly squeeze.  Why did it take so long to think of this?  I found out a few weeks back that there is a patent on the cardboard sleeves you get when you buy a cup of hot coffee. The name for the item is a zarf. For decades people burned their paws trying to carry their drug sans zarf.  Someone wakes up and says, “put a piece of cardboard around the coffee and you won’t burn your fingers.”    A Jay Sorensen has the patent on this zarf thing for twenty years. He does not have to worry if the cost of a cup goes up. 

There are no zarfs in my Alan’s nostalgia pre 1975 bin.  I come across a card and a gift from the summer of 1966 sent by my camp sweetheart.  I find college fraternity mementoes.  I spot a high school paper I wrote that, apparently, I thought reflected some wisdom. There’s a huge bed sheet on which supporters had written an encouraging sign before what we considered to be an especially important football game. 

And then somewhere between a hockey puck, a picture of bunk 8 from Camp Chicopee when I was 6, the program for the “Teahouse of the August Moon” the senior play in high school in which I had the minor part of Sergeant Gregovich whose biggest scene involved a drunken stumble across the stage, a feathered hat from the 1964 World’s Fair, the scorecard from some meaningless New York Mets game, and a poem on pink paper that concluded with the words, “Don’t forget me” from someone who forgot me--somewhere in that cluster of nostalgia, I find the phone book with my notes scrawled on the front from 1974. And I also find the log and the map. I’d forgotten about the log and the map.