Sliding Down the Road of Life

“Do me a favor, will ya?  Stick with me on this.  You’re the first to hear the story…I’ve only just finished giving the police the details and since I don’t write things very often, I need you to hear this…and remember all the little stuff.  It may help me in getting my hands on the dirty scoundrels that did this to me.  You can also help me by standing the next round.  I’m not going anyplace, at least for a while and of course it helps jog my memory.”

The guy named Norman ordered another Beefeater Martini.  He ordered a pint of North Country Amber Ale for himself.  Norman shifted in his plush leather corner of the sofa in the lounge of the Country Club where the two were seated. He turned his full attention to the guy who was ready to tell his story.

“A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I decided it was time to get the new well-drilled at our camp on Upper Saranac.  We had been using a “point” and it was on its way out.  The lights flickered and the shower water would stop in the middle of a shampoo.  It was driving Marnie crazy.  Me?  I just had to wait out the water stoppage while washing dishes.  Our well was becoming a real pain in the arse, if you catch my drift.  So, we call the local well driller and had a 160 footer drilled just a few feet from our bedroom window.  Hey, there goes my nap.”

Norman sipped his ale and tried to concentrate on the guy’s words but his mind began drifting to his plans for the Labor Day Fireworks.  He was the chair for the Pyrotechnic Committee of the Country Club and felt it was his supreme responsibility to deliver the best bang for the Club’s buck.

“Nice pun,” he thought. “I’ll have to use that at the next meeting.”

“So, the drilling went quickly and painlessly.  All that we had to do was flush the system of the newly disturbed silt and sand.  It is the Adirondacks, after all.  Nothing but sand and gravel.

He took a long swallow of the martini.

“We ran the lawn hose from the tank into a bucket.  And that’s when I had second thoughts.  It was as brown as Llama shit and left gritty bits all over the place.  I mean we had to vacuum, like three times a day.  I was think of hiring a cleaning lady it was so bad.”

The guy got up and, excusing himself, went off to the Gents room, muttering about only borrowing the Gin for a few minutes before unloading it.

Norman’s thoughts went back to the fireworks.  He just could not come to a decision about which Fireworks company he should sign with.  He was leaning to the one based in Burlington.  They used a lot of green sparkly stuff.  He liked that.

The guy returned and settled back into the corner of the sofa.  He stared at the martini for several long minutes.

“Alright, time to cut to the chase and get to the point of the story.  You with me, Norman?”

“Fire away, dude.”  He had some lingering thoughts on the green sparkles.

“Well, Marnie was going nuts and, truth be told, so was I.  We made the decision to get out of the house and take a short hike.  Now, Norman, that means we had to leave the downstairs sliding screen door unlocked because of the hose needed to drain into that damn bucket.  We don’t normally leave anything unlocked around our Camp because of the recent break-ins some of the summer people have had.  So we were a little uneasy but off we went.  Well, Norm, that’s when it happened.  We were violated, man!  Someone got in through the screen door…the one we left unlocked.”

Norman sat up and began to take notice now.  He thought of the tons of really good stuff he had around his Camp.  That new 60″ plasma TV came to mind.

“We saw something was wrong when we pulled into the driveway after the hike.  Don’t know what it was but something looked different.  As soon as we saw the wide-open sliding screen door we knew.  Marnie took the upstairs and I went around the downstairs, checking our LB collection, books and the computer and cameras in my office.  Nothing seemed to be gone.  All my rare antique prints were still on the wall, including the autographed poster of a 1989 Bob Dylan concert in Cleveland.  Then I saw it!  I saw what was missing!  It had been right there on my media table.  Some bastard stole my…my slide sorter.”

The guy put his hand through his hair and lowered his head to his knees.

“A slide sorter?” Norman asked while tilting his head quizzically.  “Some guy walks off with your slide sorter and you are seriously taking this…seriously.  Christ, it was only a slide sorter, man.”

“You don’t get it, do you Norman?”  The guy’s eyes were dewy now.  “You don’t get the big picture here do you.”

