A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is divided into five Books and an Epilogue: BOOK 1 The Memory Box; BOOK 2 Hidden Among the Magnolias; BOOK 3 The Goodbye Wedding; BOOK 4 Tumbleweed; BOOK 5 Let the Mourning Doves Fly Free; EPILOGUE What Goes Around. I will be posting each book from December through May on Sunday mornings.
THE MEMORY BOX
“I get what you’re saying Emma. I just want to someday hold on to something that feels good. I may not now to be able to define it, label it, picture it, but I want to somehow know when it comes along I’ll be open to it. I just thought, not taking Texas reality into consideration, all of you and I a possibility. I guess, I still have much to learn.”
Before they fell asleep they had put every inch of the black and white chessboard in the private corner of their memory boxes, where love lingered in the silent wonder of coming together—if only for the moment.
Luc exited the courthouse a free man. Standing on the sidewalk, it hit him that he had nowhere to go, and nothing to do when he got there. He pulled a map of the U.S. out of his backpack, located Arkansas, and took a wild guess how far his remaining hundred bucks would get him. He caught the last Greyhound out of Little Rock, and arrived at his destination at 3 A.M. It took all of ten minutes for the other passengers to exit the terminal and leave him standing in a cavernous room, with a janitor sweeping the floor, and an old man curled up under a newspaper on one of the wooden benches. Outside the bus station it was a cool starless night. The smell of after rain lingered in the air. The pavement a patchwork of shadows and lights reflecting off pockets of water on the empty streets. With no destination beyond the terminal his only option was to hunker down until dawn. He re-entered the waiting area and found the lights had been dimmed and the janitor had disappeared. He located an inconspicuous corner of the room, and stretched out on a bench with his backpack under his head and wallet in his front pocket. Sleep was the only friend he had.
It seemed like only minutes before he bolted straight up, clutching his backpack, checking for his wallet, and trying to shake his brain awake to clue in on the hustle and commotion around him. The terminal was bustling on a Saturday morning. The concessions were open, and he could smell the aroma of coffee permeating the air. There were lines at the ticket windows. After hitting the men’s and shaking off the cobwebs clouding his brain, he bought a Dallas Morning News and a black coffee. He sat down at a table next to a window looking out at, according to the street sign on the corner, South Lamar. He let his mind wrap itself around his predicament.
He had never been to Dallas. His previous trip to Texas was to Lackland Air Force Base, and that was boot camp, during which John Kennedy was assassinated. All he saw of Texas was one day of R&R in San Antonio. He sat for a while just watching the city come alive, until he realized time was paramount. He needed a place to crash, and a job. There was no priority number one or two, it was all priority. He spread the paper out on the table and scoured the classifieds. Finding a room didn’t seem to pose a problem, there were plenty advertised at affordable rates. Not having a clue where they were located was the difficulty. He needed a map. Even if he had a map, what would he be looking at? So job first, place to crash second, even if it meant putting his name on a park bench.
In the help wanted section it was a buyer’s market. April 1968 men between the ages of 18 and 25 were staying in school to avoid the draft, or already gobbled up by the military war machine. Luc was one of the lucky ones, in and out of the Air Force just before Nam kicked into high gear. At 23 and already a Vet, he was red meat for any employer. What to do, or more precisely, he thought, what can I do?
Scanning the ads was like running his fingers across a Ouija board. His military experience, GED, and one year of Junior College amounted to a big fat zero when it came to a résumé. What he had going for him was physical fitness, and one ad jumped out at him. A Health Club looking for a personal trainer to instruct and motivate individuals in exercise activities. Exercising on a daily basis sounded like a good gig—where the hell was Turtle Creek!
After providing the woman on the other end of the phone a brief background, Luc was given directions as to what bus to take from the terminal and where to get off. She told him her boss was leaving within the hour and would be gone for the rest of the weekend. If he wanted an interview, she emphasized, “It was now or never.”
