Down And Out In Dillon / A Fictional Respite

Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know the way I feel tonight (ooh yay, yay, yay, yeah)
Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know this feeling ain’t right (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)

–Roy Orbison “Only The Lonely”

DillonDinerPowerballSign

The waitress at the Steak and BBQ joint had the eyes of a girl scout.  They were fill with enough innocence to make a biker gang in Fresno call for a mass confession at the local church.  She had the body of a Pilates instructor and wore a shade of nail polish that didn’t have a name or FDA approval yet.  She walked like she was born on the red carpet.

Yeah, those girl scout eyes… It didn’t take a Nobel Prize winner, or a schlep like me to guess what merit badges she had earned during her nineteen years of outdoor activities.  She kept fiddling with the apron strings that were tied in a perfect bow just above her perfect…backside.  I think she was due to get off her shift in about seventy-five seconds.  I looked around for a waiting boyfriend.  Pretty young women like her always had a big, unshaven Palooka waiting for them.  I didn’t see anyone, tattooed or otherwise, spinning a set of Chevy Pick-Up keys around a thick finger.

So, she was leaving alone.  I glanced at the two cars in the employee parking area.  Her wheels must be the ’63 Mustang convertible.  The yellow bug light in the lot made her car look like it needed a paint job.

I was pretty good with a spray can…as good as they get.

“What are you staring at?” said my wife.  “Are you going to get your food or not?”

I snapped out of my 8:00 pm daydream.  I was standing in front of the salad bar.  There was a small pile of white lettuce in my bowl.  I took a spoonful of chick peas, shredded “cheese” and eight cherry tomatoes.  I grabbed a stale roll and headed for our table.  I wasn’t very hungry.

It had been that kind of day on the road.  My wife and I seemed to be searching for excuses to argue.  Maybe she thought I was playing Dwight Yokum too loud.  If it wasn’t that, it was which flavor of gas to put into our tank or whose turn it was to go into the unisex restroom first to wipe the toilet seat dry.

Some men can’t do anything right when they use a public bathroom.  I’d like to say I always lifted the seat, but I stopped doing that about fourteen years ago.  What difference did it make?  What difference did anything make?

Some road trip.  We didn’t even have a final destination.  We just needed to get away from the cold weather.  We were heading for a beach…any beach, as long there was enough sand to put an orange blanket on and enough room to work out a leg cramp and take a nap.  That’s right, any beach and plenty of warm weather.  She wanted to show off her new polyester Wal-Mart bikini.  Me?  I had a red Speedo I pick up for 50 cents at a Salvation Army store just outside of Port Arthur, Texas in 1988.  My gut had grown since then, so I was at a serious risk of being seen as a naked bather by a devout Baptist cop.

Another summons was something I really didn’t need.

I finished my salad and went to get a small bowl of peach Melba.  I was careful to scrape the meringue off the top simply because it didn’t have the color of any meringue that I had ever seen.

“Watch the sweet crap,” said my wife.  “I’m not giving you another dollar for a new swim suit, hear me?”

I was feeling the need to hit the boy’s room to see a man about a horse, when the words of my dear mother echoed in my memory bank.

“Son,” she said, “if you ever get a date, don’t excuse yourself to go to the bathroom ’cause the girl will leave you.  Most woman hate losers.”

I often wondered why my mum would tell me that.  I’ve had plenty of dates when I was younger and I went to the bathroom on a regular basis, as needed.  My date was always waiting for me at the bar.  She never left me…until I gave her the $75.00.  I dunno.  Maybe there’s a connection somewhere.

So, I dumped my tray into the can and walked back to the loo.

Even though it was always in the back of my head that such a thing could happen, it didn’t stop me from turning a vulgar shade of pale when I saw the table empty upon my return.

She’s in the ‘ladies’, I said to myself.  That’s when I saw the waitress looking a bit funny at me and whispering something to the teenage dishwasher.  I walked to the window.  Our car was gone.

She did it.  She left me.  She left me stranded in Dillon, South Carolina.  I looked at my watch and pretended I was waiting for her to make a quick drug store run to stock up on her magenta lip gloss.

I took a seat by the window.  I was the only customer.  A light in the “special events” room went off.  A kitchen light went off.  A minute later, the waitress, you remember, the girl scout, came up and said that it was closing time.

MeAtDinerDillon

I stood out on a cement parking barrier.  I looked up and down the highway for signs of our car.  Four cars went by.  Three of them were police cruisers and the fourth was an empty taxi.  I felt weak in the bowel area.  Neon lights were blinking off.  Even the PowerBall sign went dark, but not before I saw the prize was $100,000,000 bucks.  I fingered the cash in my pocket.  I pulled out three twenty-dollar bills.

A light rain began to fall.  I looked beyond the closed Taco Bell and spotted a VACANCY sign on a motel.  It was the Hi-Ho Motel.  I had seen it earlier when we were driving around looking for a gourmet meal.  I quickly crossed the empty highway and approached the office.  They advertised rooms for the week, day and even the hour.

I hoped they changed the sheets sometime in the last month or so.

I paid the desk manager the $16.00 for the room.  I’m sure I picked up on his Calcutta accent.  I clutched the key to Room 4 tightly in my sweaty palm.

