Sluggo? Is That You?

In 1992, when I was “between wives,” I began a relationship with a woman named Leila (pronounced Lee-i-la). She was more than 10 years my junior and quite scenic. But her beauty wasn’t what attracted me to her, it was her personality – she was quirky bordering on neurotic, unfiltered, unpredictable, and very funny. She was like that hot little sports car in the showroom. The one that grabs a man’s imagination and makes his heart beat fast, the one he has to take out for a test-drive, and the one that goes back into the showroom when he drives away with the sensible mini-van.

Leila was a cat person. She had an orange tabby that she doted on and almost from our first date, she was after me to get a cat of my own. When we were in my little house she would show me where my new cat’s dishes would go and where was the best place for a litter box. When we were in her apartment she would make me pet her cat and tell me how much better off I’d be if I had one. Finally, after all the kitty proselytizing, I allowed as how I might consider it.

“But,” I said, “I’m not interested  in just any cat. It has to be a particular cat, okay? I want a male that’s calico-colored. I want a kitty who’ll grow up big and stocky and have a take-no-crap attitude. His name will be Sluggo and he has to fit it.”

She was as pleased as any missionary with a new convert and said that we should start looking that weekend. I smiled and tried to put on the face of a man who’d just seen the light. I looked forward to spending a lot of time with her, driving around looking for addresses of people with kittens to give away, playing with lots of cute little squeakers, and then going home afterward seemingly disappointed and ready to be cheered up. For I knew something she did not. Calico cats are always female.

For a while things went perfectly. We lived in a little Iowa town of 7,000 souls called Fairfield and Leila kept her eye on local bulletin boards and newspaper classifieds. Several times a week she’d find a “Kittens looking for a home” notice and the next day we’d be ringing their doorbell.

“”Look at this one,” she’d say, holding out some little fluffball. “Isn’t it adorable?”

“Very cute,” I’d agree and skritch it between the ears. “Too bad he’s not a calico,” or “too bad she’s a girl.”

One evening I had just pulled a nice little rib steak off the barbecue and was sitting down to eat when Leila walked through the back door with a folded newspaper in her hand.  She sat down next to me and, without a word, drilled me with a disgusted look. I was well aware of her strict vegetarianism and so happily continued my meal, ignoring her attempts to drown each bite with guilt. I confess I even smacked my lips as I ate and grunted with pleasure.

Being able to stand it no longer, she yelled, “LOVE ANIMALS, DON’T EAT THEM!” Then she flounced into the living room (which in my little place took about two steps) and plopped herself onto the couch.

I had to take a little time for my ears to stop ringing before I could finish the last bite. After I had scraped, rinsed, and stacked my dishes, I turned and said, “Hi Leila! Nice to see you. How have you been?”

“You’re despicable, “she said, “I detest the ground you walk on. But I’m also very fond of you for absolutely no reason I can think of.”

“Well that makes us even, because I’m fond of me too. So what’s up?”

Suddenly excited again, she held up the newspaper she’d brought.

“I got a copy of the Ottumwa Courier. Look in the classified ads.”

She turned the paper to a back page, folded it over, and handed it to me. Under “Miscellaneous” an ad had been circled with a pen. “Calico Kittens to give away. Big litter. Lots to choose from.” Underneath that was an address and phone number.

“”Feel like taking a drive to Ottumwa?” she grinned.

Ottumwa is about 30 miles East of Fairfield. In every geographical area in this country there is one town that the surrounding communities all make fun of as “The place where the stupid people live.” In Southeast Iowa, the butt of these jokes was always Ottumwa.

“Tomorrow’s Saturday, and I’m off work,” I said. “How about we drive over after lunch. That’ll give me time to get some aluminum foil to make hats for us.”

“Whatever for?”

“Brain protectors,” I said with as straight a face as I could muster. “No use driving into Ottumwa if you’re not prepared.”

***

The homeowner, Margaret, introduced herself and led us around to the back of her house where a high-sided cardboard box sat on a wooden picnic table.

“We had them in a shallower box for a while, but the little boogers kept climbing out so we put ’em in here.”

We looked into the box and at the mass of little fuzzy bodies therein. Most of them had white, orange and black spots all over. What with the constant motion it made it almost impossible to count them. There was one gray kitten and one black.

“Look at this one,” I said to Leila as I picked up one of the kittens. “It’s got a patch over one eye like a pirate.”

She didn’t answer as she had a kitty in each hand and was burying her face in them. “Don’t you love how the little meemers smell?” she said as she pulled her face away.

Margaret said, “The gray one and the black one are the boys.”

“You don’t have any boys that are calico?” Leila said, a little crestfallen.

