My father in law was a photographer. He spent years trying to perfect color in his photographs. It was a painstaking effort. He had to paint the prints by hand. And these photos tell of a Europe almost completely gone.
Color Autochromes — an early form of color photography — taken during WWI, from the collection of Albert Kahn. It is an amazing real-life look into the world that Downton Abbey so elegantly recreated for Masterpiece Theatre. Sidenote: I am completely obsessed with the show. Are you?
Kahn was a French banker and philanthropist who attempted to collect a photographic record of the entire world between 1909 and 1931. Amassing over 72,000 Autochromes, Kahn’s collection included historical records of 50 countries and was little-seen until recently. Kahn’s archive formed the basis of a recent BBC miniseries and accompanying book, The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn: Colour Photographs from a Lost Age. Find out more here.
January 31, 2012
I just woke up. With thoughts of Marilyn. Monroe. Not the shocks. She contradicts all our preconceived notions of the dumb blonde. Not that she was Hedy Lamarr. She was a sex symbol. But she also went to visit an old famous poet, Carl Sandberg.
She interested one of America’s greatest playwrights, Arthur Miller. Enough that he married her.
She became the mistress of a sitting American President.
At a party with Frank Sinatra and several gangsters she was passed around like a joint.
Marilyn Monroe was a paradox. She had serious personal issues. At the same time she seemed carefree and natural. She lived in an age when the ideal woman had to be 2 dimensional. Beautiful. Always available. No baggage. She was a complicated person. This is one of her poems.
Help this weary being
To forget what is sad to remember
Lose my loneliness,
Ease my mind,
While you eat my flesh.
But none of this tells you the whole story. Marilyn had a dream about her acting coach. (Think of T.S. Eliot and The Hollow Men) In the dream he was a doctor. And she was on the operating table. He opened her up. And this is what Marilyn wrote.
thought there was going
to be so much—more than he had ever
dreamed possible …
instead there was absolutely nothing—
every human living feeling thing—
the only thing
that came out was so finely cut sawdust—like out of a raggedy ann doll—and the sawdust
all over the floor & table and Dr. H is
because suddenly she realizes that this is a
new type case. The patient … existing
of complete emptiness
January 31, 2012
Dylan wrote this song, Hard Rain’s Going To Fall. And I met a young actress. And fell for her like a ton of bricks. Pined is the word. I was at the end of a messy relationship. And of course there was the girl in my philosophy class who dressed up every day in black leather and a cape and who looked like Deborah Harry. So I wrote this book, ‘murder‘. Dedicated it to my father. But really it was the actress. She would later appear in a movie with Burt Lancaster. And then the book almost won a national book award but I was disqualified. I had just turned 30. It was a young author’s award. I didn’t get the actress. Or Deborah Harry. And my other relationship did end. But without malice. That’s what ‘murder’ will do to you.
at the morgue
at the morgue I lay on a cold
slate stiff and stretched off
like a sail
pregnant with wind
across from me
on the horizon lay a red-headed kid
like a lighthouse.
I remembered him
at my window each night
as I lowered my gown.
to my horror
I saw the tattoos
my teeth marks
in his hands
I screamed out
“This is my killer.”
No one heard. No one listens to the dead.
January 30, 2012
MAKING MOVIES. Believe it or not. This book was passed around for film options. I couldn’t see it myself. First of all it was written as a television documentary. A satire on those BBC documentaries. Filled with self-importance. But as I started to write it, a lot of the satire evaporated. Into scotch. I started to like the book. As fun. The first review of the book was in the national newspaper of Canada, The Globe and Mail. And they hammered it. The reviewer said that movies weren’t made in the way I represented them. It wasn’t a manual. It was a book of fiction. The reviewer died several years later. Maybe someone reviewed his column.
You don’t have to bother reading the blurb below. Its something the publisher drums up. It doesn’t sell the book but it makes the publisher sleep better at night. I think Making Movies was the best book published the year it was born. Not that I read all the other books. I’m sure some other worthy author ran off with all the awards. But no one except him and his surviving children will remember that.
[The magic of film is recreated, taken apart, examined and lovingly satirized in an unusual work of fiction. David Halliday imagines a BBC documentary about ‘the well known Canadian film maker Samuel Bremmer’. We see moments of the films themselves; we hear the words of the actors, the designers and the commentary of the director, Samuel Bremmer. The illusion of film, and how it is created against a backdrop of money problems, personality clashes, jealousies, ambitions, love and vanity. Originally published by Press Porcepic.]
Around a table four men playing poker
one is a squat man close to the earth
a farmer curly red hair invisible eyebrows divided by a scar
shirt sleeves rolled up
two buttons of his shirt undone
suspenders and trousers a suit jacket hung
limply over his chair
to his right a small thin man spider wearing spectacles
bank teller holds his cards close
close to his eyes to make sure they aren’t counterfeit
to his right the gambler dressed to win
three piece suit white silk shirt shoe string tie black curly hair
a smile hidden in a wrinkled mouth
the fourth is a blacksmith shirt stained sweat arms burned
from the elbows down hands awkwardly large
anyone care for breakfast kitty the owner of the saloon smiles
behind a deep purple dress with flat mirror buttons
i’d rather refill my pocket the blacksmith good naturedly grins
how about a couple of eggs with eyes bacon with sides
coffee with cream the gambler smiles
what have you got the gambler asks
pair of aces the bank clerk greedily grins
beats me the farmer replies
ménage a trios the gambler grins while strangling his tie
don’t you ever lose the farmer complains
no one can be so lucky and not own the stars
calm down bill the blacksmith says
restraining a yawn swallowing his eyes
dealing out a new round the gambler places the deck on the table
teller and smith nibble at their cards
the farmer rises pointing at the gambler
with a gun
sitting calmly the gambler holds his cards with five fingers
another finger beneath the table
fondling the trigger of his gun
two bullets splinter the table and the farmer’s brain
the farmer’s eyes are open round in surprise
hand drops gun fires into the floor
falls back into his chair
blood spits out of his head onto his shirt
it’s a new shirt
the farmer gasps and dies.
SET DESIGNER: All the indoor scenes, the saloon, the house, the farm, were shot in a warehouse in Toronto. I think the place had been used to store furs or something animal… you could still smell whatever it was. Sam had to live there while we were shooting. He had to; it was his furniture that we were using as props. I don’t know how he stood the smell. He told us that at night he could hear creatures scurrying across the rafters. He wasn’t sure whether they were mice or ghosts….
