Love At The End Of The Tunnel

[My photo. Elias leaves pre-K.]

The longest and most uncomfortable, painful and seemingly endless flight I ever undertook began at 4:00 am on Monday, November 20 when I forced myself out of the bed.  I forgot our wakeup call was for 4:15 am.  Our flight was scheduled for 7:00 am.  It was going to be a long day.

We were at a lower level Marriott about two miles from Logan Airport.  Our shuttle picked us up at 5:00 am, on time and the driver was even awake and courteous.  I was numb with lack of sleep.

The first leg of our flight required a stop-over in Chicago.  Time to breathe real air and stretch our legs for an hour.

Then we boarded American Airlines flight #1239 for Seattle.  I bought one of those neck pillows but it did nothing but keep me upright with my head forced into one position, much like you see in the photos of the poor souls in the electric chair..  Everything in my body hurt when we finally landed.

We were on the first segment of our winter vacation.  First stop was to visit and spend Thanksgiving with my daughter, Erin, husband Bob and, my one and only grandson, Elias.

From their home in Orting in Washington, we were due to fly to LA and then spend the month in Joshua Tree in the Mojave desert of California.

But, I digress.

We called Erin who was waiting in the cellphone lot.  Within a few minutes, she pulled up in front Pick-up Station #1.

We loaded her 2013 Hyundai Accent.  We drove south for about forty-five minutes and we were at her home in Orting.

I had been awake since 4:00 am and was drugged with Valium and Dramamine so I was grateful when every one else left to do some shopping, I drifted on the sofa, the large black cat, Guinness, sleeping on my lap.

Everyone returned from shopping.

Then the real fun began…Elias began to remember his grandpa and Emmy.

It seemed to me to be the longest and most painful flight I’ve ever made.  But the love at the end…made it all disappear.

[My photo]

Postscript: Guest proofreader for this post is my daughter, Erin.]

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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.

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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!]

 

 

I Knew Her When

Wedding Pic  M & P

I knew Mariam when she turned fifty.  She wasn’t extremely happy about that “milestone” to say the least.  When President Bill Clinton turned fifty (he celebrated up here in Lake Placid), he was asked how it felt.  His reply: “It’s kind of sad knowing that more of your life is behind you and not in front of you.”  Those may not have been his exact words, but you get the point.

When I turned fifty (I’m about two years younger than Mariam), she threw me a surprise party at an Irish Pub in New York City.  No one ever did that for me before.

I was there when she turned sixty.  Her thoughts were on retirement.  She’s still working part-time!  Because her birthday fell on August 3, we were often in some strange place on vacation.  Once we celebrated on Cape Cod with the best lobster we’ve ever eaten.  [Note to reader: It was the Lobster Barn in Orleans].  Another time we had her birthday dinner at a nice hotel restaurant in Albany.  I took the head waiter aside and told him I’d like a cake delivered to our table after dessert was ordered.  He said: “No problem, sir,” in a conspiratorial whisper.  After we finished the main course, I nodded at the waiter.  Three other waiters came in and delivered the birthday dessert…to the wrong table!  And, it wasn’t what I had ordered.

They charged us anyway.  Aren’t those little things supposed to be “on the house?”

We recently had a little “debate” about if she was a true “Boomer” or not.  She said that since she was born in 1945, that was too early to be a boomer.  I was born in 1947, which puts me into that group without question.  So, I Googled “Boomer” and found two studies, one put the first boomers as being born in 1945.  Another said that 1946 was the start of that generation.  We both won the “debate”.

Now, today, she turns seventy.  It’s unsettling to Mariam to think of herself as seventy.  She has outlived both her parents and she is feeling the aches and pains of age.

She works in health care.  She has a way with people that is hard to describe.  When she came to Owego, New York for the first time to meet my family, my mother was at Robert Packer Hospital, dying of lung cancer.  My father, two brothers and myself stood around the room not knowing what to do about my mother.  We were never very good at open affection.  The first thing Mariam did was to walk up to my mother and kiss her on the forehead and pull her covers to her chin.  The men just stood and watched.

I decided to illustrate this post with our wedding photo.  It was an informal shot made on the steps of the Columbia University Library.  We were married at the chapel on campus.  But this isn’t a wedding blog.  It’s a birthday piece.  So, why the wedding photo?

It’s here for several reasons.  I wanted all of my friends and readers of this post to know how lucky I was finding such a beautiful woman.  Look at the two of us.  I look like I just failed an audition for “Welcome Back Kotter” and had the general appearance of an Upper West Side psychoanalyst.  She, on the other hand, looks spectacular.  She is wearing a waxen head-piece that her mother wore when she was married.  Mariam, as many of you may know, was a professional opera singer years ago.  She sang at Avery Fisher Hall once and there is a photo of her somewhere in an album of her sitting on Pavarotti’s ample lap with his ample arm around her petit shoulders.  She hung out with the “big guys” as they say.

One morning, after she had attended my Science Fair at Town School in Manhattan (where I taught), I was walking into my lab.  My sixth grade was lined up along the wall.  I overheard one boy say to another as I sipped my tea (while walking at the same time): “Did you see Mr. Egan’s wife last night?  She’s glamorous.”

“Yes,” I thought to myself as I opened the lab door to begin class, “she is glamorous.”

Happy Birthday, Mariam, my glamorous wife.

