Saturday, April 12, 2014

I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Several months ago on facebook I shared a graphic of a picture and quote of Bill Maher, who in speaking of Syrian President Assad, said:  “Using harmful chemical weapons to hurt your own people?  Who does this guy think he is, Monsanto?”   
Dan commented.  Dan and I had been friends for thirty years, but it was only in the last few that I learned both that he was politically arch conservative, and considers himself Christian.
Dan wrote:  “Bob.  You posted a link of Bill Maher re. Republicans.  He shares your political views, sure.  That’s alright.  But you must know by now he’s a tirelessly outspoken atheist who thinks people who believe in God, especially Christians, are hypocrites and idiots.  That includes me and you brother.  There are so many links, quotes and videos I could post to back me up it’s a joke.  So I won’t.”
I replied:  “Seriously, Dan?  Should I shun Bill Maher because he’s an atheist?”
Dan responded:  “No, shun him for calling you an idiot.  I have atheist friends.  Woody was an atheist.  But he never thought I was a hypocrite, or stupid for being a Christian.”
The next day Dan posted a link to Michael Savage’s anti Obama vitriol, the hypocrisy was too stark for me to stand, and I decided to unfriend Dan, which I did by posting the following comment to him on facebook.
“It has been an amazing thing to watch an entire circle of college friends all lose their minds over thirty years.  Mary Ellen is insane—unless you consider bringing a rabbit named Woody to Woody’s funeral to be perfectly normal.  Zak lost his mind when he gave it to Mary Ellen when he willingly submitted himself to the underside of her thumb.  Woody lost his mind and it cost him his life.  Shaumyan has lost his mind, and is now an incoherent drunk who has aligned himself with the very wicked men and women he used to call out for being bastards, and is still writing his pathetic ‘fuck the world’ poems at a third grade reading level.  And alas you too Dan—you now dwell in a muddled parallel universe where Jesus Christ is a money worshipping, earth raping, warmongering, machine gun toting, child abusing homophobic racist hypocrite who hates the poor and serves the rich.
If I thought you were a Christian I would rejoice.  Instead I am deleting you from my friends list.  I still hope you someday come into the light, but I find some of what you publish on facebook to be offensive filth, and your perversion of Christianity to be misguided and blind.”
That was several months ago.  Last week I received this email from Dan.
Hello Bob,
Lately in church, one of Jesus’ teachings kept coming up, the one about leaving your gift at the altar, “leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” It’s of course, about forgiveness, in this case, me forgiving you, and perhaps more significantly, you forgiving me. You kept entering my mind when this was addressed during service.
We disagree politically. Had we approached it differently, we might’ve actually found common ground. But I believe we at least agree on an even more important topic, which is why I’m writing this.
Of course, you can either accept my apology for what I’ve said or not. But I had to at least broach the topic with you, because the Lord says we must.
Hope all is well.
Kind regards,
-Dan
I decided to turn my response into this blog post.
Dan,
Just the fact that you write to me expecting a response can be regarded as arrogance, as there were two occasions in the past couple years where I wrote lengthy answers/responses to your comments/question that you not only did not answer, you did not even bother to acknowledge that I had taken the time to write them.
You’ve forgiven me?  Pray tell for what?  For the sin of speaking the truth?  I have done you no wrong.  While you’re standing at the altar offering heartfelt forgiveness to someone who’s done you no wrong, I think this would be the more appropriate scripture to contemplate, if you want do what the Lord says we must.
But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.  But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.  Matthew 12:6-7.
God will have mercy, not sacrifice.  He wants your heart, not your hard cash.  You can’t bribe your way into heaven with tithes.
The concept of mercy not sacrifice must be really important, because it appears throughout the Old Testament and Jesus referred to it repeatedly.
Here it is in Hosea:  For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
And I just read it again this morning here in Psalm 50:16-17:  For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it:  thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Jesus said, if you love me, keep my commandments, which he summed up by saying above all love God and thy neighbor as thyself.
My politics stem directly from Jesus, the most liberal man who ever lived.  He overthrew the establishment while healing and feeding everyone who came to him, and brought light to the world before laying down his life for his friends in it.  That is LIBERALITY, and I accordingly vote for the rulers that will most liberally legislate to create ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ as Christ demonstrated during his stay here, and to write law that loves my neighbor as myself with particular respect to the disadvantaged--the elderly, the widows, our children, the poor and the sojourners; the politician who would show mercy by lifting me up if I were in unfortunate straits.  Such leaders are the liberals.  You detest them.
In demonstrating ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ Christ also taught his disciples socialism.
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul:  neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.
And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need
.  Acts 4:32-35
That is socialism, Dan, which you also despise.  How can you despise what you hope to attain?
Jesus also said that he who is not against us is with us.   You, Dan, are against us.  Your heart is with the enemy, who is the Devil.  Is Jesus good or evil?  Then why do you vote for leaders whose works are nothing but evil? To quote scripture: an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit.  Truly Christian politicians would make certain all impoverished children are fed.  The politicians you vote for rip that food out of the mouths of babes and give it to BIG BANKS and OIL COMPANIES.  That is evil.  Truly Christian politicians would create a universal health care system that covers EVERYONE.  The politicians you empower with your vote would take away health care from as many poor people as possible.  How is that Christian?  How is that loving thy neighbor as thyself?  That is evil.
Thanks directly to Obamacare I now have health insurance for the first time in my life.  If you’d had your way in the last election that would have been ripped from me and I would be back in the position of having to give up my home to an insurance company or a hospital were I to become catastrophically ill.  If you tell me I’d be better off that way and that you love me like a Christian brother you are nuts.
And have you seen the latest right wing persecution of the poor—criminalizing homelessness?  It’s been happening in recent years in local republican legislatures across America.  Read some of the stories here and explain to me how it is Christian to vote for these sons and daughters of the Devil.  It’s pernicious malice, utterly heartless evil—and these are the lawmakers YOU choose to rule over your neighbors.  Since we know that blessed are the poor, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven, how can you persecute the children of God in the name of Christ?  You cannot, that is a kingdom divided, which cannot stand.
You, Dan, are the perfect example of the person Christ describes here:  Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  Matthew 15:8-9
And who but the phony Christians, wolves in sheepskin whose lying lips speak righteousness while their hearts are full of hate, is Christ talking about here?  Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful things?
And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you.  Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
  Matthew 7:21-23
As to forgiveness, why do you seek mine?  I really don’t understand.  For being what I perceive to be a phony Christian?   You have to account for your cold-hearted disregard, neglect and contempt for some of your neighbors to the Lord, not me.  And if you really think that Jesus Christ just coincidentally shares political views with Rush Limbaugh, Ted Nugent, Dick Cheney, Glen Beck, the Bush family crime syndicate, Ronald Reagan, the NRA and Wall Street, then you are crazy and there is no sin in my saying so.  
As to any reconciliation, what do you suggest?  I refuse to have your hypocritical antichrist right wing rubbish infesting my facebook feed.  It seems to me that if your heart were truly reconciled with Christ then we would already be on the same page and not having this discussion.  That is the reconciliation I would suggest you pursue.
Next time you’re standing at the altar with your precious gift (that you now know the Lord does not desire in the first place), you might want to write this scripture in your palm and read and ponder it in your heart while standing there, for it is you.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith:  these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.  Matthew 23:23

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Masters of Marston

THE MASTERS OF MARSTON

A Novel

by Robert Charest

Timothy Stoles is a young man who has spent his entire life in the fictional New England town of Marston.  Shortly after his father dies he responds to an ad in the paper and takes a job in town that lands him in the midst of a battle over historic district zoning regulations and technicalities of law.  As hard egos and old ways clash with the new, and a mysterious woodsman and his two young daughters appear on the scene, Timothy matures into manhood.  Scroll below the table of contents to read the first two chapters.   