SAMUEL BREMMER: To save money we decided to make a western. Everyone wore old clothes they’d found in attics or picked up in the ‘Sally Ann’. They were close to the clothes that people wore in the 1800’s. Fashions for the poor don’t change much over time. And the men, except for Anthony, didn’t shave. We shot many of the outdoor scenes in an old abandoned farm near Pembroke, built, I think, about the time the story is supposed to have taken place. We used some of the locals and the crew as extras. And of course with horses you don’t have to worry about the date of the model…
MUSIC DIRECTOR: We had some trouble with the background noise. We didn’t notice it until we started to edit, but all the indoor scenes sounded dead, hollow. Solving this was more difficult than it might seem. I had to go out and record outdoor scenes. I went into the middle of the woods. I used some very sensitive recording equipment and discovered to my dismay that it picked up the sound of my breathing. So i had to re-record by leaving the machine by itself for a few hours. And then later i discovered that part of it was ruined by the sound of an airplane. So i had to do it all over again. The third time i was again frustrated. The recorder picked up the sound of a tree falling in the woods…
SCREENWRITER: In the original script there was much more dialogue… which Sam managed to eliminate in many ways… either by eliminating it all together or by making it almost inaudible behind the breathing of horses, or the sound of running water or by having more than one person speak at the same time. Sam explained these changes to me by saying that we were not putting on a play. Film is visual, he said. I asked him why he didn’t do the whole thing in pantomine. He didn’t like that. Maybe that’s why we haven’t worked together since….
SAMUEL BREMMER: I am nothing but a bag of voices… if they leave then I am…
SAMUEL BREMMER: I was very pleased with the farmer’s death. I played the part of the farmer myself, not only to save money but also I think because i liked the fantasy of being killed. And then of course surviving one’s own death….
rain falls down
a river pouring out of a cloud
a man on a horse approaches a farm house and dismounts
knocks at the door a woman in grey opens
the door light flows out into the rain
through the kitchen window is seen the rider holding his hat
the woman turning away face in her hands
veil of darkness rain and silence rain and silence
out the back door the rider leaves heading toward the barn
rain pours down ditches swell rain barrel overflows
SAMUEL BREMMER: There was no rain in the original screenplay. We shot all the indoor scenes first in Toronto while keeping an eye on the weather conditions in Pembroke. Then it occurred to me that the rain could be a fundamental part of the picture. This meant of course that we had to re-write and re-shoot some scenes. And then we had to rush up to Pembroke and hope it wouldn’t stop raining. I sent one of the crew ahead of us just to shoot the rain falling. Luckily for us, because shortly after we began to shoot the scenes on the farm the rain stopped. Looking back i think the rain shaped the film. As if the gods were smiling down upon us…
LESJA BROWN: I saw the woman in two lights. Both in grief and joy. Grief because suddenly she has lost something in her life. I didn’t see her grieving for her husband but for herself and her son and a future that was threatening… but also with a kind of joy that she had to repress. Her husband was a drunk and she was probably glad to be rid of him. Although she could not admit this feeling publicly or perhaps even to herself. That is shy she feels a third sensation. Guilt. How many times had she wished, dreamed of him dead… ?
inside the barn firing a harness a young boy
lifts a hammer kissing metal
the boy dressed in overalls
a piece of straw growing out of his teeth
a lantern lit hangs from a beam
the rider enters the boy looks up
sheriff the boy says
billy the sheriff replies
think this rain will ever end the boy laughs
come about your pa
drunk again billy grins shaking his head
dead the sheriff says
staring into the fire
SAMUEL BREMMER: I couldn’t see Sir John as a Wyatt Earp or Gary Cooper in High Noon. So I had him play the sheriff as a school crossing guard, a man fearful of violence, knowing that he could do nothing to limit or restrain it….
graveyard funeral in pouring rain billy
stands silent his mother weeps growing smaller
blacksmith is there
the minister reads from a book
a couple of buckboards wait at the border with a buggy
the horses are nervous
the hole in the ground filled
with water pine box lowered floats
then sinks the woman cries
remembering that her husband couldn’t swim
LESJA BROWN: Almost caught my death filming this scene. It was a cold September day as I recall and I remember complaining to Sam, who just smiled and said it was all in my head. I caught a bad cold and was laid up in bed for a couple of weeks. Sam was very sweet. Sent me flowers and candies. Came to see me about every other day. He was very concerned. Sam is quite superstitious. I think that because we were shooting a funeral, he was afraid we had somehow unleashed death…
billy and his mother returning home rain pours down
not a word spoken rain pours down
not a word spoken water rushes down sides of the road
eats the earth roots of trees lakes from ponds rivers – paths
billy wears a straw hat now bent over his ears
his mother wears a shawl around her neck
the horse wears blinkers
so it won’t panic
ROBERT DRAYTON: Mr. Bremmer was no help to me at all. I asked him several times what my motivation was supposed to be. How was I supposed to play this farm boy. I had never acted before and felt quite in the dark. It worried me. I couldn’t sleep and I looked it. But when I asked him anything, Mr. Bremmer would just bark at me. I’m busy, he’d say, don’t bother me now. Several times I was ready to quit. After we finished the film, Mr. Bremmer came up to me, a big grin on his face and slapped me on the
shoulder. Bobby, he said, you were beautiful – awkward, nervous, uncomfortable – young.
inside the farm house Billy stares into the fire bleeding flames
his mother at the window staring into the rain
won’t it ever end
days passed rain pours on night and day are one
SAMUEL BREMMER: One day we left a camera for about an hour shooting rain falling into mud, then by editing, we condensed the whole hour down to a couple of minutes….
Billy’s mother sits at the kitchen table rubbing her hands
he came again last night came again and stood there stood there
at the end of the bed and swore I’d never sleep again never again
until his vengeance was bedded
SAMUEL BREMMER: The only real close-up of the picture, a close-up of Lesja’s eyes through her reflection in the window. And the rain running down the glass and her voice mixed with the sound of the rain beating. I was trying to create a mood of forlornness, of people outside the stream (excuse the pun) of history, of important events. This was the worst hardship of these people, these pioneers, the feeling that they didn’t matter… it hardened some, destroyed others….
in the saloon the gambler sits eating his breakfast
Kitty stands looking out the saloon window
finally stopped raining she mumbles
scratching the flesh above her wrist
sit down you’re giving me indigestion the gambler barks
Kitty sits down
her red dress flowing over the chair
a small silver hair smothered between her breasts
ANTHONY WHALE: I had to lose quite a bit of weight to play the gambler, which isn’t easy when your wife is Italian. Sam’s idea. He saw the gambler as an evil character and evil, he said, must always look hungry. I thought that this was too facile. I was determined to make a gambler into a real person. My dialogue didn’t allow this so I decided I’d have to do it through gestures. I’d make the gambler appealing. Practiced my smile. Watched a lot of old Clark Gable films. Practiced grinning in the mirror each morning. Used to break up my wife. She’d laugh and laugh. Sam didn’t like the smile. In the end we compromised. I’d be able to smile if I lost thirty pounds. I lost the weight. Unfortunately my grin changed with the loss of weight on my face. My charming grin began to look wicked. Sam was very pleased with himself….