A few minutes later, I was stretched out on a lumpy single bed inhaling mildew spores and after running up and down the dial, I tuned the black and white TV to a rerun of Bewitched.  I pulled my jacket over my chest and several business cards fell out.  I spread them on the sheet.  I would need the services of one of these concerns before the end of tomorrow came…that I knew.

BusinessCards

I slipped into a light slumber.  An hour later, I woke with a start.  The space beside me was empty.  She was really gone.  This wasn’t a bad dream.  But, whatever it was gave me a powerful thirst.  I locked the room and walked along the highway, passing strip malls and used car lots.  Then I saw the light of heaven in front of me: BUD LITE.  That wasn’t what I needed, but it was a start.  I went in just as I heard a train whistle blow from somewhere behind the cement dealer.

As I slid onto a stool, the bartender came over.  I blinked three times in disbelief.  It was the waitress from the BBQ place!

“Hey there Mr. Blue,” she said.  “High and dry, I see.  What happened?  Did she recognize a chiropractor from high school?”

“You’re a riot, Lucy,” I said.  I waited two beats.  “Besides you, what the special here tonight?”

“That would be my new invention.  I just finished Mixology School last week.”

“What would that be,” I inquired, with breathy anticipation.

“It’s called Mindy’s Merit Badge.  That’s me.  I’m Mindy.”

“So very nice to meet you, Mindy,” I said.  “Wanna go camping?”

[Please note: This post is 99% fiction.  The only real thing that happened was eating at a salad bar.  Don’t panic and don’t worry about us.  We’re fine.  Mariam did not leave me stranded in Dillon, SC.  I’ve always been a fan of noir, hard-boiled writing styles ( i.e., Dashiell Hammett) so I though I’d have some fun trying my hand at it.  Dillon is a fine place.  If you did happen to buy into the reality of my story…and you want to send cash (small unmarked bills) to help me catch a Greyhound back to NYC, I can provide a mailing address.  Meanwhile, watch for the really crazy Halloween blog in a day or so.  Thank you, loyal readers…but please click “follow” on my blog page or “like” on the FB page.  I need the numbers like a stand-up comic needs laughs.  If you don’t click on something, I’m going to bring out “Fluffy” and lay a guilt trip on you!]

 

 

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I’m Sorry, Ava, But I’m Having Issues Of My Own

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As I write this post, I’m seriously considering going into the r-Pod to get another layer to drape over my shoulders.  The sun has just dipped below the tree-line at the far edge of the RV park.  When we arrived, about two hours ago, I was sweating and hot and in a mood most foul.  Now, it’s cooled enough to make me think about my light fleece hoodie.  It seems my lot in life is to know where my fleece garments are at all time.  I’m in the mid-south, for heaven’s sake, it’s supposed to be warm.  I don’t know.  Maybe I was having a “hot flash” this afternoon?  Men go through menopause just like women.  I’ve had “hot flashes” before, but they occurred in those brief moments when I would walk past a twenty-something female beach volleyball player on the boardwalk of Redondo Beach.

The real purpose of this blog, however, is not to dwell on my body issues.  I need to explain that sometime tomorrow, October 24th, sometime in the early afternoon, sometime after I locate a Starbucks and purchase a Cold Brew coffee, I will drive past Exit 95, on I-95 and not visit the Ava Gardner Museum.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am a huge fan of Miss Gardner.  I may be her biggest fan.  I simply love her iconic film roles that have made her an…icon.  I get shivers when I watch her standing at the doorway, asking Rhett Butler: “Rhett, Rhett…Rhett, if you go, where shall I go?  What shall I do?”  I feel a tingle of seduction when she leans against another doorway and ask Bogey: “You know how to whistle, don’t you?  You just put your lips together and blow.”

But the fee for a couple is $50.00!  Okay, $40.00 for seniors–but we were on a strict budget.

Don’t even mention the shower scene in Psycho.  Don’t even go there.  So, you see, I’m her favorite fan.  But, when you’re on the road and traveling hard like me, you have to keep your eyes on the final destination.  And, tomorrow, that would be Dillon, South Carolina.  We simply did not program into our schedule any actual stops to see stuff.

That’s for tourists.  We’re world-weary travelers.  I won’t say that we’ve seen everything, but we’ve seen pretty much of everything.

Having said all that, I need to tell you about a very disturbing and disorienting occurrence that happened to me after we left our camp site this morning.  We just filled up at the Shell station, ($1.93/gal), when I noticed that the gas gauge did not read FULL.  It registered only 3/4 of a tank.  Now, we weren’t in New Jersey so I pumped my own fuel.  I know I filled the tank–the excess gas even bubbled out of the fuel hole.  But it simply was not FULL.

I was irritated because it would mean another stop before I wanted to make it.

After a few miles, I glanced down at the gauge.  The needle was slowly, very slowly moving toward the FULL!  What was happening?  What did this mean?

It meant only one thing.  We weren’t using fuel while we were driving–we we’re gaining fuel!  We were using negative fuel.  The implications of this astounded me.  If this continued (and I had no reason to think it wouldn’t) then we would   not only not pay for gas, but we would be due some kind of rebate at the end of the trip.

I would come out ahead for once in my sad life.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

On second thought, perhaps we would be able to stop at the Ava Gardner Museum after all.

