A Quiet, Clean, Well-Lighted Place

 

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It was late and everyone had left the café except for me. I was sitting at a sidewalk table in front of the window and could watch the passersby on their way home. A tree sat a few feet from me in a large round pot casting a shadow over the empty table sitting next to it. A slight breeze gently moved the leaves on the tree. There was enough light to read by. I liked to sit late at night in this café and read and drink my whiskey and soda in peace. It was quiet now that all the other customers had left. There only remained two waiters, one old like me and the other young. The younger one seemed impatient to go home. Probably had a wife to go home too. That was not the case for me or I suspect the other waiter.

Last week I attempted suicide.

Why, you may ask?

Loneliness, despair, I don’t know. Just couldn’t stand the pain of going on.

It wasn’t for lack of money. No, no, I have plenty. There just didn’t seem to be any point going on. I was saved at the last minute by my niece who cut me down. I’m not sure she did me any favors.

I noticed out in the street a soldier and a girl walking briskly by. They better get home soon, I thought, or they will be out past curfew and have to pay the price. Hope he gets what he wants.

I signaled the waiter for another drink.

The younger waiter sauntered over.

“What will you have?”

“Another whisky and soda.”

“You’ll be drunk.”

I just looked at him. He went away.

The two waiters were huddled together at a table near the door. They were whispering. Probably talking about me I thought. Probably want me to go. Well, I’m not ready to go.

The waiter went to the bar and poured a shot of Woodford into a tumbler of ice and spritzed it with soda water. He carried the drink outside to where I was sitting. He placed the drink in front of me and said, “You should have killed yourself last week.”

He probably thought I couldn’t hear what he was saying as I am practically deaf. But I hear well enough in a quiet environment.

The waiter went back into café and sat down with his work mate. They began whispering again. Probably think I’m drunk and need to leave, I thought. Oh, well, I’ll stay a little longer and have one more for the road. I had a wife once. She left me long ago.

I like this place. It is clean, well-lighted, and quiet.

I motioned to the waiters for another drink.

“Another whiskey and soda, amigo.”

“No,” the young waiter said. “You’re done. Time to go.”

“Another,” I insisted.

“We are closing now.” He began to wipe the table clean with his towel.

I slowly stood up, looked at the bill he had unceremoniously laid on the table.  I pulled my cash from my pocket and paid the bill, leaving a modest tip.

I walked down the street away from the café slowly, a bit unsteadily, but with as much dignity as I could muster. I could feel the eyes of the two waiters burning a hole in my back. I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I didn’t want to face my dark room and the empty bed. One more drink, I thought. There must be some place open tonight. Only thing was, they would unlikely be as clean and well-lighted or as nice as this last one was. I didn’t want any music. No, I really couldn’t stand to listen to any music. And it would be difficult to stand with dignity in front of a bar. What was it I wanted? Just a clean, quiet, well-lighted place. What was it I had? A whole lot of nothing. I faced a cold void, full of nothing. A darkness. Deliver us from nothingness.

I came to a bar that was open and stood at the counter.

“What will it be?” asked the counter man.

“Nothing. I’ll have a cup of nothing.”

“What, are you crazy, old man?”

I laughed.

“I’ll have shot of Tequila, then. Patron.”

“This is a very bright place you have here,” I said, “and it is very pleasant, but the bar needs cleaning.”

The counterman gave me a look, but did not speak. It was too late to talk.

“You want another shot?” he asked.

“No thanks,” I said and left.  I dislike bars and dirty cafes. A quiet, clean, well-lighted place is a different matter altogether.

Now, I will go home. I will lie in my bed and fall asleep just as the day is breaking. I am probably not the only one who has trouble sleeping, I thought to myself, as I walked the six blocks back to my apartment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thorobred Club

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I stopped into the strip club out near the race track early on a Friday night. They had just opened so there wasn’t a whole lot of action going on. Strippers sitting in little clumps here and there. I sat down at the bar and ordered a Budweiser. This is de rigueur for me at strip clubs because its an easy drink to order, it’s cheap, and doesn’t call a lot of attention. Usually a good way to change a twenty and get a lot of singles for the strippers. Strippers love singles.