“Heavens no, dear,” came the reply. “All calicos are female, didn’t you know that?”

As we drove away I was all innocence and surprise. “Well. that’s bizarre,” I said. “No wonder we haven’t been able to find Sluggo.  He doesn’t actually exist.”

She gave me an appraising look and decided to let it go. “I feel like a cup of coffee. let’s look for a place.”

While I waited for the coffee, she excused herself and was gone for a lot longer than the average trip to the bathroom. When she returned, she had a slip of paper in her hand.

“I noticed a laundromat across the street. They always have good bulletin boards,” she said as she dropped the paper in front of me. “Check it out, Sweetie.”

scrawled on the paper was the following notice, “We got a bunch of kitens to give away.”

I found a pay phone and a deep, spooky voice gave me an address. It turned out to be a shoddy doublewide trailer with a weed-choked lawn. There was an old pickup on concrete blocks instead of wheels in front. As we walked to the door I was thinking I should have made those tinfoil hats after all.

The woman who answered the door was missing some teeth, but very friendly as she offered us some lemonade.

“Oh no, thanks anyway. Where are the kittens?”

“They’re just all over. You’ll have to look around.”

They had blankets hanging over the windows so even though it was a bright, sunny day, inside that trailer it was a twilight world. Luckily her husband – tall, gaunt, and pallid – was watching a game show on television and the reflected light allowed us to see a few kittens as they ran around and climbed the furniture.

Leila had found an orange kitten under the toe kick of a cabinet and was bringing it to me to look at. At that moment I saw a dark shape with a little bit of white run out from under the coffee table and hide under a rocking chair. I got down on my knees and fished him out. Yes, it was a “him,” I checked. I held the kitten up and looked him in the face. He had a small nose and mouth, big eyes, and giant ears. Then that “small” mouth opened into a huge cavity and a plaintive little squeak emerged. In that moment, there was a connection.

“Sluggo?” I asked. “Is that you?” He began to purr.

If a person could hurt themselves by smiling too much, Leila would have had to put her chin in a sling for a week. The little guy went to sleep in a fold of my jacket as we drove back home to Fairfield.

Tim vs. The Tractor

It was June, the first of the three months of Summer, and I was as happy as a robin with a fat worm in his beak. I was thirteen. Eighth grade was only a memory and Ninth grade was far off in the future. Other than being roped into taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn now and then, I had few responsibilities. My friends and I were outdoor kids and we always could come up with something to do, whether it was playing with rubber band-powered balsawood airplanes, throwing a baseball around, or digging a hole in the vacant lot. If we wanted to go somewhere, the whole of Laramie was only a bike-ride away.

Then, at Dinner one night, the Old Man had an announcement. He had had a conversation with his rancher friend George, who owned a spread outside of Centennial, Wyoming, about 30 miles away, and they had decided that I was going to spend the summer working on the Red Ladder Ranch.

A few years before, George’s son Mick had needed a place to stay in town while he went to High School  for his Senior year. My parents were happy to push another bed into my brother Chuck’s room for him. Chuck, being the same age as Mick, was fine with having a roommate. Fast forward to 1960 and the Old Man, worried that his third son was becoming a layabout and ne’er-do-well, called in the favor. My weak protests were pretty much ignored and two days later I was standing in the bunkhouse being introduced to Ray and Joe Bob, the two ranch hands.

I had never been required to sleep in the same room as a grown man before, let alone two. Suddenly I was three years old again, wanting desperately to hide behind my mother’s legs and peek out at these two aged and grizzled veterans. Actually, they were each about 19 and, in George’s eyes, mere boys not much older than I was. Ray and Joe Bob were nice enough to me then, smiling and shaking hands, but as soon as George left, they quickly let me know what was what and who was at the bottom of the totem pole. I was to haul water for them to wash up every morning and evening, make their beds after they had gone to work, and generally stay out of their way and do what I was told.

After a couple of days of being bodily hauled out of bed, having the water bucket shoved into my hands, and receiving a boot in the butt to send me on my way, I developed the habit of being the first one out of bed in the morning. I am not now, nor have I ever been a “morning person,” but there were some quiet rewards. Wyoming sunrises are consistently magnificent and at that time of day the sweet songs of the Western Meadowlark are always in the air. What the bird is actually saying is “This land, this grass, and these bugs are mine! Stay away or I’ll rip your wings off! Unless you’re a female, and in that case, sweet mama, just come on down and look me over!” What he says may not be gracious, but to human ears, the way he says it is absolutely breathtaking.

I spent a few days getting familiar with the ranch and running a few errands before George summoned me to the barn.

