I Showed Her

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My wife told me that she wanted to rearrange the kitchen, to move the fridge to the north wall and put a small table in its place next to the kitchen sink.  I said, “No.  I do most of the cooking, and I’m used to having the fridge close to the work counter.”  The argument ended, but when I came back from a short trip to Gainesville the deed had been done.  Judy got our two kids to help her push the fridge to the north wall while I was away.

When I returned I walked in the door, hugged the kids, kissed Judy, and suspected nothing.  But when I went into the kitchen to grab a beer from the fridge by the sink,  I found it elsewhere.  I spun around and saw her smiling at me.  I protested, but she said nothing.  Instead she gave me a challenging look as if daring me to come up with a reason to move it back.  I said, “You know I’ve been planning to paint a mural right where you put that fridge.”

“Mural?  What mural?” she asked.

“A landscape…of a place you like…It’ll be a reminder.”

“The Smokies?” she asked.  “You’ll paint a mural of the Smokies!?”

“Sure.  You pick a picture from our last trip there.”

We pulled out a photo album, and she chose a scene with trees hanging over a path cutting through a wood: dappled light, intricate interlacing of branches and foliage, contrasting textures of boulders, tree bark, leaves, sky and dirt.  I looked at it and gulped.  I knew that a subject that complicated would take months.

“Are you sure you want that one?” I asked.  “What about this distant view of the mountains in fog?”

“No.  This is the best.  Can you do it?”

“Of course I can.” I answered feeling a bit nettled.  Did she think that I was an amateur?  “Now can I move the fridge back?”

“I’ll help you,” she said sweetly.

I began to paint the next weekend.  I marked off the boundaries with masking tape and laid out my composition with a few lines.  I blocked in big color shapes.  Two hours passed, and I realized that I had barely made a dent.  But anything for a just cause.  The fridge must stay in its rightful place.

The mural took three months to complete, and I was weary of the project by the time I laid down the last brushstrokes.  I knew that I could drag it out a lot longer if I felt like punishing myself with a lot of tedious detail, but decided that enough was enough.

I called Judy into the kitchen and said, “It’s done.”  She stared at it for a long time, and then she hugged me and said, “Thank you.”  I knew that it reminded her of a family trip to her favorite place on earth.  I tried hard not to feel  happy for her, but failed.

I put away my paints, and while I cleaned my brushes I tried to reclaim some vengeful satisfaction.  I had thwarted her plans to change the kitchen.  I hadn’t let her get away with a sneaky maneuver.  I had outwitted her even if it had taken a long time to pull it off.

I was the man…in charge.

I showed her.  Yeah, I really showed her.

 

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Tippy: Still Waiting for Revenge

Tippy swore at me and promised revenge.  He overheard me begging the night manager to leave early.  I had an allergic reaction to some chocolate I’d eaten that afternoon, and now my nose ran constantly.  I told Jerry, “Hey, I can’t even make a pizza without dripping into the sauce.”  Jerry smelled a rat, but couldn’t deny that I looked a mess with swollen eyes, a red nose and hives breaking out on my arms.  He gave me the nod.

Tippy crowded up to me as I punched out and said, “I’ll get you for this.”  He and I had been scheduled to close that night, and the kitchen at that moment resembled the third circle of hell.  A dinner rush raged on with no signs of stopping.  The July heat topped off the hot air radiating from the ovens and turned the kitchen into a 100 degree sweat shop.  Goo, cheese, and sausage scraps covered the pizza making stations, empty ingredient bags littered the floor, dunes of flour drifted up to the base of the dough mixer.  Tippy knew that my replacement wouldn’t work as hard as I would, and that he’d be responsible for putting a slimy disaster back into spic-and-span order.  I waved bye-bye as I danced out the back door.

The next time we worked together, Tippy told me how it took him two hours after the restaurant closed its doors to clean up the kitchen.  He glared at me and said, “I had to work with fucking Dave.”  I said, “Hey, I was really sick.  I wouldn’t have been much use.  Dave was a better deal.”  Tippy scowled at me.  We both knew that I was full of shit.  Dave took downers and worked in slow-mo, hid equipment he was supposed to clean, and took parking lot breaks in his El Camino to sip whiskey from a flask hidden under the driver’s seat.