read my fortune the gambler yawns
Kitty looks at the cards remains silent
the gambler grabs her wrist and bends it unnaturally
to one side
you’re hurting me Kitty cries
read the cards read the cards the gambler demands
tell me how I shall die
Kitty bites her lip turns over a seven
you will die a rich man
turns over a queen
choking to death
the gambler laughs so I’m to hang
they’ll have to bury a bullet in me first
BARBARA HARRIS: I had to learn to shuffle cards. Bought several decks. Practiced between takes. Before I was served dinner n restaurants, during a bath, first thing in the morning. Maurice gave me some tips. He seems to know something about everything. A very talented man….SAMUEL BREMMER: Our budget ran out about this time I didn’t tell anyone. Told them I had to take a few days off. A small operation, doctor’s orders. I was not specific. Everyone, to my surprise, was quite concerned. I spent the next week haranguing, begging, pleading with friends and relatives. If the film had been a flop I knew I’d end up a sales clerk, or insurance agent somewhere spending years to pay off my debts. Fortunately for me when we finished the picture and I was able (through many frustrating weeks) to get the picture distributed we broke even. Which for a Canadian film at the time was considered a tremendous success. Since then the film to my surprise and delight, has become something of an underground classic in Europe…
sheriff enters the bar
walks over to the table where the gambler
and Kitty are playing with a cat
the farmer’s boy is outside the sheriff begins
he’s come armed
I don’t want you to draw on him.
the gambler laughs
looks down at the sheriff’s muddy boots and flips him a nickel
sheriff why don’t you go and get your boots polished.
SIR JOHN BIRD: There was a tremendous fight about how the picture should end. In the original screenplay, Kitty talks the gambler into not shooting the farmer’s boy because of the gambler’s love for her. We all agreed that this was not satisfactory… Little Barbara thought that somehow Kitty should be killed at the end. This isn’t television, Sammy screamed. Then Maurice suggested that the sheriff save the young boy by shooting the gambler in the back. Sammy liked the idea but he was overruled by the rest of us. It just wouldn’t sell we all argued, it’s too out of character. The sheriff is inept, impotent. All of us agreed (all of us except Sammy and Barbara) that the gambler had to die. It was poetic justice…
a boy’s voice cries
out from the street
mr gambler I come to kill you
the gambler stands up checks his gun heads for the door
Kitty jumps up grabs his arm
he’s just a kid she pleads
his gun ain’t the gambler replies
the gambler stands on the wooden sidewalk
high above the street filled with water
a sea of mud
Billy stands in the middle of the road
reaches for his gun too late
the gambler’s gun is drawn
and fixed on the boy’s heart Billy faints
into the mud the gambler’s head falls
back and laughs
Kitty rushes up from behind and pushes the gambler
fire his gun two bullets graze Billy’s hat
the gambler falls into the street
face first in the mud motionless
for a moment in the mud
am I alive he asks
Kitty kneels weeping over the gambler
the sheriff lifts Billy to his feet
did I kill him the boy asks
no one killed him the sheriff responds
he was just a man who struggled to rise
finally successful he reached his level.
SAMUEL BREMMER: I’m still not satisfied with the ending. But to tell you the truth I wasn’t sure how the thing should end. I wanted an ending that showed that violence was unpredictable. It was like an explosion where everyone is its victim. My intuition told me that the gambler should kill the farm boy. This was consistent with reality. But then film is not reality. No artistic form reflects reality. And of course everyone wanted the gambler to die. So the ending was decided through democratic means…. So much for artistic integrity..
January 28, 2012
Domestic life has always been the butt of humor. There is something funny and comforting about the ongoing contentions between man and woman. One of my favourites when I was young (and still is) was The Thin Man Series.
It is all based on a set of rules. Domestic life. Unfortunately the rules haven’t been written yet. And so we bungle our way to old age. And then realize at some point, in the Home, that we might have linked up with the wrong girl (or guy). I wonder what happened to Davenport.
This morning I dropped my wife off at the hair dresser. She gave me a kiss and said, ‘you are a gentleman, aren’t you.’ ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,’ I responded.
This story is based on the golden rule. ‘She is always right.’ It is part of a series of stories I wrote in my book Women Gone Mad: Part One.
THE POINT SYSTEM
I knew she had arrived home by the sound of the brakes on her Honda. No one else applied their brakes in quite that fashion. It is a kind of jerk then a shriek like she’d run over the cat. There was a courteous nod as she stepped in the door, her shoulders slouched, her briefcase dangling on the end of her arm, which she set down on the stairs to be retrieved later. Her heavy footsteps plodded consecutively up the steps like a slovenly drum roll.
“How was your day?” I asked trying to stay upbeat and perky.
One of the kids upstairs was playing their CD player loudly. I am used to it, have in fact become immune to all adolescent noises. She has not. Her eyes rose to the ceiling.
“I’ll get you an aspirin,” I said, rushed to the washroom for drugs and on my way yelled up the stairs for Brian to turn his music down. Brian did not comply. I hadn’t expected him to respond on the first shout.
“I’ll heat up your dinner in a minute,” I said as I handed her a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin.
She fell into a chair in the living room slipping off her shoes.
“The kids and I have already eaten,” I said. I knew this would lose me points but Debbie was going out and Brian was starving. Of course Brian was always starving so this would hardly carry much weight with her, but I was hoping that she would see how impractical it was for all of us to eat at the same time.
“Debbie went out with Laura,” I yelled as I slid down the hallway. “She said they were studying for a history exam tomorrow. I took it for granted that she was lying. No doubt they’re going to the mall to check out CDs and boys. Don’t worry. Laura’s a dog. The boys won’t be pestering them much.”
I turned into the kitchen where I shoved a plate with pork chops, mashed potatoes, and string beans into the microwave. I grabbed a small tossed salad and a bottle of soda water from the refrigerator and put them on the table. By this time she has come out of the living room and taken her place at the table. I cleared the table of the dirty dishes and hurriedly put them in the sink.
“Would you like a glass of wine with dinner?”
Not hearing any answer, I poured a glass of Ontario red table wine in a glass then turned and shouted once again up the stairs to Brian to turn his CD player down. I didn’t expect a response on my second shout. I returned and placed the glass of wine in front of her. She smiled with gratitude. She had that weary look of utter despair in her eyes. I wondered if it was the right time to talk.
“The tests came back,” I said, taking a seat opposite her at the table.
She nodded and sipped on her wine. The bell rang on the microwave. I rushed in and grabbed the plate. It was too hot. I knew she was famished by now and was almost at the edge of exhaustion, but the food was too hot and she would have to wait. This would cost me points. I blew on the food as I carried it into the dining room, but I knew it was a lost cause.