On the bus he changed into the only clean white tee-shirt he had in his backpack. As he stood in the parking lot looking up over a grassy slope at an impressive glass and steel building with the club’s name emblazoned in gold, The Ambassador Health Club, he felt self-conscious wearing a tee-shirt, jeans and converse all-stars to a job interview.
The double glass doors opened into a spacious lobby. The only furniture in the room were two tall black leather chairs in front of a large semi-circular polished mahogany desk. Standing behind the desk an amazon, with a cleavage that rivaled the Grand Canyon. Her brunette beehive hairdo added to her stature.
Luc approached the desk, put his backpack on the floor and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Luc. I spoke to someone on the phone about an interview for a trainer’s position.”
She looked him over and smiled. “That would be me. You made good time. Mr. Dexter is still in the office. Have a seat Luc.” She reached into a stacking tray, pulled out an application and put it on the desk in front of him.
“Do you know anything about The Ambassador, other than what you read in the paper?” She slid a pencil across the desk.
“I’m afraid not. I’m new in town.”
The gold embossed nameplate on the desk read Connie Darling – Secretary. She sat down and proceeded to give him an introduction.
“We’re part of a Texas chain, one in Houston, one in Austin, and this one, our Turtle Creek location is the flag ship. Each Club is independently managed. Turtle Creek is one of the wealthiest districts in Dallas. We cater exclusively to the affluent client.” She stressed affluent. “We are the best when it comes to providing members with the feeling they are accomplishing physical restoration,” there was that smile again, “whether they are or not.”
Connie’s first impression of the applicant was positive—young, solidly built, dark complexion, and curly locks. He was made to order for the Ambassador image. What she didn’t tell him was quality applicants were hard to come by given the long hours and low pay, and the club was desperate for a trainer. Jimmy would have hired anyone who fit the mold, had they applied before Luc.
“You look good in a tee-shirt,” she said, as he handed her the completed form, “that’ll go a long way with our female members, and Jimmy.”
“Jimmy. Who’s Jimmy?” he asked, as he sat back in the leather chair.
“Mister James P. Dexter is the Executive Director. He likes to be called Jimmy by the staff. It makes him feel like one of us. Stick to Mister Dexter in the interview, honey, and you’ll do just fine.”
She was glancing over the application when Mister Dexter’s office door swung open, and a short, slim man in a tight blue-grey jumpsuit with a sewn in belt, a zipper down the front, open enough to show off his hairless chest, strode quickly over to Connie’s desk. He looked to Luc to be in his late forties. He had what Luc thought was a Julius Caesar haircut—a bald crown you could bowl 300 with and a one inch ring of grey hair extending around his head from temple to temple.
“Well, what have we here Connie?”
She stood up and handed him the application. She looked intimidating, towering over Mr. Dexter by a couple of inches. “I think we have a winner here,” she nodded towards Luc.
He glanced briefly at the application to get the name. Luc stood up to greet him. “Well, Luc Barbon, Connie thinks you’re a winner. Let’s have a look see if she’s right. So far it’s been all hat and no cattle, if you know what I mean.” Luc wasn’t even going to try to figure what he meant by that.
“When have I ever been wrong, Jimmy?” Connie flipped him a wiggle and a wink and sat down. Luc followed Mr. Dexter into his office.
“Pull up a chair young man. Let me look over your credentials and we’ll get right at it.” His desk was double the size of Connie’s. He leaned back in a high-back black leather chair and as he read over the application Luc looked around the office. The mahogany paneled floor to ceiling walls were studded with framed certificates, plaques of all sizes and shapes, and pictures of Mr. Dexter standing next to what looked like important people. There was a bar on one side of the room with a large bowl of fruit, a stainless steel juicer, pitcher, and glasses on top. Behind Mr. Dexter was a glass wall that overlooked the gym floor, a level below. Luc could see a half dozen people working out on exercise machines, and someone walking around holding a clipboard.
Mr. Dexter watched the young man survey the walls. “Recognize any of the people in those photographs?”