“I was going to have you muck out the stalls,” he said as he pointedly tapped the handle of a big scoop shovel hanging on the wall. “But I decided to get you started on digging the rocks out of the North pasture first . Come out here.”

I followed him out  to a large corral made of hand-split wooden posts and rails. He pulled up a wooden latch, opened a gate, then closed and latched the gate behind us.

“First rule,” he said, “always shut the damned gate behind you. A cow can smell an open gate from a quarter of a mile away.”

Parked next to the corral fence was a rusty old tractor. Hitched up behind it was a trailer home-made from the back half of an even older and rustier pickup truck. A shovel, a pick, and a long, heavy steel bar that narrowed to a point at one end lay in the bed of the trailer next to a ragged pair of work gloves.

“I want you to drive this tractor up to the North pasture, remembering  to close the damned gates behind you. You’ll see a lot of rocks – from the size of your head to the size of a watermelon. You’re gonna dig those up, one-by-one, and put ’em into this trailer. When you get a load take ’em down to the trout pond and dump ’em on the face of the dam. Got that?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “But I don’t know how to drive a tractor.”

“Well, there’s really not much to it  Get up in the seat.”

He turned the key in its slot. The starter labored several times, then the engine caught and started to roar. Big clouds of black smoke belched out of the vertical exhaust pipe.

“Now push that pedal on the left down,” he shouted over the din. “Push the gear shift lever into the slot marked ‘1.’ Now let up slowly on the clutch – that’s the pedal you’re pushing down.”

I did so and the tractor heaved ahead a couple of neck-snapping times, then settled into steady, forward motion.

“Good,” he said, “the other pedal is the brake. The throttle is this lever on the steering column. Just drive it around the corral a few times to get the feel of it, then go on up there and start to work. Got it? Okay.”

George jumped off the tractor and whistled up Jigger, his Border Collie. He climbed into his Jeep and was gone.

Around and around the corral I drove, gaining confidence as I went. “Heck, driving isn’t that hard,” I said to myself. “What’s the big deal about it?”

I decided I was ready and steered toward the gate. I pushed on the brake and the machine slowed way down, then started bucking and choking horribly. Fear grabbed me and I pulled my foot off the brake and turned the wheel hard to the left. The tractor just missed crashing into the gate, came around,  straightened out and was once more chugging around the corral. Every time I pushed on the brake, the same thing happened. George had showed me how to get the tractor going, but he hadn’t told me how to stop it. Rational  thoughts started hurling themselves overboard leaving only panic to run the ship.

“Help!” I shouted. “Help! Please, somebody help me!”

Ray and Joe Bob, stacking bales in the barn loft, heard my cries and came running. When they got to the corral fence they saw only a red-faced kid with bulging eyes driving a tractor around and around.

“What’s the problem?” they yelled.

I shouted back, “I don’t know how to stop this thing!”

The two just looked at each other and laughed. They climbed up and sat on the top railing like two old crows cackling together. Every time I’d drive around in front of them, they’d yell advice.

“Try driving it through the fence and into the barn. That’ll stop it!”

“Just keep driving it around. It’ll run out of gas in a few more hours!”

They suddenly stopped laughing. A hand clapped down on one of my  shoulders and I screamed and thrashed like a goldfish falling out of his bowl. An arm reached around me and turned the key. With a cough the engine died and the tractor lurched to a stop.

“How about you two yayhoos get back to work!” George yelled at Joe Bob and Ray and they went back to the barn stifling their giggles. He sat back against the big fender, crossed his arms, and gave me an appraising look.

“I’m sorry,” I said as I fought back tears, “I didn’t know how to stop it.”

“Aw, hell,” he said. “I’m the one who should apologize. Didn’t your father ever teach you how to drive?”

“No sir. I’m only thirteen.”

“Out here we teach a kid to drive as soon as he can reach the pedals and see over the dashboard. Now push in the clutch, turn the key to start it, and get it moving.”

Standing next to me on the rear axle housing, George coached me on the finer points of driving a tractor. In a short while i had the thing stopped and idling while I opened the gate.

“I think you’ll be okay now,” he called as he went back to the Jeep. “Just remember to close the God-damned gate behind you.”

Skating with Shirley

When you live in Laramie, Wyoming – where it is, essentially, Winter for 8 months a year – you tend to accumulate a lot of Winter sports equipment. On one side of our garage there was a corner reserved for skis, poles, and ski boots. We put toboggans, plastic saucers,  and regular sleds in the rafters overhead (I have never understood what possible purpose the steel runners on a sled serve. If the hill you’re trying to slide down is covered with anything more snowlike than a half inch of glare ice, the runners just sink in and stop. “Rosebud” my butt.) And the odd-shaped, little storage space under the laundry room steps was where we kept the ice skates.