“Well, I guess I don’t.  Please help me understand, this.  I mean, with all the great stuff you have…I’ve seen you’re original Daisy BB gun that’s still in the freakin’ box…and your blown away by a slide sorter?”

“You don’t get it do you, Norman?” The guy’s eyeballs seemed to drill into Norman’s like a 9.2 volt Craftsman Hand Drill.  “You don’t see the big picture, Norman, all you see is the distance to the next green on the back nine.  You see, this wasn’t just another slide sorter.  I was looking for this particular baby on eBay for well over a year.  It’s a Logan, a “Havana” with a very low serial number, 358196M.  You can’t find these at just any auction or antique boutique.  Once people get their hands on one, they rather trade their first-born than part with it.  That’s what we’re talking about here, Norman.  Are you beginning to see the big picture?”

“eBay? You must be kidding guy.  Nobody looks for slide sorters on eBay.  That’s so ’70s.”  Norman looked at his finger nails for a moment then refocused on the guy at the other end of the sofa.

“So now you’re dissing eBay, eh, Norman?  Should I be the one to mention the “date” with the Peruvian “model” you made on Craigslist last year.  That sure did a lot for your marriage, didn’t it Norman?”

“Are you bringing that up?  I can’t believe you’re bringing that up again.  I thought we had an agreement?”

“You must understand, Norman, that I’m lost…totally lost without this particular slide sorter.  It was supposed to replace the family heirloom one that my grandfather brought over from Ireland.  For generations we sat around and admired the purest and most expensive slide sorter an Irish pound could buy.”

The guy’s eyes began to mist over and he seemed lost in his memories.

“That heirloom is no more, Norman.  It was destroyed in the fire that destroyed my grandfathers home in Boston.  It happened on a long forgotten night, at a long forgotten house with a long forgotten address on a long forgotten street.  It broke the family apart.  Besides the fact that my grandfather died in the fire, no one seemed interested in family anymore.  We scattered.  I don’t even know where my sister lives now.  That, my friend, is what happens when an heirloom is destroyed; it breaks the fabric of the family and tears apart the very bonds that held us together for generations.”

Norman just stared at the guy, then went to the bar to order another round of drinks which they both consumed inside a minute.  He was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the look that overcame the guy.  He looked down at his Rolex.

“Gosh darn, guy, I almost forgot.  I have my daughter, Ashley this weekend.  Love to stay but have to run.  Hey, I hope they catch the rotten thief and string him up by his family heirlooms.  See you around.  Take care.  So sorry, man.  Love to Marnie.”

Norman almost ran to his car and sped away, like he was leaving the scene of a crime.

The guy slid behind the tan leather of his Audi and drove home.  Only one light was on. He called for Marnie.  Silence.  He went to the kitchen and saw the note taped to the pale green door of their Samsung refrigerator.

Honey, gone to the opening of the new Whole Foods.  Can’t wait to try their fillets of Norwegian salmon.

The guy looked around the empty house and from the picture window he gazed out over the lake.

Someone took my slide sorter, he said to himself.  No slide sorter?  No need for a house, right?

He went to the garage and brought back a 20 lb propane BBQ tank and some kerosene.

He drenched the floor around the propane tank and wadded up a bunch of paper towels.  At the front door he lit the Bounty towels and let them fall on the kerosene soaked carpet.

He left the door open as he drove off in his Audi.

The guy was six miles away when he heard the explosion.  He was passing through Lake Placid when the firetrucks began speeding past him with sirens so loud that even people with iPad earphones had to plug their ears.

On the Interstate, he checked the back seat and saw his Nikon DSLR.

He’d still be able to take slides if he found the right store that still sold film.

