Category Archives: Stories

Two Pennies

Two weeks ago Frank’s breakfast buddies suggested over their omelets that they all go to the opening of a ballroom dancing school. Anyone showing proof of being on Social Security got in free.
Before Frank could respond, a woman in a flamboyant caftan and large dangling earrings entered the restaurant and immediately stopped in front of Frank and pointed.
“Are you married?”
“No.” He unconsciously reached for the gold band on his left hand.
Without another word she walked away, disappearing in the crowd.
“That was weird,” Charley observed. “As I was saying, let’s have a guys’ night out where we get to touch some old broads without getting slapped. What do you say, Frank?”
“I don’t know,” he demurred. “I have two left feet, and Joan had two right feet so it seemed to work out okay. But me with a woman with two normal feet, well, that could prove embarrassing.”
“Look, you’ll probably never see any of these women again, so why do you care?” Charley asked.
“You guys are overlooking the main word in this conversation,” Ralph interjected. “Free. We can’t break the old fart’s creed. Never pass up anything free.”
So on the night of the opening Frank dressed, not really knowing what to think. He heard Charley honk. The time to think was over. It was time to go. The dance school was in an old car repair garage. Frank had gone there a few times until he realized there was a cheaper garage down the street. The parking lot was full. It was amazing how many people come out for something free.
Just as he stepped out of Charley’s car he looked down and saw a shiny penny on the ground. Legend had it when a person found a shiny penny someone who had died was letting them know everything was all right. His wife Joan wanted him to have a good time. Frank didn’t know if he believed in such things, but just for tonight he decided he wanted to, so he picked up the penny and put it in his pocket.
The old garage looked pretty good now. The grease on the floor had been cleaned up and replaced by wooden tiles. The whole place was painted black and mirrors covered every wall. A mirror ball twirled above, radiating twinkling lights everywhere, making everyone in attendance look twenty years younger.
Frank stopped in his tracks when he saw the woman in the middle of the room holding a microphone. She was slender and straight, wearing a white beaded jacket and black beaded short dress and looked just like Anne Bancroft. For the first time in years, Frank felt he was developing a crush on the woman who glittered like the Milky Way.
“I need a partner to show how easy dancing is,” she announced in a wonderful accent.
Frank couldn’t tell if she were Spanish or Italian. Either way, shivers went up and down his spine.
She pointed in his direction. “I choose you, the cute one. You know who you are.” Walking over to him, she took his hand and led him back to the center. “You handsome men, you always play hard to get.” She smiled. “Have you ever danced?”
“Not in a long time. I’m afraid I was never any good,” he whispered.
She patted his cheek. “And he’s shy too. Isn’t that adorable?”
Frank noticed her red fingernail polish matched her lipstick. Inhaling her perfume, he tried not to faint.
“Don’t be scared. We’ll start out easy. A waltz.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, the music began. Frank could hear the three-quarter time distinctly and moved his feet accordingly. The glittering woman melded into him and with her legs led him around the dance floor, creating the illusion that he knew what he was doing. He knew the tune well enough to know it was about over. He was relieved he had not embarrassed him, yet he had to admit he didn’t want to let her go.
“Dip me,” she whispered.
Now dipping was something Frank knew how to do. It was his favorite cheap trick and his wife Joan loved it. He moved his left hand up to support her head and the right went to the small of her back—which he noticed was, indeed, very small. Then he gently bent her backwards and smiled. What he wasn’t expecting was that she planted a kiss on his lips. They immediately came back up, and the crowd applauded with enthusiasm.
“Ladies, ladies,” the woman in sequins announced. “You must dance with this man! He is very strong!”
The next two hours were both pleasurable and frustrating. Frank ended up dancing with every old woman in the house, each one wanting to be dipped. On the other hand, Frank kept an eye on the dance instructor and try as he may, he was not able to get close to her for a return performance. His buddies patted him on the back.
“I didn’t know you had it in you,” Charley said.
“When she kissed you I thought you were going down for the count,” Ralph added.
The three of them had almost decided to put out the dough for a month’s lessons when the glittery woman took the microphone back to the center of the dance floor.
“Thank you all so much for attending the grand opening of my ballroom dance school. Enrollment forms are on the table by the door. But most of all, I want to thank my husband. After he retired he agreed to turn his auto repair shop into this beautiful ballroom. David, please come out and take a bow.”
A tall, bald fat man lumbered out wearing black slacks and an oversized black shirt. She practically jumped into his arms, landing a big, long kiss. How she found his lips through that bushy beard, Frank would never figure out.
“Tough luck, pal,” Charley muttered.
“Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here,” Ralph added.
Frank was about to climb into the backseat of Charley’s car when he looked down and saw another penny which he swore was in the same place of the penny he picked up going in. But this one was dirty and smudged. Joan was trying to tell him something. Maybe like even though the evening didn’t turn out the way he wanted, she’d always be with him. Or something like that.
Frank left the dirty penny on the ground.

