Mr. Peanut Gets Unshelled

[Mr. Peanut aka “Pee”. Source: Google search]

On a recent road trip, I was driving through Georgia and noticed that peaches were a big item in most roadside food stands. But there was also billions of peanuts: salted, unsalted, boiled, plain, shelled and unshelled to satisfy any taste. It was outside the Peanut Emporium in Lumpkin when I noticed a swanky peanut walking back and forth, wearing an Emporium sandwich board.

I knew Mr. Peanut back in the day when we, the kids in the ‘hood, called him ‘Pee’. We all shied away from calling him Peanut because one fellow in our gang was…well, vertically challenged. Dooley was to go on and make a nice living as a circus clown. He was a midget. It was so many years ago, many details are lost in the fog of distant memories. Pee didn’t sport a cane, a monocle, a top hat and white gloves that matched his spats. Putting it simply: he was your basic peanut. No, all those accoutrements came from me after months of grooming and then reinventing him as Mr. Peanut. I quite liked the ‘pee’. And changing his style was the least I could do for a friend and convicted felon. I’m not totally sure but I do believe he is still wanted in three states out west for alleged mail fraud. Once he was transformed into a gentle peanut, he made a fair living parading up and down Court Street in Binghamton, New York. He was responsible for selling a mountain of peanuts in the Mr. Peanut Shop. The kids of that fair city (and a number of adults) certainly got their protein from all those stained paper bags of peanuts. The fact that they also had episodes of high blood pressure from the salt, but no one really cared about those things…back in the day.

But I digress.

A little about me. I’m just a washed-up scribbler. I wrote one novel about twenty-seven years ago that sold about thirty-one copies. I last saw a copy on the remainder shelf at a small independent bookstore in Macon, Georgia. I was a bummed out failed novelist but I was never alone. I’ve been to many Starbucks and everyone except the barista’s grandmother is a failed novelist. Successful novelists eat at the Plaza Hotel. So I moved on and roamed the south.

Let’s just say that I was born a ramblin’ man.

I write pieces for the local rag, the Del Rio Times, in Texas. I only write bits about topics that interest. So, I got a call from my editor, Oscar “Twinks” Rowbottom, to drive up to Marfa and check out a lead about someone called Peanut-something who was barricaded in a bungalow. Apparently, he was surrounded by SWAT teams and refused to come out until he had his shell back. No one knew where to find a six foot peanut shell…so it looked like it was going to be a long siege. I had nothing on my plate that couldn’t wait. My bottle of Rebel Yell was empty and I needed a new ribbon for my Underwood. Besides, I could use a break and a breath of fresh air. This room at the Hi-Ho Motel can get stuffy at times. The ceiling fan broke two weeks ago and the A/C was on the blink.

I have a certain degree of power over Mr. Rowbottom ever since I informed him that I had seen his wife duck under the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey with her paddle-board instructor, a Mr. J. Farrington Tipton. “J” had a graduate degree in Particle Physics from Yale. After I became his mate he told me that his Yale degree didn’t allow him much scoring with women. The paddle-board gig, he confided, was a real chick magnet. What I was doing under the boardwalk is the stuff of another blog. Suffice it to say that I was with my new girlfriend, Dola, a carwash receptionist from Horn, Texas.

After Rowbottom heard my story, he collected a few friends and chased Tipton to the train station. He was last seen boarding the midnight train to Georgia.

So, here I am leaning against a digital parking meter in the rain. A large drop from a storm gutter high on the third floor of the Potter Savings and Loan building managed to find its way to the end of my Lucky Strike, dousing the red glow. I flicked the butt into the gutter and patted my jacket for a pack of smokes.

I heard a cop on a bull horn but failed to catch what was said because a truck passed by. I did hear a reply shouted from the surrounded house: “And, besides that, everyone is allergic to me!” I recognized Pee’s voice.

Just as my cigarette hit the pavement, I noticed the toe of a red stiletto crush out the butt. I followed the sight line from the foot, to the ankle, up the leg and finally settled on the wrinkled face of an old friend. It was Moxie Thornton, she has my job but with the competition, the Del Rio Gazette. Her once seductive size 6 figure had matured slightly into a size 12. Her dress still had a sale tag on the back collar. Moxie and I went way back. She sure was a looker back when I first met her…a real feast for the eyes. She was holding a torn gray umbrella with a smiley face, faded but still grinning. She invited me to join her under her umber-shoot. I moved next to her. I could smell the distinct scent of her favorite perfume, Sweet Addict.

