All posts by markwaters01

Right Heart; Wrong Love

“Right Heart, Wrong Love”

Mark Anthony Waters

Pennsylvania University, 1974

The lecture hall was packed with freshman history students readying themselves for the first day of class. The fifteen or so ceiling fans were churning a slight breeze; enough to gently toss a few papers around the hall. High above and between each fan, hung dust covered, dim light fixtures, half of which were burnt out. If not for the five, large pane glass window, there would be little to no light at all. The smells of the old, teak-paneled walls and vintage student desks, filled the nostrils of everyone in the room. In a nutshell; the room was old, dark and dank.

There is quiet chatter among the crowd of anxious students. The professor emerged from a small office that adjoins the lecture hall then takes to the stage. He placed his notes neatly on the lectern, then walked in front of it leaving his notes behind and began his class. “OK, everyone, settle down and take a seat. My name is Professor Harrison Woodrow Lofthouse. Since this is day one, and you are already starting to miss mommy, daddy and your little, fat-ass cat, Fluffy, we’ll keep it short while I still have your undivided attention.”

His opening remarks caused a few laughs from the students. He paused, then turns toward his eager pupils and asked, “So, what year did the civil war begin?”

A voice in the background shouted, “1861!”

“And what year did it end?”

The same cry enthusiastically replied, “1865, professor.”

“Very good.” Then he asks, “How many died during the civil war?” There was a deafening silence in the room. “You in the back?” Silence. “I’ll tell you how many.” The professor returned to the side of the lectern and pounded it hard with his fist strewing his notes all over the floor, then exclaims, “Nearly seven hundred thousand men, some women, and children as well!” Then calmly and quietly said, “That’s how many.”

A young freshman in the front row asked, “Why did the war start, professor?”

The professor paced the floor back and forth for a few seconds, then stopped in his tracks. He turned to the audience of students and said in a frustrated tone, “I have no fucking earthly idea.”

The comment brought a reluctant snicker from a few in the hall.

“History is mixed on how the war began. Some argue that there were many differences between the north and south about the idea of slavery, as well as trade, tariffs, and states’ rights. Adding to the complication was the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. His election led many southern states to consider seceding from the union to protect what they thought was their God-given right to own humans.”

A hand was raised in the back of the room. “So, who won?

The professor lowered his head and solemnly said, “Officially the north, but as you recall, nearly seven-hundred thousand died in the war. Now I ask you, who won?”

There is another silence in the lecture auditorium, and the professor said to the students, “Ladies and gentlemen, I said today was going to be short, so in keeping up with my honesty and integrity, time is up. Its snack time or whatever it is you do between now and your next class. Next assignment, come prepared to discuss the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You are dismissed.” That was my last class at P.U.

1997

It has been nearly three years since my last teaching class at PU. My wife had been fighting cancer for years and lost that battle a few months before I quit my teaching job. The sadness of her death kept me away from my work for a few weeks.  I decided an attempt a return and went at it for a month or so but gave up. Both of us worked at the University and is where we first met nearly thirty years ago. The two of us were recent college grads; both of us had a master’s degree in our chosen field of study, and climbed the ranks, then got our Ph.D.’s and eventually became tenured professors. She was the department head of the school of business, and I was a history teacher and lecturer. The memories were still so fresh in my mind, and I had to get away from that place. After taking some more time off from work, I resigned my position, moved away and applied for and got another teaching job at the local junior college in Vermont with the same curriculum; freshman history.

It is a fall morning, crisp and cool, and the once green leaves are beginning to show the coming of the season; red, orange and brown. The narrow streets are starting to fill with the dead offspring of the once full blossoming trees of summer.

I had been in town for nearly two months, and today was no different than the others, and it always started the same. Time for my usual 6:45 am jog before my first class at nine.

I’m not sure why I jog, I hated jogging and have been doing it for years. My wife loved to jog, and eventually, I gave in and became her jogging partner; I didn’t like it then either. So I suppose in the back of my mind it reminds me of her— and still do it— begrudgingly. For whatever reason, on this day, my wife was deep on my mind. I got dressed in my running outfit complete with my I ‘Heart’ (Love) NY t-shirt, put on my running shoes and took off. The door slammed behind me with a loud bang, and I began my slow, steady pace of my run. Early on into my jaunt and only a few hundred feet into it and for whatever reason, but on this particular day, I felt a sudden burst of sadness and anger all at once. What began as a slow, stridden junket, had turned into a full-on sprint for the next quarter of a mile. I was running like a crazed lunatic! It was though I was running away from, or toward someone or something. Sweat was pouring from my body and beads of it were streaming down my face, and I’m certain, mixed with a few tears.

I reached my usual resting point; a huge oak tree. Along with the others, it too was losing its leaves, but this tree seemed stronger and steadier than the rest. It was as if it were making every effort to hold on to each and every leaf, like a parent clinging to their offspring. I leaned up against the old oak tree and stared up at the rustling branches all the way to the tree’s mighty peak. The breeze continued its carnage of the deceased foliage, and more sad thoughts of my wife wandered through my mind. I reran the tape in my head of all the suffering she endured during those last few months. My leaning became weakened, and I slid down the side of the tree. The hard, sharpened bark scratched me all the way down until I slumped to the ground. I placed my head in my hands and silently wept.

My sad moment and quiet solitude was quickly interrupted. I felt a soft touch on my shoulder and looked up. The sun blinded me for a moment, and I shielded my eyes by doing a makeshift sun visor with my hand; using the other, wiped away a couple of tears. And there she stood in silhouette because of the blinding sunlight; just a dark and shaded figure. My eyes were adjusted, and I could tell that she was quite young, probably mid-twenties. Natural blond and stunning green eyes and she was cute, more appropriately, she was gorgeous.

She removed her hand from my shoulder and asked with an unmistakable Southern drawl, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Just ran a little too hard and fast.”

“Yeah, I know, I saw you.” Then she laughed and said, “You looked like you were running away from a jealous husband!”

“My doctor told me that I needed to get more assertive with my cardio workout.”

Laughing again she says, “Well your doctor must be in cahoots with the funeral parlor!” That one even made me chuckle a bit. “I made you laugh!”

“Yes, you did indeed.”

And with a concerned and tender tone, she says, “You said you were fine, you don’t look fine. Let me help you up.” She reached for my hand and got me to my feet.

Not letting go of my hand, she aggressively shakes it like a corrupt politician. “We have not been formally introduced.”

She stands up straight and proudly says, “My name is Becky, all the way from Louisiana.” She lets go of my hand and does a bit of a ballerina twirl, and says playfully, “I was born in Lafayette but raised in “N’awlins.” I quickly interpreted it as New Orleans.

“You have a cute accent.”

“It comes out most when I meet someone new, I really can talk normal, so you know.”

She is still twirling about and continues. “Anyway, back to my story. My given name is Rebecca, but everyone calls me Becky. My folks call me Bec for short. I guess they’re too lazy to add the ‘key’ to the last part of Bec.”

Again, I chuckled.

She continues with, “I don’t know how you go from a sophisticated name like Rebecca all the way down to Bec. I guess it sort of rhymes with speck; just a dot, but I love them just the same; lazy or not.”

She stopped with the twirling and with a hint of a concerned tone, she said, “But you can call me Bec if you like and I promise I won’t think you’re lazy.”

“OK, then, Bec it is.”

“So, what is your name, kind sir?”

“I’m professor…”

Interrupting me, Becky says, “I know who you are. Aren’t you that new professor from Pennsylvania? Professor Lighthouse?”

“It’s Lofthouse. My full name is Harrison Woodrow Lofthouse.”

Somewhat aghast, Becky says, “That’s a mouthful of names. Very proper sounding if I do say so myself.

There is a history behind it. My mother was a Democrat and my father, a Republican. Coming up with my name was about the only thing they ever agreed on; Harrison a Republican and Woodrow a Democrat.” WORK ON THIS, NEEDS TO BE IN BETTER ORDER

“How’d they decide which name came first?”

“Never really thought about it. I suppose they flipped a coin.”

Again, she grabs my hand shaking it in much the same manner as before. “Nice to meet you. A professor? How impressive.” Giggling a bit, she moves in toward me then asks, “And what is it that you profess?”

She released my hand and said, “I teach history at the junior college.”

“Well, I do declare! Now isn’t this just the smallest world? I’m a student there. Why haven’t I seen you before?”

“I’m only there Tuesday and Thursday mornings for a couple of classes.”

She slapped both of her hands to her thighs and said, “Well then, that mystery has been solved. I’m there Monday and Wednesday. I’m only taking six hours at a time.”

“What are you studying?”

“Pre-med or pre-law, it just depends on what day it is,” she said with a big grin. “Hell, every other student in my class says they’re either pre-med or pre-law. None of us has a damn clue what we’re gonna be, but it sounds better than ‘I’m a poli-sci major.’ Just the sound of it hurts my brain. Heck-fire, I’m the only one in my family that ever went to college. My mama just ‘shined’ when she told folks that she has a daughter in pre-med.”

A few years back after I got my GED, she threw a big party at the house! You’d have thought I just won a Nobel Prize or crowned Hog Queen at the State Fair! She was so proud.”

Then in sort of a whisper, leaned into me and says, “She don’t ever mention pre-law to her friends or the kinfolk. She despises lawyers.” She sat up and continued. “I hope you’re not a lawyer, even if you are, she’d still like you. I know that a lot of history types run off to law school.”

“After I graduated from college, I thought about it, but no, I’m not a lawyer.”

“That’s a load off my mind.”

What brings you all the way up from ‘N’awlins’?”

“Well it all started…,” then she paused and placed both hands on her hips, “Are you mocking me?”

“Not really— perhaps a little. Please continue.”

“Anyways, my daddy, when he was still alive got transferred with the railroad.” Becky with her hands still on her hip looked at me and said, “That’s when we moved from,” and in a prissy tone, and with added emphasis said, “New Oorleeens.”

Becky points toward a nearby park bench and asks me to sit with her, and we walk over, and I’m the first to take a seat. She plops down beside me; uncomfortably close, then I began to make some idle chat and asked where she lived. (“Where do you live?”)

“At my mama’s house.”

“Is your mother retired or does she still work.”

Quite subtly she replied, “She has a job raisin’ up daisies.”

“What kind of job is that? Is she a gardener?”

“Don’t you get it?” And with the palms of her hands flattened and pointing up, she makes an up and down motion with them as if raising and lowering something.

“I still don’t understand.”

“To be so smart, you sure are dumb. She’s D-E-D, dead!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. How long has it been?”

“Nearly four years to the day to be exact. You already know Daddy’s dead.”

“Again, I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK. I think about them from time to time, especially Mama. We were very close.”

I noticed her eyes begin to water up and asked, “You Ok?”

She wiped them and quickly changed the subject without an answer.

“I see a naked ring on that finger. I would have thought a nice, good-looking professor like you would be married.”

“I used to be.”

“Divorced?

“No, she died a couple of years ago.”

“Now, I’m sorry. How long were you married?”

“Nearly thirty years.”

“That’s a long time.”

I lowered my head and quietly said, “Not long enough.”

She taps me on the leg and gets up from the park bench. “Isn’t this interesting. We just met and already have something in common.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a widower, and I’m an orphan! Well, sorta kinda something in common. It don’t seem natural that a wife goes before the husband. It should be the other way around, then all the kids in the right peckin’order; oldest too youngest. Thank God I’m an only child, removes the pressure.”

The Bec asked, “Wanna go and get a cup of coffee or some sweet tea?”

“I have class in an hour, but I’ll take a rain-check.”

“Then it’s a date. When?”

I think to myself, date? “I don’t know, I suppose anytime.”

“Well, now is anytime.”

“I wish I could, but today is not that day; I’m surprising my students with a pop quiz.”

Bec put on a pouty expression on her face and said, “I hate those things. They always scare me.”

In a bit of a laugh, I said, “All in a day’s work.”

Then she laughed a little and said, “You’re just mean!”

“Bec, I really do need to get going. Maybe we’ll run into each other at school.”

“Fat chance, unless I change my schedule.”

