What’s Said In the Bar Stays In the Bar

Danny dropped his hat on the bar, then undid his tie, wiped the sweat off his forehead with it, rolled it up and stuffed it into his dark blue suit jacket. “Scotch, Joe,” he ordered.

The blonde in the black cocktail dress sitting at the end of the bar said, “Tough day?”

“Not as tough as some, tougher than most.”

Any other day and he would have offered the woman a drink. This was not one of those days. All he wanted to do was have his drink and forget the day. It had been one of those days when the markets eat you alive if you don’t have a whip. When he became a trader, he didn’t think he was going in for lion taming.

The scotch came. He downed it, then ordered another.

While he waited, he noticed the blonde was drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. He gave her his all-American smile, then decided it might be a good thing to offer her a drink.

“Buy you a drink?” he said.

“I don’t drink.”

“You’re in a bar?”

“So are you.”

“I’m here for the scotch.” Lifting his refilled glass, he raised it toward her, then had a drink.

“I can see that.”

Danny carried his scotch over to her end of the bar. He sat down on the stool next to hers.

“So, why are you here?” he asked, giving her his best boyish-charm smile.

She leaned towards him, her perfume making him forget his bitch of a day. “I’m looking for someone to help me rob banks,” she whispered into his ear.

His smile faded. She went back to her cigarette, puffed on it and laid it back on the ashtray.

His eyes dropped to the green carpet.

“You interested?” her soft voice asked.

His eyes moved from the carpet, up her long legs and the sexy dress and finally glanced at the pearl necklace. Their eyes met. This wasn’t the usual cat-and-mouse game he played with women. She was serious. “What if I’m a cop?” he asked.

Her hand reached over and fingered the lapel of his jacket. “You’re not a cop. A cop couldn’t afford that suit. At least, not on the salary they pay cops.”

He remembered his scotch, drank his glass empty and ordered a third. Another shot of scotch was definitely called for.

“So you won’t have a drink with me,” he said softly, “but you want me to help you rob a bank?”

“Banks.”

“What?”

She leaned into him again. “Banks. Not bank. And I’m not crazy.”

“I didn’t say you were”

“You were thinking it.”

“What if I go to the cops?” he said. He sipped his scotch.

“You won’t.” She stubbed out what was left of her cigarette. “If you do, I’ll find you and shoot your balls off.”

His frown went into a nervous laugh.

“I’m crazy enough to do that. And a good shot too.” She patted the small handbag on the bar next to her coffee cup.

Danny downed the rest of his scotch. “I’m not afraid of you.”

“Hey, Joe, can I get a refill on the coffee? This one is getting cold.”

“I’ll get you a new cup.” Joe called back at her. As he went for the coffee pot, her right hand slipped a .38 out of the handbag, dropped it below the bar and pointed it at his crotch, the barrel touching his pants. Joe brought the coffee over. With her left hand, she handed him two twenties. “For all your troubles, Joe.”

“Much obliged, Mara,” he said, then to Danny, “Can I get you another scotch?”

“I’ll let you know,” Danny said.

Joe went over to the cash register and rang up her tab.

“And I’m not afraid of you,” she said, then slipped the gun back into her bag.

Danny smiled his all-American smile, then asked, “You sure I can’t buy you a drink?”

She snapped the bag shut. “That seems to be an offer I can’t refuse. Bourbon straight please.”

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all

It’s been a rough year. But tomorrow is a time for me to be thankful for all the blessings a good God has given. Though we have suffered through much this year, we can also be thankful for much. For those who have lost someone, for those who have fallen by the wayside, I send my prayers.

And for those of you who are my Readers, thank you.

A Reader is a thing of Beauty. They give writers hope. There’s Someone out there who loves words, loves language, as much as a writer does. There’s Someone out there who is up for an Adventure into lands undiscovered. There’s Someone out there who values their time and believes a little of it should be allocated for the Imagination.

A Reader is a thing of Wonder. They give writers courage. There’s Someone out there who will follow a writer into dangerous waters. There’s Someone out there who will tackle difficult language and even more difficult subjects. There’s Someone out there who will go into a Concentration Camp or a Dungeon on a faraway planet and listen to a prisoner’s story. That Someone may be the only one to ever hear that story.

A Reader is a thing to Love. Without that dear Someone, a storyteller, a writer, mignt never ever be appreciated for her Imagination, for his Creativity. A Reader is that Someone who bears witness to the importance of books.

Without that Reader, there would be no Jane Austen. No Charles Dickens. No Walt Whitman. No Tolstoy. No Dostoevsky. No Thomas Hardy. No Dorothy Parker. No Jules Verne. No Peter Pan or Dorothy or Harry Potter. No Frodo or Lucky Jim. And no Homer or Saphho. No Sylvia Plath or Emily Dickinson.

Without that Reader, the world would be less of a place one wanted to live in. Without that Reader, where would Disney have gotten all those stories for the films he made. Without that Reader, there would be no Narnia. There would be no words to inspire composers or artists for there would be no books. And that surely would be hell.

The Day Grown Men Cried 

Today is the 57th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.

