MOTORCYCLES

My second motorcycle was a bastard to start.  It was a racing machine, a 441 Victor.  There was a compression release on it that you had to squeeze before trying to kick-start it.  If you didn’t have the start pedal in the right place and if you didn’t prime the carburetor, it wouldn’t start.

You’d bounce right up in the air.  My right calf was black-and-blue all summer long, the year I owned that bike.  Sometimes I’d have to push it down a hill, jump on and pop the clutch to get it running.

It sure was fun, though.  It had just one cylinder and it would pound away like a rocket’s engine, when it ran.

My 3rd and 4th motorcycles were BSA’s, too.  The third one was a 500 cc Gold Star.  It was a little bigger than the Victor, but not as much fun.  My last one was a 650 Lightening.  That one had two cylinders and was easier to start; but it was another BSA and it tended to vibrate itself to pieces.  Unlike a Triumph, both cylinders would fire at the same time, instead of alternating.  That gave the bike a great sound and a lot of torque.

It was stolen in 1984.  For thirty-five years, I kept that motorcycle-rider endorsement on my driver’s license, telling myself that I was “between” bikes.  I was between bikes until I got my most recent driver’s license.  I finally realized that I would never ride another.

Probably, that’s for the best.  Too many people get killed or mangled, riding on motorcycles.  I had a friend who was run over by a truck and killed in 1974.  Another one slid his underneath a truck in 2000.  He lost an arm and a leg.  His leg was amputated so high up that he couldn’t get a prosthesis.  His insurance company remodeled his home and gave him an indoor swimming pool; but that wasn’t so good as having a complete body.

In 1989, I got divorced and turned forty.  I was walking down the bright, antiseptic hallway of a Kroger store with a friend and he pointed out a gaggle of young women down by the dairy section.  They were impossibly thin, long-haired, chatty, laughing, bright shiny Christmas ornaments.

“Watch this,” he said.

We walked towards them.  They walked toward us.  We walked past each other.

“Did you see that?” he asked.

“What?” I said,

“We’ve become invisible”

It was true.  At the age of forty, so many years ago, we had become middle-aged men, no longer attractive, no longer of any interest.

That was long ago.

Now, I live in a nice, upscale neighborhood.  One of my neighbors owns an old wooden horse from a Merry-go-Round.  He has sanded it all down and he is repainting it.  I met another neighbor just last night.  He was polishing a Maserati.  Can you imagine?!  A Maserati.  I’d never seen one in person, before.

My next-door neighbor’s son is dating a girl whose father gave her a Tesla for her eighteenth birthday.

I am cataloguing all my old LP’s.  It’s fun for me.  I take three or four of them out of the bookcase a couple times each week and look on the Internet to see when they were first released.

I am just up to the “D’s”.  So far, the oldest one I’ve run across is called THE FAMOUS CARTER FAMILY. It came out in 1961.  I know I’ve got an Elvis album that’s older than that.  The newest one I’ve documented is KNOCKED OUT LOADED by Bob Dylan.  It was released in 1986.

Bob has always been an inspiration to me.  The first time I saw him in concert was the summer I got divorced.  It was at an outdoor venue called The Castle, in Charlevoix, Michigan.  We’d had a blistering hot and dry summer.  Grasshoppers were everywhere.  Bob put on a courageous show, switched from an electric set to acoustic, but finally he gave up.  Too much rain.  Go figure.

The week after my second wife and I returned from our river cruise on the Yangtze (where we got to see the nearly-completed Three Gorges Dam), the two of us went to the Palace at Auburn Hills to see Bob Dylan.  Joni Mitchell was the warm-up act.  It was a good show.

The best show I’ve seen him put on was just last year, on Halloween, at the State Theatre in Knoxville.  He must be taking a break right now.  I see he’s not scheduled to perform again until April 4, in Tokyo.

I guess he’s slowing down.  Last year, I’d hoped to see Jerry Lee Lewis again.  I’d seen him in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1967.  Someone in the crowd hollered something about his cousin.  Jerry Lee slammed down the lid on his piano and announced, “If someone will put a lid on that trashcan, the concert will continue.”  Great performer.  Lots of energy.  He canceled his June concert in Knoxville because he’d had a stroke.

For years, I kept going to Merle Haggard’s website, hoping to see him perform again.  Like Jerry Lee, I had first seen Merle at the Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids.  That was in 1969.  He was playing Jimmie Rodgers’ songs from his SAME TRAIN, A DIFFERENT TIME album.  Now, he’s dead.

