We’re all gonna end up at Larry’s

It was a dark and noisy night back in 1990 when the scourge of my youth became the savior of my sanity. Picture it. I’m alone, young, and relatively inexperienced. None of the usual procedures were having any effect. Hungry, no. Thirsty, no. Diaper, surprisingly no. Rocking useless, threats pointless my daughter was only 15 months old after all. Nothing I did made made any difference. She would not stop screaming.

In desperation I turned to the boob tube, television, the babysitter of millions. I clicked up through the stations on the Magnavox console one at a time. Each click another nail in the coffin of hope. With only one station left I up channeled to UHF 68. My daughter inhaled, gasped a few times then finally succumbed to the rhythmic melodies of Lawrence Welk and the Champagne Music Makers.

Lawrence and I go way back. Back to Serutan, Geritol and the Kimball and Baldwin placards on his pianos and organs. Some of my earliest memories are interactions with my paternal grandparents as they watched his program. Fifty plus years later I can still remember them telling me to be quiet, or go out and play. I don’t think they gave a hoot where. I could have been playing in the middle of the street for all they cared. It was Lawrence Welk time.

They loved Lawrence so much they wanted to sell their house and move to Lawrence Welk Village Mobile Home Park in Escondido, California. Bobby and Sissy, Norma Zimmer and Jimmy Roberts were considered personal friends. So were Jo Ann Castle, Larry Hooper, Irish crooner Joe Feeney and Arthur Duncan the black tap dancer. How Lawrence got away with that stereotype I do not know. My grandma was suspicious of Guy and Ralna, though. She thought they were just to lovey dovey to be real. She was right. They divorced in 1984.

My mother just turned 89. For the better part of her life she watched whatever we kids or my dad wanted to watch. I don’t think she ever touched the remote except to move it to dust. The Lawrence Welk Show was not a big deal to her. But it is now! She and the other ladies at the retirement center are religious viewers. We don’t even bother to call or visit while it’s on. I learned my lesson a long time ago.

Mom’s conversion got me thinking. If I live long enough will I fall prey to the siren’s song of the Lawrence Welk Show? I’m a Rock and Roll guy. Remember New Wave? Buggles, Video killed the Radio Star? Hey I helped them! I was all MTV, narrow ties, Blondie, The Go Go’s even the Talking Heads. Certainly I’m immune.

But am I? Will I look back on the Saturday nights of my youth when Lawrence and his musical family came to visit and ask them to stay? Somehow I already know the answer. If my mother is any indication I believe one day we will all end up at Larry’s.

Welcome to New Edgarton

The purple awning and gold balustrades of the Raven’s Plume stood out on the staid Main Street like an Amethyst ring set in concrete. Pepper Johnson, one of the owners of the avant-garde boutique swept the sidewalk and polished the brass ‘till it gleamed. When she finished, she walked to the edge of the street and inspected her work.

Dressed in a flowing red patterned skirt, green print blouse and red scarf trimmed with dime sized metal discs, she elicited as many stares as the purple and polished brass of the shop. That didn’t bother her. She just smiled and waved as gawkers stared from car windows and said good morning to the conventionally dressed as they walked hurriedly past.

It’s beautiful, but it’s kind of scary, too. I hope we get some customers.

Nathaniel Irving, Pepper’s partner, pushed the front door open with his hip and brought out two chipped porcelain mugs. He stood out as much as she in his yellow and black striped pants, ruffled red shirt and yellow and black striped vest.

“Morning Pep.” He kissed her on the lips and handed her a mug. “Beautiful isn’t it?” He put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “You feel good. Soft in all the right places.”

“You like it?”

He patted her butt. “I love it.”

“Oh Nate.” She pushed his hand off her bottom and smiled. “The shop, what do you think of the Raven’s Plume?”

“You know it’s always been a dream of mine to have my own business. Like the emporium Grandpa Irving used to have out at Four Corners. You did a nice job on the balustrades.”

“Thanks. I still can’t believe it’s ours.” She took a sip and rolled her eyes. “Wow, this is good coffee. Where’d you get it?”

“At a coffeeshop down the street called Kávé Luna. It’s kind of a cool place, but it’s only open at night. I met one of the sisters who owns it. Her name’s Claudia. I think her last name’s Moroaicâ. When she heard we’d moved in up the street she gave me a pound of their house blend as a welcome gift. She said she and her sisters would stop by today before they opened to check us out.”

Pepper raised an eyebrow. “Moroaicâ. That’s the Romanian word for a female vampire.”

“I thought that was Strigoi?”

“That’s a general term…Moroaicâ is specifically female. This is really good.” She stepped over to the shop’s front window and wiped a smudge with her rag. A black crepe cape with dark red trim hung on a headless mannequin. Behind it, a dead tree decorated with hammered brass and stained glass jewelry sparkled in the sun.

“It needs something. What do you think?”

“I’m working on an ebony skull and horns with a triple moon outlined in gold on its forehead. What about that?”

Pepper cocked her head and squinted. “I don’t know. Maybe. I’d have to see it.”