“I recognize President Johnson, and that large picture is Jack LaLanne, with you standing next to him. I’ve seen him on television, he’s amazing.” Luc turned to Mr. Dexter. “The rest I haven’t a clue.”
“Most are members present and past, but you got the important one.” Luc had unknowingly complimented Mr. Dexter’s hero. “I used to work out in Jack’s gym in California and one day he asked me if I wanted to work for him as a trainer. He was the catalyst that got me started in this business.” He leaned precariously back in his leather chair, “I owe it all to Jack and his juicer.” He pointed to the stainless steel juicer on top of the bar. “He gave that to me in 1959. Jack was 45 years old and had just completed 1,000 jumping jacks and 1,000 chin-ups in one hour and twenty-two minutes, celebrating his T.V. show going nationwide. I was there. That juicer is invaluable.”
Luc couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Jack LaLanne’s jumpsuit and the one Mr. Dexter was wearing.
“He certainly is a role model, and someone to emulate.” I’m really interested in the job Mr. Dexter. I’ve tried to take physical fitness seriously for many years.”
“I can see that. And you’re a veteran. Honorable Discharge according to your application. Did you serve in Vietnam?”
“No sir. Lucked out I guess.”
“Well son you got my appreciation for serving. Tell me, there are a few things missing on the form,” he glanced down at the paper, “like address, telephone number. Is there something I’m missing here?”
“Well Sir, it’s a bit of a story. When I discharged from the service I went home to Ontario, Canada. I was born in New York and grew up in Canada. My parents are French Canadian. I guess I’m what you call an “anchor baby”, an American citizen by birth. Anyway, when I got back to Canada I just thought there were more opportunities back in the States, so I packed my bag and headed for Texas. Texas just seemed bigger than life.” It was a good story, if only partially true. He conveniently skipped the disastrous year of college in Arkansas.
“Takes guts to just up and move on like that. You show a lot of gumption young man and good sense wanting to move to Texas. Born and raised here myself.” He paused as if deliberating. “I guess we’ll give you a try.” He picked up the phone, dialed Connie, and waited until she was through speaking. “Yes, I never doubted you.” He put his hand over the mouthpiece, “This place couldn’t run without Connie Darling, you mind her and you’ll go a long way.” He took his hand away from the mouthpiece, “Connie honey, fix this young man up with all the necessary paperwork and let’s get him on the floor by Monday. And Connie let’s see if one of the boys can find him a room somewhere. Don’t want one of our employees sleeping on a park bench. It wouldn’t look good.”
A little dumbstruck over the turn of events, Luc stood up and reached over the desk to shake his new boss’s hand.
“Thanks Mr. Dexter, I appreciate this chance.”
“We’ll see how it goes when you get on the floor.” He gave Luc a limp handshake. “Just call me Jimmy.”
Mr. Dexter walked Luc back to the front desk. “He’s all yours Connie. Fix him up and we’ll see him on the floor Monday morning. Cancel the ad. By the way young man, Jack LaLanne was also French. Francois Henri. His parents were both born in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France. You’re going to go a long way in this business.” As he headed for the front door, “Same place same time, Connie.”
Connie helped him complete all the paperwork and gave him a quick rundown of his duties, something Mr. Dexter, “Jimmy,” did not elaborate on.
“He never does talk about the job in an interview,” she informed Luc. “Jimmy figures you’ll find out soon enough if you can do the work. We have a great staff here that will orient you to our system. It’s not rocket science. You just got to look good, and make our members feel good about working out.”
He thought there was more to it, but he was just grateful to have landed a paycheck on his first day in town.
Connie continued her orientation. “We’ll get you started on Monday with meeting the rest of the staff. The uniform is white tee-shirt with our logo, and blue sweatpants. We’ll provide you with those and give you a locker. The cost for the uniforms will come out of your paycheck of course, but over time.” She looked him over. “You’re a 28/32 pant and medium shirt I’m guessing.” Her guess was right on. Connie was good at sizing people up.