Table of Contents

1)                  The Stage
2)                  The Tanner Family
3)                  Diller and Voller
4)                  In Response
5)                  All Told in the Painting
6)                  On Dealing With Debauchery
7)                  At Home
8)                  At Work
9)                  A Meeting
10)              The Autumn
11)              The Fall
12)              Callers
13)              Bestowing Thanks
14)              A New Home
15)              A Tearful Goodbye
16)              Drawing Lines
17)              Unveiled
18)              The Spring Flowers
19)              Another Meeting
20)              A Short Discourse
21)              Unions
22)              Flight to Next
23)              Resolve, Recourse, Reaction, Result
24)              A House Ablaze
25)              An Abruptly Altered Course of Action
26)              From Good Hands to Good Hands

27)              Another Short Discourse

Chapter 1
The Stage

“Where do I go to see an igloo?”
If you were to take this question and pose it to an Eskimo, his answer (if he were polite and friendly) would be directions to his home.  If you were to put this question to a common citizen you would probably be advised to go to Alaska and ask the nearest Eskimo.  If, however, you had posed this question to a resident of Marston in the winter of concern here, the answer you received would have been quite different.
A walking tour through the center of the New England town would begin at the edge of Armfield, where you would be greeted by this sign:  “Welcome to Historic Marston.  Population 1109.  Proud of our fathers, and working to make them proud of us.”  Beyond this you would see deep thicket on the right hand side, and thick, majestic woods on the left.  Eventually the road meanders to a long slope which drops gently into the town.  The continues unbroken on the one side, but the thicket on the other has long since given way to lawn and landscape, where the tiny overlooking houses have stood for more than a century.  These structures have the hardy sturdiness of miniature mansions, and all the more warmth.  The hill gradually begins to level as it approaches the heart of town, and accordingly the woods on the left have given way to housing.  The road finally flattens with the land, and the stores and shops necessary to life in any small town begin to appear on both sides.
There are more houses, and more closely built, before you come upon the next significant road sign:  ‘Entering Marston’s Historic District.  1698-1825.’  From this point to the end of the historic district there are only houses, with the exception of one store, Tanner’s Grocery, and the Protestant church.  These colonial homes are more angular and interesting, with small gables, shuttered faces, strange windows and odd porches.  They are more generously lawned and spaced apart, and are finely groomed, with impeccably maintained gardens, shrubbery, hedges and trees.  In accordance with the Historic Commission’s regulations for the authentic preservation of antiquity, all of these houses are painted one of the three permissible colors, red, white or brown, and have no exterior improvements not in agreement with the era.  Many boast patriotic flags and ostentatiously displayed hand-painted plaques, which honor the builder and the year of construction, and which bear names such as Stoles, Mast and Tockerton.
These homes, and their protective historic district, end with the local green, which is located on the right hand side on the way out of town.  Behind the huge patch are the town hall and post office, both of which are still in their original buildings, erected respectively in 1771 and 1876.  The two structures have aged beautifully, and command reverence from the local resident and passerby alike.  There are several great spruce trees standing evenly across the green, a local veteran’s memorial at the far end, an immense flagpole in the middle, and a statue of Jacob Mast, a revolutionary war hero, at the near side.  He is mounted on his brass steed facing back at the historic district, directly at the house which he built in 1757.  However, a Mast has not lived there since the middle of the nineteenth century.
The town green ends with another sign:  ‘Leaving Marston’s Historic District.’  From here the dwellings are slightly shabbier, or rather, less important.  In their midst are the general store, a bank, a liquor store, the Catholic church, and finally the woods and thicket leading up the hill to North Amberton.
Marston’s residents have always maintained brimming pride regarding their town’s unique history and colonial heritage.  The town was officially settled in 1698 by the locally famous Four Founding Fathers.  The four men—Thomas Tanner, John Mast, Joshua Marks and Jonathan Stoles worked together taming the land, fending off Indians and building homes for themselves and their families.
As the legend goes, John Mast was a rugged young man of eighteen when he came upon the land in the seventeenth century, in the year which is locally celebrated as 1690.  He had been wandering alone in the woods for weeks when he happened upon a beautiful clearing near a bursting, crystal stream, and was so instantly enthralled that he decided to stop and rest for a day.  The day doubled, and then doubled again, and then became a week.  He had been journeying alone for many months since the winter, when he had lost his young wife to illness resulting from exposure.  He left the settlement where they had been living to travel south in search of a better place.  All the spring and summer he survived by fetching wild berries, fruits, vegetables and small game.  He lived well, and was able to avoid his few brushes with Indians and strangers by ducking behind trees, but there seemed to be no escape from the haunting memory of his frail and delicate wife.  He needed to find a place of solace and solitude that he could claim for himself and pass the period of his mourning, however long that might be.  The huge clearing by the stream appeared to be the perfectly suited spot.
After only a week’s repose his decision was made.  The comfortable clime and abundance of foods and fresh water had settled his mind.  He would stay for as many months and years needed to lessen his grip on the memory of his dear departed Constance.
The conclusion of that summer was tranquil, and the autumn spectacular, but the winter fell harsher than he had hoped.  Still the spring dawned freshly, and he knew he was where he belonged.  He remained there all of that year, through the winter, through the spring and into the following summer.  The memory of his beloved had only slightly diminished, but that would come with time, and like the place where he was, he saw no reason to go elsewhere.  He had been forced to kill one Indian, but who settling the new territory hadn’t?  That was nothing he could escape by changing his location.
One morning he awoke to the sight of a man foraging through his hidden store of nuts.  He stealthily crawled over, jumped on the man, and wrested him to the ground.  “That’s my food!” he growled, thinking he was atop an Indian.  The mumbling man struggled beneath him, and Mast, who was still groggy, noticed that the skin of the man’s neck was white.  He let him up, and found himself facing a short, ragged man of frail build and mussed appearance.  The stranger could have been twice John’s age.
“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!” the little man exclaimed hastily, stepping back from Mast.
“What are you doing in my nuts?” John demanded.
“I didn’t know they were yours.  Honestly,” the man replied nervously.  He had telltale crumbs at both corners of his mouth.  “I just ate a few.  I haven’t eaten in days, and I’m starved.”
“Well, they are my nuts,” Mast said.
“Then I won’t eat them,” the man answered.  He finally noticed the actual trees whence they had come.  “But you couldn’t object to my picking a few of my own, could you?”  Mast motioned with his head that it would be all right.  “May I?” the man inquired, pointing to the stream.  John nodded, while lowering his guard, and the man hurried to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping handfuls of water into his mouth.  When he was finished he went and stood again before Mast, saying:  “That was plenty good of both you and the stream.”
The two fell into conversation, introduced themselves as John Mast and Jonathan Stoles, and over a breakfast of nuts and fresh raspberries struck up as friends and partners.  Stoles, according to himself, had been traveling with a large party who had arrived from England in the spring.  He was one of the more accurate men with a rifle, and was often sent away from the path to do the hunting.  These short excursions into the wilderness were usually successful and eventless, until one day he accidentally stumbled upon a camp of three Indians.  Their eyes were cold holes without souls, he said, and fearing for his hair, he fled.  There were two younger ones and an elder, and he could hear all three sets of footsteps chasing after him.  There were two shots loaded into his rifle.  He thought he had a good lead on them, but they were still giving chase, so he turned quickly, fired, and watched one of the younger drop.  He continued running full sprint, and when he had another opportunity he turned and fired again, and watched as the other young Indian fell down dead.  He kept running, for what seemed hours and miles, with the elder’s footfalls keeping pace.  Eventually they faded away, but Jonathan continued jogging to insure that he was safe.  He was near the end of his strength when he haphazardly tumbled down a ravine and landed in a tangled mass of thorns.  He lost consciousness, and when he awoke, judging from his hunger, he surmised that many hours had passed.  His clothes and skin were torn and cut, and he knew immediately that his chances of finding his party were slim at best.  He nonetheless started wandering in search, and after several fruitless months he came upon Mister John Mast in his fine clearing.
“Well, why don’t you settle down here with me for a while?” John suggested.  “Two is always safer than one in these parts, and I could do with a little companionship.”
“I can’t say that I have anyone or anything better to go to,” Stoles replied, “and this seems to be just the kind of particular spot my party was looking for in the first place.”
They were immediately agreed, and the arrangement lasted for several years, during which time they built a sturdy cabin in which they lived compatibly and became good friends.
One summer morning, several years later, Stoles awoke one morning to find two men rummaging through their hidden supply of chestnuts, much the way Mast had found him.  “What are you doing?” Stoles demanded.  The strangers, who were white men, looked up, and were taken down together from behind by Mast, who had been doing some early morning fishing.
“What are you doing in our food?” he demanded.
Both men were of small yet robust builds, though one slightly smaller than the other, who responded by saying, “We didn’t know they belonged to anyone.  We thought some chipmunks had stored them up.  We were only eating them because we haven’t eaten in days.  We’ve been wandering and starving for weeks.”
Mast and Stoles inspected the strangers closely, then agreed that Mast should release them.  He did, and the two men explained that they had been roaming aimlessly since disembarking from their ship two months earlier, and were only looking for a good place to settle.  Introductions were made, and the four men—Mast, Stoles, Thomas Tanner and Joshua Marks—decided that they would share the clearing, and would work together to preserve and protect it.
This arrangement lasted for two years, during which time only two Indians needed to be confronted and killed, and a very few other minor problems required reckoning.  The four men quickly found that they complemented each other perfectly.  Mast had strong frontier instincts, and was given the task of providing fish and meats.  Marks was more in touch with the land, and was charged with the care and order of the vegetable gardens and berry patches.  Stoles was a master carpenter, and worked at constructing second cabin and a storage shed.  Tanner, whose organizational skills were phenomenal, did the cooking, the cleaning, and kept the food supplies in order.  Their lives were not easy, but they were as happy as they could possibly be.
One fine summer day, when the aforementioned two years had transpired, a beautiful woman happened to walk into their camp.  Being the first to see her, Marks rushed from his work to offer greetings, and quickly learned that she had recently become separated from her party, which consisted of her four brothers, one sister, and two female cousins.  Her parents had been killed in an Indian raid on their camp, and fearing that many more were nearby, they struck out together in search of a safer place.  Only the day before she had lost them by fluke in a storm.  She was invited to sup with the four men, who hadn’t seen a woman in years, and soon found them all vying desperately for her attention.  After only one day in their camp she fell for Mast, who had decided immediately upon seeing her that he was finally recovered from the loss of his young wife several years earlier.  Two days later the rest of her party stumbled into the clearing, with her sister and one cousin, who was much older, providing eventual companions for Tanner and Stoles.  Short weeks later Marks met his female companion when another party passed through, and the four couples went in four directions away from the stream.  They helped each other forge their own smaller plots of land, build their own cabins, and cultivate their own gardens.  The fledgling village had fourteen residents when they officially claimed the area, Marston, as their own in 1698.
They lived difficult but satisfying lives, and though none of the town’s founders nor their children were directly involved in the Revolutionary War, all had grandsons who participated in the conflict.  Abraham Marks was an inspiring drummer for the marching rebel forces.  Andrew Stoles and Joseph Tanner were brave foot soldiers for the New England army, and William Mast was their valiant general and leader.  None of these men were killed in battle, and all were able to return to Marston after Independence had been successfully declared and defended.
When the Revolution ended Marston settled quickly into being a quiet small town, and moved slowly out of the eighteenth, through the nineteenth, and into the twentieth century.  Between 1698 and the middle of the twentieth century the population grew only to 640, but only twenty years later it had nearly doubled, jumping to 1109.  The reason for the dramatic increase was a sudden influx of younger people—doctors, lawyers, businessmen and executives—who had moved to Marston to live and raise their families.  They appreciated the peaceful, rural aspects of the town, but they didn’t concern themselves with learning and understanding local history.  This became the source of an underlying tension between the longtime residents who re-enacted the battle of Marston every July fifteenth and who comprised the local fife and drum corps, and the people who were responsible for clearing acres and acres of woodland and who monthly flooded the town hall with applications for building permits.  These were also the people who had drawn sides over the issue of the Historic District.  The advocates of the district, many of whom lived within its boundaries, said that Marston should be a sort of museum for colonial relics, and should be given the same regard and consideration as a great work of art.  The opposition promptly called these people ‘colonial relics,’ and several town meetings escalated into vigorous shouting matches from which complete sentences could not be extracted.