There were several places around Laramie to go ice skating. One of the Old Man’s friends was a rancher who kept a trout pond on his property. We were welcome to skate on the pond whenever the ice was solid enough. Because the wind moved the surface of the water around while it was freezing, the ice on the pond  was bumpy and caused you to fall down a lot. Another option was on the North side of town where there was a large pond affectionately known to the locals as “Stink Lake”. When Laramie was in its early days, the pond had served as the town’s sewage lagoon. Many years later, it gave off very little odor but still kept the name. By Halloween the pond was frozen over. After that, the town fire department would periodically come out and spray water on it, thereby making a pretty good skating surface.

But the best place to go skating was the Laramie City Skating Rink at Undine Park. The Rink was built like a stockade with 10 foot high, weathered wood walls around the perimeter and two big poles that came up out of the ice in the center. Instead of a roof, there were 2 foot wide strips of heavy muslin hung overhead like sheets on clotheslines. Attached to one side was a “warming hut” that included the main entrance to the rink.

The patrons, usually with their skates hung around their necks by the laces, would come in, pay their 25 cents, then find a place on the several rows of benches to remove their shoes and put on their skates. There were heavy rubber mats on the floors and out to the rink so you could walk around – ka-lunk, ka-lunk – with your skates on. Then it was through an inner door, across a porch, and out onto the ice. In the daytime, the muslin overhead blocked the sun’s direct glare and gave the place a nice, subdued illumination. But at night, there were floodlights that made it seem almost magical.

Most of the people would skate clockwise in a large oval around the outside of the two poles. If you were a pretty good skater and wanted to show off a little, you could skate in the center of the rink. Here were the people who could skate backwards and do little leaps and spins. There was a scratchy PA system and over the constant sound of steel blades scraping on ice they would play all the old chestnuts like “Roll Out the Barrel,” Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” and, of course, “The Skater’s Waltz.”

By the time I was in the last couple of years of High School, I had nearly stopped going to the Rink. I found that I preferred skiing to skating for Winter fun. Skiing was considered to be “cooler” than skating, and when you fell down, packed snow was a lot easier on your rear end than hard ice. Instead of having to stay balanced on 1/4 inch blades, I had a full 3 inches of ski to stay on top of, not to mention stiff, plastic boots clamped to my feet that took my weak ankles completely out of the picture.

When I was a Senior, a pretty little Sophomore named Shirley caught my eye and we began to return each other’s smiles in the hallways between classes. She was cute, with a generous spray of freckles across her nose and cheeks and she wore her hair in a long braid that hung down well below her waist. In a short time, we were dating.

In a little Wyoming town in the Winter, there isn’t much to do on a Friday night except go to the movies. So on our third date we arrived at the Wyo Theater on the East edge of town expecting to see The Pink Panther. Unfortunately for us, they had, just that day, changed the feature to a schlock horror movie. Instead of Inspector Clousseau we were being offered  The Night of the Living Corpse Bride.  Neither of us were thrilled.

“There must be something else we could do,” I said. “But I can’t think of anything. Have you got any ideas?”

“Well… we could go skating.” she suggested.

A goofy grin lit up my face. I thought that was a great idea. We could get bundled up and hang on to each other as we giggled our way around the Rink. Maybe a stolen kiss in a dark corner followed by a cup of hot chocolate in the warming hut. “This,” I thought, “would be fun.”

My house was closer so I left Shirley in the car with the heater on while I went in and rummaged around under the back stairs for a pair of skates. I’d grown out of the pair I’d used the year before, but my brother Lewis’ skates would fit fine if I put on an extra pair of heavy socks. I grabbed a hat, a muffler, and some gloves and I was out the door.

My old Plymouth had one continuous bench seat, which may not have been very comfortable, but allowed your girl to snuggle up next to you as you drove – a major plus. We crossed the viaduct and went to Shirley’s house on the West side of town. Being more polite than I, she invited me in to talk to her mother while she got ready.  Having covered the weather, and how did I like school, her mother and I were straining to fill the awkward silence with small talk when Shirley reappeared. She had put on some warm leggings and a short wooly skirt, and had wound her long braid of hair into a large knot on the back of her head. Instead of a pair of skates hanging around her neck, she was carrying a little suitcase.

In the warming hut, we sat down to put on our skates. She had hers out of the little suitcase, on her feet, and laced up in the time it took me to put on the extra pair of socks and get my feet into Lewis’ skates. When I went to tighten them up, one of the old, frayed laces snapped in two.

“Why don’t you go ahead,” I suggested. “It’ll take me a while to fix this.”

She smiled, said “Okay,” and left me to it.

