Sunday, August 19, 2018

My Redacted Life: Chapter 21 (Cont._4)

So, my plans to sweep the Redhead completely off her feet within a week of our first date fell to the whims of an uncaring fate. Instead of romancing her, I was working over a hundred miles away in the City of Hope, Arkansas, stuck there for a week.

Now don’t get me wrong. Hope is nice place. Back then, as well as now, it was filled with wonderful people. It just wasn’t where my Redhead, Brenda, was. That made all the difference. The days went by okay, but the nights proved tortuous. I read, and imagined all sorts of things. I hadn’t even been able to find her, or anyone, to let them know where I was. I even wondered if it would be appropriate.

That would amount to presupposing that she gave a damn. My fantasies soared around my head like flying monsters from a Sci-Fi movie.

Maybe she had sashayed by some new fellow, much more prosperous and handsome than I.

Maybe her basketball coach had swept her away, carrying her in one arm and dribbling away with the other.

Maybe Sean Connery had driven through the city going somewhere and had spotted her.

Maybe she found out that I really didn’t like Daphne du Maurier books all that much.

Maybe she found out that I had once gotten busted once for slipping over into Tien Sha Village without permission, in the company of a guy named Beaton and up to no good.

Maybe she had forgotten my name.

I concentrated on my work, which I must say was interesting. I was interviewing representatives of maybe the last generation of downtown merchants in America. Absent socio-economic developments in their communities, over which they had no control, they would almost all disappear before long. We would lose a part of America’s soul along with them.

They worked under antiquated business principles. They understood that there was only so much money circulating around town for retail purchases. Their job was to maintain their share, and not become wealthier by driving their fellow merchants out of business.

They knew their customers’ names, history, and habits. If one sold a necktie to a man who couldn’t tie it, no problem. The salesperson would stand the customer at attention, tie a perfect knot, loosen the tie, slip it over the man’s head and it was ready for service next Sunday morning.

No amount of encouraging could prevent them from parking their car directly in front of the door to their business. The customers didn’t mind. They assumed that the owners deserved the spot. Besides, it let the customers know that the owner was in.

Downtown Hope, Arkansas,
before modern times got hold of it.
They weren’t above delivering their goods to those with limited means of transportation, and that comprised a large percentage of the elderly.

The first thing they did of a morning was to sweep the sidewalk in front of their stores.

They served their community, supported their church, and never failed to purchase an ad in the high school yearbook.

In short, they were participants in the city, not predators.

We won’t see the likes of them again. Toward the end of the week, I got to thinking one night, and decided that if I ever saw the Redhead again, I would be a better person for having gotten to know those simple merchants, in their simple stores, in a simple place called Small-Town America. How could we have known that it was living its last years?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

My Redacted Life: Chapter 21 (Cont._3)

 It was Monday and I fairly cake walked into the office. I had spent a good portion of the weekend with the Redhead. Wow! “Things are looking up in my world,” I thought, “To hell with yours.”

We had talked, Brenda the Redhead and I, about more rides in the evenings when I got off work. The days were getting longer and she was off from school until the fall. Oh man. In another week, I could, if I played my cards right, have her convinced that I was a man of substance and the life of a basketball coach’s wife wasn’t for her.

Here was my plan. I would ask my neighbor or Brenda’s roommate what kind a music the Redhead liked. I would walk down to Moses Melody Shop in the 300 block of Main Street and buy a phonograph album suited to her taste. I would stop at Pfeifer-Blass while I was there and get a nice ashtray, maybe even something tasteful to hang on the living room wall. I would buy the latest James A. Michener book and leave it lying around somewhere conspicuous. I would rescue my sister’s old electric typewriter and put in on the kitchen table as if I were just starting on my epic.

I would have her “snowed” in short, wanting to find out more about me and what had obviously been an interesting and adventurous life. I would be quite eager to share, aggrandize, and redact as necessary. As I formed my character, it would be one of Sean Connery’s looks, Paul Newman’s physique, John Paul Jones’s heroism, Ernest Hemingway’s intellect, and Erich Segal’s sensitivity.

