Robt. Emmett [not his real name of course] has, after retiring from a large international, manufacturing company as a machine design engineer, [he had no engineering degree]. His imagination and the continuing need to create urged him to write over half a million or so words about his early life in the mid-1950s.
He’s published nothing because his short stories are about his high school years [when the world was young, the music was great, the cars were unique, and the young ladies were just that - ladies], and who wants to read stories of what was?
VANILLA BOB IN DULUTH
I’ll introduce myself, (cuz no one else will). I’m the person everyone almost remembers. I lack drama and charisma. I am, seemingly not very memorable, hence the nom de plume, Vanilla Bob. I write somewhat caustic caricatures of the people, places, things, and the world in general
I am the faceless face in the crowd. You see me everywhere and remember me not at all. I am the guy in the hotel lobby, sitting on the has-been sofa, reading yesterday’s newspaper. You see me looking at the ugly, newly planted, statuary in the city park, obviously donated. Only a moron would pay semi-good money for such a monstrosity. You see me twisting and turning the map, trying to figure out where I am or where I want to go. I am the one looking the wrong way while riding the sightseeing bus. I am cheated out of my seat on an airline flight by a can’t speak a word of English Taiwanese fellow in a cheap suit (I know it’s a xenophobic remark, live with it.) Yet, after landing, his English is better than mine is.
(Editor: That’s not hard to do!)
(Author: Did I mention my editor she hates me?)
My luggage gets lost when I traveled to the left coast - by train!
My writing career started in the fourth or fifth grade. The nun thought I had a gift. Every two weeks she made me read a book and write a report to broaden my outlook.
In high school, I discovered girls. Scratch the writing. I decided I would rather be a doctor - a gynecologist. To further my pre-doctoral studies, I purchased a ’49 Nash Rambler with a rear seat that converted into 47 square foot mohair examination room. The car thing did not work out as well as I had hoped. Most fathers, upon seeing my mode of transpiration, sent their daughters back into the house. I traded it for a ’51 Metropolitan. The back seat would barely hold two Chihuahuas let alone two teenagers in a compromising position. The wool blanket cost me two bucks at the Army/Navy surplus store. It proved to be a very entertaining investment!
My first college medical course, a study of diseases of the Belgian Congo was my undoing.
(Editor: The Belgian Congo is in what part of the anatomy?)
(Author: It is, was, a country in central Africa. See an old map, circa 1950.)
To continue, I had symptoms of every tropical disease I read about, even Cannabuous fever. There had been only three cases reported. Because of all my illnesses, I missed most of my classes that quarter. The Dean of Admissions did not believe sleeping on a couch in the Student Union was proper recuperating. He released me for Academic underachievement, no M.D.
Now I am hack writer for a rag that makes the Sun-Globe and the National Equistar seems as prophetic as the Bible. They do get a chuckle from some of the things I submit. They don’t pay me much for those items. They are cheap, but they do provide me a per diem. It covers my costs. Life has taught me to live simply. I am not good enough to be on the regular payroll. If (a very large word) I am paid for one of my scribbling’s, I squander it on a glass of local beer. Scotch, the beverage of the gods, hasn’t crossed my lips in a very long while. It might again – someday.
SAM, my editor, sent me here to write about this place that the locals call the Zenith City.
Check-in at the Edge
It was kind of late when I checked into my new digs; it was after sundown. I was not sure how long I was staying. The sleepy-eyed collegiate behind the check-in counter greeted me with a yawn and a pasted on smile. I filled out the registration card. She looked at it, then at me and inquired why I had left the ‘length of stay’ line blank. I told her my stay would be – indefinite. Obviously, it was a new word for her. Her eyeball tumbled like a cheap one-armed bandit and stopped at triple ’Tilt’. I tried to explain. Her look told me nobody was home between her ears, so I said two weeks. That worked. She smiled, ran my credit card through the black box, and pressed a few buttons. It blinked and so did she. Her world was happy. Good. She tore a map off the map pad, circled room 2204, and handed it to me, along with the plastic room key. The room was on the fourth floor. Room 2204 on the 4th floor, that’s a new one. Most room numbers start with the floor number. But then again I’m now in youper * country. So deep into youper land, in fact, that most sentences end with an “Eh” generated in the back of the throat.
I was hoping to get some help carrying my things to the room. I looked around and noticed the ancient bellboy. How can an octogenarian be called ‘boy?’ He was sprawled across two rattan chairs, which obviously came from the Red Shield store. He was snoring up a storm until Sleepy-eyes dinged the dinger. He ran a bony hand over his stubbled face as he unlimbered himself from the rattan. I was not sure whether the creaking sound was sigh of relief from the chairs or from his old bones. Slowly he straightened to a height of nearly six-feet. His uniform looked vaguely familiar. Old memories flashed through my mind like the flickering rotation of the wheels of a one-armed bandit. Wheel one – Clunk. It was the image of the marquee of the Norshore movie theater on Superior Street. The second wheel stopped. It was the high school photo of my date for the evening. She was wonderful, and unforgettable in every way. I sighed. Ah, those were the days. How could I forget the unforgettable Miss What’s-her-name? The third and last wheel slowly spun down and stopped. A kid, in an usher’s uniform. The very same uniform sitting it rattan chair yawning at me. It was also the same face, but with higher mileage. Back in the day, we all called him, Sluggo. I don’t remember why, we just did.