“I better get busy then.” He raised his cup and took a sip. “Are you happy, Pep?”

“Yeah.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I just hope we get some customers.”

“We haven’t had our Grand Opening yet. I’m sure we’ll do great. Besides, Mrs. Marzanna said she’d be flexible with the rent.”

Pepper bit her lip. “I know. That’s another thing. Marzanna, Moroaicâ. They’re both from Slavic folklore.” Her eyes flicked to his. “The Goddess Marzanna is the goddess of death.”

Nate gave her a squeeze. “You’re eating’ this up aren’t you, Pep? You’re digging this. I can tell.”

Pepper put the mug to her lips. Her eyes were smiling. “This is pretty cool. All we need now is a Vârcolac, that’s like a zombie werewolf, or a Pricolici, that’s a kind of a werewolf and vampire combo.”

“Who knows, maybe a couple will come riding by on a bicycle.”

Pepper gave him a hip bump. “Come on, I’ve got more of those Gypsy blouses to sew, and you have that Satyr’s skull to finish.

He laughed. “Oh, you are so digging this.” He grabbed her by the arm and led her inside.

Leonard pulled the rusty metal and glass door open with a loud screech and tried to slip in unnoticed. A tall woman with pale skin, high cheekbones, neatly styled raven hair in a tailored black suit with a white rose bud on her lapel stood behind a podium in front of a huge room. She stopped speaking and glared at him. Everybody in the audience with a head still attached swiveled and stared. He turned invisible.

Uhh oh, she’s not gonna be happy about this.

The woman pounded on the podium and the heads swiveled back. “As I was saying. Regardless of what you just saw, you cannot exit through the side doors. Once you’re here, you can’t leave until you’re called, or someone has come to fetch you.”

“Those of you destined for Heaven, or Paradise, or whatever you choose to call it are all going to the same place. If that’s your final destination your name will be called, and you’ll be transported directly from your seat.”

She stared out over the audience. “If you didn’t realize that all good people go to the same place regardless of their religious beliefs you’re more than likely not going there yourself.” Sobs and sorrowful wails echoed through the crowd. “The criteria for admission were very straightforward. All you needed to do was love thy neighbor as thyself. That meant everybody. Not just those you agreed with, or who had the same religion. I’m sorry.”

She turned a page. “Now, for those of you going to Hell you don’t have to do anything. The Devil will come in his own good time. You’ll find a selection of Better Health and Fitness magazines on the table in the corner if you’d care to look at something while you wait.”

“I guess that’s it. Oh, just one more thing. If you have any bloody wounds or organs hanging out, please keep them as contained as possible. The custodial staff would greatly appreciate it. Good luck. I hope your afterlife is everything you expected it to be.”

The stately woman left the stage and brushed off questions as some of those waiting approached her. She made her way across the room that was lit by bare overhead fluorescent tubes. It looked more like an inner city bus station with its utilitarian plastic chairs and faded linoleum tiles than the waiting room for the recently deceased. She opened a door marked “Private,” and stepped inside.

Leonard swallowed hard and walked invisibly through the crowd. He knocked on the door.

“Come in Leonard.”

He entered a tastefully decorated office that looked out onto New Edgarton’s Main Street and became visible. “Uhh, sorry for coming in when I did Mrs. Marzanna. I ahh, didn’t check the time. I won’t do it again.”

She looked up from her desk. “You know I give the orientations at the top of the hour.” She lit a cigarette in a long black holder. “Now, what do you want?”

“You ahh, haven’t heard anything yet, have you?”

“No. I’m just as frustrated as you are. I’m not used to having a soul be unassigned. I’m not even sure how you got through the waiting room the first time. There’s more going on with you than they’re telling me. As soon as I hear something, I’ll let you know. Until then you’re stuck here.” She pulled a paper from the basket on her desk and scanned it. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Yeah. You know where Mila is?”

She shrugged. “That’s one thing even the goddess of death has no control over. I can’t even get her to call me. Have you tried Redemption Park Cemetery, or her apartment?”

“Yeah, she wasn’t there.”

“Well, she’s probably walking around the city then. She’s taken up charcoal drawing.” Mrs. Marzanna held up her hands and made quotes in the air. “She says she’s trying to find herself. Look for something artsy, or a bowl of fruit.”

“A bowl of fruit?”

She raised an eyebrow. “It’s a joke, Leonard. Still life. Get it?”

“Oh yeah, now I get it. That’s a funny one.”

The phone rang and she answered it. “Yes? The mayor? Sure give me twenty seconds and send him in.” She put the handset back on its cradle and stubbed out her cigarette.

“Leonard, do me a favor. Turn yourself invisible and go stand in the corner. I need to talk to the mayor.”

“Ok.” He took a few steps and vanished.

Mrs. Marzanna got up from her desk and moved across to the office’s main door. She put a smile on her face and opened it. “Mayor Browne, what a pleasure. Please come in. Coffee?”

“No, I’m fine.”

She indicated a chair and sat back at her desk. “Now, what can I help you with?”