Having knotted together the ends of the broken lace and rethreaded it through the eyeholes, I finally managed to tie the uneven lengths into a serviceable bow and I headed for the door out onto the ice.

My skating style was to kind of run in place until I had some momentum, then glide for a ways. After I had built up a little speed,  I could push off from the inside edge of one skate, then glide a ways balanced on the other skate. Then I’d push with that one. I was a little wobbly and due to my unsteady ankles I had a tendency to catch an edge and go careening off in an undesired direction from time to time, but I could mostly keep up with the stream of people skating around and around.

After about half a lap, I pulled over and looked for Shirley among the oncoming skaters. I didn’t see her for a while and began to wonder where she’d got to when my attention was drawn by the higher-level skaters in the center. There was Shirley, gliding along on one skate, arms out to her sides, as graceful as any swan. She wasn’t just good, she was really good. She went into a little spin, then took off backward, leapt up, made a full turn in the air, and landed smoothly on one leg. Setting her skates on edge, she suddenly stopped, sending a little shower of snow across the ice.

My hopes of silly fun, holding hands, and skating around together to the “Blue Danube” evaporated. I made my way back around the Rink to a long bench next to the warming hut door where I sat and watched Shirley skate. She looked for me once or twice and came over to ask me if I was okay. I told her yes, I’d been skating, how impressed I was by her skill, and that I was enjoying myself just watching her.

Later, I took her home, kissed her goodnight, and then never asked her out again.

Why not? I’m sure I had some macho rationale at the time, but the truth was I was intimidated. I was struggling just to get a few leaves up above the soil and she had already begun to blossom.  Since that time, I have been close to more than a few folks who were extraordinarily gifted in one way or another (the woman I am married to, for example, has spent the majority of her life developing her innate talent as an actor) and never once has anyone asked or demanded that I disregard the path I am following to help them follow theirs.  But I was young and insecure with a generous dollop of foolishness. Perhaps I did us both a favor and perhaps I missed out on a great adventure.

A few years later I heard that Shirley had auditioned for the chorus line in The Ice Follies and had gotten the job. Good for her. She probably has grandchildren now. I wonder if she takes them skating.

 

 

 

Cinderella’s Wedding 3

This is the concluding part of the Cinderella’s Wedding story. If you haven’t read the first two parts yet, you can go over to the right column and find them. Happy reading!

______________________________________________________

After the Wedding ceremony the evening before, Cinderella and Tony were at the head of the table for the formal dinner party that was presented on the main deck as the boat cruised back around Santa Catalina. After that, we didn’t see much of them. I assumed that they were below decks changing and packing for their Honeymoon.

The food was very good and in plentiful amounts for that dinner. When it began, Bill leaned over to me and said, “we may as well make pigs of ourselves, once we get into open sea, it’s all going to come right back up.”

I raised my wine glass to him. “Here’s to fish food.”

We gripped our forks and forged ahead, determined to ruin the galley’s production schedule. Course after course of top-level cuisine kept appearing in front of us. Finally, stuffed to the eyebrows with Wedding cake, ice cream, and champagne, we painfully pushed back from the table.

Ian approached us with a box of Dramamine motion sickness capsules he’d purchased in Avalon. “It’s about to start,” he said grimly. “I just took two. How many do you want?”

Bill opted for two himself, but I demurred. “I think I’ll wait. If it gets bad, I may be back.” As they found some comfortable chairs near the rail, I felt the ship make a slow turn toward the mainland and I went up on deck to see what was ahead of us.

I have seen some truly beautiful sights in my short existence. I have seen  the pastel light of dawn on the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, I have seen the river-carved red rock canyons of Utah, I have seen the rolling green lushness of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. And I have seen  the city lights at night of Southern California from the foredeck of a boat 25 miles out in the ocean. From Malibu in the North all the way down to Laguna Beach, it’s a glittering, golden, living thing. And it’s entirely accidental.

No one ever said, “Let’s put some really ugly stuff here – refineries, slums, junkyards. I know it’s a repulsive mess up close but from far away, by night, it’ll be magnificent!”

I was caught up in the loveliness of the view for a long time before the thought hit me that something strange was going on. Or rather, something wasn’t going on. The boat was not bounding up and down, or rolling side to side. It was as solid and stable as a deck nailed to the back of a house in Nebraska. I turned to go get the others to show them when I saw Victoria, Tricia, and Evie walking arm-in-arm, singing some silly song. Knowing some of the lyrics, I was compelled to add my not perfectly in tune but  always eager baritone.

There was a space right at the point of the bow where we could thrust ourselves out over the rail and pretend to be a small flock of geese flying low over the water.  Then we sang some old show tunes and I tried to teach them to dance the Old Soft Shoe (step-brush-ball-change, step-brush-ball-change, step-brush-ball-change, ball-change, ball-change). This would have been easier had I known how to do the dance myself.