Chapter 2
The Tanner Family

Green Hill Lane was one of Marston’s many plush back roads.  It was winding, narrow and flowed like a vein away from the heart of town into the verdant flesh.  There were only three homes along the two miles of the lane which were within the town’s limits.  All three were lovely and bright, but one outshone the other two with uncommon beauty and maintaining.  It was an historically accurate colonial home owned by the Tanner family. 
It was not the original house built by Thomas Tanner in the late seventeenth century.  The house that Thomas built was closer to town, at the end of Main Street.  Four generations of Tanners lived in that house until 1803, when twenty five year old Trenton Tanner sold the dwelling and set out to build a new home at the edge of a field in the woods away from town.
The house was set up off the road on a slope of lawn.  To say that the yard was a lawn is true, but it functioned more as a canvas, upon which was painted a most beautiful real life of shrubs and flowers.  The crushed gravel driveway, which ran along the edge of the field on the end of the property closer to town, was bordered by an ivy-laden split rail fence.  Around the base of each fence post there was a fat, bursting begonia, and thick pachysandra filled the space between.  At the corner formed by the driveway and the road there was a small lawn lamp hanging over the mailbox, which was oversized, and upon which the family name was imprinted in intricate and ostentatious characters.  The mailbox and lamp also provided two more posts beneath which obese begonias flourished.  The grass which bordered the road sported long, even rows of tulips in the spring, and was immaculately maintained during the other three seasons.
The far edge of the yard ended with a very defined line of woods, and was also the locale of the sole tree within the yard, a stout and reverend oak which appeared to have long ago escaped from the home of its nearby family—so near and so far!  In the spring and summer the Tanners often sat snugly beneath the many protective and comforting arms of this old wood friend.  There was also a thin stream which ran out of the woods, through the yard, under the driveway, down the field, trickling into its larger and more famous brother, the one along which the town was originally settled.
The house itself was a plain, weathered white two storey colonial, around which were plump shrubs trimmed perfectly flat and numerous varieties of flowers, and upon which were green shutters and a wooden plaque bearing, in the same ornate lettering as on the mailbox, the name Trenton Tanner with the year 1803 inscribed beneath it.  There was an open porch off the side of the house overlooking the field, with rose bushes tended up on two sides, and a bed of azaleas along the third.  The backyard was not more than a large patch of grass which ran up the hill and blended with more trees.
The indoor décor was both pragmatic and pleasing to the eye.  There were waxed hardwood floors and hand-carved trim in every room.  The furnishings were of colonial tradition, consisting of dozens of antique oil lamps, figurines, glasswares, ceramic planters, and various glass, brass and wooden candlestick holders.  There were plants hanging in every window, and many more on shelves throughout the house.
The three bedrooms had been occupied by various Tanners throughout the almost two centuries the house had been in existence; from Trenton, the original builder, to James, who rebuilt it in 1891 after it was burned to the ground by a stray bolt of lightning in an electrical storm.  In the present time of this book, the master bedroom was occupied by Irving Tanner and his wife Trudy.  He had lived in the house all of his life, which, if he were to reach the average expectancy for me, he was halfway through.  He was a gaunt man with thick, wiry black hair which stood straight up no more than half an inch from his scalp.  His smile was a rare one—not in its charm and appeal, but in the frequency of its appearance.  Being in his fifth two year term as Marston’s first selectman, and the owner of and butcher at Tanner’s Grocery, the family store which was established in 1901, Irving was one of the more prominent figures in the community.  Trudy was a rather dull looking woman with dark eyes, drawn cheeks, and noticeably dry skin.  She stood at just under five feet compared to her husband, who was an inch over six.  She was a devoted mother, and stood proudly beside her husband when in the eyes of the town.  For the duration of their marriage they had called each other by the simple moniker ‘Dear,’ but the pet name had long since lost the endearing quality in its ring, and was used solely as a convenient way to get the other’s attention.
In the next bedroom were their two children, Maxine and Martin.  She was nine and he seven.  They were obedient at home, adjusted at school, and sang duets together—though against their wills—in the Protestant church’s youth choir.  Their being forced the share a bedroom for all their lives had caused some strange, indefinable aspects to develop in their relationship as siblings.  The reason for this was that the third bedroom was occupied by their grandfather.  Henry Tanner dwelt in the room across the hall from his grandchildren’s, where it was generally thought in the family that he was living in his own world.  Slipping was the descriptive word most commonly used by Mrs. Tanner, and he had only been spared from a home for the elderly by Irving’s refusal to place him there.
Of a summer evening in the year here concerned, the five Tanners were found outdoors awaiting the sunset.  Irving and Trudy were seated at the ends of a small antique bench on the porch.  He was working on his book, THE COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY OF THE TANNER FAMILY, and she was staring out into the woods and sky, allowing her mind to meander.  Henry was struggling with a word puzzle in his hammock, which was attached to the porch; and Maxine and Martin were on the lawn beyond the azaleas with their toys.
They were a quiet family, and often sat for ten, twenty, and thirty minutes without anyone speaking.  In this instance it was Henry who broke the long silence.  “Seventeen across,” he said, for he was in the occasional habit of announcing clues aloud, in what he thought was a clever plea for help.  “An imaginary, fire-breathing she-monster.  Seven letters, and the first is a ‘C.’  We know it’s not a Trudy Tanner, because she’s real and has too many letters.  Ha, ha, ha, ha!  Just kidding, my dear!”
Irving shook his head without looking up, and Trudy replied:  “I don’t know Henry; why don’t you just fill in any letters.  That’s how you finish all your puzzles when you can’t fill in any more real words.”
There was no response to her comment, and the ensuing silence lasted for several minutes.  Maxine, who had left off with her toy to search the clover, finally disturbed the air with her pretty, well-trained voice, singing:  “I want to be a butterfly, I want to see the air.”
“Maxine!” Martin whined.
“Now children,” Trudy said, trailing off.
“But Mom,” Martin pleaded, “you know that if you don’t make her stop now she’ll sing all night.  It’s not like she’ll be in another room, or another house.  She’s on the bottom bunk, and I’ll have to stay up all night listening to her sing while she sleeps.”
“I want to be a fish so I can swim without a care,” she continued.
“Mom!”
“Quiet now,” Irving demanded, harsh and flatly.  “Maxine, you’re supposed to practice your singing in the morning.  Martin, leave your sister alone.”