The mayor rubbed his gray mustache. “The city council appreciates what you’re doing, Mrs. Marzanna. We like our city the way it is, and you seem to like it too.”

“I do. I think New Edgarton’s quite charming. I’d like to keep it that way as long as possible.” She tapped the paper on her desk with a white fingernail. “I’m thinking of purchasing the parcel Mr. Diamond was interested in.”

The mayor moved forward in his seat. “Was? You mean he’s not interested anymore?”

She made an I-don’t-know-gesture with her hands and shoulders. “I thought since I hadn’t heard anything the deal must have fallen through.”

The mayor puckered his lips. “You haven’t heard anything from Mr. Diamond?”

“No, not a word. Why?”

“Well, nobody knows where he is. Not even his wife.” He frowned. “She doesn’t seem very bothered by it. Anyway, I’m expecting three of his, uhh, business associates later today. They don’t know where he is either.” He pulled a note from his jacket pocket. “I have their names here, Mr. Salvador Barr, Mr. Izzy Pence and Mr. Valentine Giuliani. Apparently, Mr. Diamond’s desk calendar had the words New Edgarton and Kávé Luna circled on it in red the day he disappeared.”

Mrs. Marzanna looked to the ceiling before focusing back on the mayor. “Why don’t you direct the gentlemen to me? After all, I own the building where Kávé Luna’s located, and the Moroaicâ sisters are my tenants.”

“That’s very accommodating, Mrs. Marzanna. Thank you.”

She waved her hand as if it were nothing. “Please, call me Stephaná. It’s no trouble at all. I’m glad to do it.”

“Ahh, thank you, Stephaná. And please feel free to call me James…, Jim.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “James-Jim?”

“No, just Jim.”

“I’d be happy to, Jim. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have some other things to do.” She rose from the desk and guided him to the door. “Let me know when I should expect Mr. Diamond’s associates.”

“I’ll give you a call.”

“Perfect.”

Leonard waited until the goddess closed the door before becoming visible. “Didn’t the Moroaicâ sisters have their way with Donny Diamond?”

“Yes, and two of his thugs. I believe Marie described them as, a Mr. Bushy Brows, and a Mr. Pimples.” She blinked. “They’re still waiting for Satan to take them to Hell. They’ve probably read the Better Health and Fitness magazines hundreds of times by now.” She shook her head. “Better Health and Fitness magazines in a waiting room for the dead. Satan certainly has a wicked sense of humor. Well, as long as he pays for the subscription.” She sat back at her desk.

“If you run into Radmila, tell her it wouldn’t hurt her to call or stop by every once in a while. But then again, I’m only her mother.”

Leonard nodded. “I’ll tell her if I find her. May I use the front door?”

“Just don’t let anyone see you.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.”

Sal steered the Cadillac Escalade onto the New Edgarton exit and looked through the windshield as the old city wrapped around them. “We should probably call the mayor and tell him we’re here.”

“Not yet,” Izzy Pence called from the back seat. “We’ll ahh, look around for ourselves a little first. We still wanna get our hands on that property. It’s gonna be worth a fortune when they build that high speed rail line between New York and Boston. This may take a little longer than I thought.” He glanced over at Donny’s wife, Melena. “You ok with that, honey? We might haft ‘a stay overnight. You got a nightgown?”

“You know I don’t wear a nightgown, baby.”

“Shut up honey, you’re a married woman. How am I supposed to know you don’t wear a nightgown?”

She looked confused. “But Izzy? Oh yeah, right. I wasn’t supposed to say anything about us.”

“Yeah honey, I’m not sure Donny’s dead…, yet.” He patted her thigh. “Ok boys, let’s go look for that Kávé Luna joint.”

Mila hung the black shoulder bag containing her sketch pad and charcoal on the end of the park bench and plopped down. An old man on the next bench tossed a few crumbs to the pigeons clustered in front of him and smiled.

She bent her lips at him and took a nearly empty bread sack from her bag. She tore it into crumbs and tossed it out in front of her. Crows, ravens and blackbirds flew down from the treetops and began pecking them up. The old man stared at her with an open mouth. She shrugged her shoulders and sighed.

I can’t even feed the birds without standing out. She looked at her thin wrists and small almost skeletal hands. I had to take after Dad, at least Mom has boobs. It’s hard meeting guys when you look like a cadaver. It’s hard to make friends too. When they hear your Mom’s the Goddess of death people tend to shy away. The old man picked up his cane and looped out into the grass giving her a wide berth as he walked away. Like that.

This new guy I’m seeing is pretty cool. He’s nice too. Maybe I’ll tell Mom about him. She shook her head. Nah, she’d just make a big deal about it. Mila dumped the last crumbs from the sack and put it back in her bag. The glint of gold reflected in sunlight caught her eye. I wonder what that place is?

“Sorry birds, it’s all gone.” She put her bag over her shoulder and walked toward the reflection. This must be new. The Raven’s Plume? Ooh! I like the purple awning and brass balustrades. The front windows cool, too. I think I’ll sketch it. Hmm, I wonder what other stuff they have inside? She hung her bag on the balustrades and opened the door.