“It’s hot,” I said hoping that by warning her I would have deflected some of her irritation at having to wait for dinner.
“I’m not that hungry,” she said. “I had a bite before I left the office.”
That was strange. She’d never had a bite before she left the office before. In one sense I felt relieved because I would not lose points over having served too hot a plate. On the other hand, why had she eaten? Was she getting tired of my cooking? I knew I was.
“What were the results?” she asked.
“What?” I asked still pondering over her lack of appetite. She’s always hungry. Not that she’s overweight. That has never been a problem for her. No matter how much or what she ate, she never put on weight. It has made her the envy of all the girls in the neighborhood. I have told her this on many occasions and it had been a wonderful way to accumulate points.
“The test results,” she repeated.
“Oh yes,” I nodded. “Dr. Davy phoned up and said that he’d like to see us. Nothing to worry about. All the tests came back negative. Brian is healthy enough but Dr. Davy thinks that he has Attention Deficit Disorder. And Tourette Syndrome.”
“He told you that.”
“Yes. Well, I had to weasel it out of him. But that is his diagnosis. He wants us to bring Brian along.”
“Why do we have to have an appointment with him if we know the results of his tests?”
“Medication. We have to decide on some medication for Brian.”
She shook her head and began to pick at her food. I wished that if she wasn’t hungry she wouldn’t touch her food. I could have put it away for lunch the next day.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I don’t want my kid taking drugs,” she explained as she picked up her knife and began to dig into her meal. Now, what was I going to have for lunch tomorrow?
“Don’t you think we should discuss it with the doctor?” I asked.
“What’s there to discuss?” she asked as she washed down her beans with a swallow of wine.
“Why did you eat before you left the office?”
She pointed her fork at me.
“I think they’re going to offer me a partnership,” she said, her mouth filled with food. Her appetite had returned. I turned away. I couldn’t stand watching someone talk with their mouth full.
“You look worried,” Betty said to me the next morning as I hung some sheets up on the line. I love the smell of sheets freshly dried in the wind. They don’t have that musty smell of sheets from the dryer. Betty was my next door neighbor and like a sister for me. We had gone to college together. She had studied urban planning while I was in theatre. We met while double dating. My best buddy who later married Betty was dating her while I was going out with Betty’s roommate. I can’t remember the girl’s name, but it was our first and last date. Betty and I, on the other hand, became fast friends and ironically ended up buying houses next to each other.
“Nothing,” I smiled. I don’t know why I lied. Betty could always see through me.
“Michael, I know you better than that.”
I pinned my last sheet on the line and stepped over to the fence that separated our lots.
“I think my breasts are getting larger,” I said.
Betty howled with laughter. She had one of those infectious laughs that made you feel as if the whole planet was in good spirits.
“Do you and Doug still talk?” I asked once Betty had gained control of herself.
“You know Doug as well as I do. If more than a dozen vowels pass through his lips in one day, it means he’s been drinking. But we communicate in other ways.”
I glared at Betty. Ever since her and Doug had begun to date, I had envied their relationship. They seemed to have the perfect melding of the female and male of our species.
“Are you having sexual problems again?” Betty asked.
“We go through the rituals but there isn’t much fun there.”
“And you’re following the point system?”
“I try,” I sighed.
It was Betty who had introduced me to the point system. It was a system in which one performed actions or deeds for the other party in a relationship so that later one could trade in these accumulated points for favors of one’s own. Betty called it the Adam Smith system of love-making. How could you argue with success?
Betty raised her eyebrows. I gave her an account of the incidents of the previous day, the good, the bad and the indifferent.
“Doesn’t sound like your breaking even,” Betty said.
“Don’t I know it,” I said shaking my head. “I always seem to be in the red with her. It’s not as if she says anything but I get the impression that nothing I do quite pleases her. And the harder I try the more irritated she appears. And the kids don’t help. As soon as she steps in the door they’re on her for one thing or another.”
“She feels under siege,” Betty suggested.
“Lot of pressure at work?”
I nodded. “They’re making her a partner.”
“That’s too bad,” Betty said shaking her head. “Worse thing that happens to a marriage is promotions. She’ll be expected to work longer hours now.”
“Longer hours,” I groaned.
“Of course there’s more money. But then there are more expenses. A cottage will really set you back.”
“A cottage!” I cried. “I don’t want a cottage. I hate cottages. Hated them when I was a kid. Mosquitoes and card games. And there’s still housework for me. I’d rather go to a hotel. At least I get someone else to serve me.”
“And then there are the dinners with the other partners,” Betty continued. “You can’t believe how boring some wives have become sitting at home for twenty years.”
“Dinners! We hardly have time to see our friends. Why would we want to start socializing with the people at work?”
“How are you going to get back in her good graces?” Betty asked. “You’ve got to do something to jar her out of her nine-to-five rut. This could be a turning point in your marriage.”
I took a deep breath. What was I going to do? All of this seemed so far from the lives we had led when we were first married. We used to go to movies, the odd play, long drives in the country, browsing through used bookstores. Now all she wanted to do was come, put her feet up and watch figure skating on the box. I hated figure skating but felt obligated to watch. It helped accumulate points.
Betty smiled. She had an idea.
I rushed around for the remainder of that day to clear up all the business of the day. Then I managed to farm out the kids, sending Betty over to Laura’s for an overnight, and Brian to his aunt Eunice’s across town. Brian was more difficult to persuade than Laura, twenty dollars more difficult. That’s what child rearing had come down to in our household – bribes. I visited the grocery store and bought all the ingredients for a romantic dinner. She loved roast beef, especially the way I cooked it, juicy with the beef a rosy sunburn in the middle. I baked some tea biscuits from a recipe my mother had lent me, prepared some fresh broccoli and cheese sauce, baked potatoes, horseradish, and beets. I hate beets but she had a craving for them every few weeks and we hadn’t had them for months. The kids hated beets. Debbie called them gory. I set a small table up by the dining room window, with candles, a new tablecloth, a bottle of expensive Italian wine. I cued some classical music on the stereo, a tenor called Bocelli. Everything was ready for her arrival.
She was late. Time crawled along. I put the roast back in the oven. She liked her beef medium rare but she hated it cold. After waiting for half an hour I poured myself some wine from the house wine we always had sitting around. Neither of us was crazy about it, but it was cheap and did the trick on a Saturday night. Into my second glass of wine I began to worry. What if she had gotten into an accident? It wasn’t like her to be this late without calling. What if the car broke down? She would have phoned. By the time I finished the bottle of wine, I hardly cared why she was late, I just wanted her home.
Just as I was about to dip into the expensive Italian wine I had bought for our dinner, I heard the sound of the Honda turning into the driveway. No one else applied their brakes in quite that fashion – the jerk and then the shriek. There was a courteous nod as she stepped in the door, her shoulders slouched, her briefcase dangling on the end of her arm.