Tricia and I went back to the saloon to get Ian and Bill, but the effects of taking too much Dramamine had made them both morose and drowsy. “We can see fine from here,” they mumbled, so back up to the foredeck we went without them.

While we were straining to see if we could make out the Hollywood sign on the distant mountainside, Evie said, “Look at that. What is that?” She pointed out a bright light in the sky moving parallel to the shoreline. We could see the lights of commercial jetliners lining up to land at John Wayne Airport and LAX, but they were lower and following the legally prescribed air lanes over the city. This light was much higher and moving in a completely different direction. All four of us watched as it moved Northwest over the city, then it seemed to hesitate.

“Has it stopped?” someone asked.

“It looks that way,” I said. “But I don’t think helicopters fly at that altitude.”

Suddenly whatever it was shot straight up at an amazing speed and then vanished. Four mouths gaped open.

“Oh my God.. Did you see that?”

“It was a UFO! We saw a UFO!” Cheering and bouncing up and down, we hooted with elation.

****

Ian pushed his wet hair out of his face and hooked it behind his ears. As he leaned back against the tile coping he said, “What do you think? Should we go back through Utah, or go East and turn North at Albuquerque?”

“Or you could just stay here in Palm Springs for another day,” Vicki said as she sank down, leaving only her face and bikini top above the bubbling hot water of the spa. “Cindy and Tony are in Acapulco for at least another week and I’ve got the condo to myself.”

“Can’t do it folks, sorry,” Bill said. “I was barely able to get someone to cover my class on Friday. I’ve got to be there tomorrow. And I’ve got to be there by noon, otherwise there’ll be a whole class of undergraduate Physics nerds having pencil fights and dueling with their slide rules.”

“I saw a newspaper over by the pool when we came out,” Victoria said. “If it’s the Times, they’ll have a weather page.”  While Tricia and Ian got out of the spa to look for it, I laid back and thought about the crazy places we’d been so far – the car ride, then the boat to Catalina, the Wedding, the trip back and the UFO, and now here we were, the next morning, sitting in a spa in Palm Springs.

The weather page reported a heavy winter storm moving from the Sierras into Utah that day which made us all agree on the Southern route through Phoenix and Albuquerque. Even allowing for a couple of extra hours, we thought we could be back in Laramie by 11 Monday morning.

Tricia and Vicky made us a nice breakfast and we were on our way by Noon.

Too uncomfortable to sleep in a moving car, I volunteered to drive the graveyard shift. “On one condition,” I added. “Somebody has to stay awake and talk to me.” Ian said he would, so that night around midnight, the little red Maverick pulled into a truckstop near Flagstaff and I went inside to buy a giant cup of coffee to go. When I got back to the car, bladders had been emptied, people had rearranged themselves, and I slipped behind the wheel.

Ian stuck to his job as designated entertainer until about 3 o’clock when I asked him a question, got no answer, and glanced over to see him fast asleep with his head against the side window. A quick look around the car and I knew I was on my own.

We came through Santa Fe and then Taos in the darkness. About twenty minutes further on, my rear-view mirrors suddenly lit up with flashing red lights. A police car had come up behind me and snapped on the full “pull over immediately or you’ll regret it” display. When this happens to anyone the normal reaction is their heart speeds up, their palms get sweaty, and they frantically wonder what they did that was wrong. After a night of lots of caffeine and no sleep, it was like being hit with a defibrillator.  While my brain was wrestling with a torrent of paranoid thoughts, my shaking hands were wrestling the car over onto the shoulder.

In the mirror I saw the cop get out of his car. Not wanting to disturb my friends’ sleep, I got out to go talk to him. Big mistake. As soon as he saw me emerge from the car he pulled his gun out of its holster and yelled, “Stop right there! Put both hands on top of your head! Now!” I quickly complied.

The cop was young, slightly built, and looked even more frightened than I was. He made me sprawl, spread-eagle, across the hood of the car as he patted me down. Then he shined his flashlight through the windows at the three half-asleep, squinting faces within. He collected my license and the car’s registration and told me to get back into the Maverick.

“Put your hands on the wheel and don’t move them,” he said. “Thirty minutes ago an all-night cafe in Taos was robbed at gunpoint. The guy took off in a red sedan. I’m going back to my car to radio this in.”

During the wait, the other three decided that there was nothing to do but to go back to sleep, and they did. Finally the cop got out of his car and I rolled down the window. He looked relieved as he handed back the papers.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, sir,” he said. “They just caught the guy down by Espanola. You’re free to go.”