Trudy looked at her husband, the children at their father, and Henry out into the twilight.  Slowly they each returned to what they had been doing, and there was another long period of quiet.
“Isn’t the sunset lovely?” Trudy said with a sigh, staring into the tree-filtered vermilion.  No one responded, for they had seen the same view and heard the same remark one hundred times before.  “Dear,” she continued, “I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t help but to keep thinking that we really need that extra bedroom, now more than ever.  The children have already spent half of their youths confined together.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up in the same bedroom as my brother.  At least now there’s still time for them to live normally during their adolescent years.  I know we’ve discussed it over and over time and again, but we need to seriously consider either building an addition to the house, or placing your father in a home for the elderly.”
All of this was spoken casually, in normal conversational volume, and within several feet of her father-in-law.  Whether Henry had lost his hearing to the years or his mind had permanently drifted out of earshot was not certain knowledge to his family, but they had long known that they were able to speak frankly about him in his presence, and especially when he was concentrating on an activity such as the word puzzle.
“We’ve run through this too many times already, dear,” Irving replied.  “He is my father, and Tanners do not unburden themselves of ailing parents until the Lord deems.  I don’t expect Maxine and Martin to do it to us, and we’re not going to do it to him.”
Yes, dear, I understand that only too well, but you seem to refuse to acknowledge that I am being severely imposed upon nearly every moment of my life.”  She glanced at her husband on the word ‘acknowledge,’ but he did not look up, nor did his pen break its stride across the page, and she stared back out at the remaining embers of the sunset.  “I’m the one who has to stay with him all day,” she continued.  “You and the children are at work and school while he and I are stuck here at the house.  You don’t make his breakfast, I do.  You don’t cook his lunch, I do.  You don’t clean up after him, I do.  He may be the only one in this family who’s loopy now, but I can tell you that I feel like I’m well on my way, although if Maxine and Martin are stuck together in that room for many more years, your father and I will have company, and you alone will have to take care of all of us.”  Irving seemingly failed to recognize that she had spoken, and she, frustrated, paused to muster her courage, then finished the monologue with one blurted phrase.  “I think I wish he would go ahead and die already.”
Henry appeared to remain unaware, and continued working on his puzzle with the same inexplicable grin on his face.  Irving, however, leered at his wife and snapped:  “How dare you!”
“I didn’t really mean it,” she replied, sighing heavily again.  “I just said it to get your attention.  You spend so much time lost in the history of your dead relatives that you neglect those of us who are still alive.”
“All of my family is very important to me,” he said, “living and dead.  He’s my father, and he has lived his entire life in this house.  I can’t just go move him into a home and let him live like an animal in a zoo until he finally dies.  He’s too proud to face death like that, and I’m too proud to let him.”
She exhaled loudly and looked off into the night.  Irving gave her a long stare before returning to his manuscript.
Momentarily there was a loud thump, followed by another.  It was the two cats, Lady and Ma’am, who had jumped through the empty window space in the kitchen storm door.  Lady was black and long-haired with one large spot on each of her rear paws.  She was the older of the two.  Ma’am was a plain gray tabby and a male, but Maxine had insisted on naming him Ma’am to maintain the consistency established with Lady.
They stood side by side, slowly scrutinizing their keepers.  Finally Lady strode beneath the bench where Irving and Trudy were seated, and came to a stop under Henry’s hammock.  She looked around for a moment, fell to cleaning herself, and then suddenly a hand shot down and gently hoisted her into the air.
“You are nothing but a quadrupedal torso with a furry tail and a hairy head!”  She was in Henry’s outstretched grasp, listening to his address while looking down at him from three feet above his face.
“You see?  Do you see what I live with?” Trudy exclaimed softly.  “All day long those poor cats are stretched into hairbrushes and scrunched into fuzzy bowling balls.  You only have to listen to him at night, but I hear him in nearly every one of my waking hours.  And he respects you more than he does me; he has no respect for me at all.  He works to make me crazy.  I know it.”
“That is crazy,” Irving muttered.
“Everything is crazy around here,” she replied.  She then huffed, stood, and announced that she was saying good night and retiring.  Several minutes later Irving jotted down his final thoughts, bid Henry good evening, told his children to do the same, and went into the house.
Maxine immediately threw down a handful of grass and ran to her grandfather while Martin continued digging with his scooper truck in the part of the flower bed that his father had left unplanted for just that purpose.
“I have to go to bed now grandpa,” she said, kissing the front part of his bald head.
“Well, all right my dear,” he replied.  “You be sweet to your dreams and they’ll be sweet to you.”  She began humming the butterfly-fish song, and skipped across the porch and into the house.  “Come up here and say good night to your grandfather, Little Martin,” Henry said.  He folded the crossword and dropped it over the edge of the hammock.
Martin slowly emptied the payload from his truck and parked it in its imaginary garage underneath the corner of the porch, then dragged himself over to his grandfather.
“Have a seat for a moment, Little Martin,” Henry said.  Martin did so, on the bench where his parents had been.  “I guess I’ll have to start calling you Big Martin soon enough.  Some day you’re going to be a huge lot bigger than you are right now, but by then you won’t want me calling you Big Martin, and I’ll probably have to resort to addressing you as Sir.  Ha, ha, ha!  You’ll be a great and large Tanner, just like your father and me.  Do you know what being a Tanner means?  Nothing.  Absolute nill.  Your father thinks it’s so very important, but I know our family’s history, and it’s really nothing to be proud about.  It would have been far more honorable to have been one of the Indians that were chased away by the Tanners, the Masts, and the Stoles, than it was to be one of the Tanners, the Masts, or the Stoles.”
“Martin!” Irving beckoned from within.
“I have to go to bed now grandpa,” Martin said, kissing Henry’s cheek.
“Good night Sir Little Big Martin,” he replied with a laugh and a handshake.  Martin went in, and Henry added:  “I hope you are nothing like your father when you finally are a Sir.”
He noticed that Lady and Ma’am had fallen asleep beneath the hammock, so he picked Lady up and held her high over his head.  “You are nothing more than a fuzzy radio that desperately needs to be finely tuned,” he said, gently pretending to twist her dangling paws until she began purring fiercely.  “That sounds much better.”  He placed her comfortably in his lap and brought up Ma’am, who was awaiting his hand.  “And you are no more than a misshapen gourd which somewhere along the line sprouted fur and was mysteriously brought to life by a spark from heaven!”  Ma’am’s throat also began vibrating, and Henry placed him in his lap against the other leg, and the three drifted into their slumbers.


