[Source: Google search. Copyright:North American Syndicate]
So, this will likely be the last story I will file in my so-called stellar career as a reporter. I pulled the night shift of all things…at my age! I’m standing in the drizzle on the safe side of the police crime scene tape. It’s yellow, just like in all those crimes shows on TV (which is where I get most of my action these days). As I approached the back-end of the small neighborhood crowd, I noticed my left shoe was having problems of its own in making a smooth step a reality. I leaned against a dead elm tree, actually the only tree left on the block, and hiked my foot up to see my sole. Just as I suspected. I had stepped on a well done wad of Bazooka chewing gum. I scraped my shoe against the broken cement of the sidewalk but it just made the situation worse. I gave up and turned my attention to the modest white single family house at 2251 Pine Street. This section of Wichita had seen better days, even for Kansas.
I sidled up to a guy I used to work with at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans back in the day.
“So, wudda we got here, Sid?”
“Hey Clyde,” he said, “nice to see you in these parts. Way too hot in the Big Easy, don’t you think?”
“August in Kansas is no Spring-time in England,” I replied wearily. “So, wudda we got?”
“You got lucky tonight, Clyde. That’s him inside. He just came to the window and yelled something like: “I can’t take it anymore…it’s too crazy a world for a kid like me.”
“Whose ‘him’? I asked yawningly.
“It’s Dennis ‘the menace’ Mitchell in there. He’s holding his parents hostage. Apparently he has a jazzed up sling-shot. He’s sixty-eight now. His poor parents are in their nineties.”
[The only known photo of the Mitchell family. (ca. The Good Old Days). Source: Google search & Wikipedia]
“THE Dennis ‘the menace’? Bad boy of our youth? I used to follow his antics every day in the whatever paper I was working. This is the kid with the yellow hair, right?”
“There’s only one Dennis The Menace, Clyde. You know that.”
Sid looked back at the house that was now flooded with police lights. It looked like a movie site in Levittown.
I noticed some action behind one of the patrol cars. A slightly heavy-set man with gray hair was being handed a bullhorn. He pulled the trigger like the cop told him and he spoke into the back-end of the handheld megaphone.
“Dennis! It’s Mr. Wilson, your old neighbor. Please end this now and come out. Nobody will hurt you. You won’t be made to sit in the corner any more. Come out! Put the sling-shot down and step away from the window. They have sharpshooters out here. I don’t want you to get hurt. You can call me lazy as much as you’d like. Just come out. It’ll be like the old days, all over again.”
Mr. Wilson seemed out of breath when he lowered the speaker.
“It’ll never be like the old days…again. It’s been too long.”
I turned to the voice behind me. In the glare of the floodlights I saw a middle-aged woman wearing a clear plastic raincoat and a tattered babushka over her gray hair. She was lighting a new Marlboro from the fading glowing ash of an old Marlboro that had been smoked to within 2 mm’s of the filter. I turned away from Sid and approached the woman. She leaned against the dead elm and blew a perfect smoke ring through the rain.
“Hey, I know you,” I said as I got so close to her I felt like I was back on the Marlboro wagon again, except I preferred Lucky’s myself. “Yeah, I know you. You’re Margaret. Margaret Wade. You and the kid in there used to be childhood friends. He thought you were a bit too ‘uppity’ for him but you always told him you two would be married when you grew up.”
She looked me over like an odds maker at Aqueduct and I was the underdog. (Guess I still am but that’s another story).
[Artists rendering of Dennis in the corner. Source: Google & Wikipedia]
“Yeah, we was gonna be together one of these years but things just didn’t work out. After I got knocked-up in high school and had to drop out things went down hill faster than a Buick going over the edge of El Cap in Yosemite. Ever see Thelma and Louise?”
I shrugged. “Who were they? A vaudeville act?” I asked.
“Forget it,” she said resigningly. “Besides, he preferred the Mediterranean type. He got serious with Gina Gillotti but she called off the engagement when she met a guy who owned an auto upholstery dealership in Fresno.”
She looked toward the house.
“I shudda waited, played for time, waited for his hurt to heal. Then maybe we could have made some kind of life together. But, no. I had to be me. I had to have the biggest sedans and the best Chianti any kind of money could buy. Now, it’s too late. They’ll talk him into coming out. Then they’ll send him to an institution where he can play with his invisible dog, Ruff and that strange cat, Hot Dog. They’ll let him eat all the cookies and drink all the Root Beer he wants. They won’t force him to choke down any carrots or even take any baths. That’s the way it’ll be.”
I kept the eye contact.
“Was he really that bad? I mean he was just being a little kid full of mischief, right?”
“You got it, stranger. Nobody really understood him…except me. And now he’ll never know that.”
She took a long drag on the Marlboro. I noticed a bit of moisture on her eyelid. It wasn’t the rain.
“You know, he meant well, he really did. I felt sorry for the trouble he caused his folks. Henry, his dad, was forced out of the aerospace engineering work he did when his company outsourced all that talent. His poor mother, Alice left Henry once. Nobody knows that. She went back to the farm she was raised on to take care of her father. She stayed after his funeral. She had a mini-breakdown when she thought of going back to that rascal boy of hers…and this ‘hood.”
“Well, it’s been nice talking to you, Mr. Whatever. I gotta make it over to the Pink Slipper before happy hour is over. Happy Hour. What a laugh. The Good Old Days. Real funny. I need some me-time right now. Like I haven’t had enough of me all these years. Yeah, I gotta go and have a chat with some ghosts I know.”
She tossed the butt to the broken cement that passed for a sidewalk and twisted it out with the ball of her red stilettos.
“Hey, you don’t have too much gray hair, care to join me for a high-ball?”
I looked at her and then back at the floodlit house.
I let her slide her arm through mine. We felt brave and walked through a puddle without going all the way around. I guess that’s my life…going around the long way and never being brave.
Behind me I heard cheering and applause.
“He’s coming out. Stand down everyone!” shouted the Captain. “He’s not going to be any trouble to anyone anymore.”
From somewhere, far away and faint, I would swear to this day that I heard a small boy cry out. I heard:
“Maggie! Come back!”
But, I knew Maggie wasn’t going back. There’s no going back for any of us. All those years…all those calendars are gone now.
[The sketch that may have started the hostage incident. Source: Google & Wikipedia]