Stone and Silk (Marvin & Janie)

My tarnished love story, written three years ago.  Because I believe none of us are perfect, and therefore, neither are our relationships.

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I was a dumb cluck from cornfield country.  She was a stone-cold beauty from the East Coast.  Now, there’s a pair for you.

Why he liked her so much was hard to figure.  She was mean–hard to get along with; demanded Marvin’s full attention, morning, noon, and night.  Marvin brought Janie flowers, pretty things, but, it never seemed to matter.  At work, Marv was always borrowing money; because he never had any.  Maybe he thought that was the way relationships were supposed to be?

God forbid Marvin ever looked at another woman–even, for  a casual glance.  When he did, Janie pummeled his arms and shoulders with flailing fists.  He had to have a high tolerance level.  Was Janie that insecure–jealous of other women?  There’s supposed to be someone for everyone.  What had Marvin done to deserve her?

When Marvin worked late, Janie was a nervous wreck until his car pulled into the driveway.  He always called home before leaving work.  They fought like cats and dogs, but when Janie was sick, Marv was always there by her side.  Nobody knew what went on behind closed doors.  Their private lives were kept private.

The Revelation:  Janie had been a former Vegas “showgirl”–if you could call it that.  “The Swan” was a seedy, obsequious dive bar–with obligatory flashing lights, plenty of cigarette smoke and loud music–hidden in the bowels of Las Vegas.  It was just close enough to the strip, to siphon off drifters from the mainstream and stay in business.  Christened, “The Swan,” because the managing partner’s name was Schwann, not because it had anything to do with Swan Lake–or anything cultural.

The Miracle:  Was, that they ever got together in the first place.  Janie danced at The Swan, because that was all she had.  The shame, less important than necessities of life, she desperately needed.  She lived a distorted, Machiavellian, nightmare of what life should be.

Through thick-bottomed drink glasses, Janie was every guy’s ideal woman–worthy of stuffed, sweaty, dollar bills, donated by countless, faceless, nameless men, ascending/descending from emotional highs and lows–in various stages of self-control.

Marvin nodded off into semi-consciousness that night, until his head hit the table.  Then, he became just another bottom-feeder, milked dry, tossed out and left for dead.  “Nighty night–sleep tight,” The bouncer mocked.

The next thing Marv remembered was waking up in the back alley.  “I know I heard “Jingle Bells’ playing somewhere,”  Marv said.  “Or, more likely, it was my throbbing head.”  That’s when Janie walked out the back door.  Marvin’s clothes were damp, dirty, and disgusting.  He was pitiful in a sad, floppy-eared puppy dog sort of way.

She took pity on me–bought me a cup of coffee at the diner across the street.  She told me right up front, it wasn’t going any further.  I asked the same question, she heard every night in the bar.  How’d a pretty girl like you, end up in a place like this?  She turned the question right around.  How had I ended up thrown out of a Vegas bar in an alley?

I answered, It was because I was a hopeless screw-up.  It was a moment of brutal truth–the first time I’d been honest with myself, or any one else, in my life.  The funniest part–we toasted, first to mutual failures, then to hopeless screw-ups.  I didn’t have a dime to my name, but I sure felt better.

We had a lot in common, as it turned out.  She was running away from abusive home life with an alcoholic father.  I’d been kicked out of the house, by my father, at nineteen to sink or swim.  At that moment, I knew I loved Janie.  If given the chance, some day I’d ask her to marry me.

From what Marvin told me, their courtship was a bit like a Hollywood movie script.  The bar’s owner didn’t want Janie to quit; had her followed–made life miserable.  I suspected there was more to that part of the story and he wished to keep it secret.  Love always found a way, so they met secretly at different locations; like underworld spies, or refugees from a war-torn world.

Marvin sat at a table near the entrance of one pre-determined location.  Janie came in a few moments later; sat at an adjoining table.  “You know–I once sprained my elbow,” Was Marv’s opening line.  It was finest cloak-and-dagger, old-time movie dialogue.  “Daffodils bloom in the springtime,”  Janie answered.  To which Marvin asked, “Did you know bats slept upside down?”  Janie opened her purse, took out a white handkerchief.  They walked out together, laughing at their private jokes–played out to perfection.