I got to see Willie Nelson a couple times.  He’s stopped touring, now.

Today is the day I clean the guestroom shower and change the towels.

Tomorrow, I’ll clean that bathroom, and on Tuesday, I’m planning to clean my old Rabbit Air air purifier.

After that, it’s Christmas.

I’m looking forward to getting a new pair of hearing aids in January.

Life is great.  I hope I get to see Bob Dylan perform again while we’re both alive.

FUN THOUGHTS for a CLOUDY MORNING

A PRIMER ON WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE NEAR FUTURE

Is a party line impeachment vote bad for American democracy?

The United States no longer has Whigs and Tories on the ballots. That’s because times changed and people realized these parties had outlived their usefulness.

Possibly, by 2024, the Democrat Party will have dissolved and turned into half a dozen competing minor parties. After all, no one in their right mind can honestly grasp every concept, every philosophy, and every competing ideology now presented by the all-inclusive “Hate Trump” Party.

The only coherent idea presented by the party that has completely lost its focus and direction is that all its members wish that Hillary had not been such a miserably inferior candidate in 2016 and lost to a political newcomer. If there can be said to be an overweening belief within the leadership of the Democrats, it’s that time can be unstrung and the world can go back to 2015, when Donald J. Trump was considered a joke and a fool, when Hillary was promised the election, when globalism would continue to grind the Western world into poverty and despair.

The Democrat Party will dissolve and fail again in 2020, simply because it no longer has a coherent identity, a platform, or any realistic ideas.

The concept of an impeachment for purely political reasons is antithetical to the thinking of our founding fathers. It was believed that a President could be, and should be, removed for criminal acts. It was never imagined that an impeachment could be launched or ever be successful simply because so many people disliked the president on a personal basis.

So, in one way, it is a shame that things have come to this, that our society, so fractured, so full of self-hate, so incapable of logical thought, would react on a purely emotional basis to attempt to remove a President of the United States for no legal reason. It is a shame, yet, it is a historic moment. It is a time when those who posture as social justice warriors, as heroes of the downtrodden and discriminated against, are exposed as the party of fascist control of the masses, as proponents of idiotic conceits, and as the party of the wealth elites.

The failed removal of POTUS 45 will go down in history as the time when the Democrat Party finally self-destructed. Good Riddance.

The American public is about evenly split over whether President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, according to a new CNN Poll. What’s next in the US politics?

The Second Coming

By William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats foretold what would happen when a political party became so consumed with hate, so dishonest, so inviting of radical fanatics with no common purpose, faith or belief.

What we are seeing is the end of the Democratic Party. CNN and MSNBC can hold all the ridiculous panels in the world, and one thing will never change: the American People will not stand for anarchy, socialism, and the destruction of the Constitution of the United States.

Things look confusing, right now; but, in November, 2020, the PEOPLE will speak loud and clear, just as the people of Great Britain did last week. We want a Democratic Republic and not a fascist government, controlled by a wealthy elite whose only goal is to enrich themselves and trick an electorate (which they believe inherently inferior and stupid) into voting for them. The future belongs to America, and those who are working so hard to destroy it will be a footnote in history.

THE PSYCHEDELIC SIXTIES

Back when LSD was legal, back when the CIA was experimenting on people with their Project MKUltra, back when Sandoz Labs was sending it to Harvard for Professors Leary and Alpert, back when Owsley Stanley started cooking it for the Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, I was just a child.

In truth, I was an adolescent, a boy without any goals or dreams, a teenager in the suburbs that was being led by the nose through a college-prep education that everyone assumed would lead me into an awarding career in the budding field of computers.  I’d built an analog computer when I was in eighth grade.  I got my picture in the paper.  I was a whiz with numbers.  I was told that I’d either be a computer programmer or a banker.

During my senior year, I took calculus at Grand Rapids Junior College and ran into a young man a year older than me who was then in college.  He got me high on marijuana.  Shortly after that, his cousin reported him to the police and he went to jail.  Those were paranoid times.  I learned that the word “nark” was both a noun and a verb.

My high school sponsored a “vocation day”.   Any student that showed a glimpse of potential was driven to some boring place or another to see what their future was going to be like.  I was taken to a bank and I got to see lines of sad-looking skinny white men wearing white shirts and ties, all sitting at adding machines, rows and columns of identical-looking men sitting at identical little tables, staring down at columns of numbers and cranking the handles of adding machines.  Brought up in a conservative Christian home, I knew this was what Hell would be like for me.

