Comes a Time – Essays

Comes a Time

Essays & Poems on Aging

Comes a Time is a collection of poems and essays exploring the ageing process (senescence), and the attributes (essence) that make us who we fundamentally are. Digging deep at times into the “soul” of the substance of growing old, the reader is never too far from finding humor where time becomes a diminishing number of cells doubling. Dedicated to all the sexagenarians, septuagenarians, octogenarians, and nonagenarians, who are no longer capable of dividing but are still alive and metabolically active.

Published on Amazon 2017 $5.50

 

 

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE – The Memory Box Part 4

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.

BOOK ONE

THE MEMORY BOX

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE“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.

30

Billy Joe’s first response to learning about Bums premonition of doom and gloom was to light up a joint and tell Luc about the two other health clubs he had worked for that shut down for one reason or the other.

“This is a dog-eat-dog business, and unless you happen to be that one shining star like Jumpin Jack, a health clubs life expectancy is dependent on the location, membership, and whether or not exercise is in fashion.”

Billy Joe knew the exercise business was a moving target. That’s why he wanted to become a sensei and to open his own dojo, a neighborhood operation where once you build up a membership they’re part of the business. He at least had a vision of possibility based on previous accomplishments. Luc, however, had nothing behind him except a trail of broken possibilities and a nowhere ticket to somewhere.

“If Bum gave you the impression something was coming down, and with him splitting the scene, you need to be as far away from any shit that happens as you can get. Arkansas gave you a light sentence for the conspiracy charge compared to what you’d get in Texas. You don’t want it surfacing here. The only suspension you’d get for anything to do with dope here, unless you are connected, is hanging by your balls in a cell. Don’t know what to tell you Luc, except you don’t want to be around trouble when troubles around you.”

Luc thought this was exaggerating the possibilities, but then again… “Fair enough Billy Joe. But what could really happen? The worst case scenario, the Club folds and we’re out of a job.”

 

31

 

With the Fourth of July falling on a Thursday the Arlington staff were looking at a long weekend of dismal days. By Wednesday they were already dying of boredom with only a couple of the members dropping in for the occasional workout. It wouldn’t have made much of a difference if all the members came in. Jimmy was nowhere to be seen for days on end, and Connie seldom emerged from her office. Emma took on the role of meet and greet whenever the occasional visitor wandered in.

At the end of the day Luc, Emma, and Carlos waited at the front door for the ride back to Turtle Creek with Connie. She was not in her office. They could hear raised voices again emanating from Jimmy’s office. When Connie finally came through the door the look on her face was of someone who could bite the tail off a rattler. It changed immediately to surprise with the staff standing in the lobby. Connie slammed the door behind her, but not before Luc caught a glimpse of Jimmy, elbows on the desk and head in his hands.

“What are you doing standing there? Have you been eavesdropping?” Her voice was strained.

Luc was expressionless. This was an ongoing saga he didn’t want to be a part of. “We’re waiting for you Connie. It’s closing time.”

She regained her composure. “Everything closed up tight and cleaned up?” Without waiting for an answer. “Wait by the car, I’ll be right out.” She marched into her office.

Connie gave them the good news as they pulled out of the parking lot. The Arlington Club was going to be temporarily closed for repairs until after the Fourth of July holiday weekend. They thought they’d be looking at a mini vacation, until she followed up with the bad news. She expected them to replace the part-time staff at Turtle Creek and work regular shifts.

On the holiday and the following Friday only a few members trickled through the glass doors. Saturday was okay for the coffee and bagel crowd, but after that it dried up. With Jimmy and Connie nowhere in sight Billy Joe made an executive decision to close early.

Luc and Emma stayed behind for a sauna and Jacuzzi, mainly to ease the tension and relax before heading back to the apartment. Sitting in the Jacuzzi he broached the subject of where they were going from here, assuming things fall apart.

“I don’t know. I just hadn’t planned for this at all. I thought I had a secure job for at least a few more years. Maybe I’ll take some courses at the Junior College like Felicita. It doesn’t look good does it Luc?”

“Connie and Jimmy, they’ve got something going on and you’re right, it doesn’t look good. Who knows, if Arlington goes under and Turtle Creek’s doing okay we may all still be working.”

“If not, how about you, what will you do Luc?”

“Find another job is what I’ll have to do, and I’m back to the beginning of not having a clue what that will look like. I know Billy Joe wants to open his Karate school and I could help him, but financially it’s all pie in the sky stuff for the foreseeable future.” He sat silently thinking about a number of options, none of which had any clear path to fruition. “I do know if possible, I want to keep our relationship going. It may be a long time before we get to sit in a Jacuzzi together if it all goes down, but as the song goes—who knows where the wind blows.”

“And is that a sad song or a happy one.”

“The song is about two Irish brothers immigrating to the states on two different ships. A breeze blew one north and one south and they ended up on different sides in the civil war. I think Sands, who wrote it, saw how coincidences or small irrelevant happenings can change one’s history. Not to say losing your job is a small happening.”

“It’s a big happening Luc,” she slid across the water to lean up beside him, “and I’m afraid it’s going to change for us, and the wind is not a small breeze, but a gale.”

Going back to work at Turtle Creek Monday morning was like attending a funeral where no one was dead yet, but everyone was hanging around waiting for someone to die. When Connie showed up, she informed everyone Arlington was closed for repairs until further notice.

 

32

 

The big event for the staff came on Tuesday, and it had nothing to do with exercise. Louella had nabbed six tickets for the Doors concert at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium. They were on the floor, in front of the stage, and it was a night to “Break on Through to the Other Side.” Billed as A Feast of Friends it was a perfect night for Luc and friends to wear off all their frustration in a hot, sweaty abandonment, under a blanket of lights, smoke and music. From “Soul Kitchen” to “When the Music’s Over” it was a night—and a morning to remember.

They had all slept in. Luc and Emma were just dragging themselves out of bed by the time Billy Joe had showered, dressed, and was heading out the door. He figured Connie would have opened up by the time he got to the club. When Billy Joe ran up the flight of stairs and onto the patio, Hoot was standing in front of the glass entrance with a couple of members. Connie was never late and Hoot was never early. The day was not getting off to a good start. Billy Joe asked the members to hang out on the patio until he got things rolling.

“Looks like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet.” Hoot commented as he followed Billy Joe into the lobby.

“Something like that Hoot. I’ll get the lights if you can get a start on opening up the rooms. Emma and Luc should be right behind me.”

Luc and Emma walked into the lobby just as Hoot rushed up the stairs and stopped at the top, looking all choked up.

Billy Joe came double stepping up the stairs and passed Hoot.

“Good timing Luc. Connie and Carlos aren’t here yet. Can you help Hoot on the men’s side, and Emma, I just turned on the lights on the women’s side if you can start there.” He stopped. Luc and Emma were staring at Hoot.

Billy Joe turned around. “What’s up Hoot, you look like you’ve seen a ghost?”

“The ghost of Jimmy maybe!” Hoot jabbed his finger towards the stairwell. “He’s…Jimmy…he’s sitting in the sauna with his clothes on and he don’t look so good.”

They scrambled down the stairs, into the hallway and up to the door of the dry sauna. One by one they peeked through the small window. Jimmy was propped up on the bottom bench dressed in his Jack LaLanne jumpsuit, his eyes closed peaceful like, and his hands on his lap.

Emma turned to Hoot. “He’s looking real pale, and he kinda has a smile on his face. Do you think he’s dead?”

“I don’t know but the thermometer reads way over the limit, he ain’t movin, and there’s an empty bottle of Jack Daniels beside him.”

The club members were sent home after being told there were mechanical problems with the air conditioner and it needed to be fixed before they could open. The police were called. Connie was reached at home, and would be arriving shortly. Nobody understood why she stayed home this particular morning, and no one asked.

The salespeople were notified and declined to come in. Luc called Bum. Even though he was no longer an employee, Luc felt Bum should know. The message on his machine said he’d be out of town for a few days, if it was important leave a message. No message was left. Luc figured that somehow Bum was aware of what just came down, and a chill ran up his spine.

 

33

 

Before the police and Connie arrived, Billy Joe gathered everybody together.

“I’m going to ask Luc to leave, he doesn’t need the complications. He wasn’t here. Is everyone okay with that?” Hoot shrugged.

Emma gave Luc a squeeze. “I’ll catch up with you at the apartment.”

Once the police arrived and cordoned off the area it took several hours to complete the initial investigation and send the body on its way. Connie showed up just prior to the police and didn’t act the least bit surprised at the turn of events, until she was questioned, and then she was totally distraught and in full cleavage while making her statement. Hoot could have been the number one suspect after telling the police what he thought of the boot lickin’, ornery son-of-a-bitch and glad he was dead. Carlos never did show up and was on the list to be called in for questioning, primarily because he was Mexican. No one seemed to care about Luc. Billy Joe and Emma, after making their statements, sat around on the patio drinking Jimmy’s juices until everyone cleared out and Billy Joe could close up. He left his keys with Connie, who was looking mighty comfortable sitting behind Jimmy’s desk drinking a glass Jack’s juice.

The preliminary conclusion was suicide. Heatstroke enhanced by alcohol in the blood stream causing organ dysfunction, brain damage, and death. It was a mystery how he could be sitting up. The investigation would be ongoing to look into the cause of suicide. The Turtle Creek club was closed for temporary renovations due to air conditioning malfunctions. The temperature in North East Texas hovered around 95 degrees daily, reinforcing the lie.

 

34

 

Luc met up with Billy Joe and Emma at Woody’s for a late lunch, or more appropriately a liquid lunch at the bar. Bum’s prognostication had materialized way before expectations and the three ex-employees of the Ambassador Health Club were still spinning over the day’s events. Billy Joe had called Carlos to fill him in on the morning’s event, and suggested he lay low in Little Mexico until the cops came looking for him. For all of them there were plenty of ifs, buts, and maybes, and the big one—now what?”

Luc felt a hand on his shoulder. “Is this another business lunch?” Adam had spotted him at the bar and came over to say hello.

He turned on his stool, “Hi Adam. No it’s a wake. You know Emma and Billy Joe?”

“Yes we met the other night. Who died?”

“Let’s grab a table, it’s a long story and we could use a third party perspective. What are you drinking?”

Luc gave the long and short of it with translations and interpretations by the gallery. At the end, Adam didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“If you were writing this story for my creative writing class Luc, I’d say you have a corpse on your hands that died, possibly not by his own hands. Which means there’s a story demanding resolution. You have a real mystery here, and that’s fresh meat for the Texas Rangers. I suspect you can all look at being subpoenaed. Probably something you don’t want to happen, Luc.”

“Thanks for the uplift,” Luc was already primed for the possibility.

“I don’t know if we want to hear the recommendations.” Emma was aware of what was coming down. “Hold off on those Adam, till I come back from the ladies room.”