I was able to drive another hour on adrenaline.  We gassed up in Trinidad and Bill and I switched places. “Okay,” he said as he speeded up onto I-25. “It’s 5 am. We’ve got 7 hours to drive across Colorado and up to Laramie or my ass is grass. And the Physics department is the lawnmower. If we get busted for speeding, I’ll pay the fine.”

Too exhausted to care about how comfortable the tight little back seat was, I soon fell asleep.  A few hours later the Maverick was on Highway 287, North of Fort Collins, and going through Owl Canyon. The serpentine road was making the car sway back and forth and my rolling head banging against the window glass woke me up.

“How are we doing?” I croaked.”

Ian glanced back over the seat. “It’s 11:15 and we’ve got about fifty miles to go. It’s gonna be close.”

At five minutes to 12, we pulled up in front of Bill’s apartment and he was pulling off his wrinkly, smelly shirt as he ran up the walk. He piled back into the car still buttoning up a clean shirt and we dropped him off in front of the Sciences building at 12:10. He had made it.

Epilogue

Six weeks after the Wedding on the Boat, Cinderella and Tony got divorced. Among other things, she found out that he had lied to her about his age – he was 7 or 8 years older than he had told her – and that the condo in Palm Springs was in the process of being repossessed. He seems to have disappeared after that. For all she knows, he may be under the foundations of one of the big casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

After she got back from the Honeymoon, Cindy had the two rolls of film that I had given to her developed and printed.  Evidently some small part in the mechanism had come loose and was sticking out and scratching the film as it rolled through the camera. Every picture came back with a thick, black line running through it.

 

 

Cinderella’s Wedding 2

If you haven’t yet read “Cinderella’s Wedding 1”, I suggest you read that first. This will make more sense if you do.

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There was a deep, rumbling vibration, the kind that is felt more than heard, and the sound of water gurgling under the floor. My mind tried to fit those noises into the dream I was having and failed, and I struggled into consciousness. I poked my head out from under the covers and looked around. Every detail that slowly came into focus only added to the disorientation. The room was triangular and the walls were thickly-painted steel. There were two windows, but they were round.

The tumblers finally clicked into place. Oh, yeah, I’m on a boat.

The ride was very smooth. The noises, now identified, became comforting. Through a porthole, I watched the mansions on Balboa Island slip by. Soon I burrowed back down into bed and fell back asleep.

The second time, things were quite different. The bed I was on suddenly dropped from under me and I woke up weightless and falling. A second later the bed rose up under me, caught and pushed me back up a foot or two, then dropped away again. I swung my feet out and onto the floor. Holding onto anything that presented itself, I lurched my way across the pitching and rolling funhouse floor to the far door.  Turning left, I fell into a bathroom. caught myself by grabbing a sink with both hands, and threw up into it.

I found out later that after we had gotten underway, it took about 45 minutes to traverse an inland waterway that was glass-smooth. But once out past the breakwater, the boat was suddenly in open ocean. That day there was a gentle 10-12 mile-per-hour Westerly breeze which was barely enough to create whitecaps on the waves it instigated. But these waves were enough to not only cause the boat to rock in the water back-to-front, but also, because the waves were hitting the boat at an angle, roll the craft side-to-side. To the average landlubber, this can be disconcerting. Suddenly the surface you are standing on is rising and falling, tilting and rocking.

I cleaned up the sink, washed my face, brushed my hair, threw up again, and shaved. I managed to get myself dressed and presentable with only one more dash to the “head” (I remembered the term from an old submarine movie). I picked up my camera, made sure it had a fresh roll of film, and headed back to the main cabin or “saloon”.

The night before I had mentioned to Cinderella that I had brought my little 35mm camera. She was thrilled. Evidently, Tony (“Don’t worry, Babe, I’ll take care of everything.”) had forgotten to hire a camera guy and suddenly I was The Wedding Photographer. I was charged to get pictures of everyone in attendance and the ceremony itself. Luckily for me, along with such wedding tropes as white dresses, Cinderella didn’t really believe in posed “pictures of the happy couple.” Candids would be fine. Wishing I had an official canvas vest with lots of little pockets to put things in, I set off to fulfill my responsibility.

The Saloon, which was in the middle of the yacht and the aft deck, one flight up, were where I found most of the passengers. Nearly everyone was seasick, despite the fact that the middle and rear of the boat were a lot more stable than my little room up front had been. I soon realized that I was comparatively lucky. Most of the people were ashen-faced and either clinging to the rail or suddenly pushing themselves out over it to heave.  I was among a smaller group of folks who’d suddenly get nauseous, run to the rail, let fly, and then feel fine afterward.  I mistimed one of these when the ship was swaying the wrong direction, and my breakfast splattered on the handrail next to a crewman. I shouted down that I’d be right down to clean it up, but he told me not to worry about it. I guessed that clean-up detail was part of their duties.