“Moxie,” I said. “What a sight for tired old eyes.”

“You always say that, even to the nice girls.”

“Mox, this is a blog. You’re in my blog.”

“Cool”, she said during a yawn. “This is the first time I was ever allowed into your blogs. Gosh, I remember our first time so well. The plastic back seat of your ’59 Studebaker…”

“Let me tell you all about how to be in a blog,” I said. “But let’s do it over a drink at Sam’s Bar and Grill. It’s on me.”

I fingered my last twenty in my pocket.

“You always knew how to charm the ladies big guy.”

She slipped her arm through mine and we started to make our way, through the rain, to Sam’s.

“What about Mr. Peanut?” she asked. “You and I have deadlines.”

“I’ll decide how it all turns out with Pee,” I said. “After all, it’s my blog. And when I’m done, I won’t have any Jackassery to put up with from Rowbottom.”

In the end, it all turned out fine. The police talked Pee down and somehow located a shell for him. From where, I’ll never know. I haven’t written that part of the blog yet.

I do know that in the last scene, he was walking on the tarmac, in the fog, and left on a jet plane.

I Failed the Pepsi Challenge

[Photo is mine]

It was a bright autumn day. The cirrocumulus and stratocumulus were fighting a war to dominate the sky. The altocumulus and mammatus clouds stood out of the way in the western sky. It wouldn’t rain that day. I entered the Mall, full of anticipation. I loved Malls, all the stores would be bustling and the popcorn near the anchor store, J. C. Penney would have a line that stretched as far as the CVS outlet. After the great doors swung shut behind me, I knew I was home. I headed to the central part of the Mall passing the Pearle Vision Center and found myself at the video game kiosk. There were several older men sitting in vinyl couches waiting for their wives to finish their attempts to stuff there size 10 foot into a size 6 pump at the nearby Shoes Shoes Shoes outlet. I was not into video games at the time. That was for the teens, I thought. I was 31. It would be another few years before I bought Game Boy XIII. No, I was a reader and to prove it I headed to the bookstore (most people today wouldn’t believe it but bookstores were once quite common). These days it’s harder to find a real bookstore than finding a virgin in Passaic. I made a right turn and began my stroll to the Books R Us store. I passed a Florscheim shoe store, an American Eagle, an Eddie Bauer, a Ben & Jerry’s and a nail salon. I needed to sneeze so I paused at the Victoria Secrets shop. I lingered. I couldn’t take my eyes off the mannequin who was wearing a G-String and a purple push-up bra. I was transfixed. The mannequin looked just like Twiggy.

Across the ’street’ a family had stopped.

“Honey, hold onto the kids. There’s a pervert over there,” said Vic, the husband.

“Where? asked the wife, Lucy.

“In front of the Victoria Secrets store,” replied Vic.

“What are you talking about? said Lucy. ”Are you forgetting about the time I found you right where he is standing. I had to use three Kleenex’s to wipe the drool from your chin.”

Nevertheless, they gathered their family closer. Muffy, three years old was in a stroller. Brittany, five already had pierced ears. A Mickey Mouse stud sparkled in the bright flourescent light. Angus was seven and was wearing a Black Sabbath tee shirt. The nine year old was D’Artanan (he wasn’t Vic’s child. He was the result of an affair Lucy had with her Classics professor, who was her advisor when she was studying for her Masters degree in Relative Absolutism at the University of South Trenton). Vic never knew the truth. He never questioned the distinct Asian features of D’Artanan. Bucky, the oldest child was twelve. Vic and Lucy never saw much of Bucky at home. He would lock himself in his bedroom with his ’comic books’ which he kept under his mattress. Lucy once found a copy of the third edition of Playboy. She sold it on eBay years later.

The family moved slowly past me and then sped off to the nearest Burger Boy resturant. A Mickey Mouse stud fell from Brittany’s left ear lobe. I walked over and picked it up. It was pretty cool looking. I happened to be outside the Spa Salon. Maybe it’s time I got my left ear pierced, I thought. I decided I wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t get pierced until years later when everyone, including my grandfather got his septum pierced.