She reaches in her “fanny pack” and gets out a pen and scrap of paper and writes down something and handed it to me; it was her phone number.

“I’ll let you get to your class so you can torture your students with that silly test. I’m gonna finish my run and go home and study.” She gets up from the bench and takes off. Along the way, she turned waves and said to call her using her thumb and pinkie finger to mimic a phone call. I sat for a few more moments thinking of her and also of my wife. For whatever reason, I felt better than before we met, then thought to myself, “sweet girl.” I got up from the bench, made an “about face” and headed home.

“You remind me of my daughter minus the accent.”

 

Notes:

End line of the book,

“I know your father very well; I hope to know you equally as well.” They never left each other’s side from that moment on.

They are alone and asked, “Why haven’t you ever tried to hit on me?”

He shrugged his shoulders, and replied, “Not sure. Why?”

Bec made an advance at him and said, “Then I will.”

She put her arms around him and kissed him, then he gently pushed her away.

Frustrated, she asked, “Why won’t you let me in? Is it because of her?”

“I don’t know… maybe.”

“Well she’s dead, and I’m not!”

 

Three Days in Heaven – The dream

“You boys go to sleep now.”

After checking on them, she tucked Pat into bed and kissed him goodnight. When the boys finally fell asleep, she decided to take one of those long, hot bubble baths with candles and the whole nine yards. Bev poured herself a glass of wine, settled into the tub, and took a long, slow sip of wine. Kent and Pat’s dreams laid heavy on her mind. She concluded the dreams had been more like visions rather than dreams. With the combination of the bath, wine, and exhaustion she drifted into shallow sleep.

“Hi, Bev.”

Startled, she sank into the water and woke up.

Still in the tub, she covered herself with a washcloth, looked around and whispered, “Tony?”

There was no answer. Shaken and rattled, Bev climbed out of the tub and dried off. She put on her nightie, poured another glass of wine, and lit a cigarette. We had a party at the house several months ago, and one of our guests left a pack of Marlboros behind. Bev hadn’t smoked since college, but this seemed like an opportune time to start again. She peeked in on the boys one last time before crawling into bed. She laid there for a couple of hours and stared at the empty space beside her. She grabbed my pillow and held it close to her face and took in a big whiff. The faint scent of Aqua Velva was all that remained, but enough to remind her of me.

Bev was exhausted but afraid to let herself sleep. As many times before, she cried. Bev wondered how so many tears could be produced by a single human being before there were none left to cry. After hours of reminding herself what Pat and Kent experienced were illusions and nothing more, but concluded what she’d heard in the tub was a delusion. At peace with her rationale, she fell into a deep sleep. Now it was Bev’s turn to dream.

Her eyes open, and she is standing in the middle of a vast green meadow surrounded by gently rolling hills. There would have been silence if it weren’t for the sound of lapping water in the pond a few feet away and the song of a welcoming bird circling above. The cool, still evening air caresses her skin…and just like Kent said, a faint fragrance of vanilla fills her nostrils.

“Attention, K-Mart shoppers!”

Bev looks around at the empty meadow.

“Tony, is that you? Where are you?”

“Hi, Bev. Yeah, it’s me. You’re dreaming, and a nice one at that. It’s beautiful, but can you do away with the bird? God loves birds but doesn’t like them flying over His ‘Vette’, if you know what I mean.”

Bev, aware that she’s dreaming, takes the experience in stride. She notices the peacefulness surrounding her. Treading lightly had not been her usual behavior of late.

“I figure it was time to give you a break and explain what’s been going on.”

“I’m all ears, Tony.”

She drifts around in circles like a ballerina, playfully tugging on her nightie like a child.

“Pat gave me your message.”

“I know. You’ve got a grip like a corrupt politician!”

Bev recalled something Kent told her, and begins chuckling.

“What’s so funny?”

“Kent said something about you being God’s messenger.”

“Yeah, ain’t that a hoot?”

“Yes, it is. But Tony, you’re practically a heathen, for Christ’s sake.”

I know she can’t see me, but in a panic, I anxiously look around.

“Shush! Have you lost your mind? God gets a little edgy when people talk like that, especially about His kid.”

She covers her mouth, “Sorry.”

We wait for a second to make sure we weren’t going to be struck by lightning.

“Well, I guess the coast is clear.”

“I’ll be more careful next time.”

Bev finds a nearby log and decides to sit and admire the scenery. After a minute of contemplation, she walks over to a nearby pond.

“Can I walk on it?”

“It’s your dream, go for it.”

Then with a snicker, I say, “You may want to check with Peter first. It didn’t work out so good for him.”

“What?”

Before Bev takes another step, I mention a towel hanging in a tree nearby just in case. She takes a few steps backward.

“I believe I’ll pass.”

Bev turns and asks, “Why can’t I see you? I can hear you like you’re right beside me.”

“Bev, I don’t make the rules. It’s the way they do things around here.”

She’s seen enough and has an idea, but queries as to exactly where “here” is.

“Right now, you’re standing in a meadow. Kent was right about the dreams; it’s the best way to communicate, a lot less interference.”

She picks up a small stick and tosses it into the water, then notices the pure beauty of the setting sun. For the first time since this all began, she’s at peace.

“I miss you, Tony.”

Staring into space, she lets out a long sigh.

“I wish I could hold you.”

“Me too.”

“Bev, turn around.”

I suddenly realize that I’m allowed to show myself for the visit. Predictably, she runs in my direction and nearly tackles me.

“Tony, I’ve been worried about you! I love you so much!”

She’s all over me like a wild woman.

“Bev, calm down!”

She kisses and hugs me. Losing our balance, we fall to the ground, rolling around like slithering snakes in heat. She’s trying to be romantic, and I’m attempting to escape.

“Bev, stop it! They don’t allow that kind of stuff up here.”

I gently push her away, and she finally quits with the assault. We stand and brush away the grass and sand that’s clinging to our bodies. Bev regains some form of dignity and we decide to sit together on the log. Again, I nervously search all around, looking much like a bobble-head doll. Looking up and down, side to side, and everywhere in between to see if anyone is watching.

“Are you trying to get me in trouble?” I whisper.

She wraps her arms around me again, and I try to wiggle free.

“Stop it! If you’ll contain yourself for a minute, I’ll explain what I know.”

I tell her as much as I can since I’ve not seen Heaven in person. Want to visit a distant planet? Done. Enjoy swimming with the dolphins? No problem. Personally, I like golf and played eighteen with Him today and shot a thirty under.

“Bev, you’ll never believe this. Today I got five back-to-back holes in one. So many birdies and eagles I lost count. I got one bogey on purpose to break the monotony.”

Ignoring my success on the course, she exclaims, “He what? He plays golf?”

“All the time. And He’s pretty good.”

“Golly Gee Wilikers, He should be.”

“He also likes poker but doesn’t consider it, as they say around here, ‘part of those worldly things.’ God calls it a game of skill and cunning. He’s a big fan of Texas Hold’em. I was told He and Mother Teresa are regulars every Friday night at the lodge.”

“The lodge?” She gives me an incredulous look.

“Yeah, the lodge. What’s wrong with that?”

“I didn’t expect to hear about a lodge in Heaven.”

“Why not? They’re not barbarians. Heaven has all sorts of neat stuff. Heaven is what you want it to be, within reason you understand.”

“I realize this is meant to be Heaven or at least somewhere around here, but how did you manage to send me those messages?”

“Pretty neat, don’t you think? They must have one hell of a phone bill!”

Upon catching myself using the word “H-E-double-hockey-sticks,” I quickly apologize.

“Sorry, Lord.”

A voice thunders from above, “Don’t let it happen again,” then He laughs.

A little spooked, she asks, “Was that—Him?”

“Yes-sirree Bob! That’s Him, The Big Boss. The Man Upstairs. The Head Cheese. The Big Kahuna. The—”

She covers my mouth, and says, “All right, Tony, I get the picture.”

I move her hand away, and say, “But around here we just call him Frank.”

She shakes her head in disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding! Isn’t that a little beneath Him? After all, He is—well, you know.”

“Bev, get a grip. God is what He is and who He is, but, like I said, around here, He’s just Frank. It’s His way of getting people closer to Him and have a more personal relationship without all the formality.”

“I see,” she says with folded arms.

Not entirely satisfied with my answer, she’s OK with the explanation and begins to feel more comfortable.

“Seems lackadaisical around here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know Tony—let’s kick it off with golf, poker, lodges, and then move all the way up the ladder to—Frank!”

“Don’t take me wrong, He demands and expects respect. He’d still rather we do it the usual way during prayer. You know, Dear God or Dear Lord, instead of Dear Frank.”

“Where is He? I mean, is He here?”

“Bev, God is omnipresent. That’s why we need to be a little more careful—He’s everywhere. I took His suggestion and looked it up. It’s about the only word in the dictionary almost exclusively dedicated to Him.”

“One thing for sure, you’ve stretched your vocabulary since you got here.”

I ignored her jab and continue to explain everything I know up to this point, including that God has a real knack for making you feel special. He hangs out with everyone, and I mean everyone, at the same time! I suppose that’s the benefit of being omnipresent.

“The things that go on in Heaven—I take a moment to glare at her—like His omnipresence, is never in question or doubt. Things just are. He is always present, whenever, wherever. While mortal, the way to communicate with Him is through prayer. Frank told me He wished every once in awhile, we should be less formal and just talk to Him like you would a friend. In Heaven, He’s only a chat away. You never need an appointment to visit with the Almighty. All you do is show up, and He is always there.”

Bev asks, “Don’t they have Bible studies or something like that?”

“Nope. Frank figures you must’ve covered all the bases, which is part of how you got to Heaven in the first place.”

A few moments pass and an unexpected visitor arrives.

“What’s going on? I was in the neighborhood and stopped by to say ‘hi’ to Bev.”

Jesus squeezes in between the two of us still seated on the log.

“Excuse me, but do I know you?” she asks.

“You should, you’ve got a picture of me in Pat’s room. Not my real likeness, but it’ll do.”

“Are we talking about the one over his bed?” she asks with a shaky voice.

“Yep, that’s me,” then there was a bolt of lightning, followed by a clap of thunder.

“Cut it out, Moses!”

All of us could hear Moses laughing in the distance.

Still squeezed between us, He asks, “Guess what, Bev? You’re on the VIP list. Just thought you should know.”

“What list?”

“You know; theeee list. It’s the one for folks who have done extraordinary things with their lives, like your work at the hospital, etcetera, and etcetera. Why, Bev, you’re practically a saint!”

Overhearing the conversation, I let out a big “Ha!”

Jesus moves in close to Bev and whispers, “Between you, me and the fencepost,” — then pointing in my direction — “you should be on it just for marrying that rascal.”

“You’re probably right. Can I see it?”

Jesus is momentarily distracted and asks, “See what?”

“The list!”

“Not really. You’ll get the chance when—well, you know—how can I say this—?”

Jesus scratches his head.

“What is that word? Oh, yeah—when you expire.”

“I think I’ll wait for now.”

Jesus quietly says, “That’s probably best”, — then He moves in close again — “for now.”

He sits back up and continues.

“While we’re on the subject, wanna hear the best part when you arrive?”

Bev is still a bit intimidated by her surroundings, and with the addition of the “expire” comment, she nervously asks, “What?”

“Come on, Bev, guess. Oh, never mind. The neat part is you get to spend all of eternity with the one you were married to as a mortal. Is that peachy or what?”

Throwing her intimidation out the window, she glares at Him with her famous “look” and smugly replies, “Is there a choice, are there other options?”

He nudges me whispering, “I like her. What a sense of humor.”

Then He slaps me on the back. “You’re a lucky man, Tony.”

Jesus hops up from the log, dusts a few specks of bark from his Bermudas, and adjusts His ball cap.

“I have to scram. I’m playing a quick round with Dad. Do you want to join us?”

Then sarcastically adds, “That’s if you have the time.”

I glance at a watchless wrist, and say, “Count me in.”

In an instant, He snaps his fingers. “Rats! I almost forgot; it’s bingo night. The, you-know-who bunch will never let me hear the end of it if I’m not the caller tonight. We could get in a quick round though. See you later, Tony.”