The poor girl would never know what hit her, but I had to get busy so I wouldn’t lose the momentum I had going. The world literally would be “my oyster,” to borrow from The Bard.

When the boss called me into his office, I didn’t suspect a thing. Within ten minutes, my world lay ruined and devastated at my feet.

No, he didn’t fire me. It was worse. Had I been fired, I could have put my courting plans into action while I drew unemployment.

It, as I say, was worse. We were supposed to make a team visit to the City of Hope to interview business owners about plan proposals for the renovation of the central business. Four were scheduled to go: the two bosses who were planners, Ron McConnel and I. Plans called for completing the assignment in one long day in a veritable blitzkrieg of action.

But, said the boss with a smile. They had gotten busy. Ron was needed for engineering. And, he said with doom fairly dripping from his mouth, they now felt that having one person do all the interviews would improve the consistency of results.

Want to guess who the one person would be?

“But,” I said, “that’s a lot of driving back and forth.”

“No, no,” he said. “You’re to stay down there until you finish. Christie has already booked you in the local motel. Now you’d best get moving so you can get at least half a day’s work done today. The questionnaires and other materials are packed and waiting in the lobby. Load them up, go home and pack, and get going. Time is money. Tell that new girlfriend of yours that you’ll be back Friday.”

New girlfriend. How did he know?

Have you, dear reader, ever seen films or photos of the tall, failed, public housing in St. Louis being demolished?

That was my world at this moment.

Friday, August 17, 2018

My Redacted Life: Chapter 21 (Cont. _2)

We went out for a ride the next day, the Redhead and I. We took “Old Highway 70” out by Hill’s Lake where they had filmed scenes of White Lightening. This prompted her to direct me to a home not far away where they had filmed the final shootout in the action film Bloody Mama. It had featured legendary star Shelly Winters and an unknown aspirant no one had ever heard of named Robert De Niro.

The fake bullet holes were gone from the house. Spanish Moss still hung from the massive trees where they had replicated a Florida location. We marveled for a moment and moved on. It didn’t take much to impress us that day.

I drove slowly, and we talked, finding much common ground. As I mentioned earlier, we had had families with rural backgrounds. We were both un-enamored of organized religion, particularly the cult varieties. This led to the discovery that we had both read the James A. Michener classic Hawaii in the tenth grade, albeit six years apart. Further, the experience had left us both with a slight distaste for most missionaries.

We were what you would call “Blue-dog Democrats” and oriented toward liberal and progressive ideals. Her high school had been integrated. Mine hadn’t, although both the University of Arkansas (sort of) and the United States Navy (completely—cannon fodder has no color) had been during my stay. I had survived both experiences with neither scars nor embedded diseases.

It was a glorious day. She tied her hair back and we took the top off the sports car. Then we drove around more. They were beginning to plow the fields, and I could tell she loved the smell of freshly turned earth. In fact, she told me so.

I can remember parking at one particularly scenic spot and making out for few minutes like a couple of teenagers, although the Volkswagen didn’t offer a chance for much intimacy. Still, the experience made me shiver inside. I had carried a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine and couple of plastic cups in the trunk, so we toasted the day before leaving.

The house was still there.
Only the bullet holes were missing.
Have you ever heard, Dear Reader, of anything more romantic?

We got back to the apartment complex late in the afternoon. After replacing the car’s top, I took the remaining wine from the trunk of the car and invited her into my apartment for another drink. She smiled, cocked her head winningly, and said, “No.” With that she turned and went up the stairs. I stared at the ascent, wondering which of us she didn’t trust and whether nature had ever produced a more perfect body.

When I turned toward my apartment, my neighbor was outside hers, leaning against the door. She wore tight jeans and sandals and was leaning with an elbow against her front door frame. She had neglected both a bra and the top three buttons of a loose satin blouse. She grinned and said, “Well if it isn’t one-half of the top gossip story around the old apartment complex.”

“Don’t forget,” I said, “that you are the one who suggested it.”

“Yep,” she said. “Just keep listening to me and you might find your way to Heaven.” With that, she turned quickly, narrowly avoiding a revelatory accident, and went inside. I stood pondering what she had said and smiling.