But I digress.

I continued my walk to the bookstore. At the next intersection I paused. There was a table and a large white cardboard sheet. A sign, taped to the table, read ”TAKE THE PEPSI CHALLENGE”. I had seen the TV commercials showing the same set up. I boldly walked to the young couple who stood behind the table.

“I’d like to take the challenge,” I said.

“Great,” said the man.

“Awesome,” said the woman. They went behind the cardboard partition and returned with two sytrofoam cups, both filled with a cola like liquid. I took cup A and sipped. I sipped again. Then I was given cup B. I drank the whole thing.

“So?”, said the woman.

“Which one is the Pepsi?”, said the man.

I was ready. ”Cup B was the Pepsi,” I said.

The couple looked at each other. ”Okaaaay”, said the woman. ”Thank you so much.”

They poured the remaining sodas into a bucket.

“Was I right?”, I asked.

The man moved close to me, invading my personal space. He took my collar in his left hand and jerked me closer.

“No! You were wrong, you loser. Now get out of my sight before I box your ears”. I smelled Tequila on his breath.

I was sweating now. Lamely, I said: ”Wa…Want to settle things out side behind the dumpsters?”

“Dumpsters? What dumpsters?”, he said, angrilly.

“Over there,” I said as I broke free and ran all the way to Ruby Tuesdays. I ordered a shot of Johnny Walker Red and a pint of Genesee. I was much calmer as I made my way back to my car. I couldn’t find it at first. There must have been three thousand cars facing me. I spotted the orange ’68 Buick.

I would find something else to do that night. “Deep Throat” was playing at the local ’art movie’ house.

A Guide to Delivering the Perfect ‘Father-of-the-Groom’ Wedding Toast

[Source: Google Search]

Let’s say that you find yourself in the position of having to write and deliver a wedding toast at the rehearsal dinner. If you’re more than a little nervous and uncomfortable before a crowd of strangers, then pick and choose some of the pointers I’m providing. Above all, don’t be scared because no one will remember anything you say on the morning of the wedding. They will be searching for their bottle of Advil. Another major starting point is to remember NOT to say you’re the father of the bride. You’re the father of the groom. Father of the Bride is a movie with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Don’t do this because you’ll seem uneducated and culturally illiterate…you’ve plenty of time for that in your speech. Feel free to jot down any of these tips to help you get through this inept experience.

–Check your new sport coat and locate any place that can hold at least four air-sick bags. Hold one in your left hand throughout the speech.

–Take three Valium before dinner and two more during dessert. Wash them down with a healthy mouthful of Jamison.

–Locate the bride and find out her name. At all costs, avoid having any words with a member of the bridal party. Otherwise, MeToo will be all over your tail and you’ll end up on a filler segment on CNN.

–Order food that can be chewed on for a least ten minutes; a) It makes it appear as though your actually eating and, b) It kills time.

–If anyone bothers to to talk to you, just nod a lot and agree to everything.

–If you are forced into a conversation just drop the names Fermi, Dostoevsky and Pliny the Elder.

–Locate the nearest men’s room. Go there frequently to be sure you’re wearing a shirt.

–Avoid taking Ex-Lax for least four days prior to the wedding. If you’re having problems “down there”, see a specialist immediately.

–Wear a Depends. It helps avoid peeing into a champagne flute.

–Have five copies of your speech taped to the bottom of your chair in the rare case of your original catches fire.

–Always, always open a speech with a joke. I suggest an original and hilarious one:

“I just flew in from Boise and boy are my arms tired.” It’s original and funny.

–Ask that all cell-phone and recorders are collected at the entrance. Their contents can be used in a Court of Law.

–Get a haircut at least four months before the event. Otherwise it may appear unkempt.

–In your speech DO NOT quote JFK. Nobody present (except the bartender) will know who you are talking about.

–If a joke falls flat, fall to the floor and yell “Heimlich!!” and “I’ll see you soon Grandma.” (Adds drama.)

–Be a man…be an example for your son. Have four Jack Daniels doubles before dinner. It will calm your shaking hands.

–Don’t mention any of your war wounds you got at Iwo Jima in ’45.

–In your speech, do not mentioned anything about your son’s life that occurred anytime before he was twenty-eight years old.