“Frankly,” Adam said, as Emma walked to the back of the restaurant, “you’re best option Luc is to disappear for a spell. They don’t have anything on you to go chasing after, you’re just a pawn on the chessboard, but I think they will dig into everything, if you know what I mean.”

Billy Joe called it. “You can bury the past but if someone’s got a shovel and you’re in their radar, it will surface.”

“I guess I could always head back to Canada for a while.” To Luc this was the worst case scenario. “Here we go again.”

Adam could sense a degree of despondency and moved the topic over to Billy Joe. “What are your plans, do you have any reason to get out of dodge?”

“Not from my end. I’m born and bred in Texas and the world drops off at the border. Although I’d like a breather until all this blows over. Maybe the Ambassador will start up again with different managers, maybe not.”

Adam got up to leave just as Emma was returning.

“Did I miss anything?” she said.

“Yes and it ain’t pretty.” Billy Joe answered, as he motioned to the waiter for another drink.

“I can tell you all about it as I walk you home. I think Billy Joe and I still have a few things to ponder over before we make any decisions on our next move.”

Adam was right on it. “I’m just leaving Luc. Which way are you going Emma, maybe I can give you a ride home and fill you in?”

“Little Mexico,” she replied.

“Perfect, I’m heading in that direction.”

She slid off the bar stool, hesitated for the longest moment looking into Luc’s eyes. Then with an uncontrollable sigh of resignation, she kissed him.

“You ponder with Billy Joe. It’s been a long day. We’ll catch up tomorrow.”

 

35

 

When they finally left the bar and crawled back to the apartment Louella didn’t take kindly to their plans. She had curtailed her business since moving into the apartment and wasn’t at all accommodating to the idea of upping the hustle. Billy Joe didn’t have to worry about any subpoena and could maintain the status quo. However, he liked the idea of getting away from it all for a while. After they disappeared into the bedroom to discuss the situation under the covers, Luc sat at the kitchen table and wondered why he and Emma weren’t doing the same.

Louella was very persuasive and convinced Billy Joe he really liked their relationship, and he should stick close to home. She suggested he visit his sister in Athens. Help out on the farm until he got the wanderlust out of his system. By the time he returned to Dallas, the Ambassador would probably be under new management.

Knowing Luc had re-applied for his GI Bill, Billy Joe came up with a possibility for Luc. There was a Junior College in Athens, around an hour away from Dallas, and as a Vet, if Luc felt like continuing his studies it might be an easy buy in. They could check it out together and if it didn’t work, he could help out on his sister’s farm until he decided which way the wind was blowing.

Billy Joe had planted the seed. Before the chaos of Arkansas, continuing his education was priority number one. He had lost sight of his goal. He may have even lost sight of himself after landing in Dallas.

 

36

 

There were two phone calls to make, one to Bum and one to Adam. Bum wasn’t in, of course, so Luc left a message. He wanted to let Bum know about his decision to move on to Athens, but he also wanted to see if Bum might just be able to give Emma a hand in finding a job.

Adam picked up the phone on the first ring. Luc filled him in on the possibility of returning to school.

“I guess you mentioned to Emma the possibility of my moving on, at least for a while anyway? How did she take it?”

“She was quiet when she heard the recommendation. When I dropped her off she thanked me for the ride in a voice that was barely audible. She wants to meet up with you before you leave.”

Luc told Adam about his feelings for Emma. He told him about her desire to rise above the discrimination and hate she had lived with. Luc asked him to follow up with her if he could. Adam was not new to discrimination. He had lived with it as well, all his life. It was not because of the color of his skin, but the color of his soul’s desire. He took her telephone number and promised to follow-up.

Shortly after saying goodbye to Adam, Bum called back.

“I think you’re doing the right thing kid,” he acknowledge after hearing Luc’s plans. Bum told him he didn’t think the Club would open for some time, but it would reopen, under a different name. As for the suicide, police were now investigating the possibility of foul play. No suspects had been identified so far. When Luc told him about Emma, Bum said he’d take care of it. Luc was beginning to understand “taking care of it” was what Bum did well, when he wasn’t selling Cadillacs.

 

37

 

Luc met up with Emma over lunch at the original El Chico restaurant on the northern edge of Little Mexico. It was a spacious restaurant, a dozen or more tables with canvas backed chairs. Usually busy for lunch, today was an exception with only few customers. The heat wave and excruciating humidity that had Dallas in its grip for weeks had finally let go and most people headed for the outdoors.

“Nice place Emma.” he said, as he sat down and looked around. “Looks authentic, I guess, not having been to Mexico.”

“El Chico caters to the Anglo clientele, but it’s also popular with the Dallas Mexican community. I took the liberty of ordering a pitcher of frozen margaritas.”

“Perfect.” There was an awkward silence as he looked over the menu. It all looked good but he didn’t have a clue what it was—rellenos, tamales, empanadas, papas etc. Tacos he was okay with, but that was it. “What do you recommend?”

Emma ordered for both of them. She seemed pleased he was thinking of going to Athens. She had relatives there and knew the town, and it was only a short commute from Dallas. Luc told her of his conversation with Bum, and mentioned Adam touching base. She didn’t react to either having long ago accepted it’s only real when it happens. What neither could do was reach inside and let their feelings overcome their survival instincts. It was something they had in common. Since they were children it was what buffered them from the inevitable hurt of separation, and its aftermath, the feeling of rejection. Another thing they had in common was change.

It was a quiet, sober lunch. Emma had nowhere to go with the way things had just unfolded. Like the Ambassador, there was nothing she had a hold on, nothing she could say that’d make a difference in the outcome. When they had finished their meal and the waiter cleared the table she opened the conversation.

“You know someday you’re going to have to put me in your memory box Luc.”

It took him a bit to register what she had just said. Someday could be anywhere from tomorrow to a lifetime.

“I’m not sure what you mean Emma. You are in there. You are locked in there. And you always will be.”

“That may be so Luc, but the reality is in the world we live in, in Texas 1968, there’s a whole lot of hate separating you and I, and although none of it is coming from us, it’s all about us.” She had lived with this all her life and knew the odds were so stacked against them, even betting was a fool’s rush.

Luc had no comeback to argue the point. He had not formulated in his mind what he’d actually say to Emma, just that he needed to somehow hold onto what they had shared, and leave the door open, no matter how vague, to some potential for a future continuation of the joy he felt in her company. Somethings you just don’t want to lose no matter the odds or the inevitability. It all sounded good but she only listened, and ended the conversation with a hope and a promise they’d remain friends.

The lunch crowd had long gone and every table but theirs was covered with clean linen and set up for the dinner crowd. The waiters stood by in the Mexican tradition of waiting patiently, never rushing, for the table to clear. They were blinded by the sun when they left the restaurant. It was a good excuse for not connecting eye to eye, making it less difficult to say goodbye.

Emma watched him as he walked away. She could have tried to hold onto this white boy but the odds were against it. He was everything she liked, a tight body rippled with muscle and tone, a mind raw and exploratory, a soul brother naïve to the consequences of his desires. He was a color without a color. The trouble was she was ebony, color of darkness, and the two them were on either end of the spectrum, and never the twain shall meet in the world as she knew it.

In her world the boundaries were well defined and the wall between them impossible to climb for the foreseeable future. She smiled thinking of their times in the Jacuzzi. It was something she stored away in her memory box. Anything’s possible she thought—but not this time.

 

To be continued Sunday January 3  BOOK TWO: HIDDEN AMONG THE MAGNOLIAS

 

 

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is available on both Amazon and Kindle at John Thomas Dodds Author Page    Reviews appreciated

 

Free to Be Me


free to be me

 

Free to Be Me 

I wish for you the perfect gift

under the perfect tree

not locked in a box, ribboned or tucked in a sock

but open for all to see

as visible as the brightest star,

this gift, hopefully received most festively,

would simply, and mindfully be

“a present me”

in this season of your making

I wish for you garlands of friendships in waiting,

a thousand lights of joy, harmony, and fullness for the taking.

I wish for you a time of believing

in a Pandora of possibilities set free

a time to walk through the door

that has truly opened in your mind

and imagine you are as unique

as an individual snowflake caught in a flicker of candlelight

destined to brilliantly adorn the wonderful tree of life

where your light shines        and others see it

where your life matters        and others feel it

the gift I have faith you will accept most festively,

would be the peace of mind

that comes from believing in yourself

and finding the way, to finally say

“I’m free to be me”

In the title poem I offer this book as a gift to bring the reader the peace of mind that comes from believing in yourself, and finding the way, to finally say “I’m free to be me”.Free To Be Me is a tribute to all the Seekers that have nurtured my belief that we are all one. Each poem meditates on an aspect of being human and wanting non-other than to share in the possibility, that we can look upon the face of God, and see our reflection.
In this collection of poetry, which I have written over the years, I only have the words to repeat what the universe has whispered in my ear, spoken with a virtuous breath not my own, for I borrow all that I am from all that has been and is.

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE – The Memory Box Part 3

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.

BOOK ONE

THE MEMORY BOX

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE“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.

19

Billy Joe was sitting at the kitchen table laboriously trying to teach Luc how to roll a joint with Zig Zag papers. Luc’s fingertips were dry and smooth and he was having difficulty with the lesson.

“Takes practice Luc, and patience. One day you’ll be able to roll a number with one hand while driving down the highway. Mark my word.”

After several tries he managed to roll one that stayed together, somewhat resembling a twist tie, and suggested they inaugurate his first successful attempt. He had come a long way from conspiracy to possess marijuana to rolling Zig Zags.

“Jesus Christ, you can start building an arc anytime!” She backed through the kitchen door closing her umbrella.

Billy Joe got up from the table and took the umbrella and raincoat from Louella. “It’s supposed to be backing off, but I guess not yet. Anyhow you made it in one piece.”

“You’re damn right. I wouldn’t miss Luc’s moving in party for a bit of rain. After three days of this shit though, you gotta say enough is enough.” She spotted Luc with what looked like a joint in his hand. “I’ll take a hit off of that.” She dropped her purse on the table and sat down. “How’ve you been Luc? Enjoying your home?”

“Getting by on getting high, and home sweet home are the appropriate phrases Louella.”

“Both damn good reasons to celebrate.” She took a couple quick hits and passed it back to Luc. Turning to Billy Joe, “Roxy should be here any moment. She had to find a parking spot. You can’t park overnight on the goddam main streets around here. What kind of shit is that?”

In setting up the party Billy Joe had told Luc Louella’s best friend was coming, and unlike Louella, a casual lady of the night trying to make ends meet, Roxy was a high class Dallas call girl, or at least a wannabee. Overnight was a good sign for the boys. An even better sign was Roxy bursting through the door soaking wet, wearing a thin cotton dress with no visible sign of an extra layer of clothing. When she shook her mop of curly red locks it was like a Labrador surfacing from underwater.