He slowly sauntered toward me. Foolish person that I am, I assumed he would take my suitcase and clothing bag, or at the very least one or the other. No, he picked up my small shaving bag and headed to the door. I grabbed my stuff and hurried after him. Outside I asked him why we did not take the elevator. He stopped, squinted at me, and sighed in a tone suggesting I was an idiot. He explained we could not get from the lobby to my room using the elevator from the lobby. We walked out the door, up a set stairs of questionable quality. Then along a walkway that swayed eerily like the one I’d trod across in the Amazon rain forest.
At the room, I stuck the plastic room key in the slot – red light. I tried it again, same results. Try three also failed. What was it Einstein said about doing the same thing again and expecting different results? Sluggo took the key, struck it in the slot, and jiggled it up twice and down once. Wallaha – green light, oh yes, insanity. The king sized bed was not lumpy, but the pillows were. A wonderful start to my wonderful stay in the wonderful Zenith City, one can only hope.
*Inhabitants of the upper portion of the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are sometimes called youpers.
My aching bladder woke me. I tinkled (more on that later) and dressed for the day, black jeans and white T-shirt that I had received when I toured a pizza factory. Pizza factory! What has this world come too! Pizza dough needs overhead twirling, the tomato sauce needs to be ladled and spread with care, and each piece of pepperoni must be placed with casual precision.
I opened my door, stepped out - almost. I was immediately stuck in the spider web covering the entire opening. I could barely move. I looked around and noticed half a dozen, silver dollar sized, saber-toothed Arachnids closing in on me. I managed to save myself with my 2-inch switchblade knife. (It used to be 6-inches long before I used it as a pry bar) I hacked myself free just as the first of my lunch guests were about to lay a paw on me. Damn, the office needs to know about these people eaters!
As I stepped into the office, mister Oily glided to the counter next to a very short bottle blond, and asked, “Yeeees? May I help you?” He had a stereotypical, wannabe seven-day-old beard. What did he want to be? I wondered. Then I happened to look at his feet. Do not ask me why, I do not know. I just did. He was wearing cowboy boots with four-inch heels. Question answered, he wanted to be taller than the five-foot-two blond semi-cutey.
I asked him if he knew there was a spider problem
“Room 2204?” He inquired. I nodded. “Well, that explains disappearance of the previous guest and all his stuff’s still in the room.”
“Are you going to spray or something?”
He inhaled, straightened to his max height of five foot three, looked up his nose at me, “This establishment has a strict environmental policy and has no intention of harming the wonderful earth or the creatures on it. We let nature do its thing.”
“Yeeees! The Spiders eat the mosquitoes, the dragonflies eat the spiders, and the bats eat the dragonflies. Therefore, you see, all nature is in harmony. You wouldn’t want the balance of nature upset, would you?”
And what the hell is a missing motel guest or two, I thought. “Of course not. So, what do you suggest I do?”
Reaching under the counter, “Here,” He handed me a large, holey bath towel, like the two in my room, “Swirl this around the door frame as you exit your room.”
I thanked him and turned to leave. Then it hit me, a light bulb moment, I asked Oily, “Where is the nearest gun store and a place to get some breakfast?”
“Did not the night girl tell you that we have a free breakfast in the fourth floor cafeteria, between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m.?”
“Did she give you tokens for free drinks in the Sunrise Lounge?” I nodded. He handed me two aluminum tokens, “They are good between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. After that you have to buy your drinks.”
“Might I inquire as to the reason that you are visiting our fair city?” Oily asked.
“I was sent here to do some local color stories.”
“Here, in this town? Ha! Good luck with that.”
The elevator door closed and just for grins and giggles, I press button number 2. Sluggo said the elevator did not go to the floor where my room, 2204, was located. He was correct. The four by four foot cube I was in did not move. I pressed 4. The elevator’s chime, chimed, the number 4 lit and the groan and the vibrations started. When they finally stopped, the door struggled to open. I surveyed the cafeteria. I picked up a tray and some plastic ware. It had a long counter, a milk dispenser, a juice machine, followed by the dry cereal in a clear plastic contraption. It contained twenty-four different types of sugary, non-nutritious types of crap passing as breakfast food. Next was the section with all the good stuff. I was impressed with the hard-boiled egg (singular), fresh-diced fruit of questionable origin and oatmeal (remember the white school paste the girl next to you in the first grade would eat by the finger-full?). Next to the oatmeal was brown sugar and raisins. (Some of the raisins were moving.)
A voice like fingernails on a blackboard startled me. “Do you know that there are tons of things happening in town? Well there are. Really, there are. Did the road construction cause you any problems? No, I don’t suppose it did. It does some people. It does some people. Are you enjoying your stay? My name’s Kathie. Now I need to empty the trash. If you need anything, let me know, okay. Bye.”
Her voice was still ringing in my ear as I slid my tray along the tray rail. It suddenly stopped at the milk dispenser. I my car’s brakes should have that kind of stopping power. I looked at the rails - sticky, splattered milk all over them. I decided I would pass on the milk and have juice instead. I set a plastic cup on the machine, pressed the cranberry button. Water filled my cup. I set a new cup under the orange juice, pressed the button, and a nice stream of juice flowed over my hand. I moved the cup to catch it. Sucking the orange juice from my thumb, I noticed the toast machine in the far corner. I placed a piece of unnutritious white bread on the toaster’s conveyor. After the third time through, it felt slightly above room temperature and was sorta tan.