Their Escape:  Janie and Marvin’s escape from “Sin City” was, no less intriguing.  Highlighted by a two-day exile in an abandoned basement; hiding from some unsavory characters.  It ended with a four-day bus ride to middle Tennessee.  They didn’t know a soul there.  Marvin hoped to land a job at a nearby auto assembly plant.  Janie was hired to wait tables at a local mom and pop eatery.

Marvin and I started work the same day, working swing shifts as janitors, for a starting wage of 2.35 per hour–extra for nights and weekends.  It was good money for a couple of young guys with no experience.  What I learned about Marv and Janie, came from working together at Chrysler for 38 years.  There were occasional encounters with Janie at the supermarket.  They stayed pretty much close to home.

Both of them are gone now.  I feel their presence every day–especially when I see young couples in love, laughing at private little jokes.  Soul mates, lovers–whatever you choose to call them; neither, could have survived without the other.

My first impressions were very wrong.  Janie went first–passed away in Marvin’s arms.  Marv passed away nine years later.  I was there to bid my friend goodbye.  When death knocked at the door–theirs was the only way to go; surrounded by those that loved them most.

 

 

 

Across Thy Prairies Verdant Growing…

Clear-channel 50,000 watts of all-night radio, broadcasted across the vast Midwestern prairie and beyond.

John McCormick, “the man who walked and talked at midnight,” was there for our listening pleasure; with the best music and conversation to keep us company.

McCormick had a deep-timbered voice, that either soothed, or lulled listeners to sleep.  That was his job, I supposed.  I would have preferred raspy-voiced Wolfman Jack.

“We’re gonna’ play more music for you–all night long!  Can you dig It?”  Interspersed with a few Wolfman howls and I’d stay wide-awake.  Dad wouldn’t dig any of it.

My job was to assist with loading and deliveries.  More importantly, to keep my father awake on his all-night delivery route through four Illinois counties.

It seemed odd to me then, dad being such a firm disciplinarian, to see him kibitzing with  guys at the full-service, Standard Oil station, on a busy corner in Springfield, Illinois.  He was obviously a regular visitor.  It was around eleven, the station brightly wrapped in neon–topped with trademarked red torch.

An experience, not unlike seeing one of your teachers, away from school.  Refueled, candy bars and coffees in hand, off to the second, and most important stop.

The blue and white Chevrolet, faithful beast of burden, loaded past midnight; after the State-Journal Register’s press run.  There’d been a delay–probably a late-breaking story that couldn’t be left out.

Worried my father would fall asleep at the wheel, thus killing us both in a tragic accident, I kept talking.  Awkward talking–so awkward, it was more like an interview than normal father-son conversation.

“How many miles does this truck have on it?”  I asked.  “It’s got 127,000 miles right now,” Dad answered.

“That’s an awful lot of miles.”  I surmised.  “It’s all highway miles,” Dad answered.  “That makes a difference.  This route covers 200 miles per night–give or take.”

“What were the worst weather conditions you’ve encountered?”  I asked–not in exactly those words.

“Ice and snow–I’ve had to drop off on the shoulder to gain adequate traction.  There was more traction on the grass and gravel, than on the road; but, I made it home safely.  It was almost noon–barely time for a nap before starting out again.”

The next question was risky, but I went for it, anyway.  “What were some of your biggest boneheaded mistakes?”

“I missed some stops and had to go back.  Then, one night I accidently threw a delivery right through an unopened screen door.”

Route 66, blue highways, towns that railroads, interstates forgot, passed by all night long.

That night may have been the source of dad’s war story about a ride to Chicago, cruising at 80 mph on Rt. 66, in a Chrysler Airflow–after hitching a ride.  That struck me as daring–even though it happened before I was born.

Winter sun rose as we arrived home, just in time for a bite of breakfast, light conversation with mom, then straight to bed.  It had been a good night, we’d arrived well before noon.