Peppercorn Cafe

A Novel

PEPPERCORN CAFE is a semi autobiographical literary fantasy blending pure fiction with actual autobiography, and was inspired by my living in several cities and writing novels while supporting myself bartending and serving in a variety of establishments from Bourbon Street to mid town Manhattan, where the novel is set in the imaginary JJ's Place.  Scroll below the table of contents to read the first two chapters.  But for the date, chapter one is straight autobiography while chapter two is entirely fiction.    


Table of Contents


Chapter 1        The Manhattan Plan
Chapter 2        JJ’s Place
Chapter 3        Playing An Ace
Chapter 4        Dead Wood
Chapter 5        Commando
Chapter 6        Exorcism
Chapter 7        Writer Bob
Chapter 8        The Squeegee Sharpener
Chapter 9        The Jesus Novel
Chapter 10      Brotherhood of Bob
Chapter 11      Cell Phones
Chapter 12      Dante’s Inferno
Chapter 13      Five Thousand Books In Five Thousand Pages
Chapter 14      Inferno Revisited
Chapter 15      Dear Canada
Chapter 16      The Double Cross Clone
Chapter 17      The Dictionary Wars
Chapter 18      Shop Talk
Chapter 19      The Dentist
Chapter 20      Heaps of Rejection
Chapter 21      Paris and Lekeitio
Chapter 22      The Chocolate Bust
Chapter 23      Plan B is for Book
Chapter 24      Plan C is for Café
Chapter 25      Of Mice and Snakes
Chapter 26      Grier’s Loft Finds a Home
Chapter 27      The Shakespeare Rejection Letters
Chapter 28      Little Inspirations
Chapter 29      The Curtain Rises and Falls