Jesus turns to Bev, and with a cheeky grin says, “And I’ll see you in about fifty-seven years.”

After the “fifty-seven years” comment, she starts counting on her fingers and doing math in her head, then she stands up and bows her head.

“Have a blessed evening, my Lord.”

“Lighten up, Bev, we’re not as formal as you think. My friends call me Chad.”

The look I gave God earlier at hearing his chosen name was weak compared to the one Bev gives to Jesus. She is rarely speechless about anything; this is the exception which includes a dumbstruck expression on her face.

Jesus notices her lack of words. “Bev, are you OK?”

She utters a reluctant, “I’m alright.”

“Marvelous! But Bev, if you aren’t comfortable calling me Chad, my personal favorite is King of Kings, but it would be silly if every time you ran into me, you said, ‘Hello, King of Kings,’ so Chad is swell by me. Or if you prefer, you could call me—”

I interrupt Him, lean over and ask, “Don’t you need to be somewhere, Mr. King of Kings?”

I’ve been around long enough to know there’s an amount of informality around here, even when talking to Jesus.

Shocked at my lack of reverence, Bev punches me in the arm.

“Tony!”

“Chill out, Bev. You’re right, Tony, I have a busy day. See you on the golf course.”

Jesus waves as He leaves and Bev waves back. But as if in a trance, her wave lasts long after His departure.

“Snap out of it, Bev, He’s gone.”

Bev and I pick up the conversation where we left off.

She regains her composure, saying, “You know Tony, between you and your new pals, you’re making everyone at the hospital crazy. Paul is about ready to shoot you in the head and end all of this. And the boys on the top floor are giving Kent a ton of grief. How long is this going to last? Pat said you were coming back. Are you?”

“That’s the word. After three days, and when the third sun rises from the east, then sets in the west, that is when I shall return.”

Humored, she asks, “When did you start talking like that?”

“Like what?”

“When the third sun rises—blah, blah, blah.”

“Be careful, Bev, I’m pretty sure I have supernatural powers. I could smite you or something.”

“Do you have any clue what smite means?”

“Now you’ve gone and done it, woman!”

I jump up from the log, and like a traveling evangelist, raise both arms in the air, shaking them and profess, “You have been smited!”

“What’s supposed to happen now that I’ve been smited?”

Deflated, I sit next to her. “I’m not too sure how it works.”

“Well, I don’t feel any different.”

Pointing at her head, I say, “Better look in a mirror and check out the huge mole on your forehead.”

Bev frantically feels around for it.

“I’m kidding, Bev.”

Relieved at the confirmation of my inability to cast a spell on her, she jabs, “I didn’t realize they let jerks in here.”

Once again ignoring her, “Hey Bev, I have to catch up with the gang. You heard Chad; we’re getting in one more round before I go to a Barry Manilow tribute concert.”

Since I’m only sort of a guest, I don’t have to go, but the squeakers do. I explain to Bev squeakers are folks who almost didn’t make it in. Jesus, who oversees admissions, is a prankster. It’s either the concert or an Amway seminar. Most choose Barry.

“You need to go now.”

“Why? The time seemed so short.”

“You just need to. Our boys will be waking up soon.”

Being the romantic I sometimes can be, I pick up a small twig and place it over her ear like a flower.

“I promised Pat, and now I’m promising you, I will be back.”

I kiss her on top of the head and begin to walk away, then turn back and say, “Oh, I ran into your dad at the lodge. I’m not sure what he was talking about, but the next time he sees you, he’d like his ten cents back.”

When Bev was a little girl, she’d always bum spare change from her dad. Earlier in the day, and just a few hours before her father died, she asked him for a dime. She has kept it in her jewelry box ever since.

“I’ll be sure to remember. Tell Dad I said hello.”

She lowers her head, and I notice a grin and a small tear. As I am leaving, I turn back once again, and blow her a kiss.

“Bev, I love you and always will. See ya.”

Bev’s eyes close, and when she opened them, she was back in bed.

***

She collected her thoughts and mumbled, “I really am losing my mind.”

Trying to rationalize her dream, said to herself, “OK, Bev, you’re a smart gal—figure it out.”

Bev contemplated her words for a few moments, but this time was convinced her dream was more than just an illusion. It seemed so real. The sights and sounds were much more than any dream she’d ever had. Those things we talked about, especially my “coming back before the third sun sets”, was confusing at best. Whatever it was, Bev felt calm and rested.

Becoming more awake, she felt something poking her in the head and discovered a small twig. Her confusion became comfort as she removed it, then she gently rolled the little twig with her fingers. She smiled and placed it on her nightstand next to her jewelry box.

God, and John Daly

We’re standing around enjoying our sodas when God casually asks, “You know who I can’t wait to play a round of golf with?”

I peek around looking for someone while thinking, “I’m not too sure, but I bet they can —wait that is.”

He takes a sip from his Shasta, then answers his own question.

“John Daly. I like his style.”

“That would be fun. The way he’s been living, you might not have to wait long.”

Curiously, He asks, “What do you mean?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Forget about it.”

“Every day I check with the pro shop to see if he made it. The best I can do is hope and wait. I have a pair of plaid slacks just like his.”

Pointing to a golf cart beside the clubhouse, He says, “We reserved a spot just for him and left it parked and ready just in case he arrives. Look over there. See the name plaque? John D. I had it hand-lettered in gold, and not that cheap stuff either.”

“Good planning, and a very nice sign.”

I had noticed the cart earlier. It included cigarettes and a six-pack.

“I thought those things weren’t allowed.”

“Usually they’re not but playing with John wouldn’t seem right without them. I guess it’s for the ambiance. They’re more like decorations.”

“You’re right. It wouldn’t be the same without a smoke and a cold brew when he plays.”

He walks over to the golf cart.

“You mentioned something about ‘how he’d been living.’ I haven’t kept up. Is John doing alright these days?”

“He’s been playing some impressive golf lately.”

He solemnly utters, “That’s nice.”

I pick up a collapsing training club that stays rigid when used correctly and falls apart at its joints when not. I’d never seen one before. It clangs and clatters with every move I make trying to figure out what it does.

In a huff, He says, “Excuse me,” then reaches over and tries to snatch it from me. I jerk it back out of His reach.

“Please put that away and listen to me.”

I cradle the little device like a newborn out of His grasp, and say, “OK, I’m listening.”

God leans in close and asks, “How’s he doing?”

It finally occurs to me God is wondering about his health.

I turn away for a second, so He snatches the little device away from me and starts messing with it the same way I did.

“I’m checking with security to find out how this little annoying thing got in here.”

He rattles and shakes it in a bit of a fit.

I could hear Him say to Himself, “You would think that I could figure this thing out.”

God stops messing with the contraption, looks me square in the eyes and asks, “Well?”

“I read that he’s cut way back on his smoking and drinking.”

God turns away, tossing the apparatus into a nearby trashcan.

“You could have gone all day long without telling me that depressing news.”

“You asked.”

I chug the rest of my Shasta, toss the empty into the same trash can and retrieve the little gadget. At once it turns into a snake and strikes at me. In a panic, both my arms start flailing about, and the snake is flying all over the place in unison with the flailing, all the while wrapping itself in a tight grip around my arm. During this melee, I kept the beast at arms’ length and hold a tight grip with both hands while it continues its hissing and attempted strikes. I look like a crazed snake handler! I free myself from the reptile and throw it back into the trashcan. God is laughing hysterically as I carefully inspect myself for snake bites. Still shaking, my sarcasm comes through loud and clear.

“Ha, ha, ha, very amusing, Frank.”

He regains His composure, but still laughing, God says, “I can’t figure out what it does, but now I know what it is!”

The monster crawls out of the trashcan and slithers away. God bursts out laughing again.

We make our way over to JD’s cart and take our seats. He sits in the driver’s seat, and I plop on the passenger’s side. For a few seconds, God lightly taps the top of one of the beers with a pencil, pinging it with each tap. Getting into the flow, He speeds up the tapping, turning the subtle pinging into a snare drum solo. He stops then stares out into the distance.

He turns to me and says, “You know, I could move things along a little quicker if I wanted.”

He turns away and continues to stare. In an instant, His voice turns into an irritated, elevated pitch, and again, looks right at me.

“You mean to tell me he doesn’t even have a cold?”

“Nope, not even a sniffle. According to the papers, he’s as fit as a fiddle and stronger than an ox.”

Quietly God says, “We’ll see about that.”

He continues to gaze at an open field.

“Someday… someday. Perhaps I should practice what I preach and be patient.”

I place my hand on His shoulder and offer some support.

“There, there, it’ll be alright. If we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

“I was wondering when those words were going to come back to haunt me.”

Then He perks up. “By the way, very impressive. Romans 8:25, I do believe. Am I right?”

“Not a clue. I read it on the back of the scorecard. You’re not going to turn me into a toad or something, are you?”

“Don’t push it, Mister.”

 

Suicide by Death- The Foreword

Foreword

Mark Anthony Waters has written a book that will stare you in the face. As you read, it will take you into the mind of someone whose life no longer has meaning or purpose. Suicide by Death hopes to give the reader a better understanding of suicide, attempts at it, and maybe a few answers for the survivors of a loved one who succeeded. Mark has done his research and has brought that knowledge to combine it with his personal experiences into the story.

The book is frank and honest, and some of it with a hint of dark humor. As the reader starts into this story, the lingering question early on, is, “Does she, or doesn’t she?”

While reading Suicide by Death to prepare the foreword for his book, I cheered the main character on, then in the same breath, yelled at her to get help. I believe you will feel the same way. In my book series, “The For Keeps Series,” the main character’s sister is an alcoholic and drug addict. I also cheered her on with every keystroke, hoping she wouldn’t take another drink or take more drugs. She drank and partied to drown the pain after being raped as a young teen: I was nine. She did this again… again… and again, and then some more. Mark’s character tries to deal with the demons that taunted her; unfortunately, my sister didn’t.

I hope Mark’s book might give strength to those who have lost a friend or loved one to suicide. I pray for those thinking about hurting or killing themselves or those who have tried. Suicide by Death might provide a promise that there can be better tomorrows with the right help and support.

Be prepared for an emotional journey like his first novel, Three Days in Heaven. Once again, Mark’s book brings a serious topic into the light to be examined with down-to-earth writing that puts a physical human and surroundings into your mind from the words you read.

Blessings to everyone who goes down this journey and all who need help… be brave… ask.

M. Skovlund-Author ‘The For Keeps Series’

Right Heart; Wrong Love

“Right Heart, Wrong Love”

Mark Anthony Waters

Pennsylvania University, 1974

There is quiet chatter among the crowd of anxious students. The professor emerged from a small office that adjoins the lecture hall then takes to the stage. He placed his notes neatly on the lectern, then walked in front of it leaving his notes behind and began his class. “OK, everyone, settle down and take a seat. My name is Professor Harrison Woodrow Lofthouse. Since this is day one, and you are already starting to miss mommy, daddy and your little, fat-ass cat, Fluffy, we’ll keep it short while I still have your undivided attention.”

His opening remarks caused a few laughs from the students. He paused, then turns toward his eager pupils and asked, “So, what year did the civil war begin?”

A voice in the background shouted, “1861!”

“And what year did it end?”

The same cry enthusiastically replied, “1865, professor.”

“Very good.” Then he asks, “How many died during the civil war?” There was a deafening silence in the room. “You in the back?” Silence. “I’ll tell you how many.” The professor returned to the side of the lectern and pounded it hard with his fist strewing his notes all over the floor, then exclaims, “Nearly seven hundred thousand men, some women, and children as well!” Then calmly and quietly said, “That’s how many.”

A young freshman in the front row asked, “Why did the war start, professor?”

The professor paced the floor back and forth for a few seconds, then stopped in his tracks. He turned to the audience of students and said in a frustrated tone, “I have no fucking earthly idea.”

The comment brought a reluctant snicker from a few in the hall.