After Luc received his work schedule, pay schedule, and a rundown on who’s who in the club, he completed the hiring process by signing his tax form. Uncle Sam would be waiting with his handout for Luc’s first paycheck. Having crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s Connie relaxed back in her chair.
“So, now that you are officially an Ambassador employee, what’s your next move? There are lots of park benches in Dallas, but Jimmy doesn’t want you sleeping on one. Do you have enough money to rent a room?”
Finding a place to crash was the last thing on his mind after what had just transpired. His head was still spinning from landing a job. “I have some money. I can maybe rent a motel room while look for something more permanent. Is there a motel around here?”
She looked at him as if he had just stepped off the boat. “You won’t find anything around the Turtle Creek area. Maybe in a couple years when you’re rich and famous. Oak Lawn or Little Mexico, both are within walking distance, and have lots of places with affordable rents. Let me check with some of the staff who live there. We’ll have you walkin’ in tall cotton in no time.”
She got on phone and spoke to someone named Carlos. Explained the situation and asked him to check with Billy Joe.
Luc picked up his backpack and waited on the patio that fronted the club. He wasn’t sure about walkin’ in tall cotton, but things were definitely looking up. Within half-an-hour Carlos had tracked down a room for rent near Oak Lawn Ave and Lemmon Ave. It was in the back of a large Victorian house, with a private exit into the backyard. Carlos had called the landlady and she was expecting Luc. Connie gave Luc the directions and said she’d see him first thing Monday morning.
The landlady, Mrs. Sanchez, was more than happy to rent to the young man her nephew Carlos recommended. There were no kitchen facilities and he shared a bathroom with another boarder. He guessed it was not up to Turtle Creek standards but it was high living with a roof over his head, and he could walk to work. That evening he wandered the streets in the neighborhood until he found a place for a hot meal. Something he had not had since his stay at the Pulaski County Jail in Little Rock, Arkansas.
It had just turned dark when he returned to his new digs. Sinking down in a threadbare wicker chair in the backyard, any energy he had left dissipated in the passing clouds that glowed from the city lights. A star on occasion filtered through the cloud cover, and a siren now and then broke the silence. Tonight he was in a city he’d never been to, had a bed to sleep in, and a job starting Monday morning. It was unbelievable, but shit happens. Sometimes life takes you on pendulum’s swing and when you end up on the other side of yesterday you gotta go with the flow, or it’s going to swing back real fast and leave you hanging. Exhaustion ran its fingers over his eyes and he was dead asleep. Sunday he walked to the Club and back to get his timing down, strolled around Turtle Creek, and just enjoyed being somewhere instead of going nowhere in particular.
The Ambassador Health Club was open Monday to Saturday from 7 A.M. to 6 P.M. and on Sundays from noon to 6. The front patio extended from either side of the front of the building and was a good thirty feet deep. On warm sunny days, which were a fair portion of the year in Dallas, it was an outside lounge where members relaxed after a workout. At 6:30 in the morning, Luc was sitting at one of the patio tables. He sipped on a cup of coffee he purchased on the way to work, and read the Dallas Morning News. The aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination was ongoing news; postponing the 40th Academy Awards and baseball’s opening day.
The first person to arrive was Carlos and he came straight over to where Luc was sitting.
“Hola amigo, you must be the new guy. I’m Carlos Ramirez. A little early aren’t you?” He shook Luc’s hand and straddled the wrought iron chair. He was built like a middle weight boxer with a head of jet-black hair and a mouthful of pearly whites.
“I’m always early. It’s a bad habit of mine. Thanks for finding that room, it’s perfect for now.”
“No hay problema. Mrs. Sanchez is a wonderful lady. She’s familia.
“You’re early too. The Club doesn’t open for another half hour. I think?”