“Gotta thank you Louella honey for taking the only fucking umbrella. Anyone got a towel? Or better yet, where can I slip out of these wet clothes?”

It was a great introduction to Louella’s best friend. Luc was the Sir Walter Raleigh hero of the night providing a towel and a clean tee-shirt. As a door prize he got to dry Roxy off.

20

Luc was the first one up, abandoning three naked bodies sprawled out on Billy Joe’s devastated queen size bed. The percolator was just beginning to bubble in the glass nipple—the aroma of coffee slowly permeating the kitchen. He sat by the open window looking down on the silent and deserted Sunday morning street. The rain had finally ended and the small patch of sky he could see through the buildings was a grey blue. Surprisingly he had no hangover from the smoke, the booze, and a foursome. Staring blankly out the window at his new reality he was trying to wrap his mind around it all when Louella snapped him out of it.

She plopped down into the chair next to him, put her elbows on the table, and propped her head up with her hands. “That coffee smells wonderful. Be an angel and rustle me up a cup.”

“It’s just about ready. How do you take it?” He got up and pulled two mugs out of the cupboard.

“Raw,” was the only word she could come up with.

They sat silently waiting for the caffeine to kick in. The sound of the occasional Sunday morning driver splashing through the still water soaked street was the only connection they had to the moment.

Billy Joe followed Rosy into the kitchen and they both sat down without acknowledging the presence of Luc and Louella. It wasn’t like they had a hangover, it was more like they were still coming down off a high and hadn’t landed yet.

“Who’s pouring?” Roxy growled. Last night she had been the Diva of Inhibition, and had given Luc a ride that was priceless, considering she banked on her abilities.

“I’m on it.” Luc got up and grabbed the percolator. “How do you like it?”

“Naked,” Roxy responded. “Wake up Billy Joe, there’s a joint in the ashtray crying for a match.” It was like the party had just begun.

In just a month after landing in a Greyhound terminal somewhere on the moon, he was sitting at a table, with two prime species of the opposite sex, buck naked, and stoned. A week ago he had been driving through Dallas in a pink Cadillac on a high that left him standing on the side of the road bewildered. Luc was a long way from Kansas and loved it. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World was on the top of the charts, the poor were marching on Washington DC, and the Vietnam peace talks just started in Paris. Change it appeared had literally grabbed him by the short and curlies and shaken him loose from any prior conceptions—for that matter, any prior expectations.

21

Shortly after everyone checked in for work on Monday morning, Connie announced Jimmy had some exciting news to present that will make everyone happy. A special mandatory staff meeting was scheduled for the following Saturday. The big buzz all week was speculation: raises, more staff, a five day week, overtime pay—or just another kick in the ass from Jumpin’ Jack.

With Jimmy and Connie spending an inordinate amount of time observing from the second floor office window the staff had their clipboards glued to their hips. What troubled Billy Joe were the seersucker suits joining them at the window. When the talking heads came onto the floor again, taking notes and asking members questions Billy Joe knew changes were coming down the pike.

Saturday evening was a long time coming both at work and at the apartment. Louella came over a couple nights during the week, and Luc got to know the neighborhood a whole lot better, especially when the bump and grind in the next bedroom became all-consuming. He discovered Woody’s, a gay bar on the corner of Throckmorton and Cedar Springs, conveniently located right outside the apartment. He didn’t have to brown bag at Woody’s, they sold pizza and beer.

When the big moment finally arrived and everyone was gathered in their not-want-to-be, but-have-to-be positions, Jimmy’s entourage entered the room. He was accompanied by a couple of the suits that had previously toured the facility, and of course Connie followed behind with her binder. The sales staff took up their usual spot at the juice bar. Bum was noticeably missing from their ranks.

Jimmy beat around the stump for 30 minutes, extolling the virtues of the sales department, management (read Connie), the loyal membership, and something about the staff one missed if they weren’t listening closely. He finally got to the main event.

The gentlemen as Jimmy referred to them, represented an investment group who were opening an Ambassador Health Club franchise in Arlington Texas, half way between Dallas and Fort Worth. They had taken over an existing Club and renovations had already begun. Opening date was scheduled for June 15. Sales staff would be actively lining up the membership. Jimmy and Connie would be managing both places.

The shocker came when Jimmy told them how all this wonderful money making scheme affected the floor staff. Carlos and Emma were to be transferred over and continue their present duties, Luc would be promoted to head trainer. Connie would let everyone know how and when the changes would occur.

There was no applause when the traveling circus left the room, and probably out of deference to the men in suits—no Jack LaLanne sing song. Charlene and Julianne were not affected by the changes and left along with the rush to evacuate the building.

Carlos, Emma, Billy Joe and Luc were the only ones left in the lounge when Hoot heading for the door left them with an old west proverb. “Poor is having to sell the horse to buy the saddle. I think Jimmy is way over his head.”

22

“This is going to fuck up all my plans.” Carlos was the first to respond to the news. He was frustrated and angry at the turn of events. “Without wheels, Felicita and I can’t make this work.”

“Where’s Arlington again?” The reality of what just came down not quite registering with Luc.

Billy Joe answered. “It’s about 45 minutes from our apartment and about the same for Carlos and Emma, from Little Mexico. Buses are the shits. If you’re driving, and none of us have cars, you hit downtown traffic and it can take a helluva lot longer on a good day. But that’s only half the problem. Did you hear anything about extra pay for all this extra work? And it will be extra, starting up a gym, training staff. All the shit has just been shoveled our way.”

“All the work and none of the glory, I’m outta here.” Carlos zipped up his jacket and turned to leave.

“Are you quitting Carlos?” was Luc’s immediate reaction.

“Can’t, Felicita’s working part-time and taking classes, and we need to pay the rent. Nothing we can do about anything at this stage, the man’s got us by the cojones. Catch you all Monday.” He stormed out of the room.

“I’m out of here as well. I’m late meeting up with Louella. Let’s let it simmer a bit, we got all day Sunday to mull it over. You okay closing up Luc?”

“Got it covered Billy Joe.”

He turned to Emma who was sitting on the arm of the couch. She hadn’t moved since Jimmy left. “What’s your take on all this Emma? You can’t be happy about what’s pending.”

“I don’t know how that bastard can just arbitrarily fuck up our lives without at least having the courtesy to ask us about it.” Her anger was visible and her tone abrasive. It was deeper than just switching locations.

“I guess we aren’t having our after meeting party.” He looked around at the empty room. “Probably never again. Do you need to be anywhere?”

“Not really. We can have our own party. I need a drink. How about you?” She headed for the Juice bar.

“Scotch please, on the rocks. I’ll get the doors and the lights.”

23

Fifteen minutes later he had changed into a bathrobe and joined her in the eucalyptus room.

“That didn’t take long.” She handed him a full glass of scotch.

“Just when I get the routine down pat, it changes. It’s been the story of my life.”

“Tell me Luc, how’d you get promoted to head trainer? I know you got a cute butt but that’s a helluva responsibility in a short period of time.” She had lost some of the edge in her voice, but she was nowhere near resignation.

“I haven’t a clue Emma, except I completed the operating manual and passed it on to Connie. I guess, maybe Jimmy thinks I know what I’m talking about. I’m not the one they need to take charge. Not by a long shot. Carlos, in my opinion has the qualifications. I think Jimmy knows he can’t replace Billy Joe at Turtle Creek overnight.”

“And he’s not going to let a Mexican take the lead, it’d be bad for business. I’m like Carlos. I don’t want to move, but I don’t know what choice I have.”

“Couldn’t you just tell them you don’t want to or can’t move?”

“I’d be out the door in a minute. Replaced by somebody the members can drool over. You don’t know how hard it is for a black girl to get a job on the white side of the fence in Dallas.”

They sat silently for a spell breathing in the eucalyptus steam.

“Let’s move to the dry sauna.” She reached for Luc’s hand and pulled him up. “We’ve got a month to work it out, let’s enjoy this place while we can. I brought along some stash expecting we’d have our party. Unfortunately we have no one to share it with so we’ll just have to make do on our own.”

By the time they hit the Jacuzzi Luc had learned more about Emma’s background, and why the move was devastating. Her family had a history in East Texas that reached back to the 1800s, mostly around the north edge of Arlington. Her ancestors were part of the original freed colored population who settled in a community called Mosier Valley. That’s when the KKK began to establish itself in Dallas. By the end of the First World War white supremacy dominated, controlling the offices of the district attorney, the sheriff, the police commissioner, the police chief, and judges, as well as prominent doctors, lawyers, bankers, ministers, businessmen, and journalists throughout East Texas.

Emma’s parents broke free of the poverty of Mosier Valley and moved to South Dallas. The violence of the clan had faded by the time she was born but the aftermath of racial tension remained through the 50s and 60s. It wasn’t until Emma graduated in 1965, that her High School, Mansfield High was desegregated. Prior to that the Governor had transferred black students to Fort Worth and dispatched Texas Rangers to uphold the districts forced policy of segregation.

Emma was one of the students bussed from Dallas to Fort Worth. The scars of this hatred were real to Emma. She had to struggle hard to get to where she was—a head above the bottom level jobs available to most Mexicans and Colored in Dallas. She was lucky to be at the Ambassador and understood, in Jimmy’s eyes it was more her looks than her brains that got her the job. Emma had been at the Ambassador ever since graduating, and change was a scary thing for her.

“I can’t tell what the changes will bring,” Luc said, as they climbed out of the Jacuzzi, “but we can pull together and hopefully make good things happen.” When Emma stood up out of the water her skin glistened, and it reminded him of a bronze statue that needed to be touched to understand what the sculptor was after in molding such a beautiful piece. He wrapped the robe around her and they moved on to the locker room.

In the locker room, she stopped, turned to him, and dropped her robe. “I think we should leave these for Hoot in the morning.” Taking both of Luc’s hands she pulled him into the massage room. His resistance level was zero.

Luc was at the juice bar filling glasses with ice and scotch. Nightcaps before heading home. He watched her as she dressed. This he mused, was the real thing. The real thing, that is, minus one half of the equation—neither were capable of commitment.

The sky was just beginning to lighten when the cab picked her up. He stuck around and made sure lock down was complete, then walked to the apartment. Billy Joe pumped him for details but he didn’t elaborate, other than telling him Emma’s Arlington story, and that she was unhappy about the move.

He was keeping Emma to himself, for a while anyway. He was also doing what he had always done, distancing himself from a potential relationship. Growing up alone he had been able to build a wall that prevented anyone from getting too close, or penetrating the fear of loss. At the moment that wall had a few cracks in it.

24

On Monday, one by one the staff climbed the stairs to the lobby to get their marching orders from Connie. With a plastic sympathetic smile she assured everyone Jimmy would address all obstacles in the near future. No one knew what that meant and by the end of the week it didn’t matter. The only concerns Jimmy was interested in were those of the suits and his agenda. Leading up to opening day Luc and Carlos were to alternate a couple days a week over at the Arlington club. Connie would provide the transportation.