“What’ll be Bud?”

“I’ll have a Budweiser, please.”

“This Bud’s for you.”

She opened one of the glass paneled doors covering the refrigerated room back of the bar and retrieved a bottle of beer and set it down before me.

“Just a minute,” she said when I tried to pay her.

They were still opening the joint and she and another barmaid were hovering over the cash register counting money and signing in. It was OK with me. I was in no hurry.

I was sitting there on my bar stool swigging my beer and swiveling around on the stool to check the place out. Back behind me there was a large main stage with two stripper poles. Music was playing in the background. Kind of low for a stripper place I thought. There were tables and chairs in the space between me and the stage. The lighting was low and seductive and of course mirrors everywhere. I had turned back around to the bar facing the mirror on the back wall when I noticed a thin young girl with long brown mousy hair wearing a black athletic jacket heading in my direction. Under the jacket was a nice lingerie set of matching black bra and panties. She was distinguished from the other girls because one, she was wearing a jacket, and two because her lingerie was nicer than the rest. The panties were high waisted and the brassier was rather full, more like a bustier, and while she looked good, she really wasn’t that sexy.

“Hi. What’s your name, cowboy?” She asked.

“Philip”, I answered. “What’s yours?”

She lowered her head and got closer and got a silly grin on her face.

“My real name or my stripper name?” She purred into my ear.

“Well, I always like to know a girl’s real name.”

“We’re not supposed to tell what our real name is.” She dropped her head and laughed. “It’s Crystal. My stripper name is Bella.”

“Oh, Bella! That’s a pretty name!” I was wondering if she knew what it really meant.

She smiled. “Thanks! Yours is pretty too.”

I smiled back.

“I don’t usually do this. I only work a couple days a month. Just enough to make a little money to pay the rent. I’m a single mother. I have a six-year-old daughter at home I have to take care of. She’ll be six in August.”

“Oh really? What day?”

“The ninth. August the ninth.”

“Wow! Really? That’s my birthday too!”

Her smile got bigger.

“Really? What’s your sign?”

“Leo. Just like your daughter. What’s yours?”

“Scorpio.”

“Oh! The most dangerous sign in the universe!”

“Do you study signs?”

“A little bit. You?”

She nodded her assent.

“Are Leos and Scorpios compatible?”

She laughed and allowed that they were. “I’m very passionate.” She said.

Then she went on about how she didn’t’ drink but that she smoked a lot.

“Weed?”

“Yeah. Buy me a drink?”

“I thought you just said you didn’t drink.”

“I don’t. Except when I come here. I couldn’t do this unless I drank.”

“How much are they? I don’t usually buy girls drinks because they jack the prices up and I don’t like that.”

She grimaced. “I really don’t know. Get me a shot of tequila. I’m going over here to talk to my friend to make sure she is alright. I’ll be right back.”

So, I ordered a shot. I figured if the barmaid thought it was for me, she would just charge me regular price.

“Silver or gold?” She asked.

“Silver.”

She poured a shot and set it down in front of me.

“Lemon or lime?”

“Lemon.”

“You want salt with that?”

“No.”

“That’ll be seven dollars.”

In a few minutes Crystal drifted back over to where I was sitting and spotted the shot of Patron sitting on the bar.

“Where’s your shot?”

“I’m drinking beer.”

This seemed to satisfy her. She picked up the shot of tequila and poured it down her gullet and then sucked on the lemon and made a face.

“Oh, that was awful!”

“The lemon?”

“No, the tequila. I told you I didn’t drink.”

Then she proceeded to tell me how when she was younger, she did a lot of bad things but she was trying to turn her life around. She said her boy friend was shot and killed right beside her. Turned out it was a drug deal gone bad. We talked about how dangerous Louisville was and what an underbelly it had. Then she went back over to her friend who was sitting at the other end of the bar.