The Future Me

When I awoke this morning I was confused. Looking down at me was my mother. She’s been dead for fifty years, but there she was, looking as young and beautiful as I remembered from my childhood.
“And how is Jerry this morning?” she asked.
I was so dumbfounded. I could not find the words to respond. This bald man came up, put his arm around my mother’s shoulder and smiled.
“Look, Daddy, Jerry is wide awake and ready for breakfast.”
Okay, this man was not my father. My father was not bald and he rarely if ever smiled. Mother picked me up and handed me to this man she called Daddy. How this guy could hold me I could not figure out. I was a two hundred pound old man. For that matter how could my mother pick me up? And when I was the size for my father to carry, he never did. At least I did not remember him carrying me. There was something terribly wrong about this situation. They were calling me Jerry and that was my name. The woman looked very much like my mother. And this man was a complete stranger.
“Bring Jerry in here, Anthony,” the woman called out from the kitchen.
Now I was really confused. My father’s name was Grady. And I never knew anyone named Anthony until my daughter started dating. My daughter, where was she? For that matter, where was my wife? And why was I peeing in my pants? I hadn’t peed in my pants in more than sixty years.
“I’ve got to change his diaper first, Heather,” this man trying to pass himself off as my father said. My real father never changed a diaper in his life.
I wrinkled my tiny brow. He called my mother Heather. My mother’s name was Florida. My daughter’s name was Heather. All this confusion made me very unhappy. The only thing I could think to do was cry.
“Why is the baby crying?” Heather called out from the kitchen.
“If your pants were wet you’d cry too,” this man who called himself Anthony said.
After he changed my diaper, I began to feel hungry. Bacon and eggs would taste good, I thought. Maybe not. I now could not rightly remember what bacon and eggs tasted like. I had bad dreams all the time. My wife could usually tell me what they meant, but at this moment I could not remember her name. I did remember how good that bottle of milk tasted. My father—whatever his actual name was—was pretty good slipping it between my little lips.
I decided he was not so bad. I looked at my mother and knew I had loved her a long time, way back in a past that was fading away and into a future that was brand new yet so familiar. Maybe even better.
Author’s note: This is, of course, sort of a fantasy. I already have a grandson named Liam.

The Southland Life

Luncheon meetings in the Southland Life dining room bored William Gatesworth Gordon III to distraction. Yet another corporation tried to convince Gordon and his fellow members of First Bank Corporation Board of Directors to invest millions in its latest project. The top floor of the tallest building in Dallas did not impress him one bit. After all, it was 1975, and everything impressive had already been built years ago.
This food was not going to impress him. The strawberries were not any plumper or fresher than the fruits served by his own kitchen staff at his estate on White Rock Lake in Highland Park, which at one time was considered the most exclusive neighborhood in Dallas. Then that peasant oilman H.L. Hunt built his gaudy replica of Mount Vernon and brought housing values down.
The giant shrimp cocktail was tough and not quite the right shade of pink.
Now, on top of everything else, he was seated next to this gawky young man with an ill-fitting suit coat that did not match his trousers. One could only hope he would have the good manners not to engage him in conversation. No such luck. Before he could take another bite Gordon found a pale scrawny hand stuck in his face.
“I’m filling in today for Al Altwig, business editor of the Dallas Morning News. He was called away at the last minute. He left me his coat to wear which, I’m afraid, is a bit too large for me.”
After a brief handshake which Gordon used as an excuse to push the young man’s arm out of his food, the banker returned his attention to his shrimp and strawberries.
“I’m afraid I’m not fully aware of the details of the Georgia Pacific proposal to First Bank. I was only told about the meeting about thirty minutes ago.”
“They want our money. That’s about the extent of it.” Gordon sipped his Bloody Mary and found it inadequate. He looked around for the waiter who was attending to another suited gentleman two tables away. “Excuse me. Could you get me a fresher stalk of celery?”
“All I know is that it’s for a project centered in a small town in northern Georgia,” the young man added nervously. “It would create a lot of jobs, which would be a good thing, don’t you think?”
Gordon grimaced as he took another sip of his cocktail, thinking a new stalk of celery would not help the taste of his drink. “I think people should be responsible for finding their own jobs. No one ever handed me a job. I had to work for it. Business administration master’s degree from Southern Methodist University. Internship at First Bank and then vice-president.”
“That’s very impressive. Your parents must be very proud.”
“Of course they are.”
“Their investment in your education paid off well.”
“Of course it did.”
“And they provided you with the best pediatric care as a child. You attended the best schools and were always assured that your best efforts would always be rewarded generously.”
Gordon slowly turned his head to stare at the impertinent young newsman. “And what exactly are your duties at the Dallas Morning News?”
“I open the mail addressed to the business news page, edit stories and write headlines.”
“And they allowed you to attend this very important function?” Gordon raised his left eyebrow.
“As I told you, it was an emergency.”
“Hmph, I didn’t realize the Dallas News was employing socialists now.”