–Avoid mentioning Betty Ford more than twice and don’t confuse her with Betty White or Betty Crocker.

–It will be unexpected and perplexing if you read your speech on a cell phone. Use paper notes. The elderly diners will respect that.

–If anyone’s cell phones rings while you’re speaking: a) Stop, b) Stare at him or her for at least ten minutes, c) Make a mental note of the offender. Have a few “friends from Queens deal with them later.

–Disregard any remarks when you request a bib from the server. Vomit stains will raise issues with the Tuxedo Rental Agency.

At all costs, avoid using the following terms:

a) Philadelphia divorce lawyer.

b) Settlement

c) Alimony

d) Child support

e) DNA

f) Crimes of Passion

g) Condom wholesalers.

So, there you have it. Relax and enjoy this joyful occasion.

Too Old, Too Soon: Two Friends

“I want to go for a ride,” said the car that had a teal fender.

“You can’t. You’re a mess. Your engine hasn’t run since the early sixties. A car also needs four wheels and you need three. Your ride isn’t going my friend. This is going to be where you will stay until someone buys you for parts. I hate to be blunt, my friend, but you need to get used to it. But don’t fret. I sort of always wanted to spend time with you,” said his friend.

“I used to run with the big boys back in the day. I could hit 48 mph on a good day. My vinyl seats matched the skirt of any pretty young thing that was brave enough to go out with the guy that owned me. He kept my hood polished and my engine tuned. Boy I was really something back in the day,” said the once black car. By the way, what color were you?”

“Me? I can’t remember those things. I’ve been a sort of rust/brown since the Eisenhower administration. Besides, color doesn’t’ matter. I know so don’t yell at me. You’re going to say that with cars color does matter.”

“I don’t like it here, next to a nearly shuttered Sunoco station in some town that has seven houses,” said Old Blue.

“You have to live with it, ole buddy. The fast times are long gone. You can’t do the things you once were so good at doing. You’re invisible now. No body sees you…I mean the real you. All they see is an old thing. But rest assured, that’s not how I see you.”

“I remember the day when my then owner, Sam, had me painted blue. I was the only blue car around town. All the rest were black. The girls giggled and nodded when Sam asked them if they wanted to ride around the block once or twice. And, boy they giggled when Sam parked me behind the Grandstand at the old Fair Grounds. They nearly wore my springs out. He’s the one who painted me blue.

“I remember when you drove up to the rest of us in your new blue coat of paint. I knew an old song that I changed some words for you. I’d sing it when you’d drive away from me.

I had a car and I called him Blue.

Betcha five dollars he’s a good car too.

“I want to go home. Maybe that traveling salesman who first bought me has a place for me. Perhaps the kid who was just back from the war and used to have me race other cars out on Old Farm-to-Market Road. You remember. He got real sick and had to sell me. He died too. No. He can’t have a place for me. I’ll bet that lovely blonde who owned me in the late 1960’s. She’ll be an old lady by now, just like me. She’ll have a place. And don’t forget that teacher who fixed me up real good in 1992. He had a nice home. He’ll take me.”

“None of that is going to happen, Blue.”

“You can’t go home again no matter where you can find a home. Just settle in right here…next to me and once the last bolt of yours has been sold, or thrown away…it all won’t matter anymore.”

“I beg to differ. All of the people who owned me and are still around have wonderful memories of me. They talk about me and the things we all enjoyed. The stories about me will live on and in that way, so will I.”

“Okay Blue, if you say so. Meanwhile, stay close to me when the night comes. I’m kinda afraid of the dark. But stay near.

I need you.”

Winter

Old Nan: Oh my sweet summer child, what do you know about fear? Fear is for winter, when the snows fall one hundred feet deep. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides for years and children are born and live and die, all in darkness. That is the time for fear, my little lord, when the white walkers move through the woods. Thousands of years ago there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts. And women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks. So is this the sort of story you like?

—Old Nan referring to the Adirondacks

—Game of Thrones [George R. R. Martin]

Christopher Robin Held in Custody For Alleged Trophy Kill

SPECIAL NEWS ALERT

[PICTURES AT 11:00.]

[The alleged perp poses with his trophy kill. Robin is on the left.]