Marilyn_Monroe_photo_pose_Seven_Year_Itch

[Ave Gardner in the famous “white dress” subway scene from “The Seven-Year Itch”]

 

This Is Not The Scary Halloween Blog You Were Expecting

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You read the title correctly.  I’m very sorry but I just don’t have the energy, creative or otherwise, to put together a high-quality very scary blog that you have come to expect of me.  I just put the spooky image at the head of this post to grab your attention.  I know I posted something at the start of October that promised a series of totally mind-blowing blogs celebrating my favorite time of year.  But, as I’m sure many of you know, I took sick shortly after attending my 50th High School reunion.  I’m still not well and it’s been a month, three ER visits, a chest x-ray, a hefty dosage of antibiotics, a diagnosis (shown later to be a little inaccurate) of pneumonia, and all capped off by an allergic reaction to one of the drugs I was proscribed.  My flesh looks like a scary Halloween story by itself.  I have red spots on parts of my body that I forgot I had.  I’ve been rubbed with aloe vera and other lotions that you would have to travel to a cheap Bangkok brothel to find.

So, instead of something scary, I thought it would be highly entertaining to tell you about our last-minute preparations for our winter “on the road” in our R-pod RV.  Remember the late part of 2013 when Mariam and I drove across the country to visit my grandson, Elias, in Orting, WA?  I even compiled those travel blogs and published them in book form.  It’s called: “In the Middle of Somewhere”–and did I mention it’s available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.

Anyway, here is a picture of part of the R-pod.  I tried to get some colorful trees in the frame as well to show you that its peak foliage time up here in the North Country.

RPodAutumn

Like I was saying, I am picking out the books I intend to take along.  We’re busy choosing CD’s, books-on-tape and DVD’s.  I also pack all the writing material for future projects (like a few novels, etc).  I even considered bringing along my banjo.  I googled music lessons in Fort Myers and found that I can get private lessons for a reasonable rate.  But, I’m having second thoughts about this.  It will require practice time and I just can’t see myself sitting by the door of the RV and learning chords for the banjo.  People (mostly elderly from what I hear) will think they’re in a scene from “Deliverance”.  I don’t want to frighten old people.

I’m writing this late at night on October 11.  The rain has stopped and it is very dark.  It’s nearly midnight.  I just looked out the front door and noticed a dull light shining at the end of the driveway.  I thought of the moon, but it’s too low to the ground.  Perhaps it’s a reflection of the light in the guest bedroom against the front window of my car.  Maybe someone is out for a late night walk?  Hold on while I check if it’s moved…

Nope.  The dull light is still there.  It’s not our new motion lamp because it would be much brighter.  I wonder…

Well, on second thought, maybe some of you would feel shorted somehow if I didn’t come through with some weird Halloween photos.  I must keep my contract with my readers.  If I say I’m going to do something–I have to do it!

After all, what are the “things that go bump in the night” going to do to me?  Come creeping down my driveway and walk through my dining room wall?  I doubt it.  This isn’t the History Channel.  There are no aliens on my property.  (Although, I have some doubts about our neighbor)–

So, here are a few nutty Halloween customs:

vintage-halloween-Bibendums-Montmartre-1922

vintage-halloween-costumes

Pretty scary stuff, huh?

I’m going to check on that light again–don’t go away.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think it has moved just a little–only a little–toward the house.  Let me look again…

OMG, it’s nearly passed the short row of cedar trees…just at the end of the walkway to the porch.  Who could this be at this hour?  It’s just a few seconds before midnight.  I feel that I have to type fast to finish this…what’s that?  I hear something on the front porch floor…sounds like footsteps.

I hear a voice.  It’s almost a mumble and I hear saliva helping to slur the words…”You think messing with the dark is funny?  Do you think we laugh when you pretend there’s nothing out there?”

The power is going out in the house.  Mariam has locked the bedroom door.  She’s having a nightmare.  If she’s having a nightmare…then what’s on the porch…at my door?

I must finish this quickly….I….can’t……..

A Missing Image But Still A Memory

 

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The photographic frame, measuring 3″x5″ sat on the flat surface of the headstone.

It’s a small quiet Catholic cemetery on the edges of the village of Saranac Lake, New York.  The winter snow was gone but no grass or Spring flowers had the courage, or time, to begin their life again.  Cemeteries are full of living, growing entities.  Flowers bloom.  Green turf covers the ground.  In this cemetery, fallen branches from tall pines, still green, sit on the ground.  There are hundreds of pine cones scattered about.

Amid all this growth and life, there are the mute stones that mark the resting places of people who walked the very streets and paths that I stroll.  Each stone has a name or names of those who lay below.  The dates carved into the stones tell the passer-by how long this man, that woman or this child had spent among the living.

Dead flowers, plastic flowers and potted shrubs adorn the stones.  Sometimes at night solar-powered votive lights glow with a spooky aura in the darkness.  Some enterprising funeral-industry worker thought it would be a good idea ($) to get the grieving family to pay for the small lights.  To some driving by after dark, one can perhaps make out Uncle Tony’s grave by the green light by the tree…just there to the left.  To others, like me, it’s a ghostly reminder of the loneliness graveyards can be when the sun sets.

Some stones have elaborate laser etched photo quality images of the couple, a daughter, a son, a grandparent, a set of golf clubs, a guitar, a pickup truck, a semi, a forest scene or the path leading into a setting sun.