The Split

After six miserable months living with his girlfriend Gail, Joe decided it was time to call it quits.
What had he been thinking? Sure, she was a gorgeous blonde. Smart as hell and could whip up the strongest cocktails this side of Manhattan, including a manhattan that could knock you on your ass. Joe knew what he was thinking. This was the hottest chick that had ever talked to him for more than two minutes. She had wandering hands and knew how to use them. While she was squeezing his ass she could list ten reasons why the American Revolution was going to succeed and by the time she listed ten reasons why the Articles of Confederation were doomed to fail Joe’s eyes were going back up into his head.
All the problems began when Gail brought her things over to the apartment to move in.
“What a pigsty. Don’t you ever clean this dump?”
Joe would have been insulted but her sharp tongue immediately went down his throat. A little housecleaning would not hurt anything. In fact, it was rather nice knowing exactly where the remote control was at any given time. Except that Gail had hounded him into cleaning. She cleaned up after herself but she regularly informed him she never accommodated slobs.
Next came the food.
“What is this eating out of cans? We’re not hobos.” Again she softened the edge of her criticism by sticking a finger in the pork and bean can, smearing it on Joe’s cheek and licking it off. “You taste better than the beans.”
Gail herself was an excellent cook but she swore it was her duty in life to bring Joe up to her culinary standards, not sink to his. Within a few weeks, he was chopping vegetables with speed and accuracy and mastered the technique of bringing the pot to a quick boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer, occasionally stirring.
The last straw, however, came as they lay in bed and she ran her long taut fingers across his stomach and chest.
“God, you call that a body? I gotta get your ass in shape.” Even though she immediately rolled on top of him and began a vigorous massage, Joe felt he had reached his limit.
No amount of erotic stimulus was worth the total transformation Joe was undergoing. He got a headache trying to figure out how she could be so sexually attracted to him while obviously repulsed by everything else about him. The relationship had to end. But when? How? He could not tell her in the apartment. She knew where every knife in the kitchen was, and he had seen her splay a chicken in twenty seconds.
Joe read the newspaper every day, and he had yet to come across a story of anyone being murdered in the aisles of Wal Mart. An old woman had pulled a gun on some guy who tried to steal her purse once, but she didn’t shoot. He, however, did soil his pants. At this point, Joe would endure a prominent brown stain on the seat of his pants rather to evolve into some perfect man which he did not want to be. The hard part would be to convince Gail to shop at Wal Mart.
“Wal Mart? That crap?” she said the next day in the car.
“The people in the office, we thought it would be a good idea to buy stuff for poor people. The last quarterly statement was too good. We don’t want the public to think we’re rich snobs, you know.”
“Good point. Wal Mart’s good enough for them.”
As he pushed a cart down an aisle, Joe began slowly, “Gail, you know I think you’re great and all—“
“Look at these amazing short shorts!”
Joe had to stop the buggy abruptly to keep from hitting two teen-aged girls who were examining a rack of shorts and tank tops.
“They don’t have a size big enough to cover that baby bump of yours,” Gail mumbled as she jerked the cart from around them.
“Gail,” Joe continued, “I think you’ve sacrificed too much for me.”
“Well, it’s been a shared sacrifice,” she replied with a smile.
“Occupy Wal Mart! Occupy Wal Mart!” A group of people of all ages carrying placards marched toward them.
Gail quickly turned the cart down another aisle.
“Blow back prices! Blow back prices!” the protesters chanted.
“Man, cave dwellers make me sick,” she whispered, looking back at the marchers in disgust.
“Actually, they may have a point,” Joe said softly.
“As a matter of fact, I’ve noticed that about you, Joe.” Gail looked at him, her eyes narrowed. “What’s normal to you isn’t necessarily normal for me.” She paused. “I think you need a new normal.”
Joe grinned impishly. “Isn’t that like telling your little dog to change?”
She shook her head. “I’m not a pet parent. I’m a girl friend.”
“Which brings me to my doubts about our future.”
“Don’t worry.” Gail patted his hand. “We can win the future.”
Just at that moment they entered another aisle intersection blocked by the protesters. One man was on a bull horn.
“They all said us poor people had to be patient and wait for the money to trickle down to us. Well, I, for one, am tired of waiting for that trickleration. It feels more than a trickeration to me!”
The crowd roared its approval. Gail grabbed the cart handle from Joe, lowered her head and slammed ahead through the protesters.
“Hey, lady, get your ginormous ass out of my way!”
Gail was busy putting canned beans in the cart by the time Joe caught up with her. He had taken a few minutes apologizing to the woman, saying her posterior was in a proper proportion to the rest of her body. Joe then had to explain to the security guards who were escorting the protesters out of the store that he wasn’t one of them. The woman with the big butt put in a good word for him, and Joe went on his way to find Gail.
“Where the hell have you been? If I have to stay in this store any longer I’m going to kill somebody!”
Joe closed his eyes. “I wish you wouldn’t put it that way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Listen, you’re the hottest girl I ever went to bed with. I could listen to you talk about history, philosophy and geology all day. But you’re driving me nuts! I like who I am. I don’t want to be cleaner. I want to eat out of a can. And I don’t want to do a hundred pushups every day!”
Gail slapped Joe and stormed away. His face was still stinging when a sixtyish year old man in a Wal Mart apron came up and smiled.
“Wal Mart thanks you in advance for leaving your cart in the designated area in the parking lot.”