I stood at the top of the stairs looking down at her.
She looked up at me with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Where are the kids?” she asked, setting her brief case down on the stairs to be retrieved later.
“How was your day?” I asked trying to stay upbeat and perky.
“Unbelievable,” she moaned. “It was one rush after another. I thought I’d never get out of there. I hope you didn’t wait up for me to eat. We had a bite at the office.”
I turned toward the kitchen. She trudged up the stairs and stepping into the dining room, cried out.
Stepping into the kitchen behind me as I sliced the roast beef, she put her arms around me and gave me a hug.
“This is so sweet.”
“Have a seat,” I commanded.
She did as she was told. I poured her a glass of wine, lit the candles, turned on Bocelli, and returned a few minutes later with our dinner.
“I’m not really hungry,” she smiled.
“Eat!” I demanded.
There was an awkward smile on her face. From across the table, it looked like a smirk.
She cut into her roast and took a bite.
“This is a little over done,” she said.
“A little over done!” I barked, reached across the table, picked up her plate and tossed it out the window.
January 28, 2012
I was watching the debates the other night. We all look for gaffes. Mistakes. But standing up in front of an audience (knowing that there are millions of people watching you) takes a lot of courage. And the advice you get before you go on. Relax. When I defended my Master Thesis in philosophy I was told that there were be a small panel of professors to ask me questions. And a handful of people to watch. It would last 45 minutes. Perhaps it was because of my thesis (I was arguing that Karl Marx had misread Hegel and that communism was thus based on a flawed theory) but the room was packed. There were people in an adjoining hallway. The experience would last over 2 hours. I was doing fine until a Professor Pinto stood up to ask a question. He asked a four part question. By the time he got to his fourth part, I could not remember the first part. I survived. But I had nightmares about that experience for months afterwards. And so the seed for this story. From my novel, The Adventures of Fred and Me: Episode 1, Divorce and Kitty Litter.
Panic in the Lecture
I took a swallow of water and put the cup down. By now Fred had passed out, curled in a ball with his chin resting on his right forearm. Dr. Blackstone had returned to his seat and was waiting for me to begin.
“I left home early that evening. I met Claude on the way out.”
“Whose Claude?” the doctor asked.
“My landlord’s son.”
“No one of importance to you,” the doctor said impatiently.
“Just continue on, David.”
“Fred slept most of the way there.”
“You took your cat?”
“Fred and Ann don’t get along too well. Ann says that Fred is always correcting her grammar. Ann does not like to be corrected on anything.”
There was a long pause as the doctor stared out at our non-existent audience. He shrugged his shoulders and waited some more. It was as if he was listening to the audience laugh.
I continued my story.
“There were many photographs on the walls of the cafe. It was the first thing I noticed when I entered the room. They were photographs of other rooms, identical with this room, with people standing side by side. These were photographs of people who had participated in earlier readings. They all looked serious, responsible, reading their work, cradling the Holy Grail of Canadian culture in their verse. And everyone in the photographs was waiting, looking in on this room, waiting for me to speak. Perhaps I, too, was in a photograph on a wall in one of their rooms waiting for them to speak. The wallpaper behind the photos was tacky, maroon and gold paisley in relief, like a view from the inside of a hooker’s heart. There was plenty of smoke drifting through the room, heavy and curling in upon itself like a dense fog off the Grand Banks. It reminded me of an old sailor I met once in the Spadina Hotel who claimed to have seen the Titanic go down. He was on a fishing boat with his father miles away from the scene, but because the night was so clear and quiet, he said he could hear the music from the ship and the screams of voices across the water, and he said he could see the lights as the big ship, nose down, sank into the stillness.
I stared into the cafe. I couldn’t stop my lower lip from trembling. A room of eyes stared back at me like the lights on the Titanic. Outside on the Danforth a bus screeched to a stop. My body bolted alert. The bus doors opened with a yawn. Someone stepped out of the bus, walked a few steps across the sidewalk, dragging his left foot ever so slightly, and entered the cafe. I looked up. A beautiful blond stepped into the cafe and took a seat. Someone coughed. On the bar, coffee dripped in a coffee machine. Behind the bar, an elderly gentleman, who looked like Joe Dimaggio the Yankee skipper, grinned. Ice in someone’s lemonade began to crackle. I cleared my throat, took a mouthful of water, and forgot how to swallow. For a moment I considered spitting the water back into my glass. The blond got up from her chair and moved to a table closer to the podium. My teeth began to melt. I gargled. There was laughter and a round of applause.
I looked down at the podium. My paper lay there like a dove, cooing. I was afraid to touch it, lest it take flight. The print seemed to grow smaller. It began to disappear into the distance. I charged after it, hoping to retrieve it, banging my head on the podium. There was laughter. How strange it is that at the moment before disaster strikes, the scene appeared comic. The audience assumed that this was part of my presentation. I wondered if, when the Titanic first struck the ice, someone didn’t laugh. I grinned then forgot how to stop. Someone coughed. This wasn’t how I saw myself delivering the lecture. I’d seen many professors give lectures at the university and none had begun their talk using slapstick. The fellow who ran the coffee shop and who had introduced me, leaned against the bar watching. His name was Collins.
Collins was a bearded balding fellow with a beer gut that hung over his belt like a money pouch. His main claim to fame was that he had been at Woodstock and had made love with a famous folk singer, but couldn’t remember afterwards which one she had been. There was a terrible sobriety about his gaze, like a bird of prey soaring high over a meadow looking for lunch.
My eyes glided over the faces of the audience. The patrons of the cafe all looked like English majors, each one with a show me the good parts expression on their face. I thought of Ann watching television, lying on the couch in her bathrobe with a glass of coke tucked between her knees. I jerked my head. My grin fell off.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I cried out of the side of my mouth like W. C. Fields. I began my lecture. Despite Fred’s criticism, the introduction was well received. At the end of my introduction, I paused to take another sip of water. Several people coughed. Someone lit up a pipe. Someone pushed their chair back, the screech hitting a high C. The blond parted her lips to receive a cigarette. The cigarette was so white. Her teeth were so white. Smoke seemed to rise out of her eyes. I cleared my throat and found that I needed to spit. There was no place to spit. I swallowed instead. Someone groaned, “Oh my God, I’m going to be sick.” The image of a long set of stairs crossed my mind. I couldn’t remember whether I was ascending or descending. I stepped into the body of my lecture with a discussion of the group, pushing my hair off my forehead.