All of us seniors had to write an essay about what it would be like to be a professional at something.  I had never played any sport, had never run any race, wasn’t much of a swimmer, was legally blind, and scared of diving off the high dive into the school swimming pool.  My essay was about being a professional hockey player.  It was not well accepted. 

Still, my guidance counsellor had hopes for me.  I passed the first class in Differential Calculus and started the second semester in January, 1967.  Maybe it was because I’d been run over by a motorcycle and had a blood clot on my brain back in 1960, maybe it was just a genetic flaw.  I ran into a brick wall in that second semester at college.  While other students seemed to have no problems memorizing theorems and equations, I’d take three pages to solve a question that others would complete in half a page.  I kept having to start at a point that everyone else seemed to have passed long ago.  I started spending more time at the record shop and riding the escalator at Herpolsheimer’s Department Store.  Herpolsheimer’s was a great store.  It had a monorail suspended from the ceiling in the basement and kids could ride on it and look down at the toy department at Christmas time.  If you pay attention, you might notice Herpolsheimer’s featured in the movie THE POLAR EXPRESS.  Isn’t that something?!

Anyway, school kept seeming less and less fun. 

On March 21, 1968, actress Dyan Cannon divorced Cary Grant, one of Hollywood’s biggest advocates of LSD. 

On October 24, 1968, possession of LSD became a crime.

By 1970, 1 – 2 million Americans had tried the drug.  That’s the year I got drafted.  Most of my friends in the Army had gotten busted for dealing.  I was dying to try acid.

For weeks, my best friends, Arturo Montano, Savas Alvarez, and I had been smoking hashish and I kept asking for LSD.  Finally, on a night when I was assigned to be on guard duty at the Headquarters Company barracks at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, they agreed.  The only condition was that I had to drop the acid one hour before beginning my tour on guard duty.

CHANGES – Part 1

I never had any interest in genealogy.  Maybe it was because all my relatives seemed so uninteresting.  Maybe it was because I was the youngest of all the kids in my father’s extended family and they all picked on me.  I don’t hold it against them (too much).  They were just children, too, and children, like coyotes, always single out the weakest and the smallest. I was weak and I was small.

Unbeknownst to any of us, I was blind, too.  No one figured it out until I was in fifth grade and lessons started to appear on the chalk board in nasty Miss Mitten’s classroom.  My memories are scrambled and like torn scraps of paper.  All I remember clearly was that when I was very little, I’d complain to my parents that I had headaches.  Their ironic response still jangles in my mind.  “It’s all in your head,” they’d say.  Was it eye strain?  Was it anxiety?  Do little kids have migraines?  I don’t know. 

I just remember going to an eye doctor and, when he asked what was the smallest line I could read on the chart, I said, “What chart?”  So, I got glasses.  I can remember the first movie I went to that I could actually see on the screen.  It was CASH McCALL with James Garner and Natalie Wood.  Before that, everything was just fuzzy.  When other kids would ask if I saw something, I’d say “yes”, just not to be left out.

But I started talking about genealogy, didn’t I?  Like I said already, it didn’t seem like anything worthwhile to me.  My parents were boring.  My aunts and uncles were boring.  Their kids seemed stupid and mean.  The whole pack of them seemed to be living in a different world than I was.  They all went to church and so did I.  Away from work, the men all dressed formally and the women all wore dresses and were overweight.

The thing that stuck out in my mind was how self-righteous and pompous they all seemed.  They prided themselves on their humility.

What I didn’t know then was that both my mother’s family and my father’s family was chock full of preachers.  My mother’s grandfather, Judson Hudnutt was a circuit rider for the Free Methodist church.  He took his horse and buggy from Cedar Springs to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, preaching to people.  I got to read his diaries.  “Praise the LORD,” he would write, “One soul was saved.”  Some difference from the Billy Graham crusades we always watched on television.  On my father’s side, the first ancestor of mine to touch his feet onto the New World was Jacob Clement.  He arrived with a cluster of other Moravians from Switzerland in 1706.  According to the history I’ve read in the past twenty years, most of the men and grandchildren in Jacob’s family went on to become Mennonite preachers.

My dad must have been a rebel:  he got worldly and became a Free Methodist.