This particular stone had a photo mounted in a frame.  The frame was separated from the backing.  The glass was dulled by abrasion and there was no reflection.  And, there was no picture of the deceased.

Who removed the photo?  A vandal? A parent? A sibling? A fiancé? A child?  Perhaps this was the last image…the only surviving image of the departed one.  I’m thinking is was too personal to leave out in the elements and best kept in a pocket, close to the heart.

Someone had the picture.  Someone carried the photo around with them.  They left only a broken frame.  I looked close and could almost see an after-image on the grey glass.  I couldn’t quite make it out.

But, it was of a person who, for years, had his or her likeness visible to anyone who cared to look.

Now, no one can see who lies six feet below the stone.

Only a name, dates and a block of granite are left.  But I did not miss the picture.  Instead, I thought how lucky this person is…to have something as a proxy.

I thought of the millions of people who lie, unmarked, in the soil of war-torn countries, famine stricken regions, roadsides and river bottoms.

The picture may be gone, but something is there for us to see.  Something for us to lay a flower upon.  Something to touch.  A place to pray.

On a morning, celebrating re-birth, I stand and think of these things.

Too many human beings don’t have such a luxury.

The Garden of Earthly Deletes

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Her email: I’m sorry about what happened.  Will you forgive me?  Can you forgive me?  Will you let me come back?

My response: No, after what u said before.  If that’s the way u want things to be then don’t come home..stay with u r mom!!

Her email: Please let’s try to work things out.  I love u.

I thought of her and her broken heart…broken so many times by so many guys.

My response: That sounds like total BS to me…but maybe we can meet at the usual place…just to talk. 

My finger wavered over the SEND key.  I hesitated.  My mind was muddy from the back-and-forth emotions of the last few hours.  I moved my hand toward the DELETE key. I thought about her feelings of remorse for a nano-second and then I punched it like I was squashing a malarial Anopheles mosquito.  I was angry at what she had said to me.  A moment passed.  I wasn’t angry anymore.  I wanted to take back the email and reword it into a plea to stay with me.  But I knew it was too late.  Once that rectangular key is pressed, what was, isn’t anymore.  It was like an erasure of a dry marker on a white board.  This momentary spike of anger I felt had vanished.

Like the final email, I had erased her.  I regretted what I had done.  I failed to stem the bleeding from her soul.  I failed her.

I sat and thought about the situation for an hour.  Then I sat down and wrote a message saying I was sorry I told her to go live with her mom.  I pushed SEND this time.  After getting a cold beer from the fridge, I sat back down at the laptop.  I read in disbelief that the email had bounced back to me.  She had closed her account.  She was unavailable.  She was gone.  I had just deleted her from my life.  She always said it would probably end like this…that I would get her out of my life, that I would erase her.  That I would delete her.  She somehow knew this was coming for a year now.  And I played into her vortex of negativity.

That damn DELETE key.  How does that work, anyway?  How can you delete something?  Where does it go?  I know it exists as pulses of digital bits, but somewhere in the server’s main frame, it must still live.

It’s one of the most basic laws of science: one cannot create or destroy matter.  And, the electrons of the digital bits that make up a simple email message, are made of matter.

So, where is that email now?  Right now at this precise second?  Where are the zillions of deleted messages?

I once read that computers can’t really erase them from existence.  What I read is that in deleting, you simply remove the address.  But the information is still out there…somewhere.  A good hacker could get them back, but I didn’t know any hackers, good or bad.

So I did the only thing I could think of doing.  I took a walk.

I wandered all over the sleeping city until the eastern sky turned pink.  It was then that I spotted the long stone wall.  I had never seen this before.  I walked up to the only door, a great wooden entrance like one would find in a castle.  I looked up.  The sky was turning blue above the twenty-foot wall of grey granite rocks.

I pushed on the door and it opened.  I stepped over the threshold.  All around me was the most amazing and beautiful garden I had ever seen.  How did this place exist without me knowing about it?  I walked along the stone-slab path.  A full minute passed before I realized that there were dozens of words hanging from the branches and flower pedals.  No, not a dozen…hundreds, thousands.  Then it all came into focus in the clear morning air.  Every plant in the garden was festooned with strings of words.  They were not on paper or tape.  They were words that formed sentences held together with some kind of invisible force.  I took one and read it:

So, wat r we doin tmrro nite??? 

I read more.  Each one was full of errors and misspoken sentiments.  Some were meaningless.  Some were pornographic.  Some were declarations of undying love.  And, some were rejections of love.  The messages of sadness and hate and anger hung like dead snakes.  They all hung like that, dead black and serpentine.

I’m not a genius by any means, but I knew that these were deleted messages.  This is where they went to spend eternity.

Everything in the garden was broken.  I could see broken engagements, hearts, marriages, affairs, souls, plans, dreams, nightmares and prayers.  Pleas to God for a healing.  But deleted when the loved one dies anyway.

All those deletes.

The little garden had morphed while my back was turned.  When I looked around, the trees and shrubs now stretched beyond the horizon.  The city had disappeared and I found myself standing in the midst of countless plants, like Dorothy’s field of poppies, that covered one rolling hill after another.  They all were festooned with deleted messages.  Uncountable in number, each message was something not sent to someone over the internet.  Most of them bore the sad, lonely and forlorn aura of a mistake made and then regretted.