“The Fatherland needs growing space,” I blurted out. The room was silent. It was happening again. The black hole in the center of my consciousness was growing. I paused and looked around the room. At the back of the shop near the entrance, two people were mumbling. The thought crossed my mind that they were from the police vice squad. I can’t imagine why this thought appeared except that I had parked my car in front of a fire hydrant. Everyone turned to look at the couple. It was William Powell and Myrna Loy playing their roles as Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man series. Nora nudged Nick in the ribs with her elbow. Nick smiled briefly, quit talking, and then when Nora wasn’t looking, stuck his tongue out at her.
I turned and stared at the floodlights focused on the podium. I saw Claude staring through the basement window into our apartment. Ann was lying on the couch in her housecoat watching television. Claude’s eyes were lasers, opening Ann’s housecoat, revealing her pale round marble breasts. I looked down at the pages in my hand. My palms were sweating, the sweat spreading across the page making the ink run. An ambulance cried out from the street. I looked up from my notes. At the back of the room I saw Ann in the shadows, naked, lying on the couch, her legs apart, moving her ass, asking someone, anyone to…
“Ann!” I cried. There was a stir in the room. I looked down into the glass of water. Claude’s face, like a bloated sucker, was swimming around, smiling up at me. “Good evening, Mr. Halliday.” I turned away. Ann looked up at me from the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in her hand. “Who are you, David? I don’t know you anymore. Did I ever know you?”
Taking a handkerchief out of my pocket, I wiped my brow.
“Excuse me!” I said, trying to smile. Someone was standing behind me. I could feel their breath on my neck. My mouth was now racing through the text of my lecture as if the words were in a panic to be released from my tongue. I felt like a ticker tape machine in a pressroom spitting out the news from United Press. I stopped to take a breath. There was someone behind me. I spun around. For a brief moment I had a glimpse of Claude’s huge fingers crawling like a spider between Ann’s thighs, his huge thumbs parting the lips… There was nothing behind me but a blank wall with a poster advertising – DAVID HALLIDAY: THE GROWTH OF THE SELF.
I turned back to the audience. There was a shuffling of chairs. A few people had begun to mumble to each other. Someone coughed. The blond glared at me, her eyes like a gun, cocked. Collins had come to attention. He looked worried. I tried to recall where I had left off. I cleared my throat and took another sip of water and then spat it back into the glass. It tasted like vinegar. I wiped my mouth with my sleeve. The image of my father ran through my mind, my father wandering through the woods alone. “I was a son once too,” he said. “I had to deal with my father, as you have to deal with me. We’re all in the same boat.”
Collins stepped up from behind the bar and into the lights that were fixed on me.
“Mr. Halliday,” he said. There was a sudden pain in my side. I continued to speak, somehow determined to finish what I had begun, believing in some crazed logic that, if I finished, everything would be alright.
“We’ve heard enough, Mr. Halliday,” Collins cried out as he approached the podium.
I looked up. Claude approached the stage. Ann stepped between us, wearing her housecoat, knelt down on the floor, her back to me, and began to pull the zipper of Claude’s trousers, down. Nick Charles stepped up behind Claude and looked over his shoulders. There was an amused smile on his face.”
I fled from the stage, knocking over the podium, smashing my glass of water on the floor, and raced out of the coffee shop. The cool evening air hit me like a wall. And that’s how the evening ended.”
Dr. Blackstone chuckled.
“That’s all there is, sir,” I responded.
“We know better than that, David.”
“Yes sir,” I replied. There was more. I had forgotten.
“The evening air was cool and light as I staggered out of the cafe and it hit me like a wall. I fell against a street lamp trying to catch my breath. An old woman stepped up to me.
“Have you seen my sparrow, young man? I’ve lost my little sparrow. He flew off, out of the open window when I took him out of his cage for a little exercise. He’s never done that before. And there are so many of those awful pussy cats in this neighborhood.”
I pushed the old lady onto the sidewalk and ran down the street toward the car. When I reached the Beetle, I vomited over the front hood.
“You alright, mister?” A voice cried. I turned around. A little kid, in T-shirt and shorts and bouncing a red rubber ball smiled at me. I climbed into the front seat of the Beetle and turned on the windshield wipers. I pulled out into traffic and raced down the Danforth, the events of the evening repeating themselves in vivid Technicolor in my mind: Collins standing at the bar, the blond blowing smoke rings, Nick Charles repressing a smile, Ann blowing smoke rings, Claude standing at the bar, Ann opening her housecoat, the blond opening her housecoat, Nick Charles pouring himself a drink at the bar, Collins burying his head between Ann’s thighs, Claude with an amused smile. “Have a good evening, Mr. Halliday.” My father smiled, “I had to deal with my father as you have to deal with me.” A sparrow flew through the passenger window and out my window. My father wandered through the woods. Coffee dripped. The Titanic sank. A ball bounced down the stairs.”
I turned back to the doctor.
“When I finally came to my senses, I realized that I must have been driving around for hours. I’d forgotten all about Fred. I dreaded going back to the coffee shop, but what choice did I have? Hopefully, everyone would have long since gone. When I returned to the scene of the crime, I found Fred waiting, leaning against a newspaper stand by the curb. I stopped the Beetle and opened the door. Fred jumped in. We moved west on the Danforth toward home. And that’s how it ended.”
The doctor looked at me for a moment, then slapped his knee with his hand, and howled with laughter.
“That is one heck of a story, David. One heck of a story. And what did you tell Ann when you got home?”
“I did what any man would do in a similar situation. I lied.”
The doctor slapped me on the shoulder and roared with laughter.
“Without a doubt, David, you are one of our most delightful guests.” There were tears in his eyes.
The doctor stood up, shook my hand and looked out into the non-existent audience as if he were listening to applause. Then the doctor checked his watch, reminded me to take my medicine and to report back in two weeks. I departed, waving to the non-existent audience as I walked off the set.
January 27, 2012
I was talking to my daughter’s boyfriend. About Andrew Jackson. That he was America’s Hitler. And though he agreed with me that Jackson would be tried as a war criminal today, there was more to the story. It was interesting. I realized that I didn’t know enough about Jackson. And so I did more research. It did not change my opinion but it re-enforced a view that all of us are too hasty to make judgments with very little information. On a lot of blogs you hear people making all kinds of claims, from politics to religion to art to movies. And others repeat those views as information. Like they’d read them in the bible. They even quote parts of the bible to back up their claims. I hope the WWW is opening people’s minds, not closing them. We should all be more skeptical.
January 26, 2012
The story ‘Bullies’ rose into my consciousness watching the Republican contenders in debate. It was the language of the school yard. You had the timid kid (Ron Paul), the nerd (Rick Santorum), the dummy (Rick Perry), the rich kid (Mitt Romney) and the bully (Newt Gingrich).
The ‘Bullies’ was part of a series of stories that I wrote some 30 years ago. And its rules are often learned by boys through a gauntlet of terrible experiences. We teach our boys that the bully is not liked. But you must take him into consideration. And anyone can theoretically become the bully. It just depends on the mark, the kid that gets picked on. The other lesson boys learn is that the only defense against bullies is to have friends. And so developed life long friendships. And gangs.