The weekend had passed, though. I turned, unlocked my own apartment door, and went inside. Heaven would have to wait.

Hell was waiting for me the next morning. I just didn’t know it as I sat down to finish the Boone’s Farm.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My Redacted Life: Chapter 21

What could match as a follow-up to such splendiferous date as I’d had Friday evening? I think I whistled all morning, off key, of course. I went to the office, where a group had gathered to put the finishing touches on some project. They had found out about the date and wanted to know details. It got a little testy when someone asked an untoward question, but I shut that up right quick. This wouldn’t be a topic for jokes, now or forever.

I lunched at the Burger Chef hoping I might run into Brenda, or at least her severe twin. Nope. Just the usual Saturday crowd of folks sat around trying to cure a hangover from Friday night. Lucky me, I had neither a hangover nor unhappy prospects. I was beginning to believe the civilian life was better than the Navy. The food wasn't as good, but other things were better.

Back at the apartment, I had better luck. The girls were just getting back from having lunch somewhere else. They were all wearing shorts, although Brenda was wearing hers most spectacularly, I thought. There wasn’t one bra between the three of them. My neighbor was arousing particular attention from men on the parking lot. I only had eyes for one of the three, though. If she noticed, she didn’t let on.

They stopped to exchange greetings. They lined up three abreast (no pun intended) directly in front of me and queried me about what I had been doing. I struggled to keep my eyes elevated and my smile noncommittal. Then, as if following a screenplay, the other two left Brenda with me, exiting with knowing smiles. After they had gone a few steps, their heads turned away and I’ll swear I heard giggles.  Once alone, I asked Brenda if she might like to catch a movie that evening. “Which one?” she asked.

Which one? Hell, I didn’t know. I didn't care. What did that have to do with it? That woman had the best knack for keeping a man off-balance that I’d ever seen. I activated my storehouse of stupidity. “I’ll surprise you,” I said.

Not much of a movie.
But one fine date.
“I don’t like surprises.”

“Then I’ll check the newspaper and get back with you.”

“Do that,” she said. Then she sashayed away like Cleopatra leaving the royal barge.

The movie turned out to be one called Two-Lane Blacktop, a silly, but harmless, flick staring James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, two singers who couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper bag, and the immortal Warren Oates, who held the whole thing together. I think there was a girl in it but I hardly noticed.

As the great Paul Newman once said, "you don't notice hamburger when you're with steak," or something like that.

For Brenda and me, the film's main attraction was that some of it had been shot in Arkansas, more specifically in a part of the state with which we were familiar. This included scenes along Highway 15 near the city of England, Arkansas and the once-famous drag-strip at Carlisle.

It kept us entertained. When we had finished our popcorn and drinks, I ventured to hold her hand, a small step for me but a grand step for history.

She didn’t slap it away.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My Redacted Life Chapter 20 (Cont._4)

My first date with young Brenda Cole was coming to a close. We left Arkansas Fats after a beer and drove back to the apartment building. I invited her in for a glass of wine. Surprisingly, she accepted. I seem to remember we sat and talked, but I can’t remember everything. I know she told me a bit about growing up as a farmer’s daughter.

I was terribly interested, and made every effort to express it in my demeanor.

Perhaps I played some music on the cheap phonograph I bought while in college for the express purpose of listening to Bob Dylan records. I still had some of them, but she didn’t seem like a Bob Dylan sort of girl. In all likelihood, I simply sat and stared, mostly, while she talked.

She asked, could she smoke? I was up like a flash and back with a saucer to use as an ashtray, making a mental note to purchase one. I did have a book of matches from some bar. She lit up and gave me a severe look that said, “This is as relaxed as I will get.”

I was emboldened by the wine.

I did tell her about getting my draft notice and hurriedly joining the Navy to keep from going to Vietnam, and how well that had worked out for me. This made her laugh. She finished the cigarette, mashed it in saucer and handed it to me. When I returned from putting the saucer away, I sat beside her. She didn’t shoo me away.

Summoning up the level of courage it took a WWII GI to charge a machine-gun nest, and helped by the wine, I ventured a kiss. To my surprise, she acquiesced. Not overly enthusiastic she was, but she didn’t slap me, which was an alternative response I had considered in planning the venture.