But, wouldn’t a simple email correct the mistake?,  you may ask.  Well, I was proof that sometimes that does not happen so easily.  In days of old, if you put a letter into a mailbox and let it drop, it was a done deal and irretrievable.  If you then traveled to the home of the person you had sent the regretful mail, you may be confronted with an empty house.  Or, if you tried to dial-up someone to repair a wound you caused, you could be met with: “I’m sorry, that number is no longer in service”.

It all came down to the same problem.  How could one ever stop a bullet once the trigger was pulled?  How could one run to overtake an arrow that was shot, straight and true, before it struck the target?

I wanted her back and the best hope was here in the garden of deletes.  But, the task was impossible and I knew it.

Or was it?

I noticed a section of the garden where it seemed to be raining, raining new deletes. They fell onto the trees like black strips of strange snow.  If my deleted message were anywhere, wouldn’t it be where the incoming was coming in?

I walked over to that part of the garden.  I began reading the messages.  Some were paragraphs and some were chapters and some were even entire books.  I was looking for only a sentence.  But there was no way I could find it here.  I had to find another way to dress her wound.

I turned around to look for the exit.  I took a step.  There it was, hanging right before my eyes.  Without even thinking, I grabbed it and ran for the garden door.  The vast endless fields had shrunken to the little patch of flowers and trees that I had seen when I first entered.  I crumbled the message into a tight ball and threw it over the wall.  It was a mighty throw but the message made it out.  I squinted as I watched as it hit the top of the wall and bounced out.

I had successfully saved my deleted message from this garden of eternal regrets.

As I walked through the doorway, I found myself on my own street.  I lived nearby.  Putting my hands in my pockets, I walked in the direction of home.

I heard the squeal of rubber tires and the bump of a car as it hit the curb near me and came to an abrupt stop.  I turned.  There she was, clawing at the front door of her car.  She flung it open and ran straight into my arms.

“My email was slow today,” she said.  “I got your reply.  So you’ll give me another chance?  You will, won’t you?  I so love you.”

I put my arm over her shoulder and we walked back to my place, our place, as if nothing had happened.

 

 

 

The Confessional: A Short Story

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An elaborate carved oak confessional sat in a corner of a large and beautiful church. It was the Church of Our Lady of the World in Montreal, the center of Catholic French Canada.

There were several confessionals in this cavernous house of worship.  The congregation, holding onto the older ways of the Roman Church, still frequented the booths to obtain absolution for their sins, perceived or otherwise.  The old French priests sat in the center portion, and on busy sinful days, would lean first one way than another to hear two confessors, one at a time.  He would slide open a small wooden grated screen and lean toward the sinner.

The interaction, perhaps in French, went something like this:

The penitent: “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been (giving a time) since my last confession”.

The Confessor: “Go ahead”.

After the litany of transgressions was spoken, the priest would offer a few words of advice or encouragement.  He would then absolve the sins, in the Name of God the Father, God the Son and The Holy Ghost.  Then came the penance; which was often a few prayers, or, if the sin was great, a deed or command from the priest to go out and make things right.

“Go, and sin no more”, was often the departing words from the priest.

The confessional hours were Wednesday’s from 4:00 until 5:30pm and on Saturday from 2:00 until 5:00pm.  For especially troubled souls, a private appointment could be made with any of the priests available.

Hugh Ballard sat in a corner of a pew, in the apse section of the church.  He was alone save for a few praying and troubled souls that shunned the nave and wished to keep to the more deserted corners of the great church.  This is the place that Hugh liked the most.  He was mostly alone with his thoughts.  He also had a direct view of a certain elaborate carved oak confessional.  From his place at the end of the pew, he would wait until 5:05pm, every Wednesday, when she would walk down the right aisle of the nave and enter the confessional.

Hugh had first seen her several months ago when he was making an attempt to translate the Latin quotes that were written high on the wall above the altar.

Winter had set into Montreal.  The cold blasts of wind from the St. Lawrence River drove people indoors, to the shops along the Rue Sainte-Catherine; the bookstores, the bistros and the churches.  Montreal had more than it’s share of houses of worship.

She caught his eye as she walked down the side aisle toward the confessional.  Her mid-thigh coat was a bitter lime color trimmed with faux rabbit and her black woolen tights fitted nicely into mid-calf boots of fleece-lined leather.  But it was her hair, an enticing blend of auburn and chestnut, moderately curled, that blended with the tassels of her wool nordic style cap that caught his eyes and kept them on her for too many minutes, too many minutes to qualify as a glance…but long enough to be called a stare.  Her overly long scarf hid her chin and neck. Hugh estimated that she stood 5’3″ in her socks.  Hugh was 6’2″.  She would fit nicely under his arms in a passionate hug.

On more that one occasion, their eyes met.  Once, when she left the confessional, he caught her glancing over at him as he sat and read in his chosen pew.