I Get Lost Easily

(Author’s note: this story was written as an exercise in using wildly different phrases. They were the titles of the plays on the schedule at the local community theater: Oklahoma, Moonlight and Magnolias, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and Born Yesterday. See if you can find them all.)
I have to confess. I get lost easily. Very easily.
My wife and I joked the best way to learn your way around in a new big city was to get lost on its streets for several hours. However, when our son was being born, getting lost was no laughing matter.
I had just started a new job at the Oklahoma City newspaper as a copyeditor on the night shift. My wife was due any moment; in fact, she was past due, and I was getting worried.
“Maybe I shouldn’t go to work tonight because you’re in extreme pain which comes and goes, but mostly coming.”
“Don’t fret,” she said. “I can always call a taxi and phone you from the hospital.”
The trouble with that was I hadn’t been to the Oklahoma City hospital yet, only the doctor’s office. So wouldn’t you know it, at about 10 p.m. I get a call from my wife saying she was in the emergency room, and the baby was due any second. I went to the old, balding man who was in charge of the copyediting desk that night. I told him I had to go. I was about to become a father.
He arched his eyebrow and rolled his stubby cigar around his lips. “I don’t understand. Are you the doctor?”
“No, I’m just the father. But my wife told me to get to the hospital as soon as possible.”
“Oh hell. I had five kids, and wasn’t there for any of their births, and they turned out okay. My ex-wife and them live in California now, and they get to go to Disneyland all the time.”
“I don’t know if I could concentrate on editing stories and writing headlines because I’m so worried about my wife.”
“Oh hell, get out of here. Nobody nowhere wants to work no more.” That was a triple negative which was why he was the boss. He got his journalism degree somewhere in Texas which explained a lot.
All I knew was the address. My wife told me it was at the corner of Moonlight and Magnolias. You couldn’t miss it, everyone in the doctor’s office assured her. Well, she might not miss it, but I was so sure about myself. I was almost late to my wedding because I couldn’t find the church. She married me anyway but informed me on our honeymoon she had high expectations.
“I love you,” she said. “You’re perfect. Now change.”
The changes had been painfully slow, but nevertheless they had been forthcoming. They were not forthcoming fast enough, however, the night my son was born. I couldn’t find Moonlight or Magnolias anywhere. I stopped at a couple of convenience stores. The man behind the counter at the first one said in broken English he only knew how to get from his mother’s house to the store where he worked. The woman at the other store put her hands on her hips when I told her my wife was about to have a baby and I didn’t know how to get to the hospital.
“What’s wrong with you? Everybody knows where the hospital is.” She paused to cock her head. “Are you a Yankee?”
I didn’t know what to say. Maybe being a Yankee would make me more sympathetic, or it might make her get out her gun and shoot me. That might work because someone would have to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital at Moonlight and Magnolias.
“”Yes?” I replied timidly.
“Oh hell. That explains everything.” She came around the counter, took me by the hand, walked out the front door and pointed down the street. She talked very slowly. “The hospital is only three blocks away. And be sure to go in the emergency room entrance.”

Within minutes I was at the information desk and explained to the clerk that my wife had arrived at the emergency room earlier in the evening and was about to have our baby. I told her I would have been there sooner but I got lost.
“I get lost easily,” I said.
She pointed to a big clock on the wall, and its hands pointed to 12 and 45. “I don’t know anything about your baby. The shift changed at midnight, and he was born yesterday.”