Chapter 1
The Manhattan Plan

In May of 2000 I moved to Manhattan
The plan was simple.  I was going to load several manuscripts of my novels into a backpack along with some clothes, take the five hundred dollars I had saved, ride Metro North from New Haven to Grand Central, find a job working in a bar or restaurant, and a place to live, and start networking.  I’d been trying to sell my books for years, and thought it would improve my chances if I could meet with an editor or agent and pitch myself in person.  Since most of the ones I’d been contacting were in New York City, and that I’d visited countless times, absolutely loved the place and had long dreamed of living there; and that I had nowhere else particular that I needed to be at the time, I chose that to be the next destination in my fate.
The previous eighteen months had been a whirlwind ride through life.  The day after Christmas in 1998, my friend Ben and I packed up his Volkswagen van and drove from New Haven to New Orleans for New Year’s, then into Mexico.  Eventually, Ben flipped out on psychotropic drugs, our friendship ended when he scattered my things across the sand one psychedelic morning, and I ventured off alone.  I hung out and doodled around with one of my novels on the Caribbean beaches for a few weeks before managing to catch a flight to New York, and traveled thence back to New Haven, where I randomly landed in the arms of a gorgeous blonde.  I stayed with her and wrote for a few more months, then was out of her arms and back to New Orleans, where I had fantasized about living since my visit earlier in the year.  I landed a gig on Bourbon Street and attended the never ending party for a few months.  The drink and the gambling were enough reason, but as the summer heat approached I bowed and slipped out of town.  I got into a car with a couple friends and drove back to New Haven to ponder the Manhattan plan.
I had been there a couple of days doing so, and was strolling downtown one day when my friend Allison happened by.  I was going for coffee at my favorite café, and she joined me.  She explained that she was driving into New York City that afternoon to buy photography equipment, and invited me along.  I naturally went.  The shop was on west Fourteenth.  When we reached it she told me she was going to be at least half an hour.  I had noticed a bookstore in the basement two fronts down, and told her I’d be there.  Dickensian is the best word I can draw to mind to describe it.  It was below the sidewalk, dark and musty.  There were books everywhere, piled on makeshift tables and stuffed into the bookshelves.  I wandered aimlessly, staring in awe at all the volumes.  Then my eyes finally settled on one…NONE BUT A BLOCKHEAD, by Larry L. King.  He is most well known as the author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  The title quote is from Samuel Johnson, who said, “None but a blockhead ever wrote for anything but money.”
The book was an autobiography about the Mr. King’s life as a writer, and I mysteriously opened it at random to the page where he and his wife had decided to move to New York City to establish his career as a writer. 
The next book I picked up was called THE WESTERN CANON, by Harold Bloom.  I was familiar with the noted academic from the years I had lived around Yale.  The book was somewhat of a history of western literature.  I read the introduction, and was sublimely thrilled to read that the three books Harold would take to his hypothetical ‘desert island’ were my same three:  The King James Bible, The Complete Shakespeare and Don Quixote (all of which were composed during the same twenty year period, 1592-1613, by the way).  Bloom had a lifetime in academia and I was barely turned thirty. 
Those were the only two books I touched in the store, and the little bits I read at random in each seemed bizarrely auspicious and more than coincidence.  I was filled with elation and affirmation:  my destiny was bound to New York City.  I went back to New Haven, packed my sack and boarded the train to Manhattan without reservation.   At Grand Central I rented a locker and stowed my pack, then stepped into the city.  There was bustle and buzz and people everywhere.  I had no direction nor destination, and simply started walking.
Some time well after dark I was aimlessly rambling the Village when I stopped to listen to a busker with her guitar.  There were a few people gathered around, and I had been standing there for a few minutes when I glanced over my shoulder and did a double take.  I was face to face with Duke.  At once we threw ourselves into each other’s arms and started whooping it up.
I had known Duke for about a decade.  He and I were both born in the same small town, and our fathers were both were truckers—there is no way they didn’t know each other.  Duke and I frequented the same New Haven café, where we met and became friends.  He was as harmless a man as I’ve ever met, and certainly had his own drummer.  He had suffered a severe head trauma in a motorcycle accident when he was eighteen, and his thoughts and concentration perpetually wandered.  One of the most defining incidents I recall about him was that on the morning President Clinton came to New Haven for his twenty year Yale Law School reunion, the local police unlawfully picked Duke up off the street a couple of hours before Clinton’s arrival, and detained him until after Clinton left town.  At one point I had left New Haven and moved to Austin.  While strolling the streets there one afternoon I casually bumped into Duke.  Very surprised by this unexpected encounter, I asked him what he was doing in Austin.  He explained that he and his girlfriend Joelle had just moved there.  Her family hailed from Austin, and she and Duke were staying with them and she was enrolled at the University of Texas law school.  As it happened, her family’s home was three blocks from my apartment, so Duke and I met for coffee every couple weeks.  That went on for about a year, until I moved out of Austin and we again lost contact with each other.  Then when I was bartending on Bourbon Street just months before, I saw him again.  It was Mardi Gras, and he passed by my bar in a huge crowd of revelers.  I ran out and greeted him in the street.  He just said:  “Hey Bob!” and continued dancing on his way. 
But the meeting on the street in Manhattan was the most odd, because we were neither keeping nor losing touch with each other, and this was now the fourth city in which we’d randomly crossed paths.  So once our celebration calmed down and we got to talking I learned that he and Joelle were married, she was pregnant with their first child, and they were living in Queens, where she had gotten a job with a law firm.  He explained that their living quarters were too tight to even offer me the floor, but gave me his number and told me to give him a call once I got settled.  We agreed that there was something very cosmic about our friendship, then went our ways into the night. 
The continuing coincidental encounters with Duke further convinced me that I was exactly where I belonged, and I vigorously beat the bricks for miles.  Some time after midnight I sat down in a small park.  I was absolutely clueless as to where I was going, and growing tired.  There was a copy of the past Sunday’s New York Times beneath the bench, so I positioned myself below a street lamp and read by its light.  I first perused the classifieds for jobs and living accommodations, then delved into the rest of the paper.  Somewhere around three or four I stretched out on the bench, spread the sections of the paper over my body and dozed off beneath a blanket of newsprint.