Now, I have to change gears and be nice.  The fact is, I lived an over-protected and pain-free life (outside of school, where I was faced with normal children).  Every Sunday, we’d get dressed up.  My mother even put cufflinks on my shirts and made my older brother and I wear ties.  Every Sunday afternoon, we’d have dinner at grannie’s house.  That was Fern Anderson.  Her dad was the circuit rider.  Her husband was Axel Anderson.  I wish I’d gotten to know my grandpa better.  He got to America from Sweden when he was just six.  I saw a picture of him in his WW I uniform, once.  He always scared me because he talked so loud and he never interacted with us kids much.  He was quite deaf, probably from working in a foundry most of his life.

We would watch INDUSTRY ON PARADE on television and get sleepy because it was always too warm.

But holidays were a treat.  They really were.  My family, for all its faults, as boring and straitlaced as they all were, they loved Jesus.  Every holiday, be it Easter or Thanksgiving or Christmas, was a very holy event.  At Christmas, my cousin Roy, my brother Randy, and I, would be in a skit and sing “We Three Kings”.  At Thanksgiving, the adults would dress us up like Indians.  There would be prayers and singing.  My mother, her sister Lois, and my granny all sang like angels.

We seemed to live in a protective bubble, separate from all the rest of the world.

I wanted to escape so bad I felt like howling at the moon or banging my head on the ground.

A TRIBUTE TO MY ALMA MATER

Many years have passed and many miles lie between me and the place that taught me so much.

I am now an old man and I live in the Great Smoky Mountains.  GVSU was called Grand Valley State Colleges when I attended, back in 1976 and until 1978.  It consisted of the College of Arts and Sciences, William James College, and Thomas Jefferson College.

One of my CAS professors scoffed and called William James, “CAS with beards”.  TJC was truly experimental.  That’s where I learned to meditate and that’s why, more than anything, I am writing this tribute to the University.

Last night, I was advising a young man on how to begin his practice of meditation and I told him how Professor Ava Arsaga taught me how to sit still, and become aware of life.  Over the years, that skill has benefitted me more than anything else.

Besides that, I had some wonderful professors and a great student advisor and teacher from Tennessee (all of whose names I’ve sadly forgotten) who helped me through difficult times, inspired me, and taught me all that I needed to navigate my life.

Before I attended GVSC, I had no direction.  I drifted from one job to another, picking up the stray college course at Grand Rapids Junior College, at the University of Alaska, and at Alaska Methodist University.  I always worked fulltime and when drafted into the army took my first class in psychology while stationed in Anchorage.

I’d worked nearly four years at the Grand Rapids post office when I realized that I was bored stiff and wanted to accomplish something in my life.  I returned to school and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1978. 

I’d hoped to become a psychologist, but, when my best friend died unexpectedly in the summer of 1977, I went into a tailspin, neglected to renew my student health insurance, my wife got sick, and because I’d gone four days without health insurance, I ended up bankrupt.  Imagine my surprise!

So, my days of school ended and I took every civil service test available to me.   Lo and behold, I ended up as a State social worker.  My first assignment was in Ontonagon County, up in the Copper Country.  We had 390” of snow that winter.  When I shut my eyes, I can still see the eerie sight of lightening flashing over the Porcupine Mountains during a blizzard.  I got to meet a lady who was descended from the famous Hatfield clan (of the Hatfield/McCoy feud fame).  Her husband had been an engineer for Boeing and he ended up as a dairy farmer in Trout Creek.

After that, I spent 28 years working in seven different Michigan counties.  Because of these jobs, I met a fellow who had been a lumberjack during the Great Depression.  He told me how he had carried his chain saw through waist-deep snow from Petoskey to Harbor Springs.  I met another man who knew the great country singer/writer Hank Williams.  Through him, I got to meet members of Hank’s band, the Drifting Cowboys.

It wasn’t a pleasant job.  Sadly, it became more like an assembly-line job, always with more work than time to do the work well; but it was interesting.  I got to visit scientists at the MSU research center at Douglas Lake and I even got to protect some children during a stint as a Children’s Protective Services’ worker.  Near the end of it all, a pedophile tried to kill me and I had to live in a hide-out for six weeks before transferring to my final assignment in Roscommon.

I’d always hope to be a published author, but after all was said and done, I did get to be an editor of ten books on Southern Praying Mantis kung fu, Hakka boxing, and other esoteric martial arts.

Life is good. I recommend it to everyone I meet.

ROUTINE

ROUTINE

Chapter 17.

The next morning found me back at the office.  I walked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and then remembered I had neglected to bring my lunch.  I stood there with the door open while a couple of the caseworkers fidgeted behind my back.