Alice, Peppers orange tabby meowed. She looked up from her sewing machine.

“What is it Alice?”

A tall thin young woman with pale skin, long black hair wearing a short black skirt and tee top, matching torn nylons with a safety pin through one nostril stood in the entry way.

“Her?”

Alice nodded.

Pepper got up. “Hi, can I help you with something? “

Mila let her eyes wander. “You got some pretty cool stuff here.” She felt the fabric on a black skirt trimmed in gold similar to the one Pepper was wearing. “Cotton?”

“No, it’s a blend you don’t need to iron. You can tumble it in the dryer, or it can be line dried.”

Mila looked at Pepper with almost black eyes. “No wrinkles?”

“No, look.” Pepper grabbed the skirt and wadded it up in her hand. When she let go the material went smooth.

“Cool. That is so neat!” Mila exhaled. “I don’t suppose you have it in my size? I’m pretty thin.”

“I’d call you waif like.” Pepper replied. “Your features are very delicate.”

Mila looked down at herself. “I kinda wish I was a little more, you know, developed.”

Pepper furrowed her brow. “If you wore kind of a loose blousy top over a flouncy skirt you might look a little…, fuller.”

Their eyes met. “Fuller?”

“Yeah. Fuller. You like black, right?”

Mila nodded.

Pepper picked a size small skirt and a petite black blouse with gold embroidery. “Try these. You can adjust the skirt’s waist if you need to.”

Mila took them in her arms.

“Wait a minute.” Pepper handed her a black tooled leather belt with a gold skull buckle. “Are your ears pierced? I have matching earrings.”

Mila nodded and her eyes opened wide. “Yeah, they’re pierced.”

“Cool, try these too. The dressing room is over there.”

“Wow, like thanks!”

“Let me know what you think?”

Pepper watched her open the dressing room door and go inside. I hope she likes the way she looks, that’d be a nice sale. She went back to the sewing machine and pressed the pedal. She’d just gotten started when the door opened and three young women wearing large dark sunglasses, wide brimmed straw hats, long sleeved shirts and yoga pants walked in. They looked like sisters.

Alice meowed.

Pepper let up on the pedal and called out. “I bet you’re the Moroaicâ’s.”

The tallest sister had skin the color of coffee, short black hair and wore bright red lipstick. “How’d you know?

My partner Nathaniel said you might stop by on the way to work.” She got up from the sewing machine and walked over. “I’m Pepper Johnson, Claudia gave him some of your coffee. It’s like the best! Can we buy more?”

The sister took off her sunglasses and smiled. “Sure, or maybe we can swap for some of your merchandise. I’m Ariel, that’s Claudia and Marie.”

“Yeah, we could probably do that. It’s nice to meet you. Thanks again for the coffee.”

Claudia was shorter than Ariel and had a slightly lighter complexion. “No problem. It’s an old family blend. It used to be Saladin’s favorite.”

Pepper wrinkled her forehead. “Saladin, the Arab leader who died in the tenth century?”

Marie joined her sisters. She was the shortest and had Ariel’s same coloring. “Yeah, the blend has been passed down for centuries. It’s our favorite.”

“That’s fascinating. Why don’t you ladies look around the shop and I’ll go get Nathaniel. I’m sure he’d like to meet you.” She left the front of the shop and followed the sound of a Dremel tool to the basement. She covered her nose and tapped him on the shoulder.

He turned the tool off and removed his dust mask. “Hey Pep. What’s going on?”

“The Moroaicâ sisters are upstairs. You ahh, didn’t bother to mention they all could have been fashion models. They’re gorgeous.”

He grinned. “Only if you’re into the beautiful, dark, sultry, well-endowed type. I prefer the more wholesome looking auburn haired girls with freckles myself.”

“I don’t have freckles.”

“Yeah ya do, Pep.” He kissed her on the cheek. “Give me a minute.” He took off his gloves, brushed himself off and combed his hair. “Ok, I’m ready.”

“Why’d you comb your hair?”

“It was full of dust. I didn’t want to make a mess.”

She gave him one of her looks. “Uhh huh.”

He grinned. “They really show up when you’re jealous.” He hurried out of the room.

Pepper followed right behind. “What do?”

“Your freckles.”

Nate ran into the back of the shop while trying to keep Pepper from tickling him. They screeched to a halt and pretended like nothing happened.

The Moroaicâ sisters were holding articles of clothing up against themselves. Mila was dressed in the clothes Pepper had suggested and was looking at necklaces.

“Here he is. He was working in the basement.”

“Hey everyone, thanks for stopping by.”

Claudia hung up a spangled belt. “Hi Nate, Pepper said you liked the coffee.”

“It was great, thanks! Amazing really. “

“You’ll have to stop by the shop. There’s nothing better than our fresh baked pastries and a cup of our house blend espresso.”

“That sounds delicious.”

“Marie, Ariel come over here and I’ll introduce you to Nate.” Claudia glanced at Mila. “I’d introduce you, but I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”

“I’m Mila.”