I turned and bumped into chatty Kathy. My orange juice dumped onto my semi-toasted toast.
“Did you know there are three class reunions scheduled this weekend?” She asked.
“Ah, no I didn’t.” I should give a crap.
“Oh yes. East, West ...”
“And all around the town,” I finished.
“And more,” she continued, “Marshall and that girls school, Stanbrook.”
Girl’s school? This might be interesting I should go. “What year?”
“It’s an all-years reunion, with emphasis on the class of 1961.”
Oh goodie, a convention of ex-pom-pom gals in walkers. I dumped the remains of my soggy toast and juice into the trash. Coffee, I need coffee. At the stainless steel urns, I found one of three still had some amber brew remaining. I filled three Styrofoam cups and emptied the pot. I capped and set the cups on my tray, tucked a copy of the local newspaper under my arm, and turned. Something crashed into my left knee, a three-year-old whirling dervish in short-pants. Rebounding off my leg as my paper landed on his head. I thanked God it was not my scalding coffee. He started to wail. I glared at the mother. I should have told her some people shouldn’t be allowed to breed until they had taken a class on parenting – twice!
I just needed to get to the quiet of my room and enjoy my breakfast. The coffee, it was delicious.
All around the town ~ Part One
I finished my coffee and headed out to see the sights. The town’s changed in the last four decades. It is not as I remembered it from my year here in high school. I stepped off the 1919 vintage trolley. I marveled at the peeling paint job. I was at the midpoint of town. I love the way cities designate the heart of things. Main Street and Center Avenue, gosh, how unimaginative is that. The starting point for the city of Duluth’s is imaginative, Lake Avenue and Superior Street.
(Editor: In your opinion, why is that so imaginative?)
(Author: The west end of Lake Superior is a block or so away.)
The entertainment area now contained a comedy club/bar, a movie house/bar, a live play theater with a bar, and a book store/bar. Why the emphasis on drinking, I wondered? Later, I found out that there was a 5% drink tax, a 5% alcohol tax, a service tax, and a sales tax on the total bill. That figures, this burg only has three months to make its annual profit. Taxation is the easiest method to screwing the tourist out of his money.
Speaking of screwing, the old whorehouse had burned down. However, the old strip joint, Club Saratoga, has upscaled. It’s now a Gentleman’s Club. Meaning, one can wear a suit while leering at females clad only in pasties. A pastie is not to be confused with a pasty, which is a folded pastry case filled with savory seasoned meat and vegetables.
This week’s featured performer at the Club is, Drum roll please – Lightening. I read the billing on the wall as I tried to peek in the double glass doors. “See her counter-rotate her 38s,” the ad said. Oh yes, a real World War II vintage holdover, a defiant must see, but not now.
I walked around the corner and entered the old warehouse district. Now, obviously it is a wearhouse area contained a dozen or so Boutiques. That is a fancy French term for, all manner of cheaply produced, overpriced clothing, made in Pakistan or Malaysia, by child labor. I would walk naked before I would buy any of the crap produced there and sold here, and chance being arrested by the E.P.A. police.
The junk yards of old were gone. New ones had sprung up in their place. They sold genuine, handmade, keepsakes. Indian beaded headbands, toy Birch bark canoes, totem poles, and other junk, labeled “Souvenirs.” All produced and shipped to the United States from China.
My empty stomach suggested that I feed it. I dropped into an uncomfortable wire chair at the nearest sidewalk eatery. The waitress was busy talking to the customer at a nearby table. As I waited, I could not help noticing her cute ass and the tramp stamp above it. Why, I wondered, would any sane person have the price of a shrimp dinner tattooed in a place they could not see and in a language, they could not read? She turned and looked at me. I noticed that she had 27 pieces of decoration stabbed into one ear. The premiere item was in the earlobe. It was a 3-carat piece of glass. The other ear held nothing. Obviously, that ear did not need beautification. Her hand, arm, and shoulder held dozens of unrelated tattooed symbols, in various shades of ugly blue. The vision of her fondling my food leapt into my brain. My stomach did a double flip with a twist and a half to send a message to my legs, “Leave now! I am about to empty and embarrass you!”
All around the town ~ Part Fore
My still starving gut insisted it needed feeding. It rested on my large western buckle I’d just bought. It was made in Mexico. (Hey, it’s at least in the Western hemisphere) I spotted a sign, Grandmas Restaurant. Sounds like a family type place. I seemed to remember the building from my youth. At that time, a little bald-headed man named Jim ran the restaurant. He had a cute, young, redheaded waitress that I dated. She moved on and became a success. I just moved on. They served great food and the place was the Sand Bar Cafe. Times change and now the place is a food joint / bar / gift shop / and more. In addition, it is a place to hang all the cast-off memorabilia from the renovated buildings in the center of the city. The first lighted, motorized barber pole in town now lights the way to the head, toilet for you non-nautical types. Being near a large body of water brings out the sailor in me. After all, the only Arial Lift Bridge in the world is only a hundred yards away, and the need to … well, that’s how I saw the barber pole. There were signs from the old hotels, gas stations, and other miscellaneous junk. The owner had found a way to give up the warehouse where he had stored all his stuff and turn it into an attraction. Okay, he can call it that, it is his place.