Jimmy came down to the edge of the gym floor with Connie to hand out the weekly paychecks. It was a first. He wanted to congratulate the staff for all their above and beyond service and informed them that if they work hard and make the opening a success they would be rewarded with knowing they were part of the finest Health Club in Texas.

Billy Joe followed the Pissant’s magnanimous bullshit briefing with an emergency call to party. Carlos was to bring Felicita and Emma and whatever stash he could muster to the apartment for 8 o’clock, after which they headed to Woody’s for pizza. Louella joined the party and all three couples were primed when they sat around a table. The group was highly animated over the negative direction their jobs were heading, when a tall blonde man in a sleeveless tee-shirt came up behind Luc, bent over and whispered in his ear.

“I remember asking you to join me in Dallas sometime, but didn’t think it would happen.”

Luc almost spilt his beer jumping up from the table and turning to face Adam. It was a bear hug worthy of Woody’s. The conversation around the table came to an abrupt halt. When the shock of meeting was over, Luc turned to the audience.

“Everybody I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine, Adam Ford.”

After introductions Adam and Luc touched on a few highlights of their relationship in Arkansas. Luc rolled back the clock feeling comfortable enough with his new found family to talk about enrolling in college in Arkansas after he was discharged from the Air Force. Adam was one of his teachers. They became friends.

Attending an off campus party someone had a joint, someone informed the cops, and everyone there got caught up in the net. Luc spent a few months in jail waiting on a circuit judge. He was kicked out of school, and was convicted of conspiracy to possess marijuana, just for being on the scene. He paid a fine and left Arkansas, ending up in Dallas.

Adam, it turned out, had a good lawyer and had the charges dropped, however his teaching days in Arkansas were over. He took off to California and spent a few weeks with his cousin in Venice Beach. It was an eye opener he confessed. His cousin was an outlandish gay cowboy from Texas, and in Santa Monica it was all acceptable. This gave Adam a positive outlook on his sexuality and he returned to Dallas.

After addresses and phone numbers were exchanged, Adam excused himself and blended back into the bar. The conversation returned to the immediate, but not before Louella commented on Adam.

“Why are all the good looking and smart guys gay—with the exception of present company of course?”

25

 

Nothing was figured out, and nothing was resolved, but they all came away from Woody’s knowing they were in it together and could count on supporting one another through the transition. Emma decided to catch a cab home with Carlos and Felicita. Luc would have liked for her to stay, but figured she had a lot on her mind and needed to take things slow and easy.

Back at the apartment, sitting around the kitchen table Louella took a long toke and summed it up from her perspective.

“They don’t give a shit whether it makes it hard on you guys to make the changes. It’s a business, and profit is the only thing they care about. You’re commodity.”

“I know that Louella, it’s all about memberships and Jumpin Jack be damned. If they’re not cycling in members there’s no new revenue. I think Jimmy’s in trouble financially and figures the Arlington club will bring in a shit load of signups at minimal expense, especially when it comes to labor costs. What do you think Luc?”

“My gut feeling tells me we’re all on a fast train going nowhere. You’d think management would have laid out a long term plan if this wasn’t just a scheme to make some fast money. I know I’m not qualified like you Billy Joe to be a head trainer. And besides, who am I being head trainer over? At this point it’s all me there and all you here, and Carlos and Emma in-between.”

Change for Luc was becoming part of the game now and going with the flow part of his vocabulary. Sometimes the lessons were hard, other times not so, and maybe someday, somewhere, he’d have a modicum of control over the end result. This move didn’t affect him as much as it did Carlos and Emma. Their travel time, cost of transportation, and no additional compensation added up to a real pain in the ass. Billy Joe’s workload was about to double overnight with new staff and longer hours without extra pay, and he was losing a team that worked together and made his job run smoothly.

They beat the dog until it couldn’t bark anymore. Billy Joe and Louella called it quits for the night and left Luc staring out the kitchen window mulling over the day’s events. It had been great meeting up with Adam. Who’d figure in a city as big as Dallas they’d run into one another. He was just developing a relationship with Emma and he had no idea how the move affected that.

Outside the street lights pooled on an empty stage. The Curtain had closed on act one in Dallas, and no one was clapping.

26

The Friday before the Arlington Grand Opening Emma joined Carlos, Luc and Connie in Jimmy’s office for an in-house meeting to assess their readiness and run over the playbook for the next day. Emma had spent the last four days training her replacement back at Turtle Creek, and she had called it right earlier—tits and ass pushing the juicers. Emma was in Arlington for the first time, and she was starting with an attitude she knew she had to suppress.

Jimmy’s Arlington office was a smaller replica of the one on Turtle Creek. It was complete with duplicates of his pictures and plaques, and a larger rendition of Jimmy standing beside Jumping Jack, both of them in their jumpsuits. Here everything was on one floor so there’d be no management standing at the window looking for clipboards. The staff all gathered in front of Jimmy’s desk waiting for instruction. As if anyone ever had a choice, he started the meeting with his usual.

“Glad you all could make it. First off I’d like to make a toast to all the effort gone into making this opening a reality.” He seemed to have lost the bravado tone that usually accompanied his dog and pony shows. Connie was at the juice bar pouring glasses of fruit juice out of a brand new Jack LaLanne juicer.

“Emma, you might as well start practicing. Fetch those drinks over here, and Connie Darling, show them Jack’s book.”

Connie picked up a stack of books from the bar and handed them out to everyone. With the book in one hand and a glass of juice in the other, his toast was not to the hard working souls in the room but to the hard copy of his hero’s book “Jack LaLanne’s Slim and Trim Diet and Exercise Guide.”

“Just published. Perfect for our opening. I expect the staff to sell one of these guides to every person who walks through our door. You can do it, I know you can.” He finished his juice and sat down at his desk. “Now Connie, you take our fine crew here and give them their marching orders. I expect it will be a grand weekend.” His expectations were greeted with silence.

The club was half the size of Turtle Creek and the amenities were geared more to the working stiff. There was only one of everything with the exception of the locker rooms. There was an alternating schedule for the men and women in the sauna and Jacuzzi. No plush bathrobes no expensive toiletries, no massage room, and no Hoot. Emma and Carlos were expected to clean up their respective locker rooms until such time as the membership reached some unknown number to warrant hiring more help. Laundry and sundry items were outsourced, picked up and replaced on a daily basis.

Connie had her own office near the front door and it doubled as a reception area. She was a respectable distance from the gym and the amenities. The trio’s marching orders were simple—make sure the place is presentable for tomorrow’s opening. They could close up and split whenever everything was ready and find their own way home, or wait for Connie to finish up and she’ll drive them back, which could be in a few hours. She’d pick them up at Turtle Creek first thing in the morning.

Emma had not had the pleasure of touring the building and after she and the boys had made their rounds, her first comment was, “It’s a whole lot smaller here and definitely not a place we could party in. With only two juice bars I guess I won’t have much fetchin’ to do.” She was still simmering over Jimmy’s fetch the juices remark.

“I’m glad you still have a sense of humor Emma.” They were standing by one of the juice bars. Luc checked the stock. “I already have two complaints—no Jack Daniels at the juice bars and no outside patio area. If we’re going to be stuck inside all day we’re going to have to get used to each other.”

“We’ll be bumping into one another on slow days.” Emma quipped.

“Doesn’t sound all that bad.” Carlos edged up behind her. “I don’t see any problem with bumping into you as long as Mr. Boss Man here is not in-between us.”

“What’s the word Carlos, do we go or stay?” Luc did not like the role of boss man.

Carlos had years of experience over him and should be leading this parade. They both knew why Jimmy didn’t give him the lead role—“I’m Tejano to that shitass,” Carlos had followed up on what Emma had previously told Luc, “you don’t get hired into a position of authority if you’re Colored or Mexican, like Emma and I, no matter what you know, or how good you are, at least not in Texas.”

Carlos looked around the gym. “The word is we can close up and split whenever everything is ready for mañana. Anyone want to stick around?” They were out the door in minutes and on a bus back to Dallas.

27

In the morning papers the big news was John Lennon and Yoko Ono planting two acorns in the grounds of Coventry Cathedral, one facing east, the other facing west. The planting was intended as symbolic of their meeting and love for one another. The Arlington Star-Telegram gave a mention to the opening of the new western location of the Ambassador Health Club, in the local news section on page 3—two paragraphs, no picture. The Grande Event was also edged out by the big story of Arlington’s Six Flags theme park, a stone’s throw away from the club, pushing two million visitors.

The whole weekend was a washout. Besides raining all night Friday and into the morning it hit 98 by noon on Saturday. It was a sauna outside. No one needed to come into the club for that amenity. A few potential members showed up to share Jimmy’s juices. A couple reporters dropped in and dropped out. Jimmy couldn’t give Jack’s book away. Somebody forgot to inform Jimmy that in the middle of June, on Saturday afternoon, most parents in Arlington were around the corner at Six Flags with their kids celebrating the start of summer holidays, or heading for the nearest lake.

In the hot Texas summer, bending elbows with a bottle of Lone Star and flipping hamburgers on the Barbie was all the exercise most residents wanted on the weekends. The sales department, minus Bum, a no show for the opening, was needless to say, bummed out. It was management, Jimmy and Connie’s responsibility to promote the Club in the community, and for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Luc, Emma, and Carlos lounged around the gym, pigging out on the chicharrón’s and hot sauce Connie had catered for the event. They tuned out the cat fight that went on behind Jimmy’s closed door.

The heat wave continued through Sunday and by mid-afternoon there was a stifling silence through-out the Arlington club. That is until Bum showed up and turned up the heat in Jimmy’s office. A red faced Connie was the first one to surface from the office and she informed the staff they were to close up for the day. Bum was returning to Dallas and would give everyone a ride. She retreated to her lair and slammed the door shut.

Bum was unusually quiet on the way back to Dallas. Rock and Roll filled the space in the Big Pink. It was okay because his passengers were dead tired hanging around and doing nothing for two days. They were also numb over what had just transpired. Bum dropped Luc off at the apartment before driving Emma and Carlos home.

The relentless heat wave didn’t help business considering neither Club had a swimming pool. Arlington saw no improvement in memberships. It wasn’t just the newness of the franchise, Turtle Creek also saw a drop in members coming through the door, and the money flowing into everybody’s pocket was bad news all around for Jimmy. With the cash flow becoming a problem Connie became the hatchet. She had to let part-time staff go and schedule full-time to pick up the slack.

There were no happy campers in either club. At the end of June, Jimmy’s decision to temporarily close the Arlington Club on weekends in order to save on payroll and operating costs made no sense to anyone. There was reprieve for full-time staff, Luc and Emma were back covering Saturday at Turtle Creek, and Carlos opening and closing on Sunday.