“I’m the official gate keeper. I get to unlock, turn on, and warm up the place. The first members usually start arriving around 7:15. We’ll eventually take turns opening and closing the place. You’ll get your chance soon enough. Do you want to join me on the rounds?”
“Thanks, but I’m supposed to meet up with Connie first thing.”
Carlos hopped off the chair and headed for the double glass doors. “Good luck today, I’ll catch up with you on the floor.”
“I somehow expected you’d be here early. Good morning Luc.” Connie stepped onto the patio and went straight for the door. “Let’s get on it.” She moved fast and was behind the desk before he was barely into the lobby. Her presence said this is my domain. She threw her bag on top of the desk, opened a drawer, pulled out a set of keys.
“First things first, these are the keys to the inside facilities. Don’t lose them or Jimmy will have a hissy fit. One of these keys opens the lock to your locker. Inside you’ll find a couple clean white tee shirts with our logo, and a couple pairs of sweatpants. After you change I’ll introduce you to the staff.”
Connie did not make room for small talk. Holding the keys in his hand he asked the obvious. “Where do I find the men’s locker room?”
“Over in through there.” She pointed to the stairwell in the middle of the foyer. “The floor plan of this place is straight forward: upper floor reception and offices, Jimmy’s and the sales staff, downstairs the gym in the center and all the other rooms are situated off the surrounding hallway. Bottom of those stairs you take a left and you’re in the women’s section. You want to go right and follow the hallway around to the second door on your right. That’s the men’s locker room. Locker #4 is yours. You’ll meet up soon with Hoot. He’s in charge of the locker rooms, but doesn’t usually get here before 7:30. Join me back here when you’re all duded up.” She sat down at her desk and started shuffling papers. Luc was dismissed. Connie was all business.
The locker room wasn’t like your normal change room in a YMCA. It was furnished with a couple small couches, a few lounge chairs, a T.V., and a coffee/juice bar. It definitely looked like a nice place to wind down after a workout. The men’s room had multiple showers, plush bathrobes, and an assortment of creams and colognes for personal grooming. Over the curtained doorway to a side room the sign read MASSAGE. There was no attendant and no members when Luc entered. By the time he changed into his uniform, members had begun to filter in.
His orientation with Connie was over in minutes. After approving Luc’s appearance and pinning on his name tag as if it were a medal of honor, she handed him a clipboard with a list of staff names and the facilities he needed to become familiar with. She walked him down the stairs, pausing at the entrance to the gym to survey the activity.
“This will be your home from now on.” She said that as if she were inviting him into her own home. She pointed to a staff member across the gym floor. He was talking to someone and writing on a clipboard. “That’s Billy Joe Roberts, our head trainer. From this point on he’s your go-to man for anything and everything you need to know about this gym. He’s expecting you. I’ll leave you here. “Let’s say goodbye, happily we exercise, exercise, exercise, happily we exercise, it’s time to say GOODBYE.” She sang this little ditty as she retreated upstairs to the lobby.
Billy Joe explained Connie’s strange exit. “She doesn’t come down to the gym, with the exception of our monthly staff meetings with Jimmy. She says she can’t handle the smell of sweating bodies. The happily exercise bit is what Jack LaLanne occasionally closed his television shows with. It’s all bizarre, but you’ll catch on.”
Billy Joe was from Athens, Texas, a small town about an hour and a half southeast of Dallas. After graduating from high school eight years ago, he moved to Dallas to foster a career in the fitness business. He was built lean and mean and looked every bit the part of a man that had made exercise his life’s vocation. He had only started working with the club in January and with his past experience moved up to head trainer position quickly.
“Turnover,” Billy Joe said, as he walked Luc around the gym floor, “was the nature of the health club business. That’s with both the staff and the membership.”
This was Luc’s first time in a physical fitness center and he wasn’t into looking deeper than the surface at the moment. He let a lot of what Billy Joe had to say about the business end slide by.
“What’s my role in all this Billy Joe?”
