The Saga of Ellis Continues

Note: This is all true.

Chapter Four

In the year of our Lord, 1700, it’s a gentle breeze that pushes the small sailing ship southwest, towards the northern coast of Cape Ann. The master and owner of the ship is John Lane who, together with his wife and children, is coming from Falmouth, Maine, after being run out by Indians during the First Indian War. It is a new century and a new beginning for the Lane family.

As the ship approaches land, John sees the dense forests he had been told about. His plan is to first clear a parcel in which to build their house. Then he and his sons will fell trees and sell the wood for the making of ships. There certainly is no shortage of raw material.

The ship anchors ten miles north of Gloucester Town, off Flatstone Cove. John and his eldest son, James, row a small dory to the shoreline. There is no beach, no soft white sand to set foot upon. The coast, as is the entire island, is made of granite. There is a small hill overlooking the cove, and it is there that Lane decides to build his house. The family will live onboard the boat until the house is inhabitable.

By 1704, John Lane had been given a grant of ten acres in and around the cove. It has been four years since the Lane family set foot upon the rocky shoreline. There were six children in the Lane clan when they landed, now there are nine. Before they are finished, John and his wife, Dorcas, will have brought a total of twelve new souls into the world. Not all of them will make it to adulthood, but enough of them do so. The land is eventually named Lanesville. And, in time, Flatstone Cove becomes known as Lane’s Cove. So it went, generation after generation of Lanes populating the northern region of the island known as Cape Ann.

• • • •

The year is 1974. The place: Cape Ann Marina.

Ellis and Wayne have just come in from a day of tuna fishing. The men who had charted the Cape Ann for the day are a happy lot. They got themselves a tuna—almost 800 pounds. By now, the Japanese had discovered the tuna-rich fishing grounds off Gloucester. And any fish they could not catch themselves, they bought from the local fishermen. The price had risen from the three cents of Ellis’ youth to six dollars per pound. There’s a lot of sushi sold in Japan.

After having taken numerous pictures with their prize, Ellis’ customers gave him the tuna, as a tip, to dispose of as he saw fit. He sold it to a Japanese buyer for $4,800.00—without having to leave the dock. He split the cash with Wayne and he headed over to the bar.

Everybody in Gloucester knew Ellis, and that included all the people in the bar that evening. It took him a few minutes to respond to all the salutations he received as he walked through the door. It was a big room and he had to make the rounds, shaking hands with the men and winking at the women. Luckily, the barmaid knew his poison, and it was waiting for him when he finally sat down on the barstool.

He sipped his drink slowly. It was early and he was wound up from the day’s adventures. He thought he’d have one more drink and then order dinner. After that, he’d see how things panned out. It had been a good day. And with money in his pocket and a gleam in his eye, he was looking to make it a good night as well.

As Ellis sat on his stool contemplating his drink and looking in the mirror behind the bar, a vision of loveliness caught his eye. She had legs that just would not quit. Her hair was auburn, her eyes green, and her smile brought joy to the hearts of men. She was a direct descendant of John Lane.

“Who’s that girl?” he asked the barmaid.

“She’s the new waitress.”

“Why haven’t I seen her before?”

“Probably because she’s the new waitress,” came the sarcastic reply.

“You know what I mean. I know every female on this island between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five and I’ve never seen her before. What’s her name?”

“It’s Laura … something. Wait. Now I remember—it’s Laura Lane.”

“Where is she from?”

“Jeeze, Ellis. You want her phone number and bra size too? I was just introduced to her when I came on shift. You can do your own dirty work. I got drinks to serve.”

The young barmaid walked away in a huff. Probably because she was an ex-lover of the man who was asking all the questions about another woman.

Ellis moved to the end of the bar, to the serving area where the waitresses picked up their drink orders. It was a safe bet he’d be able to get in a few words while the beauty was waiting for her orders to be filled.

He let her come and go twice before he said anything. He was letting the line run out. On her third trip back, after she had just placed an order for two vodka martinis on the rocks and a draft beer, Ellis tried to set the hook.

“Hi. My name’s Ellis. I’ve been watching you and I gotta say that you are sensational. I’m not trying to hit on you or anything. I just want you to know that I think you are beautiful.”

The girl smiled, and her eyes grew wide. “I know who you are. Everybody knows who you are.”

Ellis thought, This is going to be easy. But before he could go on with his spiel, the girl continued. “And everyone knows that you are the horniest hound dog around. You’ve bedded three of my girlfriends that I know of, but … I must admit … they all speak quite highly of you. And that’s amazing, seeing as how you dumped each of them after a few romps in the sack.”

Just then her order was placed before her. She put the drinks on a small tray and departed without saying another word.

The hook had not been fully set.

Well, it might not be that easy, thought Ellis. But it may be a lot of fun trying.

When she came back, Ellis asked, “Wanna have dinner with me some night?”

In spite of herself, Laura was attracted to the smiling man who looked straight into her eyes. After she gave her drink order to the barmaid, she said, “If dinner is all you have in mind, then I see no reason to decline your kind offer.”

“That’s great. When is your next night off?”

“I’m off Mondays and Tuesdays. Take your pick.”

“I think Mondays are the best day of the week to sit down to dinner with a beautiful woman.”

Laura blushed at the compliment. She wrote her phone number on a bar napkin and handed it to Ellis. “Call me Monday afternoon to confirm. For all I know, you’ll be entangled with some other woman by then.”

With a light laugh, Ellis replied, “Don’t worry. I’ll fit you in somehow.”

Laura rolled her eyes and said, “I would appreciate that considerably,” before leaving with her drink order.

Monday finally rolled around, and Ellis, after having called to ascertain the address and confirm that he was still looking forward to seeing her, was at Laura’s apartment at eight on the dot.

Ellis held the car door open for her. As she slid in, he once again appreciated her long legs. He took her to a small and intimate place on Rogers Street, owned by a friend of his. Out back there was an enclosed garden with one table—“Ellis’ Table.” When Ellis walked through the door with Laura, the proprietor welcomed him as a long-lost friend and escorted them to Ellis’ private dining room.

It was a warm summer night and the scent of flowers filled the air. Colorful Japanese lanterns adorned the walls of the garden and soft music emanated from unseen speakers. No menus were presented, only a bottle of crisp, dry white wine.

While the waiter uncorked the bottle, Ellis said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I called ahead and ordered our dinner. And I hope you like white wine. I’m not big on the red stuff. But you can have whatever you’d like.”

“No, white is fine. What’s for dinner?”

“Why not be surprised?”

Laura consented to be surprised and shyly sipped her wine.

“Okay. Now that we have that out of the way, tell me about yourself.”

Ellis had downed his wine in two gulps. He was a little nervous. He raised the wine bottle out of the ice bucket and refilled his glass.

Looking at Ellis from over the rim of her wine glass, Laura countered, “Most men like to talk about themselves. Why don’t you go first?”