The way I see it through my news-weary eyes is that Robin made the mistake of posting his kill on Facebook. A friend recognized him and using GPS coordinates pinpointed the exact location as somewhere in the region of Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia. The glacier in the background has been photoshopped in to make it look like the Himalayas. Another attempt at deception.

So, here I stand somewhere in the Hundred Acre Wood. Robin looking like a desperate man…and a depressed one at that. While the constables milled about, I approached the sad figure.

“You were always so kind and protective, Chris. Why this?”

“It was all for nothing, Mr…”

“You can call me Krebs.”

“Mr. Krebs, it was all a fantasy. How long can a paradise like the Wood last. Listen.”

I heard the roar of a dozen chainsaws in the distance. I knew what he meant. Moments earlier I’d seen a panel truck drive by, nearly getting stuck in the mud. On the side of the truck it read:

YOU PLANT ‘EM–WE CHOP ‘EM

YOU PLANT ‘EM AGAIN–WE CHOP ‘EM AGAIN!

IT’S CALLED RECYCLING!!!

I Lowered my head. Something caught my eye. Then I saw them. They were penned into a small space with little room to turn around. As our eyes met, I could name them all: Roo, Eeyore, Kanga,  Rabitt, Tigger, Piglet, Gopher, Lumpy and of course, Winnie (the Pooh Bear.)

“What’ll happen to them, Mr. Krebs?”

I knew but I held my tongue. One by one they would find a “home’ in a small circus, a fair, a poor farm or a down and out petting zoo that you often see in the parking lot of your local Waitrose Supermarket.

“Whatcha got, Matt?”

I turned to face Libby. We were the only two reporters who thought it was worth the trip.

Me? I’m just a washed-up news hack who gets a story where I can. Right now I have a regular column about Nature that runs in the National Inquirer…when they find the room. The last piece I wrote ran four months ago. Title: A Day in the Life of the Queen’s Corgis.

Libby? Now she get around. A very versatile journalist who snagged a gig when she got on the staff of Girls n’ Guns. Her last piece was Thirty Ways to Beautify Your AG-043.

She smashed out the butt of her cheroot on the fresh flat stump.

“Well, not much to do here. Wanna go anywhere?”

“Sweetheart, you’re in the middle of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Ain’t nothing open around yet. But I have a huge hollow log where I’ve been self-isolating. Care to join me?”

“Why not? We’re both in the same business, ain’t we?”

I had a pocket full of baby carrots. I went over to the pen and gave one to each of Robin’s friends. I shook hands with Christopher.

“Good luck, mate. You won’t get much time. Next thing you know, you’ll be back in these parts tending saplings.”

I heard the chainsaws…closer this time.

A tear welled in my eye. “I hope I meet you again…and your friends,”

“Krebs. I’m as near as the nearest shelf of good books.”

[The Hundred Acre Wood.]

[All images are from Google Search]

 

 

My 500th Blog !

[The Wanderer Over The Sea of Fog. Casper David Friedrich. One of my favorite paintings. Source : Google search.]

Dear Followers,

Open your oldest and best cognac and celebrate with me.  This is my 500th blog post! Finding topics and putting them into (what I hope were) clever words was not an easy thing to do. And to do it 500 times is, for me, a true milestone.

I would like to use this opportunity to look back at some of the good times we’ve had together…places I’ve shared, people I’ve introduced to you and topics I have chosen to explore. I wrote some as fiction, some in the second-person and I experimented with different styles of writing.

I have a small pebble on my shelf in my office. It looks like a meteorite. Tiny craters and black as though it spent time in a furnace. This is a token I took from the floor of Death Valley. The little pebble had been baked in the 120 F of many Death Valley summers. I can’t let you feel this stone, but I can share with you how I sat on the salt flats of Bad Water, where I found it. I can share it through a blog post.

Some general statistics:

-My posts have been read in 60 countries. That’s 30.8% of the world’s recognized countries according to Google.

-My first blog was “A New Blogger on Board” [Not something written by me but a generic welcome to WordPress.] That was published on July 15, 2012. That’s roughly 7 1/2 years of blogs.

-I posted something every month since the above date. I’ve duplicated a few, i.e Coal for Christmas which I put out every year in December.

-The most number of clicks (likes) were under the category of Home Page/Archives. Apparently this is people just looking my stuff over. I racked up 10,111 ‘clicks’ on that.