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Tippy lived in a rathole wood frame house in East Dayton.  Both sides of my family had lived in his neighborhood back in the 1930s when it had been an enclave for German Catholic immigrants.  Now it was a Little Appalachia populated by the descendants of folks who had moved from Kentucky and Tennessee to work in factories during WWII.

Tippy was the first in his family to attend college.  I encouraged him to stay when he confessed that he wanted to drop out of the engineering program at the University of Dayton.  He felt overwhelmed by the material (“Everyone does,” I told him.) and from feeling like an outsider (“Hey, I’m the first generation in my family to go to college too,” I said.  “Those snobs aren’t any smarter than you.”).

**********

Tippy invited me, Debbie, Kenny and a cashier back to his place one night in November.  We drank beer, smoked and played UNO.  Folks got hungry around 2 a.m., and Tippy asked if anyone could cook.  I volunteered and raided his fridge.  I made omelets spiked with cheddar cheese, onions, peppers, and ham lunch meat.  I toasted bread and served up breakfast.  Tippy ate a mouthful of omelet, and said, “This actually tastes good.  You can come by any time and make me a meal.”  I asked him how much he paid.

Debby finished her third beer and began to talk about her mother.  Mom had lived a few streets over until someone murdered her–robbery gone bad.  Debbie knew who the man was, but couldn’t prove a thing.  But she’d get him.  One day.  He was going to pay.  But for now she had her little pumpkin, her baby boy, and nothing gave her more joy.  She pulled out her wallet and flipped it open to a sleeve of photos, and little Pumpkin looked up at us and laughed with an open mouth and crinkly eyes.

We played a few more rounds, finished the food and the beer, and headed home.

Tippy stopped me on his porch and said, “Don’t you still owe me for something?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,”  I answered.  “That Dave, he’s a great guy.”

Tippy scowled and said, “I’m gonna get you for that.”

 

 

Entourage: The Dangling Men

Nancy liked to dangle men, to entice them to come nearer and then hold them at a distance.  She often had two or three hooked at a time, but felt no guilt in trading one for another on a whim.  One time she had made a date to meet a new boyfriend at a restaurant.  An old beau saw her cross the parking lot and called her over.  Nancy made out with him in his car while her latest waited inside for her to make an appearance.  Latest became aware of her treachery.  But when he confronted her she just laughed and said, “Oh Brian, we’re not really dating, are we?”  Brian told her that he thought they were, and she laughed again at his foolishness.

She was attractive, intelligent, and had a good sense of humor.  Boys and men had made moves on her, had given her The Look, from the time she turned fifteen.   It must have been wearying to brave the constant attention and pressure, to sort through all the options.  She had to weigh the merits of her would-be suitors and hope that her scales had been properly calibrated.  And she must have wondered whether any of her gents really wanted her, the total sum of her, and not just the glittery package.  In the end she probably threw up her hands and decided to make love, sex, desire into a game.  She was the queen, and members of her entourage became her pawns.

Eventually she slipped and fell in love with an owner of a record store.  He was fifteen years older, however, and didn’t see any future in the relationship.  Steely Dan’s, “Hey Nineteen” played on the radio at that time, and the record man made it the theme of his argument when he broke up with her.

Nancy didn’t know how to deal with rejection.  All her training had been in holding men at bay, not at winning them back, and certainly not at mourning their loss.  She latched onto another record store owner, a mild-mannered stooge closer to her age, and began an affair.  She got pregnant, and they married although neither loved the other.  They named their son, Graham.

She called me up one day and spoke to me in her most charming, winsome manner.  “It’s been so long, Dennis.  I’m just dying to see you.”  Brian told me that he too had received an invitation a few days earlier.  Nancy was trying to reassemble her entourage and begin the game again.  She considered marriage and motherhood as slight handicaps that had been added to give her a deeper challenge.

I kept my distance, though I once gave in to curiosity and visited her and her toddler.  Graham was round faced, sandy-haired and good-natured.  He liked to gurgle and bang his spoon on the tray of his high chair.  Nancy seemed distantly amused by her baby and acted as if he were an odd creature who had somehow, through a series of madcap mishaps, become attached to her.  “Oh Graham,” she said, “You’re not really playing the drums, are you?”