 

Image, Standard Oil Indiana, from blogsite: PleasantFamilyShopping–

 

 

 

Never Could Say Goodbye

Why did the process of leaving a family friend or relative’s house seem to take forever?  Little kids hated adult small talk, “My how you’ve grown.  What grade were you in school? You’re almost as tall as your older brother.”

Adult chattering never stopped.  Pitiful expressions, tugging at mom’s skirt, never made the process go faster. Going to your father for help didn’t work, either.  His standard response, “Go ask your mother.”  Which really meant, he knew from years of experience, saying goodbye could not be hurried.

Two generations later, blessed with more patience, the process hadn’t changed.  Only the players in these mini-dramas were different.  Grandma, family matriarch, cooked at home–did most of the cooking away from home.

For that reason, the head chef needed proper utensils, small appliances, to feel at home away from home–anything easily transportable.

Leftovers had to be divvied up.  Grandma refereed the process.  “Don’t take all of that–take more of this.  Your sister likes cranberries, you know.”

“Where were the disposable containers?  I can’t find anything in your kitchen.  Why do you keep things on  top shelves where I can’t reach them?  Better take a couple of pieces of this lemon meringue pie.  Your grandpa and I will never eat it–it will just go bad.”

Lost items, previously ignored, became priorities; followed by discussions of where said lost items could be; bouts of anxiety, then, retrieval of lost items–purses, sweaters, jackets, electronic devices.  When, items weren’t found.  “Well, I’ll pick it up next time–or you can mail it to me.”  The postal service would never go out of business on our account.

When visitors left our house, the process was mostly the same.  Grandkids added interesting twists to the goodbye process.  Internet savvy kids left behind connectors, adapters–strange to unhip grandparents, various clothing articles.  They sometimes took things home, not noticed, until weeks, even months, later.

“What happened to the Caladryl lotion?”  I asked, after getting into some poison ivy.  “Oh, one of the grandkids took it home–he had an itchy rash.”  That wasn’t going to help me at that moment.

Goodbyes and hugs took forever, because we never could say goodbye.

 

 

All About the L-A-F

It’s time to shake things up a bit.  Hope everyone has had their morning cup of java.  This is shaping up to be a beautiful Saturday.

Beautiful, if it weren’t for a scheduled safari to a no-frills, membership warehouse store.  Where bargains are to be had–if you’re persistent, and don’t mind buying in bulk.

Such trips are moderately annoying.  Moderately annoying, because opportunities for people watching, are only secondary, to people watching at the airport.

Finding convenient parking spaces, in the warehouse’s giant parking lot, can be frustrating.  Maneuvering giant shopping carts around gawkers, talkers, lingerers, is a thrill ride.  Check out lines can stretch from here to infinity.

Free food samples are a plus.  That is, if it’s something you have a taste for.  Spam and mango chutney, would not be my first choice.  I learned my lesson long ago, when I remarked–“Look Dear, they have twenty kinds of beef jerky.”  She gave me the evil eye, walked away, and said nothing.  Apparently, she didn’t share my enthusiasm for beef jerky.

What is the L-A-F?  L-A-F, is the Least Annoyance Factor.  L-A-F applies to everything in life.  Call it “laugh” if you are so inclined.  I use “laugh” a lot.  Please, use “laugh” as it was meant to be used–because, if you don’t, that would be annoying.

Eastbound, Down and Out

His reign was over

Everybody else knew

Poor whippoorwill would do

What nobody else would do

What others thought

Whippoorwill said out loud

Whippoorwill was a good boy

Made his mama real proud

Whippoorwill fell, got back up

Scoffed–it was just bad luck

If there wasn’t a God

Why was whippoorwill still here?

From Where the Kudzu Grows

Friendships or acquaintances?  God grant me the wisdom to distinguish between the two.

They came and went over the years.  Names, places, remembered in bits and pieces.

Things I thought would last–didn’t.  Things never expected to last, persevered.

Was the glass half-full or half-empty?  Who cared?  In either case, the glass was not full, and was less than adequate.

Her beauty slapped me in the face–hard as a dead fish.  Covered in a kudzu gown, with roots that still dripped dirt. Beauty an illusion that came from within.  Reality never knocked–always let itself in.