I was down on my luck** and had not returned to my job nor had any notion of returning again. I had a plane ticket for Boston that would fly me to Minnesota that was scheduled to depart in twenty days. I had still not yet bought the bus ticket to Boston. I had one hundred dollars to my name. My friend Billy had owed me one hundred dollars as well and gave me one hundred and thirty dollars in 1988 pesos coins as repayment. Knowing that it might be difficult to find a place who would honestly convert them and that their worth fluctuated, I would have much rather he paid me in US dollars but I took them in thanks and didn’t mention it. He knew what I was thinking and told me that if I couldn’t get a fair price that I could mail them to him when he got to Missouri and he would mail me what he owed in cash but until then all of his money was ******* in his trip home and even that was barely enough but that he had checked on their worth and said it should cover the one-hundred he owed. I smiled and we warmly shook hands to seal the deal. We spent the day riding around in his wrangler and running some final errands for him before he would be gone.
The three years we had known each other might as well have been a lifetime and had felt just as full as one and had gone by just as fast. We ‘d drunk coffee and smoked cigarettes outside of Elizabeth’s bookstore. We’d watched in silence the beautiful women that would walk passed without much attention given to us. We, however, gave great attention to every ***** and bounce and shimmy. There were some gorgeous women that came to the bookstore those years. We shot pool with Bernie, who had the keys to the Mason Lodge and had many great conversations on the fire escape. We played games of chess in the bookstore. We drove around listening to the blues. Sometimes we got together, the three of us, at Billy’s and we’d make a fire and they’d drink coffee because they were old men and had had to stop drinking years before and I would drink some bourbon or wine after a cup or two of coffee and then we’d share a pack of cigarettes between us and we’d feel the warmth of the fire and have some good laughs. Bernie was diagnosed with a rare and terrible cancer in North Carolina on a trip to see his son in the Air force and had been brought back home a few months later and beside his wife and daughter and son fell silently to sleep and never woke up again. I hadn’t gone to see him but Billy said that when he saw him he didn’t mention his condition once and that he even got out of bed and sat with him on the back porch that looked out upon the open land and sky and they talked like nothing was wrong and laughed and said they’d see each other again. Bernie died a week later.
I hadn’t planned it this way but the opening to this story is very much dedicated to Bernie, and Billy, I hope you get safely back to Missouri and that your pesos will help me make it through the fall.
I had not told my mother or my love, Rosalie, that I had left my job. So I made fake work schedules and left the house and returned home at all the appropriate times with a lanyard I had kept from work hanging from my neck and hung it on the doorknob when I got home. During the day there were several options to occupy the eight-hour shifts. The town ran very much so due to the college and I would go up there and browse around the old books called the stacks and take a few with me out onto the grass of the quad and read them. I would read for hours. I got restless every now and then and would even read while I walked in circles up and down and back and forth the crisscrossing paths under the trees of the quad. This was great until I got caught for taking these books from the school at my own leisure and soon it was revealed that I was not a student there and they told me not to come back. Some days I would run along the riverside. I enjoyed long walks on the train tracks around the city with my headphones on and taking pictures. I always had my backpack on, even if nothing was in it, but usually there was a book and a pair of Rosalie’s ******* and on occasion I would take this out and close my eyes to smell them and I would miss her very much. We lived with a few towns between us and she was a very busy and dedicated young woman. She was working in nursing homes and taking care of home patients and going to school full time on top of it and doing clinicals and taking care of her little brother because it takes a lot sometimes for a man to be cured from his drinking habits, which was very much true in their fathers case and her mother was a wild and paranoid woman who refused to believe that her boyfriend was beating Rosalie’s little brother while she was away at work. So Rosalie took great care and love for her brother and also custody.
I, however, had not been so responsible with my life. When I came back from the Army it was not as a hero but I could tell a great hero’s story because I’d known them all but mostly they were characters in stories I’d read in the barracks, or secondhand tales given in extravagant detail during chow and none of them were true but they sounded quite exciting. It made the time at bars when I had gotten home less lonely because I could tell a tale in first person convincingly enough that many an old vet, with his own made up fantasies, would act like they believed me and would share their stories and we didn’t have to sit there thinking about the buddies we lost or the women whom had fallen out of love with us one time or another or the families we were avoiding. I liked going to the bars, but I wouldn’t have had anything to say if it weren’t for those stories.