 

 

Beth Floats Downriver

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Beth said, “Look out–there’s a rock straight ahead!”  I leaned to look around her, saw the ripple in the water, and pushed my paddle to veer away.  Too late.  The side of the bow hit the submerged rock hard. Beth flew out of the canoe, and I rolled into the river.  I bobbed to the surface and saw her 10 feet away from me.  Actually, I saw her upright head facing me as it floated sideways downriver, a huge grin plastered on her face.

I grabbed a paddle floating nearby, righted the canoe and climbed in.  I went after Beth.  I reached out a hand, shifted my weight away from her to counterbalance the canoe, and pulled her aboard.  I circled back and found the other paddle caught in some reeds at the edge of the Little Miami.

We had set out an hour earlier from a canoe rental shop.  The owner warned us of pirates downstream who would call to us from the shore.  He said, “Make sure you see my sign on the dock before you pull in.  If you pick the wrong place, they’ll take the canoe and leave you to find your way back on your own.  And if you come back without my canoe, I’m gonna charge you for it.  Same thing if you lose a paddle.  Oh yeah, give me your driver’s license.  You can have it back when you return with everything safe and sound.”

I normally wouldn’t have agreed to such odd terms, but Beth looked eager to go.  I handed the man a twenty and my license.

Beth and I had gone to the same grade school and high school, but had never been friends.  During the spring semester at U.D. she sat a few rows over from me in a philosophy class.  She had green eyes, a willowy figure, and a big smile.  I wanted to get to know her better.

Our first date didn’t end well.  I gave her a little kiss as we said goodnight, and she stared daggers at me.  I had crossed one of the lines a Catholic girl still felt obliged to draw.  She surprised me when she agreed to go out again.  We got on much better, and I made sure that I maintained a foot or two of separation between us the whole night.  A week later she stopped me as I turned to leave, closed her eyes and leaned in for a kiss.

That summer we went to movies, family picnics, and jogged together in the evening.  She liked to slip her hand into my back pocket as we walked side by side.

Beth broke things off at the end of August.  We’d had a few arguments, nothing serious.  Her phone call shocked me:  I hadn’t seen any of the usual signs.  She didn’t criticize my clothes, my choice in movies, the crappiness of my rust bucket car.  I didn’t catch her coldly studying me.  My first girlfriend once sat silently and glanced at me out of the corner of her eye as I drove us to a restaurant, toting up my strengths and weaknesses.  The balance had been a negative number.

I had annoyed Beth on a few occasions, and she once accused me of not caring one bit about her feelings.  But she’d never put any distance between us.  I called her back and demanded an explanation for the sudden dump, and she concluded with the following:  “I know I’ll find someone I like better than you.  There are other fish in the sea.”

I saw her once after the fall semester began.  She and a girlfriend crossed the quad in front of me, and Beth stopped to say hello.  I grunted something back, deeply embarrassed and still smarting from her rejection.  She smiled ever so brightly, said a few kind words and drifted away…

No pirates accosted us on warm day in July as we glided on the current and twisted our way through a few rapids.  We made it to the correct drop-off point without further mishaps, turned in the canoe and paddles and waited for the bus to come.  She and I were still drenched, and the other canoe renters stared at us as we rode back.  Beth and I didn’t feel embarrassed, but held hands and smiled.  It had been an excellent day.

 

Joe’s Screwed

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Work crews appeared in our neighborhood Thursday, and their trucks clustered a half mile away.  They came closer and closer the next day.  Around 4 p.m. I heard workers talking near my back yard.  Our power line poles run the length of a drainage ditch behind our house.  I walked out back and saw a man climbing into a viburnum bush-turned-tree near the southeast corner, and he chain-sawed to clear branches fallen on our line. Another worker appeared in the neighbor’s yard and used a saw on a long pole to cut from the other side.

A few minutes later our line sprung upwards a few feet, and ten minutes later it snapped into position higher than I’d ever seen it.  The workmen left, and an hour later trucks from Duke Energy pulled up in front of our house.  They blocked my driveway and the neighbors, but I didn’t care.  I was ready after five days of soggy heat to run out and kiss their bumpers.