Hugh had very dark brown hair that curled behind his ears.  He often skipped shaving,  giving him a slight air of an artist or graduate student.  His eyes were hazel and, to most women, worth the time for an endless gaze.  But, at 5:04pm on Wednesdays,  his eyes were scanning the front door for her appearance.  At first, he would sit about half-way down the nave pews, and when he sensed her walking down the aisle, he would cross himself and get up to leave.  This move would put him almost face to face with her.  He would use the two or three seconds to look into her eyes, study her cheeks and hear her take a breath.  Being a man of quick thinking, he would time his inhales so that he could smell her…her lack of perfume…just her.  He detected a faint body heat from her walking in her warm coat.  That faint body heat often carried with it her scent.  The scent that separates one person from another, however subtle.  And to Hugh, her scent was pleasing beyond explanation.

Once or twice their eyes caught each other.

He also had a fraction of a second during this moment when he could see her hair from only inches from his eyes.  However, after several of these attempts of proximity, Hugh began to feel that he was taking a risk.  He needed to see her from another location…from a corner where she would not notice him.  That very last thing he wanted was to have her think that he was stalking her.

No, that could never happen.

So on each Wednesday, he would find a place to pray…that is to watch her.

As she turned the corner by the confessional was a marble column that contained Holy Water.  She would dip her fingers into the clear liquid and cross herself before pulling back the heavy velvet curtain and going in to tell the Confessor her failings…her sins.

Hugh began to keep time of her sessions.  She would stay 24 minutes each time.  Hugh, who had not been to confession in many years, thought that was a long time to tell someone your sins.  Then he began to wonder.  What could this beautiful, pure, virginal soul have to confess?  What sins could she have committed?  Was she an embezzler?  A diamond thief?  An art thief?  Surely, none of her sins could have been of the flesh, she was too pure a soul for that sort of thing.

It didn’t take many Wednesdays before Hugh fell in love with the girl.  He had no idea of how to approach her.  What would, or could he say to her?  It was at these times that he lost faith in himself.  No woman as angelic as she would ever so much as give him the time of day.  Hugh was certain that his existence was nothing to her.  He may as well have lived in the backwaters of the Amazon River.

But, his curiosity grew as to what she was telling the Confessor.  So he devised a plan.  This was a despicable plan and he was ashamed of himself for even considering it.  He went ahead and considered it anyway.  He would listen in on her confession.  After all, it was the only way.  Even if he caught the priest in a small alley behind the church in the blackest hours of the night and put his hands on his neck, the old man would never break the Seal of Confession.

Hugh went to a large Radio Shack and began to ask questions.  Eventually, he found out about a small “spyware” shop several miles south of town, in a warehouse district close to the Vermont border.  He purchased a small mic that would transmit voices to the tiny ear set of his smart phone.  Next, he went to a cheap stationery store and bought some patches of goo that was meant to stick posters on walls.  It was guaranteed to hold 15 pounds.

Perfect.

A few days later, he sat and read a book in the apse pews.  He waited until the tourists left.  The church wardens were busy moving people out in preparation for the evening Mass.  A wide column blocked anyone’s view of him and the confessional.  He stood close by as if he were studying a plaque on the wall.  Then, after a quick check around him, he pulled back the velvet curtain and, leaning over, pressed the goo and mic to the underside of the small elbow shelf below the screen that separated the sinner from the Confessor.

“May I help you?”

Hugh quickly backed out and stood facing a young priest.  He hadn’t seen this guy when he checked seconds earlier.

“I…I think I had dropped my wedding ring on the floor,” Hugh lied.

They both pulled back the curtain and looked on the carpet.  No ring.

“Sorry, guess it slipped off elsewhere.”

Hugh was out of the side door just as he heard the chiming bells that told the small congregation that Mass was about to begin.

On the next Wednesday, Hugh was sitting somewhat more distant from the confessional.  He quietly pushed his ear phone in and pulled his hair over it so people would not think he was listening to some punk group in this house of worship.

He turned his phone on and muted the tones.  He could hear the rustling of a books pages.  Earlier, he watched as the elderly Confessor entered the center booth and prepared for the parade of sinners.  He was probably reading his Office, a certain number of prayers that priests were required to read every day.

Then he saw her coming down the side aisle.  It was a mild day and her coat was unbuttoned, revealing a plaid shirt.   Her small breasts, hidden from view all winter, were now slightly visible under her shirt.  He tried to imagine them on her slight body.

She dipped her fingers into the Holy Water and crossed herself as usual, but not before glancing at him and holding the contact longer than usual.  She turned and entered the booth.

Hugh became suddenly uneasy.  What if she had seen too much of him each Wednesday?  What if she suspected him of stalking her?  He knew he wasn’t.  He knew he loved her…but from afar.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” she began.

“Yes, my child?”

“You see, Father, I have certain feelings for a certain man…and I don’t even know his name.  I think he follows me around the church sometimes.  I know he’s here in this church tonight.”

Hugh’s panic grew.

“Do you think he’s following you to do harm to you?  Shall I call 911?”

Hugh’s phone was equipped with a chip that could tell him if another cell phone was being activated.  He heard the signal!  The Confessor had taken his cell and turned it on.

It was all over.  Hugh walk quickly to the side door and broke into a sprint.  Halfway through the park that surrounded the church he yanked the ear phone out and threw his cell into a trash can.  He leaned over to cover it with a discarded meal.  Perhaps this would give him precious time to get many blocks away when the police searched the cans.  He ran like his life depended on it.  He ran until he found himself lost in the tiny side streets of Old Montreal near the river.