I figured she be back for another drink but it looked like she got caught up in the conversation with her friend and some others who joined them. Thought it might be a good time to blow so I took the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Single Black Female

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I was having breakfast in one of my favorite hamburger joints, Burger Boy, down on Burnett, when I looked up from the book I was reading and I noticed a single black female, short in stature, with long black hair and fake eyelashes sitting with her back to me at the lunch counter. She was wearing a black ball cap and a black leather jacket. The jacket had silver studs on the collar and along the half circle of each of the shoulders. She had on tight blue jeans and brown suede fringed moccasins that went half way up her well-shaped calves. There was a red leather purse with a gold chain sitting on the counter in front of her.

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She kept glancing at her cell phone as she patiently waited for her food too to arrive. She got it to go. When it came, she picked up the white plastic bag the waitress had placed before her and she stepped away from the counter.

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It was then that I witnessed the full effect of her great beauty as her face came into full view. She then made her way to the front door and departed. It was a moment.

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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.

 

KAFKA

The Metamorphosis

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My step daughter Kim visited me recently. As is our wont to do we had a literary discussion about books and what books influenced us and why. Of course we talked about Hemingway and Camus. But then we landed on Kafka. What, she wanted to know, made me like Kafka so much?

Well, that gave me pause. I allude to Kafka a lot in my writing and in my conversations with people but is has been awhile since I last read his works. The best I could come up with was that I identified with his sense of alienation and absurdity and the bureaucratic nightmare that modern man seems to live under as depicted in his works. I got to thinking. Why else? Well, it had been about 40 years since I last read Metamorphosis, so I decided I would reread it.

I had it in my library. It was the original copy that I had read in the 1970’s. But the book wasn’t in very good condition. The pages had yellowed, there was mold or something growing on the frontispiece, and the spine was cracked and coming apart in the middle. I decided I needed another copy. So, I did what any respectable book buyer might do, I went on line. I found a book and ordered it. Not wanting to wait the two days for its arrival I decide to download a copy to my Kindle so that I could start reading right away.

Now, I remember the first time I read The Metamorphosis, as I say, some 40 odd years ago. I had taken the book along with me on a visit to the emergency room. I had just crashed my motorcycle and broken my leg. The attending physician looked at the book I was reading as I was waiting to be examined. He looked at the book, then looked at me, and then looked at the book again. “Pretty heavy reading isn’t it?” He asked.

Well that may give you an example of the absurdity of my existence up to that point right there.

As I remembered in the book, Gregor Samsa woke up one morning to discover he had been transformed into a gigantic bug. As I remembered it was a cockroach. I had already been disabused of that notion long ago and realized it was a beetle. Now when I stated reading my kindle edition it said “vermin.” Well that wasn’t good enough for me. I needed to see “beetle.” So, I decided I’d wait for the actual book to arrive. It came and I started in to reading it. I came to the fateful passage and it read “verminous bug.” Still not good enough! But I read on. This could go on forever, I thought. I guess there was something lost in translation or in my memory. Speak memory!  Later on in the book there was a passage that referred to Gregor as a “dung beetle.” Now, feeling gloriously vindicated, I read the rest of the story in a condition of sublime justification.

Now that I have reread the story I feel that I can speak definitively as to what the book says to me. The story reflects thematically on feelings of alienation, anxiety, and guilt, which pretty well sums up man’s absurd relationship to the world in which he lives and one I have very much identified with ever since I can remember. The story operates in a random, chaotic, and absurd universe, as do we all. Do things happen for a reason or do they befall us purely by chance? That is the question Kafka seems to be exploring in this surrealistic story of transformation.

Another thing I like about Kafka is his take on the kinds of books to read and by extension the kinds of books to write. I also believe this can be applied to other types of art as well.

