Saturday, April 28, 2012


Double Indemnity

            As it happens sometimes in my narrow life, a friend started me thinking. It was when she spoke of her husband in his rented tux and she in her linen suit with dyed to match heels, setting out on their road of life together many years ago…and some of the rocks that litter that very road. It brought to mind weddings, two of them to be exact, both of them mine.

            When I was young, too young most probably, the drummer in the band I was playing with at the time had a girlfriend. That girlfriend had a female cousin who lived about 150 miles away who she invited to visit. I was conscripted to join in their company as a blind date for the visiting cousin. Her name was Sharon. An attractive dark-haired lass of startling pulchritude, Sharon dressed conservatively, was demure, rather shy, and quite proper. Over the next few months we saw each other as frequently as the distance between us would allow. A relationship blossomed. After seven or eight months when it seemed we were in love, she relocated to my hometown so that we might be closer together, got a job, and a roommate named Janice.

            Sharon was a rather conservative young woman and quite religious. After taking a year or so off from church, I began to attend regularly again in her company. Everybody liked Sharon and, after nearly a year, I popped the question. She said yes, and the wedding date, four months away, was set. It was a proper wedding.

The ceremony was held in a Baptist church, complete with organist, flower girls, best man and maid of iron, the entire gaggle of ugly dresses and ill-fitting tuxedos, and the rest of the traditional foofarah. The service went quite well with the exception of some misbehavior in the back row by the members of the band I was with. It created enough of a stir when five males with long hair came tripping in with their girlfriends, but when I kissed the bride and that same back row broke into applause and shouts of encouragement, I do believe Mildred Hyde, Minnie Parnell and their ilk felt scandalized. I can understand their feelings. After searching the bible carefully, I can find not a passage where the words “Suffer the long-haired musicians to come onto me” were written. Sharon and I attended church there every Sunday, and I attended choir practice every Wednesday. When the longhaired, hippie freaks did not show up again, I was forgiven and welcomed back into the fold.

After our wedding, I discovered that someone had painted various phrases on my 1964 black Pontiac LeMans convertible with what appeared to be white shoe polish. I did not concern myself with the disfigurement of my auto at that time. It was, after all, my wedding night. We went to our hotel and I watched my new wife drink champagne for the first time in her life. She got hopelessly blasted and passed out on the floor. With little else to do, I checked on my car and found out the white shoe polish appeared to be permanent. With my automobile irrevocably inscribed, and my bride irreparably sloshed, long before the days of cable TV, I spent the night musing on better things to come.

Sharon was somewhat less than chipper the next morning, especially when she found out my car was going to look like that for at least the entire five-day honeymoon, but it was a beautiful day. We put the top down and set off for Indianapolis with hope in our hearts. Shortly after we crossed the Indiana State line, on a 55 miles-per-hour limited access highway, we encountered a U.S. Army convoy of six by six trucks, canvas rolled up, each carrying the maximum load of testosterone-ridden, sexually frustrated young warriors. The convoy was nearly two miles long, and installed with enough troops to take Stalingrad in a short afternoon. Army convoys run 45 miles per hour. We were driving at 55 miles per hour. It takes a long time to pass a two-mile convoy at that speed differential. It takes even longer when your black convertible has things like “hot springs tonite” and “nookeymoblie” written on it in white paint. By the time we actually left the column of soldiers behind and could no longer hear the shouts of encouragement and appraisal the young men offered, my wife was in the fetal position, drooling on the floor mat. Sharon and I were married for two years, three months and two days, and I don’t regret one day of it. I just can’t remember which day that was.

Laura, my second, current, and last wife, moved in with me after our first date. After living in sin for six months, we were married in the county courthouse by Judge Skillman, a man who once asked me in open court, “Officer Lewis, why didn’t you shoot the bastard?” We spent our wedding night at her parent’s home, a consideration we were forced into when we told her mother, who wanted to organize the wedding of the century, there would be no ceremony. When we walked in the front door, Laura’s mom demanded to view the marriage license. She grasped it from out of Laura’s delicate fingers, and neither one of us has seen it since. We have never attended church together, we have been separated twice, and the first time I ever saw my wife, she was so hung over, that had she opened her eyes all the way, she would have bled to death. It has been very challenging, it has been very difficult, it has been very loving, and it has been over forty years since we got married. Having had two wives, I can truly say, the first was small price to pay for the second.