Chapter 2
JJ’s Place

I was awakened by the dawning day and the accompanying early traffic.  After a few more hours of wandering I found a four by eight cubicle in a transient hotel bordering the East River.  My wallet was already hemorrhaging, and I had to find work pronto.  Writer by providence, I was a barman by profession, and so every morning scrutinized the classifieds then traipsed far and wide between Soho and Central Park.  After two weeks my luck had consisted of nought but stone faces and closed doors.  I had reached my last day of hope of living in New York City--I was going to make one final foray into the bars and restaurants, then bust my last twenty bucks, tuck my tail between my legs and take a late train back to New Haven
That night I was around walking around Greenwich Village and saw a place called Bleecker Street Bar, which I had never noticed before.  I contemplated going in, but decided instead to go back to the hotel and rest up for my last day on the job hunt.  Then I noticed some guys playing darts in the back, and changed my mind on a whim.  I went in, ordered a beer and asked the bartender if there were any house darts I could use.  He handed me a bottle and a cigar box filled with assorted dart parts.  The only three that matched were el cheapos, but from what I could tell they had never been used, and therefore were very sharp.  I got onto a board and was unbeatable.    After five wins they were lined up to challenge me. I dispensed with this guy named Brad twice; he just threw up his arms and bought me a beer.  After eleven games I retired undefeated for the evening.  Just then Brad wandered out of the back room and said to no one in particular:  “That was really weird.  I just met a guy whose father is named Stephen King, but is not THE Stephen King, so I told him my father was Larry King, but not THE Larry King.”
“Is your father Larry L. King, who wrote a book called None But A Blockhead?” I asked. 
His jaw hit the floor.  “How could you possibly know that?” he replied. 
I told him about my coincidental visit to the bookstore just a couple weeks before, and he explained that he’d only ever met four or five people who knew who his father was, and that I was the only one he’d met who knew anything about NONE BUT A BLOCKHEAD.  We were simply awed.  While continuing to shake our heads he gave me his father’s number and address in D.C., and asked me to call and razz him about their football rivalry. I never did, and never saw Brad again, but I did leave the bar aglow with wondrous amazement.  How could it possibly mean anything but that I was meant to be in New York City?
I got up early the next morning, fresh and ready to greet the day that I knew would be so kind to me.  My cheerful optimism soured to frustration as I spent it in and out of twenty places with nought but twenty more: ‘thank you, but no thanks.’  By five thirty I was despondent, and had all but given up.  I was flowing along in the throng on twenty third street when the day blew me a kiss and my life changed in a moment.  I glanced down to see that I had stepped on a five dollar bill.  I snatched it up in elation.  It was a sign.
A few years before in my Jesus novel I had written a short parable in which a five dollar bill was symbolic of the blessings of God.   The very next day I had literally gotten down to my last dollar in the world, and was walking around New Haven thinking that I’d really like to go out and have a couple of beers that evening, to decompress and unwind from the incessant writing I’d been doing morning, noon and night for weeks on end.  I wandered up to the café where I’d penned my parable the previous afternoon, and there on the ground outside the front door was a five dollar bill.  I was thunderstruck.  It was an awesome ‘coincidence’ that quintupled my worldly wealth in an instant, and as I pondered what to do with it the answer came easily--I went out that night with some friends and enjoyed the two beers that were my wish.  They were as delicious as anything I’ve ever tasted.
In the several years since I’d found literally dozens of five dollar bills in some of the strangest places.  Whenever I was with a friend or a companion they were the beneficiary of my find, and the fivers just kept coming back to me like manna   So as I stood there alone on 23rd Street, I offered up a prayer of gratitude to God then surveyed my surroundings.  There were scampering people and screaming traffic in every direction.  I was overwhelmed.  I looked to my left and saw that I was standing in the doorway of JJ’s Pub.  I recalled the first fiver I had found, and being just as frazzled and frustrated as I had been on that day, decided to spend this one in that same way.
I entered JJ’s and took up a stool at the bar.  The place was quiet, and the bartender greeted me immediately.  He shook my hand and said, “Welcome, friend, I’m Walt.  What’s your name and what can I do for you?”
He was about fifty, with thick dark hair greased back, and a shock of gray that protruded back from the center of his forehead.  He had a wry grin and crow’s feet that winked at you.
“Bob,” I replied.  I humbly laid my fin on the bar.  “It’s been a rough couple weeks, and this is all I have.  I need the most bang for the buck, including a tip for you.”
He eyed me hard, then lifted a green bottle from the top shelf, filled a snifter and set it before me, with a glass of ice water behind.  He didn’t touch my money.  “So, why so down on your luck?” he asked.
“I’m not down on my luck,” I answered, “I’m just wondering where it is.  This is likely my last night in New York.”
“Likely?” he repeated after me.  “That doesn’t sound like a tourist talking.”
“I’m not,” I answered.
“How long have you lived here?” he asked.
“Two week,” I answered.  He scrunched his brow in confusion.  I thought about it for a moment, then decided to play it low.  “I do some writing, but came to the city with too little money and no real plan.”  I didn’t want to talk about myself, and was uncomfortable under his gaze, and so decided to taste the liquor he’d served me.  It tickled its way down my throat like a warm massage.  I went flush, and was enervated cap a pie.  I stared back at him.  “What is that?” I asked with great admiration.
“My Scottish cousin’s home-stilled single malt, fifteen year old port wood finish,” he answered.
“It’s…freaking…incredible….” was my breathless reply.
His attention was deflected from me by a new customer.
I took another sip of the scotch, rolled it over my tongue while gently shaking my head, then took a look around me.  The architecture of the space was all wood adorned by brass.  The bar was a burnished mahogany twelve stool half horshoe.  There was a huge, beautiful painting of three women playing billiards behind the bar, and ten cocktail tables between it and the forty or so table dining room.  In the back were two dartboards, a pool table, and a couple of weathered booths.  That moment there were five patrons in the place, including me.
Walt wandered back in my direction.  “Thank you again for the drink…I needed it.”
“Think nothing of it, kid.  You’re quite welcome.”
“This is a beautiful space,” I remarked. “Do you do much business?”
He wore a garishly large diamond studded gold watch.  He looked down at it for a long pause, as much admiring as utilizing it.  “Five minutes or so, right about six.”
Almost on cue, several servers appeared out of nowhere and took up their stations, the people began pouring in, and dinner was under way.  I took small, savory sips of the scotch, and got lost in a reverie.  My maternal grandfather, Harley Murdock, was from Scotland, and a few years earlier I had hitchhiked up the east coast through Edinburgh to Inverness, then back down the west coast along the lochs and to Glasgow.  They are an incredibly friendly people living in an otherworldly beautiful land.  I wondered whence my grandfather had hailed, and in what humble house in what small village Walt’s cousin was brewing his magical Scottish elixir.
Then the growing bustle of the restaurant brought me back to my barstool.  Walt was right in front of me mixing a couple of drinks.  “Hey Walt,” I said.  “When you get a sec, can I see a menu?”
“A menu?” he replied.  He looked at me crosswise and locked his gaze onto mine.  Without breaking it he took two steps back, set the drinks on the service bar, grabbed a menu, reluctantly handed it to me with wary, hairy eyeball reservation, and said:  “I thought you said that was yer only five bucks?”
Suddenly understanding his perception, I hastened with an explanation.  “Believe me, it is.  I’m not at all hungry, just curious what’s bringing all the people in.”  His eyes softened, though continued to penetrate, expecting a better answer.  “I’m a bright kid,” I said, “I wouldn’t ruin your cousin’s scotch with food.”
He broke a hint of a smile that silently said he was satisfied, and returned to the business at the bar.  I opened the menu and memorized it.  It was the standard pub fare of burgers, soups, salads and sandwiches that I had served for so many years, so I knew it already. 
As I sat there studying the menu, I felt the presence of a man take up the stool beside me, and his deep, simple voice said:  “I recommend the JJ reuben.”  I had just read the description, which made it sound delectable—a black bean burger heaped with sauerkraut and swiss on toasted rye, drizzled with russian dressing, and served with curly fries and a kosher dill.
“I’ve already eaten today,” I replied, “I’m just shopping for tomorrow…I hope.”
“Well, come back and try it, you won’t go wrong.”