The Chihuahua Who Saved Noel Coward

Author’s note: This story uses stronger language than I usually use. However, it is in memory of my 18-year-old Chihuahua who crossed the rainbow bridge last week. It’s vulgar and sweet all at the same time.
He strolled through the Plaza Hotel lobby looking quite natty in his brown tweed suit, bowler cocked slightly on his balding head and swinging his cane. With a flourish he signed the register.
Nov. 17, 1958. Noel Coward. London, England. Penthouse Suite.
His plans were to spend the rest of the afternoon in his suite, attend the world premiere of Mrs. Stone!, his musical adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. He would then host a cast party in the penthouse. The guests would beat a hasty retreat after reading dreadful reviews from all the major newspapers of New York. Noel Coward, one of the most successful writers of British comedy, then would go to the balcony, finish drinking the last of the champagne and step into the void of midnight.
“PeePee! PeePee! Come back here!”
Coward winced as he recognized the inimitable screech of his leading lady, Ethel Merman. He turned to see a Chihuahua scurrying across the marble floor followed by Ethel, her bosom flouncing and her bracelets clanging. Before he knew it, he felt scratching at his trousers.
Save me from that bitch! Please! Please! Please!
Coward was convinced; his extreme depression over the audacious failure of his play had pushed him over the brink. Why else would he consider suicide or think he heard a Chihuahua talking to him?
Pick me up, you idiot!
Resigning himself to madness, Coward picked up the dog which immediately starting licking him in the face.
Thank you! Thank you! I always knew you were a nice man!
“Noel! You caught that naughty little dog!” Ethel said as she walked up, her arms outstretched.
“Of course, Ethel, darling,” Coward said with a purr. “Anything for my star.”
Don’t hand me over to that bitch!
Ignoring the dog’s pleas he gently placed the Chihuahua into Ethel’s arms and bowed with grace.
Damn you! I hate you! No! No! I love you! Take me back! You’re the one I want! I hate you! I love you! I could love you if you give me a chance! Is any of this working on you?
Coward imagined everyone else in the lobby thought the dog’s pleading sounded like the typical yipping of a Chihuahua. It probably was, he told himself as he turned to the clerk and finished signing in.
I’ll get you for this, bitch! Yeah! I talking to you, bitch! No! No! I don’t mean it. You’re a wonderful humanitarian! Kind to old women, children, beggars and little dogs!
Soon Ethel and her Chihuahua were in the elevator, and Coward sighed in relief. A few moments later he took the same elevator to the penthouse suite and settled himself at the baby grand piano with the score of Mrs. Stone! in front of him. Most of the music was all right, passable, but the final song was no damn good. Mrs. Stone throws her room key down to the street where a shadowy young man picks it up and comes up to the apartment to do who knows what to her. Ethel, in a terrible blonde wig, blasted away every rehearsal trying to sell it. He knew she realized even she could not give that song away with free tea and crumpets.
He played the melody over and over again, trying to figure out what was wrong. It had to be sad but not maudlin. It had to express the emotions of an over-the-hill movie star who was never going to be loved again. And the lyrics. They were impossible. They were dripping with self-pity. Who wanted to listen to that?
A soft scratching at the door interrupted his thoughts. When he opened it, Coward saw Ethel Merman’s dog, staring up at him with his enormous Chihuahua eyes.
I forgive you. With that he pranced into the room. Nice digs.
“So pleased you approve,” Coward replied acidly as he shut the door and walked back to the piano. He sat down and returned to playing his music, hoping an idea would spring into his mind.
You know that song is really crappy?
He stopped abruptly and picked the dog up and stared him in the face. “Now see here,” he paused. “What the deuce is your name?”
PeePee. That’s because I’m the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard.
“Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but Ethel named you Pepe, a common Spanish name. In her infinite stupidity she mispronounces it.”
No way! Oh. Hmph. That sounds like something that stupid bitch would do. Damn. I feel like a fool.
Coward could not stand to see the little dog so disappointed. He hugged him close to his cheek and placed him on the piano bench. “But, it could mean the other thing. Actually, you do have rather impressive equipment for a dog of your breed.”
Thank you. PeePee licked his hand. You’re a very nice man.
“I really don’t understand why you don’t like Ethel,” Coward said. “She’s quite sweet. And she truly adores you, don’t you know.”
I know. She’s all right. But look at these honking ears I got on me. The way she jangles those bracelets. And that damn voice of hers! It’s enough to split my eardrums!
“Well, I have to give you that.” Coward returned to playing the piano. “So you think my song is crappy?”
You bet. It’s supposed to be about this old broad who ain’t getting laid, right?
“How perceptive.”
Okay, this old broad wants it bad enough to throw the key down to any guy on the street. The last thing she’s going to sing about is love. Poor me, nobody loves me.
“And your point is?”
She don’t want love. She wants to get laid. Sex, that’s what she wants!
“And what, pray tell, would you know about sex?”
Hey, I’m PeePee, the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard. What do I not know about sex? When the old broad takes me to Central Park and puts me on the ground, I have my choice of the bitches.
“Not all, I’m sure.”
Yeah, I mean all. Those Great Dane bitches can’t get enough of PeePee.
“Great Danes, oh, come now.”
Listen, you get a running start, jump, grab hold of the tail with both legs and, humpity, humpity, humpity, it’s showtime.
“Very well, since you’re the expert, what would you recommend?”
First off, get real with the words, man. She don’t want love. She wants sex. Hot sex. Sweaty body to body action.
“Very well.” Coward took a pen and started scribbling some new lyrics. He stopped and looked at them. “You know, this isn’t half bad.”
What do you expect? Hey, I’m PeePee. Now the music. Start out easy and soft, you know, like foreplay, then it gets faster and harder. Maybe ease off a little then. Make ‘em want it. Then slam bam thank ya ma’am. That’ll get butts out of the seats clapping.
Coward wrinkled his brow as his hands furiously pounded the keys. “I think you’re right.” After a few moments of passionate inspiration, Coward notated his new song on composition paper. Only a loud rapping at the door interrupted him.
“Noel! Is PeePee in there?”
Oh God, it’s the bitch.
“Just a minute, Ethel,” he called out as he finished his scribbling. “Come in, darling.
“PeePee! You bad little boy!” She marched to the piano and picked up the dog.
“Ethel, my dear, you must look at your new final number.”
“New song? On opening night? You must be crazy!”
He played it through a couple of times as she read the lyrics. Coward knew he had won her over when he saw tears forming in her eyes and she clutched the dog.
Watch it, bitch! You’re squeezing too tight!
“Oh Noel,” she gasped. “It’s a miracle. I haven’t sung anything this good since, I don’t know, when I was first on Broadway.”
“Don’t ruin the moment by comparing me to Cole Porter, darling.”
She put the dog down. “Go run and play, PeePee. Mommy and Daddy have got to practice this song.”
They rehearsed the rest of the afternoon until she was comfortable with every nuance and key change. Ethel gave Coward a big hug, picked up PeePee and left. He walked to the penthouse balcony and smiled. He might not have to jump after all.
That night, Coward watched from the wings. No one left at intermission. That was a good sign. The audience loved the choreography. They even laughed at the jokes. And the songs were, as he anticipated, bearable. The finale was upon them. Ethel, in her blonde wig, went to the window, threw down the key and turned to the audience. Then the music began. For once in her career, Ethel did not belt out a song. She barely croaked. Coward watched the audience members sit up and lean forward.
“Nobody loves me, so what?
Nobody wants a movie star that’s old, that’s what.
So I don’t care, I don’t want love.
I want sex!
I want to feel hot flesh next to mine!
I want sex!
I don’t want love!
I want to feel his sweat!
I want to feel his body pressing against me!
From now on this is the way it’s going to be!
Forget about love!
I want sex!”
For a moment the theater was quiet, and then it erupted in applause. Everyone was screaming and jumping up and down. The stage hand was about to bring down the curtain when Coward grabbed his arm.
“Don’t you dare.”
Ethel Merman, the queen of dramatic curtain calls, did not smile broadly and extend her arms to accept the audience’s adulation. She just stood there and cried. And cried. And cried for fifteen minutes. The crowd loved it. It loved her. Finally, someone screamed out, “Author! Author!”
Ethel rushed to the wings and dragged out Coward and planted a big kiss on his lips. Then she smiled and gestured to the old man of British comedy theater. Okay, he thought to himself, jumping from the balcony at midnight definitely was no longer on his schedule. Suddenly PeePee ran onto the stage barking. The audience even applauded him. Ethel bent down to pick him up, kissed him and handed him to Coward.
“He’s yours now,” she whispered. “After all, you gave me my career back. The least I can do is give you my dog.”
PeePee licked Coward’s face as he took him from Ethel.
“Thank you,” he said, nodding to her. Then he looked at PeePee. “And thank you.”
Don’t thank me, man. I had this planned all along.
“No, really. Thank you for saving my life.”
Hey, I’m PeePee, the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard. That’s what I do.
Coward held PeePee up with both hands toward the audience which screamed even louder. He then held the dog close to his cheek.
“Why?”
Why what?
“Why did you choose me?”
PeePee sniffed him.
You have the scent of a slight incontinence problem. I like that in a man.