Luc found Sunday morning breakfast as something special he could get used to. Emma began staying over Saturday nights. Getting used to something, however, was never in the cards. Billy Joe and Louella joined them for breakfast and announced Louella would be moving in.

28

Ever since he met up with Adam, Luc had been thinking about trying to re-instate his G.I. Bill in order to someday return to college. Being kicked out of college had meant the end of Uncle Sam’s paycheck, however, Texas was military heaven for providing veteran services, and he thought, just maybe the problem could be resolved in Dallas. He had called Veterans Affairs, and they indicated recertification was a possibility, but he’d have to undergo a series of psychological testing in order to assess his state-of-mind. He didn’t think he was a menace to society, and figured he could fake the military requirement of having to kill someone. Luc managed to weasel a day off from Connie and take his psychological test—the results were to be made available sometime in the future.

On Friday Luc was closing down the Arlington Club and went to check in with Connie on the ride home. She was nowhere to be found in the reception area, and approaching Jimmy’s office, he hesitated at the partially opened door. He could hear Connie urging someone to calm down. The next voice overheard was Bum’s. He was telling her, in no uncertain terms, he’d calm down when Pissant came through with the money. People were lining up, and he’d be in a shitload of trouble if he didn’t anti-up soon. Luc jumped aside as Bum barged out of the office. Bum pulled up short in front of him.

“Hello kid, been meaning to catch up with you. What say we go for a pizza after work tomorrow? You still working Saturday at the Creek?”

“Can’t tomorrow got plans.” He was thinking of one last evening with Emma before Louella moved in. How about Sunday?”

“Good for me. Woody’s is right around the corner from your place, we’ll meet there, let say 5 o’clock.” Before Luc could acknowledge, Bum was out the front door. Hoot would have said he was ‘agger-vated.

“What the hell’s that all about?” Connie demanded as she stepped out of the office, shutting and locking Jimmy’s door behind her. “Are you looking for something?” She could be intimidating.

He moved back, jangling a ring of keys, “Making the rounds, closing up. Bum just wants to catch up for a pizza.”

“I suggest you be careful,” she snapped. “I’ll be in the parking lot. Don’t make me wait long or you’ll be walking home.”

29

Sunday was moving-in day for Louella and she arrived late morning. The back seat and trunk of her 1960 Valiant was jammed with clothes and whatever. She had been sharing a furnished apartment with Roxy who was taking off to more lucrative pastures in Houston. After Luc and Billy Joe helped her unpack they all headed for a restaurant in Little Mexico for lunch. Carlos and Felicita were to join them after Carlos finished opening the Club. The conversation inevitably moved to work and the general malaise everyone felt. Luc told of overhearing the conversation between Connie and Bum. They all agreed something was coming down and it didn’t look good. They were not surprised by Carlos’s revelation.

“I’m not taking any more of the pendejada. Felicita and I are getting married and I’m going back to work with my father. We have a family grocery store and filling station, and he has given his approval for the marriage if I come back to work with him. I’ll give Pissant his two weeks’ notice then he can go fuck himself.” Pendejada Luc learned meant bullshit and it just got deeper for all of them with Carlos off the job.

After a couple pitchers of frozen margarita’s Luc headed off to Woody’s. Bum was sitting at the bar by himself. Right off Luc told him of Carlos abandoning ship, and how the rest of the staff felt about the turn of events.

“Damn right you’ll be left holding the bag, and don’t expect compensation.” He downed the last of his Jack Daniels, stood up from the bar and looked around. “Let’s move on and get some real pizza, this place makes me nervous.”

Luc couldn’t imagine anything making Bum nervous, but then again Bum was a Texan, and it was a gay bar. Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant on Mockingbird Lane was dark and dimly lit. One of the two brothers who started the restaurant in the 40s was said to be a capo in the Dallas crime family. Campisi’s was another of Bum’s favorite places and as with The Cellar, he was the visiting VIP. All the tables along the side walls were lit with Bankers lamps with green alabaster glass shades. A waitress led them to a discreet table that could have had Bum’s name on it. They were the only patrons. After ordering he started right in giving Luc a rundown on the situation as he saw it. Or at least what he wanted to share.

“The Club’s in a heap of shit.” He looked around the room giving his statement an air of suspense. “I gather you kids have figured out things are about to change?”

“Well, as I heard Hoot say once, I don’t know whether to check my ass or scratch my watch. I’m not sure what’s going on, but you’re right Bum, we’re all aware change is in the wind. Connie’s not forthcoming about anything, and Jimmy just keeps himself holed up in one office or the other.”

“Actually it’s the other way around. The saying is check my watch or scratch my ass. We’ll make a Texan out of you yet. It’s a good thing he’s holed up in the office. You won’t have to put up with the asshole for long. I like you kid and I don’t want that mudsill to get the best of you, so some background and advice. Right now Pissant is as nervous as a cat in a room full of rockin chairs. The gentlemen who control most of the private clubs, liqueur distribution, prostitutes, gay bars and gambling in Dallas have investments in some legitimate operations such as City Hall and Health Clubs. The Ambassador has been slipping behind in its return on investment for some time now. It’s one of the reasons why I went to work for the Club, to protect certain party investments. I did well at first trying to boost the membership, but somehow the profits seemed to get sucked up in one of Pissant and Connie Darling’s Juicers.”

Without Bum having ordered, the waitress brought an aperitif of prosecco, sparkling water and Campari to the table. Bum waited until she left and then continued.

“Somehow the money doesn’t add up, so he gets the bright idea with outside investors, to open the Arlington Club. These outside investors are from Jumping Jacks California business interests. Jimmy’s thinking is he can attract the Fort Worth crowd and sign up a shitload of members. New membership is where the big money is—repeats are pocket change in the business. Obviously, as you know, nothing’s happening, at least not fast enough. Now Jimmy’s much further in debt and his investors would like Mr. Jack LaLanne’s protégé to shit or get off the pot.”

The pizza landed quietly on the table. Bum indicated another round of drinks, then picking up a slice, savoring it for a moment to catch the aroma, he captured it in his mouth and slowly devoured it.

“The best pizza this side of Chicago. Dig in while it’s still hot.” Luc didn’t think it would last long enough to cool down.

Bum had revealed more information than Luc could comfortably assimilate. “I appreciate the background Bum, but where do I fit into all this? I’m just trying to make a living, like Billy Joe and Carlos, and this stuff is well out of my league—our league.”

“You don’t fit in. Neither does Billy Joe, Carlos, Emma or any of the other staff. This is chess Dallas style. You kids are pawns. My advice to you kid, and your buddies, is fish or cut bait,” he finished devouring another slice of pizza, “and none of you are fishermen.”

Bum filled him in on more of the restaurant’s history and the brothers who ran it. And the rest of the time he talked about the upcoming ninth season of the Dallas Cowboys. He was betting on Tom Landry and Don Meredith taking the team to Super Bowl III. He had ignored talking about the Ambassador Club again until he dropped Luc off at the apartment. Rolling down the driver’s window of the Big Pink, he landed a bombshell.

“One last thing kid. If I were you I’d copper my bets and be thinking about another occupation before the shit hits the proverbial fan. And by the way, I’m no longer officially affiliated with the Ambassador Health Club. You have my number. Give me a call if you need anything.”

Bum put the pedal to the floor and left Luc, again standing on the curb, wondering, what the hell.

To be continued Sunday Dec 27 

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is available on both Amazon and Kindle at John Thomas Dodds Author Page    Reviews appreciated

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE – The Memory Box Part 2

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.

BOOK ONE

THE MEMORY BOX

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE“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.

11

Monday morning Luc was able to slip out of work, open a bank account, and deposit his first paycheck. Staff were paid weekly, and just in time for he was looking at subsisting on Jack’s juice. Week two wasn’t as hectic as the first by a long shot. He picked up on routines quickly and was soon relieving Carlos of some of the more mundane tasks. He was getting along great with the staff and earning their trust. However, caution was the rule until it was no longer an issue whether or not he’d be sticking around.

By the end of the second week Luc had picked up a cheap typewriter, and with donated paper and whiteout from Connie’s private stash, he was typing his notes. There were three times a day when the members required all of his attention—the early morning coffee and bagels annoyingly spry crowd, the lunch hour kinetic express, and the post traumatic office worker’s workout. Lunch was the most hectic. Member routine was a 20 minute workout slam dunk: in, change, exercise, juice up, shower, change and back to work all within an hour. There were always the occasional hangers-on into the mid-morning and mid-afternoons. They were executive level, taking in the comodidades with complimentary Jack Daniels and cigars instead of Jack’s juices and celery sticks.

Staff were allowed to squeeze their breaks in before or after the crazy times. Luc was on the patio after the lunch hour express, with his juice, corn nuts, soy nuts, and roasted chickpeas—standard fare if you don’t have enough time to make it to Whataburger and back—when a commanding figure with a Wyatt Earp moustache straddled the wrought iron chair beside him. He was wearing a well-worn Stetson cocked back like a skullcap.

“Don’t get up, just passin’ through. You’re the new grunt I hear tell, and Vet to boot. Been meanin’ to stop by and swap some spit. Heard nuthin’ but good things about you from Connie. Look kid, I’m busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest, but I’d like to catch up with you. Always interested in fresh blood. Let’s say the Saturday after the Pissant’s staff meeting. We’ll go for a spin in the Caddy, catch some night life.”

By the look on Luc’s face, Bum figured the kid had no clue who he was and introduced himself.

“Bum, Bum Barkers the name. I’m the sales department of this circus. There are a couple others but they don’t count. How’s Saturday for you?”

It was not an invitation it was an order. Luc’s social calendar was wide open. “I’m game.”

“I’ll pick you up in the parking lot after work.” Bum was across the patio and down the stairs before Luc had a chance to add anything to the conversation.

At the end of each week it was Connie’s routine to stand at the bottom of the stairwell into the gym, and hand out the paychecks. When she handed Luc his pay he mentioned he had met up with Mr. Barker. She lost her normal caked on smile.

“Took him long enough to corral you. He’s our number one salesman. He outsells all the other salesmen combined. Mr. Dexter snatched him right out of Burwell’s pocket. Burwell, as in the biggest Cadillac dealership in the county.” She dragged out the biggest Cadillac dealership. “You be careful around that hombre,” giving Luc some motherly advise, “the man works on all cylinders 24/7, does not take instruction, and won’t take no for an answer.” Luc sensed edginess in that last part.

Billy Joe was waiting on the patio for Luc to finish locking up. As last man on the totem pole Luc had inherited closing down and locking up from Carlos, and it took him twice as long as his predecessor having to double check his notes with everything he turned off and locked up.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get faster. The record closing time for Carlos was eight minutes. That was during one hell of a gully-washer, and no members hung around until the last minute like they usually do.”