Thursday, April 19, 2012


Debbie, Marsha, Twyla, and Other Disasters


            Her name was Debbie Halloway, the younger sister of one of my high school pals. She was a goofy fourteen-year-old. I was a suave sixteen-year-old. I’d never looked at her twice until she and her brother returned from a yearlong visit with their grandparents in sunny California. When she arrived at school that fall, Debbie had, well...grown up. The goofy fourteen-year-old had become a sultry, exciting woman. I homed in. And not with the typical five dollar (a buck each for the movie, a buck each for food, and a buck for gas) date. For the rendezvous with Debbie, now called Debra, I went all out. I made dinner reservations for steak and lobster, followed by a concert from the University of Illinois Jazz Band. It was a twenty-dollar evening. Some big money for a small town hopeful in 1963. I picked the lady up at her parent’s farm, and she was lovely. I escorted her to my grandfather’s 1957 Plymouth, and we were off, she sitting way over there on her side of the front seat. But, the night was young and hope springs eternal.
            Before heading for the city, I had one stop to make. The next day was Sunday, and I needed to drop by my church and open up some massive, roll-up connecting doors. We went into the darkened building, I turned on minimal lights, and started off through the dim, creaky structure. Debra, lovely in pale blue chiffon and white heels, claimed the joint was too spooky. She clutched my arm tenderly and asked to go with me. Swollen with manly pride and testosterone, I slipped my arm around her waist. She snuggled appropriately, and off we went.
            The short route to our destination was through the baptistery, a six-hundred-gallon tank with steps leading down into both ends and a large mural on the back wall of what we were told was the River Jordan, complete with rapids. The shadows were thick as we started down the steps on our way through the tank. Accidentally, I managed to hook her foot and we fell the three feet to the bottom of the baptistery. It should have been empty. It was full. Baptists practice total immersion. To the best of my knowledge, Debra did not speak to me for a full year.
            Then there was Marcia Pasley. Marcia was a rowdy redhead, also sixteen, whose family had moved to our small community that fall. She was a strapping lass of startling endowment with bright blue eyes and a bawdy laugh that captured my complete attention. I was spun. I pursued. I cajoled. I persisted. I may have even begged. I acquired a date with the magnificent Marcia for homecoming. Full formals were in order and she was outstanding, even wearing an ankle bracelet. WOOF!
            She gushed hello, planted herself firmly next to me in the front seat, said she didn’t have to be home until two a.m., and whatever were we going to do for the three hours after the dance? Visions of sugarplums were cavorting behind my fevered eyelids, and Marcia was munching on my earlobe, as I pulled into the school parking lot. Aware of Marcia and little else, I didn’t notice the black-painted concrete blocks a disgruntled freshman had placed in some of the parking spaces. When I hit the obstruction, Marcia was just leaning over to adjust her ankle bracelet. She broke her nose on the dashboard. White poofy gowns and bleeding broken noses are not a good combination. After the trip to the hospital, she stopped speaking to me, too.
            Rejecting a life of celibacy, I decided my hometown was not the place to continue my search for victims and went looking for companionship in a small city a few miles away. A friend’s girlfriend gave me a number to call which belonged to a young lovely named Twyla Hefner. We conversed at length via landline and, two nights later, I collected her at home. Twyla’s parents were nice, and she was wonderful: petite, pretty, with long black hair, fast brown eyes, and an off-center grin from full lips. We giggled our way through the comedy at the Rialto Theatre, chatted and laughed all through dinner at the Steak n’ Shake as we fed each other fries, bumped shoulders and thighs, and raised our collective body temperature by several degrees. At around eleven p.m. we returned to her house and planted ourselves on the playroom couch. A few moments later, her mother shouted down to us to have fun. She and Twyla’s dad were going to bed.
            I was in heaven. This young woman was bright, funny, cute, lovely and aggressive. So far, I had done her no physical or emotional damage, and she seemed to think highly of me. What could possibly be better? Unfulfilled, but full of expectations, we parted, panting, at her front door an hour later. As I floated toward the Plymouth, a large figure loomed in front of me, grasped my shoulders, and slammed me across the hood of the car. It then stood me upright, shook me, and informed me that it was Twyla’s brother. Resenting his attempts at intimidation, and being a big husky, I swung on him and landed a shot to his forehead that nearly broke my hand, and didn’t even make him blink. Telling me, in vivid detail, what he would do to me if I ever touched his sister again, he slowly folded me up like a taco and deposited me in the front seat of my car. By the time he returned to college and out of our way, Twyla’s father was transferred and her family moved. I never saw her again.
            So went my sixteenth year, disaster after disaster. The following summer, ten days after my seventeenth birthday, I went off for two weeks of music camp at a college about fifty miles from my hometown. One of the counselors there was a nineteen-year-old university sophomore named Mary Sue Hack. She was a tall willowy blonde of outstanding appearance, generous attitude, and amazing endurance who pounced on yours truly like a duck on a Junebug, beginning an educational experience that lasted until I went off to college.
            Sixteen sucked. However, to quote Francis, when I was seventeen, it was a very good year.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