“History is mixed on how the war began. Some argue that there were many differences between the north and south about the idea of slavery, as well as trade, tariffs, and states’ rights. Adding to the complication was the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. His election led many southern states to consider seceding from the union to protect what they thought was their God given right to own humans.”

A hand raised in the back of the room. “So, who won?

The professor lowered his head and solemnly said, “Officially the north, but as you recall, nearly seven-hundred thousand died in the war. Now I ask you, who won?”

There is another silence in the lecture auditorium, and the professor said to the students, “Ladies and gentlemen, I said today was going to be short, so in keeping up with my honesty and integrity, time is up. It’s snack time or whatever it is you do between now and your next class. Next assignment come prepared to discuss the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You are dismissed.” That was my last class at P.U.

1997

It has been nearly three years since my last teaching class at PU. My wife had been fighting cancer for years and lost that battle a few months before I quit my teaching job. The sadness of her death kept me away from my work for a few weeks.  I decided an attempt a return and went at it for a month or so but gave up. Both of us worked at the University and is where we first met nearly thirty years ago. The two of us were recent college grads; both of us had a master’s degree in our chosen field of study, and climbed the ranks, then got our Ph.D.’s and eventually became tenured professors. She was the department head of the school of business, and I was a history teacher and lecturer. The memories were still so fresh in my mind and I had to get away from that place. After taking some more time off from work, I resigned my position, moved away and applied for and got another teaching job at the local junior college in Vermont with the same curriculum; freshman history.

I had been in town for nearly two months, and that day was no different than the others, and it always started the same. Time for my usual 6:45 am jog before my first class at nine.

I ‘Heart’ (Love) NY t-shirt, put on my running shoes and took off. The door slammed behind me with a loud bang, and I began my slow, steady pace of my run. Early on into my jaunt and only a few hundred feet into it and for whatever reason, but on this particular day, I felt a sudden burst of sadness and anger all at once. What began as a slow, stridden junket, had turned into a full-on sprint for the next quarter of a mile. I was running like a crazed lunatic! It was though I was running away from, or toward someone or something. Sweat was pouring from my body and beads of it were streaming down my face, and I’m certain, mixed with a few tears.

My sad moment and quiet solitude was quickly interrupted. I felt a soft touch on my shoulder and looked up. The sun blinded me, and I shielded my eyes by doing a makeshift sun visor with my hand; using the other, wiped away a couple of tears. And there she stood in silhouette because of the blinding sunlight; just a dark and shaded figure. My eyes were adjusted, and I could tell that she was quite young, probably mid-twenties. Natural blond and stunning green eyes and she was cute, more appropriately, she was gorgeous.

She removed her hand from my shoulder and asked with an unmistakable Southern drawl, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Just ran a little too hard and fast.”

“Yeah, I know, I saw you.” Then she laughed and said, “You looked like you were running away from a jealous husband!”

“My doctor told me that I needed to get more assertive with my cardio workout.”

Laughing again she says, “Well your doctor must be in cahoots with the funeral parlor!” That one even made me chuckle a bit. “I made you laugh!”

“Yes, you did indeed.”

And with a concerned and tender tone, she says, “You said you were fine, you don’t look fine. Let me help you up.” She reached for my hand and got me to my feet.

Not letting go of my hand, she aggressively shakes it like a corrupt politician. “We have not been formally introduced.”

She stands up straight and proudly says, “My name is Becky, all the way from Louisiana.” She lets go of my hand and does a bit of a ballerina twirl, and says playfully, “I was born in Lafayette but raised in “N’awlins.” I quickly interpreted that it meant New Orleans.

“It comes out most when I meet someone new, I really can talk normal, so you know.”

She is still twirling about and continues. “Anyway, back to my story. My given name is Rebecca, but everyone calls me Becky. My folks call me Bec for short. I guess they’re too lazy to add the ‘key’ to the last part of Bec.”

Again, I chuckled.

She continues with, “I don’t know how you go from a sophisticated name like Rebecca all the way down to Bec. I guess it sort of rhymes with speck; just a dot, but I love them just the same; lazy or not.”

She stopped with the twirling and with a hint of a concerned tone, she said, “But you can call me Bec if you like and I promise I won’t think you’re lazy.”

“OK, then, Bec it is.”

“So, what is your name, kind sir?”

“I’m professor…”

“It’s Lofthouse. My full name is Harrison Woodrow Lofthouse.”

Somewhat aghast, Becky says, “That’s a mouthful of names. Very proper sounding if I do say so myself.

“How’d they decide which name came first?”

“Never really thought about it. I suppose they flipped a coin.”

Again, she grabs my hand shaking it in much the same manner as before. “Nice to meet you. A professor? How impressive.” Giggling a bit, she moves in toward me then asks, “And what is it that you profess?”

She released my hand and said, “I teach history at the junior college.”

“Well, I do declare! Now isn’t this just the smallest world? I’m a student there. Why haven’t I seen you before?”

“I’m only there Tuesday and Thursday mornings for a couple of classes.”

She slapped both of her hands to her thighs and said, “Well then, that mystery has been solved. I’m there Monday and Wednesday. I’m only taking six hours at a time.”

“What are you studying?”

“Pre-med or pre-law, it just depends on what day it is,” she said with a big grin. “Hell, every other student in my class says they’re either pre-med or pre-law. None of us has a damn clue what we’re gonna be, but it sounds better than ‘I’m a poli-sci major.’ Just the sound of it hurts my brain. Heck-fire, I’m the only one in my family that ever went to college. My mama just ‘shined’ when she told folks that she has a daughter in pre-med.”

A few years back after I got my GED, she threw a big party at the house! You’d have thought I just won a Nobel Prize or crowned Hog Queen at the State Fair! She was so proud.”

Then in sort of a whisper, leaned into me and said, “She don’t ever mention pre-law to her friends or the kinfolk. She despises lawyers.” She sat up and continued. “I hope you’re not a lawyer, even if you are, she’d still like you. I know that a lot of history types run off to law school.”

“After I graduated from college, I thought about it, but no, I’m not a lawyer.”

“That’s a load off my mind.”

What brings you all the way up from ‘N’awlins’?”

“Well it all started…,” then she paused and placed both hands on her hips, “Are you mocking me?”

“Not really— perhaps a little. Please continue.”

“Anyways, my daddy, when he was still alive got transferred with the railroad.” Becky with her hands still on her hip, looks at me and said, “That’s when we moved from,” and in a prissy tone, and with added emphasis said, “New Oorleeens.”

“At my mama’s house.”

“Is your mother retired or does she still work.”

Quite subtly she replied, “She has a job raisin’ up daisies.”

“What kind of job is that? Is she a gardener?”

“I still don’t understand.”

“To be so smart, you sure are dumb. She’s D-E-D, dead!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. How long has it been?”

“Nearly four years to the day to be exact. You already know Daddy’s dead.”

“Again, I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK. I think about Mama and Daddy from time to time, especially Mama. We were very close.”

I noticed her eyes begin to water up and asked, “You OK?”

She wiped them and quickly changed the subject without an answer.

“I see a naked ring on that finger. I would have thought a nice, good looking professor like you would be married.”

“I used to be.”

“Divorced?

“No, she died a couple of years ago.”

“Now, I’m sorry. How long were you married?”

“Nearly thirty years.”

“That’s a long time.”

I lowered my head and quietly said, “Not long enough.”

She taps me on the leg and gets up from the park bench. “Isn’t this interesting. We just met and already have something in common.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a widower, and I’m an orphan! Well, sorta kinda something in common. It don’t seem natural that a wife goes before the husband. It should be the other way around, then all the kids in the right peckin’ order; oldest to youngest. Thank God I’m an only child, removes the pressure.”

The Bec asked, “Wanna go and get a cup of coffee or some sweet tea?”

“I have class in an hour, but I’ll take a rain-check.”

“Then it’s a date. When?”

I think to myself, date? “I don’t know, I suppose anytime.”

“Well, now is anytime.”

“I wish I could, but today is not that day. I’m surprising my students with a pop quiz.”

Bec put on a pouty expression and said, “I hate those things. They always scare me.”

In a bit of a laugh, I said, “All in a day’s work.”

Then she laughed a little and said, “You’re just mean!”

“Bec, I really do need to get going. Maybe we’ll run into each other at school.”

“Fat chance, unless I change my schedule.”

She reaches in her “fanny pack” and gets out a pen and scrap of paper and writes down something and handed it to me; it was her phone number.

For whatever reason, I felt better than before we met, then thought to myself, “sweet girl.” I got up from the bench, made an “about face” and headed home.

“You remind me of my daughter minus the accent.”

Notes:

End line of the book,

“I know your father very well; I hope to know you equally as well.” They never left each other’s side from that moment on.

They are alone and asked, “Why haven’t you ever tried to hit on me?”

He shrugged his shoulders, and replied, “Not sure. Why?”

Bec made an advance at him and said, “Then I will.”

She put her arms around him and kissed him, and then he gently pushed her away.

Frustrated, she asked, “Why won’t you let me in? Is it because of her?”

“I don’t know… maybe.”

“Well she’s dead, and I’m not!”

 

Insurance and a Water Hose

A little warning if you decide to move to a place like Port Summerville; make sure you’re healthy and own plenty of homeowner’s insurance.

Most small communities like Port Summerville, a volunteer fire department is all we could afford, so if your house ever caught on fire, — good luck. By the time they pulled the volunteers out of the bars or wherever, the only thing left to do was call the insurance adjuster and build a new house.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness and think you’re having a problem, you might as well shoot yourself in the head and get it over with. The result will be the same, except for some blood and a hint of brain matter. If you think the EMS will save your ass, and to no surprise, you will be sadly mistaken—, post-mortemly speaking. And if you experience a heart attack, by the time they get to you, you’re already stiff as a board. Flies are swarming all around and snacking on you for brunch, then you became an incubator for their offspring.

Before rigor mortis reached its final peak of stiffness, your stuff gets parted out by the relatives, and whatever’s left that hasn’t been pillaged, is off to Goodwill, then all that remains, pardon the pun, is a loving memory and a will. As far as Port Summerville having three leading economies, I failed to mention another one; funeral homes. There are three, and business is good. The moral is; at the first sign of anything twitching or aching, no matter how inconspicuous, I don’t care if you’ve got a hangnail, head to the emergency room, and while you’re at it, get an extra water hose.

Kyle, Cassie, and the Accordion

The opportunity of being alone gave me a chance to recall the rest of the events at my favorite watering hole. It was the  evening Darlene told me about her and Brad.

On the way to the bar, I figured most guys in my situation would think to themselves; I’ll get even with that bitch, and tap me some new ass for a while. Not my style. I’ve always been more of a, you can look at the cake, but don’t lick the icing, kind of guy. But slicing off a chunk from another man’s cake…that’s a serious problem. When I arrived at my favorite watering hole and took a seat at the bar, a distant acquaintance sat down beside me, uninvited. He was a boat captain and a successful one, but as far as a human being goes, a big zero. He gave me his philosophy about life and relationships.

My original plan was to drink by myself, but Captain Numb Nuts had to wander into my solitude and was as irritating as I remembered at our last meeting. The greeting was always the same.

“Hi, John! How the heck are you? Haven’t seen you in a while. John, what do suppose is the best sandwich on Earth?”

I paused thinking, Not a clue, Numb Nuts. His real name was Kilroy or maybe Kyle, I’m terrible at names, so for all I knew, it was something forgettable. After pondering the sandwich question, I said I had no idea.

He responds with his memorized answer. “A ham and turkey club sandwich with bacon.”

“I see.”

“John, a man can eat a delicious club sandwich so many times until he thinks to himself”, then came the genius of Captain Nuts, “Now and then, a fried bologna sandwich is a nice change of pace…catch my drift?” As he gave me a little punch in the ribs, I prayed for a brain hemorrhage. After my brain hemorrhage prayer, I recalled his name.

“You know what, Kyle? I’m okay with fried bologna sandwiches, and I could eat one a day if I had too. I love ‘em! Guess what? I don’t have to. Besides, if I wanted to walk on the wild side and do something crazy, and using your dumb sandwich analogy, I might add cheese. I’m amazed your fourth wife has put up with you this long.”