“Good morning, Nick,” one of the youngsters said to me.

“Hm?  Oh, hi.  Hi Georgia.  How’s it going?”  I said this reflexively.  She didn’t answer.  I could sense her eyes rolling in her head as she questioned my mental acuity.

As luck would have it, I did have a bottle of water in the refrigerator.  I picked that up and left the two young ladies to stash their lunches away.

I’m the old man of the office.  I can sense that the young ones are wondering how long it will be until I give up and retire.  The only one that’s older than me is the county director, and, of course he has no real work to do.

I’d like to believe I am something like the happy, fun-loving character I was thirty years ago, but I know that’s my ego teasing me.  I’m just another worn-out civil servant, ready for the scrap heap.

I became a social worker as the culmination of a series of bad decisions and bad luck.  I wanted to be a psychologist.  But my best friend died and I neglected to renew my student health insurance and, four days later my ex-wife came down with kidney failure. I ran out of money and had to stop college before going into grad school. I went bankrupt.

There’s not much difference between me and my clients.  Most of them ended up here as a result of bad decisions, accidents, and mistakes. The biggest difference is which side of the desk we’re on.

So, here I am, wandering about the kitchen in the office, trying to cover up the fact that I’m sort of lost.  I smile absently, nod, say hello to this one and to that one, and I steam listlessly to my workstation.

I sit, detached, waiting impatiently for my computer to crawl into action.  All around me, young women talk about their children, their husbands, and their impossible caseloads.  The Assistance Payments’ workers, with their similar jobs, have much in common.  I am alone with my dying clients than their dying thoughts.  My computer monitor, with its maddening, frozen hourglass icon on the monitor, whispers to me that countless electronic nothings are growing inside of it like bacteria.

The phone rings.  I pick it up.  It is Mrs. Montgomery reporting that her husband is coughing up blood.  I suggest she take him to the hospital.  She thanks me and hangs up.  I close my eyes and listen to the bedlam surrounding me.  The thought crosses my mind that this place cannot be much different than one of those factory chicken farms.  Fluorescent lights are always on.  There is constant cackling.  All we lack is eggs dropping onto conveyer belts and tattling off into subterranean depths.

The phone rings.  It’s Detective Hein.

“How is Lynn holding out?” I asked him.

“You can imagine.  They were married twenty-four years.  The were planning a second honeymoon in Europe.”

“When’s the funeral?”

“Saturday.  You coming?”

“Yeah.  So.  What’s the deal with Sara Chapman’s daughter and this young delinquent, Dylan?”

“Dylan Turnage,” he said.  “We don’t really know a damned thing, right now.  Is Sara a friend of yours?”

“You could say that,” I said.  “She’s really worried about her daughter.”

“Well, from what they tell me at school, she’s a handful.”

“Hm.  Keep me posted, please.  It means a lot.”

“See you Saturday.”

THE THIEF

CHAPTER 16.

After the cops left, I told her, “You didn’t mention the boyfriend.”

“Oh!”  She put her hand up to hide her overbite.  Did she know I loved that, or was it a coincidence?

“He’s not her boyfriend.  He’s a friend.  She’s mentioned him.  He hasn’t been over here.”

“Why didn’t you mention him?”

“It just slipped my mind, I guess.  He’s not a big part of Shayna’s life.”

It was time for me to pace and to look miserable; so that’s what I did.

Horace McCarthy was dead.  I’d been to his home.  I’d met his wife.  Shayna had something to do with it.  Sara had something to do with it.  If I’d known about the connection, maybe I could have stopped it.

“Sara, have you been out to the Pig Farm?”

“No.  Why do you ask?  What are you getting at?”

“This boy, this Dylan Turnage, what do you know about him?”

“He seems nice.”

“Have you met his mother?”

“No.”

“I gotta go.”

“What?”

“I have some thinking to do.”

When I got to my house, the woman was gone, of course, and so was some money.  She was thoughtful enough to lock up behind herself, though, and my dog was fine.

I called the cops to report the theft.

A young fellow in a freshly-pressed uniform came and talked with me for about ten minutes.  I’d seen him around town.  He let me know that the thief I’d let spend the night with me wasn’t named Vicki O’Hara and she hadn’t just run away from her violent husband.

Imagine.  The woman had lied to me!

TO THE RESCUE!

CHAPTER 15

“Nick,” she said.  “A policeman just called.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“He said a detective from the State Police would be coming out to speak with me.”