In a letter to a friend he says: “I think you should only read books that bite and sting you. If the book we read does not wake us with a blow to the skull, why do we read the book? To make us happy as you write? My God, we would be happy if we had no books, and such books that make us happy, we could write to the emergency. But we need the books that affect us like a misfortune that hurts us a lot, like the death of one we loved rather than us, as if we were going into forests, away from all people, like a suicide, a book must be the ax for the frozen sea in us.”

Baby, baby, baby…

 

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Baby, Baby, Baby

One of my best friends from back in the day was the renowned football player Reggie Garret. Reggie once played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and had two Super Bowl Games under his belt.

Naturally he had two Super Bowl rings. One with one diamond and one with two. Sometimes when we went out together barhopping and catting around he would wear both massive rings, one on each hand. Needless to say, he was a chick magnet. The women would just gravitate to him and surround him. I always felt lucky to get his overflow.

One night while at the Brass Rail we were chatting up a very pretty black chick. After a while it became pretty obvious she was more into me than she was into him. Since we were a salt-and-pepper team he just couldn’t understand how a black chick could be more into me than into him. Oh well! Anyway, he never got over it and whenever the subject came up later on he referred to it as the, “baby, baby, baby…” incident. Even years later. We always had a big laugh over it whenever it came up. Sometimes we would even answer the phone, “Baby, baby, baby,”

On another occasion we were out having  drinks at the Frontier Club across the street from the factory where we both worked. It was happy hour. We were drinking with our boss, Jim Smith. Now Jim liked to take his subordinates out to drink and have them pay for it and then put it on our expense accounts. That way we all got to drink for free.

Well this one night at the Frontier Club we were having drinks up at the bar and a friend of Reggie’s comes over and says, “Is that fat faced motherfucker your boss?”

Well Jim’s jaw dropped opened, his face got red, and his eyes popped.

Reggie started in to stuttering and I excused myself to the gents. When I got back Reggie’s friend was long gone, Reggie was hanging his head in shame, and Jim was getting up to leave.

We got a big laugh out of this one too later on but we never brought it up around Jim.

We made bottles for the beer industry. Budweiser was just down the road. Whenever we went out we were expected to drink Budweiser which I couldn’t stand. I preferred Heineken. We don’t make bottle for Heineken, Jim would say, but Budweiser. This Bud’s for you!

Well I ran across this passage from The Road to Wiagn Pier by George Orwell, which pretty much sums up how I feel about Budweiser beer: “Look at the filthy chemical by-product people pour down their throats under the name of beer.”

That was it. It was beer in name only.

Baby, baby, baby….

Oh, the black chick? We got married.

 

 

 

 

 

THE INTERROGATION

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“Step this way please, Mr. Quarry.”

I had always known this day would come. As soon as I had stepped through the stainless steel and plate glass portals I had a premonition of dark design: today I would be chosen. This clouded my thinking as I walked through the aisles.

They had been tracking me for the last thirty minutes on closed circuit TV. They don’t bother to hide the cameras anymore, everyone knows about them by now. Even though the remote monitoring had been going on for years a strange creepy feeling still filled the senses. Someone somewhere was watching.

The excursion itself, however, proved pleasant enough. Items were skillfully arrayed in a myriad of colors. This all served to make one momentarily forget about the guard dogs, armed security, cameras and microphones. I pushed my thoughts of impending doom to the back of my mind and for a while was at peace.

Peace was not long lasting however and my dark thoughts came crashing back as we queued up to leave at the check point center. After my selections were placed in a brightly colored plastic container I was approached by a young uniformed girl.

“May I see your identification please?” she cheerily inquired.

They’re trained to do that. To act cheerful. I reached into a pocket and retrieved my wallet. I withdrew the required paperwork and handed it to her. She studied it carefully for a moment, frowning, then she spoke.

“Step this way please, Mr. Quarry.”