The Ides of March

Author’s note: Beware, the language used is a little rougher than usual.
Beware, the ides of March are upon you.
Jeff awoke from a deep sleep and looked around his dark bedroom. He squinted, prying into every corner and the folds of each curtain.
All the live long day.
Shaking his head, Jeff realized the voice was actually singing in deep, sonorous tones. He turned to his wife to find her breathing peacefully, hardly making any sound at all.
You cannot get away.
Now Jeff shook to his inner core. What could this voice be? Its implication was ominous.
Oh don’t you hearing the whistle blowing?
Whistle, what whistle? Jeff didn’t hear any whistle. Leaning closer to his wife he put his ear next to her mouth. Nothing but soft breathing. The faint aroma of roasted peanuts. She hadn’t brushed her teeth again before coming to bed, that that still didn’t account for the foreboding tune.
Dinah, blow your horn.
He didn’t know a Dinah. His wife’s name was Susie, and she didn’t know how to blow a horn.
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah.
There better not be anyone in the kitchen with Susie or else somebody was going to get shot. Jeff had serious jealousy and anger management. That was why nobody ever came over for dinner anymore. No one wanted to be found dead in the kitchen with Susie.
Someone’s in the kitchen I know I know.
I wish Dinah would get out of my kitchen, Jeff muttered, and take her friend with her.
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, strumming on the old banjo.
Okay, dammit, Jeff fumed, I want these people to get the hell out of my house right now! He jumped from the bed and stormed into the kitchen. No one was there. The soft light of morning filtered through the slightly grungy windows. Susie hadn’t cleaned the windows in two months now. Maybe he would be better off with Dinah. There’s a good chance she’d keep a cleaner house than Susie did, but Jeff decided he couldn’t put up with that horn blowing through the night. Jeff jumped when he heard footsteps behind him.
“What are you doing up so early?” Susie asked while trying to stifle a yawn.
Jeff pointed to the kitchen windows. “I thought you were going to clean those damn windows.”
“Not in the damn middle of the night. Do you want some coffee?”
“Not if the pot is as dirty as the windows.”
“Have it your own way. I’m going back to bed.” Susie turned back to the bedroom. “And clean the damn windows yourself. Hell, you’re worse than an old woman.”
Beware, the ides of March are upon you.
Shit, there goes that voice again.
All the live long day.
The noise pushed Jeff to the brink. “Stop that damn singing!”
“Nobody’s singing, Jeff! Nobody’s making a sound except for you, and you’re a certified lunatic!” Susie screamed from the bedroom.
You cannot get away.
“Like hell, I can’t get away!” Jeff stomped to the hall closet, took out his shotgun, loaded it, and marched to the bedroom. Taking careful aim he unloaded both chambers into Susie’s back. The next thing Jeff noticed was someone on a bullhorn just outside the kitchen door.
“Put your weapon down, place your hands on your head and slowly come out!”
Jeff frowned. It was a woman’s voice.
“Neighbors called about a gunshot blast. Come out with your hands on your head. This is Officer Dinah Smith. Come out now.”
Jeff carefully put the rifle on the floor and walked back to the kitchen. He stopped at the kitchen door. “I can’t come out. I’m naked.”
“Put your hands on the kitchen table,” Officer Smith instructed him.
The door creaked open, and Jeff heard the footsteps of a woman wearing boots. There was another noise, like a paw scratching on the wooden floor. Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, Jeff thought. He wondered who it was.
“Okay, Banjo. Go see what you can find,” Dinah said.
Jeff lifted his head to see a large German Shepherd loping toward the bedroom. He could tell when the dog stopped, sniffed and scratch at the rifle on the floor. Banjo whined.
“What’s going on here, sir?” Dinah asked.
“I shot my wife for singing,” Jeff muttered, “but she wasn’t really singing. It was all in my head.” He felt Dinah’s rough hands grab his wrists and pull them behind him.
You cannot get away.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Dinah began reading him his rights in a monotone voice.
Jeff heard the kitchen door open and another pair of footsteps.
“Damn, Dinah. Why don’t you let the man have a little dignity and let him put some trousers on?”
“He just killed his wife,” Dinah snapped. “I don’t care if he freeze his skinny ass off.”
“You don’t mind if get him some clothes, do you?” the other officer asked.
“I’m busy with this report. You can do anything you want. The bedroom’s through that door.”
The other officer took a few steps, then Dinah called out, “By the way, what is today’s date?”
The officer replied, “March fifteenth.”
I told you, beware the ides of March.