“Connie told me you were new at this so will start slow. Basically as a personal trainer you help members achieve their fitness goals through a series of customized exercise programs. You begin with assessing the member’s level of physical fitness. From the results you develop an exercise strategy that will bring the person closer to their expected objectives, over time. That’s the short and skinny of it.”
Eight members were working out on the various exercise machines. Billy Joe acknowledged everyone as he walked Luc around the floor. Some he introduced Luc to, others totally engrossed in their exercise got a nod of approval. Luc could tell Billy Joe was comfortable in his environment.
“A member might have set weight loss goals.” Billy Joe lowered his voice. “We deal with loads of fat here. Or a member may decide they want to run the marathon, and we need to help them get to mile one. We monitor everyone’s progress with these charts,” he handed Luc the clipboard he was carrying, “and customize approaches that keep the member motivated, and successful, and happily paying their dues on time.” He emphasized paying dues. “Once you learn the equipment and the routines I’ll assign you a member or two, and we go from there.” He took back his clipboard. “Save your questions for later Luc. We’ll meet on the floor after you’ve made your rounds. Now I have the pleasure of introducing you to Miss Emma.”
Billy Joe walked Luc over to the juice bar. One of many set up throughout the building. They were mini bars, each holding one of Jack LaLanne’s juicers and all the accoutrements required to make power drinks.
Emma was a stunning copper skin young woman. She was the only person of color on the staff. An anomaly in the Dallas working world. The Ambassador Club was a white only establishment. She was in charge of the snack and juice bars, and a big part of her duties was to push the Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicers. Jimmy made a decent profit off each one, none of which went to Emma or the staff.
After introductions she handed Luc a glass of juice. “All for the asking for the members and the good part is it’s free to staff. The way Jimmy pushes the juices you’d think it was cocaine.” She had a voice like black velvet and smile like a Cheshire cat.
Luc didn’t get the connection to cocaine, and didn’t ask. The drink she gave him was a combination of carrots, celery, and red bell pepper. It was something he’d feed a pet rabbit. He was polite and thanked her for it. She knew exactly what he was thinking.
“I believe I’m supposed to turn you over to Carlos next,” she said, when he placed the half-empty glass on the bar. “We’ll have lots of time to get to know each other, there’s plenty of down time during the day.” Then she passed along the number one rule. “As long as you’re holding your clipboard you can hang out at the juice bar and look busy. You just have to keep an eye on Jimmy’s office window.” She gestured with her eyes towards the second floor. “Both he and Connie like to stand up there and pretend they’re supervising. If you have your clipboard they think you’re working.” That was a load of information in a short time, and just when he was about to open up the conversation Carlos tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hate to tear you away amigo. This is my favorite spot, and it’s not about the juice. Let me introduce you to the comodidades.” Luc followed him as he walked off the gym floor into the circular hallway that housed the club’s amenities.
“My favorite is the eucalyptus steam room. You wanna clear your head this is the room.” Carlos opened up the first room on his itinerary. “It’s co-ed and well used.” Luc took a deep breath. “It’ll clear your sinuses, get rid of a cold, get rid of hangovers, and bring you down from a high. It’s a one room cure all.” They moved from door to door, each one labeled and numbered. Each one had a small window in the door so the staff could check on the members.
“We got two hot tubs, also co-ed, one boiling hot, enough to cook a chicken, and one ice cold, we call it the Polar Bear Plunge. You jump from one to the other and it’s like getting hit with a twenty pound tortilla.”
Like the cocaine comment, Luc had a hard time wrapping his head around a twenty pound tortilla.
“And finally we have the dry sauna, and the Jacuzzi, both great cures for hangovers. We find our members need lots of recuperation. It’s a rich man’s playground, and some actually come here for the exercise.”
After they finished checking out the amenities Carlos brought Luc back to the gym. Billy Joe was working with a member who was struggling with the chin up bar.
“Stanley meet Luc, he’s our newest slave.” Stanley nodded his head in recognition as he pulled himself up, extending his chin to barely nick the bar, and then dropped back down.
