THE LAW PROFESSOR
The winter weather was getting more and more fierce. Chalk it up to climate change unless you were a “climate denier,” similar to “Holocaust deniers.”
He found it increasingly difficult to live without his former wife. She left him, saying, “I’m sick of being married.” Why was he not surprised? His colleagues, both male and female, shared similar ideas.
The blonde woman, Rhona Halligan, whose eyes rolled when she spoke to him, said, “Ronald, you are quite simply, a pushover. Why don’t you stand your ground?”
They had dated twice after his divorce. He took her to his favorite Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia, where his sorrow was apparent. He looked at her the way a floppy-eared dog looks for approval to his master.
She was certainly attractive, with long red-painted fingernails. She looked a bit like a call girl, but that was the way women in their forties appeared nowadays.
He couldn’t stand her, yet wondered if he’d still go out with her to quell his loneliness.
Only a week was left in the first semester of his class, “Contracts Law.” He affixed his bicycle to a black bike rack and hurried up the stairs to his classroom. Before he entered, he heard the chatter of the students, which raised his spirits a bit. Glancing about the room, he saw the eraser board was as white as his dead mother’s hair had been, and that a world globe on the window sill was swiveled toward Nigeria.
“I’m not late, am I?” he asked, looking at the 40 or so students sitting in their chairs.
A murmur recited “not at all.”
“Have you enjoyed my class?”
“It’s not a question of enjoyment, Dr. Berger,” said one Miles Matthews. “The class is forced upon us, but, yes, I’ll give you top marks when we fill out the evals at the end of the term.”
Ron laughed and gave him the “thumbs up.”
Rhona flashed before his eyes. But something else did too. For no reason at all. He could barely make it out.
At home in his fashionable apartment which had once been an oven factory, he lay in his bed staring at the high ceiling. As a kid growing up in the suburbs, he remembered lying upside down and pretending the upside-down-world was the “real” world.
His father, back then, owned Hershel’s Sunoco. Cars and trucks would line up to get service. “There is service and there is Hershel’s Service” read a blinking light that could be seen as far as the Pennysylvania Turnpike.
Suddenly, Ron had an idea.
His car awaited him in the covered garage of his townhouse, an older Nissan Maxima, in prime condition.
He drove all the way to Hershel’s Sunoco. Would it still be there?
As he sped along the freeway, he passed the poor side of town: smoke stacks were belching the black smoke of industry - no wonder the poor had more cancer than the wealthy people like himself - and also saw leaping flames from burning petroleum.
As a Jew, Ron always thought of Bergen-Belson and other concentration camps from The Holocaust. Nearly every Jew knew someone who had died by the worst torture and death possible: his Aunt Sadie and her family from Hungary.
He punched on his radio where something unknown was playing. The male soloist had a most expressive voice. He was singing in Spanish. Ron would have to memorize the name if he wished to buy it. There it was: A Mass in Memorium to the Lost Children of Generalissimo Franco by one Joaquin Perez.
His spirits began to perk up as he remembered the gas station. Those were the happiest days of his life. His mother had been thoroughly embarrassed by his father’s career. When asked, she told her high-society friends, he was in the “petroleum profession,” refusing to elaborate.
There it was! The same as he remembered. But like a run-down house, it had deteriorated and been abandoned. An orange hazard fence was wrapped around the property. A couple of old jalopies were inside the fence. A ’48 Hudson and a small rusty tricycle tipped onto its side.
Bright-colored graffiti stained the walls of the office. Ugly, not like Keith Haring and other talented artists.
“You’re still here,” he breathed. From the side pocket of his Nissan, he grabbed a black Bic pen. “La Beek” he knew it was pronounced en francais. First he wrote down Joaquin Perez. He would definitely buy the CD. Next he wrote down the phone number of “Albert Connors and Sons,” who now owned his father’s property.
Tears coursed down his cheeks.
How dare they take it over, the bastards. A few neighbors sauntered by.
“Mister,” said a thirty-ish dark-skinned man in a black cap. “My papa said this was the best gas station around.”
“And what’s your name, sir?” asked Ron.
“Victor,” he answered.
“My father, Hershel, was the ‘Hershel’ who owned the gas station.’”
“Where did he go?” asked Victor.
“To heaven, I assume,” said Ron, imagining that his mother had bickered him to death.
On the way home, he began to sing. Childhood songs he had long forgotten. Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Good King Wenceslas, Joy to the World, and his favorite “The Twelve Pains of Christmas.” He sang “The first pain of Christmas is sending out Christmas cards, trying to rig up Christmas Lights.”
Most Jewish people don’t put up Christmas lights but his family drove around the suburbs viewing spectacular lights. On Kirk Road, there were the Blue Lights. The house was large and immersed in lights of blue. Blue as the Caribbean Sea.
Ron pulled into the parking garage of “Country Towers.” He whistled as he walked up the cement back stairs, where he always thought, would be the perfect place for a murder.
When he reached his townhouse on the third floor, he flung his notes from his pocket, and sat in the rocker of his late father.
“Dad? What do you think I should do?”
The silence let in the sounds of a few cars and buses on the street outside.
A bell was ringing, undoubtedly the Santa Claus for the Salvation Army.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ Dad.”