Not aware he’d been insulted, Kyle was apparently amused by my little swipe. “Speak of the devil, there’s my baby girl!” Baby girl was right. She looked about fourteen.

“John, you ever met my wife, Cassie?” She strutted up to the bar wearing nothing but a halter top, sandals, and tight shorts. Yes, I had met her; she was the bimbo at Brad’s party.

I joked with Kyle about her youthful appearance. “Hey Kyle, do you sing her a lullaby when you rock her to sleep?” He laughed. Cassie approached and gave me a full-frontal hug; stabbing me with those 36-D’s. Cassie, in that squeaky, post-adolescent, annoying voice said, “Hi John, been a while. How’s your wife?”

“She’s alright.”

After Kyle witnessed his wife’s obvious affection toward me, said, “So, you two have met. What a small world.” He had no idea how small. Kyle wasn’t aware he’d married a hussy and flavor-of-the-week for Brad. I’m sure she had Dr. Stewart on retainer. When Kyle went on fishing trips entertaining clients, it sometimes lasted for days, and provided an opportunity for Cassie to go out on the prowl.

“Well John, this is a happy reunion. Let me buy you a drink.”

He yelled to the waitress, “Hey, Virginia, two Lone Stars for my friend and me, and a ‘sloe gin fizz’ for the lady.”

“Lone Star? Aren’t we the big spender, and on such a special occasion.”

“Only the best for you, John.”

“So, what have you two been doing lately?”

“Been trying my best to ‘knock up’ the little woman; I need me a new first mate.”

“Don’t you already have about a dozen kids?”

“Yeah, I got a few, but not with this special lady,” then grinning like a Cheshire cat, said, “at least not yet.”

Kyle announced he had to go “drain the lizard.” Cassie snuggled in close and asked if Darlene and I were having problems. If an air-head like Cassie could sense my gloominess, anyone could, then I mumbled, “Just a little misunderstanding.”

As Kyle made his way to the bathroom, he was only about ten feet away when Cassie began her sexual assault. Away from her husband’s eyesight, she put her arm around me, and whispered, “Anything I can do to help? My offer still stands. Remember the party?” It occurred to me what a real Jezebel she was. She made Darlene look like Mother Teresa. At least Darlene kept her sluttiness confined to one individual; to that sorry, no good, piece of shit, son-of-a-bitch, Brad.

“Cassie, I appreciate the offer, but I’m okay.”

I swear to God, she was worse than a cat in heat, and didn’t give up, then continued. “John, I’m teaching myself how to play the accordion. I got one of those home study courses. The first song I am learning is, Yo Ho, Blow the Man Down.” It was a fitting song for such an adulteress and an insult to a musical masterpiece. She grabbed my thigh, rubbed it throughout this dazzling conversation. She leaned in seductively toward me and whispered, “I’d sure like to play it for you sometime and show you how good I am.” I’m sure none of this conversation had much to do with accordions. Moments later, Kyle returned to the bar, and Cassie released me from her python-death grip.

With all the charisma of a Rhodes Scholar, he whispered, “John, are you a tapper?” Meaning, when guys go to the bathroom, and after they are done, tap their tool to release any stray droplets.

I stared at him with a confused and amazed look and uttered, “I’m not sure, Kyle. I let gravity do the work for me.”

He finished this mindless conversation with, “I bang mine up against the wall.”

“Very impressive, Kyle.” Right as I was about to throw up, he announced they were ready to leave.

He punched me in the side, then snickered. “I’m gonna get Cassie home, and see if I can spawn me a rug rat.”

After I recovered from his assault and trying to hold down my beer, I replied, “You two kids have fun.”

Kyle gave me a handshake that almost broke my hand, and Cassie landed another full-frontal hug, but this time, it included a whisper. “Kyle will be gone next week. Why don’t you stop by the house and I’ll play you my song?” I was speechless. How do you break the news to someone their wife is a tramp? I suppose you just let it go, or maybe you don’t. Hey Kyle, how about those Cowboys? By the way, did you know your wife is a whore? Interrupting my thoughts, Kyle jumped back into the conversation.

“John, isn’t Cassie the greatest?”

“Kyle, she’s a keeper. One in a million,” then thought—for a whore.

They left the bar and stiffed me with the tab, but another Lone Star or two sounded good. I ran into Kyle a few weeks later. He told me Cassie left him and moved away from town unannounced. All she left was a note. Tearfully he handed it to me.

My Dearest Kyle,

I’m sorry I had to leave this way, but I must pursue my dream of going to college. I enrolled in cosmetology school in Memphis and will continue taking accordion lessons. I’ll always cherish our time together.

Hugs and kisses,

Cassie

P.S. I’m a college girl now!

P.S.S. Tell John goodbye.

Their marital tenure lasted about twelve weeks, and I could tell how heartbroken Kyle was. His short-lived grief was substituted with his new girlfriend. I think wife number two; Marj.

Port Summerville- The tourist

I had an affection toward tourists. They humored me and were just so darn cute. You could spot them a mile away, even the seasoned ones. Visitors who came to Port Summerville year-after-year became less conspicuous than their rookie counterparts. Though they blended in, the locals still recognized them. The newbies were more visible. The first hint of amateur status was they took pictures of everything, and I mean everything; palm trees, birds, houses on the beach, clouds, more birds, and then each other. They went through a dozen rolls of film and hadn’t even checked into their room.

If you went to Wal-Mart and looked in their tourist shopping carts, you’d find new fishing gear, wine for her, cheap beer for him and Shasta black cherry soda for the kids. The kids bugged dad to death for the sand bucket and shovel thing, which usually ended up in the trash can after a day on the beach.

By the typical days end, dad would be drunk and Mom furious because he passed out right when little Joey caught a tiny perch. Since he controlled the camera—no picture. Susie yelled her ass off because Joey threw her dolly into the water, and everyone had a third-degree sunburn because someone forgot the sunscreen. Dad sobered up, tripped over the beer cooler, fell into the channel and took his new fishing pole and bait bucket with him. A few other tourists dragged him out, minus the fishing pole and bait bucket. They could get the bait bucket in the morning if the tide was right, but the new pole was a goner—they don’t float. Mom was not only pissed but also embarrassed. Susie was still screaming and little six-year-old Joey cussed like a sailor because he thought he had a fish and it got away.

This was when the real fun began. Dad wasn’t too drunk anymore, but not sober either—a dizzy place somewhere in the middle. This wasn’t a real vacation; just a little weekend getaway. No time for the kid’s sunburns to heal and a week before school let out for summer break.

Dizzy Dad would be thinking; Little Joey and Susie showed up at school still bitching about the sunburn. Their lips were covered with fever blisters and yellow stuff was oozing from their skin.

“What happened?” the teacher would ask.

And the little traitors would give the short answer. “Daddy got drunk and forgot to put sunscreen on us!”

The enterprising teacher was compelled in the best interest of the children to report him to the authorities. A Child Protection Agent would come to the house, accompanied by the police. They would interview all the parties involved, determine guilt and arrest dad on the spot. The charge: Endangerment and neglect of a child. FAN-DAMN-TASTIC! Another agent would remove the kids from the home and haul them off. Dad would be in handcuffs, and mom crying and screaming to high heaven.

“Goodbye career I spent an entire lifetime killing myself for! So long wife and kids! All I wanted to do was take a weekend vacation with the family. In the end, I’ve lost my job, I’m in jail, the kids have been placed in foster care, and my wife of fifteen years left me, all because I forgot the damn sunscreen!”

Port Summerville- The Fishing Charter

Dave fell into one of the biggest tourist traps on the coast — a deep sea fishing charter. A charter wasn’t part of the budget, but being the adventurer he was, or thought he was, spent another two-hundred bucks on a journey no one wanted to do in the first place.

“Come on kids, this will be great! You too, honey.”

Dave and his family, along with sixty others, ventured out toward the deep. The boat was a sixty-foot tourist fishing boat, and the itinerary included a forty-mile trip into the Gulf of Mexico. The fresh air and tranquil waters on the open sea began to restore his soul but soon discovered that he, the family, and all the passengers left their “sea legs” at the dock. The trick to avoiding seasickness was to stay fixed on the horizon, but when the boat is going up and down and swaying side to side, the background gets lost. An hour into the cruise, the once subtle splashes of seawater and a soft breeze, turned into tidal waves and wind gusts reaching fifty knots, then came the mayday calls through the ship’s radio from other distressed boats nearby.

Everyone got seasick. At first, just a bit queasy, but afterward, Dave and a few of the others began to throw up. They tried to be as discrete as they could, with an occasional “please excuse me” or “I’m sorry,” then moments later, the rest joined in, and barfed all over the place. All shyness and discretion had been set aside. After about thirty minutes of this continuous torture, there was a brief pause, and most of the puking ended. Huffing and puffing, someone asked, “Is this over with?” The short answer —  no, then it started all over again. God only knows what, but now Dave noticed stuff unidentifiable coming out of every orifice of his body; his pores even oozed something foul.

Dave lost control of most of his bodily functions and panicked, but the worst was still ahead. He hurried as quickly as possible to get to the restroom, but when he got there, it was locked. Horror replaced panic, then banged on the locked door with clenched fists, begging someone to let him in. With his head against the door, and with the speed of a rapid-fire machine gun, the banging continued. The pounding ended long enough to scream at the top of his lungs, “For the love of all that is good, let me in!” With no time to spare, the door opened, and he ran to the only toilet available. His pants were halfway down when he reached his destination, sat on the stool and let out a loud, “Oh my God!” Then came the explosion. The smell was nauseating, and the noise deafening. Dave was the sickest he’d been his whole entire life, and when he returned to the deck, pleaded with the captain to take him back. His body shook, and sweat covered him from head to toe, at least he hoped it was just sweat.

He found a clean, wet cloth, wiped his face and covered his head with it, then offered deals with the angel of death to come down and free him. He gathered all the strength he could muster and yelled at the crew. “If you don’t turn this boat around, I’ll jump ship and swim home! I swear to God I will!” Forget about the family — it was every man for himself. Dave thought about wielding a knife in a crazed fit to show his seriousness, but instead, pleaded with God to end this damnation — out loud. He took a moment, dropped to his knees and clasped his hands in prayer. “Dearest God on the highest, I swear on my life, and the life of my children, I promise to be good and not cash in little Joey’s college fund. Please help me, sweet Lord!” Another dry heave, then, “Amen.”

The ship’s crew laughed at this carnage, but not for long. Men cried, and mothers held on to their children. A handful of the others had either collapsed or fainted. Both restrooms on board backed up and overfilled from so much use, then in a thunderous roar, it sprayed their vile contents onto the deck like an oil gusher, mixing with the spew and whatever else that leaked or oozed out of their bodies. To the crew, it had been all laughs, but with the added ingredient, they got sick too. When everyone thought it couldn’t get any worse, an announcement came over the ship’s loudspeaker. “Does anyone on board know how to drive a boat?”

Poor Dave had thrown up everything he possibly could, and swore he saw chunks of human tissue in his puke. The whole scene was a total catastrophe. Vomit was everywhere, and the deck had gotten slicker than axle grease. Those that could stand or walk slipped and fell on the deck with loud thuds. The crew couldn’t keep enough water hoses going to clean up the mess. Fellow travelers hung their heads off the side of the boat moaning and groaning. They held fast to the rails and whatever strength they had, chanted similar prayers as Dave’s, then one of the fathers offered to sacrifice his first-born son to end this horror at sea. Dave was sitting down and covered his head with his hands. He was sick, disgusted, embarrassed and broke, then said to himself, “So, this is how my pathetic life ends.”

The crew set up a makeshift chapel inside the cabin, but the preacher that volunteered to lead the service jumped ship. An atheist suddenly turned traveling evangelist, got motivated to convert only seconds earlier, and stepped in as his replacement to become our spiritual leader. With outstretched arms, reached toward the heavens, he prayed, “Sweet Jesus, save us from this wrath of Satan! Amen and Amen.” After he finished, there was a loud clap of thunder, then looked toward the sky. “Wow, this really works.” We were out in the middle of nowhere with nothing left to throw up or crap out, and the only thing Dave had was his pride, and when he thought the worst was over, his eyes started to bleed.