“Nice to meet you son, hope you’re not into torture like Billy Joe.”
Luc stood back and observed while they finished their workout. When Stanley moved on to the lounge to recuperate, Billy Joe finished making notes on his clip board before addressing Luc.
“These charts are like gold, you want to always be carrying one around when you’re on the floor.” He looked up towards the office window, “Jimmy thinks if you don’t have a clip board in your hand you’re not working.”
“Emma mentioned that. It sounds like standard operating procedure.”
“Ever heard of Neiman Marcus?” Billy Joe asked him as they walked over to the juice bar.
“Can’t say I have, who is he?”
“Not he. It’s an upscale department store. Famous in Dallas, and family owned. Stanley’s the company CEO.”
Here we go with cocaine and tortillas he thought. “How does that relate?”
“It’s our member base Luc. The wealthy are our paychecks. We make them happy and they pay the absurd dues to belong to the most expensive health club in Dallas. We’re nickel and dime, but our job brings in the money. If you’re good I’ll give Stanley to you.”
“Thanks, I think.” Luc passed on the juice bar. Emma was at another station. He stuck close to Billy Joe for the rest of the day—reading the charts, learning the machines, not getting too involved, just watching and listening.
“Best way to learn the ropes,” Billy Joe informed him, “is to just let it all sink in. Details just fuck up the mind when you’re trying to remember everything. Nobody here is wired for pressure, except for Jimmy, and the sales department. We just pamper the members so they feel good when they leave here.”
Close to closing time he got a call on the intercom from Connie. “How’s it going Luc? Do we still have a trainer?”
“So far so good,” he responded. “Everyone’s been a great help.”
“Good boy. Same time, same place tomorrow. You stick with Billy Joe for the rest of the week and let him teach you a trick or two.” She hung up.
“Connie’s all business, Billy Joe told him. This place couldn’t run without her, and I don’t think Jimmy could keep the place afloat without her.” Luc thought this was the general consensus.
While changing clothes in the locker room Luc met Hoot for the first time. Hoot had to be in his 60s or 70s. Luc couldn’t tell which, old was old. The locker rooms were Hoot’s babies and he took them seriously. He had a mess of white hair on top of a short and stubby body. He walked with a slight limp, and sported a permanent smile.
“How’s your first kick at the can kid?” he asked while gathering up the towels and the robes, scattered on the floor and benches.
“It was good Hoot, not nearly as daunting as I thought it’d be.”
“I don’t recognize the accent. You’re not from these parts I’d say. Where dyah call home?”
“Anywhere I land where my feet stick to the ground.” Hoot got a chuckle out of that one. “You’re right, Hoot, I’m not from these parts. Know where Ontario, Canada is?”
“Somewhere north of the Red River I imagine. I knew you weren’t from these parts. You can always tell a Texan,” and he hesitated before the punch line, “but you can’t tell him much.” Hoot got the biggest kick out of his own jokes.
The sun was still shinning when he exited the building. He felt good about the day, the job, the people he had met, and was riding high on the walk home. It was a long time coming.
By the end of the week it was a different story. Luc had taken to writing everything down in notebooks. He had asked Connie for paper and pen and she was most obliging, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to have someone write things down. They just hadn’t thought of it before.
Each room he learned about had its own peculiarities of temperature, time and comfort level. If anything was out of sync, somebody was complaining. In the gym there were Free Weights and Machines, each with its own advantages and disadvantages when it came to the human body. The machines were easier to use and safer than free weights, but free weights tended to stimulate more muscle, and conversely, subject to abusing more muscle if not used properly. Each machine in the gym had its own idiosyncrasy so just learning what they were called and how to maximize their efficiency was half the battle. And the list went on and on. What seemed at first a pleasant workout environment turned into what it really was, a beehive of bodies each demanding immediate, personalized gratification, and staff running around like buzz saws.
