Submarine Races

Johnny Applegate grew up in the sleepy little river town of Louisville, Kentucky, the gateway to the south.  Louisville is primarily known for Churchill Downs and Bourbon, but it had its fair share of pretty girls too.

When he was eighteen-year-old, Johnny bought his first car. He ventured downtown to a dealership by the name of Broadway Motors. His salesman was a guy name of Grundy Hayes. Grundy was a flashy dresser. He wore a green sharkskin suit and sported brown pork pie straw. He always wore a wide smile to greet the customers that lit up his face.

The car Johnny picked out was a 1959 two tone Chevy Bel Air, white over green. It had a manual transmission with a three-speed shift lever on the column. The car had huge tail fins that flattened over like the fin of a great white whale. Johnny paid $800 dollars cash for the car. He had been saving up the money for months. Grundy was only too happy to accommodate and they struck a deal and Johnny drove the car home that day.

Now the car was fine, the only thing it lacked was a radio. So, one day when he had saved up a little more money, Johnny went down to the local junk shop and bought a radio for the car. He had to go out on the lot and find another wrecked Chevy like his so he could harvest the radio and put it in his car. He was in luck and found the one he was looking for. It took him about an hour to uninstall the radio from the wrecked Chevy. When he got it out, he took it up to the front office and made his purchase then went home to install the radio in his own car. While he was at it, he installed two speakers in the rear of the car and surrounded the speakers with a colorful bright orange cloth. Now he was cooking!

Johnny was very happy with the car. He would wash it and polish it in his drive way every Saturday morning. On Saturday night he would pick up his girlfriend, Lynn and some of their other friends and drive out to Cox’s park down on the river. There they had a little party. It was sort of a precursor to the tailgate parties you see today.

Cox’s park was located down along the banks of the Ohio River. In the summertime the grass was of a vivid blue green color and on this particular hot summer night they could smell the fragrance of the freshly mown lawn. It delighted the senses. Johnny parked the car in the spacious parking lot under the spreading leaves a large chestnut tree. From there you could watch the river roll by and the sun go down as the day turned to twilight. Johnny popped the trunk of the car and played the radio real loud. The sound came booming from the rear mounted speakers. Johnny and his friends drank beer and danced in the parking lot. They whooped and hollered and howled at the moon while they were listening to the tunes broadcast from WAKY, a local AM radio station. Bill Bailey, who billed himself the King Kong of the Kilocycles, was the DJ. He played such tunes as Born to be Wild, Dance to the Music, and Those Were the Days. Later, after it got dark, they climbed back into the car and watched the submarine races.

Appointment in Louisville

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Of Lions and Pineapples

A few months ago, I had the good fortune to move to Old Louisville. As fate would have it, I moved into an apartment on Third Street just four houses down from a house I used to live as a young man during the turbulent 70’s. As a matter of fact, my family actually owned that house and sold it in 1993. Fast forward to 2018.

My friend Victoria was looking for an apartment and I have long been encouraging her look in Old Louisville as it was a very interesting place to live with a lot of old Victorian Mansions which have been subdivided into apartments. And there was Central Park nearby.

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Victoria

One day she was over at my place and we went out apartment hunting together. She had several picked out over on Fourth Street to look at. It was raining that day so we took our umbrellas.

We walked down Hill Street to Fourth and as we were about to round the corner, I noticed a For Rent sign in the yard of a house that I had long admired. I called it the House of Lions and Pineapples. It was a beautiful three-story red brick Victorian home with two lions and pineapples outside in front and a black wrought iron gated entrance. I said, “Why don’t you give them call?”

She did and we were able to see it right then. They had just put it on the market and were in the process of cleaning and painting it when we went in. Victoria fell in love with it immediately and I did too.

After looking at a couple of other places in the area Victoria decided that the house of pineapples and lions was the one for her, so we called the owner and asked for a meeting. Sure, come on over they said. They told us their address and we headed over.

They lived on Third Street, just a few doors down from where I am currently living. What was that address again, I asked Victoria? 1461? Why I used to live in that house back in the 70’s.  As a matter of fact, my family owned that very building back then!

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The house on Third where I used to live

When we got there and knocked on the door a little old lady round and short answered the door. She had a big smile on her face. I introduced myself and told her I used to live this building back in the 70’s and wasn’t it ironic that we were here? Oh, did you know Dr. Bell? Why yes! I am his son!

We sat down and had a nice talk. Joe and his wife Arden bought the house in 1993 from my parents. At that time, I was part owner of the house myself and received some of the proceeds from the sale. Arden gave us a tour of the house. I bet it looks a lot different now than it did then, she said. Yep It sure did!

So, there we were. My friend Victoria was about to rent an apartment from the couple who own the house I used to live in but was sold to them in 1993 the same year Victoria was born. What kind of alignment of the planets was necessary to bring us to this point? By what chance occurrences was Victoria destined to cross my path and rent the apartment in the building of the lions and pineapples?

It put me in mind of a story I once heard when I was living in Philadelphia.

It seems there was this college professor living in my building who sent his servant to the Italian Market one day for supplies.  In a very little while the servant came back, shaking and trembling. It was clear he had been greatly disturbed by something that had happened at the market.

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Italian Market in Philly

He said, “Mister Coffer, sir, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd. I turned to look to see who it was and I saw it was Death staring me in the face.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. I ran from the market and came back here. Mister Coffer, will you please lend me your car so that I can ride away from this city and avoid my fate?  I will go to Salem and there Death will not find me.”

The college professor gave him the keys to his Mustang, and the servant got in and rode away as fast as the car could drive not first without leaving a stretch of burning black rubber behind him as he pulled out of the parking garage. Later that day the professor went down to the Italian Market and he saw Death standing in the crowd and he went over, not afraid, and asked her, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant this morning when you saw him?”

“That was not a threatening gesture,” Death said, “I was just surprised to see him here in Philly, as I had an appointment with him tonight in Salem.”

Thomas Wolfe wrote in his book, Look Homeward Angel, “The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern because a London cut-purse went unhung. Through chance, we are each a ghost to all the others, and our only reality; through, chance, the huge hinge of the world, and a grain of dust; the stone that starts an avalanche, the pebble whose concentric circle widen across the seas.”

And although chance may have something to do with our lives and though we make a move this way or that we are still bound like an ant on a leaf rushing down a river to the sea.  And there is precious little we can do about it but enjoy the ride.

Victoria rented the apartment and she is living there now just one block away in the building of the lions and pineapples. And if you squint your eyes and hold your mouth in a certain way you can almost see the flapping wings of the butterfly in the rain forest that made it all possible.