The wind died down, and the sea calmed, then people began to regain consciousness. As they prepared for the ride back to port, Dave seriously contemplated the need for a blood transfusion. After eight hours of this madness, they returned to the ship’s dock, and Dave was the first one off the boat. When he got to shore, fell on his knees, kissed the ground, and thanked God he still had part of a lung.

 

The Parade and the KKK- (Circa 1972)

Port Summerville was as white as rice; meaning, hardly any folks of color lived there. Sure, we had our fair share of Mexicans and Vietnamese, but if you were a colored fellow in town, it was assumed you must of either been lost or passing through.

It was a strange year. Disco was coming alive, Nixon ended the Vietnam war, then we ended him. Blazing Saddles was a box office hit, and our youngest son was born. It was also the year that my dearest friend graduated. Jody was a few years younger than me and was like a little brother. We met when Darlene and I played bridge with his parents. We caught up with him a few years later and reminisced about his high school days. We attended his graduation, and after he received his diploma, told me that high school was the best six years of his life. Currently, he is serving his fifth term as a U.S. Senator.

I’m wasn’t particularly proud of this, but we had a local KKK chapter — sort of. It began when the founding club members, all of them friends or acquaintances, decided they wanted to start a club, which was more of an excuse to drink than socialize. Leslie was the first to bring up the KKK because he had a great-uncle who used to be a member.

As a kid, Leslie filtered out what he wanted to, and kept the memories of what he remembered was the fun stuff. I don’t think any of the organizers really understood who or what the KKK was or what they represented. What the group did know —  they didn’t want to be Rotarians, and the Masons didn’t allow blacks or Jews. He said when he was about eight-years-old, his uncle Chuck told the youngins’ stories about his club. Leslie told the other founders what he recalled. The other members surrounded him like kids at a campfire. With clear and focused eyes fixed on Leslie, he told them of his memories. Those fellows weren’t Rhodes Scholars, but a far cry from being complete fools, but on the other hand…

Leslie paced around with his arms wrapped around his chest, then he stopped and said, “I’ve been thinking and studying on this for a while. We need a club instead of hanging around every Friday night, not to mention the women folk are fed up too. We need a cause, and I think this is the one.” As eager as beavers, everyone sat on metal folding chairs in a semi-circle and zeroed in on every word Leslie spoke.

Hector, a Mexican national, stood up, and in his broken English, he asked Leslie, “What gives?”

Leslie continued to pace around, then stopped in place. “Well, boys, its’ called the Ku Klux Klan, the KKK for short, and call themselves a fraternal order, sounds sort of like a college deal, and we’d be like frat brothers.” Someone asked what a frat brother was. Leslie narrowly edged out the others as far as intelligence went; he made it to the tenth grade. So, with his over achievement, he used it to his advantage and improvised. “Those college boys use a lot of foreign words, I think frat is Latin for ‘frattis,’ meaning to drink and enjoy.” Most of these guys where shrimpers and deckhands on oyster boats, and I none of them had ever been to college, I doubted any of them could spell KKK, but that didn’t keep them from continuing the conversation.

Travis jumped out of his seat and said, “I like the sound of that!”

Hector said, “But don’t those frat boys grow up to be assholes? Tyler Smithfield went to college, and he was in a frat club, it was something like, I Felta Delta. A few of us know him, and he sure turned out to be an asshole.”

“I think Tyler went to one of those snooty colleges,” —  then Leslie tried his best Bostonian accent — “up in Baaston. We’ll worry about that later; I don’t think any of us can afford to be a snob.” Everyone laughed out loud, then Leslie told them how he thought the club worked and what they did. “These fellows get together all the time and hold meetings and such. My uncle invited my brothers and me to one of their family events. They share picnics with their families, march in parades, and you ready for this, Travis?”

Travis, the only black member, about fell out of his chair, and asked, “What is it, Leslie?”

Leslie threw both arms in the air with excitement. “They make home visits to black folks!”

“So, Leslie, what you’re telling us if you can’t come to the meeting, they’ll take the meeting to you?”

“Travis, it’s a whole lot bigger than that. I think more like a community outreach program. Guess what else? They call themselves ‘knights’”

Travis lowered and shook his head, almost in tears. “Just knights? More like knights in shining armor.”

Tuye, a Vietnamese refugee added, “What a bunch of neat guys, pardon me, Leslie, — I mean gentlemen.”

Adolf, the only Jew, said, “More like men among men. These are my kind of guys.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, then Tuye told Leslie he was worried they weren’t good enough. He told them they’ll just need to wait and see, then assured the others they’d be fair because that’s just the way they are. Leslie continued in a concerned tone. “And guys, we need to watch our language, they’re pretty religious and big into crosses.”

Travis commented, “They’re not only knights but saints too? This is too good to be true!”

Hector said, “Man-oh-man, Leslie. Travis is right. They sound like a bunch of nice fellows. I’m in.”

Tuye said he read somewhere they started a lot of their meetings with a bonfire. “Probably like a campfire to roast marshmallows and weenies for the kids.”

Leslie told them they also had a mascot. Not a lion or a bear either, but a dragon and not just any old dragon, — it was a grand dragon.

As giddy as school girls on prom night, they talked and giggled among themselves, then discussed the plans if they joined. Those fellows had no clue what they were getting mixed up with. Travis departed from the others and wandered to the other side of the room. After a few minutes of solitude, he returned and had a confession. He was worried about something, and the others asked him what the problem was. Travis clutched his hands together, and beads of sweat poured from his darkened brow. “I’ll just announce it to the world and be done with it. I don’t think the KKK will let me in.”

Hector asked Travis why? “I dropped out of high school. There, I said it.”

Leslie assured him they wouldn’t single him out because of that, because the KKK was bigger than that. With continued assurance from Leslie, he added, “I doubt any of this motley crew graduated Summa Cumma Lumma.” Again, everyone got a big laugh, and whatever concerns Travis had, was soon forgotten.

“If they let us join, we should invite them to Port Summerville. I’ll get Pearl to whip up a delicious meal.” Travis paused for a moment — “God I hope they let us in.” Leslie told the group more and more stories of his youth and all he could remember his uncle had told them. He recalled one evening his uncle had to leave and go to a blanket party.

Stanley, the only gay member, said, “Like a slumber party?”

“Not really, Stanley —  more of a get together for other members who are having problems.”

Leslie said he heard it too. I’ve met most of these fellows, but they didn’t have the brains God gave a gnat. A blanket party is a form of corporal punishment usually used in the military on other members for misdeeds or rule violations; the KKK used it too.

“But boys, this is the best part, you guys ready?”

Tuye said, “Come on Leslie. What is it? Don’t keep us in suspense!”

Leslie continued to taunt them, then asked again, “You really ready?”

“Yes, Leslie, tell us!” Leslie stood up, paused for a moment, threw his hands in the air and exclaimed, “They have costume parties all the time! Now Fellows, this is the one downside. They’re not creative as far as their attire goes. They always wear the same getup. It’s like a ghost outfit with a cone-looking hat. But who cares? They dress up for Halloween all year long.”

“I’ve heard enough! Let’s contact the national organization to see if they’ll approve us.”

“Good idea, Hector. I’ll get Wilma to write a letter right away. Boys, we’re on our way to getting some respect in this town.” Wilma, Leslie’s wife, filled out the paperwork, including a handwritten letter and provided the list of founding members as required. About a month later, the three got together to open a letter from national. The group met at Travis’s house and took a seat at his kitchen table.

“Well, fellows, this is it.” Leslie opened the letter. It was written on formal letterhead and was from the Imperial Klan’s of America. Their exuberance was deafened as Leslie read out loud.

Dear Sirs;

We regret to inform you that your membership has been denied. The founding organizers of your proposed chapter appear to be of questionable national origin. Because of our decision, you must discontinue using the initials KKK, its symbols, trademarks or service marks, forthwith.

Yours truly,

  1. Gordon Smith, attorney-at-law

All in attendance sat in shock, and not a word was spoken; Travis was spotted shedding a tear. The others shook their heads in disbelief. Hector was the first to break the silence. “Well guys, that’s that.”

“What a bunch of snobs,” Adolf said as he banged his head on the table.

Hector added, “We don’t need them anyway. We’ll continue on like we never heard of the stupid KKK.”

The sadness was so overwhelming, and Travis left the room telling the others he needed to be by himself, Adolf tagged along. Travis told Adolf that Leslie was probably to blame for the denial because he had a girl name. Adolf knew how upset Travis was, put his arm around him and promised him they will build an even bigger and better club. “We need to get back to the others. Stanley has been bawling for over an hour. I think the others are about to lynch him.” Adolf agreed, then the two went back to be with the others and worked on plan B.

***

Despite their rejection, the club roster grew, and membership expanded. The club included four more white guys, another Mexican, and one more Vietnamese. Buster, a friend of Stanley’s, and who is Canadian, wanted to be a member too. Leslie informed him that foreigners weren’t allowed. Tuye, the Vietnamese, took exception. “Leslie, where in the hell do you think me and Hector are from, — Maine?”

“Oh yeah, I keep forgetting.” and agreed with the consensus of the other members.

Buster’s membership was voted on and approved. Leslie performed a brief swearing-in ceremony. Buster was assigned to the finance committee. He had the duty of overseeing fifteen dollars and twenty-seven cents in the treasury, secured in the club safe; a coffee can. Stanley, a known fruit, congratulated Buster and gave him a hug and a kiss. Adolf whispered to Leslie, “That’s all we need; Canadian fruit.”

And last, but not least, to round off the club roster, was old man Steinberg’s oldest son, Adolf. I asked Mr. Steinberg why he named his son after such a madman? “John, did you ever read about Charles Manson?”

“Why, yes Ben, I have. Wasn’t he the one who had all those people hacked up including a lady movie star?”

Slightly irritated, he replied, “Yes John, that one. Now, should everyone who named his kid Charles to take it back because someone with the same name happens to be a crazed psychopath?”

“I guess not, Ben.”

“Besides, John, I named him after Adolf Hurwitz, the famous Jewish mathematician not that lunatic Hitler.”

Besides, John, I named him Adolphus, meaning ‘noble, majestic wolf,’ and nothing to do with that lunatic, Hitler. Those lamebrains he hangs out with shortened it, and now that is how he introduces himself. He’s as dumb as they are.

“Sorry Ben, I didn’t mean to offend.”

“None taken, John. Do you care for a bagel with schmear?”

“No thanks, Ben, I just ate, thank you, though.” I had no idea what a schmear was, and I wasn’t going to take any chances either. I couldn’t trust a man who won’t (doesn’t) eat bacon.

Back to the club. The first order of business was the club needed to figure out a new club name. They discussed several ideas, and nothing appealed to them, but they’ve got a new motto; If you can afford beer, you can join. No one in town took them in earnest. They were harmless, and the meeting was a gathering every Friday night at the Vietnamese church.

The meeting always began with a prayer and a shot of whiskey. After the prayer, usually led by Leslie, the clubs self-proclaimed leader, and always ended the prayer with, “We ask all of this in the name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Adolf was the only Jewish member of the club, and always objected to the Jesus Christ part, and every time he brought it up, Leslie apologized that included a hint of sarcasm and a touch of reverence. “Sorry Adolf, I keep forgetting you Jews are still waiting around for your Jesus.”

“Our Messiah, Leslie. The Messiah.”

Leslie rolled his eyes and whispered to himself, “Messiah, my ass,” then said, “You need to face the facts, Adolf, and get down on your hands and knees and accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior.” After the prayer and debate, they began the ritualistic drinking and playing, and I use the term loosely — music — all night long. When I said all night long, I mean all night long.

The band knew two songs, and the more they drank, the drunker they got, and the more intoxicated they became, the music turned deafening. Adolf played lead tambourine and the bongos, Stanley, the piccolo. No one thought a piccolo worked, but to keep him happy, they let him join in. Everyone else played guitar. Later in the evening while the others laid around passed out, and when you thought the music was over, whoever oversaw the bass guitar performed a solo that lasted about an hour. After the others regained consciousness, they played the whole thing again from the top. Now that’s entertainment.