“You’ve already told me that you knew all about me. I’m the horny hound dog, remember? So, I’d like to know a little something about you. For instance, how long have you lived in Gloucester? Where do you come from? And how did you get to be so goddamn beautiful?”

Laura put her glass down and thought for a moment before answering.

This guy’s on the make alright. This place would soften up any woman. Stay on your toes, Laura girl. He’s just asking about you to put you off your guard. I have to admit, he’s done everything right so far. But just remember that he only wants to get into your pants. Enjoy the meal, enjoy your night out, and then have him drive you straight home. No going over to his place for a nightcap.

“Well, Ellis, I’ve only lived in this part of Gloucester for a few weeks now. But I was born on the island. In fact, my family has been on Gloucester since the year 1700. You ever been up to Lanesville?”

“Many times.”

“That’s where I’m from.”

“Why haven’t I ever seen you before?”

“Probably because you don’t hang out at high schools all that much. You’re about ten years older than I am. When I was in school you were down here doing your fishing … for both tuna—and the way I hear it—women. When I graduated high school, I went off to college. I’m home for the summer now, but there’s no work up in Lanesville or the vicinity. I thought it would be cool to go to Gloucester and get a job. I didn’t want to commute, so I got myself an apartment down here. It’s small but cozy. There you have it. My whole life story.”

Ellis refilled her glass and said, “Not quite.”

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t told me how you got to be so goddamn beautiful.”

Laura laughed and said, “You’re too much, Ellis.” Ellis tilted his wine glass toward her in a silent toast and said, “I try to be.” Then they talked about this and they talked about that. Small talk mostly, until dinner was served. During dinner, Ellis confessed that his family had also settled in the area during the 1700s. “But a little later than yours. I think it was about 1750 or thereabouts.”

They lingered over dinner, enjoying the food, the company, and the conversation.

On the way back to Laura’s apartment, Ellis was talkative, but did not mention stopping by his apartment for a nightcap or anything else of that sort. He asked questions about her family history and seemed genuinely interested in her answers. At her place, he again opened the car door for her and escorted her to her apartment.

Here it comes, she thought. He’s going to ask to come in “for just a little while.”

However, he did no such thing. Instead, he held out his hand and shook hers, saying, “I’ve had a wonderful evening, Laura, and I’ve enjoyed your company. Goodnight.”

With a perplexed look on her face, Laura watched Ellis’ retreating figure as he descended the stairs.

He didn’t even try to kiss me goodnight. Maybe I was wrong about him. Either that or he didn’t like me.

She got out her key and let herself into the apartment. After making sure the door was locked, she leaned against it and was stunned to realize she was a little disappointed that Ellis had not made a move on her.

Chapter Five

Five days went by before Laura heard from Ellis again. It was over the phone that he asked her, “Tomorrow is Monday and I was wondering if you’d like to shoot a little pool?”

Laura smiled into the phone before answering. He’s interested in me after all.

“I don’t know how to play pool.”

“Neither do I. So don’t worry about it. There’s an Irish pub right down the block from you. Perhaps you’ve seen the green and white sign. The name’s Mulroney’s.”

“I’ve seen the sign, but I’ve never been in there.”

“They also have dartboards and they make the best hamburgers in town. If you’re free, I thought we could meet there about sevenish. We could play a few racks and throw a few darts while drinking draft Guinness. Then we’ll have us some hamburgers and call it an early night. I’ve got a charter Tuesday morning.”

“Sounds like it might be fun. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

They met at the prescribed time, played the aforementioned games, and consumed said beer and burgers. In the course of the evening, they got to know one another on a slightly deeper level. Even though things were lighthearted, or maybe because no one was trying to impress anyone, they let their true selves show through. And they both liked what they saw.

Ellis was quiet as he walked Laura back to her place. He hadn’t meant to feel this way. At first he was just out to bed a beautiful woman. And that was all. But a monkey wrench had been thrown into the mix. She had turned out to be more than a set of long legs and a pretty face.

She’s smart and fun to be around and so much more. This one, Ellis old buddy, you’ve got to treat a little differently. You’ve got to show a little respect.

“What are you thinking about, Ellis?”

“I was just thinking. Seeing as how you’ve got the day off, I was wondering if you’d like to come over to my place tomorrow night and have dinner. I haven’t told you before, but I’m a gourmet cook. I’ll dazzle you with my cooking.”

If it had not been for the first two dates with Ellis where he behaved as a perfect gentleman, Laura would have declined the invitation. But now … she wasn’t so sure she would mind Ellis getting into her pants.

“Sounds like fun. What time?”

“We dine at eight. I live on T Wharf over in Rockport. There’s a long staircase on the outside of the building going up to my place. You can’t miss it. But if you do, just ask anyone to point the way to Captain Ellis. You’ll find me.”

At her door, Ellis did not ask to come in … or shake her hand. He leaned into her and gave her a kiss on the cheek and then he was gone.

Ellis had some work to do before the next night. Rockport was a dry town. That meant no bars, no liquor stores, no nothing. Hence, his apartment became the de facto place to hang out at night. There was always a crowd. The young guys came to have a few drinks and watch the Celtics or Bruins play. Or if the season was right, the Boston Patriots. The young girls came because that’s where the boys were. There was a party happening every night up in his apartment, regardless if Ellis was there or not.

He passed the word around that his apartment was off limits for one night. If anyone felt the need to hang out, they could drive down to Gloucester. It was only ten minutes away.

Laura showed up a few minutes after eight. Ellis met her at the door with his signature smile. “Please come in. Did you have any trouble finding me?”

“Nope. You’re right where you said you’d be.”

He sat her on the couch and said, “I’ll be right back.”

He came back holding two glasses of wine, one of which he held out to Laura.

“Thank you,” she said.

Ellis sat down on the couch, but not right next to Laura. He sat at the other end so that he could turn sideways and look at her as they spoke.

They sipped their wine in silence for a few minutes, and then Laura asked, “What’s for dinner?”

“I want to surprise you again.”

“Do you need any help?”

“No, thank you. I’ve got it covered.”

Laura looked around the apartment, and just for something to say, remarked, “Nice place you’ve got here.”

“Yeah. I had to pay one of the neighborhood girls to clean it while I was out fishing today. I didn’t want you to see me in my natural habitat.”

She laughed nervously. She was feeling differently toward Ellis. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. But then it dawned on her. What if he doesn’t make a pass at me tonight? How am I’m going to feel about that?

Being the straightforward type, she decided to get it out in the open before dinner. She could deal with whatever the answer was, but she wanted it out of the way before she ate or else the food would lay heavy in her stomach. No matter how good it was.

She steeled herself, took a deep swallow of wine and then blurted out, “What’s the matter with me?”

Ellis was taken aback. “As far as I can see, nothing.”

“I mean, why haven’t you tried to talk me out of my clothes?”

“Do you want me to talk you out of your clothes?”

“Yes. I mean, no! But it would help my ego if you’d at least try.”

