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?”



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.

The Night I Saw Shannon Naked

I closed the book Dubliners, the words of the story “Araby” lingered in my mind. It brought back memories of my first love, maybe my only love, though I have loved several women since. Her name was Shannon after the River Shannon in Ireland. Though she was not Irish and had no Irish blood in her as far as I knew, still she was named for the river the Irish call Abha na Sionainne. I was in the fourth grade and she was my baby sitter.

She sat afternoons with my sister and me after school, watched over us and kept us out of trouble until my mother came home from her job in the cotton mill. Some afternoons she played the piano my mother kept insisting I practice on. Her fingers made their graceful way across the keyboard, giving voice to the notes Beethoven wrote. It was such a lovely sound that it always moved me, sometimes to tears, sometimes filling me with joy. Even today, I cannot hear Beethoven without stopping and letting my imagination recreate those moments when Shannon sat at the piano.

About six, Mother came through the door and hugged us, not once but twice, as if she was making sure we were real and not something from her imagination. Then Shannon gathered up her things and off she disappeared into the evening. The setting sun created a glow around her that made me think of the angel in the picture above my mother’s bed.

I returned Dubliners to its place on the bookshelf. My wife out of town and off tending to her sick sister, I had the house alone. It was getting late and there would be an early morning the next day. All that was left for me to do was let the dog out for one quick run around the yard, then it would be bed for both of us.

The night had turned chilly, so I ran with the dog to keep warm. Five minutes of this running and she was ready to come in for the night. I lay down in my bed with the Irish terrier at its foot. But it was not a night for sleep. It was a night for ghosts.

Not meaning to I had betrayed my first love. One night I sneaked out and followed her home. I was desperate to know her better. Where did she live? Who was her family? She walked a half mile or so until she came to a beat-up old trailer. It was unpainted and rusting, its door only half hinged to the front. I peeked through a window and looked into the interior. Only shadows made by the moonlight revealed what was inside.

She went to a cabinet and pulled out a glass and filled it with water. Slicing a loaf of bread, that was her supper. She got up and walked over to a nearby dresser. For the first time, I realized one leg was shorter than the other. Her back to me, she pulled the pins out of the bun on her head, her black hair falling, falling to the floor like an endless stream of water. She undid the necklace around her neck and laid it out before her. I watched, fascinated, yet also curious to see the real Shannon as she removed her makeup, rinsed her face, dropped her dress.

A fallen branch snapped under my foot. Shannon faced me. No, I couldn’t believe it. It could not be. It was her face, but it wasn’t her face. Horrified at what I had seen, I dashed home as fast as I could.

Though I never saw Shannon again, I am haunted by that night and how I broke the heart of the woman I loved. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up to the sound of music as her fingers touch the keys of my mother’s piano downstairs.