Hoots’ parting shot before Luc left the locker room hit the mark. “Sonny boy, you look plum wore out. It’s a whole nuther thing once the honeymoon is over.”
Billy Joe told him it’d be a couple weeks, maybe, before he worked with members. He had to learn the grunt work first: opening and closing routines from Carlos, dietary stuff from Emma, and the maintenance and cleaning of the machines. Luc enjoyed working out on each machine as well as the weights in order to familiarize himself with everything in the gym. It was one of the bonuses.
Carlos locked the front doors, and sat down next to Luc and Billy Joe on the patio. Billy Joe was wrapping up the weeks introduction to the business.
“We’re jack of all trades here: social directors, housekeepers, maintenance, caretakers and occasionally personal trainers. There are some part-time staff filling in the spaces, but we get most of the glory, 6 days a week dawn to dusk. I bet Jimmy forgot to tell you that.”
“He didn’t forget Billy Joe. He didn’t want Luc to hightail it back to Canada when he found out what’s behind the façade.”
“Jimmy didn’t tell me anything Carlos, except he’s got a thing for Jumping Jack. I spent ten minutes with Jimmy and I haven’t seen him since.”
“That’s about all you’re going to learn from and about the boss man.” Carlos never had anything nice to say about Jimmy. “Rest assured though, he’s sitting up in that ivory tower of his and watching your every move. Hasta la vista guys, catch you Monday morning.” Carlos skipped down the stairs and disappeared, leaving Billy Joe and Luc to work on their plans for Saturday night.
“I live in downtown Oak Lawn, about five blocks from you. I’ve lived there since I came to Dallas. Wouldn’t live anywhere else. It’s a fun place once you get to know it, lots of crazy’s; hippies, gays, you name it. I know this great pizza place, you game?”
“Sounds good to me, if you’re buying this time. The only thing in my wallet is a paycheck.” Luc was more than bone weary after his first week and jumped at the chance for a change of scenery. He had gone home every night and was stir crazy.
It was well past midnight when he passed through the side gate and around to the back yard. He had been told to expect some heavy duty thunderstorms this time of year, but none tonight. It felt cool but comfortable, so he planted himself on the wicker chair and reminisced about his strange fortune.
Over a couple beers and a pizza he learned more about the health club business and about his new found friend. Nothing was as it appeared on the surface. Billy Joe looked like someone who loved his work and had found a perfect match for his skills, but the reality was he hated working for Ambassador, and especially working under Jimmy. “The place is a rip off,” he had revealed to Luc, “they just keep selling memberships way beyond capacity, banking on people dropping out after a short period, or just seldom working out.”
Billy Joe’s dream was to open a karate Club. He started karate in High School, earned his black belt, and was working on Dan grade. He still practiced at a dojo in the village, and his sensei believed he had the ability to reach his dream. The obstacle he had to deal with was the health club business didn’t pay, or pay enough to bank. His sister Sarah, with four kids and married to a crop farmer, lived outside of Athens, and was dirt poor. He sent her money whenever he could.
Luc felt comfortable enough to spill the beans about Arkansas. He thought Billy Joe was going to bust a gut laughing when he told him about the crime of conspiracy to possess marijuana. In his last six months in the Air Force Luc had researched colleges that would accept his GED and lack luster Community College grades, and found one outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. Ex-military with the GI Bill in his wallet was all he needed to be accepted. He almost made it through the first semester, when at an off campus party he was one of nine students and two teachers busted. Not for possession. The cops found one joint hidden in a tie in a closet where the party was held. Luc’s crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was enough though for him to end up in jail and to be kicked off campus. The judge gave him a probated sentence and an unarticulated suggestion to avoid Arkansas for the rest of his life.
The last thing Billy Joe told Luc before they called it a night was now that he’s a convicted criminal he’ll have try a little weed—he’d arrange the initiation.
To be continued Sunday Dec 13th
A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is available on both Amazon and Kindle at John Thomas Dodds Author Page Reviews appreciated