 

Pacific Northwest Interlude: A Song. A Journey. A Metaphore and a Memory

Sitting at the kitchen table, I can see my daughter, Erin and her husband watching a mute TV while a song is playing on an iTunes mix.  Bob is a musician.  He plays the drums and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of most kinds of music I could ever run across in my lifetime.  I think it’s safe to say that he can speak with authority about a vast realm of music with the exception of Armenian Wedding tunes or ancient Celtic hymns to a rock.  From my vantage point, I cannot see my exhausted wife on the futon, holding her Kindle Fire on her chest but unable to read it because she is fast asleep.

The song Bob is playing on his mix is a Dylan tune from years ago.  He knows I love The Bob, but he does too.  (What’s there not to like about a Dylan song from his most creative period?).

This particular song is “Boots of Spanish Leather”.  As I listen, I am thinking back to a time, almost twenty years ago when I was sitting in an authentic Speakeasy bar on Madison Ave. in New York City.  I had just started teaching at a small Private school on the Upper East Side.  This person was my co-teacher in the sixth grade.  She has since moved on to another school and I retired  about eight years ago.  She was very close to my wife and myself.  We ate dinner nearly every Sunday night.  But we moved away and moved on.  We still see her when we visit NYC several times a year.

My friend and I were having an afternoon snack at this old Speakeasy.  It was called The Madison Pub…but don’t go looking for it.  It’s long gone now.  The last time I passed by, it was a bridal boutique.

We sat at a table with a red and white checkered board pattern tablecloth.  I put a dollar into the juke box and picked out a few Dylan songs.  One was “Boots of Spanish Leather”.  I hear the words tonight and I think back to that afternoon…and most importantly, I think of the journey my wife and I just completed (or half completed to be more accurate…we have to drive back home soon).

Is there something I can send you from across the sea,

From the place that I’ll be landing?

For Dylan, it was the sea.  For me, it was the endless prairie.

That I might be gone a long time

And it’s only that I’m askin’,

Is there something I can send you to remember me by,

To make your time more easy passin’.

I doubt that my friend knew what states I drove through.  She’s only a mere acquaintance now.  But at a time before I got sick, we three were fast friends.

So take heed, take heed of the western wind,

Take heed of the stormy weather.

And yes, there’s something you can send back to me,

Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

I’m with the people I love now, my daughter’s family, my grandson, my wife.  And many, many friends have followed my blogs “Travels” on FB or WordPress.

Every now and again, someone creeps into my memory.  Someone who was close to Mariam and myself.

My journey, the song’s lyrics, my recollections can sometimes form a unique synergy.

The Rand McNally Atlas spread out on the table in front of me shows our route here and points out my way home.  But my mind is stretched to its limit when I think of the web of routes and roads and paths and highways and trails that somehow, in a way I’ll never wrap my mind around, link us all together.

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,

Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,

With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,

Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

–Mr. Tambourine Man

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Good Neighbors

It looked like rain.

I stood staring out of the sliding door of our downstairs family room.  It was getting gloomier by the minute.  That was fine because my tomato plants needed some water.  I went back into my office and sat at the computer.  I was working on revisions of one of my books and also outlining my next project.  It’s going to be a ghost story set in New York State.  I was struggling with plot lines, character and place names, narrative threads and setting.

Yes, I’m a writer and I’m not ashamed to say it, not at all.  But it still looked like rain.

So I sharpened a few pencils, arranged my scratch pads and organized my felt tip highlighters.  After emptying the pencil sharpener reservoir into my Adirondack birch bark waste basket, I counted the number of yellow legal pads piled on my stack of what I call my “elbow books”–they have to be at my elbow when I write, and checked my copies of “Bipolar Disorder For Dummies”, “Chess For The Complete Idiot” and the interview in the latest issue of Playboy.

I was getting tired and it still looked like rain so I did the only thing that made any sense at the time, I went upstairs to take a nap.

I was lost in a dream about Lady Gaga and I crossed the Pacific Ocean on a raft made of rubber band balls and bales of twine bound together with scarlet yarn that was a foot thick.  Gaga was quite testy when I kept insisting that she not skinny dip so much.  Our only companion on board was an albino Llama.

After an hour (Gaga and I had not yet made it to Hawaii) I was roused from slumber by the chink of metal on stone.  There were voices.  One of them was my wife and the other was our neighbor, the husband of my wife’s very good friend.  They’re summer people and live on our loop road.  They’re from Ohio but we like them anyway.

I slipped a pair of Keds on my feet and went out to see what the noise was about.  They were together in the front yard and what they were doing shocked me to the very marrow of my femur.

We had purchased really nice stone slabs to put in a new walk leading to our front door. The stones were laid out on our yard.  In all honesty, I liked the look of the scattered rocks.  It gave the yard a “rustic” look…not too “Long Island Perfect” if you get my drift.

Anyway, there was my wife and Darcy setting the stones and constructing the walk.  I went back inside to find the bug repellent and came back out.  They had not even noticed me observing them.  Who knows what would have happened if I had gone into town for supplies?  (Earlier I had threatened to visit Saranac Lake to purchase six finishing nails so I could hang my Yankee cap in the workshop.)

Yes, who knows?  They may have finished half the walkway if I hadn’t interfered.

It started to rain and the evening was coming on.  Darcy and his wife (she had arrived earlier and hauled the stone pieces from our driveway),  left for home.  He turned down the Corona beer I offered, saying he wanted to go home and have a White Russian.

I have to admit that he and my wife did a superb job at getting the project underway.  I couldn’t have done a better job myself.

It’s great to have such wonderful neighbors…even if they are from Ohio.

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