I met Rosalie a month after having been discharged. She sat in Elizabeth’s bookstore and was studying for a class. I was with Billy at the time and we were outside smoking cigarettes when we saw her walk in.
“Did you see that?” Billy said. I saw her all right. She had gone inside and we were still sipping our coffees and smoking and I was still seeing her, no matter what else walked by or how pretty the sky was or the warmth of the sun.
“That’s a good girl right there,” Billy said, “not like most of these others we see out here, kid.” It annoyed me a little that Billy was still talking about her, egging me on a little. As I had said, I had seen her and he was disrupting my fantasizing and I had known she was a kind girl and I wanted to save my dream of her for a little while longer before I brought it to her.
“I know,” I said.
“Well, go and see about her then!”
I had no intention of letting her pass by but there was thunder rumbling in my chest and butterflies in my stomach and I had suddenly become cold even though it was sixty-five degrees out on the sidewalk and something was keeping me from standing. “I’ll have one more smoke and then I’ll go in for more coffee and see her then.”
“Tonto’s nervous! Ha ha ha!” Billy got a kick out of the thought and patted me on the back. “If you want,” He said, “I’ll go say hello for you.” He was still amused.
“You’re twice her age Bill,” I said, “she’d probably call the cops on your old ugly mug”
“The cops may be called because of how well endowed I am and she’ll be screaming and the neighbors will worry about her and call the cops on us”
Billy was always talking about his manhood and I never knew any good rebuttals because I was honest with myself and so I never had a response. I let him brag. All I knew is I had one and I knew it wasn’t large but none of the women I ever slept with ever said it was too small and they all enjoyed lying with me afterwards and talking quite a while before falling to sleep and sometimes the *** had been wild.
The cigarette was finished and I was still nervous but I didn’t want to hesitate any longer. I don’t even think she’d even seen me when she walked into the store.
I went inside and ordered a coffee and looked over to her. She was on a laptop and had a pile of books beside her and some papers and she looked up and our eyes met. I held the glance with her for a little longer than a moment. I was a little embarrassed and she was beautiful and I was wondering what my face looked like to her and if my eyes had been creepy but she lifted a corner of her lips and smiled before looking back to her work and then my shoulders relaxed and I realized I had held my breath. I laughed to myself at my own ridiculousness and let it go and then walked up to her and extended my hand and she took it with a smile and I looked dead into her beautiful hazel eyes again with confidence and we’ve been in love ever since.
The reason for my trip to Minnesota was to see my old friends from the Army: Grady and Hank. We hadn’t seen each other since I was discharged eight years ago and they reached out to me when they could but I wasn’t very good at keeping in touch with them. After I left the Army it was hard for me to talk to them. I felt I was missing out on something and I didn’t want to think of them dying without me and I didn’t like those feelings so I tried to pretend they didn’t exist but they kept me in the loop of things and always asked how I was doing no matter how well I stayed in touch with them or not. It meant much more than they’ll ever know that they did. So when they said they had both gotten out nothing was going to stop me from reconnecting with them. They said they were going to drive east to see me. I called them back.
“Let’s not hang around here in Maine,” I said, “it’ll be the middle of fall and there’s nothing to do around here. Instead of you guys coming all the way out here and then staying for a week let’s make the whole trip a seven-day adventure and you ******* can drop me off home when it’s over?”
“That sounds all well and good Russ but how the hell are you getting out here?”
“I bought a ticket, I’ll be there on the twenty-second of October at eleven.”
“That’s what I like hearing old pal!” Grady said through the phone, “Now that sounds more like the Russ I know. You’ll find me at the airport at eleven. I’ll bring a limousine with a bar and buy a couple of hookers for us”
“No hookers, Grady”
“Yes, hookers!” Grady said, “do you still do blow?”
“Good. Me neither. Honestly, I don’t do hookers anymore also. But it sounded like a proper celebration didn’t it?”
“Well, then its settled Russ. I’ll see you on the twenty-second of October at eleven PM sharp in a long white limo and I’ll bring the *****, the blow and the ****** and it’ll be like old times.”