“What about?”

“Shayna.”

“Did he give his name?”

“Yes,” she said.  “His name was Detective Hein and he was with the Sheriff Department.”

“Why would he call you?” I wondered.

“He told me that Shayna was at some place where there was a drug bust and a lot of shooting.  He said one of his friends was killed.”

“Who?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Nick.  Some other policeman.  Didn’t you hear me?  I said Shayna was there.”

That hysteria was back in her voice, that uncomprehending fear, the panic, all the things I remembered from before.  Back when she thought there was some sort of underground railroad full of kind strangers anxious to rescue abused children and their mothers.  I didn’t dare fall under her spell again. 

“What was she doing there?”

“Nickie, I don’t know. The detective thought I would know.


“I wonder why it’s been bumped up to the State cops.”

“I don’t know.  I don’t care.  I just want my Shayna back.”

That’s when she started to cry.

“When is the cop coming over?”

“Any minute.”

“I’ll be right there.”

I told Markman I had a personal emergency to deal with and asked him to sign me out.

In ten minutes. I was at her place.  An unmarked car blocked her driveway.  Two black-and-whites were parked in her front yard.  I pulled in next to them. “

SLOGGING AWAY

Chapter 14.

Of course, I couldn’t call in sick.  I’d promised to see what Detective Hein might know about Shayna.  Before I dropped back to sleep, I wondered why he hadn’t called.  Usually he gets back to me on the same day when I call him.  Odd.

I sneaked around the house, let Lillian out, fed her, and got ready to go.  My back hurt from sleeping on the sofa.  I walked to the end of the hallway to my bedroom.  The door was closed and there was no sound.

I used the toilet and washed up, made sure Lillian had lots of water to drink, and I headed into town.

            It was about five minutes later when the local reporter with Michigan Radio announced that there had been a big shootout at an address not too far from where I lived.  The announcer said it was at a pig farm.  I had a pretty good idea where the shooting occurred.  He said that one police officer had been killed; but the name wasn’t given out.

            I had some serious cogitating to do.  That woman at my house had told me she’d been roughed up by her boyfriend.  I began to wonder if she had something to do with the shooting.  She did seem like a hard case.

  I had a swallow of coffee and then fanned through the stack of sticky-pad notes that were piled next to the phone.

            I got to the office feeling like I was in a dream, said my desultory “hello’s” and drifted back to my work-station.  The lights on the telephone looked like Christmas had come early.

Detective Hein had returned my call just ten minutes before I got to work.

Feverishly, I dialed his number.

I got his answering machine.

Pissed, I slammed the receiver down.  Before I got settled in my chair, the telephone rang.  It was Sara Chapman.  Detective Hein had just called her.

THE PROUSTIAN VERSION

THE PROUSTIAN VERSION

Chapter 13.

She sits down in a straight-backed wooden chair in my living room and, for the first time, we look directly into each other’s eyes.

“I could use a drink,” she says.

“Beer?” I ask.

“That’d be nice,” she says.                                                           

I go to the refrigerator and pull out a couple bottles.  I enjoy watching the foam lick the sides of the glasses as I fill them.  There’s a one-inch head on top of the drinks when I’m done pouring and they look to me like artwork. 

Thrilled with myself, I return to the living room, where my guest has made herself comfortable.  She has moved into my favorite spot.  Now she’s sitting back in my brown leather wing chair, next to the woodstove.            

I bend over and hand her one of the beers, then I settle down in my second-favorite chair, a rocker.  There is a slate and metal coffee table between us and I place my glass down on top of it.

“Would you like me to build a fire?” I ask.  “You look cold.”

“No.  I’m fine,” she says.  She takes a big swallow of beer, wipes the foam off her upper lip with the back of her hand, glances for a moment at the clean spot that made on her hand, shrugs and takes another gulp.

She gazes blindly into the doorway leading to the kitchen, sighing occasionally and slugging down the beer.   

“What happened to you?” I ask. 

After a few moments, she looks at me with her face all twisted, and I can see that she is fighting back tears.

“I, I can’t,” she says.  “Gimme a minute.”  She takes another drink and then she tells me she needs to use my bathroom.

“It’s right in there,” I say, pointing down a dark hallway.  “Do you, do you want to clean up?” 

“Yes.  I need to.”  She follows this statement with a question: “Can I take a shower?”