Ellis smiled a crooked smile and put his wine glass down on the coffee table. He moved over and took the glass out of her hand and placed it next to his. He touched her cheek with the back of his hand and said, “I’ve held off because you’re special.”

Looking into her bottomless green eyes, he leaned over and softly … gently … kissed her. She responded. All their pent-up inhibitions dissipated as they caressed one another. They were free. Ellis whispered in her ear, “The hell with it.” He stood and scooped her off the couch and carried her to his bedroom. Still holding her in his arms, he kicked the bedroom door closed with his right foot.

Two hours later, when the door next opened, they emerged with contented glows on their faces. Laura sat on the couch while Ellis went to retrieve the bottle of wine. Once their glasses were replenished, Laura inquired, “I suppose your dinner is ruined by now.”

“Not by a longshot.”

Ellis reached for the phone sitting on the coffee table. With the receiver in hand, he dialed a number from memory. “Hello. Tony’s Pizza? This is Captain Ellis. I’d like the large deluxe, the one with everything on it. Of course, with anchovies.”

When he had finished with Tony’s, Ellis lifted his glass toward Laura and said, “Here’s to you, Beautiful.”

“Not so fast, Captain Ellis. Didn’t you promise me a gourmet dinner?”

“I promised you a dinner. I said I was a gourmet cook, but I lied. What are you gonna do about it?”

“This is what.”

Still holding her wine, Laura wrapped her arms around Ellis’ neck—spilling a little wine in the process—and gave him a great big kiss right on the lips.

“What are you going to do about that?” she wanted to know.

“As soon as we get the pizza out of the way, I’ll show you.”

The summer of ’74 was the time that Ellis came the closest to being hooked, reeled in, and put on display. Even though their schedules were different—he worked days, she nights—they spent as much time together as possible.

During the days that Ellis had no charter, he’d take Laura out on the Cape Ann ostensibly to teach her to fish. However, very little fishing was ever attempted. Laura always packed a picnic lunch and Ellis brought a cooler of beer. They would anchor a few miles out and enjoy the warm sun on their bodies, each other, and the vast expanse of blue ocean that lay before them. Those were idyllic days.

A few years back, a woman had spied Ellis walking out of a restaurant and approached him. “Hello. My name is Patty Sullivan and I’m kind of a talent coordinator. Have you ever thought of modeling?”

Ellis grinned and said, “You gotta be kidding me.”

“No, I’m not. I can get you what’s called catalogue work. Most male models are what I call soft-handsome. You have a rugged look about you. You’d be perfect for catalogues that are selling manly items. Like hunting gear, cars, that sort of thing.”

“How much does it pay?”

“By industry standards, not a whole lot. But it’s more than an average Joe makes in a day. Besides, it’s not hard work. All you’ve got to do is stand there and look ruggedly handsome.”

What the hell? It might be fun, thought Ellis. He agreed to give it a shot as long as it didn’t interfere with his charter business.

That’s how Ellis became a model, and modeling is what landed Ellis a spot as an extra in a film starring Liza Minelli and directed by Otto Preminger. The movie was called Tell Me You Love Me, Julie Moon.

When Ellis got the call from Patty asking him if he was interested in playing a man sitting at a table in a restaurant while the stars of the movie cavorted around him, he had two questions: How much does it pay? And can my girl be in it too?

“It pays a little more than you’d get for a day’s modeling. And I’m told the shoot shouldn’t take more than two hours. But it could go on longer. As to your second question, I had to send over your picture to the movie people for their approval. But knowing you, Ellis, I’m sure the girl is a knockout. So I’ll set it up.”

Ellis only agreed to participate because he thought Laura would get a kick out of it. It would give her something interesting to tell her friends about when she went back to college in the fall. Little did he suspect that he would dominate her conversations with her girlfriends when she returned to school.

By happenstance, the part of the movie that Ellis and Laura were to be in was being filmed at The Blacksmith Shop restaurant located right next door to Ellis’ apartment. A crew member seated them at a table on an aisle. They were told to look like they were in a deep conversation as the camera was wheeled past them. The setup was that the camera would go down the aisle and end up taking a shot of the harbor through a big plate glass window at the back of the restaurant.

As people ran around setting up for the shot, making sure the lighting was perfect, that the microphone was set properly, and all the other things that go into making a movie, Ellis noticed that where he was sitting was a little narrower than the rest of the aisle. The camera just wouldn’t fit through the gap. So, Ellis being Ellis, he stood up and moved the table back a foot or two.

Well. You would have thought that he had kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, killed Cock Robin, and any other number of sundry things. Otto Preminger came storming down the aisle, yelling and screaming. “Don’t you dare touch anything! You do nothing unless I tell you!” And on and on he went. He moved the table back to its original position and with a final omniscient glare in Ellis’ direction, stomped off to his director’s chair.

Ellis said nothing. When the tirade was over, he looked across the table at Laura and winked.

Eventually, the camera operator was ready, the sound man was ready, the movie stars were ready, and most importantly, Mr. Otto was ready.

“Action!” yelled the director.

The camera started on its way down the aisle. When it got to Ellis’ table, its movement was halted. It couldn’t fit through the gap between the tables. Ellis shrugged and Laura laughed. Preminger sent the assistant director to move the table back to where Ellis had placed it, and the filming resumed with no further mishaps.

Laura quit her job in late August so she could spend more time with Ellis before she had to go back to college. Ellis thought that was just dandy and whisked her off for a romantic week in Bermuda. While on the island, Laura broached the subject of continuing the relationship while she was away.

They were walking along the beach, holding hands. The water was topaz-blue, the white sand scrunched under their feet, the sunlight warmed the two lovers as Laura began to speak. “This summer has been the best time of my life, Ellis. What do you think? Do you want to keep it going? We can write each other and keep in touch. I’ll be back in just a few months for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe you could come to Lanesville and meet my parents.”

Ellis tightened his grip on her hand. He had a deep affection for the beautiful redhead walking next to him. She was wonderful. She was intelligent, fun to be with, a sensual lover, and best of all, she laughed at his lame jokes as though she really found them funny.

He sighed and told her the truth. “Baby, you are the best. You can have any man you want and I am so flattered that you want to be with me. But I’m not the marrying kind. I like you too much to bullshit you. We’ve had a wonderful summer and I will always remember it. In later years, when you’re surrounded by your children and grandchildren, I’ll have only my memories of this summer … and of you. I’ll never forget you and I’ll always love you. But you have to steer a different course than the one I’m on. To come onboard with me would only break your heart in the long run. Can you understand that?”

Laura looked into Ellis’s eyes and saw the love he had for her. A love that would let her go rather than lie to her. A love that treated her as an equal, a love that was profound and perhaps never ending.

Now it was Laura’s turn to sigh. “When I am surrounded by all those kids and grandkids, and even though my husband will be standing next to me, within my heart there will be a small place for you and this wonderful summer that you have given me.”

When they returned to Gloucester, Laura spent one last night with Ellis. They made slow and sweet love all night long, knowing that it was to be the last time.

The next morning, Laura said her final good-bye to Ellis.