It Was The World Back Then

Recently I was going through some old files and found this nostalgia piece I wrote in the early 1970s, about 50 years:

It was the world back then. A garden to be tilled, a home for rabbits and chickens and dogs. Oh yes, cats too.
That backyard was long and wider than I had the breath to run past. But, of course, I was always a puny kid.
Half of it for many years was a garden—corn in the back, then okra, many rows of potatoes and tomatoes, then radishes, cabbage and onions. Sometimes a few petunias if my mother was in the mood. They made adequate trumpets, I recall.
To keep the garden alive during those scorching, drought-tinged Texas summers of the mid-fifties, my father and mother put the garden house at the end of a row and let it run.
Much to their chagrin, I often decided to dam up the works and create a lake, with branches seeping from one row to another. This also provided plenty of mud for various products like mud pies. It also substituted for blood for my re-enactment of the Saturday war movie.
Then the hose was turned on me before I was allowed in the house.
But the garden isn’t there anymore. Not since my mother died.
The other half of the yard was for play—with my dogs. I always had a couple; then when one was run over and killed—which seemed altogether too common an occurrence—I still had one.
They would chase me, nipping at my heels, until I would fall down and cover my head. They would lick at my neck and I would squeal with delight.
I learned the facts of life from the cats. Kittens were as common as the rain wasn’t in those days. I can think of no better education than the excitement of gingerly crawling under the house, softly calling out the mother cat’s name and have her return with a pleasant meow. As I crawled closer, she would proudly roll over to show me her babies, their eyes still closed. If I dared pick them up too much they would not be there the next day. The mother would move them.
My father built a hutch in the back and tried raising rabbits once. But that was a futile venture because he wanted to eat them, and I wanted them as pets. Bantam chickens were safer, we both agreed only to eat the eggs. One day, however, I came home to find dead chickens over all the yard. One of the dogs acted sheepishly. I cried and then decided to grant amnesty. The law of the backyard was based on mercy.
And the playhouse. I could never forget that. It began as one small room with tin Royal Crown Cola signs for sides and roof. That didn’t seem large enough so I added another room and a wooden roof and a second floor.
To celebrate the expansion I invited a friend over to spend the night in the house with my brother and me. We watched “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and drank a concoction of mine made of Nehi orange, grape and strawberry and Upper Teen.
Then we ventured out for the night. The sky was clear and the moon full. It was joyous. We danced and frolicked in our underwear at midnight. My friend’s shorts had monkeys on them. I teased him, but secretly I was envious.
Somehow two rooms and a second floor didn’t seem enough. I doubled the bottom, had more lumber for roofing and even had a perch on top of the second floor.
A few years later my interest waned, and my father wanted me to tear it down, but I didn’t have the heart. He relented and tore it down himself. At one point he pushed apart two main posts and bore a strange resemblance to Sampson, I thought.
Now I come home occasionally and the yard has changed. As I said, there is no garden. It is now an expanse of grass. I only vaguely spot where the rabbit hutch and the wonderful playhouse sat.
The only things that are the same are the honeysuckle vines and mimosa trees I planted for my mother many years ago. The trees are quite stout now.
It makes me feel old.
The smell of the honeysuckle is still sweet and brings back the memories, though. I have honeysuckle growing outside the door of the home I share with my wife and son. It makes me feel good.
I want a large yard for my son to have adventures in, to learn responsibility in, a nice place to grow up.
But this yard, for all the world events that transpired within its reaches, seems so small now.

Fifty years later, I have to admit the yard was not always that wonderful. In fact, some memories are best kept where they belong—in the past. And as for the yard seeming so small, to this old man the world has grown much too large.