“And a gully-washer is?” Luc had flunked French and Latin in High School and was not faring any better with this new language—Texan.

“It’s a shit load of rain coming down hard as hail. We get them every so often and mostly in April. What say we catch a bus and head over to Louanns, it’s on Lovers Lane in Central Market, and they’ve got great rock and roll bands, and plenty of lookers hanging out there?”

“Sounds like a change of pace I can handle. Lead the way.”

12

 

Louann’s was already hopping when they sat down and ordered mugs of Root Beer and a large plate of Louann’s to-die-for barbecue ribs. Like most places in Dallas, no liquor was available, at least above the table. When Luc mentioned meeting up with Mr. Barker, Billy Joe filled him in on what he had learned about Bum.

“There’s a Texas saying, if you’ve done it, it ain’t braggin’. Bum’s a talker. He’s got more stories than the empire state building. Bum will want to take you out for a spin in his Cady. He loves to tour the city smoking dope, listening to the Stones, and telling stories, especially if he’s got a fresh audience. I know. I’ve been there a couple times. You can take it all with a grain of salt, but I personally think what he says has lots of truth to it.”

Some of what Luc learned about Bum was fascinating and scary. Bum did drive around in a 1968 Eldorado Fleetwood which he had painted pink before it came off the production line. Mary Kaye had bought a pink Cadillac and Bum liked it so much he bought his own. Working for the biggest Cadillac dealership in Dallas he had racked up more Cadillac sales in 1967 than any other salesman. Billy Joe surmised it was due in part to his connections to the Dallas crime family. Bum had revealed to Billy Joe he was an acquaintance of Joseph Civello, the current head of the Family.

“When Bum was 17, as the story goes, he was convicted of shooting and killing a hobo sitting on a moving rail car. He was out on parole in three months, the victim was colored and it was Texas. Dallas has had a love affair with KKK well into the 50s. I’m not counting them out today.” Billy Joe paused and finished off his last rib.

“It gets better,” he continued, “Bum was also tried and found not guilty for blowing a guy away at Charco’s drive-in restaurant. Witnesses testified the guy came up to the driver’s window and verbally threatened him. Unfortunately for the victim Bum carried a loaded 45 in his car at the time, and it was deemed self-defense.”

Luc also learned Bum was cutthroat in pushing memberships to the gym, which made Jimmy look good. This made Bum an untouchable wrangler that could do whatever he wanted to as long as he kept bringing in the bucks. Just one of the reasons Connie had a bur under her saddle when it came to Bum.

“Bum told me Pissant’s got a staff meeting next week. What’s that all about, and what’s with Pissant?”

“Jimmy’s name is James P. Dexter. Nobody knows what the P stands for so Bum’s given it a handle—Pissant. Not something I’d want to say to his face. I’m sure Bum’s not so shy. Once a month Jimmy holds a staff meeting on Saturday after work. It’s mandatory for all the staff, even part-time, and what royally pisses everybody off, it’s without pay. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. It’s a Roman Carnival.” He paused in his narration and looked around. “Should we order more ribs?”

“I’m good. Sure would like a beer though.”

“Hang on a minute, just saw someone I know.” Billy Joe suddenly left the table and headed across the dance floor to where three women were gathered. A local band, Kirby St. Romain and the Warlocks were setting up. Posters around the walls showed some of the past and present performers. People even Luc had heard of: Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry, and Jimmie Reed. Louann’s was big enough to hold a couple venues; one upstairs for the older generation, more bluesy and mellow, and where Luc was sitting, the younger crowd ready to rock and roll. Billy Joe returned with his arm around the waist of a buxom blond, with deep indigo eyes and ruby lips. They were carrying three large glasses of coke.

“Luc, I want you to meet Louella. Louella was a year ahead of me in High School and a real looker. I played football and she was a cheerleader. I think I was in love with her, but so was the whole team.”

Luc stood up. “I see nothing’s changed since High School, you’re still a looker.” He was slowly catching on how to talk like a Texan.

“I like this boy already Billy Joe. You don’t mind if I join you now do you?”

“It’d be my pleasure ma’am.”

“He sounds like a gentleman,” she said with a flirtatious Texas drawl, “more than I can say about Billy Joe and the football team. The team was called the Hornets. I knew them as the Horneys.”

Louella reached into her purse and pulled out a brown bag. “Thought you boys might like a little something stronger than root beer. She topped up the cokes with rum. The rest of the evening was listening to rock and roll, and Louella taking turns dancing with the boys.

When the lights went on Louella said she had wheels and would be glad to drop Luc off. She was keeping Billy Joe, and had plans for him.

 

 

13

 

Luc had another great week behind him. He’d taken on Stanley as a client, and it was almost like Luc knew what he was doing. His training manual, as he now named his note taking, was coming along. Next week he planned to present it to Connie. As Luc sadly experienced, when he started, outside of a few operating manuals for the saunas, Jacuzzis, and gym floor equipment, there was nothing written down for staff. Carlos and Billy Joe had gone out of their way to share information and get him to a comfort level with the daily routine. The administration had done diddly-squat.

Billy Joe and Louella had become a thing overnight. Billy Joe revealed to Luc since moving to Dallas Louella had supported herself—he put it as politely as possible—as a working girl. Not surprisingly Billy Joe looked dragged out starting a second shift in the mornings. Louella was still working hard, but now had a steady job.

“Are you going to the staff meeting Hoot?” Luc had changed out of his work clothes and was tying up his all-stars.

“Jimmy would be hotter than a two dollar pistol if anyone skipped his state of the union. I’ll be there but I ain’t enjoying it. This is your first kick at the can kid, my advice is just stay below the radar until they’re through runnin’ at the mouth.” Hoot had taken a likin’ to this kid, as he called Luc, and never went a day without sharing his opinion on the state of the union.

It was a full house when Luc entered the lounge for the meeting. Most of the staff had come straight off the floor and were draped around on the chairs and couches like Dali clocks. The three sales staff, one woman and two men, Bum being front and center, were off to the side hanging around the juice bar. There was no sign of Jimmy. Bum spotted Luc entering and waved him over.

“Luc my man,” wrapping his arm around Luc’s shoulders, “I want you to meet my partners in crime. Sue here’s tougher than a one eared alley cat when it comes to closing the sale, and Jesse’s slick as an eel goin’ after the deal.” Sue and Jesse smiled politely. “Luc here’s our newest prodigy and the first Vietnam Vet to come home to us.”

“Well not exactly but I’m here.”

“Don’t be modest boy, you’ve done a service to the country, and without the young men in uniform we’d be in a world of hurt.”

Fortunately no one in the room was paying attention to the conversation. The distance between the staff, alias working stiffs, and the sales personnel, the ones who made the money, was wider than Connie’s cleavage. The only time sales spoke to the floor staff was when they were selling a potential membership, with the exception that is of Bum who made it a point to know everyone. The room went silent as Connie and Jimmy entered the lounge. She was carrying a large binder pressed close to her chest, and he was wearing his Jack LaLanne jumpsuit and holding a glass of juice up in the air as if it were an Olympic torch.

“Grab a stool Luc,” Bum said, “this dog and pony show will take a while.”

And it did. Jimmy could play the gallery; ticking off all the wonderful things about the company, opening clubs, exceeding sales quotas, and announcing staff of the month.

“This month it’s goes to Hoot. Hoot’s been a loyal employee for three years. We couldn’t run the locker rooms without him. Where’s Hoot?” Jimmy scanned the room and spotted Hoot barely visible beside an exit door. “STOP, LOOK, LISTEN. It’s time for Hoot!” Jimmy was imitating the opening lines of the Jack LaLanne show. Hoot barely looked at anyone as he limped up to where Jimmy was standing. Hoot looked embarrassed with all the hooting and hollering by staff. It was worth a day off, at Jimmy’s discretion, with pay. The framed certificate Hoot would hang over the men’s urinal.

One of Connie’s roles was to introduce the new employees. With the turnover, generally there was one or two. This time only Luc received her fictional additive to stand up and take bow. And on it went for an hour, staff politely clapping at regular intervals. He ended his meeting with the song Jack LaLanne once ended his T.V. show with.

It’s time to leave you, let’s say goodbye, happily we exercise, exercise, exercise, happily we exercise, it’s time to say GOODBYE,” and then he was gone.

Bum turned to Luc, “Fortunately he never finishes the song, probably can’t remember it all. We still on for next weekend?” Bum didn’t wait for an answer, making a beeline for the door with rest of the participants. When Luc looked around the room he caught Billy Joe gesturing for him to join the group he was with.

“Hold tight Luc, we’ve got a surprise for you. What did you think of the performance? Jimmy’s got the bullshit baffles brains part down pat?”

Before he could respond Carlos came back into the lounge jangling his keys in the air.

“All clear amigos it’s party time!”

 

14

 

Billy Joe grabbed Luc’s arm and walked him over to the juice bar. “This is your first staff meeting and first after meeting wake. It’s a tradition here with a few of us. It’s also a tight secret so I didn’t say anything earlier. Not that you’d spill the beans of course, but we’d all get canned if management caught on to what we were up to. We now own this club until Sunday noon and it’s time to enjoy it.”

Emma was standing behind the bar with that Cheshire grin. She could see the surprise on Luc face as reality hit home.

“Emma honey, no juice for this young man. Bring out the whiskey.”

Luc hardly ever socialized with the two part-time trainers Charlene and Julianne who hung out exclusively on the other side of the Club and were always busy working out with the female members. When he finally met up with them on a social level he made note to correct that. Emma was everywhere everyday serving the members whatever they needed wherever they needed it, and to Luc’s observation she was the busiest person in the Club. Carlos was Carlos, and although Luc had taken over much of the mundane work he still ran the physical ship and kept it afloat. The one part-time staff member he hadn’t run into before was Felicita. She was a student studying at the newly opened El Centro College. Her goal was massage therapy. Jimmy had a strict rule about fraternizing among staff, although it seemed like it was not an issue with him and Connie Darling. If he discovered Carlos and Felicita roomed together it’d be the end of their association with the club. It was a healthy and virile group that stayed to play.

“Let’s get the show on the road kids, everyone to the locker room, we’ve got warm robes waiting for us.” Billy Joe led the parade out of the lounge and down the hallway.

Luc followed Emma. “Being novice at this is there anything I need to know about what I’m in for?”

“Just go with the flow, honey, and enjoy. The night is young, the women are beautiful, and it doesn’t cost a dime.”

He found instantly that shyness was not an attribute to be saddled with when everyone stripped down, and put on white cotton terry bathrobes, compliments of the employee of the month. Hoot didn’t participate personally in the after meeting get-togethers, but he made sure his locker room accommodated.

The eucalyptus steam room was a good place to start the evening. It opened up the nasal passages and helped with breathing, and with the stress of muscle aches and fatigue being part of the job description, perfect for unwinding and relaxing the body.