Power came on about twenty minutes later, and I saw the outside lights shining at the neighbor’s.  I texted him.  The power went off, however, after ten minutes.  We saw men on the roof next door and in the back yard.  A supervisor yelled something from the street.  Our power came back, and I flipped the breaker for the AC unit.  We waited five minutes for anything to happen, but then Blessed Relief clicked on and blew cool air from the vents.  The inside temperature just before had been 86 degrees with 80% humidity, and the unit ran until 9:00 to get it down to 80 degrees.

Our neighbor knocked on our door that evening and reported that he had no power.  I told him about the turn on-off-on and swore that I had seen his safety light burning in his carport.  He came back a few minutes later with a notice he’d found hanging on his door.  It read, “Power line repaired.  Damage to meter can.  Contact an electrician to fix.”  He trudged home and started his generator.

Joe lives in a rental unit managed by a real estate company that only makes repairs after tenants move out.  The owner refuses to remove dead trees even when they loom over the house, and can be stubborn about plumbing issues.  The power, most likely, won’t be coming back on unless Joe pays for the repairs himself.  He’s already cleared away branches from the tree that had fallen, hit the house, and snapped his line.  The trunk still needs to be chopped, and I’ve agreed to loan Joe my axe.

The next evening I heard a car pull into his driveway.  Joe had visitors.  Seconds later I heard two men yelling, “Paco!  Paco!”  The neighbor’s pit bull escaped when Joe opened the door to let a friend inside.  The yelling went on at intervals into the wee hours, and I heard a few “Paco!”s the next morning.

The Prodigal Dog made his unwilling return Sunday afternoon.  Someone in the neighborhood had found him after Joe put up a notice on a community message board.  The power’s still off, however, and Paco might be planning a new escape.  I wouldn’t blame him.

 

 

 

 

No Ice In Orlando

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Hurricane Irma hit us last Sunday evening.  We heard transformers pop once, twice around 7, and then we lost power.  An outer band struck at 10:30 with long lashes of high speed wind and driving rain, and I winced as branches bashed my roof and skylight.  The monster weakened as it came near us, and the wind didn’t pick up much intensity. The eastern wall of the eye passed through downtown Orlando (five or six miles west of us) at 2:30 Monday morning.  I collapsed on my bed at 3:00 and slept through Irma’s parting shot, an outer band that ripped us one more time at 6 a.m.

I began to pick up downed branches and clumps of leaves Monday morning after the wind started to slow down.  I kept looking up to study the trees looming above me.  Folks get killed in the aftermath of a storm when a limb or a trunk suddenly give way.  My daughter and son-in-law joined me in the afternoon after they returned from an emergency veterinary clinic.  (One of their dogs had become ill shortly before the storm hit.)  The day was fairly cool and breezy (thanks Irma), and we got most of it done by four p.m.

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My daughter and her husband went out on a scavenging expedition on Monday evening and found a two pound bag of ice at a Walgreens near a hospital.  The store still had power as the electrical lines nearby had been buried.  Most of Winter Park sweltered in darkness.

I spent the next four days searching for ice.  My wife has a limited diet, and we had to keep certain foods edible.  No grocery, drug or liquor store had any ice, and one clerk told me that the local supplier couldn’t make any more as their plant had no power.  I began to visit 711s and quicky-marts to get ice from soda fountains.  They all charged fifty or 75 cents per cup, and I ended up shelling out a couple bucks a day.

On the last day on which I had to make an ice run, a clerk at a 711 handed me a small grocery bag and told me to fill it with ice.  She charged me a buck for an amount that normally would have cost two.  She smiled at me with compassion as she rang me up, and that went a long way to lifting my spirits.

I had been grateful on Monday that we had been mostly spared.  The rental house next to us had been struck by a fallen tree that grazed the roof, snapped off the power line and damaged an electrical meter, while we remained unscathed.  And we heard reports on our battery powered radios of massive destruction in the Keys, South Florida, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, St. Martin and Cuba.  Orlando had gotten whacked hard, but we hadn’t been plowed into the ground and washed away.  But after several days of 90 degree heat, falling asleep covered in sweat, and struggling to cook and refrigerate food, I felt weary and woozy.  And my neighbor in the rental unit acquired a generator on Wednesday that sounded like a growling motorcycle.  He set it up ten feet away from my bedroom window.  When he ran it, we had to choose between leaving the windows open to catch a stray breeze and going insane from the constant rumbling, burbling noise.