“Cool. Ok, so these are my sisters Marie and Ariel. She pointed at Mila. “And this is Mila. May I?” She adjusted Mila’s belt, so it hung at an angle. “You look pretty hot.”

Mila smiled. “Do I?”

Claudia nodded. “You do.”

“It’s nice to meet you girls,” smiled Nathaniel. “You too Mila.”

“Yeah, nice to meet you.” Mila’s eyes lit up. “Wait a minute. You’re the girls who own the coffeehouse, right? Kávé Luna.”

“Yeah, that’s us.”

“Would you mind if I sketched your sidewalk seating and torches some night?”

They glanced at each other. “No go ahead. Have a cup of coffee while you’re there.”

“What if I came over tonight?”

“That’d be cool,” Ariel replied. She looked at Nathaniel and Pepper. “Why don’t you guys come down, too? It’d be fun.”

“What do you think, Pep? You wanna go? Might be good for business.”

Pepper’s eyes sparkled. “Are you asking me out on a date, Mr. Irving? You know that means flowers.”

“Sure Pep. I’ll get you some flowers.”

“Can I bring someone?” Mila asked.

“Sure,” Marie replied. “Why don’t you all come by at about eight o’clock. I’ll set a table up for us on the sidewalk.”

The door opened and a pudgy man with plastic rimmed glasses and a dopey expression walked in. “Hey. Do any of ya know where Kávé Luna is?”

“It’s just down the street a couple blocks, but we’re not open yet,” Ariel answered.

Pudgy’s eyes looked the sisters up and down. “You work there?”

“My sisters and I own it. Why?”

“You girls stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Pudgy came back about a minute later with two other men and a woman in a calf length coat.

“Which one was she, Sal?”

Pudgy pointed at Marie. “That’s her.”

He snapped his finger for her to come.

“Excuse me?”

“Are you dense? I want you to come here.”

“I’m not going anywhere if you ask me like that.”

Izzy turned to the other man. “Valentine, bring that bit of arm candy over here.”

The three sisters crowded together and glared at him.

“Boss?”

“Sal, help Valentine.”

Melena tapped him on the shoulder. Her narrow eyes were even narrower than usual. “I think you should leave them be.”

“What? Are you scared of some girls?”

“You’re not from the old country, like I am. You leave them alone.”

“Shut up, honey. We’ll take care of ‘em.” He pulled a pistol from under his coat. “Now, you broads aren’t gonna make any trouble, are you?”

The sisters eyes grew fierce. “We’re not scared of you.”

Mila stepped between the sisters and the men. She plugged the barrel of the pistol with her finger and looked Izzy in the eye. “Hi, I’m Mila. Do you, or any of these other gentlemen have a subscription to Better Health and Fitness magazine?”

Izzy pushed her aside. “Move it beanpole or you’re gonna get hurt.”

Mila’s black eyes flashed. “I’ll just have to assume then that you don’t.” She snapped her fingers and they crumpled to the floor. “I sure hope I was right; they’ll have a very long wait.” She walked over to the woman. “You should go home and forget this.”

The woman looked into her black eyes and nodded. “I go. I forget everything. I never come back.” She ran out the door. Mila bent down and took the keys from Sal’s pocket. When the woman stuck her head back in she tossed them to her.

“Now get out of here.”

Pepper went to her side. “Your last name’s Marzanna isn’t it?”

Mila nodded. “Yeah.”

She turned to the sisters. “You’re vampires, right?”

“How’d you guess?” asked Marie.

“Your last name for one thing. You also didn’t use the mirrors to see how the clothes looked.”

“Oh yeah,” Claudia replied. “I didn’t think about that.”

Mila looked down at the three dead men. “Now we just have to get rid of the bodies.”

Pepper pursed her lips and looked at the calendar. “You know, it’s a full moon tonight. I don’t suppose there are any werewolves running around?”

Mila smiled. “Oh, there are a couple. I think they’d really like these guys.”

“Great, then all we need to do is get ‘em into the back alley. Give me a hand Nate. You girls grab the other two.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Mila. “I’ll have Leonard do it.”

Leonard materialized beside her. He was a huge hulking man almost seven feet tall. He stuck his hand out. “Hi, I’m Leonard.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” Pepper shook it. “When did you get here?”

“I saw Mila’s shoulder bag hanging outside and followed those guys in.”

He turned to the sisters. “Hi, I’m Leonard.”

They answered in unison “Hi Leonard.”

Nathaniel walked over and shook his hand. “I’m Nathaniel, you can call me Nate if you like.

“I’m Leonard.”

“Leonard, if you don’t mind my asking what are you? Are you a ghost or something?”

“I’m something? I’m mostly just stuck here, for now.”

Mila looked up at him and rubbed his arm. “But he’s a real nice guy. Hey Leonard, ya wanna go out with us for coffee tonight?”

His face broke into a huge grin. “Sure Mila. Gosh, you look pretty.”

“Thanks Len.” She looked at Pepper. “I’ll take these things and maybe a few more. Mom got me a credit card.”