I sat in a booth with a view and looked at the drink menu. The only beer in bold print on the menu was an 11-ounce tap of St. Louie Brew. Oh yes, it is cheap stuff, fit only for airline stewards and sorority sophomores. For flavor, the brewing water is from the Chicago River. Someone once told me it was how Chi-town removes its sewage. So I have heard. While waiting, and enjoyed the view of the Bridge and the lighthouse at the end of the canal.
Dimple-cheeks, the waitress, arrived, took my order. The way she looked at me, I assumed I had ordered her favorite malted beverage. She started to walk away, turned, and said, “Ya know, fur da same price ya can get 22 ounce Samuel Adams. Da special today, don’t ya know, eh.”
“Change my order,” I requested.
“U betcha, eh. Comin’ right up, fur sure, eh.”
The college English major left me to scrutinize the food menu. I say food rather than salt laden artery clogging pap that lab rats would not eat, because I do not want to demean the joint. I looked out the window and enjoyed the view.
She returned with my beer. “Ja whanna order now, eh?”
“Okay, I’ll have the double deep fried whole onion and the Ship Captain’s burger.”
“Okey-Dokey, ya want cheese on da Ship Captain’s burger, eh?”
“Yous a tourist, eh, I can tell from yous accent.”
“And you do not have an accent?”
“Oh no, I talk like everyone else ‘round here. Fur sure, eh. Da reason I’m asken, is det yous order es big ‘nough fur a discount coupon. I be bringin’ ya one, eh.”
“Sure.” The linguist left me to wait in anticipation of the gourmet feast. I return to looking out the window, and enjoying the view.
There are no parts 2 and 3. I just called this part fore to screw with the editor’s head, and because it comes be-fore the next part.
(Editor: I will get even you know!)
All around the town ~ Part Last
Two gray-haired, senior women plunked into the booth behind me. They talked so loud I assumed the batteries in their hearing aids needed charging. It was distracting my thoughts of the view. The shoulder length, chestnut hair, was bobbing to something the woman sitting across from her had said. The back of the booth was blocking my scrutiny of the rest of her. True, I couldn’t see all of her, but I have an above average imagination. I had a good view of her girlfriend, a mutt. Why do beautiful chicks hang out with mutts? Not that the diminutive, plump, bronze-red, spiked haired, chatty, sweat thing was a non-looker, oh no, she was definitely a 10, on the Kelvin scale!
Dimple-cheeks shocked me, “Wanna nother beer?”
I looked at my stein. Surprise, it was empty. “Yes.”
“U betcha, comin’ right up, fur sure, eh.”
Ah, Jeezs, the View and the mutt were holding hands. I really hate that kind of public affection. It shattered my mental vision of the View. The mutt slid out of the booth, the View followed, and I got an eyeful. She had long, slender legs in tight jeans, trim waist, and a neatly trimmed Van Dyke! Damn. He sure had me fooled.
Now all I had for entertainment was the two gray-haired chatterboxes in the booth behind me. Another gray-haired couple, a man and, I assume, his wife, sat in the booth across the aisle from me. This must be a local meeting place for the gray panthers. The linguist zipped in and handed them menus. Fur sure, eh. As she left them, the old man ogled the swing on her back porch. I had my thoughts. What would an old stud like you do if she said, ‘Yes?’ The look on the wife’s face hinted at her thoughts. There’s not enough Viagra in the world to bring your old Lazarus to life!”
“Here ya go, eh. I had da cook put somma Swiss on dat, fur free, fur sure, eh.” she said as she set the double deep fried whole onion and the Ship Captain’s burger in front of me.
“Jeezs eh, dat wassa nice a yous, tanks a bunch fur sure, eh.” I don’t know why I talked to her that way. Oh yes I do, 22 ounces of Samuel Adams, fur sure, eh.
She looked around. None of her customers needed her. “Mind if I sit witch ya?”
“Suit yourself.” I had my mouth under control again.
She did, on the bench opposite me.
Between burger bits, beer swallows, salt crunching, and belching, we talked. I found out she was from the Iron Range. It sounds like a kitchen appliance. She assured me that it was an okey-dokey place to live. She wanted to be a teacher. She planned to return to her hometown of Coleraine and instruct the local kids about English. I asked her, what in retrospect was a very dumb question, why?
“Jeezs eh, everyone up dar speaks Finn. Da kids needa learn English, so da can go tada main campus an get an education, doncha know, eh.”
I was about to respond ...
“Whoopsies,” the multilingual waitress jumped up and headed to the kitchen, “gotta get da food fur dem silver-haired ladies, eh.”
I finished the burger, but not the double deep fried whole onion. It was a bit much and had killed all my salt tasting taste buds, U betcha, fur sure, eh.
There is one more part. Therefore, this is not the last, but I am not going to change the title.