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I realized on Thursday that I had symptoms of heat exhaustion.  I felt listless, dizzy enough to slightly veer as I walked, irritable and impatient.  On Friday morning, I had difficulty teaching a drawing class.  My thoughts jumbled, and even when I felt more coherent, my tongue and mind refused to cooperate with each other.  I babbled a few times and had to carefully slow down my speech so that I could think about a concept, choose the right words to express it, make a few edits, and then speak.  Once class had progressed for a half hour, and once I enjoyed enough cool air (the school has the same power line as the hospital and Walgreens) to refresh mind and body, I began to feel good enough to function normally.

I’ve heard some folks criticize the toughness of Floridians following the storm.  We’ve been called whiners and babies who can’t take hardship.  My only response to that is to feel sorry for these compassionless schmucks and wonder what happened to their sense of humanity.  What compels them to attack folks while they suffer?  What makes them feel superior as they sit in comfort far away from downed power lines, roads blocked by fallen trees, tattered roofs and flooded homes?

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The clerk at the 711 still shines as an angel of mercy to me, as does the waiter who kept filling our glasses with ice water when my wife and I took refuge at an Outback after three days eating cold canned food.  And most people I met didn’t whine and complain about anything.  They simply went about their business of cleaning up, going back to work, finding ways of getting through some rough days and nights.

My Grandfather Told Stories About the Klan

My grandfather, Joseph Reger, told me that the Klan showed up one night in front of St. Mary’s Catholic church in Dayton, Ohio.  They planted a burning cross on the front lawn.  The church’s pastor had been forced to join the clergy.  He didn’t take the nonviolence, love-your-neighbor part of Christ’s teachings seriously, and, as a German-American, hadn’t been raised in a tradition that valued meekness.  The hooded men didn’t know any of this, and the priest surprised them by firing a shotgun just over their heads.  When he lowered his aim and sighted a few targets in the mob, the Klan scattered and ran.

Grandpa also told me that he’d personally fought Klansmen while visiting a little farm town north of Dayton near the Indiana border.  A lot of Catholics lived there, and thugs from across the state line troubled and intimidated the “fish eaters”.  One night, a relative asked Grandpa if he wanted to get in on some fun.  The townsmen had received intelligence that the Klan was coming.  My grandpa went downtown with his cousin and hid in an alley.  A number of Catholic men waited all around in the shadows.

The Klan rode in on pick up trucks and circled the Union monument in the center of Main St.  They whooped and yelled, but the deserted sidewalks and closed stores afforded no targets.  They fell silent and looked around.  Someone yelled, “Now!” The Catholic men swarmed from all sides, pulled the Klan off their trucks, carried them to the Wabash River, and “baptized” them over and over again until they were half-drowned.  My grandfather added, “We kicked their sorry butts back to Indiana and told them to never come back.”

I assumed from reading a bit of history and Grandpa’s stories that the Klan’s base of operations was in Indiana.  I discovered recently that grandfather’s fellow Daytonians were a source of anti-Catholic persecution.  I read in the alumni magazine from the University of Dayton (a Catholic University) that the Klan was a powerful force in the 1920s in Dayton, Ohio.  A local Klan newspaper ran ads for prominent businesses in town.  The rag printed editorials declaring that immigrants, Catholics, Blacks and Jews threatened the existence of decent (white Protestant) society.  During Christmas break, Klansmen beat up stray male students staying in the dorms over the holidays.  They didn’t bother to harass anyone when the full student body returned in January, however.  They only attacked when the odds skewed heavily in their favor.

When Judy and I lived in State College, PA, we heard that a town about fifty miles south was a Klan/Neo-Nazi hotbed.  We’re German Americans, but still avoided traveling there as we had no desire to associate with creeps.  But some of our neighbors belonged to the fellowship of hateful stupidity.  One day, a middle-aged woman approached as I pushed a baby stroller.  She lived on the street behind us, one house down.  She looked in and sweetly commented on my son’s tan.  I said, “We get him out in the fresh air every day.  And Judy and I both have fairly dark skin, so it’s not a big surprise.”  The woman grinned triumphantly:  her clever interrogation had tricked me into revealing the dark stain on our genetic heritage; she’d ended my family’s charade by proving that we were not causcasians.