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.