The President had come to Texas for a two-day stretch and then it would be back to Washington. I yawned my way through my high school home room that morning while the President said a few words to the crowd outside his hotel in Fort Worth. There was a light rain. As the morning progressed, it was geometry, American history and English classes for me.  By lunchtime the rain had cleared and the weather had turned into a beautiful November day. After lunch came gym.

During this time the President spoke at a breakfast with the Ft. Worth Chamber of Commerce, then flew the short flight to Dallas. Later we would see on television that Jackie was given a bouquet of red roses when JFK and his First Lady arrived at Love Field, reminding us of the reception the two had received in Dallas. She carried them with her as she and the President got into their limousine. They were joined by the Governor of Texas, John Connally, and his wife Nellie. Vice President Johnson and Lady Bird followed in another car. Their cavalcade wound through the streets of Dallas until they came to Dealey Plaza.

Just as we were beginning to run laps in gym, someone came and whispered into the coach’s ear. Coach announced, “The President has been shot.” It seemed only a short time after that when we were called into the auditorium. There we were told the news that the President was dead. Through that auditorium there were sobs, but most of us sat in our seats stunned. The President was dead. JFK was dead. How? What? The principle and his staff and the teachers tried to console us best they could but they were just as stunned as we were.

When I got home, the black and white television was on. My mother hugged me. Then, for the rest of the day, we watched the film together, my mother, my younger sister and I, and later my stepfather. Film of the earlier part of the day until the shots rang out at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Film of the President’s time in office. Film of the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the youngest president ever.

I can’t remember whether we ate or what we ate that night. I can’t remember when we learned that the First Lady and the body of the President were back in Washington, D.C. I can’t remember when we learned that we had a new president. All I can remember is the tears and sitting in front of the TV and thinking that the world had ended.

I remember one anchorman broke down on television, then calmed himself and continued. I remember seeing grown men and women crying openly, unashamed. In those days, you never saw men cry. At least, not in public. That weekend we were all grieving. That weekend we were all Kennedys. It was as if our father, our brother, our son had been shot. We would no longer see that face telling we Americans that anything was possible for us. Even putting a man on the moon.

Sometime that Friday afternoon, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. It was said that he had shot the President. On Sunday morning we watched him being transferred from police headquarters to the sheriff’s jail. Before millions of viewers a man stepped out of the crowd around Oswald and shot him. That man was Jack Ruby. Again we were stunned. Had the world gone truly mad?

That afternoon the President’s body was taken from the White House to the Capitol building. Seeing his casket drawn by six horses and led by a riderless horse proceeding down Pennsylvania Avenue will always stick in my mind. Thousands lined the street and men in uniform saluted their Commander-in-chief as he passed them by. He lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda for 21 hours as thousand walked by his coffin. And we cried. We couldn’t help ourselves.

On Monday morning, the funeral, and the final procession of the body to Arlington Cemetery. We watched his brothers, Bobbie and Teddy at the graveside while Jacqueline Kennedy lit the eternal flame. Then Jackie and his daughter Caroline kneeled. Jackie kissed her husband’s casket. His very young son John Jr. bravely stood nearby and saluted his father. They were saying goodbye one last time.

Since that day, people have speculated about conspiracies surrounding the Kennedy assassination. I don’t. It really doesn’t matter to me. The President was dead and that was that. As hard as it was, we had no choice but to accept it.

I went back to school the next day, a Tuesday. But like so many around me I was sleepwalking, trying to get back to normal. Whatever normal was. Two days later there was Thanksgiving and then Christmas came and went. There wasn’t much to be thankful for that year and not much to celebrate either. A new year came and it seemed like life was one gray sad day after another.

And then something extraordinary happened. It hit the country like a bolt of lightning and woke us up from our sleep. It was the sound of a song. Four lads from England singing, “I want to hold your hand.” Since then I have often thought how much President Kennedy would have loved the Beatles. For in that February moment in 1964 hope returned to America. It felt good to be young and alive.

First snow

The wind resonates purring
soon to be clawing and biting,
chill crackles the air,
and automobile engines chatter
on this night icy and cold
from the year’s first snow;
Bobbie Ann and David, Warren,
Susie and I, we band of five
inseparably cloister against
the meowing on its prowl,
scratching, raking its talons
against the side of the house.
And then the calm. The snow calls
us from our stories, songs and games
to frolic in a niveous wonderworld
where we and other neighborhood kids
friskily pack and splatter
white balls of algidity while
missiles of ice hiss past.
A crash in the ear, a blast on the skin,
an ouch! and we slosh our retreat
to Bobbie Ann’s house,
hot chocolate and snow ice cream.

J. D. Salinger and Me

So there I am half asleep, sprawled out in my bed with the covers pulled over me. I duck my head under the covers because I am not sure I am seeing what I am seeing. After all it is early morning and I am still in a fog. I am always this way before I’ve had my first five cups of coffee in the morning.