All around the town ~ Epilogue *
More gray-haired senior women and couples plunked into the booths around me. This must really be the local meeting place for the gray panthers. I raised my beer glass as Miss Dimple-cheeks, my server from the Iron Range, as she walked past. The linguist promptly returned, set down a fresh steinful of Samuel Adams my table, and zipped in to wait on a pair of gray-headed couples in a nearby booth. I finished this 22 ounces of Samuel Adams I would be well passed my limit of beer.
Have you ever eavesdropped on the conversations of old farts? You should. Be warned, you need to get to the food joints early. They get there at 2:45 and are mad as hell because they have to wait until 3:00 to order the early-bird special. You can tell where they are eating. Look for parking lots filled with newer big Buicks, Chryslers, or white Ford pickup trucks with a fifth wheel rigs in the box for pulling an eighty foot long, twenty wide, house trailer. Just knowing they are ziggin’ and zaggin’ down the road makes me glad to fly my favorite generic friendly skies airline’s DC what-ever wide-body.
They only talk about two topics. No, they do not talk about their children or grand kids, yet. The number one subject matter before eating is the other places they have dined. They do the pros and cons of every meal and every eatery within a hundred miles. They know them all. Which ones have specials and on which day and at what time. They discuss the food quality, the wait staff, and the comfortableness of the seating arrangements. They never talk about the drinks, unless it is lemonade. Then they wax nostalgic about the nectar of the citrus world. They even talk about the water, the glass it comes in, and if the ice is clear or cloudy. They do this before their food arrives. These folks need to get a life.
The do talk about their children or grand kids. In their vernacular, it is dessert conversation. Meaning, they are talked-out and are about to bring out the photo albums, yes albums. Gray-hairs carry them in a separate, large purse.
After their food arrives at their table, the conversation turns medical. They entertain the listener, and all those within in ear shout, (Yes, ear shout. Batteries not includes) of their latest medical procedure. Gray-hairs love to regale their fellow diners with the blood and the gore, in detailed minutia, stories of their latest operation. All this while the listeners are glopping excess ketchup all over their super tenderized ground beef. Dentures discussions are a sub-set of the medical conversation. Usually they are an interruption interjected into the conversation when someone bites into a tough piece of mashed potato or asparagus spear.
Women are far more detailed than men are. Their explanations of their lasted trip to the doctor are far more colorful. A woman at the next table interrupted the man, chocking on a baby carrot. She visited her gynecologist about a fungus that had developed in her ….
I left half a glass of my friend Sammy, ran to the nearest phone, and called the motel to request their limo (it had started life as a 9-door, ’49 Chevrolet, Airport Limousine) pick me up. It was on its way, the sweet voice said. As I waited, I browsed the over-priced China-made trash in the gift shop. I decided not to get the coffee cup with a simulated seagull splotch in the bottom. On the limo ride, I decided to take an afternoon nap. Wait, was the simulated seagull splotch simulated? Yes, I think. At the motel, I quickly fell asleep. No, I did not pass out.
* Epilogue, is a fancy word that, in old Greek (I think), means I have a bit more to say.
After my nap …
(Editor: You were drunk and passed out, weren’t you?)
(Author: I did not pass out.)
As I started to say … I was sitting behind the unwatered, scruffy, evergreen thing near the dark end to the balcony overlooking the swimming pool and entertainment area. I use the term loosely. It’s a mini-golf overgrown with weed and sticker bushes.
Anyway, she must have gone down the large blue, inflatable slide – headfirst. One would think a woman on the sunset side of fifty would know better. Her scream got my attention. I do not think she likes snacking on pea-gravel. She spit it all out. Then she turned and looked at the twelve-foot high slide. I thought for a moment that she was going to try again. She shook her short, soggy, bottle-made copper-red hair, and walked away. We both heaved a sigh, hers was resignation, and mine was relief. I found no joy watching someone embarrass herself, himself, and/or theirself.
As she left, I noticed the three SUV’s desperately trying to squeezing into four parking places. The car’s plates were from out of state, way out of state, Utah, Arizona, and California. They unloaded half a dozen young teenage boys, who promptly went to check out the swimming pool and the teenage girls lounging there by. The moms headed to the rear of their vehicles to start unloading their luggage. The SUV’s were so over loaded than when the hatch audibly popped open, things spilled onto the grass studded gravel parking lot. The desperate moms called down to their boys to help haul the large bags stuffed with all manner of hockey equipment.
It seems the sight of the bikinied girls had caused the boys to lose their hearing. The moms, therefore or therefive, had to lug the bags up the flight of stairs to the second floor without the help of their sons.
And just how, you ask, did I know the large bags held hockey stuff? Simple, the bags said Hockey Stuff. No, actually, I’d over heard the two bellboy (yes, real boys) talking. They knew the hockey kids were coming and made plans to be anywhere but the lobby. When I discerned the large leather bags and the nine or ten hockey sticks, my mind leaped to the obvious conclusion.
Before supper, as I’d been sitting behind the dead plant in the lobby and learned there was a large, 200 plus, contingent of young hockey players in town for a clinic. There would be two days of seminars, practices, and instruction. Teams would then be formed and spend the rest of the week competing against each other. Generally, it would be the left coasters against the youpers. Those were the kids from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and central Canada.