The town leaders stood proud of their minority statistics, and furthest down the list were Jews, and fewer of them lived in Port Summerville than any other group. They kept to themselves and stayed out of sight, — by choice. The tourist bureau considered them a novelty, and in their words, “an important contribution to the tourism industry in Port Summerville.” They owned a few of the gift shops, and another had the only jewelry store.

The closest thing to a synagogue in Port Summerville was Ben Steinberg’s back porch. Every week on the Sabbath, a few of the town Jew’s gathered, told stories and prayed. They ate a kosher barbecue dinner, got smashed, shouted out a couple of Shaloms’, and that was the worship scene of our Jewish community. I was proud to be part Jew, not much, but enough to get my feathers ruffled when told a Jew jokes, but not enough to go to Ben’s synagogue.  — besides, I think I’m a Presbyterian.

To keep up with the times and be more progressive, Port Summerville extended the hand of friendship to both the gay and black communities. No one could explain this, not even the Chamber of Commerce, but Port Summerville was a “fruit basket magnet,” and they usually showed up in pairs. The black population, though small, continued to expand in numbers. They came here to find work at the shipyard or laborers in the surrounding cities and suburbs, or as I stated before, — either lost or just passing through.

Bill, watch for continuity between the different meeting places, there is some back and forth movement, from a meeting room to the hall, etc.

Darlene served on the parade organizing committee. They’re not an official city government committee, just a group of busybodies that had nothing better to do. Their task was limited to the organizing of the annual parades every year, such as the Christmas and Shrimp Festival parade, and a handful of others. The parade organizing committee met once a quarter by the same crowd of attendees and the same agenda. Every year the organizers got their parades rubber-stamped by the committee, afterward passed on for final approval from the permits department at City Hall. Blacks organized events all over the country, mostly Juneteenth celebrations and equal rights marches. So, a few self-appointed black leaders thought Port Summerville needed a parade too. The gay community got wind of this and wanted one also. I had my version of what a gay parade might look like, but taking Darlene’s advice, kept my mouth shut.

Perhaps a coincidence, but when the committee got together for their quarterly meeting, the two groups showed up at the same time with their representatives; Travis and Stanley. Now things got complicated. As you already know, Travis, was a black guy and a founding member of the club along with Leslie and the others but had his loyalties challenged by other black leaders. Stanley, also a founding member, but despite his club affiliation with his fellow comrades, felt he needed to represent the gay community.

Though still club brothers, both realigned their loyalties temporarily for the sake of their respective constituency. The two leaders did their research, and made their pitch to the committee, but knew of the limited resources Port Summerville had for parades. Travis and Stanley knew they were virtual outcasts, and decided it would be best to be as one. They joined forces and shared their limited funds for a parade, but still needed approval from the committee.

Collectively, they had enough money for a permit and a banner, then volunteers did the rest. Since both groups shared a similar rainbow design in their logo, the idea for a banner was easy. All they needed was a parade name. I told you it was complicated, then things got ridiculous. Adolf Steinberg busted into the meeting and said his group, the original club, wanted a parade too. The problem was, his group had no money, except whatever was in the safe. He insisted meeting the other two and see if they could work together making this the country’s first; a pseudo-KKK group, blacks, and gays coming together for a single parade event. Darlene, who was chairman of the committee, threw her hands up in the air and asked Adolf if he was aware of what the KKK was and what it stood for. “Leslie’s uncle said they were a fraternal order. We figured it was sort of a college deal —  like a fraternity.”

Darlene added, “Have you boys been living under a rock all your life?”

Travis defended Adolf and said, “What gives, Darlene? What are you trying to say?”

“Travis, you of all people should know.”

“Know what, Darlene?” Travis got his feathers ruffled, and as he put it, about to go all Negro on Darlene.

“You must think I’m just some dumb ole’ colored boy, don’t you Miss Darlene?”

“Travis, how long have we been friends?”

Travis, slightly taken aback said, “A few years, I suppose.”

In a scolding tone, she said, “Travis, I want you to take this in the spirit in which it is intended —  shut up.”

“Yes ma’am, I mean Darlene.”

Darlene continued, “All I was trying to say is that the KKK and all that it represents…” she paused for a moment, then conceded, and replied, “Never mind Travis. I must be thinking of something else.” Travis explained to the committee they had been denied membership but decided they would continue to follow, and I quote: “The KKK’s guiding principles.”

“Very sweet, Travis,” then she whispered to another committee member. “How can a group of adult men be so naïve?”

The other whispered back, “Or stupid. I don’t think this bunch is aware we’ve been to the moon.” Then she silently exclaimed, “Hell, Adolf thinks it’s a planet.”

Darlene responded with another whisper, “Or that a microwave isn’t just a coffee warmer.”

The other replied, “Or what one is.” Both snickered. Darlene called for a recess so the committee members could meet for a brief conference about the matter.

Adolf, Stanley, and Travis headed out to the hall and sat on a nearby bench. Travis stood beside the bench where Stanley and Travis sat. “Stanley, I’ve been doing some checking. I didn’t want to bring it up in the meeting, but I think Darlene may be on to something about the KKK.”

“What’s wrong Travis?”

In a serious tone, Travis said, “I think maybe it’s because of you they denied our membership in the KKK.”

A bit irritated, Stanley countered. “Is it because I’m white?” Adolf and Travis looked at each other in amazement.

“No, Stanley, not because you are white.”

Now concerned, Stanley said, “Oh my God, — is it because I’m a Unitarian! They’re afraid that my religious beliefs will influence them.”

“No Stanley, that isn’t it.”

Stanley paused and said, “Then, what is it, sweetie?”

Again, Adolf and Travis just looked at each other. Travis didn’t want to tell him what he thought the real reason was and hurt Stanley’s feelings. To end the conversation, Travis thought on his feet and said, “You need to be at least twenty-four to join. You’re too young.”

That was satisfactory enough for Stanley. The meeting was called back to order, and Darlene invited the three back inside. Darlene told them if they could work out the details, she and the committee sent the paperwork along for approval. Travis let Darlene know that he and the others wouldn’t let them down. Darlene’s final comment was, “I don’t know how you could. Good luck.”

I told you Port Summerville was weird, and as the saying goes, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” and necessity applied here, and a lot of it.

The committee had other business to attend to and asked Travis, Stanley, and Adolf to discuss their plans for the parade in a room across the hall. During the meeting, Travis, the representative for the black delegation, told Adolf they’ve got a lot to cover. Although Travis was still loyal to the club, he knew they needed to tone down anything that looked or smelled like the KKK. “I’m not sure why, but the committee seems to have a problem with it, so try to come up with something else.”

Adolf replied, “We’ll think of something Travis, you’ve got my word.” Adolf was still reeling because of the denial from national, and said in a pout, “Besides, we can’t use those letters anyways. Ya’ll remember?” Then doing air-quotes, said, “And its symbols, trademarks or service marks, forthwith.”

It was much too early in their meeting for emotions to flare, but they did. Stanley, who represented the gay community, was almost in tears and silently yelled, “And for God’s sakes, no hoods or those pajama things either! Their outfits are tacky!”

Adolf, a little put off replied, “Their outfits? What happened to ‘our’ outfits, Stanley? And when did you get so hoity-toity? They are costumes, and you know it. What gives Stanley, you’re a member too.”

“Not anymore, Travis said I’m too young. Anyway, my new friends need help with the parade —”, then he stuck out his tongue and said — “so there.”

Travis tried to get both of them back on track.  “Adolf, are we clear about the getup?”

“Yes, Mr. Johnson.”

“Shut up, Adolf. Can’t we all just get along?”

In a pout, Stanley said, “If we don’t figure something out, they’ll ruin the parade for everyone!”

In a hushed voice, Adolf said, aimed in the direction of the committee, “And they’d never forgive us.”

Stanley was crying and said he was upset and needed a hug. Adolf patted him on the back. “There, there.” Adolf continued to do his best to comfort Stanley and told him they’d figure something out. Adolf also assured the two; no hoods or robes either. It didn’t matter —  they couldn’t afford them. They decided to wear blue jeans and a nice shirt.

Stanley added, “With a scarf?” Adolf turned to Travis, and silently told him he thought the scarf should be reserved for his bunch. Keep in mind, the committee members gathered across the hall about twenty feet away and heard most of the conversation, — in astonishment.

The committee members adjourned, and left the room, except our three organizers. Towards the end of their meeting, they discussed the menu for the picnic. “My group will bring the fried chicken and malt liquor.”

Stanley, the gay rep, jumped to his feet and said, “Isn’t that a bit stereotypical, Travis?”

“What do you mean, Stanley?”

Stanley leaned in toward Travis, and in a whisper, said, “You know….”

“Know what?”

Stanley responded, “Fried chicken and malt liquor.”

Travis asked, “Don’t you like fried chicken, Stanley?”

And in a huff, Stanley said, “Well yes, I do, but I prefer mine baked with sautéed mushrooms in a cream sherry sauce.”

Travis ignored him and asked Adolf, “What will you and your bunch be bringing to the picnic?”

“We’ll get our old ladies to whip up some hot dogs and Collard greens.”

“Travis, did you hear him? He said collard greens!”

“Stanley, what’s your beef? My people don’t control all the food groups.”

“Travis, those idiots don’t eat Collard greens. He’s making fun of you.”

“Stanley, don’t go getting yourself all in an uproar. Honkies like collard greens too. I don’t, and Wilma says they stink up the house.”

Then, Adolf jumped to his feet and headed toward Travis. Tension filled the air as these two exchanged insults. “Honkies? Since when did you go all black on us?” Adolf exclaimed.

“Gee whiz, Adolf, I don’t know, maybe because I’m black.”

“Sorry Travis, I forgot.” Back to the fight. The two were eyeball-to-eyeball, both sets of fists raised and ready to brawl.

Stanley jumped in between the two and pushed them apart, then said, “Now Travis, you apologize to Adolf for calling him that name.”

Travis gave a reluctant apology. Adolf not too accepting of the apology, replied, “No prob, cuz.” That was the best Travis could muster for an apology. Sure was a lot of apologizing going on during the meeting, but it had to be expected. The two returned to their respective corners.

Stanley briefly took sides with Travis and whispered, “He is such a male.”

Adolf overheard his comment and said, “OK, fruit pants, what will you girls be bringing?”

“Adolf, I’ll sashay me and my fruit pants over there and slap the shit out of you.” Now Travis had to intervene with these two.

“It’s time for you boys to settle down. This bickering will get us nowhere. Adolf, now it’s your turn —  apologize to Stanley.”

Stanley has worked his way into a full-blown tizzy. “I won’t accept an apology from that baboon.” Stanley crossed his arms and turned his back away and said, “Travis you tell him, I’m not speaking to that cretin.” Stanley kept his arms crossed in protest followed by more pouting, and a foot stomp.

Adolf tried his best for a sincere apology and said, “Come on Stanley, I was kidding around. I’m soooo sorry. Let’s start over. Now, what will you and your friends be bringing to the picnic?”

Stanley rebounded from his fit, and with giddiness in his voice, said, “Thank you, Adolf. Well, my friends and I will be serving delicious, individual quiche tarts with a fresh rose petal salad.” Adolf and Travis looked at each other with a confused look on their faces.

Travis asked, “Stanley — I’m dying to know, what beverages you will bring?”

“Pink Ladies and Daiquiris, you silly.” Again, Adolf and Travis looked at each other, but this time instead of amazement, it was more like shock. They were speechless.

Adolf aware of his sensitive nature, gently asked, “Stanley, now what exactly is a Pink Lady? I know what a Daiquiri is, I’m just not too familiar with the other one.”

Stanley got all excited and gave the ingredients for a Pink Lady. “It has a little of this, and a little of that, with an egg white, all shaken up, all topped with a sweet red cherry. Yummy!”

Adolf turned to Travis and whispered, “Sounds more like fruit punch.”

