is like being grateful the mugger didn’t just kill you.
is like being grateful the mugger didn’t just kill you.
is like being grateful the mugger didn’t just kill you.
More Hard Times
Woody Guthrie – Hard travelin’
Mr. Langdon returned home, and, as he had hinted in his letter, he returned with a new wife. Clara was nice enough to Liza, but made it obvious that she intended to run the house her own way and considered Liza superfluous, not to mention low class. She was too nose-in-the-air for Liza’s taste and had definite ideas about her proper station in the community. It was the first time Liza had ever met anyone with social pretensions and it amused her no end. It also made it easier to finally take the big step and strike out on her own. The differences between Clara and Liza were certainly not lost on Mr. Langdon, but he had a foot in both worlds. Coming from a background like Clara’s, he had lived many years in a world more like Liza’s and appreciated the faults and virtues of both. Now he had made his decision and Liza’s staying would only create friction in the house. It was time to close one chapter of the book and go on to the next.
“Liza, when you came to us, I was grateful and I always will be. You were more than just an excellent housekeeper. But I think we both know it’s time for you to move on. You never had much chance to follow your own star, what with having to take over your own home, then mine. Now you can do whatever is in you to do. I’ve watched you these last two years and I’ll tell you frankly you can do anything you’ve a mind to. And as I said, I’m grateful. Anything I can do to help you get started, you need only ask. Perhaps you could become a schoolteacher. I have some influence in the town and I could arrange that. You would have no trouble getting a certificate. You’re much better read than most of our leading citizens.”
“That’s because you let me use your library, Mr. Langdon. You don’t know how much that has meant to me since I came here. But while I appreciate you wanting to help, I think I’m going to go West. This country somehow seems to stifle me. Everything is so settled and proper. It’s like everyone here thinks their way of life is the only possible or proper way. You know the difference between folks in a big city and folks in the country. So do I, even if I haven’t been to a real big city yet. But what I want is more country, less city. Even Ohio is becoming too much like the East for me. I want to be able to stand on my own and build my own life without fretting about what other folks do or say. I can’t do that here.”
“You’re right, of course. Feeling as you do, you would never be happy here. Different people have different views, and sometimes there isn’t as much tolerance as there should be. In some ways I envy you. It was your kind that built this country, then others came along to enjoy the fruits of that building. What I find sad is that the latecomers usually don’t appreciate what it took to build the land.”
“I don’t blame them for that,” said Liza. “There’s no way they could understand what it took or what life was like years ago. They grow up with houses and churches and stores and all, with lots of people around. It just seems natural and normal to most folks. Somehow I’m different. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse. I just know I don’t want to stay here. If it’s alright with you, I’m going to go home next week. I want to visit Papa and the family before I start West.”
“That’s fine, Liza. But I do want to show my appreciation for these last two years. I can give you letters of recommendation and introductions to some business acquaintances in Colorado. They might make it easier for you to get started out there, if that’s where you end up.”
“Thank you, sir. I probably will go to Colorado. A friend of Papa’s runs a mercantile store out there and told Papa he’d help. Who knows? I may even run into the minister’s nephew!”
“You might, at that. As I recall, he mentioned coming back here when it was time to find a wife, and somehow I think he had his eye on you. He’s a fine young man with a good chance to make something of himself. You could do worse. But Liza, don’t marry him or anybody else just for that. You’re still young and needn’t be in a hurry to wed. Indeed, it’s hard for me to remember just how young you are. But there’s a lot of life you haven’t had a chance to live yet. Give yourself that chance. Marry someone you love.”
“I suppose I will, someday. Providing I find someone who feels the same way about me. That’s always a question, isn’t it?”
“Not so much as you might think. Somehow, falling in love often seems to provoke the same reaction in the other person.”
“Well, I guess I’ll just see what comes. As to Ryle Tate, I was only joshing.”
“We can’t spend the rest of our lives in bed,” Lisa said. “At least let’s get up long enough to have dinner. Stop that!” She slapped lightly at the hand crawling up her calf. “Besides, we have to keep our strength up.” She sat up and swung her feet over the edge of the bed.
Alan ran his hands over the smooth back, tracing the spine down to the swell of the buttocks. He noticed a scar and bent to take a closer look. “A bullet wound? You got shot in the ass?” he asked.
Lisa turned, momentarily flustered. Well, it had to come out sooner or later. Maybe it was better now. “Yes, I got shot in the ass.” She paused, waiting to see what he made of it. He pursed his lips and eyed her speculatively. “I’m a cop, Alan. An NYPD detective. Does that change things?”
“Not for me, love. Except that now I’ll worry when you go to work.”
“You don’t need to worry. The dangerous days are behind me. I got that when I was doing foot patrol in the Bronx. I was trying to wrestle a gun away from a kid and I almost succeeded. Now that I’m a detective, the riskiest thing I do is ride the subway.” That wasn’t strictly true, of course. She was frequently tapped for undercover work or decoy jobs and often that meant no identification and no weapon. Her backup teams had always been there thus far, but there was always a risk of something going wrong. She’d heard some pretty nasty stories. “Honestly, darling, I can take care of myself. I’m a big girl now.”