In the piles of wet, smelly burnt debris, Marnie found an old photograph.  The police made copies for evidence and returned the original.  Below is the only extant copy made available by the family to the public:

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I Am Ice

I was one of the uncountable snow flakes that fell that day.  Time was the same, it snowed, it rained, drizzle fell, fog burned off and the sunshine broke through the clouds.  Before I fell to earth I had my last glimpse of the sun.  Then all darkened with clouds and more snow.
The sun became a memory.
Miles away, the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast were emerging from a dark past and beginning to see wood, gold, bark, ivory and sea shells as forms of art.  Ancient mythic images, older than time began to take on a form…meaningful to the soul of these people.
I was a single snow flake with a crystal form all my own.  There was never another like me, then or even now.  I did not feel loneliness; within minutes, I was covered with others that were similar to me but never entirely the same as me.  Deeper I sank. More snow fell on me. Deeper and deeper I was buried in my white tomb.
I long ceased to see the sun, sky, clouds and moon.  The wind ceased it’s motion for me.  It was all darkness and stillness; total aloneness among zillions like me.  Far above me, lone hunters slushed the snows.  An occasional mountain climber.  Once, and I could feel his soul, a lonely man with a troubled mind, went over me looking for his place to find his God.  He went to a nearby mountain and, crouched against the rain and wind, waited for his God to come and take him back home.
I was slowly losing the sense of what I was.  I was losing my “snowness” and ever so gradually becoming less of a tiny flake and more of a crystal.  The process was slow.  I united with others like me and we morphed into true glacial ice.
All this was not totally quiet.  There were distant moans and shrieks as the glacial ice began to move, layer over layer, downward…toward any depth that the terrain allowed.
After many, many years, I, now a part of a vast collection of other crystals, began to see the light above me.  The youthful summer snows were melting away and we, now the grand old parts of the glacier were visible.  I could now hear and feel the piercing of the crampons of glacial researchers as they made their way over my surface.  Nearby, an errant solo mountaineer made a slight misstep and slid into a giant crack in my surface.  He cried out.  He died quickly.  But I can still hear the echoes of his pain throughout the expanse of ice.
One day, a teenage researcher chopped me free from the bed I lived on.  With the point of his ice axe he isolated my as a single crystal.  He took me between his fingers and held me up to the sun.  I saw the sun again.  It was as I remembered it.  I proudly reflected and refracted the spectrum and allowed the rays to spread like starlight.  He turned me over in his hands several times before tossing me away.
Very soon I will melt away and join the icy flow down glacier to the sea.  I’ll be gone for a very long time, probably.
But I’ll be back.

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The Poor House

We never lived in a poor house…or The Poor House I am going to tell you about in the paragraphs below.

Our home was in a fairly well-to-do neighborhood on one of the more classy streets in my hometown.  We had a garage and a 1949 purple Cadillac in the driveway.  Our house boasted five bedrooms…there were six of us in the family so we had a chance to sleep where we wanted.  It was a nice, respectable house on a fine street.  But, my father, being a child of the Great Depression, always tried to do things himself so no local plumber or roofer would rip him off.  He kept his wallet tight and close to his hip like many of his generation.

I tried to be a good boy.  My mother did her best with four boys to be a good mom, but she too was of the generation that experienced the poverty of the 1930’s.  She cooked simple meals and made use of simple kitchen tools.  I think Betty Crocker was her twin that was separated at birth.  Our pie crust had lard and butter.  The berry fillings were often hand picked hours before the oven was turned on.

This is where I come in to ruin her perfect world.  I had a secret I lived with as a child…my wife says I still have it.  This horrible rotten thing dwelt in my gut, deep and untouchable.  It also lived in my pockets.  I was ashamed to talk about it.  I was only to listen to my mother repeatedly tell me how I was going to bring shame and public scorn on our little family.

But I couldn’t help myself.  My needs were greater than the welfare of the familial unit.  I can still hear my mother utter those words that built a wall of self-loathing around me to this day.

Your very reason won’t allow this, but none of this had to do with puberty.

If it was that simple, all I would have to do is stop thinking of girls…but life is never simple and my crimes were unrelated to anyone named Becky or Sandy.  So, perhaps it’s time for my confession:

You see, and I tremble while I type, my problem…my addiction…my self-loathing was due to the fact that I had a disease.

I had the “Buy Me’s”.

I wanted things.  It might be a Schwinn one week or a parakeet the next.  I just wanted to buy stuff…and best of all…I wanted stuff bought for me.