Travis warned him in a low tone and said, “I’d be careful, Adolf, that ‘slap-the-shit-out-of- you’ was only a starter; he’s a black belt in karate.”

Stanley overheard the conversation and again said in a huff, “We don’t have to be such barbarians. Someone must add some civility to this event. You two are such simpletons.”

Travis turned to Adolf, and in an uppity tone said, “Why, my dear Adolf, I do believe we’ve been insulted.”

Adolf, in a similar tone, said, “I concur, Travis, there does appear to be a bit of an attitude.” Stanley smiled. The three tried to be as quiet as they could in their little piece of the meeting room. The committee members heard them laughing when they entered and rejoined the meeting. Everything was peaceful once again. The other members reconvened, and after about an hour-long discussion, Travis, Adolf, and Stanley stood and announced they had an idea to incorporate the three groups and align their collaborative efforts.

No one thought it could ever happen, but Adolf and his group, stood side-by-side in complete solidarity with the black and gay community, and together they created Port Summerville’s first annual TripleK-Blayday Parade. Triple K for apparent reasons, then black and gay shortened to form the word, Blay. Darlene comment was short. “This ought to be interesting.”

Another benefit of the meeting, Adolf, and his organization came up with a name and proudly introduced the newest club in Port Summerville; the TripleK Klub. Club was spelled using a K instead of a C because Stanley thought switching them would be cute. The one detail to work out was incorporating the three groups’ logos onto the same banner. Travis told the committee, “We’re way ahead of you.”

The three sketched out a design they agreed on and decided the banner. It included a rainbow design on the left, another one on the right, and a Confederate flag in the middle. Stanley and his new friend, Buster, the gay Canadian, volunteered to embroider a flower and peace symbol in the center of the Confederate flag. They flipped a coin to see who would carry the banner and lead the parade. A few days later, a permit was issued, and the parade date was set, then sent the invitations out to other participants. The two holdouts were the mayor and the sheriff, at least for the time being.

***

The mayor and the sheriff had a private meeting to discuss the matter, then after a brief conversation on other city matters and idle chit-chat, the mayor said, “Sheriff, I’ve got a real problem with this parade thing.”

Miles, the Sheriff, agreed. “I know what you mean. You’re in quite a pickle. If you don’t go, the blacks will think you’re a bigot.”

“I know what you mean, but if I go, the anti-gay bunch will crawl up my ass.”

The sheriff, a bit shocked, looked at him and said, “They’ll do what?”

“You know what I mean. What in the hell goes on in that head of yours?”

“Sorry, your Excellency.”

Not amused, the mayor continued. “My sister should’ve cut your balls off years ago. Now, where was I? Oh yeah. Another group to worry about if I don’t go, are those knuckleheads. They’ll think I’m anti-white.”

“But you are white.”

“I know that, dumb-ass.” The mayor fidgeted in his chair and tapped his pencil on the table. He lit up a Camel, then continued. “I’m in one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenarios.” The mayor got up from his chair and paced around, taking several back-to-back puffs of his cigarette. “You don’t have to go. You can use that,” then using air-quotes, said, “I’m too busy upholding the law bullshit.” He paused again, then said in a panic, “I’ve got nothing!”

“Don’t worry Mayor, we’ll think of something.” Then the sheriff threw both arms in the air and said, “I’ve got it! Send a representative from your office.”

“What are you talking about? There isn’t anyone. This is the kind of shit I’m supposed to do.” The mayor sat back down and took a few more drags from his cigarette. He tapped his pen on his desk then said, “Maybe if I sit on the float with the queen…”

The sheriff interrupted, exclaimed and said, “Are you crazy? They’ll think you’re a queer.”

“Not their queen, dumb shit. The black queen. They elected their own queen for the parade, you moron.” He got back up from his chair and continued to pace again. The mayor stopped his pacing and said, “That’s it! I’ll sit on the float with her. That’s my best bet and will neutralize my position and show the community how open-minded I am. It will also distance me from the you-know-whos without seeming too obvious. That should soften the blow.” The sheriff took a step back and stared at him. The mayor saw the stupid look on the sheriff’s face after the “soften the blow” comment. “Miles, get your head out of the gutter.”

“You’re the one talking dirty.” They both laughed, even though the mayor was feeling pressured. “Mayor, I think you’ve got a handle on the situation. This will demonstrate real political strength. You’re a real problem solver, Harry. I guess that’s why they elected you mayor.”

“Damn straight. Call me ‘Mayor Fix It’; ‘The problemater.’ Miles, go tell Bertha to notify the press.” Miles left the room, and the mayor sat back down, then kicked his feet up on his desk. Feeling slightly relieved at his decision, he took a final couple of drags off his cigarette, then stomped the remaining butt on the floor, then though, “All in a day’s work.” He left the building and got a massage.

The invitations went out, and the Shriner’s headed the list. Shriner’s only needed to hear the word parade and gladly accepted the offer to participate. They could care-a-less about the theme. The only criteria were to have plenty of beer for them and gasoline for their mini-bikes.

Seizing the opportunity for votes, every politician in Port Summerville and the surrounding county took part as well. Not wanting to be left out of this historical event, Miss Shrimp showed up too, along with her entourage of ladies-in-waiting. You’d think Miss Shrimp would have been a knockout, — not in this case. You got the title of Miss Shrimp by winning the shrimp eating contest. She was fat and obnoxious and chain-smoked. The ladies-in-waiting were well-known town sluts.

The mayor, satisfied with his tactical decision, attended the parade, but in a last-minute mix-up, he rode in the I’m Queer, and I’m Here float and sat by their queen. She was a six foot, four-inch transvestite named Kelsey. They’ve been secretly dating ever since.

***

There was this one Port Summerville cop, I won’t name any names, but his initials were Officer Kent Dorf. It was rumored Officer Dorf was a fruit, and everything pointed in that direction and had been chasing around after Brad for years. Too bad, Brad was straight as an arrow, but he still dreamed someday the two would be in each other’s arms. Fat chance, cream puff. Dorf begged the parade committee to let him oversee crowd control and security. I think he wanted to be a parade participant with Stanley’s bunch but didn’t want to get found out, — in other words, he wasn’t ready to come out of the closet.

Coming out of the closet was a new term cupcakes used when they wanted to tell the world of their fruitiness. I was still bugged that all the special groups hijacked words and phrases, like coming out of the closet. It did nothing but complicate my life. Because Darlene was way ahead of her time, knew what the expression meant and selfishly kept it to herself, and reserved that knowledge to screw with me. One day I was getting a pair of jeans out of the closet. She knew damn well where I was, but choose to taunt me instead. She seized the opportunity, asked where I was, and I yelled, “I’m in the closet!” She laughed, and I hollered back, “What’s so funny? I’m just in the closet.”

Still laughing, “When will you be coming out of the closet?” Now, she’s being perverted.

“I’ll be out of the closet in a minute.” She fell to the floor with laughter and rolled all around, and continued laughing all the while. I never went into or came out of the closet again. She’s was such a jerk, and so, if I needed anything, she had to get it. I guess her humor backfired.

After the news of the parade hit the papers, the story spread like wildfire and went nationwide. The day of the event, everyone was excited. The parade route filled, mostly spectators and curiosity seekers. Then the media showed up that included all the major television news organizations; ABC, NBC, and CBS, plus a few newspaper reporters and magazine writers. Life Magazine’s photographer was going through rolls of film as fast as he could reload his camera.

Before the parade, we had opening speeches by the mayor, a couple of city councilmen, and a statement by Miss Shrimp welcoming everyone. A few weeks after the parade, Miss Shrimp will surrender her crown but already had a new one by winning the belching contest at the VFW. We wished her well in her continued conquest for excellence.

Everyone that worked the fairgrounds made final preparations for the picnic, and that is when the trouble began to brew. The parade received national media attention. Others noticed as well, including The Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, and another uninvited guest was a new group of nuts; The National Alliance. They got word the Klan wasn’t going to attend, and because they were a new organization, thought an opportunity to get in front of the camera would help spread their message, and it did. A few were arrested for public intoxication; most arrived drunk. The KKK didn’t show up for reasons still unknown. The scuttlebutt was they thought the climate was too hot, and I quote, “The town itself smelled of fish.”

The first two organizations, as a rule, remained peaceful and promoted their own causes. This new bunch of idiots only hated. They made the KKK look like a church choir. None of the planners or participants knew why the parade got the attention of the outsiders but threw it all, Travis… a black guy, Stanley… a gay guy, and Adolf… a Jew, all with the combined IQ of a brick, pulled it off. They had the tenacity to organize a function like the TripleK-BlayDay parade despite their perceived differences and was reason enough for those outsiders to come and stir things up.

The parade completed its route and reached the fairgrounds. The kids played on the beach and their parents along with other adults socialized and mingled. Color of skin and other stereotypes got tossed out the window, and everyone was having fun until a bullhorn blasted by the leader of the National Alliance. “White Power! We’re white, and we’re right!”

It wasn’t their usual style of doing things, but a needed response came from the NAACP representative. He took the bullhorn away from him and yelled, “Black Power! Black Power! Black Power!”

Not wanting to be left out, the ADL, the Jewish representative grabbed the bullhorn and yelled out an enthusiastic, “Go Jews!” He only said it once. No one heard that chant before, but he got caught up in the moment, and wanted to come up with something clever, but couldn’t think of a word that rhymed with Jew.

Our three heroes had heard enough, then jumped on the stage. Travis took the bullhorn and invited everyone to sing, “We Shall Overcome.” The crowd held their arms up and outstretched and sang along. Some swayed back and forth with the rhythm of the song. Then it was Adolf’s turn to sing his selection; “Die Fahne Hoch,” which meant, “The Flag on High.” Like a rock star, held fast to the bullhorn, and invited everyone to sing along, then blasted through the bullhorn, “Everyone, sing with me!” Adolf started to sing, but no one knew the words, so he wound up doing a solo. After he finished the song, and as a sign of support, Travis went up to Adolf with his right hand held high. Adolf had a confused look on his face but did the same, and both gave each other a loud clap for Adolf’s performance, and it was at that moment the high-five was invented. The two left the stage, then Stanley and his troupe ran on the platform and belted out a rendition of West Side Story’s, I feel Pretty.

After the performances, and in a show of solidarity between the three, all in attendance held hands and sang God Bless America. It was a picture-perfect moment. During the hand holding part, instead of the usual boy/girl, girl/boy set up, it was more like black guy/white girl, gay guy/ black girl, white guy/gay guy. You get my drift. They used an occasional Mexican and a few Vietnamese to fill in the gaps. When the hand holding was completed, they made a full human circle around the entire fairgrounds. Disgusted, the three groups of intruders got back on their buses and left. The media was not far behind. The Life Magazine photographer passed out, and in a statement from the magazine, they claimed the photographer was overcome with heat exhaustion. The truth was, he had one too many Pink Ladies.

After all the festivities came to an end, Travis, Adolf, and Stanley had a few moments alone and congratulated each other for a job well done. Adolf said to the other two, “We still on for Friday night down at the church?”

Travis replied, “Damn straight. We’re still brothers in the Triple K Klub.”

Stanley stepped in, “Goodie! This is my week to bring snacks. It’ll be a surprise. Can I come, Adolf?”

“Stanley, you’re a brother and always will be. Of course, you can come, we’ll give you an age waiver to stay a member.”

“Yippee!” Then he kissed Adolf right on the mouth.

After Adolf got over the shock, Travis was overheard saying, “Can’t wait for the surprise. Probably more Quiche.” Travis crossed his arms and grinned and asked Adolf if Stanley was a good kisser? “Shut up, Travis, and don’t tell the other guys.”

“I won’t, I promise.” The two parted ways to mingle with the crowd. As Travis walked away, Adolf heard him chanting something. “Stanley and Adolf sitting in a tree, K-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes…,”

“Cut it out, Travis! I’ll get you!”

As it turned out, the TripleK-BlayDay parade was the most celebrated parade Port Summerville had ever hosted. Though a success, it was the first and last TripleK-BlayDay parade.

I can’t get enough of this.