“Yes,” he said, “I suppose you are. But I’ll still worry. I don’t want to lose you.”
“Hah! You couldn’t lose me if you wanted to! I’d use all the resources of the Department to track you down! Now get out of bed and show me how to find the kitchen.”
“Deduce it, detective. Follow the trail of breadcrumbs or whatever it is you do. You’ll recognize it by the refrigerator and stove.”
Lisa stuck her tongue out at him and trotted into the kitchen. God, he thought, there’s nothing like the sight of a naked woman galloping about to brighten up the apartment. “Careful you don’t lean over the stove. Wouldn’t want you singeing anything!”
“Screw you, you horny man-thing.!” He heard her giggling amid the pots and pans. “How do you like your coffee?”
“Like my women,” he called, “hot and sweet!”
She laughed and brought in two coffees and day-old doughnuts. She leaned over to put his coffee mug on the nightstand and he kissed one breast. “Hey, you’ll make me spill it!”
“That’s okay. The sheets need changing anyway,” he said.
“You won’t think it’s okay if I spill it in your lap. You’d be parboiled and worthless for a week.”
“I have blisters now,” he said, and she laughed. There was no doubt that they’d been making love at every opportunity since that first night.
There was something liberating about just throwing caution to the winds and letting yourself love and be loved. She knew it would end some day, change to something less obsessive, but she was content to get the most of it while it lasted. “Yes, we’ll have to slow down. I wonder if we can start a fire by rubbing two genitalia together.”
“I can see it now,” he said. “Arson Squad Investigates Mysterious Apartment Fire. Couple Found Melted Together. Be the sensation of the day, might make the Six O’Clock News.”
Lisa fluffed up a pillow and leaned back against the headboard. “Now that you know I’m a cop, what do you do. Besides write?”
“Oh, I tinker with computers. Do a little programming and designing. It pays the bills.”
“Computers? Super! I almost got into that in college. Still could, I guess. We use lots of them for all kinds of things. Maybe you could get a job in the Police Department!”
“Then neither of us would get anything done. We’d always be hiding out in some broom closet, screwing our brains out,” Alan said.
She smiled. “It would have its advantages. But seriously, I know they’re automating new things. They’ve figured out a way to classify fingerprints so that computers can eliminate all but the most likely matches. Makes things easier for us working stiffs.”
“I can see it would,” Alan said. “Who knows, someday we’ll all be carrying electronic IDs and you can track us night and day.”
Lisa shuddered. “I’ll quit before that day comes. But you could be right. There are people pushing for that now.”
Alan shrugged. “Some people are coming to value security more than freedom.”
“It shouldn’t have to be one or the other,” Lisa said. “Why can’t we have both?”
“It is one or the other,” Alan replied. “Think about it. Personally, I’d rather be free than safe.”
“You’re old-fashioned,” Lisa said. In surprise, she realized that was true. He was more than old-fashioned, he was old, or at least considerably older than she was. “How old are you?”
Alan put on his rueful look. “Forty-two next month. Old enough to be your father.”
“My father is sixty-three. He’s in a nursing home and his mind is gone. I go up to see him every few weeks, but it’s been two years since he recognized me.”
“I’m sorry. Do you love him?”
Do I? she asked herself. “I guess so. When my brother and I were growing up, we fought tooth and nail with my father. He was a cop too, strict as hell and very overprotective. He wasn’t the sort of person who invited affection. I never understood what mother saw in him.”
“Different strokes,” Alan said.
“Yes, probably. Now that he’s lost it, all the cop is gone, all the authority-figure stuff. He’s almost sweet. Maybe he was more that way once, before he became a cop.”
“What about your mother?”
“Died four years ago. She had cancer for years. We were never too close. I always expected her to take my side against Dad, but she never did. There’s just me and my brother now.” She drained her coffee and set the mug down with a thump. “Now you know all about me and I don’t know anything about you. You didn’t grow up on New York, did you?”
“No,” he said. “I grew up out West. A typical farm boy, I suppose. Then a few years in the Army, then New York.” There was a lot more between the lines, like the special training the army gave him. He didn’t think it wise to dwell on those years. Not yet, not until he knew her better.
“My parents are dead. Brother living in Texas. Talk to him about twice a year. Haven’t seen him in ten.”
“How long have you been writing?” she asked.
“Oh Lordy! Since Adam was a pup!”
She laughed. “All those years and never published? Maybe you aren’t cut out for the literary life.” She hoped she was wrong. Somehow, she wanted him to be a writer just as she wanted to be a serious poet. At least she told herself she did.
“Let’s say I’ve been slack, shall we? That sounds better.”
“Or lazy,” Lisa said, “or cowardly.”