I was in what I imagined Heaven to be, except for the faint taste of smoke. “Well,” I said, “that was nice,” or something equally stupid.

Then she said, “I’ve got to go.” Just like that. She stood, straightened her long hair and said, It’s been interesting.” Not fun, but interesting?

I was devasted.

The wine became my pal again. “Tomorrow night?” I managed.

Dreams are dreams. I was
free to pick my own.
“We’ll see,” she said.

“We’ll see?” What the hell was that supposed to mean? Unless she got a better offer? Unless her basketball coach came to town? Unless her pals convinced her it might not be safe to pal around with an Arkansas Fats habituĂ©?

I was encouraged.

At least she didn’t say, “No.” Instead, she said, “You don’t have to walk me upstairs. I think I can find the way.” I saw through that one. She knew there would be two sets of eyes peeking through curtains to see how the adventure ended: her sisters tried and true, Vernell and Rita. She wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction.

I was polite and understanding.

She stopped at the door, stood on her tiptoes, gave me a quick “peck,” and exited. The soft smell of her hair and perfume remained, but she was gone.

Me? I was lost forever.          

Monday, August 13, 2018

My Redacted Life: Chapter 20 (Cont._3)

My first date with the “aggravating beauty” Brenda Cole was going well. We had finished a nice Italian meal at a small place on Cantrell. I hadn't said anything really stupid or offensive so far. What next? Then it dawned on me. One of Little Rock’s most unique meeting spots was just across the street.

Somehow, when they built a modern supermarket there, they had left small building smack dab in the middle of the parking lot. It housed a small bar and diner upstairs and steps led to a more intimate and less formal room downstairs, not much larger than a modern living room. They served beer, and, if I recall, sometimes had an entertainer adding to the ambiance. It was only open, the lower room, in the evening.

It was the kind of place, it seemed to me, that might impress a young lady who didn’t appear to be easily impressed.

 Arkansas Fats, they called it. Not many people knew about it and even less dared venture below. Someone on Riverside Drive had introduced me to it. It was that kind of place. I asked the lovely Miss Cole had she ever been there. She said, “No,” accompanied by a look that she might have used had I asked if she’d ever been to a Klan rally.

“Come on,” I said. “You’ll get a kick out of it.”

“I’m sure,” she said.

We got in the sports car, drove to the intersection and doubled back into the shopping center parking lot. There are certain streets in Little Rock that simply cannot be crossed by pedestrians, Cantrell being one of them. We parked outside the building housing the bar, and I noticed how shabby it looked. It clearly outdated the supermarket and I imagined that there must have been a story there somewhere.

Anyway, she was a good sport about it and went in with me, only looking a bit quizzical as we descended into the lower level. I supposed she trusted me, not always a good idea.

We wrapped up the evening with a beer and passable fellowship with other adventurous souls willing to descend into the catacombs. Honestly, I don’t remember if there was entertainment that evening. I was transfixed by the effect of the dim, soft mellow lighting on the face of the woman with me. It was as if the entire room had been lit by candles designed specifically to capture the highlights of her face and hair.

She lit a cigarette, took a sip of beer, and leaned back as if to say, “Well, Jocko, you got me here. What’s next?”

Seriously, it was a dive dug beneath
 a parking lot and called "Arkansas Fats."
I do remember wondering if she was impressed by my unique knowledge of legendary Little Rock “hot spots” or totally grossed out by my presumption.

I decided I wouldn’t think anymore about it. It wasn’t a time for negative thinking. We drank our beer, talked softly, and she even smiled a couple of times at my silly chatter about some strange planning commission meeting or other. If she felt insulted by my choice of entertainment, she didn’t show it.

Would we follow this date with another? Who knew, or who cared? We would always have Little Rock, and tonight.

I decided I would find out about the future soon enough. One thing I’m sure of, though. Not many men can say they fell in love in the basement of Arkansas Fats.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday Break

Taking off today to pick guitars. Read about the rest of our first date tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the Alien C. W.'s latest adventure.