Damn! I hate this! I follow her through a maze hallways and tunnels, my heart pounding wildly in my ears. Finally, we arrive at the interrogation center located deep within the recesses of the building.

It is a long narrow room with double doors at either end. Fluorescent tubes over head flood the room with rays of light that glance from white wall to white wall. From floor to ceiling, completely filling the room with dazzling brightness. The room is devoid of furniture or fixtures save five orange molded plastic chairs that lined the wall closest to where we entered.

“Remove your clothing please,” the girl commands in solemn tones.

I hesitate a moment, feeling a bit shaky, and not really believing this was happening to me, but this was my first time. I just stare blankly into her dull grey eyes.

“Remove your clothing please,” she repeats, a little more harshly now than before.

I begin disrobing slowly and she smiles her approval. She watches with seeming disinterest. Probably does this all day I think to myself as I step out of my trousers. I hand my clothes over to her in a bundle. She glances hurriedly over my naked body then she searches through my clothing. Apparently satisfied that I have nothing to conceal she returns my apparel and announces that I am to get dressed again.

“You can’t be too careful these days,” she says. “Please be seated. Someone will be with you in a minute.”

After I finish dressing I sit in one of the chairs against the wall. I am only sitting there a few minutes when the double doors at the other end of the room burst open. I am suddenly joined by a middle-aged professional looking man in a long white lab coat closely followed by a younger man in a similar coat pushing a two- tiered cart laden with various pieces of electronic apparatus. The two men had apparently been catapulted together down the long corridor preceding the double doors which even now are still swinging on their hinges.

“Good day, Mr. Quarry. I am afraid we are going to need some additional information.” This from the middle-aged man. “If you will be so kind as to bring one of those chairs over here to the center of the room, we can begin our session.”

I comply with his request as the younger man proceeds to engage his equipment. A pneumatic tube is wound tightly across my chest. Around my arm, just above the elbow, a heavy canvas band is wound tightly into place, constricting the flow of blood in my arm and measuring its pressure. To the tip of my middle finger a shiny silver electrode it taped. This to measure body temperature. I am now wired to the polygraph machine. The young technician finally plugs the electrical cord into the waiting outlet box in the floor and flips the switch, thereby breathing life into the machine. Needles become erect on their respective dials and a low barely audible hum indicates that the machine lives.

“Now Mr. Quarry, a few test questions to calibrate the machine to your particular bodily reactions.”

My interrogator stands behind me a little to one side. His presence is known to me only as a disembodied voice coming to me over my right shoulder. His questions are simple at first. What is your name? Did you ever steal money from your parents as child? And so on. The came the pertinent questions.

“Your place of employment?”

“River City Mutual.”

“Length of service?”

“Two Years.”

“Income?”

“$45,000.”

“Your wife’s name?”

“Rebecca.”

“And your wife’s place of employment?”

“General Computers.”

“And your wife’s income?”

“$55,000.”

I let go with a little laugh after this, but there was no reaction from anyone else in the room, but the machine. Its arcing stylus bleeds red ink onto the moving graph paper.

So the questioning goes, probing into all areas of my life. A list of personal property is given. A list of friends and relatives is given. Finally, it is over. I had begun to hyperventilate. My left arm is numb. My body fairly floats in perspiration. The skin at the back of my skull crawls with anxiety. I stagger to my feet having come through the ordeal, much to my surprise, alive.

“Miss Jones will escort you back up front,” I am informed.

The interrogation unit disengages its equipment and disappears through the same double doors from whence it came. Simultaneously the same girl that had brought me here reappears at the opposite end of the room. She holds the door open and beckons me to follow.

“This way please, Mr. Quarry,” she says.

We pass through the same series of hallways and tunnels until we arrive once again at the check point center. We wait a few moments at the desk. A phone rings. Miss Jones answers. Stone face. She replaces the phone in its cradle then flashes a smile in my direction.

“Your check has been approved, Mr. Quarry. Here are your purchases. You may exit the store now and thank you for shopping at S and M.

END