“Oh, no, Father.  No.  No.  You see I have come to love him, even though we’ve never spoken.  I am taken by this man.  I want this man, Father.  I want him to take me and make the maddest of love to me.  Please, Father, help me find the right words to say to him.”

“You see, my Confessor, all my other little sins are nothing I feel the need to ask forgiveness for.  I have come today to confess the deepest of and darkest of sins….Lust.”

The Maltese Stylus

I looked out of the port-hole and saw the contrails of 757’s heading east, toward LA or Frisco, most likely.  So, good for them, I thought, let them get somewhere fast.  Me?  I’m happy right here, in the small cabin of a tramp steamer heading straight into Nowheresvilleport.  Once I get there, I’m heading for nearest tattoo den to do something sexy, some design scratched into my flesh with a (hopefully) clean needle.  I would get something edgy, something that yelled “dangerous”, something that would set me apart from all the others and would be bold enough to show through the manly hairs of my chest.  I was leaning toward something…some image…some icon that would make lesser men stand back as I disrobed in the Turkish baths of Perth, or Rio, or Dkakarta…or even East Orange.  The image on my chest had to tell the guys in the shadows that stilettos would not help them, nor would knives save them from my lethal hands.  I thought of how a tat of Patti Page would go down in Macao.  Or perhaps a scary likeness of Donny Osmond.  I even gave a moments thought of having a naked Lady Ga Ga on my thigh, with her “delicate” parts covered with reproductions of Nixon/Agnew campaign buttons.  But, even I couldn’t go that far.  Even I had to draw the line somewhere.  I guess I would let Mingo, the bald albino tattoo artist from Dar es Salaam to make the final choice.

But I digress.

“Here have another”, I said, as I pushed the quart of rum across the rusty flat metal plate that served as our table.  Boris and I shared the “berth”, if you wish to call a 10′ x 10′ steel walled room a “berth”.

Boris was on the run…just like me, but from what, he never said.  Once after six bottles of Bud Lite, he broke down and mumbled something about failing the Revolution in Russia.  He seemed hurt when I told him that the USSR fell apart in the early 1990’s.  It was free-market now, I told him, no more black market in Levi’s.  He didn’t talk to me for a week, only mumbling something about Stalin during our frequent games of Canasta.  I warmed to Boris and he warmed to me during those long months at sea.  He taught me how to break the grasp of a black bear, kill it and declaw it with a dull Swiss Army knife.  In turn, I taught him a few new needlepoint stitches he wasn’t aware of.

He jumped ship on an island off Shanghai.  I hope he finds his revolution, or whatever it is he’s seeking.  I even hope he found a boat to get off that island.  And, I hope he didn’t get hurt jumping ship.  It’s a long way to the water or the dock when you jump off the ship.  I suggested he use the gang-plank but he smiled his brown-tooth smile through his thick back beard…and jumped.

I, on the other hand, would jump ship further along the line.  I didn’t care where as long as I couldn’t be found.

Not after what happened in New York City.  Not after what I did.

The sordid origins of what brought me to the South China Sea are now safe to reveal.  Safe, yes, even though I found myself with a new cabin-mate after Boris limped along the wharf and disappeared into the Asian western Pacific fog.  I had just completed my nightly stroll around the deck of the steamer.  When I returned to my berth, my new friend was sitting on the empty hammock that once held my Russian comrade.  Her name was Lisa and she was a defrocked nun.  I know that when a priest makes a serious transgression against the Vatican, they defrock him…priests wear frocks, see.  And I also know that a nun sports a habit…but I didn’t know what they call a “fallen nun” like Lisa.  Dehabited?  I don’t think that’s right.  She never told me what she did or thought she did to warrant fleeing a convent, in Paraguay, of all places, but it must have been pretty sinful.  I caught a glimpse of that sin when, after six shots of rum, she pulled up her black habit hem and showed me her ankle tattoo.  It depicted Justin Timberlake chained to the glass pyramid outside the front door of the Louvre in Paris.  You know the building.  Designed by I. M. Pei and was featured in The Da Vinci Code.

But I digress.

I revealed to Lisa my problems.  She heard my “confession” and was very forgiving.

I am, you see, an addict.  An addict of the worst sort.  I have sold my soul to feed my addiction and I know I will pay dearly when Old Scratch comes to collect his reward on the day when I should be taking the up escalator…and not the down non-stop elevator to hell.

My addiction?  Games.  Small games.  It started out with big games, but with changing technology, the games got smaller.  I was hooked on Scrabble on Facebook, Candy Crush Saga, Words With Friends, Pet Rescue Saga, Spider Solitare, Lost Bubble and worst of all, Angry Birds.  When I got deeply involved in these sordid activities, the devices got smaller.  I had a problem.

My fingers are thick and fat.  On a standard QWERTY keyboard, it’s not a problem, but when the keys are as small as ink blots, my problems got serious.  When I would text a friend, my message would be: “meet me at Joe’s bar @ 5” but what came out at the other end was “make my erasure large and hold the mustard” or “xkyjoihg kjnost kdjkkjdid, ow?”  Now that might mean something in a country that uses a language root far removed from any known by linguists today.

So I had to find an a solution  My scores in my beloved games plummeted.  I began to lose friends.  My Klout score fell faster than a greased brick on a Triple X ski slope in the Alps.  My Twitter followers walked away like I had herpes.  I was doomed to a lifetime of failure and loneliness.