 Tempest Fantasy  
            As I write this, I’m looking out my window at a blustery, gloomy, damp and rainy spring day. The sky is dark and heavy, pushing gray all the way to the ground. It is just beginning to rain, and it feels as if it will rain for hours. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and even though I am not cold, I shiver a bit in anticipation. I have to go out in a little while, and I dread the prospect on such a miserable day. But, what makes it miserable?
            When I was a child, the same type of day was a joy. The front porch beckoned, and I would go outside, sit in the swing, and shiver in the cold dampness. I eschewed the use of a coat if I could get away with it, and let the chill and damp crawl beneath my skin, just to be closer to the weather, to be more a part of the tempest. When the rain came, it dripped directly off the porch roof, straight to the ground below, and I would watch it as the fat drops splashed into the dirt, turning it to mud, then puddles of dark water. If it rained long enough, the muddy water would eventually become clean and expose the small stones and gravel that lived underneath the dirt and dust the rain had washed away. The water would become deeper, two, maybe three inches collecting in a shallow trough eroded by years of days just like this one, the tiny stones shining up through the flickering water, each one different, all just the same. 
            I would lie on my stomach, my face just a foot or so above the surface, the falling drops not quite touching my hair, and gaze into the water, imagining myself there among the stones in that different world, the mind of the child so ready to do such a thing. So willing to make simple rocks and water another place, another reality. I could plunge to that shallow bottom, tiny and quick, and look up at myself through the water, huge and ponderous, looking back. I could dart among the stones like a minnow, breathing easily, not feeling wet at all, swimming up and down the length of the porch, a towering concrete cliff above me. I would flash my sides in the stormy light, enjoying the feeling of the cool water sliding past me as I swam, nosing the raindrop induced bubbles on the surface, or diving straight to the bottom to investigate an uncovered penny, huge where it lay among the rocks. And then the screen door would open and my grandmother’s voice would pull me back.
            “Get up off that cold cement, before you catch your death. It’s beyond me how you can lay there like that anyway. You don’t even have a jacket on! Where’s your coat?”
            And I would be back on the porch, and cold, and it would all have gone away. Once it was gone, it was gone. Minnows don’t wear jackets or have complaining grandmothers. Minnows are free of such encumbrance. Hence the joy that came with, however briefly, being one.
            Sometimes the storm would worsen, and lightening would etch the gray. The rain would pour off the roof, bringing violence to the puddles, and water misting across the porch. The big oak tree would whistle and celebrate, my elm climbing tree shudder and quake. Starlings, flying sideways in the wind, yammering as they struggled to get home, would come sliding close to the ground, seeking elusive shelter in the lee of walls. Jesse, the neighbor’s cat, ears back, would streak across the yard with concentration so intense, he would not notice a bird passing two feet in front of his nose.
            I’d go inside, filch the two rag rugs off the top of the old wringer washer, and sneak back to the porch with my grandmother’s umbrella. There, against the front wall of the house, mist and rain blowing around me, I’d lie on one rug, and cover with the other, then open the umbrella, position it against the worst of the spray, and let the storm take me. Willingly giving myself over to it, gleefully allowing the wind to carry me aloft, I’d let it batter me through the trees. I would bank down alleys, soar along roof peaks and slide over shingles, as the rain flashed through me, the birds skittered beside me, and the power of the storm spread me thin upon the tempest. Then the door would open again.
            “You’re getting all wet! Get up off that porch and get in here. Look at these rugs!”
            The wind would go on without me. The storm would continue needless of my support. I would look out the window, an observer, insulated by glass and plaster and lathe. But I could remember what it was like, swimming in the puddle and flying on the wind, and I can remember what it was like. All of a sudden, going out in the storm today seems like just the thing to do.