I inhale some beer at this point and I follow that suave maneuver with a life-saving choking fit.  Twenty seconds later I wipe my watery eyes, smile sheepishly, hammer my glass down on a coaster, and lurch out of the room.  “I’ll get you a wash cloth and a towel,” I call over my shoulder. 

I collect these, and a heavy terrycloth robe that’s several-sizes too large for her, and I pile it all on the edge of the bathtub.  I look around anxiously for evidence of male bachelor filth, but it’s okay.  The room is presentable.

I untangle some bandages, tape, Band-Aids, peroxide, and first-aid cream from the bathroom closet and I display these beside the washbowl.  I look at myself in the mirror.  I’m unshaven and rumpled.  My hair is an abandoned bird’s nest.  I splash some water on my hands and scrub it in to my thinning hair.  Then I fumble with my nasty-looking hairbrush before I use it to rip my hair flat back on my head.  Looking like a wet vampire, I pull as much hair out of the brush as I can and I pitch it in the wastebasket. 

Of course, a gob of it sticks to my wet hand and I just about have a fit getting it off.  I put the brush down next to the bandages.  I give myself another furtive glance in the mirror. This time I use both hands to ransack my scalp and to form a crooked part in the hair on the left side before scampering back to the living room. For God’s sake, you’d think I was a teenager on his first date.

But it’s weirder than that, isn’t it? 

I’m a man on the deep end of middle-age, suddenly attending to a young, attractive and mysterious woman who’s soon to be naked in my shower.  This just doesn’t happen every day.  And let’s not forget that this is occurring late in the same evening that I had a date with another woman!     My thoughts were like fish in the hold of a factory trawler.

“It’s all ready for you,” I sing.  My voice sounds a few octaves too high.  She doesn’t appear to notice, however, as she drains her glass and clunks it down on the coffee table.  I have scurried back into the living room, now.  The top button of her blouse is missing and I hope she didn’t notice my contemplation of that shadowy space.

I’m in the clear!  She actually smiles at me, a warm, glorious smile.  She purrs her appreciation for my kindness and she rises gracefully.  She’s standing now, facing me. 

I back up and I wave her regally towards the bathroom.  My inner voice is screaming at me, “Stupid!  Stupid! Stupid!”   Why have I been transformed into an adolescent?  And where is my curiosity?  Why am I not asking her dozens of probing questions, delving into her unexplained appearance in the woods behind my home in the middle of the night? 

This awkward moment passes as she crosses in front of me and closes herself in the bathroom.  I hear the click of the lock and the water beginning to run in the shower.

I scramble to get myself another beer and to start up the fire.  I have decided not to go to work tomorrow.  At this point, I’d just as soon stay up all night, being charming and debonair,

I’ve been alone too long.  I don’t know how to act.  Even if this was a normal encounter, a lost motorist, or a misdirected phone call, I know I’d become a tongue-tied jerk. I toss off a fourth of my beer with one prolonged swallow. Then I am down on my knees wadding up newspaper and breaking bits of kindling for the fire.

Finally, I was doing something I was capable of, and the preparation went smoothly.  I opened the flue and lit a match to the small pile I’d laid on the grate.  It caught and flared up immediately.  I had another pull on the beer and lay some larger chunks of wood on top of the fire.  These bathed in smoke for more than a minute before raising a couple tongues of flame.  I fanned it for a moment with a magazine, dropped a double-handful of still-larger pieces on the top and closed the door.  Within thirty seconds, a muted roar came from the firebox and I knew I had a fire.

The water was still running joyfully in the bathroom.  I hadn’t heard that sound, the sound of another person showering, in a long time.  It made me feel good.  I felt needed and I felt, for that brief moment, that I was part of something.  It occurred to me that I should have sat out a bottle of shampoo for her.  I finished the beer, turned on the television, took my beer bottle and the two tall beer glasses into the kitchen. Her glass was dirty from her hands. I put it in the sink, ran some water in it, and grabbed a clean one from the cupboard. I was reaching into the fridge for two more beer bottles, when the water in the shower stopped flowing.

I pushed the refrigerator door closed with my shoulder and returned to the living room.  I sat the beers down on the coffee table.  Next, I opened up the wood burner, and put two sticks, each about two inches in diameter, on top of the kindling.  I figured they would take off okay, and I closed the door back up.  The intake baffles and the flue were wide open.  I turned on the television, then turned it off, turned on the stereo, then turned it back off.  Finally, I turned the tv back on.  If she was listening, she must have assumed I’d gone insane.