He never saw her again.

 

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A Little More on Ellis (This is All True)

Chapter Two

 By the age of twenty-three, Ellis had his own boat, the Cape Ann, and his own charter business, bringing wealthy men out to the banks for the sport of fighting and landing a bluefin tuna. For, by then, word had gotten around that if you wanted to test your mettle against nature, fighting a thousand-pound bluefin for two or three hours was one way to do it.

In those days, when the fish were still plentiful, Ellis was the man to see. He had an uncanny knack for knowing where the great fish swam in the warm summer months. Men came up from New York, men flocked in from the mainland of Massachusetts, they came down from Maine, and they flew in from America’s heartland to hire Captain Ellis.

His fishing haunt was the Middle Bank, also known as Stellwagen Bank. Stellwagen is now a marine sanctuary, but back in the day it was Ellis’ private fishing preserve. An apartment on T Wharf, overlooking the Rockport Inner Harbor, doubled as his base of operations for his charter business and a house of ill repute when he was not fishing.

• • • •

The incessant ringing awakens Ellis. However, before lifting the receiver, he glances at the clock sitting next to the phone. Its luminescent hands throwing off a slight green glow. The time is 4:46 a.m. He had been asleep for less than an hour.

Groggily, and in a rasping whisper, Ellis speaks into the phone, “Hello?”

“Ellis, old buddy. It’s me. Marty.”

“Marty?”

“Yeah … Marty. Marty from Long Island. Me and my two buddies came up to do a little fishing.”

Ellis’ head clears a mite. He is wishing he had a glass of water. And a couple of aspirin wouldn’t hurt either. He had spent a hard night of drinking a concoction invented by one of his friends. He did not know what it consisted of, but he did know the prime ingredient was rum … and a lot of it.

Before he can further respond to Marty, a voice next to him intrudes into the conversation. “Ellis, honey. What time is it?”

Oh yeah. I forgot about her, thinks Ellis.

“It’s early. Go back to sleep.”

From the phone comes a reply. “Damn right it’s early. And we’re already up here in Gloucester. We’re going fishing. We have no plans to sleep until we’ve landed a bluefin.”

“I wasn’t speaking to you, Marty. Now tell me what the hell’s going on.”

“Ellis, I know I just woke you up from a sound sleep. So I’ll make this easy for you. We’re going fishing. You, me, Ted, and Verne.”

“Ted and Verne?”

“Yeah! Ted and Verne, they’re friends of mine. Now get your ass up. We’ll be there in an hour. We’re in an all-night diner on Route 128, just finishing breakfast.”

Ellis is now fully awake. How dare this New Yorker call him in the middle of the night and demand he hop out of bed and take him fishing. Sure, Marty’s a regular and a good customer. He’s also a generous tipper when he catches fish. But still.

Then Ellis remembers that his coffers are at an all-time low. It’s been a week since his last charter. Not because he didn’t have the business, but because he’s been too busy partying with his cronies and trying to bed every young female within the town limits of Rockport … and a few just over the town line.

Last night when they got low on rum, he had to make a call to the package store over in Gloucester. It went something like this:

“Hey, this is Ellis.”

“Hi, Ellis. What can I do for you?”

“I need a gallon of rum, but I can’t pay for it right now.”

“No problem. It will be there in fifteen minutes.”

“Thanks.”

Everyone liked the Boy Wonder.

For financial reasons, Ellis had decided to take the charter, but he wasn’t going to make it easy on ol’ Marty.

Speaking into the phone, his voice now strong, he said, “What makes you think I don’t already have a charter for the day?”

An eager Marty explains. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll pick up the full tab. I’m sure they’ll let us tag along.”

That’s why Ellis liked Marty. He was an eternal optimist.

“Well, it just so happens that I’m free today, but you’ll have to pick up the bait. Stop at Charlie Cucuro’s fish house. You’ll pass it on your way in. You can’t miss it. It will be on your left, and there’s a big red and white sign that you can see from the road.”

“Will they be open this time of morning?”

“It’s a fish house. They’ll be open.”

His conversation with Marty at an end, Ellis turns his attention to his bedmate. She’s a comely lass who goes by the name of Susie. Her hair is long and blonde. She has a figure that just will not quit. He had met her the day before as the sun was making a spectacular descent behind the high hills in the west. The diminishing sunlight rippled in her hair as it does upon a wheat field in midsummer. She was a tourist up from Boston, walking T Wharf with her girlfriend.

Ellis had observed her from the vantage point of his second floor apartment and was smitten. He was soon standing next to the girls and introducing himself. He invited them up to his apartment for a cool drink, and called a friend to come over to entertain the girlfriend while he spoke with the blonde. Long after the gallon of rum had been delivered, the friend took the girlfriend home and Ellis was left alone with Susie.

One thing led to another and here they were.

Ellis leaned into her and gently kissed her cheek. She shifted in her sleep and smiled. He did not want to wake her. He would leave a note on the kitchen table telling her how much he had enjoyed meeting her and that he would be back sometime after sundown if she felt inclined to continue their escapades from the previous evening.

From the kitchen phone he called his mate, Wayne. “Come on, buddy. We got ourselves a charter.”

“What do you mean we, white man?”

“I mean get your ass outta bed and meet me at the wharf in thirty minutes.”

“Damn! I just hit the sack. Why didn’t you tell me we had a charter today?”

“Look, Wayne, I didn’t know it myself until ten minutes ago. We need the money, and thank God the fuel tanks are full. So, we’re going.”

“Okay, Captain. I’ll see you at the wharf in half an hour.”

The two men meet, climb down the ladder to their waiting dingy, and row out to the moored Cape Ann. As Wayne inspects the fishing tackle, Ellis brings the boat to life. At first she roars, but then settles down to a contented purr.

Wayne disengages the line tethering them to the mooring and Ellis deftly maneuvers the Cape Ann alongside of the wharf. It is now almost 6:00 a.m. The sun is throwing a gentle light up and over the eastern horizon, turning the sky a light gray as the clouds turn dark—almost black. But that would not last. Soon our star—our sun—would emerge in all her glory. The sky would turn orange, the clouds would rapidly turn from dark gray to purple, and then sing their joy as they became a vibrant pink. Glory hallelujah, the sun has risen! But all that means less than nothing to Ellis, his head is throbbing.

Marty and his friends arrive and soon the Cape Ann is headed due east, into the rising sun.

Ellis was not a religious man, not by a long shot. He might not have marveled at the majesty of God’s sunrises, but he did have one ritual. Every time he took out a charter or just went out fishing for his own enjoyment, he would look to the south and see the concrete towers of Boston. And he would always say a silent prayer of thanks that he was out on the open ocean and not shackled to a desk in one of those monstrosities. The sea was Ellis’ church.

After a little more than an hour, the boat slows; they are now over the Middle Bank. It’s time to fish.

Wayne had rigged the gear on the way out. Each line hooked and baited.