“Wow,” Pepper exclaimed. “Thanks a lot.”

Nate put his arm over her shoulder and whispered in her ear. “Are you going to tell ‘em you’re a witch?

She made a face and whispered back. “Are you going to tell ‘em you’re a warlock?”

He kissed her cheek. “I don’t know why not. I think we’d fit right in. Welcome to New Edgarton.”

Dad Said

Les Paul and Mary Ford played on my Pandora Station the other day. It was How High The Moon. Dad used to listen to them on his old 78 rpm records when I was a kid. They were cutting edge for their day. Multitrack recording. One guitar could sound like a hundred, one voice a choir. Ole’ Les invented the solid body electric guitar. That’s what Dad said.

Turns out the military was using multitrack recording before he did. They used it with Sonar. I’m not sure what they did with it, but they used it. Les Paul did invent the solid body electric guitar. He invented Mary Ford, too. Her real name was Colleen. They married in 1949 and divorced in 1964.

When I was a kid Dad was a Disc Jockey. That was back when Disc Jockeys were really something. He told me you had to have at least a months notice when you did a remote broadcast. You needed to call the Bell Telephone Company and have them install a separate phone line.

Dad said there was a radio station whose local High School Basket Ball Team went to the State Championship. The owner wanted to do a remote broadcast but the designated phone line would be too expensive. Dad said the owner wondered if he could hook all the barbwire fences between the radio station and the state capital together and use that instead of a phone line. Dad said it was an interesting idea. Sometimes when I can’t think of a solution to a problem I think about that idea. Sometimes, you just need to think differently to find the answer.

Dad said he had certain records he’d play when he had to use the bathroom. Dad said he had them timed down to the second. Dad said he liked to put on Ernest Tubb singing Waltz Across Texas and sing along with him. Dad said anyone can sing along with Ernest Tubb singing Waltz Across Texas. He was right.

Dad used to make flying ducks out of cedar. He’d sand them smooth and finish them with Kiwi Shoe Polish. My brother has a portable fireplace he burns to stay warm on Halloween Night. We found one in an old box of wood scraps and put it on the fire and drank a toast to him. Dad would have liked that.

Dad died four years ago on February 13th. He chose to use Hospice and I had plenty of time to say goodbye. Dad said he wasn’t perfect. Dad said he made a lot of mistakes. He was right. But that’s not the point, really. We all make mistakes and nobody’s perfect. But Dad said anyone could sing along with Ernest Tubb. And Dad played Les Paul and Mary Ford, even though her real name was Colleen. So I’ll play them both and think about what Dad said, and remember.

Christmas Eve at the Cross Roads Café

You remember that kid who looked like John Denver and did all those TV commercials back in the day? That wasn’t me. I was the Flanders Bread Boy, the kid with the catch phrase, ‘Flanders makes peanut butter and jelly rock!’ I was also the brown haired boy with the striped shirt in the Chuck E Cheese ads.

I never knew my old man, and my mom constantly drug me from audition to audition, and job to job. It was worse between jobs. I had to grow up fast. No child should be the primary breadwinner when they’re only seven years old.

The jobs slowed as I grew older and stopped altogether when I hit puberty. Mom wouldn’t take care of me, and I was done taking care of her. I emancipated myself at sixteen, hit the road at eighteen with a guitar, a backpack and the dream of becoming the next Bob Dylan.

I had pretty good luck, for a while. Small venues, but I didn’t mind. I was making enough to live on and doing what I loved. The world seemed wide open and full of possibilities. I even fell in love, once.

It happened at 2:30 in the morning in the laundry room of the Belmont Motel in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was playing guitar in my underwear when Mary came in wearing a maid’s uniform with an armload of unfolded towels. She had the most beautiful brown eyes I’d ever seen. She dumped the towels on the folding table and tossed me one.

“I’m doing laundry.” I explained. Wrapping the towel around myself.

“I can see that.” She shook a towel loose from the pile and flattened it out. “Play somethin’ I know.”

I strummed a few notes of Me & Bobby McGee and she began to sing; I got goosebumps. Her voice was like still water. Smooth and clear, but powerful enough to carve out the Grand Canyon. I joined in on the refrain. We played and sang until all her towels were folded and my clothes were dry.

She played guitar, too and for the next week and a half we spent every minute we could singing and stealing each other’s licks. It was the best time of my life and I hoped it would never end, but it did. I had to move on.

I begged her to come, and she begged me to stay, but the road won, and we kissed goodbye at the bus station. I promised I’d write… but couldn’t make myself. She deserved more than just living in cheap motel rooms, she deserved a home.

A few months after Flagstaff the gigs dried up, it was Christmas Eve and I was stepping off the bus in front of the Fuel Stop and Convenience Store in Livingston, Idaho. I thought somebody had made a mistake. I mean Livingston, Idaho wasn’t on the way to anywhere.