I turned the tv down:  background noise.  David Letterman.  No.  Wait.  We weren’t going to be watching tv.  We’d be talking.  Right.  The stereo.  I turned off the television again and turned on public radio, late night jazz, yeah.  That would work.

I spun back to the kitchen, to the refrigerator, to the beer.  Back in my element.  Mindless movement.  I pour the beer more slowly, down the sides of the glasses so there is no head this time.  A study in amber.  Liquid gold.  I wish I had more. 

What was she doing?  Was she going through my medicine cabinet?  No.  She would be using those bandages and cream I had left out for her.  She was pretty scuffed up.  Probably the hot shower had loosened some scabs.  There was probably blood on my towel!  I shouldn’t have given her the new one.  No.  That was a nice gesture.  She would appreciate it.  No.  She wouldn’t notice.  Should I soak it in cold water immediately?  As my head was exploding, I heard the exhaust vent in the bathroom start up.  Seconds later, the bathroom door opened, and there she was. 

She steps out into the hallway looking squeaky-clean and beautiful.  Steam from the shower follows her for the first step and then rolls backwards and upward behind her.  Her feet are bare and she is wearing that white cotton robe.  It’s cinched up tightly at the waist, emphasizing its extreme oversize.  She has it pulled up around her neck, but as she comes closer, it slips open a bit.  She has band-aids on the back of both hands and I can see a three-by-three over her collarbone.  Her copper-colored hair is wild and fluffed-out.  She’s parted it in the middle with her fingers, but the look is pure cave woman.  I like it.  I like it a lot.

“Feel better?” I ask.

“Much.  Thanks,” she replies.  “Say, I, I don’t have a comb.  Do you have one that I could use?”

“Of course.  Would you rather have a brush?”

“No.  Just a comb.  Oh, I was such a filthy mess…”

She’s talking to air.  I’ve jogged past her to the bathroom.  In the upper left-hand drawer of the vanity, I’ve got one that’s in good repair.  I run it under hot water in the sink just to make sure.  I shake it dry and see that she’s hung the towel neatly and it doesn’t look  stained.  I turn around and nearly run into her.

Flustered, but not completely out of control, I wave it at her with a flourish.  She smiles and brushes against me as she returns to the bathroom.  This time, she doesn’t bother closing the door. She turns off the vent and leans over the sink. She combs her hair straight down over her face, straight up over her head, down over her face, straight up over hear head, down to the sides, straight back.  She shakes her head and parts her hair deliberately and precisely.  She stands upright, pushes her hair back across both shoulders, assesses herself momentarily, then takes the time to remove a few stray hairs from the sink.  She places the comb next to the sink, rolls the shed hairs between her palms, and flicks them into the wastebasket.  Now, she looks frankly at me.

What next?  What indeed?

“Your clothes need washing.  Would you like me to put them in the washing machine?” I ask.  

She smiles demurely and says, “Men don’t know how to wash clothes.  Where’s your washer?  I’ll take care of them, if you don’t mind.”

I lead her down the basement steps and pull the string connecting to the one lightbulb on the ceiling.  It’s really not as primitive as it sounds:  the washer and dryer are less than a year old and the basement is dry.  I’ve just not had the pleasure of entertaining down here, before.  It had never occurred to me.  Squatting beside the washing machine, there’s a utility sink.  On top of the dryer, there is a bottle of detergent and a spray bottle with some kind of pre-washing chemical.  Everything appears adequate.           

She attends to her clothing, scrubbing and spraying a couple especially stained bits before tossing everything, her torn white blouse, her colorful skirt, her playful-looking white lace panties, and her ankle-high white stockings, all together in the washer.  She sets the temperature to medium and she dumps in a half cup of detergent.  She closes the top of the machine and looks over her shoulder at me.            

“Okay,” she says.  “Let’s go upstairs.”  Then she adds, “Thanks for everything.”           

I smile like an idiot and follow her upstairs.

Back in the living room, she pauses before the fireplace.  The fire is roaring merrily, now.  I open the door, lay a split log on top of the pile, close the door, and shut down the dampers.  Success. 

I stand, my knees cracking loudly, and hand her another beer.  She nods her thanks and snatches the robe closed with her thumb and forefinger as she eases herself down into the rocker.

“To you,” she smiles, holding the glass at arm’s length towards me.

“To you,” I counter, reaching back for my own and touching her glass with it.

The heavy leather chair feels substantial and comforting underneath me.