The three New Yorkers stand at the stern and slowly let out their lines while Ellis keeps the boat steady and on course. It would not speak well of the captain if the lines were to tangle. After a hundred yards of line have been released, the anglers set their drags to fifty pounds and sit back—metaphorically speaking—to await the great bluefin tuna.

The minutes slowly pass … the hours drag on. Ellis thinks of Susie and her firm, round rear end. He keeps the fishing lines from tangling as he crisscrosses the bank in search of bluefin. The men down in the cockpit are swapping lies about the fish they had caught on previous outings and the women they had bedded in their younger days. Wayne sits in the small cabin wishing he was back in bed. He too had had a rough night.

Out of the depths, a bluefin strikes. Marty is the lucky one. It is his line running out to the south. Ellis slows the boat. Wayne comes alert. He yells to the other two men to reel in their lines—fast!

Ellis’ headache is forgotten. Susie is forgotten. The only thing that matters now is landing the bluefin. It will be a two-man affair. Marty down in the cockpit and Ellis up on the fly bridge. The rest of the men on the boat have suddenly become superfluous.

Marty gives the fish some lead. Not much … just enough. Then he braces his knees against the transom. He has to do this right or the whole day will be for naught. He lets the fish run, thinking it had just scored a tasty morsel of mackerel.

Ellis says nothing. This is Marty’s play. The boat is idling, but only momentarily. Once the hook is set, it will be Ellis’ job to move the boat forward or to put her in reverse and move her backwards to keep Marty’s line from getting tangled in the props. If the tuna takes off to the right or left and heads for the boat, Ellis will have to adjust his course. If the tuna pulls the line under the boat, it will be all over. Until the tuna is landed, he’ll be working just as hard as Marty.

The reel is spinning at an alarming rate. The line is going straight out to sea. Twenty-five yards … fifty yards … seventy-five yards … wait … wait … NOW! Marty pulls back on the pole. BAM … the hook is set.

His friends slap him on the back and congratulate him. Ellis frowns and yells down to the men. “It’s far from over. Give him room. Marty, you get in the chair, you’ve got a fight ahead of you. And Wayne, you know what to do. Stay behind the chair and don’t let our customer get yanked out of the boat. We haven’t been paid yet.”

Ellis was thinking of a good friend of his, a charter captain by the name of Mike. It was just him and a single customer. There was no mate. A tuna hit, and the man sat down in the fighting chair with a big smile on his face. Mike was doing his delicate dance of keeping the line away from the props. He was in reverse when it happened. The tuna was a big one. Before Mike knew it, his customer was pulled from the chair and into the ocean. There was no time to react. The man was chewed up by the props and sunk to the bottom. A week later, a fishing trawler brought the body up in their nets.

Marty cranks the reel … he pulls back on the pole … he cranks again … he pulls again. At first it’s exhilarating, thrilling … and so satisfying. But as time passes, his arms begin to ache. His feet are braced on the foot rest and his legs are on fire. Every muscle in his body is taut and tired.

If Ellis had not been fighting the fish in his own way from up on the fly bridge, the tuna would have pulled the boat miles out to sea. The process was simple. All they had to do was wear the fish out. Once it was exhausted, there’d be no problem reeling him in.

The adversaries are starting to get tired. But who will wear out first—the human or the fish? In a way, Marty was cheating. He had two diesel engines helping with the fight. The tuna had only its brute strength. The minutes wore on.

In a last ditch attempt to be rid of whatever was pulling him to his death, the tuna dives deep and heads straight for the boat. Ellis sees the line heading their way and gives the throttle a slight push forward. He has to keep the fish from the boat until it has no more fight left in him. Marty holds tight to the pole and cranks the reel. At this point, he just wants it to be over.

At the two hour-mark, the line goes slack. The tuna has given up. There is no fight left in him. He is on the verge of drowning because he cannot swim any longer. There is fear in his eyes … he knows he is going die. He is being pulled to what he does not know, but he does know that his days of swimming the cold Atlantic are at an end.

Up on the boat, Marty reels in the last few feet of line. The tuna rolls on the surface. He beholds the creatures that will take his life.

Wayne is there with the gaff. He hooks the tuna just behind the gills. This way the fish will bleed out and there will be just that much less blood to hose down off the deck when they return to port.

The tuna weighs six hundred pounds. So naturally, no one is going to pull it up and over the gunwhale. Wayne sets up the gin pole, a contraption made up of a four by four and a block and tackle. It is the gin pole that will bring the tuna on board.

With the fish secured, everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Marty’s buddies break out the beer. Marty sits back down in the chair, takes a deep pull from the cold brew, and accepts the accolades from his friends. Marty soaks it up. The praise is well earned.

Wayne stores the gear and gives Ellis the thumbs up. It’s time to head for home. Another day, another dollar.

Ellis, from his perch high up on the fly bridge, nods to Wayne and puts her in gear. His course, 270 degrees—due west. Five minutes later, Ellis sees a large dark form, just under the surface, off the starboard bow. It’s moving his way. He knows what it is and he cuts the engines.

They won the battle with the tuna. No way could they win against this creature.

The whale changes course and comes at the boat from amidships—starboard side. She’s beautiful. Ellis is enthralled. If she continues on her current course, the boat will be nothing more than flotsam in a few minutes. And all on board will be sleeping in Davy Jones’ locker this night.

On she comes. The men down in the cockpit are unaware of what is happening. They are swilling beer and laughing. Wayne is out of sight. He’s most likely in the cabin, knocking down a beer himself.

Fine, thinks Ellis. If we can come out here and kill a beautiful creature like a bluefin, then we should be fair game ourselves.

On comes the whale.

Ellis braces for the collision.

Short of the boat, the whale dives.

Ellis lets out his breath. He had not been aware that he had been holding it.

He’s about to restart the engines when the boat rises five feet into the air. The whale has come up under the Cape Ann. The lady whale is saying hello. She is a playful thing. A few seconds later, the boat has been gently deposited back onto the surface of the water. A giant tail, twenty feet off port, swishes in farewell.

Ellis grins, points the Cape Ann toward the setting sun, and shouts down below. “Wayne, bring me up a goddamn beer!”

Another day, another dollar.

Chapter Three

The wind is blowing at close to sixty knots. The sea is rolling—creating valleys twenty feet deep. The sheer walls of water would freeze a man’s heart if he was unlucky enough to find himself at the bottom of one of those aqueous canyons. The freezing rain slants in almost horizontally, carrying with it chunks of hail that dimple the surface water. Spray from the whitecaps fills the frigid air with its salty fury.

• • • •

Winters are harsh in New England and even harsher if you are out at sea. So Ellis looked around for something to keep him busy during those months and also put a few shekels in his pocket.

At the time, he drove an old Volkswagen beetle and liked the dependability of the car; hence, he decided to become a Volkswagen salesman during the winter months while the Cape Ann was laid up in dry dock.