“Sounds perfect Grady, I can’t wait.”
We hung up.
The plan was I would spend the night at Grady’s and the next morning we’d get Hank and we’d head for Chicago as soon as we could. One of their friends, Lemon, would be making the trip with us and would be there at Hanks when we got there in the morning. Lemon was an excellent shot with the rifle and a better guitarist and Grady told me I’d get right along with him. He told me he was at the range and the Sergeant was yelling in this black boys ear that he couldn’t shoot worth a ****.
“MY ******* GOT BETTER AIM BOY!” “I CAN HIT YOUR FAT UGLY MOMMA IN THE EYE AT TWICE THE DISTANCE” “YOU COULDN’T HIT PUBERTY IF I DROPPED YOUR ***** FOR YOU!”
The Sergeant, Grady said, went on and on at the top of his lungs yelling at this black guy and we all stopped and stared at him.
“As the Sarg kept hollering the kids rifle kept popping off shots at the target and you’d hear him grab another clip when the other ran out and reload it and then keep shooting but none of us could tell where the shots were going. The Sarg was so loud and the shots had such a rhythm all of us at the range stopped and looked over. There wasn’t a single bullet hole anywhere on the target except directly in the center where every bullet he had shot had gone through and nowhere else.
“Finally Lemon ran out of bullets and the Sarg quit hollering and he called him to attention.”
“Where did you learn to shoot a rifle Jefferson,” The Sergeant inquired.
“Sergeant, I have never shot a rifle before in my life”
“Do you think it’s funny to lie to your Sergeant?”
“So why are you lying?”
“I’m not lying Sergeant”
“What did you do before you enlisted, Private?”
“I worked on the farm for my father, Sergeant”
“At ease soldier, Staff Sergeant Dominguez would like to have a word with you.”
And that’s how Lemon went to training to become a ****** but he broke his leg in training and got sent home.
“Well ****,” I said, “He must be one helluva guitarist.”
We were to spend a day in Chicago and camp at the Indiana Dunes and then drive to Detroit and spend a day and camp there and then head to Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia if we had the time and then go to Boston and they’d drop me off at the train the following morning and I’d go home from there. But all of that was still twenty days away and I was down on my luck and had to save every cent I possibly could for the trip. Rosalie was excited for me. She knew how much I hated being home and that I stayed around to be with her even as much as she said that I shouldn’t let her stop me from doing what I wanted with my life but I really had no clue but I did know that she was the love of my life. She was happy to hear of this adventure and supported me but she didn’t know how broke I was and I hid it well by cooking all of our meals with things at my mothers apartment or my fathers house depending on where she came during her once-a-week sleepovers. She was proud of me for how well I had been with managing my money. There’s nothing to it, I told her.
The summer had been one of the best summers I’d ever had. Rosalie and I got to spend a lot of time together in-between our own lives and every moment had been cherished. I worked often and hard for twelve bucks an hour for more than forty hours a week but had nothing to show for it now. I’d gotten in trouble with the law and the lawyer was costly and so were the fines and the bail, even though I got the bail back I had to dump it into my beautiful old truck and then some because I hadn’t taken the best of care of it. I also spent most of my money on dinners out with Rosalie and I liked buying her little brother things every now and then and I had a terrible habit of buying books. Also, I had a habit of going to the bars on weekends and I wasn’t a modest drinker.
The last paycheck I got was for five hundred dollars and I spent it on a room for a long weekend at an Inn by the ocean for Rosalie and I to end such a good summer properly. Money is for having a good time and is for others. That’s how I’ve always thought it should be spent. When you’re broke, it’s easy to find lots of good times in the simple endeavors and I enjoyed those but I also enjoyed getting away with Rosalie. So when I say I was down on my luck do not think I was unhappy about it, I had lots of good luck before I’d gotten down on it and Rosalie is possibly the best luck a young man could ever come across. Still, I only had one hundred dollars to my name and three 1988 pesos coins that I’m not sure will be worth the other hundred and with twenty days to go. It’s going to be pretty tight.
I want to talk about our time by the ocean now...
Draft. Possible other parts. Story in works.