You can download Bicycle Thieves by clicking on the title.
A role of paper tumbled along the asphalt toward the school fence and stopped. Greg Tower turned and spat at the paper, then thinking it was money picked it up and unrolled it.
“Nothing,” he said, wiping his fingers on his jeans.
Greg was a small boy for fifteen, but had taken up smoking and a swagger and a duckbill haircut.
“You think that was money, eh?” Bower laughed. Bower a large boy of sixteen was Greg’s buddy. On a dare, Bower had burned his initials into his arm with a magnifying glass. When asked if it hurt, Bower would reply, Well, it used to.
Greg took a cigarette out from behind his ear and cupping the match, light up his cigarette.
Between the two boys, Danny Cameron, stood nervously moving from foot to foot. Greg blew smoke into Danny’s face.
“I told you I don’t have any money,” Danny said. Danny’s lower lip began to flutter.
“That’s what all the kids say,” Bower said looking at Greg. “Funny, ain’t it?”
“Ah, we ain’t looking for money,” Greg responded putting his arm around Danny’s shoulder.
Danny smiled nervously. The blood began to drain from his face.
“We have this club,” Greg said. “Very prestigious club.”
Bower laughed. Greg smiled.
“Presstish,” Bower repeated.
“Prestigious,” Greg repeated with a scowl. Then he turned back to Danny.
“You want to join our club, don’t you?” Greg asked. “Why wouldn’t you, eh?”
Danny shrugged his shoulders.
“Of course he does,” Bower added putting his hand on Danny’s shoulder as if he was guiding him through a difficult decision in the young boy’s life. “It’s a great club. We got a special handshake and a motto. What’s our motto, Greg?”
“What’s yours is mine!” Greg replied.
“Ya, that’s it.” Bower shook with laughter then began to cough. “I need a smoke.”
“You got a cigarette for my buddy?” Greg asked Danny.
Danny shook his head.
“I don’t smoke,” he said.
Greg turned to Bower.
“He doesn’t smoke,” Greg said.
“That’s too bad,” Bower said with a sneer. “Cause I really need a smoke.”
“My parents won’t let me smoke.” Danny grinned sheepishly.
“Well,” Greg responded, “that’s one of the advantages of our club. You can smoke all you want.”
“I’d have to ask my dad if I could join,” Danny said.
Bower and Greg both laughed.
Into the far end of the schoolyard, David rode his bicycle. He stopped, noticing Bower and Greg. These were two boys he had been warned about by his friends. Now in high school, they returned to the grounds of Our Lady of Peace to re-establish their reign of terror amongst the younger boys. David wondered why they had decided to pick on Danny. Maybe Danny was just in the wrong place at the wrong time or maybe he hadn’t heard about Greg and Bower.
Bower had a grip on Danny’s jacket and each time Danny made a move to leave, Bower threw him back into the fence. Greg laughed and slapped Danny across the face.
“You don’t get it, do you?” Greg laughed, waving his hands in the air. “In order to join our club there’s a small initiation fee. And you’ve got to join. See, if you join, we’ll protect you.”
“That’s right,” Bower said. “A kid like you must have a lot of enemies.”
“I better go,” Danny said and moved to leave.
Greg grabbed Danny and shoved him. Danny took a swipe at Greg. Bower grabbed Danny and bashed him on the side of the head. Danny cried out, falling to his knees. Bower grabbed the small boy and lifted him up.
“That ain’t no way to behave, Chief.”
Greg spit into Danny’s hair and rubbed it in, his cigarette bobbing up and down in his laughter.
“Come on, Chief,” Bower laughed. “It prevents baldness.”
Across the street from the school, David spotted Mr. Moore mowing his lawn. Didn’t Mr. Moore notice what was going on? Why didn’t he try and stop them? Just then David noticed Greg’s attention turning toward him.
“Who’s that kid over there, watching us?” Greg asked.
“Where?” Bower turned.
Greg pointed across the schoolyard at David.
At that moment, Danny made his escape. Bower tried to grab him again but it was too late. In a few brief strides, Danny was out of the schoolyard running home.
“Shit!” Greg cried, kicking the fence in anger. “What did you let him go for?”
“I thought you had him,” Bower said in his defense then turned and waved at David.
“It’s his fault!” he declared.
The two teenagers began to walk toward David.
“Come here, kid!” Greg cried out.
David turned his bike around and rode off.
It was a warm Friday. David and Michael, David’s young cousin, crossed the hydro field toward the Ashborne Fish’n’Chips to buy dinner for the family. Three boys, Greg Tower, Bower, and Psycho Bob, blocked their way. David took Michael’s hand and tried to walk around them.
“Whose the girlfriend?” Bower asked.
“I ain’t a girl,” Michael replied.
Greg and Psycho Bob laughed.
Bower bent over to speak to Michael.
“That ain’t very friendly, kid,” he said.
Michael moved closer to David, his six year-old frame trembling.
“He’s my cousin,” David responded, squeezing Michael’s hand.
“I think she’s your girlfriend,” Psycho Bob laughed. David had been warned about Psycho Bob. He’d been expelled from Our Lady of Peace for bringing a knife to school. Psycho Bob liked weapons.
“Ain’t that against the law?” Bower asked.
“Two boys!” Psycho Bob added.
“It’s against all that I stand for,” Greg howled in mocking indignation.
“His girl friend is kind of cute,” Psycho Bob said and reached out to touch Michael who shrank behind David.
“Bob likes little girls,” Bower said.
“He ain’t a girl,” David responded.
“He ain’t!” Greg said. “Well, if he’s a boy he must have a weenie.”
“That’s right,” Bower added.
“Show us his weenie,” Bob said.
The three boys laughed.
David did not respond.
Greg looked at David and then pointed to the hydro field.
“This is our field,” he said. “I admit it ain’t much of a field, but it is ours. And you are trespassing.”
David turned with Michael in hand and tried to retreat. Bower stopped his exit.
“You’ve got to pay a toll to cross our field,” Greg said.
“I ain’t paying no toll,” David said turning back to Greg. David tried to push past Greg. As he did, Bower came up behind David and kicked him in the back of the leg. David turned around, grabbing his leg in pain. As he did, Greg jumped on his shoulders, howling like a cowboy riding a bronco. David spun around trying to throw Greg off his back when Psycho Bob hit him lower in the legs. David turned raging with frustration. The three boys formed a circle around him. Every time he attempted to respond to one of the boy’s assaults, he was attached from the rear. Spinning around David fell to the ground. The three boys started to kick him. David curled in a ball to protect his face and balls. The three boys laughed as they continued to pummel him. Behind them Michael stood, his mouth open, trying to scream, but all that came out was a low whistle. Mr. Shanahan who was walking his dogs yelled from across the field.