-The most clicks, by far, were for A Short History of Chains and Chain Making. 1,551 people read it.

-The least number of clicks were for The Moth. Only 8 people seemed to like it.

My personal favorite is This Old House. In it I spoke of how heartbroken I was  when I handed the keys to 420 Front Street, Owego, NY to the new owner. It was the only home I knew.

[420 Front Street. Photo is mine.]

I have taken you on two cross country road trips in our R-Pod. I’ve followed my grandson, Elias as he grew up. We shared numerous trips to Europe and I’ve shared two trans-Atlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2. You’ve met our friends, Tim and Jo Ovenden who live in North Dorset, England. They have graciously accommodated us on several trips, providing us with a place to stay.

[Jo, Anna, Thomas and Tim Ovenden. Photo is mine.]

I have shamelessly used Fluffy in several posts in a feeble effort to peddle my books.

[Fluffy. Photo is mind.]

My sincere hope is that you have found my posts thought-provoking, funny, sad, introspective and at the very least, interesting.

I posted my 400th blog from a rented house in Joshua Tree, California almost two years ago.

I hope I get to a 600th with all of you.

Thanks for reading.

Patrick

 

Another Adirondack Tragedy

 BREAKING NEWS 

REGULAR GUY GOES MISSING WHILE SHOVELING A PATH TO DRIVEWAY!

AVALANCHE SUSPECTED

[The Egan Cabin at Rainbow Lake at time of search. Aerial photo from Channel 7 News Drone7]

[Photo credit: Google search]

Rainbow Lake, NY (AP)

Only days after a lone ice fisherman had turned, basically into a snowman, another winter-related incident occurred on a lonely loop road in the town of Rainbow Lake.  A regular average man (name is being withheld pending further investigation) vanished only yards away from his front deck while shoveling his way from his front door to the safety of his, as yet, unplowed driveway.

This following a major snowstorm that dumped nearly 20″ of snow the previous night.

This photo was taken by his wife shortly before the tragic event.

[Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis]

His wife spoke to state police Search & Rescue: “I don’t know.  One minute he was there and the next minute, he wasn’t.  I thought he wandered off to take some pictures for Facebook,” she said while taking another sip of her fresh cappuccino mocha.

“Oh, I see you like a sprinkle of cinnamon in your coffee,” said the Trooper.  “What else can you tell us?”

“Sometimes I don’t use cinnamon, I just take it neat.”

“No, I meant about your husband, ma’am.”

“Well, he kept complaining about how he had no place to put the new fallen snow.”  The Trooper looked out at the piles of newly fallen snow.  The tiny crystals twinkled in a sun that was struggling to break through the cloudy sky, as gray as a wet sidewalk in Schenectady.  “He spoke to me through a crack in the front door.  He told me that every time he would heave a shovel-full of snow onto this giant pile on the deck, much of it would slide back, forcing him to shovel the same place all over again.  Poor guy.  He has a bad back, you know?”

“It’s unfortunate but most men his age have back problems.  Does it affect his golf game at all?  I’m looking for suggestions to lower my handicap.”

“Oh, heavens, we gave that up years ago.  Those little white balls kept getting lost in the snow.”

“You can paint them red, ma’am.  Besides golf is a summer game.”

The wife looked out over the mound in the driveway (which was her Honda CRV, she hoped) and pondered this comment.  “Summer? like in the season?”

“Yes, ma’am.  The time when people swim, fish, take walks, go camping, sit on the beach…things like that.”

“Really?”

“Well, the search dogs are getting a little tired.  They don’t like deep snow.  I best be calling off the search for now.”

The Trooper surveyed the yard and the front deck.

“Sorry to have to say this ma’am, but from the looks of this accumulation, we may not have any luck in locating your husband until late-May at the earliest.”

“I’ll probably be in New York City then, so here’s my contact number.  Don’t hesitate to call if you find something.”

“Rest assured.  And thanks for the cappuccino.”

“No problem.”

[Happier days at Rainbow Lake. Photo taken by Pat Willis]

 

The Holiday Card

[What follows is pure fiction. It is a short story that I hope you will enjoy. It’s not funny, but it’s what I wanted to write. Please don’t read anything into this post.]