There were a few people on board that the motion of the ship didn’t affect in the least. One of these was Victoria whose natural perkiness had been turned up to 10 by the sun and the sea breeze.

“Hey Billy! Howareya doing?” she grinned, ruffling Bill’s red hair, “I heard there were some dolphins out there earlier. Did you see them?”

Bill pulled his chin off the rail, turned his pallid face and bloodshot eyes to her, and told her he would gladly throw her overboard if he only had the strength.

“You’re so funny!” she said, unfazed, and went to spread some cheer elsewhere. As long as Bill had his face up, I said, “smile!” and took his picture.

Cinderella had asked me to get pictures of as many of the wedding guests as I could. Although most of my subjects were not feeling, or looking, quite their best, I kept snapping away. At one point, I went looking for Nancy and Evie, Cindy’s mother and sister, and I was finally told that they had taken over the bathroom next to the saloon and hadn’t been seen for quite some time. On the pretext of needing to ask Nancy a question, I got her to open the door and was able to get a couple of pictures before they threw me out. I thought it would make a homey scene. A mother and her daughter, sitting on the floor on either side of the toilet, taking turns at the bowl.

In a deck chair near the rail, Ian sat stolidly. His face had a gray tinge, and his eyes were sunken and hollow. When I asked how he was doing, he replied, “I’m not going to get sick. I refuse.” Ian was and always has been one of the most competitive people I know. He had reduced his state to a battle of wills between himself and  Nausea. My recommendation that he just let it go and see if he felt better afterward was met with a stony silence. So I went off to take some more pictures and have fun with Tricia and Vicky.

At about ten-thirty that morning, the boat entered Avalon Harbor and dropped anchor.

There is one small city on Santa Catalina. It is called Avalon and for sheer loveliness it can give the Italian cities on the Amalfi Coast a run for their money. Little brightly-colored houses and small hotels climb up the hills that surround a circular harbor. At anchor, while we waited our turn in the little water taxi to go ashore, I watched the people who had just been terribly ill laughing and talking to each other. It was, especially in Bill and Ian’s case, like watching the dead come back to life.

We spent several hours walking around the little town, eating sandwiches in a small cafe, and going out to one arm of the harbor to see the Avalon Ballroom. In the Big Band era, pleasure boats would put ashore hundreds of dressed-to-the-nines couples to dance there into the wee hours with Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.

We did see Tony and his friends around an outdoor table at one of the local bars. While we had changed to shorts and casual shirts, the Lounge Lizards’ only concession to the weather was taking off their sport jackets and loosening their ties.  They returned our waves with a “who the hell are those geeks?” look and went back to hammering hard liquor.

As the end of the day neared, we were back aboard the boat which was chugging it’s way around the island to a secluded bay on the North side. As we were staying close to shore, the water was calm and everyone was healthy and excited about the upcoming  ceremony. Being the semi-official Wedding Photographer, I was allowed to penetrate the largest of the cabins where Cinderella and Victoria, her Maid of Honor, were getting ready. One of Tony’s friends, a tall, dark, nervous-looking fellow who was holding a trumpet, was trying to convince Cinderella to let him play a song on it as she approached the groom during the ceremony.

“I used to play this horn professionally, honey. I can play anything – you name it.”

“I haven’t thought about a song. Tony and I don’t have a song.”

“I can think of something. It’ll be perfect.”

“All right,” Cinderella relented. “Play what you want. Just as long as it isn’t the God-damned Wedding March or something like that, okay?”

“You got it, babe,” he said as he left the cabin fingering the valves on his trumpet.

Forty-five minutes later the boat was anchored, the sun was setting, and everyone was up on the aft deck to watch the ceremony. I noticed that Tony’s friend, the trumpet player, had climbed a short mast and scrambled into a small crow’s nest. There he stood, instrument in hand, waiting for the bride to appear.

At one end of the deck stood the ship’s captain in his dress whites. Standing next to him were Tony and one of his friends, wearing tuxes that would have made Sinatra proud. There was a sudden hush, and the people at the other end of the deck stepped back. Cinderella, in her beautiful purple gown, was standing there. Victoria, wearing a simple, yellow gown was beside her.

Cindy has always been a lovely woman, but in that dress, in the warm, end-of-day light, she was dazzling.

With a happy smile, the Bride began walking slowly toward her Groom at the other end of the deck. From the crow’s nest, a solo trumpet began to play. The song he had chosen? “The Impossible Dream.”