So, my mother, bless her soul, would tell me that I, yes only I, was going to send the entire family to The Poor House.  Some kids of my generation feared the orphanage but not me.  I feared that we would have to give up our nice house and go to live in The Poor House.  I had not read Dickens yet, so the image of the Debtors Prison was not on my horizon.

But The Poor House?  Who would visit?  How would my girlfriends find me?  What would happen to us?

The Poor House was a real place.  It’s still there, right where my mother would point it out to me as she shook her finger.

A few weeks ago, after visiting my hometown, I drove past the buildings while driving my SUV; a car I always wanted.

I stopped for a quick photo with my CoolPix, a camera I wanted when digital came out.  I couldn’t stop long, though, I needed to get to a particular store that had something I really needed.

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Now Arriving…

[“Oh, yes, I remember it well.” -Maurice Chevalier]

I do remember it. How often does a boy get his first kiss (and not from Mom) on an afternoon, after a remedial math class taught by a nun?
My guess is that it’s not that often. However, that ‘kiss’ has to happen somewhere, sometime in a young life. It might as well be after the nun let us out for the afternoon, convinced she had made math clear in our minds, and not knowing that three of us were heading across the Susquehanna River bridge. My girlfriend (who shall remain nameless) and her friend needed walking home. After all, it was a bright sunny (September?) day and they needed to be seen safely home to my girlfriend’s friend’s home in South Owego.
I was the man to do the manly thing and walk them home,
The events that follow lasted, to me, an hour. In reality, it was all over in a few minutes.
But those minutes can and do have echoes that are heard for years to come.
My girlfriend’s friend (I’ll call her Cassandra) had a certain part to play that afternoon. But, only she knew that part. I didn’t. I wasn’t expecting what happened next.
Cassie ran and hid behind the station. I recall there was no whistle, no Mr. Conductor, no Ticketmaster, no Pullman. It was just the three of us on the platform.
But, then there was only two. My girlfriend and me.
I think she sensed my intention because she ran off a short distance and stood in an empty doorway.
She looked at me. In a nanosecond, I grew up a little for I totally comprehended what she wanted…and what I had been desperate for for about three years.
I walked over to her and took her shoulders in my hands.

Well, something has to be left to the imagination.

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What Will Be Written About You?

“My Childhood days bring back sad reflections Of happy days so long ago. My boyhood friends and my own relations. Have all passed on like the melting snow.” (Traditional.)  As recorded by Van Morrison.

I have a gift for you.  It isn’t wrapped in gilded paper and it does not have a magenta ribbon tied into a dainty bow.  In fact its not wrapped at all. And, there’s no way it can be ‘re-gifted’ by you.  It’s yours for as long as someone is around to mow, and take perpetual care of the place; and as long as the owner of the land doesn’t get his or her head turned by the sign of the dollar and destroy your present by turning it into a golf course or a condominium complex.  You see, I’m giving you your own blank, black marble tombstone.  Yes, you read it correctly, it’s blank.  It’s isn’t real, though, it’s at the bottom of this page. Now, that begs the question of what someone will have engraved on that smooth and exquisite black surface.Will it be that you were a giant of industry, hiring and firing at the first sign of the stock market trends? But unable to take the time to attend your son’s little league game? Or your daughter’s softball championship? Or perhaps, you were a high-ranking diplomat, off to Tangiers but not to Coney Island with your children. Maybe you were an elected official living in D.C. sitting on a committee to uphold some Commandment, but you were actually away to an ultra-private club with your mistress. Maybe you were a tele-evangelist assuring us that “God Cried” when the Supreme Court rejected the Defense of Marriage Act while you support Capital Punishment in Texas and “know” that God’s tears are for a man wanting to marry a man or a woman to wed another woman. Perhaps you glorify war and detest pacifists. Whatever. But for the sake of those left behind, let’s hope your epitaph tells the tale of an honest person, who sees that forgiveness is better than retribution and love is far more enduring than distrust, jealousy and scorn. Rest peacefully and with as clean a soul as a mere mortal can be expected to have. Image