It was during a brief April thaw, when a chance breeze blew the snow and a few minutes of sunlight melted the white crystals.  That was the moment I saw it.  I picked it up and slapped it against my thigh.  I could read my name on the envelope. I could read the return address in the upper left corner.

It was too late.  Things would never be the same now…never.

It’s a fairly well-known fact that men do not bond easily with each other.  We have trouble sharing.  True friends are hard to find and keep when you pass your fifties.  Friendships that last into ones seventies are indeed rare.  The thread that holds these long relationships are usually rooted in childhood.  If you’re lucky, one or two childhood buddies will grow old with you.  Such was the case of the one-time friend whose holiday card I held in my right hand.

We met in elementary school.  Played in each others back yards.  Entered into adolescence together.  In high school we traded secrets about girls…those mysterious beings that we thought constantly about.  We talked about first kisses and puzzled over the best way to find and unlock those strange bra hooks.

We had our first legal beers together.  We played high school sports together.  We went on camping trips together.

We were the best of friends.  As the years passed, other playmates drifted into different social circles.  But we stayed close.  We celebrated our jobs, listened to the same music and showered affection on each others children.

My friend and I went through divorces, sat in empty bars, looked at younger women and talked to each other and into our pints of beer.

When our retirements approached, things began to change.  He called less.  I emailed less.  Our visits to each others homes became more and more infrequent.

We were growing apart, something that seemed to me to be the opposite of what life would be like after retirement.  The phone calls went unanswered and the postcards stopped arriving.

In the late fall, I became quite annoyed by being ignored.  I unfriended him on Facebook.  I deleted his email address.  I stopped making meaningless phone calls.

I decided to put the issue to a test.  I sent him a holiday card.  If he sent one back, then I knew something of our friendship would survive.  If I got nothing, I knew that for some reason, he did not want to be a part of my life.

So, I waited.

A few holiday cards arrived but never did much to fill our mailbox.  Facebook and email greetings were slowly out pacing the USPS.

On Christmas Eve, I picked up the mail.  I placed the few cards on our bed.  There was nothing from him.  I knew then that our life-long friendship had come to a slow and sad end.  It would be a lie to say that I did not weep a little over a friendship that had lasted for over sixty years.  Men do have emotions.

* * *

It was in early March that I found myself browsing the internet.  I came to a Facebook page devoted to people in our class who had passed away.

I felt the blood drain from my face and I went numb when I read that my friend had died of a massive coronary a week earlier.

Then came the April thaw.  I had pulled the envelope from the snow and placed it on the top of our mica lamp to dry out.  When I felt it time, I sliced it open.  It was a holiday card from my friend…apologizing for not returning my calls.  I knew then that the card arrived before Christmas, but as I struggled to get out of my car, trying to avoid the unplowed snow, the card had slipped from the rest of the mail.  That afternoon, the snow-covered card was concealed…until April.

“Let’s meet up in the summer and take a hike,” he had written.

So, now I feel I know the real essence of loneliness.  I have no true male friends up here in the North Country.  My wife has always been and still is my best friend…but I don’t have a buddy.  A guy to shoot a game of pool with at the local Irish Pub, a friend to bounce writing ideas off,  a pal to sit on our deck (or his) and sip a cold beer.  We wouldn’t even have to say anything.  After all, its common knowledge that men don’t bond easily.  We have trouble sharing our personal thoughts orally, but we know each other’s minds.  Or so I thought.

But what men can do is sit, side by side, just sharing a beer and assuming we know what the other is thinking.

There is a large blank space in my life now.  My wife has to be two people.  The woman I married over twenty-five years ago and a mate that I have been close to for six decades.  It’s going to be a big job for her, but she’s more than up to the task.  The presence of my wife makes these things more tolerable but not less painful.

Me?  I can stare at our campfire and remember details of the adventures with my friend.  I can watch the ripples on the lake and remember my friend.  I can look to the far range of the High Peaks and remember the trails, snow-covered, rain-soaked and sweltering in the August heat…that I hiked with my friend.

Or, on a cold night like this, when the temperature outside is in single digits, our fire-place is crackling and warming our house and my wife is reading quietly beside me on her Kindle, I can sit mutely staring at the flames, throw on another log, watch the flames leap even higher.  I am thinking of the holiday card.  As the flames rise to the top of the wood stove, the loneliness for this old guy gets deeper.

[Photo is mine]