I can tell you from first hand experience there’s nothing lonelier than an empty parking lot on Christmas Eve. Especially, when you’re packing everything you own, have a quarter to your name and haven’t eaten in a day and a half. I remember looking up at the cloudy sky and say’n ‘I could use a little help here.’ That’s when I noticed the old white stucco building with the red neon sign that read Crossroads Café.

A bell jingled when I opened the door and I was struck by how old-fashioned it looked. The paint was yellowing, and the linoleum and laminate had been scrubbed so often they were faded. An old man and woman sat at the counter drinking coffee watching, It’s a Wonderful Life.

“Excuse me. Do you have any dishes that need washed or other work I can trade for something to eat?”

The old man shook his head. “No son, but if you’re hungry we’d be glad to feed you. Come on over and sit down. Christmas Eve has always been a time for special visitors here at the Crossroads Café.”

They said their names were Ken and Cheryl Weld, but from that day forward I called them Mr. and Mrs. W., and they called me Joe.

“I appreciate the offer, Mr. W. but I’d feel better if I could do something to earn it.

Mrs. W. smiled. “Can you play that thing?”

I looked down at my beat up guitar case, “Yeah.”

“Good. Once you’ve finished having some supper you can play for us. Does that sound fair?”

“Sounds more than fair, but I’d be happy to do more.”

“I appreciate that honey, but that will be enough for now.”

That was almost three years ago, and I never went any further. The Welds gave me a place to live and food to eat. They even let me play and sing at the café on Saturday nights. In return, I did whatever I could to help and generally tried to be useful. I had never met more kind and caring people. I’d finally found a home and wrote a letter to Mary, but I never got a reply.

Mr. W. died two weeks before Christmas. He’d been the closest thing to a grandfather I’d ever had and losing him left me feeling empty. I was worried about Mrs. W., but I needn’t have been. I’ve never seen a woman with that much faith. It was as if she was so sure they’d be together again death didn’t really matter. Like she knew something I didn’t. She was back working at the café the afternoon of his funeral.

I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas. Without Mr. W. it wouldn’t be the same. Maybe that’s why the morning of Christmas Eve seemed so dismal. There was no snow, but it was overcast, and the cold was a damp cold. The miserable kind of cold that seeped through your clothes and crept into bones.

When I got to the café Mrs. W. wasn’t there, so I unlocked the back door and let myself in.

I turned on the lights and noticed a teenage boy in a red hoodie and faded jeans huddled against the front door. I unlocked it and let him in.

“Come in. Come in. You must be freezing. We’re not open yet but give me a few minutes and I’ll get you something hot to drink.”

“I’m good, I just need to warm up a little”

“Don’t worry there’s no charge.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.” I started for the kitchen. “Have a seat at the counter. Is hot chocolate, ok?”

“You’re sure, right?”

“Yup.” I poured some chocolate milk in a mug and nuked it. When the microwave beeped I brought it out and set it in front of him.

“Hey thanks.” He wrapped his hands around the mug and took a sip.

I eyeballed him. “I haven’t seen you around here before.”

“Yeah, I’m not from here.”

“You’re not a runaway, are you?”

“No.” He took another sip. His brown eyes seemed to look right through me. “I came to see you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. it’s time you knew.”

“Knew what?”

“About the Crossroads Café. I’ve been watching you. I want to offer you a job.”

“A job?”

“Yeah. A father doesn’t always wait for His children to ask for help. Sometimes they’re too proud or confused.” He paused. “Sometimes they’re just lost. That’s why I made places like this.”

“Places like this?”

“Uhh huh.” Way stations of kindness. Oasis’s of hope for those in need. Like I said, a father doesn’t always wait for His children to ask for help.”

“You’re children?”

“God’s children.”

“You’re not…?” The boy held his hand up palm out and finished the rest of the chocolate.

“You don’t have to decide right now. Take your time. You shouldn’t rush into something like this. Talk to Mrs. W., she and Ken made a life here helping others. Maybe you can, too.” He smiled. “Thank’s for the hot chocolate, it was delicious.”

I heard the backdoor open and close, a few seconds later Mrs. W. appeared in the hallway.

“Merry Christmas, honey. I’m running a little behind this morning.”

I looked away from the boy. When I turned back there was just an empty mug. “Merry Christmas. You just missed an interesting visitor.”

She looked like she had no idea what I was talking about. But I knew she did. “Really?”

I picked up the mug and started back to the kitchen. “Yeah, it was a boy in a red hoodie and worn blue jeans. He told me about the café and offered me a job.”

Mrs. W. smiled. “He never looks the same. Sometimes He’s a young girl or even an old man.” She reached out and grabbed my arm. “Are you going to do it, honey?”

“How come you never told me?”

“We couldn’t, it’s against the rules.”

The bell above the door jingled and two of the regulars walked in.

Mrs.W. put a finger to her lips. “We can talk more later. Now we need to get ready for the day.”

I thought a lot about what the boy had said. I knew it was true. I’d been witness to the old couple’s selflessness since the day I arrived. The only doubt I had was if I could live up to their standards. I needed to talk to Mrs. W., but didn’t get the chance until early that evening. Eventually, she poured a cup of coffee and sat down next to me at the counter.