Ellis being Ellis, he had a demand when he applied for a job at the local dealership. “I’ll work for you winter and spring, but come summer, I’m going fishing. If you can live with that, then we have a deal.” His renown as a sport fisherman had preceded him. The local dealership enthusiastically put him to work selling cars.

Ellis earned the Top Salesman Plaque for six months running before leaving for a summer of fishing. Not a bad life for a twenty-five-year-old bachelor. It afforded him the time and means to pursue his two favorite sports—fishing and meeting young women. Not necessarily in that order.

As legendary as he was for his fishing acumen, Ellis was also celebrated—at least by the male population of Gloucester—for his way with the fairer sex.

There was the aforementioned Susie. Then there was Cindy, Fran, Terry, Elouise, Diana, Mary Beth … well, the list goes on. Their names alone would take up an entire chapter. This aspect of Ellis’ “career” has been brought up for a reason. There was one name on the list that had a profound effect on Ellis’ life, but not in a way that he or anyone else could have ever imagined. Her name was Natalie. And her profession, at the time, was that of a nurse practitioner at Beverly Hospital.

• • • •

It’s a beautiful January day. The sun is shining. Cottony white clouds race across an azure sky. The scarlet feathers of a lone cardinal stand out against the snow-covered branches of a stately oak—his morning song filling the cold, crisp air. The people of Gloucester are starting their day. God sits on his heavenly throne and smiles down on Cape Ann. He is pleased with his handiwork.

It is now the third winter since Ellis started selling cars. The time is just a few minutes before 8:00 a.m. and Ellis is in his car heading for work. He’s thinking of the night before and lamenting the fact that, for the first time in a long time, he had gone to bed alone.

I needed some rest anyway, reasons Ellis. Then he ruminates further. Perhaps I’ll call Sally after work and see if she wants to come over for a little dinner. Now that he has that out of the way, he tries to turn his mind to more mundane matters, like selling a Volkswagen or two before day’s end. But he can’t help himself; a smile spreads across his face as he thinks, If I ask her nicely, I wonder if Sally will wear her white mini-skirt this evening?

The black Porsche 914 cuts the chilly air as it heads towards Ellis’ fate. The car is moving with the flow of traffic—about sixty miles per hour—when suddenly and without warning, Ellis goes into an uncontrollable sneezing fit.

One sneeze after another in rapid-fire succession. And with each sneeze, Ellis’ eyes close. At first, he’s able to keep the car in its lane, but then, fate intervenes. The right front tire hits a patch of black ice.

The Porsche skids to the right, across an empty driving lane, and heads directly for a sign post held up by two one-foot-square, solid steel I-beams. The ground in which they are imbedded is frozen solid. If a car were to hit either beam, there would be no forgiveness. It would be like hitting a brick wall, only worse. The wall would collapse … the beams are going nowhere.

Ellis sees his death fast approaching. There is no time to react. Just before impact, he thinks of Sally. He wonders—knowing how much he liked her in that white mini skirt—if she will break with tradition and wear it to his funeral. He hopes she does. That is his last conscious thought before impact. The Porsche plows into the left I-beam and explodes into many pieces. Then there is only darkness.

A trucker hauling a load of lumber is the first to stop. He is a big, tough man. He had fought in the war with General Patton. He has seen death, but not like this. For the most part, they were clean deaths. A bullet hole and an exit wound. Even the men who had stepped on land mines were in relatively good shape. Yes, they were missing a leg or two, but you could still identify them by their face. Now, he is repulsed by what he sees and takes a step back.

There is nothing to be done. The poor son-of-a-bitch is obviously dead. He will wait until the police arrive, give his statement, get the hell out of there, and then stop at the first bar he sees. He needs a drink.

Thankfully, the cops soon arrive.

The first police officer on the scene has seen his fair share of accidents, but this one is something else. The car lies in pieces and the man who had been driving did not fare much better. The officer has radioed for an ambulance, but only as a matter of form. He should have called for a hearse.

It is rush hour and traffic is heavy. Plus the fact that people are slowing down to take a gander at the mayhem, keeps the ambulance from arriving sooner. But eventually it gets there and the cops fill the driver in on the gory details. The driver shrugs. He too has seen his fair share of death.

He says to his partner, who is new on the job and still learning his way about, “Before we take him to the morgue, we have to confirm that he’s dead.”

Leaning into the destroyed car, the ambulance attendant puts his stethoscope to the corpse’s chest. “Goddamn! This man is alive!” he shouts.

The cop runs over. “Are you sure?”

“Sure I’m sure. He has a heartbeat!”

With great difficulty, the two attendants get Ellis—or what is left of him—onto the gurney. Once he is secured within the ambulance, the emergency lights are activated and the siren starts its woeful wail.

At the hospital, Ellis is rushed into an operating room where various liquids are pumped into his veins in an effort to stabilize him … to keep him from going into shock and ultimately cardiac arrest. X-rays are taken and show that every bone in his head has been broken—all twenty-nine of ’em. His right leg has sustained breaks in twenty places. In short, Ellis is a mess.

However, the biggest mess is Ellis’ face. Because of the trauma of the collision, it is twice its normal size. And with all those broken bones, the plastic surgeon that has been called in has no idea what the man looked like before the accident. How can he put him back together again if he doesn’t know what he looked like before?

He mutters his predicament to the nurse standing next to him. She turns to him and says, “I’ve got a picture of him in my wallet. Will that help?”

“Go and get it!”

Natalie runs to her locker and retrieves the cherished picture of Ellis that she has kept close since he gave it to her over a year ago. As she walks back to the OR, she thinks, That son-of-a-bitch is damn lucky I held on to this picture. But she’s smiling as she thinks it. Ellis was one of the kindest and most attentive lovers she had ever known.

Back in the OR, the doctors get down to the business of saving Ellis’ life and reconstructing his face. Natalie is also there, doing her job. She is a professional, but still, a tear or two trickle down her cheeks. But they are hidden by her surgical mask.

Besides everything else, Ellis was permanently blinded in his right eye.

It’s twenty-four hours before he regains consciousness. His jaw is wired shut. He’s wearing a cast from the hip down on his right leg. But he’s having fun and holds court daily. His cop buddies from Gloucester smuggle in cocktails for him. His many girlfriends stop by—bringing flowers. His male friends can barely fit into the room because of all the women crowding around his bed.

A month later, he’s discharged and walks out on two crutches. A month after that, he’s using a cane, and the month after that he’s back at work. No … not that kind of work. He’s back to chasing anything wearing a skirt.

It’s hard to keep a good man down. Just ask Natalie. She was the first person he called when he decided he had been celibate long enough.

In Ellis’ mind, the whole affair was just another day in his life.

No big deal.

 

Just Read an Article on Addiction

I just read your article and felt I had to respond. I hope that you don’t mind. And I do not expect a response. I just want to impart a bit of knowledge or maybe it might be called wisdom. I don’t know, you decide.

