I was a dumb cluck from cornfield country. She was a stone-cold beauty queen 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 always borrowed 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 her 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 in 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, 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.”
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 love was supposed to 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, descending from emotional highs–in various stages of self-control.
Marvin nodded off into semi-consciousness that night, until his head hit the table. Then, he was just another bottom-feeder, milked dry, tossed out and left for dead. “Nighty night–sleep tight,” The bouncer mocked.
The next thing he 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-eyed, floppy-eared, stray 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 at the bar. How’d a pretty, nice girl like you, end up in a place like this? She turned the same question 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 anyone 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 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 age nineteen, to sink or swim. At that moment, I knew I loved Janie. If given the chance, someday 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 down at a table near the entrance of one predetermined location. Janie came in a few minutes later, sat at an adjoining table. “You know–I once sprained my elbow,” was Marvin’s opening line. It was cloak-and-dagger, old-time movie dialogue. “Daffodils bloom in the springtime,” Janie answered, To which Marvin asked, “Did you know bats sleep upside down?” Janie opened her purse, took out a white handkerchief. They walked out together, laughing at their private joke–played out to perfection. That was when they weren’t meeting under the “Dumb-Dumb tree.” The “Dumb-Dumb tree” was in a city park–location known only to Janie and Marvin.
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 an automobile 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 with Marv, at Chrysler’s Assembly Plant #17 for thirty-eight years. There were occasional encounters with Janie at the supermarket. They had few friends–stayed 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–she 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 only way to go–surrounded by those that loved them most.
“An unlikely pairing, called back to Heaven”