“I suppose this is somewhat of a surprise to you Luc, since you’ve been here less than a month and don’t really know us?” Emma was sitting next to him on the upper row of wooden benches. Everyone else was stretched out on the two rows in front of the center pit.”

“I have a feeling I’ll know you all a whole lot better by the end of the night.”

“I think you might be right there,” she said with a laugh, “it’ll get better as the night wears on. The whole idea is to relax and enjoy what we cater to members every day, seven long days a week. We look on it as pay back.”

“How long have you been doing this, and why doesn’t anyone catch on?”

“Carlos, the girls and I, started the first month Billy Joe came on board. Right after one of Jimmy’s excruciating staff meetings. We hung around to close up the place and found we were alone until late Sunday morning, so we stayed. Who’s to know? It’s all part-time on Sunday except for Carlos, and he comes in only to open and close. Jimmy and Connie each have keys to the building. Billy Joe and Carlos share keys. Jimmy and Connie sure as hell aren’t coming back tonight.”

“Nice. Where do we go from here?”

“We’re going to the locker room and bring out the nose candy, and then you can really relax.” She laughed and stepped down off the bench. “Time to boogie” she declared. Everyone stood up and headed for the hallway.

Luc stayed back with Carlos to shut down the room. “What’s next on the agenda Carlos? Emma said something about nose candy. I lost her on that one.”

“Well Señor Luc, we get a refill and a mind-bend to soften us up before the saunas and Jacuzzis.”

That didn’t make any sense, but it was a time to just go with the flow. Everyone was lounging around the locker room and Luc noticed a strong odor lingering in the air. The only connection he could make was that of burning dry maple leaves. Carlos took him to the juice bar where Emma was leaning over the counter holding a rolled up dollar bill to her nose. With one motion she snorted a white line of powder, stood up, took a deep breath through her nostrils, and shook her head.

“Nice stuff Carlos, it doesn’t burn—smooth.”

“Your turn Luc.” She took a single edged razor blade, and on a flat mirror separated two small lines from a pile of powder. “Ever try coke before?” She handed him the rolled-up dollar bill.

Luc didn’t hesitate, it was a straight and simple answer, “Nope.” He stared at the white lines, then at Emma, then over to Carlos. “Not until now. Anything I need to know?” A slight hint of uncertainty followed his words.

“Just like I told you honey, relax,” Emma put her hand on his and gently squeezed. “Just relax.”

Carlos jumped in, “take it slow and easy. Your nose is all primed with eucalyptus so this is going straight to the brain. First one nostril, breathe in, then the other.

Nothing hit on the first swipe. After he snorted the second line he stepped back and let it all sink in. A feeling of pleasure swept over him.

“That should do you for a while. Enjoy.” She took the dollar bill and gave it to Carlos who held it up in the air for the next taker. Taking ahold of the belt on Luc’s robe she pulled him over to the nearest couch and sat him down between Charlene and Julianne who were passing a pipe between them. “You just had dinner, now here’s your dessert. In Luc’s heightened awareness several scenarios raced through his mind as he looked at the two ladies, but it was not to be. They passed him the pipe.

“Be careful on that one Luc,” Billy Joe was getting ready to do a line and turned to caution him. “You don’t smoke so take it slow and easy so you don’t choke on it. We don’t want to have to carry you home.” Slow and easy was the formula for the night.

 

15

 

Monday was back to normal with a few exceptions. Luc’s introduction to drugs had zero negative effect, and there was a noticeable change in Emma’s reaction to his presence. She seemed, maybe it was his imagination, a whole lot friendlier. It had not been a surprise to find out no one loved coming to work at the club. They loved the work but not the workplace. The 12 hour days, lack of leadership, shortage of staff, and minimum wage at $1.60 an hour added up to not much in the way of long term job security. Jimmy likened titles to an increase in wages so promotions didn’t necessarily come with a dollar attached, but they sure meant more responsibility.

The invisible backers, the management, and a fat city sales department were raking in the profits. “Them’s ridin’ high, doin’ aw’right” as Hoot put it. At least this was the assumption of the rank and file who did the grunt work keeping the members happy.

Totally out of character, Jimmy visited the floor twice during the following week accompanied by a couple of talking heads in seersucker suits. They asked questions of staff and members, took copious notes on clipboards, and kept Emma busy with making juices. Introduced to the visitors Luc was congratulated on his ongoing efforts to develop a training manual and encouraged to continue working on it. Most of the staff were congratulated for something and encouraged to keep up the good work. Nobody understood what was going on and Connie was silent on the issue, with the exception of one smiling remark to Luc, indicating good things were in the works for him.

Billy Joe surprised Luc by asking if he wanted to move in with him and share his two bedroom apartment. It’d cut Luc’s expenses in half and it’d not be much more than he was paying now, but with more amenities—kitchen, bathroom and living room. It was a step up in living arrangements and an offer Luc couldn’t pass up. He jumped on the opportunity and made plans to move in the following Monday.

Saturday evening Luc was the last to leave after shutting down and locking up the Club. The Pink Cadillac with 375 horses under the hood was idling beside the curb.

 

16

 

Bum was a big man and filled the driver’s seat. His Stetson scraped the roof. He was leaning over the steering wheel and drumming on the dashboard to the rhythm of the Stones “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Luc sank into the white leather bucket seat beside him.

“Hope that pissant Jimmy is paying you boys overtime.”

“Sorry it took so long to close up. Carlos and Billy Joe took off early for a concert at Memorial Auditorium.”

“No problem, things don’t get going around here until after 8. Glad you could make it. I like to get to know the boys and girls on the floor, makes it easier to sell memberships when I can tell them how great you all are. What say we start with some grub? Can’t drink on an empty stomach and I don’t suppose you’ve eaten anything today but fruits and nuts and that barnyard roughage they pass on as health food. What’s your pleasure?”

“Something fried and greasy works for me.”

He reached over and turned down the music, Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” had just followed the Stones. Bum did not cater to the Lawrence Welk crowd and was heavy into rock and blues.

“Before we hit the road, Carlos tells me you tried a line or two and smoked up for the first time last week, and you’re still here to tell the tale. Carlos thought he’d introduce you to some of the finest weed comin’ out of Little Mexico for your inaugural trip in the Big Pink. He laid a couple doobies on us.”

“Can’t turn down a gift horse, but I gotta tell you, the last cigarette I smoked, I was seven years old, sitting in a green apple tree behind my house. It was unfiltered Pall Malls stolen from my grandmother. I was ill for days. Green apples and cigarettes, it’s one of those memories you hang on to like the dry heaves on scotch.”

“That shit will kill you, cheap scotch and cigarettes.” Bum reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold Zippo embossed with a cowboy on a bucking bronco. He lit a joint the size of a small cigar, took a deep inhale, paused, exhaled slowly, and passed it over to Luc.

When Luc stopped coughing Bum pulled out of the parking lot. “You need some work, but you’ll get it.”

The Cadillac could do 0-60 mph in less than nine seconds and Bum was heavy on the pedal. Their first stop was going to be the Pig Stand. The Pig Stand he told Luc was one of America’s first drive-in restaurants, opened by Reuben Jackson in 1921.

“I went to school with the Jackson boys and I’ve been a patron of the place since the 30’s. It hasn’t changed a lick, except for the car hops. They get younger and prettier every year. Of course it just might be me getting older and uglier every year.”

With “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” playing on radio, riding in the Big Pink was like being on a flying carpet. He watched the buildings and pedestrians pass by like boxcars, in and out of his vision before he could wrap his head around them. He had not been through the core of Dallas since landing at the bus terminal. It seemed like years ago. He was stoned on marijuana, enveloped in a luxurious leather bucket seat, sailing through Dallas, a 50 some odd loose cannon behind the wheel, and he began to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

He didn’t stop laughing until Bum pulled into the Pig Stand. When the well-endowed, curly blonde car hop skipped up to the window, they ordered pig sandwiches and fried onion rings.

“What do you think Luc? They’re the best right?” All Luc could do was nod his head while stuffing his face. “Reach behind the seat there and fetch up a couple Lone Stars from the cooler to wash this shit down.”

Luc ordered a second pig sandwich drowned in barbecue sauce to take with him. Their next destination was thirty miles down the road in Fort Worth.

“I think you’ll like the Cellar it’s been ground zero for rock and blues anywhere in East Texas since the late 50s. It started out as a beatnik joint and evolved. We’ll want to smoke another number before we get there. Jimmy has banned drugs from the premises since they opened.”

“Not our Jimmy I hope?”

“Not by a long shot. That pissant’s as sorry as a two dollar watch.” Bum launched into a long monologue on the stupidity of the Ambassador Health Club management and how if it weren’t for that F Cup amazon on the front desk, the Club would be bankrupt.

These revelations did not surprise Luc. With the exception of Connie he had yet to meet anyone who had a favorable impression of Jimmy.

 

17

 

Bum was telling him about his friend Jack Ruby frequenting the Cellar and the Secret Service hanging out there the night before John Kennedy was assassinated when they pulled up to the curb and parked in a no parking zone.

The Cellar was on the second floor of a Main Street building in Fort Worth. At the top of the stairs they were greeted by two mean-ass looking bouncers collecting the dollar cover charge. The sign on the wall said the cover was $999. That was just for colored. The No’s were understood by anyone wanting to come into the club: no queers, no colored, no drugs, and no pimps. Without coughing up the money Bum whispered something to one of the bouncers. He looked over at Luc, nodded and took off into the interior of the club. For Luc it was more like entering a dark cave than a cellar.

The walls were painted black and a single red bulb hung from the ceiling. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the murky smoke filled room. As best he could see, staff was all dressed in black except for a waitress who greeted Bum as if she were his daughter, she was dressed only in a bra and pantie. Holding a pen light she guided them to a private table near the back wall.

“Didn’t I tell you this place was something else? They run the same music routine every night. Someone plays from 7 P.M. to 8 P.M. then two bands play one hour sets until five in the morning. It’ll get noisy in a few minutes.” It was obvious this was a comfort zone for Bum.

On a stage at the far end of the room, a band was setting up. In front of the stage a raised two foot runway separated an area covered with couch cushions and people just lying around on the floor. There was nowhere to dance. The clientele came here to listen to the music.

The bouncer Bum had spoken to came over with two cocktail glasses and put them down on the table. “Compliments of Jimmy. He’ll join you after the next band sets up.” He bent over and whispered something in Bum’s ear.

Luc’s curiosity got the best of him. “Is this Jimmy’s place?”

“Jimmy’s been the manager since this place opened. We go way back. Long before the Cellar opened. The Cellar doesn’t have a liquor license, never had. What you’re drinking is a scotch cocktail. You can buy fake scotch or vodka flavored cocktails if you want to look like you’re drinking, but that shit’s like drinking water out of a fish tank. VIP’s get the real thing.”

“So we’re VIP’s?”

“As I said, Jimmy and I go way back.”