He was a large man, though not obese.   I was over six feet, and he had me by several easy inches.  His black, wiry hair was thin, though it covered his whole scalp, and his face was wizened with wrinkles.  His most distinctive feature was his missing left front tooth, which lent a mystique to his visage.  Without a word Walt served him a drink, whereby I inferred that they were familiar.  Then he started making small talk with me.  He spoke in plain language, about the weather, the state of the city and the mayor and other nonesuch.  I prompted him along with nods of agreement, brief observations and other chit chat.  He was actually quite engaging, and I content to listen. 
He was positioned between me and the front door, and at one point, over his shoulder, I noticed two young women come in and take up the far corner cocktail table.  I caught the brunette’s eye for the briefest moment, and a quick smile. 
The restaurant was at the height of its rush, and the two waitresses serving the cocktail lounge were harried and flustered.  Almost five minutes after their sitting down I noted that the two young ladies were still unattended.  They were fidgeting and rolling their eyes at the lack of service, and seemed to be contemplating leaving.  My toothless neighbor at the bar was busy analyzing the Yankees.  I had a thought to do something, then decided to carry it through.  I excused myself and went over to the women.
“Hi ladies, my name is Bob.  What would you like to drink?”
My cutting through the lounge to the women had caused a slight stir, and subsequent stares--several people were watching me, including Walt.
The blonde said:  “Are you buying?”
The beautiful brunette apologetically added:  “Are you our waiter?”
“Uh, well, I just help out here, but I’ll take care of you.  What would you like?”
The blonde said:  “Two cosmopolitans.”
The brunette added:  “And two glasses of water with lemon, if it’s no bother.”
“Would you like to see menus?” I asked.
The blonde said:  “Yeah, we’re starving!”
The beautiful brunette just smiled.
I went straight to Walt, who looked at me quizzically when I said, “They need two cosmopolitans, two lemon waters and two menus.”
“Are you buying?” he asked.
“All I have is that five,” I replied.  “If you want to start a tab, I’ll take care of them and cash them out with you.  They were being ignored, and were about to walk out.”
Without another word he laid the drinks and two menus on the bar.  I expertly balanced everything on my abnormally huge hands, and delivered it to the lovely girls.  The blonde took a huge gulp of her cosmopolitan while the beautiful brunette politely thanked me. 
“Do you want a minute to look over the menu?” I asked.
The blonde said:  “Oh no, we know what we want.  I want JJ’s reuben.  But instead of the black bean burger, I want the lamb patty.  And I want untoasted white bread instead of rye, and American cheese instead of swiss.  Instead of the sauerkraut I want two pickles, and I like my curly fries extra crispy, with a sprinkle of parmesan and a dash of basil.  Manuela in the kitchen knows how I like it.  Oh, and don’t forget a side of mayo.”
The beautiful brunette said:  “I’d like the Caesar salad, as is.”
“As you like it,” I replied.  I went straight to Walt and relayed the order without having written down a word.  I told him to let me know if he needed anything else, then returned to my seat at the bar.
“That was right hospitable of you,” said the guy whose Yankee babble I had left.
“It was an instinct,” I replied; “they were about to leave.  I like this place, and I especially like that brunette.”  Already halfway through the snifter of Walt’s cousin’s scotch, I treated myself to another generous gulp.  I was trying to be casual, but I could not take my eyes off the brunette.  A couple minutes later Walt whistled to get my attention, and pointed to the two dishes of food that had been brought from the kitchen.  I picked up the plates and served the ladies. 
The blonde said:  “I’m sorry Bob, but I forgot to mention that I’m on a special diet, and that on Thursdays I’m supposed to substitute my carb rich fries with greens and low fat vinaigrette.  And…oh, I’m sorry…nevermind.  Would you bring us two more cosmopolitans…please?”
The beautiful brunette softly said:  “Thanks again, Bob.”
I brought them two more cosmopolitans, and with the highest degree of professional courtesy my restraint could summon, a plate of greens with low fat vinaigrette to the blonde, who said:  “Thanks Bob, you’re great…really.”
The beautiful brunette just melted me with her smile.
Mine widened, and I just about stumbled back to my stool; I was completely taken by her beauty.  I re-entered the conversation with the big guy like I had never left it.  He was a buff for the trivia and history of Manhattan, explained that the entire city water supply was inspected by a middle-aged woman in Queens whose nose had an uncanny sense for bacteria, and that in the nineteenth century there was a forced evacuation of twenty seven villages to the north to create the reservoir needed for the city water supply.  He told me that and more about New York, but my eyes were fixed on the girls.
Finally, the blonde signaled to me that they were ready for their check, which Walt tallied and gave to me to deliver.  It was fifty dollars.  “Thanks for coming by, I’m glad you enjoyed everything, and come again,” I said with a smile, then returned to my barstool.
A few moments later the blonde handed me the check and the cash, and said:  “Thanks B-O-B!”
The beautiful brunette lightly touched my hand and said:  “Everything was great, hank you very much.  I’m Sarne and she’s Jennifer, we hope to see you again.”
I watched them leave, then turned and handed the money to Walt, who was standing right in front of me.  He counted it, and said:  “They left you a twenty dollar tip?”
I was flattered, then replied, “No, they left you a twenty dollar tip.  It was your table.”
He was clearly pleased.  He dropped the twenty into his tip bucket, rang the bell, grabbed the green bottle, came over to me and said:  “Drink up.”
I did, and he refilled my snifter to the top. 
Then the big guy said to me:  “So your name is Bob, eh?”
“It is.”
“What do you do, Bob?” he asked.
“I’m a novelist,” I explained.  “Two weeks ago I was living in New Haven.  I’ve been frustrated for years trying to get published, so I stuffed my manuscripts into a backpack and decided to move here, with the hope of meeting some editors or agents in person.”
“There are quite a few literary types who frequent this bar.”
“Well, unless they show up tonight, I won’t be meeting them.”
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Because I haven’t found any work, and I only have enough money to get me back to New Haven.”
“What do you do for work?”
“Bar and restaurant.  I’ve been in the business since I was a kid, and I think this is the only place in Manhattan that I haven’t applied to.”
He swiveled on his stool to face me, extended his hand and said:  “I’m the JJ in JJ’s Pub.  You have a job here if you want one.”
I was dumbfounded.  “Really?  I…I don’t know what to say…sure, of course!”
“I was watching you closely.  The way I see it, you just saved me several thousand dollars.   If they left here irate they’d go badmouthing JJ’s all over the city, and I can only imagine how many people two beautiful women come into contact with.  But you took excellent care of them, and in doing so, took care of me.  Can you be here Sunday at five…in the morning?”
Five in the morning? I thought.  “Yeah, of course,” I replied, knowing I could easily back out.
“Good, we’ll set you up on the schedule then, Bob.”  He said something to Walt, finished his drink, shook my hand again and left.
I finished the second snifter of scotch, and a third while chatting with a couple of nondescript strangers.  About nine I stood up, thanked Walt profusely and took my leave.
“Hey Bob,” he said.  “You forgot this.”  He slid my five dollar bill back across the bar.  “We’ll see you Sunday at five.”
I stepped outside and stared closely at the façade.   It was a simple doorway overhung with a carved wooden sign--JJ’S PUB.  There was another sign beside the door:  OPEN AT FIVE PM--Almost every day.
I wandered into the crowded night wondering what to do.  Sunday morning at five am?  What was that all about? And I couldn’t get Sarne out of my mind.
I almost floated the twenty blocks back downtown to my hovel.  I was kicking along Fourth Street in a dream when I noticed the Bleecker Street Bar.  I still had the fiver so I stopped in.  Since there was no one playing darts, I wandered into the back room to the pool tables.  A younger guy named Gopal immediately introduced himself and offered me a beer and a game of pool.  I was bursting with my story, and told him about my writing and my recent move to New York, and the sudden and fortuitous turn my life had just taken.  His father was a math professor at NYU and he was a graduate and a very highly paid banker.  He said he had something I could use, and reached for his wallet.  I thought he was getting an editor’s name and phone number, or his own business card.  Instead, he removed fifty British pounds and handed them to me.  He very nonchalantly explained that it was from work and wouldn’t go missing from anyone.  He filled my glass and raised a toast.
“That is a generous gift,” I answered.  I put the money into my right pocket, and removed my five from the left and placed it in his hand.  “This is from me to you, my friend.  Spend it wisely.” 
I told him about the Jesus novel, and why five dollar bills rained on my life.  I could see in his expression that he understood the significance.  We shot another game, finished the beer, then went our ways into the night and never spoke again.  I slowly made my way back to the hotel and crawled into my dirty bed.  By noon I had to pay another week’s rent or check out.





                                                                                                           


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