I overheard Pennie the Slider, talking with the hockey-mom in the room next to mine. She is from Utah (Mormon, I would guess). Slider’s last name was Nickels and she was talking to the collegiate behind the check-in counter. Moms really need to think through this whole kid-naming bit. Later in the evening the hockey moms, Mormon, Sue-1, and Sue-2 were outside my room. Sue-1, a.k.a. Loudmouth, was extolling the skills of her two great sons. She assured all within ear shoot, that the left-coasters and her sons in particular would be opening a can of whoop-ass on these mid-westerners and show them what hockey was all about. If the young youpers knew what was in store for them they would have been trembling, not in fear, but with laughter.
Hockey 101 (cont.)
It is another sweltering day here in the Zenith City. Yesterday, the temperature reached 78. All major appliance stores sold both air conditioning units they stocked for just such an emergency as the city is experiencing. Today’s high temperature was predicted to be 79-1/2. There is not a weatherman …
Editor: You forgot add ‘and weatherwoman.’)
(Author: Can the sexist crapola, will ya?)
… In town who will publicly utter the dreaded number – eighty. Yet, the hockey season is in full swing in this part of the country. Yes, it is sports fans. I know you believe winter is the proper time to play Hockey up here in da Nort-lahnt. (I learnt dat verd from the linguist at lunch the odder day. U betcha, fur sure, eh.) Technically, it is a winter sport. However, summer is the time for hockey CLINICS. Point of fact, up here there are four seasons. Spring, whenever the temperature stays above zero for more than a week. Road Construction season is the time of year for family vacations far, far away. Fall is Road Construction on steroids because of the month long union strike that annually starts July 5th. Winter, or Vinter, as the locals say, is the time of the year between Labour Day, (Dats da Canadian influence on spelling, fur sure, eh) and Memorial Day. Or whenever there is more than two hundred inches of snow on the ground. Really, measuring snow in inches is a joke, a sick one. Snow is depressing enough, unless you own a large hill, like the Indians who own Spirit Mountain.
Hockey is not limited to the freeze-your-ass-off-cuz-you-didn’t-head-to-Gulf-Shores-when-you-had-the-chance-season-of-the-year. No, it can be played year round.
How did this happen. One (or two) might ask. Like duh. The Valley girls had ah, like well, a change of mind. They stopped dating the blond haired melanoma seeking, surfboard riding Dudes and decided to get bread. No, not bred, bread – money. You know, Moolah, Shekels, filthy lucre. They stopped doing the beach thing and attended the Univ of So Cal, and found themselves nerdy dweebs that ah, like well, did not say ah like well, but rather spoke in a cryptic, pre-computer, dialect. The young college lads hadn’t read the rules, so they didn’t follow them and bit by byte they became millionaires. Or billionaires, ah, like well, whatever.
Meanwhile, the Valley girls …
(Editor: Deleted graphic material unsuitable even for mature adults.)
Damn! I hate it when she blows away two great paragraphs of finely crafted obscene material. She does that just to irritate me.
Okay, anyway, the Valley girls are now grandmothers with grandchildren. (I so dislike stating the obvious) These grandchildren need something to occupy their time, keep them off drugs, and out of jail. Enter – Taa-dAA – Hockey Moms. Yes, I know there is no snow in So Cal, but there are rich grandfathers. They need to please the rich grandmothers by …
(Editor: Enough of the overly graphic stuff, okay?)
(Author: I need a break.)
Hockey 101 (cont. some more)
I was about to say to this is a win, win, and win deal. Grandpa gets to have his name on a building in neon lights. Grandma can brag about her name, on a building, in neon lights. And the mothers (daughters of parents whose name is on a building in neon lights) have a place to hangout with their kids at three in the morning and not have to pay a cover charge or tip the valet parking guys. They get to spend thousands of dollars on hundreds of pounds of hockey equipment that they carry up two flights of stairs while their macho little darlings carry two, one-pound hockey sticks.
A note on hockey sticks, the cheap sticks cost less than thirty-bucks. The expensive ones, are made with the same exotic material as an F-22. They will set you back two hundred smackers, or more. They are made in Tijuana, Mexico. Yes folks, the really good sticks are made south of the border. Jeezs eh, who’d thunk it!
The last win is the kids. These grandsons …
(Editor: Sexist remark.)
(Author: There, I hope that makes her happy.)
… Have a place to play where the sun never shines. The hockey moms have other very important roles to play: chauffeur, trainer, first aid, cheerleader, and fight promoter/stopper.
What, exactly, is a Hockey-Mom? From my observation, they are a sub-set of the female human species. Imagine, if you will, a cross between the tall Amazon woman of legend, and an operatic soprano in a Wagnerian Norse tragedy wearing a white tank top that could be mistaken for a ‘56 Caddie Coupe DeVille with its Dagmarish bumper guards. Okay, they don’t wear a tin cap with cow horns. Then neither do the Minnesota Vikings football team.
(Editor: Lacks relevance.)
Also, they all wear a foot-long ponytail and it’s blond. Some are, obviously, of the bottle variety, while others are not. It takes an expert to be able to tell the difference. In the main, they are rather nice people.
(Author: See Post Script.)
So what happened when east met west on the ice at the Marshall High School field house? The youpers took away So Cal’s can of whoop-ass and taught them what the side boards are used for. Namely, injuring and maiming the other team.