After the band kicked in Luc shifted his seat around closer to Bum’s so he could hear what he was saying. Luc’s sight had adjusted to the dim environment and he could see how scotch had sketched tributaries of tiny broken blood vessels around Bum’s intense dark blue eyes. There was more to this man than smoking dope and driving around in a pink Cadillac. Like the gay world his friend Adam Ford had introduced Luc to in Arkansas, Bum’s world was a new experience.

The Cellar brought in bands that played cutting-edge rock, blues, R&B, and country rock. It was from its conception a place where celebrities hung out when they came to Fort Worth. There were two other Cellars, one in Houston and one in Dallas, but with five bouncers the Fort Worth bar was the most popular and rowdiest. Bum was telling Luc about Lee Marvin coming to Fort Worth in the early 60s to promote his movie Who Shot Liberty Valance, and how he came to the Cellar the night before he had his media interview, got blitzed and ran off with one of Jimmy’ waitresses. The story was just getting interesting when a stout, balding man sat down next to Bum.

“That hell-raising bastard ran off with my best stripper and disappeared for three days, then had the nerve to tell me I was a cheap son-of-a-bitch and needed to back pay her, because she was working overtime for the Club.”

“Did you pay her?” Bum asked.

“Damn right I did, she was better than Candy Barr. It’s good to see you’re in one piece. You haven’t been around since you started working for that fancy YMCA. Thought maybe you’d gone healthy. Who’s the young fella?” Jimmy’s voice carried over the music and din of the crowd as he stretched over the table to shake Luc’s hand.

“Luc is the club’s newest client pleaser. He’s one of the reasons I make money selling time.”

“Where do you hail from?” Jimmy inquired of Luc, more out of courtesy than curiosity.

Luc explained his round about journey to end up in Dallas.

“So you survived Nam only to end up in this warped world. Well you watch out. You hang around Bum too long you’ll wish you were back there.”

Luc was going to tell him he wasn’t in Nam, but it didn’t matter Jimmy was already in deep conversation with Bum. The two of them hacked at each other for quite a while, laughing all the way, and the waitresses kept up the flow of VIP scotch. Luc sat back and took in the music. Jimmy checked his watch, and looked around at the crowd.

“Excuse me fellas, gotta pick up the pace here,” and he yelled out meat on the table. One after another for the rest of the session the waitresses shimmied up on the runway and stripped to the music.

It was around 2 a.m. when they pulled up in front of the Luc’s house. Bum had tried to convince him to have breakfast at an all-night diner but Luc had reached his limit long before they dragged themselves out the Cellar. Bum rolled down the window. Luc was standing at the curb.

“You held your own tonight kid. Let’s get a pizza at Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant one of these nights. It’s my favorite pizza joint.” And he heavy footed the Cadillac, heading who knows where. Connie may have been right about Bum never sleeping.

“Yes, let’s do that,” Luc said to the tail lights.

 

18

 

Monday was moving day and Carlos offered to close the Club so Luc could get an early start on bringing his stuff to Billy Joe’s. Not like he needed a moving van for a backpack, typewriter, small suitcase, and a handful of books. Luc’s new apartment was only a few blocks away, and as they walked along Oak Lawn he filled Billy Joe in on the grand adventure Saturday night.

“Not much different than my first adventure with Bum, although we stayed in town. We hit the Cellar here and ended up at Bronco Bowl’s Pit Club. It was the same routine though. VIP all the way.”

“He sure doesn’t think highly of the Ambassador Club, and downright hates Pissant. Bum called him sorry as a two dollar watch and useless as tits on a boar. I’m sure Bum’s making big money. I don’t see the problem.”

“I don’t know if he is making big money anymore, membership looks to be slipping. You’re right though, he’s got a big hard on for Jimmy. Maybe because he offered Bum the moon to come work with him and it ain’t happening. Maybe Bum’s got other interests. Who knows? There’s more to all this than meets the eye.”

Billy Joe lived in a two bedroom apartment on the corner of Throckmorton Street and Cedar Springs Drive. His entrance was up a metal staircase off Throckmorton, and the door opened into a decent size kitchen. Beyond the kitchen a large living room, and two bedrooms with windows overlooking Cedar Springs. It had a bathroom in between the bedrooms that was just wide enough to pass the radiator and claw foot iron tub to get to the john.

“Perfect, just perfect,” was Luc’s response after throwing his bag on the bed in his room, and setting his typewriter down on the card table. He even had chester drawers, as Billy Joe referred to it, and a closet that made his two pairs of shoes and three shirts look lonely. Luc plopped down on the bed and locked his hands behind his head.

“Thanks for the invite Billy Joe, I haven’t lived in this grand a space in years. I guess I’ll have to go shopping to fill the closet.”

“Well it ain’t up to Turtle Creek standards, but it’s affordable, and just got more affordable with you moving in. Let’s plan on a party this weekend to celebrate.”

Tuesday’s walk to the Club took all of ten minutes longer than from the boarding room, and the rest of the week should have been the same if it wasn’t for the extraordinary amount of rain that drenched them both before they were half way to the Club. As they changed into dry clothing in the locker room weatherman Hoot told them to expect it for the next few days.

“You won’t see hide nor hair of anyone but the diehard health nuts come out over the next while. You get a frog-strangler like we’re expecting, might as well hunker down.”

Connie told the part-time staff to stay home and the rest of the staff to keep busy looking busy. It wasn’t until Saturday noon she rang the bell in defeat. That meant the party started early, and as a sign of good times to come, the rain lightened up temporarily until they got back to the apartment.

 

To be continued Sunday Dec 20 

A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is available on both Amazon and Kindle at John Thomas Dodds Author Page    Reviews appreciated

making the most of our twilight years

 

birthday girl

birthday girl

 

 

Celebrating your birthday today

more than just a yearly trip down memory lane

it’s a thankful reminder

that if you live long enough, and believe.

 

Lasting relationships don’t just happen,

often it takes what seems forever,

to find the driftwood

that makes for a work of art

in the heart and mind of a drifter like me.

 

I’ve always been a dreamer,

Inventing colors, bird-dogging rainbows.

 

Cocksure wishes came true,

And memories should and could

Be made of the same ingredients

As the aroma of after love,

Or a kitchen perfumed with preparation

for a feast, for two.

 

Had the day not happened,

Sky blue would be a tinge grayer,

Sunlight a bit dusky on the best of days.

 

In the evenings under a canopy of stars,

Sitting by the fireplace, listening

to the mellow sounds of season,

Not so beautiful

 

Without the essence of you

Sharing the space I am in.

 

For the sun is a touch warmer now,

Days a little longer lasting,

 

And nothing, I’ve ever done

More fun, than loving on you.

 

 

Read Me

Random thoughts on Poetry on a rainy day

 

A poem says, read me, I am what you see in me.

It is a living thing and once written you don’t have to leave it alone.  You can rename it, add, delete a word or two and change the form it’s framed in.  It’s the object of imagination. Malleable, never cut in stone.

What you can’t change is the voice you give it or the rhythm it contains.  The emotions, love or fear, no matter if sincere, will in all ways be true to you.  And its message, subject to the moment of creation will always be the same.

Like you, your objective world can change.  You can rename yourself.  You can rewrite your story.

You can see yourself anyway you want to be, depending on the view you choose and what you want others to see.

No matter if sincere, you can’t give voice to other than who you are.  If you believe you are created in Love, you have nothing to fear.  The message you convey, to all who choose to listen to what you say, is simple, loud and clear –

you are a poem that says,

read me as I am,

not as you think I can be.

Reflection on the Great Barrington

 As the season changes, a reminder of what we left behind in the Berkshires where all  roads led to Great Barrington.

 

some nights are like this

you look out into the darkness

and it makes itself at home.

a glass of burgundy, leftover candles

permeating the air with lavender,

a subtle overwhelming nostalgia

for having passed this way

 

the window on this world is made of lace

from which you do not hide behind

but view this space, and well beyond,

with gratitude and grace

 

what you see so clearly now

reflects back on you that which

you have made your own,

the in-between of sunrises and sunsets

the experience of waking dreams

 

this place, this space of transitory occupancy

already a memory, complete with worn out habits,

is like the comfort of an old threadbare coat

you don’t want to let go of,

holding on tight to what you know

  

yet the unknown,

beyond the view of the window

beckons, the darkness whispers goodnight,

dawn awaits in a warm wrap of light

new beginnings, new possibility

 

you rest in the moment and reminisce,

for in a present knowing,

every living cell within you

carries the physical recollection

of your being here in a special place,

 

the space between the thought

of how it came to be

and how beautiful it was

 

all roads lead to this

where memories of the mind

have come to rest

you see a path never before taken

that does not lead away

nor does it harbinger a yearning to stay.

here is a place you have lived, loved

and left behind a number of times.

 

 it’s not often you are given the opportunity

to step back and revisit a path chosen,

rewrite a scene that has no end to a beginning

a move forgiven, an opening encounter maybe,

with a second chance

leaving it up to God to ask for the next dance

 

your window on this world

is as it seems,

for all you have envisioned

has come true

for what you see in you

 

light entered here

and here butterflies were born

a child found his way home

words flowed freely, easily,

although, as wit would have it

with a price to pay

for here became a stop along the way

 

and yet another window waits

upon another day

First Snow – Trick or Treat

Then: Halloween 2011 MA

Then: Halloween 2011 MA

 

Now: Halloween 2014 Ajijic

Now: Halloween 2014 Ajijic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know there’s a logical

explanation:

a predictable mixture

of cloud, moisture and cold

when it steals over sleep

enters my morning world

with a gentle benediction

I know it’s foolish

but it smells

of children laughing

and I want my footsteps

to make a lasting impression

in the first snow

Today is the Day

easter-chimes-awaken-nature-Alphonse Mucha

easter-chimes-awaken-nature-Alphonse Mucha

 

understanding stands by the doorway of a quantum leap,

apprehension, the Maitre’D of age holds the key

 

on the other side of the door

there is no more than can be imagined

transcending thoughts transforming notions of possibility

awaiting your creation

 

this day has always been waiting for you to arrive

alive with the love and potential energy you bring to it

 

waiting patiently on your awareness

 

waiting for your creation

 

waiting on what you want it to be

 

a thing of beauty, a thing grace

 

today as everyday the sunrise and the sunset

are bookends for the stories you create

the birthright, the toddlers stand,

the child within and the urge to mate

the maturing of existence knocking at the gate

 

the same story, over and over again

each volume, a day in the life of

all there is and all there will be

 

So choose this day the words you speak

you would say to a loving you

and the people that you meet

will only hear you say I love you and I care

 

no matter how fast seems the hustle of our lives

dawn approaches as if a butterfly

evolving moment by moment at the speed of light

 

it is never too late to step outside yourself

and experience the world around you

that’s what it is there for

waiting on your awakening