“Have you decided what you’re going to do?”

I glanced up at the TV. In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey was about to jump off the bridge.

“Mrs.W., I knew there was something special about this place. I’d love to help, but I’m not sure. You’re not getting any younger, and I think it’s too big a job for one person.”

“It is too much work for one person.” Her eyeglasses magnified her blue eyes. “But, remember I’m still here, and these things have a way of working themselves out. Perhaps what you need to do is take a leap of faith?”

I looked at the faded paint and worn linoleum. The Crossroads Café wasn’t much, but it was home and it was needed. “You’re right. I’ll do the best I can and let God handle the rest.”

“Honey, that’s how Ken and I lived our whole lives. It’ll work out,” she patted my hand. “You’ll see.”

The bell jingled and a woman in her early thirties with long black hair carrying a backpack and a guitar case stepped inside. “I hope you can help me,” she said. “I think I’m lost.”

“Mary!”

“Joe!”

I hurried over and took her in my arms. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

“I didn’t think I’d see you again either.” She looked at me with her beautiful brown eyes. “Why didn’t you ever call or write?”

I looked away. “I thought you deserved a more than just a life on the road. I wanted you to have a home. When I realized I’d finally found one, I wrote for you to come but I never got a reply.”

“I never got your letter.” She kissed me on the cheek. “This is like a miracle; I’ve been looking for you for months.”

“You have?”

“Yeah. I was ready to give up. I used all the money I had left to buy a ticket back to Flagstaff. She looked around the café. “Somehow I ended up here.”

I gave Mrs. W. a look. She smiled. “Would you play for me, Mary? Would you indulge an old woman’s wish on Christmas Eve?”

Mary looked at me. “I will if you’ll join me.”

I didn’t know if it was the magic of Christmas, or a miracle from God, but the woman I thought I’d lost forever was once again in my arms. I wasn’t about to let her go. I kissed her on the lips, gazed into those beautiful brown eyes and replied. “I’ll join you for the rest of my life, if you’ll have me?”

She kissed me back and answered in a whisper. “Thats all I ever wanted, Joe.”

From that day forward our lives were full of love, music and service to others. We married in January and were expecting our first child a few months later.

Mrs. W. beamed when she found out and started knitting a pair of booties. I asked her what color, but she said I’d just have to wait and see.

Mary and I played every Saturday night and the café’s business boomed. It was packed, but we never forgot why we were there, and we never turned anyone away. Time seemed to fly and just like that it was Christmas Eve again.

This Christmas Eve brought another miracle, the birth of our daughter Cheryl Marie. As I gazed down at my exhausted wife and sleeping child, I unwrapped the tissue covered package Mrs. W. had given me. It was the booties she’d knitted. They were pink. I smiled and remembered what Mr. W.’ had said the day I arrived. “Christmas Eve has always been a time for special visitors here at the Crossroads Café.”

Christmas in a divided Country

It’s Christmas in a divided country and even Gods been called on to take sides

But Jesus was born to save us all from sin

Our political beliefs don’t apply

Loving God with all thy heart

And your neighbor as yourself

Is where we need to start

So stop what you’re doing to keep us apart

And live by the Golden Rule

You can’t keep Christ in Christmas

Without keeping Christmas in you heart

Sitting with the Dogs

I’ve strived to follow the news of the day and frankly it’s exhausting. I know some will disagree, but it’s obvious to me the whole impeachment thing is going to die in the Senate. It shouldn’t, but it will. Are the Republicans really that dense they can’t see the facts? Or, are they just ignoring them to stay in power?

To be fair, I had a Facebook exchange with a Democratic woman who was so ill informed it was scary. It happened because someone posted something supposedly from People Magazine in 1996 quoting Donald Trump saying Republicans were stupid. I fact checked it and it’s false. She would not listen. She hated the president so much the truth didn’t matter.

So there you have it. We’ve come to a point in history when facts aren’t facts, and the truth doesn’t matter. It’s Confirmation Bias. Once we’ve formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices.

I’m done. Time to enjoy a hot cup of coffee and a few warm dogs before I get ready for the day.

The President Needs to focus on Dishwashers

In a funny way the president is right about water saving devices and fixtures. Many times they don’t save water. I’ve never flushed a toilet ‘ten or fifteen times’ but I’ve flushed more than once. As far as washing my hands I’ve used some lavatory faucets that were barely adequate. But my biggest gripes are with automatic dishwashers.

I had an old Maytag dishwasher I used to load with dirty dishes. I didn’t rinse them, I just put them in. They came out clean. I have a newer dishwasher that complies with the new water use regulations and I need to rinse them. I’m not saving any water. The dishwasher uses less because I use more water to rinse them first. It’s a game.

I have an older top load washer. It’s not water saving compliant but I only have to wash things once. I’ve talked to people who have water saving clothes washers who need to do a load twice to get them clean. There’s no water being saved when you do that. You go Mr. President. You may be a chiseling rat bastard, but this whole water saving thing needs to be scrutinized. Especially those non-dish washing dishwashers.