P.S. I had to add that last sentence. Why? As I was about to send this story to SAM, my editor, to be destroyed by her large red lumber crayon, Lilly, the director of Fun & Games at my hotel, cornered me, literally, in the lobby, and asked what my latest story was about. I, being honest and forthright, foolishly told her all about the story above. Grabbing a handful of my shirt, she lifted me to my tiptoes, squished me farther into the corner as her nose pressed against mine. She looked me straight in the face, and her minty breath said, “Remember Bucko, I am a Hockey Mom!”
(Author: Not to be confused with the soft-serve confection of the same name.)
Most of the Motels guests were out having supper. (Don’t you like that vernacular for, you’ve just paid a hundred-fifty bucks to spend one night and you are a guest, wonderful.) The Hockey moms have taken their whiny, sunburnt, pampered brats to one of the local gut-bomb purveyors.
Calling eating at Burger K, or the Golden A’s, a meal, makes me want to up-chuck my own recent repast. I had dined at the Schwarz Hölzer. I had ordered a fifteen syllable something. It cost eighteen-fifty. I could describe the delectable Teutonic bit of gastronomy in lavish terms, but I won’t. It was a hot, open-faced, beef sandwich, of questionable genealogy, with lumpy, out of the box-mashed potatoes. For an additional three bucks, I bought a dessert with an appetizing name. It came with a cute little spoon. Those of beading and class would call I a demitasse spoon. The dessert, according to the server was Apfelkuchen. It was server by the server in a triple tall shot glass. Said spoon curved in such a manner that it was nearly impossible to hold comfortably in either hand. The topping was a teaspoonful of artificial whipped cream, topped with a two drip drizzle of something that looked like chocolate, but wasn’t. Three dips of the demitasse spoon later, the concoction was gone. It, however, was not forgotten, even now, an hour later, every burp reminds me of it.
A boisterous trio interrupted my quiet reverie as they burst through the door onto the patio near where I was sitting. Their attire tagged them as guys who toiled in the heat for their daily sustenance. In other words, they were sweat-stained, T-shirt wearing, out of town, construction workers. The leader, Goldie-Locks, was carrying a large red and white beer cooler. How, you ask, did I know it contained beer? Simple, they didn’t look like tea-sippers. The second guy, fortyish, was wearing a cap with a NASCAR style number 24 on it. He had a deck of playing cards in one hand and a half a bottle of beer in the other. The last member of the group looked to be on the good side of thirty and wore no wedding ring. He sported a week-old, exotically trimmed red beard. He glanced at the unpopulated swimming pool and remarked to his companions about the lack of bikini scenery. Goldie-locks and 24 agreed with red-beard. Faster than I can type, they had the cards shuffled, dealt them, opened their beers, and fired up their cigarettes.
24 dealt another round of 3-handed Euchre. Red-beard lifted his Okleys and started to drool. The motel limo squealed to a stop and blocked our view of two chicks in bikinis heading to the swimming pool. Red-beard flipped open his rotary dial cell phone and dialed. Moments later, the limo driver emerged from the office. He moved the vehicle just in time for us to watch the bikini bottoms disappear through the green crust covering the pool. They never resurfaced, and the Euchre game continued until 24 announced he’d scored 11 points and won the game. He won because he was keeping score. Next game, new scorekeeper, and he won. Every game of chance has a rhythm. The rhythm of this Euchre game seems to be – the scorekeeper wins. The thirty-pack of beer finished, it was time to call it a day. These men work hard, play hard, and enjoy the moment. The three workers sauntered to their room.
I’m forced to add – Duluth is a fun place to visit and has a lot neat things going for it. Someone paid my editor handsomely for forcing me to add that last sentence.
(Author: I’da done it for half price.)
– the end –
Robt. Emmett [not his real name of course; WHY? that’sa long boring story] has, after working twenty-five years at large international, manufacturing company as a mechanical design engineer, [he had no engineering degree] retired. However, his imagination, and his continuing need to create urged him to write over half a million words about his early life in the mid-1950s.
He’s published almost, because his short stories are about his high school years [when the world was young, the music was great, the cars were unique, and the young ladies were just that – ladies], and who wants to read stories of what was?
Rich’s Auction Barn
I’d stop in Rich’s Auction Barn every Tuesday evening. It wasn’t a barn; it was a defunct single story furniture store. If Rich, the auctioneer, had something of interest, I’d come back the following evening and try to outbid the antique dealers. Most nights, I used the Barn as a social event. My half-hearted bids usually bought me nothing. I’d spend my time talking to Kathy. I’d known her years ago, in high school. She was the captain of the cheering squad. I found out about her accident when I returned to town. Back then, she said to stop calling her Kathy and to call her Styx.
“Sticks, why,” I asked, “cuz you’re on crutches?”
“Not that kinda sticks, Styx, with YX.”
“You mean S-T-Y-X?”
“Yes.” She never explained.
Her job was to take phone-in bids from people who had deep pockets and wanted to remain anonymous. Their bids usually won because they had the bucks.