I was a junkie for thirty years—exactly thirty years. The only time I did not get high within that time-frame was the one time I shot some bad shit and lay in a coma for three days (I lived alone). I woke up and found that I had vomited upon myself and soiled myself (if you know what I mean). Then I went out and copped some more shit, but from a different source—hoping I wouldn’t kill myself. That is how much of a junkie I was. I got high every day for 10,950 days.

I do not know if you are ever going to write about the subject again, but if you do, I thought I’d give you a little insight into addiction that was woefully lacking in your article. Not your fault. Here are a few things from the street level that I think you should know.

Here goes:

  • Betty Ford: Who has $10,000 up front? Betty Ford was and is for the rich. The people in West Virginia ain’t ever gonna come up with that kind of dough. So, how relevant is a place like that? And most junkies I knew had no insurance. What about them? You may want to address that in your next article.
  • Med-Assisted Treatment: I can only speak about methadone. I was on it for most of those thirty years. I was on it because I wanted to get high. Every single person I met at those “clinics” were there for the same reason. We wanted to get high. The people who ran those clinics were in it for one reason and one reason only. Money. It was a win-win. We got high, they got rich. Med-assisted treatment should be limited to thirty days. That’s it. For the sincere person who wants to get clean, it will help them over the hump. But the medication must be started at a small dose, just to keep the physical pain away. Then it must be decreased every day for thirty days. Then the poor sons-of-bitches have to be cut loose or else end up like I did. Addiction is 99% mental, which brings me to my next point.
  • Rehab Does Not Work. All the rehab and intervention in the world will not work unless the individual is ready to get clean. Plain and simple, that’s it.
  • Now on to My Favorite Subject, Me: After thirty years, I thought I’d die a junkie. Why not? It was my life. But then one bright morning, I woke up and decided I did not want to get high anymore. However, I knew that my body would quit functioning if I stopped cold-turkey. So, I devised a plan.

I had been on the methadone clinic for so long that I was allowed to come in only once a month, which meant I took home a month’s supply. I was on 110 mg at the time. My genius plan was to detox myself over a seven-month period and then walk away clean. No muss, no fuss.

I made a chart and planned out my campaign. I would decrease my dosage once a week until I was down to 5 mg. A piece of cake.

I stayed true to my schedule and the dosage went down every week. But still I got high. Man, did I love opiates! Then came the last week. I took my last pill and waited. Nothing happened. That was easy, I thought. Then, on the third day after stopping, I fell into the fetal position and stayed that way for about a month. I didn’t know that opiates stayed in your system for seventy-two hours.

That first month was hell. I can’t and won’t describe what I went through. Although one thing of interest is that I could actually feel my brain coming back online. The synapses in my brain started up once again. I felt the neurons passing signals to other neurons. It was a crackling sensation, like an electrical discharge.

I could not stand for more than a few minutes at a time. I had constant diarrhea. My body shook. I screamed out in pain. My torment ruled my life. But here is the most insidious thing about coming off opiates: You cannot sleep. There is no respite from your pain. It’s twenty-four hours a day of waiting for your body to get right. For the first month, if I got ten or fifteen minutes of sleep, that was a good night.

My mind was cool. I had decided to get clean and I was—in my head. My body just had to catch up. It took six months before I was somewhat human again. It’s been seven years and I’m still not right. I’ll never be right. I’ve destroyed my body in so many ways.

  • Last point: With me, it is not one day at a time. I decided to get clean and I did. I have no desire to ever get high again. I do not yearn for it. I do not salivate if I see someone shooting up in a movie.

This is my take-away from all that shit I went through: When it’s your time to get clean, you’ll get clean. All the interventions in the world won’t do it. All the rehabs in the world won’t do it. Only you can do it.

I got clean at sixty years of age, and while I was in that fetal position and in indescribable torment, I started writing my first book. I have just published my fifth. I’m no Stephen King, but I’m making money from my writing and my books are well received. So please tell people there is always hope. But it’s up to them.

Thank you for listening to my rant,

Andrew Joyce

 

One Word

I’ve been angry all my life. Everyone was always out to take from me. I’ve never had any friends. Even when I was in high school, the other kids would go out to lunch together while I sat by myself, just off the school grounds, and felt the loneliness that had become my life.

On Saturdays nights, the other kids would go out on dates or pile into a car for a night of adventure. I would hitchhike to the main drag, plant myself on a bus bench, and watch the world go by, wishing I was a part of it.

Things didn’t get much better after I became an adult. I existed in the world, but was not a part of it. I had no use for anybody. My loneliness had long ago morphed into hatred. Hatred for the whole damn human race.

Then one day, I saw a dirty beggar down on 8th Street, by the 7-Eleven. I took great joy in his miserableness. At least someone was worse off than me. There was no way that he could have any friends. He was both lonely and homeless. I, on the other hand, had a roof over my head.

I tarried to revel in the spectacle. I was enjoying myself.

He held out a plastic cup, imploring me to contribute. Was he joking? Could he not tell from my sneer what I thought of him?

I was turning to leave, when a well-dressed man came up to the beggar and grabbed his filthy hand. He shook it vigorously while saying, “How ya doing, Tim?”

“Not too bad, Jim. Not too bad,” answered the tramp.

“You know, me and the wife still have that room for you. It would do you good to get off the streets and have a decent meal every day. If you’d ever accept one of my invitations to dinner, you’d see what a good cook Ruth is.”

“Thanks. But I’m doing just fine … for now. Let me take a rain check on that. Okay?”

“Sure, Tim. Sure.”

Before he left, the man took out his wallet, extracted a five-dollar bill, and put it into the cracked plastic cup held by the beggar.

I just shook my head in disbelief, turned, and walked into the 7-Eleven to get my cigarettes and a few scratch-offs.

When I came out, the beggar was in an animated conversation with a well-dressed, good-looking woman. I figured that he was harassing her and decided right then and there to go to her aid, if for no other reason than to harass the tramp.

“Excuse me, ma’am. But is this man bothering you?”

She looked at me as though I had two heads. Then she started to laugh.

“My God, no! It’s the other way around.” She turned to the beggar and said, “Tim, would you like this gentleman to intercede on your behalf?”

The beggar smiled and answered, “It’s alright. He’s a friend of mine. And he knows how I get around beautiful women. He was just trying to protect you from my lustful ways.”

It took a moment, but finally the woman broke into a big grin and said, “Tim McCarthy, if you aren’t the living end. Okay, we’ll finish this discussion later. But I’m going to get you into a decent place to live if it’s the last thing I ever do.” She dug into her purse and came out with a twenty and into the cup it went. She then wrapped her arms around that disgusting person and gave him a long, tight hug. She patted my hand before she left, saying, “You make sure to take care of our Timmy.”

I have to admit, as she strutted away, I was thinking what a great-looking ass she had.

I was brought out of my thoughts by, “She really knows how to swing that thing to hold a man’s interest.”

It was the beggar.

Okay. Hold the goddamn train. Apply the brakes. What the hell was going on? I tore my eyes away from the rapidly retreating woman and confronted the beggar.

“Please tell me … what is it with you? Why do those people associate with you?”