The three boys looked up.
“Ah shit!” Psycho Bob. “It’s old man Shanahan.”
“Just when we were having a little fun,” Bower added.
“You owe us,” Greg cried pointing to David as the three boys turned and ran.
David lay on the ground, sobbing. Michael walked over and put his hand on his shoulder.
“Did they kill you?” he asked.
David stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes. By now Mr. Shanahan had reached them.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Those little thugs,” Mr. Shanahan said. “Do you know them?”
David shook his head. Mr. Shanahan’s dog began to lick Michael’s hand. Michael pulled away.
“Don’t worry, son, he won’t bite,” Mr. Shanahan said.
When Mr. Shanahan moved off with his dog, David took Michael’s hand and they walked quickly through the field toward the fish and chip store.
“You going to tell uncle Gerry?” Michael asked.
David looked at Michael and shook his head. David couldn’t tell his parents. His father would be disappointed that he didn’t fight back. And his mother wouldn’t let him out of the house for days.
“And don’t you say anything,” David instructed Michael.
“You going to get your gang and beat them up later?” Michael asked.
David shook his head.
The two boys remained silent. On the way back with their fish and chips, they took the longer route around the hydro field.
Michael looked up at David.
“If it was me,” Michael said, “I’d get a gun and kill those mother fuckers.”
January 25, 2012
I love American elections. Everything is over the top. The participants in the run for the nomination say things about each other that you wouldn’t say to your milkman. Which is why there are no more milkmen. And then when they pick a nominee for the party everybody has to act buddy buddy. American politics are filled with statistics. Like baseball. And there is corruption. Enough for lazy people to say that’s why they opt out. And there are the melodramas. People are wondering about Romney’s Mormon beliefs. And its Gingrich that has all the wives. And the debates. Not really debates. But everyone wonders about slip ups. Did Nixon really look like a gangster in his debate with Kennedyd? You couldn’t tell on our television. The reception on televisions wasn’t great in those days. And the spin. Everyone is always spinning. Enough to make you lose your lunch. But… I love it.
January 24, 2012
This is the house where I was born. Part Two. Afternoon Shift. Open 24hrs. Stories of moments. Of clarity. Part One. Day Shift. Is published by Smashwords. I’ve got to get this together for epublication. There is a third part, mostly written. Its the Graveyard Shift. Very dark.
I keep remembering a guy I met one summer. Working for my tuition. We were digging a ditch. He was about 50. Told me hopped trains during the depression across the country. And that in one of his stops he had sex with a nun. Depression – a nun – sex. Life is very odd.
THAT’S ALL I WANT FROM YOU. THAT’S ALL I EVER WANTED
Mrs. Murphy bobbed up to the cashier. The classic 18 step. With her walker. Shaking those screws and bolts. Rattling. Bones and bones. None of that osseous matter. Something that the Roman Empire could never understand.
Josephine, the cashier, smiled. She loved to see the old lady in her element. Not all her marbles are working but she sure can move those steins.
“Got a tune in your head, eh Mrs. Murphy?” Josephine nodded her head to one side and winked. Like the Andrew sisters. The blond one.
Mrs. Murphy nodded as her head bobbed up and down.
“That’s all I want from you.” Mrs. Murphy pursed her lips. She loved to purse. “A lovely song from Jaye P. Morgan.”
Josephine smiled. Then Bea, another cashier, dropped by for a moment. And the two cashiers sang together. A sunny day with bolts up to the sky. A kiss and no goodbye. That’s all I want from you.
The two cashiers laughed. In perfect harmony. Bea moved on. Shuffling her feet. Waving the palms of her hands in the liquescent air.
“You’ve got to have some fun,” Josephine said. Flashing her pearlies. Pieces of dental floss hanging out of her mouth. Like Romeo’s braided twine to Juliet. And never the twine shall meet.
Mrs. Murphy smiled patiently. She loved the song, but didn’t appreciate these kids confiscating her mood. Why do they consider their own thoughts worth expressing?
“I guess every generation has an ipod in their head,” Josephine said. Josephine loved to imagine that she could smooth over any discord. With her sassy observations.
But Mrs. Murphy had no idea what an ipod was. She would have understood jukebox. Making the gap between the generations. A language problem between teenagers from different eras.
“I don’t know about that honey,” Mrs. Murphy said shaking her head, “but I feel like there’s a juke box playing in my head. Those tunes fall into place. Can’t help but put you on your toes. Make me feel like smoking a Chesterfield. Oh boy. What a time we had during the war. The best of times as they say. My goodness how I loved to dance. My mother would have sworn that I’d been swept away by the devil himself.”
Bea stopped by again.
The two cashiers sang, Don’t let me down, Oh show me that you care. Remember when you give, You also get your share. Don’t let me down, I have no time to waste. Tomorrow might not come, When dreamers dream too late.
Bea moved on. Oh that Bea loved to giggle. A jiggle in her jello.
Mrs. Murphy was not so impressed. She watched Bea dance toward the magazine stand. Where she was shuffling in the new magazines. And noticed her ass. Wide load on that carriage.
“She is very annoying, isn’t she?” Mrs. Murphy said. And wondered why people insisted on imposing their silliness on other folks who might have wonderful thoughts in their heads.
“Oh, we’re just having fun. Girls just want to have fun.” Josephine smiled.
“You don’t say,” Mrs. Murphy responded leaning on the counter. Her hand jumping. Her jowls shaking. “You know there are no old people. Some of us just have bad makeup.”
Josephine laughed. That’s very clever.
Mrs. Murphy noticed that the young woman was impressed by her remark, a remark that she had repeated thousands of time over the last few years. After she read it in a Chinese fortune cookie. Still it made her think better of the young woman.
“In your head,” Mrs. Murphy continued, “you’re always 24. God, when you get to my age it seems that the rest of the world are children.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Josephine said as she scanned the diapers designed for seniors that Mrs. Murphy had placed on the counter.
Mrs. Murphy added some toothpaste. For dentures. And some ointment for hemorrhoids. And a brush.
“Or maybe it’s the other way round,” the old lady said caught up in her own nimble wit. “Maybe we’re all old. And being young is an illusion. A joke. A tease.”
At that moment Bea showed up again and the two cashiers finished singing their song. A little love that slowly grows and grows. Not one that comes and goes. That’s all I want from you.
Bea and Josephine laughed. And when they were finished they noticed that Mrs. Murphy had departed. Left all of her things behind. Unbagged. Unpaid for.
“What got into her?” Bea asked.
Josephine shook her head. “She’s just old.”
Bea nodded as her head bobbed up and down.
Bea pursed her lips and Josephine followed suit as they sang. “That’s all I want from you.”