The crowd hanging out at Rich’s Auction Barn was a family bunch. We were, for the most part, friendly, fun loving, sometimes boisterous, and respectful. The one thing we didn’t do – run up someone else’s bid. We could have. It would have made Rich more money, but he didn’t like it and on more than one occasion had told us so. The real reason for respect – we’d be seeing each other again in a week. Another quirk Rich had was the size of bids. Under a hundred bucks, any bid was good. Over a hundred dollars, bids were to be in twenty-five dollar or more increments. Over five-hundred bids are in the fifty-dollar or more increments.
Tonight, as most nights, found me leaning against a wall and drinking free coffee. We’d talk, except when she’d make an anonymous bid for someone. When she won the bid, she’d marked the price on the bid card and put it back into the pocket of her Home Depot nail apron she used to hold the bid cards and her cigarettes.
Rich held up an item. “Hold on, I need to go to work.” She pulled her stack of bid cards from her apron pocket, sorted through them until she found the one she wanted. The bidders around the hall voiced their price. She flashed the card at Rich. He nodded in recognition. The price was jumping up fast. Rich started to ask, “Do I have …?”
The black-hair woman in the leopard-skin elastic pants nodded her head.
“Do I have …?” Styx bid a little more than Rich asked. The bidding froze. Styx bid had shocked spastic-elastic and the rest of the crowd. Rich pointed in our direction, then looked at leopard pants and shrugged. “Better luck next time, Jan.”
“Deep pockets will win every time.”
Styx nudged me, “Just gonna drink free coffee or are you gonna buy something?”
I smiled and held up a finger.
The auctioneer put his hand on a large cardboard box and asked for an opening bid of twenty dollars. There were no takers. He asked for a ten-dollar bid and still, no one raised a hand. The big box sat there, contents unknown, just waiting for a buyer.
“One buck,” I hollered.
Then Rich looked at me, shook his head, and stage-whispered, “Thanks, Rob. You’re the last of the big spenders.” The crowd knew me and enjoyed the humor at my expense. “Do-I-heara-two-dolla bid? Who’lla-givea-two? Anybody? Somebody? Two-dollas, two-dollas, where?” He paused. “Goin’ once.” He paused again. “Goin’ twice.” He pointed at me, “Sold to Cheap-ass for a buck.”
The auctioneer and the crowd moved on to the next item as Styx side-glanced me.
“What?” I asked her. “I got this big box for a buck. Who knows what great treasures it holds?”
“You came here tonight to buy a box of junk you don’t need?”
“It only cost me a buck.”
She laughed, “Big deal. That stuff’ll be lying around your shop a year from now.”
She rolled her eyes, “Will too!”
I spent the week sorting my box of treasures into smaller boxes to take around to other collectors and antique dealers. By the weekend, I had unloaded it all and after gas money, I’d made a few bucks.
Wednesday evening before the auction, I had a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke.
Leaning against the wall, drinking coffee, I waited. After stopping to talk to another bidder, she came over, leaned her crutches against the wall, and sat in the chair next to me. “See anything interesting?”
“Yeah,” I didn’t elaborate. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to play the crowd. It was larger than usual. Red stood near the center of the table that held the tools. He idly sorted through a box of rusty bits I knew he wasn’t interested in and be wouldn’t bid on. Half a dozen tool dealers I knew were milling around and eyeing each other. There were three guys I knew to be private collectors. The two men in suits looked out of place. We weren’t the bib overalls kind of auction-goers, but none of the Auction Barn regulars ever wore a suit and tie. I saw Fat Jim whisper to Bill and glanced at the locked showcase. It was the reason for the large crowd and me being at the Barn.
In the ten years I’d been looking, I’d only laid eyes on four of them that were for sale. Two were counterfeits, another had a small nick, and the other wasn’t worth half the money the owner wanted. I would get this one. I had too. There were only eighteen in the set. I had seventeen. The locked showcase held my eighteenth.
“You want it, don’t ya Rob?”
“I do. What do you think I’ll go for?”
“It’s in great shape. On a scale of 10, it’s a 9 or better.” I said.
“My guess, it’ll be as low as seven-hundred, and as high as nine, nine-fifty.”
“Yeah, and if it breaks a grand, it’ll see fifteen-hundred.”
“How much are you willing to spend?” She asked.
Rich had held off until the end of the tool table sales. He unlocked the showcase. “Here we go folks, who’lla gimme a two-grand, two-grand, two-grand where.” It was the crowd’s turn to get even. No one bid. “Folks, this is a pristine Stanley number one bench plane. Damn open the bid somewhere.”
“One dolla,” I said. The crowd laughed, even Rich. That was the start, bids exploded from every corner of the room. In seconds, the price was at four-seventy. The bidding paused. If someone said fifty, the bid would be over five-hundred and I wouldn’t be in a position to get a bid in at seven-fifty. “Six even,” I said.
Styx flashed a card, and said, “Seven-fifty.”
The bidding stop and she’d stolen my bid.
“Do-I-hear-eight-hundred-dolla-bid? Who’lla-givea-eight-hundred-dolla-bill? Anybody? Somebody? Eight-hundred-dolla bid-dollas, where?” He paused. “Goin’ once.” A long pause. “Goin’ twice.” He pointed at Styx, “Sold.”
“Rob, would you get it for me?” I did. As I handed her the plane, she said, “Stop in tomorrow, pay me, and it’s yours.”
“Tell me, why the name Styx with YX?”
Smiling, “Google it.”
— ℜ --
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