Then, there at the counter of a Duane Reade drug store in Manhattan, I saw the answer.  It was a stylus.  Small and narrow like a ladies ballpoint pen.  It was only $5.00 so I bought one.

It helped.  My scores went up but not earthshaking enough to satisfy my craving for love and respect.  And, then the unthinkable happened.  I put my stylus down for four seconds to sip my Latte at my local Starbucks.  When I finished wiping the foam from my lips, I looked down.  It was gone.  Some geeky kid snatched it as he brushed against my table.

I was now in despair.  I went back to Duane Reade.  They were sold out.  I ran from store to store, darting in and out of at least twenty DR’s in the four blocks I covered.  Nothing.

I was finished.  I walked past a few sleazy bars and topless joints.  How was a cold beer going to help me know?

It was then when I felt him next to me.  I never saw him approach.  Never felt him sit so close.  I looked over at him.  He was wearing a goofy green plastic derby hat.  Then I remembered it was St. Pat’s Day here in N.Y.C. and he was clearly far off the parade route on Fifth Avenue.

I started to get up and put some distance between the two of us, when I felt his hand on my forearm.  He didn’t say a word for a very long moment, then he held out something that grabbed my interest…big time.  It was a small stylus.  It was of a green hue I had never seen before.

Its been said by some that there are 28 different shades of green in Ireland.  Others may argue.  But this looked like the 29th shade.  There was something strange about it.

“Here,” he said. “I hear you need one of these.”

“Who…”

But I never got to finish.

“It may be small, it may be green, but the spirits of the Old Country have been watching you.  This, dear Paddy, is your pot o’ gold.  It was hand fashioned on the island of Malta by a group of gay ex-priests, exiled from Old Erin by the Bishop of Cork.”

As soon as he placed it in my hand, he was gone.  What just happened?

I walked home, and on the way, by some weird bit of fate, I found a Duane Reade stylus like my old one.  I took them both home with me,  like I had just scored a 2 for 1 in the hooker department.

I sat down and began playing my little addictive games.  I won.  I scored the highest.  I blew the challengers away like a leaf-blower on steroids.  I was on top again!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  Just to check things out, I tried a few unimportant games with the DR stylus and it failed me.

I was making a name for myself.  I was gaining fame among the small gamers of the world.  But, the very fame and love I so desired, began to turn dark on me.

Groups began to form.  People stopped playing me because they knew I’d win and win big.  Some hacker found out my street address and crowds, small at first, began to gather across the street and look up at my apartment window.  The crowds grew larger until the street was blocked.  I began to get hate email.  The hacker had gotten into my email.  I was kicked out of Twitter for posting child porn, something I did not do…it was the hackers.  Someone even breached my WordPress blog site and began posting nutty, goofy and inane blogs in my name.

One afternoon, a brick came through my window.  Someone had made their way to the roof of the adjacent building and threw it at my window.  It nearly killed my Ficus tree.

I went down to the laundry room and took a few hallways that led to the back door.  I pushed it open, ignoring the alarm in the supers apartment.  But the crowd had anticipated my move.  Screaming people were all around…so I ran for my life.

The mob gave chase and from the side streets, more and more people were joining the mass of angry gamesters.  I made for Riverside Park.  But it was looking hopeless for me.  Even a few winos who were sleeping on park benches joined in the chase.  I was clutching the green stylus in my right hand like a relay runner with a baton.  Dogs were snapping at my ankles.  I began to pour on the speed with all the energy I could muster.

Then I saw them.  Ahead of me, blocking the walk, were about 25 NYPD.  Their guns were drawn and the squad cars were positioned to block any way for me to get by.  Each officers gun was pointed to my left shirt pocket, where I had pinned my Ozzy Osbourne concert button just this morning.

I was running full speed at the drawn guns.  I glanced back and saw several hundred hate-filled people screaming my name:  “Death to Paddy the Cheater!” was all I could make out.  There were some references to my grandmother, but I couldn’t make them out.

I had to do something.  The glocks were set to fire.  The crowd was closer on my heals than the dogs.  So I did the only thing possible.  I turned sharp left, leapt over a flowering scrub and fell down an embankment to the edge of the Hudson River.

I threw the stylus into the pristine waters of that grand old river.

In the resulting chaos, I managed to escape.  I took a lady’s arm and grabbed her dog’s leash and pretended we were typical Upper West Siders, just out for a stroll along the West Side Highway.  I dumped her and the dog on 91 st Street.  She seemed stunned by the whole thing, but as I ran off down Broadway, I heard her call out to me:

“Will you call me?”

“So, here I am, Sister Lisa.  That’s my story.  Now what’s yours?”

She dabbed a drop of perfume beneath her wimple, and opened a box filled with chess pieces.  Big, wooden chess pieces that I could get my fingers around.

As I opened with the Pawn to Queen 4,  an old crab man on the west edge of Staten Island pulled up his crab cage.  Clutched in the third pale white claw was a green stylus.  The crab man took it out and clipped it to his flannel shirt.

Now, maybe I can text my son in New Jersey, he mumbled to himself.

Styluspic

[The Irish stylus is on the right.  Notice the subtle difference in color.]