The tramp smiled and asked if I minded if we walked as we talked. He had an engagement and did not want to be late. I shrugged. As long as he didn’t get too close to me as we walked, I had nothing else to do. I was glad I was not on the lee as we walked. The wind kept the stench at bay.

I opened the conversation by asking, “Why did you tell that woman I was a friend of yours? I’ve never seen you before.”

He winked at me, took a few dollars out of his cup, and handed them to a homeless man as we passed by. Not a word was spoken by either man.

Finally, he said, “Even though we have never met, I consider you a friend. I mean, here you are, accompanying me to my luncheon appointment.”

“I’m walking with you to get an answer to my question. I’m no friend of yours. So, tell me. Why do these well-off citizens treat you like a long-lost friend?”

We passed another homeless person and, again, he dipped into his cup and shared his bounty.

I had to know. “Why are you giving away the money that you spent hours begging for?”

“It’s only paper with green ink on it. It doesn’t mean that much to me.”

“Then why do you stand on the street and beg for it?” I had him there. Or so I thought.

“I do it to meet people. Like I met you this morning. I think we’re going to be good friends.”

“You do, do you? I can’t stand your smell, I can’t stand being around you. I think I’ve gone as far as I want with you. I don’t care why people like you. It has no bearing on my life. Forget that I even asked why. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to live.”

“What kind of life?”

That stopped me in my tracks. I turned back and took stock of the slight, skinny, disheveled man who stood before me. With contempt in every syllable, I said, “A hell of a better life than you’re living or are ever apt to live.” I was so proud of myself.

He smiled. “Please have lunch with me. It’s my treat.”

I was taken aback. “What restaurant is gonna let you in?” I mocked.

He held up his right index finger and simply said, “I got a place.”

Strange as it seems, I was starting to warm to the guy. I had hit him with my best insults and none of them bothered him. At the moment, I was unemployed and had the entire day to kill before my nighttime TV shows came on, so for the second time since I met the dude, I shrugged my shoulders and decided to go with the flow.

“Okay. As long as you can find a restaurant that will seat you—and you’re paying—I’ll have lunch with you.” I thought it a safe bet. No one was going to let him through the front doors of any establishment, let alone a restaurant.

I’d never noticed before, but times must have been rough. Well, I was unemployed, but that was my fault. I just couldn’t get along with people. But what I mean is, there were beggars at almost every corner. And every time we passed a homeless person, the little guy passed out money from his cup.

After his last spurt of generosity, I sneaked a peak into his cup; there were only a few bills left and none of them were a twenty. He must have given it away.

At last we came to a restaurant, and I must admit, it was pretty fancy. I doubt if they would have let me in. But my new-found friend walked past the front door and around the corner. Did I say “friend”? That sounded strange coming from me.

“Follow me,” he said.

We went down an alley and stopped at a door. Obviously the back door to the place. A slight knock on the door and we were granted entry. We walked down a short hallway that came out into the main kitchen. The head chef, when he saw us, yelled across the room, “I’m a little busy right now. Your table is ready. We’ll talk if things slow down before you’re ready to leave.”

Tim (I might as well call him by his rightful name; after all, I was going to break bread with the guy) yelled back over the clamor of the hectic kitchen, “I’ve brought a friend. Is that okay?”

The chef smiled a broad smile and waved the large knife he was holding. Indicating it was just fine and dandy with him.

Tim steered me to a table over in a corner. Before we could get situated, a busboy came out of nowhere with two glasses of water and a basket of rolls. A minute later, he was back with two glasses of white wine that he placed on the table. He said not a word. But his smile bespoke many words. He was also a friend of Tim’s.

As we sipped our wine, Tim apologized. “I hope you don’t mind, but we won’t be ordering off of menus. My friend over there,” he said, pointing at the chef, “likes to feed me his special of the day. He’s always quite proud of what he comes up with.”

“No problem. I’m impressed. But now that we have a few minutes, please tell me why everyone loves you. I’m almost as old as you. I’m certainly a lot more presentable and cleaner, no offense, but I’ve never had a friend in my entire life.”

“No offense taken. I do have a secret and I will tell you what it is, but first I want to hear about you and your life.”

This was all new to me. Someone cared enough to want to know about me? I took a deep breath and then let out everything I’d been holding in for years. I held back nothing. I told of all the rejections and hurt I had endured. I told that man all my deepest, darkest secrets—all my disappointments.

And when I had finished, I was crying. Nothing loud or out of place, but the tears were streaming down my face. Tim handed me a linen napkin and pretended not to notice.

By the time the food arrived, I was composed and kind of hungry. The plates were garnished, and the presentation was like any of the plates going out the swing doors and into the dining room. Maybe ours were even a little bit better looking. The food was wonderful. It was some kind of French dish and probably the best meal I have ever eaten.

We didn’t speak much during the meal, but as I was mopping up the last of the sauce with a piece of bread, Tim cleared his throat and began to speak.

“You wanted to know what my secret is for having so many friends. Well, it comes down to one word.”

In anticipation, I leaned forward a little. But no secrets were forthcoming. “Hold on a minute. This is better said with some spirits in hand.” He held up his empty wine glass and a busboy, a different one this time, but still with a wide smile, filled our glasses.

After draining his glass, Tim spoke these words.

“The one single word that you have to know … that you have to live by … is love. It’s so goddamn simple. Love every person you meet as you would want to be loved. The more love you put out there, the more love you’ll get in return.”

I waited for more. And after a minute, Tim looked at me as if to ask, Are you waiting for something else? “I’m sorry, but that’s it, my friend. Just one simple word, Love … Love with a capital ‘L’ .”

I leaned back in my chair, disillusioned. So there was no secret after all. Well, at least I’d had a good meal.

Tim saw my disappointment and said, “Why don’t you meet me tomorrow at the 7-Eleven. I’ll take you to the park and introduce you around. You’ll meet all sorts of people, and I guarantee you’ll like every one of them. And in time they’ll be your friends too.”

Long story short … I took him up on his offer. Today I have a new job and I am one of the most liked persons in the office—and it’s a big office. I have a girlfriend, and on the weekends, we help out down at one of the food banks, or just take long walks in the park and say hello to our many friends.

And when I see Tim on the street with his cup, I always put in a twenty and shake his hand. I don’t offer him a place to stay because I know that’s not in his cards. He has to be out on the streets … meeting new people and saving lonely souls.

 

My Lover, My Life

She comes to me in the terrifying night when I need her the most

She is there by my bedside, in the morning, to start me on my day

She is warm, she is enveloping

She owns my body

She owns my soul

She is my lover

I put her in the old bent spoon

The flame underneath

She bubbles, she boils

In goes a small piece of cotton

The syringe brings her ever closer to me

The old belt goes around my bicep

The vein bulges

Now I bring my lover to me

Smoothly, the needle enters

Smoothly, my lover comes to me

She caresses my entire body with her warm glow

Our love has been consummated

She is everything to me

I will never give her up

She is my lover, she is my life