I stick my head back out from under my covers, and yep, he’s there. It’s none other than Jerome David. I am talking the world-famous J. D., author of “Catcher in the Rye”. I recognize him from the jacket pictures. He’s as young as he once was. Somehow he’s dropped all those years since he died and he’s back to his youthful genius of a self. He’s standing at the end of my bed and he’s puffing on a cigar. I’m thinking it’s a Cuban cause they’re not banned from importing them in the hereafter. He’s halfway through the stogie and he is frowning at me.

“So you didn’t care for Catcher in the Rye?” he asks, his foot propped up on the end of my bed.

“What? Who?” I ask from my prone position.

He sits his foot back down on the floor. “I asked you if you didn’t like my book. You responded with a what and a who. Who the hell do you think it is? It sure isn’t that son-of-a-bitch Hemingway. What an asshole. Papa indeed. I never much cared for him. Now Scott Fitzgerald, there was a writer who could write.”

“Go away.” I rub my eyes and turn over on my side, hoping that this is a nightmare and I will wake up soon.

“I will not go away. You’ve got a lot of gall not liking my book. I did some damned good writing with that book. Not as good as later but still it’s a great book, even if I say so myself, and you don’t like it. Who the hell are you?”

I turn over and face Salinger. “I am the fellow who is telling you to get out of here. That’s who.”

“It’s all about alienation, you know?”

“I. Know. That.”

“Oh, you do. Well, I guess you were never a teenager, suffering from all that teenage angst, were you?”

Now I am mad. How dare this s.o.b. come into my bedroom and tell me I was never a teenager suffering from teenage angst. I had more teenage angst in my little toe than his spoiled prep school kid had in his whole body. Holden Caulfield’s biggest problem was that he had one hell of a chip on his shoulder.

“That book is all bullshit. Pure All American bullshit.”

“Bullshit. What do you mean bullshit? I worked my butt off on that book for over ten years. Put my whole life into it and you say it is bullshit.”

“That’s what I say. I read it in high school and I just didn’t get it. I understand Hemingway’s Old Man. He was fighting for survival. I understand the Joads. They were fighting for survival. I understand Gatsby. He was fighting for romance. And, as far as angst, existential angst, goes, I understand Camus’ Stranger. He didn’t mourn his mother the way he was expected to. And he was condemned for it. But Holden Caulfield, all he was fighting for was to be an asshole. I kept wanting to say, ‘Get a life.'”

I can see Salinger clearly now. I’m awake and I can see the fake Buddhist with his hands in a fist. He crushes that cigar against the bottom of my foot.

“Oh. That hurt. Thought you were a Buddhist. You’re going to screw up your karma, you know.”

He ignores my Buddhist comment. Somehow I knew he would. “Critics. That’s why I gave up on a public life. Became a hermit. You’re all full of shit. A big bag of shit. Here I am, the world-famous J. D. Salinger, standing at the foot of your bed, trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Trying to give you some insight into my brilliance. And all you can do is insult me. Why do I even care? But that’s my problem. I care too damned much. If you only knew how much blood I sweated into that book. Trying to make every word perfect.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” I say. “I didn’t say the writing wasn’t good. It was. Damned good. Some of your best. But it was so wasted over that Holden Caulfield. Thing is that I’ve known people who complained about their good fortune their whole lives. In my book that’s Holden Caulfield. I just don’t care one iota about those kind of people. Never did. Never will.”

“But that’s not the point,” Salinger goes on. “He brought out the best in me. I guess you just don’t get it. But a lot of other teenagers did. And still do. That’s why it’s so popular. Not that I wrote it to be popular. I didn’t. I wanted to call attention to what it felt like to be a teenager in fifties America. I hit the nail on the head. That’s why I went into seclusion. I got tired of all that hero worship. Like I had the answers to all of life’s questions. I was good, but I wasn’t that good. I had more questions than answers. Anyway I tired of it.”

Suddenly he had a martini in his hand. Where the martini came from I did not know.

He noticing me noticing his martini. “Shaken, not stirred. The way I like it. You know, Ian Fleming got that from me. We were at a party once. I had been invited down to Jamaica by some friends. I was thinking that the Glasses would be Jamaican. Who do you think shows up at this party? Ian Fleming. We were talking when I asked for a martini. When I said shaken not stirred, he said, ‘Oh, I can use that.'” He took a sip from his martini. “Mmmm. That’s good.”

“So you think,” I say, “Holden Caulfield was like every teenager in America at that time?”

“I don’t know about every teenager but it sure was the way I felt. I must say that all those people coming to me and telling me that I had saved them, that was a little too much. Like I am a Messiah or something. If you want stories about messiahs, read ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.'”

I am wide awake now. “Well, I am sorry I offended you with my comment. It’s just my opinion. You can take it for what it’s worth. Every writer has the write to create whatever character he wants. And every reader has the right to not like that character. Personally I liked your stories much more. Thought you had great insight into how children saw the adult world and how they communicated that. ”

Then I realize I am talking to myself. The mirage, or was it a mirage, a hallucination, well, it’s gone. Since I am awake already, I throw off the covers and jump out of bed. Oh, I cry out. My right foot hurts. I sit on the side of the bed and take a look at the bottom of my foot. There’s a burn mark there all right. It can’t be. It just can’t be.