My First Flight

Companies don’t do this anymore, but a Tennessee newspaper flew me up from Texas for a job interview in 1970. The job only paid $135 a week. At the time I was making $125 a week at the Paris News. This was the first time I ever flew on an airliner.
A buddy in college had taken me up in a Piper Cub one time. We flew around the campus and to the next town. At one point he handed the steering column over to me. It was kinda neat and not too scary. As long as I could see the cows in the fields below me I knew I wasn’t really that high up.
I had to work until midnight Saturday, had Sunday off and then worked Monday morning then had the afternoon off. I asked to switch it to Monday afternoon without explanation, and my boss was nice enough not to ask any questions.
Sunday morning I drove out to tiny Paris airfield, climbed the steps to a commuter plane that didn’t look much bigger than the Piper Cub and took off, following the highways, to Dallas Love Field. I got a slightly larger plane and connected to Nashville then to Tri-Cities Airport located between Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City, Tennessee.
The managing editor picked me up and drove me to the newspaper office. It was a second story rat hole, but he said a new, ultramodern building was under construction.
Then he mentioned my letter to him in which I revealed I had never flown commercially so I didn’t know if the plane ticket was in the right price range. Instead of being impressed with my concern to save the newspaper money, he lectured me on being too honest about my naiveté.
“Never let anyone know how inexperienced I was in the ways of the world,” he said. “If anyone asks you if you’ve traveled much, lie,” he continued, “and say you’ve been around the globe.”
It should have been a warning sign that the man who was about to hire me to report the facts was urging me to lie. But what did I know? I was just a country kid from Texas.
He awed me with a dinner at the Holiday Inn and then sent me back to my motel. It was clean and had a television in it. Like I said I was just a country kid from Texas and easily impressed.
I flew out Monday morning. At one of the airports a flight attendant stopped me at the plane’s door, informing me I had not gotten the proper boarding pass. The engines were revving up and I didn’t have time to return to the terminal. I wasn’t going to make it back to the Paris News by one o’clock so I’d lose my job. The Kingsport paper would decide not to hire me because I was too naïve, and then I would be unemployed.
Another flight attendant walked up and said, “What difference does it make? Let him on.”
So I took my seat on the plane and arrived back at the Texas newspaper on time. In a couple of weeks the Kingsport editor called announcing I had the job. He then asked how soon could I be there.
First time to do things is fun. You get an adrenaline rush. You get challenged over the way you think about the world. You get scared to death. You sigh with relief and tell yourself, “Well, I lived through that.”
I still look forward to doing things for the first time. I need the excitement to keep my heart pumping.

We Need to Talk

“Hey, brain, what do you think of that little cutie walking down the street?”
“I don’t think anything about her at all, heart. I’m happily married. And so are you. Or have you forgotten?”
“Of course, I forget all the time. I’m the heart. I can’t remember nothing. You’re the brain, Mr. Smartypants. You don’t forget nothing.”
“Don’t forget anything. Your grammar really makes my blood boil.”
“And it ain’t your blood, genius. It’s my blood, because I’m the one who pumps it.”
“Could you two keep it down up there? I’m trying to digest some food here, and that hamburger ain’t gonna metabolize itself, you know.”
“You ate another hamburger? Stomach, don’t you remember what our doctor said?”
“You’re the brain. You’re supposed to remember those things for all us.”
“Yeah, meathead. All this is your fault.”
“That’s right, heart.”
“That’s right, heart.”
“Thank you, stomach.”
“I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you guys. Liver, lungs, you better listen up too.”
“I know I’ve caused us to cough too much lately. So get off my back.”
“And I—I wanna know who’s responsible for all that cheap gin? You’re wearing out this old liver.”
“That’s just it, my fellow organs. We’re all wearing out. I don’t know if you realize it, but we’re 71 years old. Now, that’s not scary old, but it’s getting on up there. We need to take care of ourselves better. I’m beginning to forget things, and I’m just too tired to keep reminding everyone to do his job.”
“You’re going to replace me with a younger heart, aren’t you? That’s what this is all about. You’re going to rip me out of my home and give it to some stronger, sexier heart. After all these years of faithful service, and this is what I get.”
“There you go, pumping yourself into another fit. That’s why I got ulcers. You and your fits.”
“Nobody loves me anymore. That’s all that a heart lives for is love, and you all hate me.”
“Whattaya mean? You’re the center of our lives! Whoever thinks of a liver? Nobody. I’m supposed to shut up and keep on working. I don’t even know what I do, but I keep on doing it so we can all live.”
“Brain, could we move this conversation elsewhere? That guy next to us is smoking a cigar, and I’m about to break out in another coughing attack. I know that shakes everybody up.”
“Hey, this walking around feels kinda good.”
“Watch out. I just processed some excess gas, and it’s makin’ its way through the large intestine.”
“Thank you, stomach. That’s very considerate of you. You know what I think?”
“There he goes again. The brain is gonna tell us what to think.”
“Can it, heart. I’ve got a cough coming on, and it’ll make you feel even worse. We don’t need that.”
“All I wanted to say was, buddies, we’ve been working together for a long time, and I just want you to know it’s been an honor, a real honor.”
“Now that’s something the heart should say. Nobody ever lets me say the good stuff.”
“Shut up, heart. You’re makin’ my ulcers act up.”