He chuckled. “You have no business being so perceptive. The function of a beautiful woman is to be beautiful and let some man appreciate her.”
“Just kidding, love. You’re right, of course. I have been lazy or afraid to face what it takes to be a serious writer. Anyone can write, but committing oneself to be a writer is something else again. Have you ever seriously considered what it means to be a poet, as opposed to being someone who writes poetry?”
“No, I just write. Sometimes I think it’s just a way to let off steam, a form of catharsis.”
“It is that,” Alan said. “I gave up writing poetry because I wasn’t willing to be a poet. Prose somehow felt less dangerous. Little did I know!”
“This conversation is getting entirely too cerebral. I just want us to write and make love. Wonder if we can combine them somehow.”
“Yeah, I’ll dip my tool in ink and compose the Great American Novel. You heard someone peed on the White House lawn, wrote graffiti in the snow? They analyzed the urine and identified the Secretary of State, but the handwriting was the First Lady’s.”
“You’re bad! That joke’s been going around for at least fifteen years. You must live like a hermit. Get a life!”
He considered that. It was true he lived almost totally alone, hardly more than a nodding acquaintance to anyone. Well, that was about to change. Between Lisa and the money and the writing, he was about to come out of the self-imposed closet he’d lived in most of his life. “Yes,” he said slowly, “it’s time I got a life. You’re a good start.” He reached for her and felt a surge of desire as she slid into his arms.
Back in the ’60s, one hippie slogan was “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”
Well, what if they gave a riot and everybody came?
Some few people have noted that November 11 was originally designated Armistice Day, and commemorated peace, not the glorification of war and warriors. It was that way when I was younger and was observed in a solemn mood; sober, thoughtful sadness. People wept – grown men, in a day when men wept seldom and never publicly. My grandmother never failed to observe every Armistice Day, crying softly, although our family lost no one in two World Wars.
Harry was expecting a phone call from the teenager, so he was surprised to find the young man at his front door.
“Good evening, sir. May I come in?”
More polite than most his age, Harry thought. “You must be Jesse. Come in, come in.”
The boy unslung his backpack and dropped it on the sofa, glancing quickly around the room, including the art work, which he recognized would impress his sister. He also noticed the lady who had spoken to him outside the clinic, stretched out before the fireplace and looking rather sultry. He wondered if he had interrupted something, but it was too late to worry about that now.
As far as he knew, nobody in town had ever been inside the MacOliver home. It was known he was well-to-do, but he kept pretty much to himself. Jesse considered himself privileged to be there. “The lady said you wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes indeed. Helen told me you were recording the protest and our little contretemps?”
“If that means when you totally destroyed that lady, you’re right.” He went to his backpack and extracted a laptop and a CD. “It’s all on this CD. If you don’t have a PC, we can view it on mine.”
Harry gestured toward his office. “I think I have something to view it on. Come with me.”
The boy followed Harry into his office and stopped short, laughing at himself. “I guess you do have a PC or two. You’ve got more stuff here than my high school computer lab. What’s that?”
“That”, Harry said, “is a real computer. An IBM mainframe. I don’t use it as much as I used to , but it’s still the best thing for crunching passwords.”
A big grin began to spread across Jesse’s face. “Hacking? Is that how you found out about that woman having an abortion?”
“No’, Harry laughed. “The world of secrecy and digging up secrets didn’t start with computers. Let’s see that CD.”
Harry slipped it into one of the PCs with a big screen daisy-chained to the monitor Mrs. Howe and the entire entourage blasted to life on a 60-inch screen, chanting and praying and shouting their message of fundamentalism and hypocrisy.
Helen came in and the three of them settled down to watch the confrontation. It was just what Harry had hoped.
“This is going to be your class assignment?”, he asked. “What do you think the teacher is going to say about it?”
Jesse laughed. “She’ll have a heart attack. Our projects were supposed to be combined into an hour-long show for the TV station, but there’s no way she’ll let me put this footage on the air. And I doubt if the TV station would have the guts to show it.”
“You’re probably right,” Harry said with a grin, “but it seems a shame to deny the world the opportunity to observe such grand hypocrisy, doesn’t it? Maybe Youtube?”
Jesse grinned broadly. “At least. There are a lot of places you can post videos. But what do I do if she sues me?”
“Well”, Harry said, “she can sue me, presumably for slander and recording it might make it libel – I’ll let my lawyer worry about that –but truth is a good defense and the truth is on my side in this case. You are just a citizen journalist, so all she could do to you is try to browbeat you into taking down the video, but I have some ideas about that. If you’re interested in doing more things like this, exposing the assholes of the world, we can discuss it over pizza. You game?”
“Yessir! And I know some other people who would be happy to help.”
“Good. One advantage to being rich is you can hire good lawyers, good programmers and hackers, lots of hardware and bandwidth and PR people. With a bit of luck I fully intend to torpedo a lot of careers.“
To be continued…