Chapter 47: One, Two, Three, Four, Five
Three seasons succeeded in their jobs and winter was upon us. Holidays passed, leaving in their wakes the hectic rushing into a new year and new possibilities. That it would take the turning of a number on the calendar dial to spur the masses to effect change in themselves had always amazed me. Yet, the first Saturday evening of January, men at the bar wildly flung promises to stop drinking so much, go to the gym and work out, lose that beer belly, yessir, indeed.
By the first Saturday of February, they had forgotten all about those promises, beer bellies remained intact, Mike sloshed foam from glasses as often as before, and the subjects were never to be brought up again until their next annual appointed times.
I finished the series of in-depth stories on The Dance Floor Wars and the paper was pleased, then it was back to reporting from the rarified atmosphere of the Leadership. I hated their holier-than-thou smugness that they, and only they, had the answers to life and love and relationships. My editor soon became unhappy with my attitude and it showed in my work. He said, and I quote him verbatim, “Your stories have a certain…torpor.”
Torpor? When did you start reading the dictionary, said I smart-assing him in a quick reply. With that, my fight with the powers that be was back on. I reminded them that, while they may know things about me and they thought I’d therefore go away with a whimper, I on the other hand, the investigative journalist whose specialty was in-depth, multi-sourced research, knew where every one of their bodies were buried and had articles ready to go if they tried any funny business.
Human Resources wasn’t even called in on the discussion and my attorney and their attorneys quietly came to a fine and equitable arrangement. We went our separate ways, of course. It was a mutual decision beneficial to all. To encourage my swift leaving, a generous bonus on top of the standard separation package was signed off on by all parties, with enthusiasm. I agreed to certain terms as did they; mouths are sealed for the protection of all.
With the separation from active duty completed, the official party line was that I retired from the paper. They took two pages to cover my career. The picture of the crying secretaries who hardly ever saw me and whose names I never did know — that was a nice touch. The red balloons looked especially nice as they bobbed around — Happy Retirement glittered in gold throughout the room.
The nature of newsprint is that it cannot show detail too finely. If it could, it would have shown my eyes glittering from the tears of a life amid change but not unhappy to leave that past behind. My smile came through bright and clear. Head honchos made their appearances for the photo ops. Though their mouths said Gonna miss ya, buddy, they shook my hand good riddance, and disappeared from the party, not even taking a piece of cake.
I thought back to a comment an old man made to me one day when we sat at a bar. He talked about his days in the war. He said, “Son, I gotta tell ya. When I was young, my goal was to live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. I ain’t dead, my corpse won’t be pretty, but I still live fast, boy. I still live fast. Give ’em hell! Hoowhah.”
The old man and I drank to that and proceeded to get good and plastered, picked up a couple of women and lived fast the rest of the night. I hadn’t thought of that old man since I was thirty. Ha. Old man. He was probably in his fifties at the time. I was now him. Was he on his last hoowhah that night? Was I nearing mine? Except by now I wasn’t up to yelling hoowhah. Not anymore.
Other than Lucinda, I no longer had a reason to hang around the front. It was time for this jaded journalist to take his leave of The Dance Floor Wars, leave it all to the younger generation; but I wanted Lucinda. With the attention to detail required of a D-Day landing, I began planning my simple yet logical, last campaign for this old soldier.
Should I stay here or move?
If I moved, should I live in the mountains or on the plains? Or along sandy shore or in the Keys? In a big anonymous city or a small town? In flyover country or on the coasts? Another country or an island off the coast?
The answer was: Wherever Lucinda wanted to go. It was she who had needs for place that I did not. I could get away from the war anywhere I went. She’d always need more to fire her mind than I could ever give her.
Step Number One: I’d let her choose where we’d live.
The next piece of the campaign would be to live in the same house for a while. I knew she needed gentling into that thought. I didn’t want her to have to give up her place but I didn’t want her to think I was free-loading, either. And, since I wanted a long-term, rest-of-my-life situation, the next steps were no-brainers.
Step Number Two: Ask Lucinda to marry me and set a firm date.
Step Number Three: Move in with Lucinda.
Step Number Four: If Lucinda had not yet made up her mind about where she wanted to move, then we’d start looking.
Step Number Five: Go where Lucinda wanted to go.
Step Number Six: Live happily ever after.
My life has been spared many a time because my gut warned me of close danger. It had a way of telling me there was a storm coming and I should take cover. But with the storm that was Lucinda, I ignored it. Not just ignored it, I flat out told it to shut the hell up. My gut replied, “Hey, you’re a grown man. I can’t make ya do anything. I’m shutting the hell up.”
Which is not to say my gut didn’t still form its own opinions, because it did. But it had its say quietly to itself, though it kept on the ready to pipe up if I showed any inclination to listen again.
The campaign began in earnest three weeks after my retirement party. Completely at loose ends, except for my need for Lucinda, I volunteered to do a few manly chores around her house. To you men who may be thinking she was using me, in fairness to Lucinda, I must tell you she had no choice in the matter.
I realize I should have paid attention when she said Oh, that’s okay. I’ll handle it. But I ignored her and did to her property what I thought best. Knowing Lucinda as I do, she probably realized I needed to feel helpful and put her needs on the back burner so I’d feel good. Two months passed during which time I was “helpful.”
So, I got on the roof and patched a couple of shingles. While up there, the gutters got cleaned. I had a guy to come out and fix a cracked pane of glass in the bathroom. Then I decided the house needed to be painted. That meant a lot of prep work to repair siding and shutters and scraping off the old paint and picking out new colors. I bought an extension ladder and rollers and brushes and a sprayer and several five-gallon buckets of paint.
Lucinda wanted to pay me for all this, but I wouldn’t take a penny. Why should I? She’d soon be my wife, right? How can a man take money from his beloved woman? I couldn’t. Wouldn’t be right. But she prepared my meals and washed my clothes; I see now it was her way of paying me in the only way she could.
Mostly I went home for the night, though occasionally I’d stay over. Sore muscles. Sore joints. Scrapes, nicks, cuts, abrasions, paint in my hair, paint under fingernails not broken, paint encrusted around the nail beds and smeared on my elbows and arms. Lucinda rubbed my legs and feet with pain-killing ointments.
I felt so good about myself it was ridiculous. I lost fifteen pounds.
But something interesting was happening. Come Friday and Saturday nights, Lucinda still went dancing. I could come or not, she said, it was up to me, but she needed to dance.
Now, you remember I knew how men danced with Lucinda and I knew she liked it. But she was my woman and I wanted her to stay home with me. I was tired of The Dance Floor Wars. Why wasn’t Dancing Queen tired of it, too?
Lucinda and I had been seeing each other ten months to date, beating her previous three-month man-hanging-around rate by seven. Lucinda had been right all those months ago when she said that as soon as we made love we’d have our answer: Stay or go.
So the first few times she went out dancing without me, I tried to be okay with it. But, finally, I had to say something. The next Friday our end began when I walked into her kitchen.
“Hey, Gordon. I’ve got a plate of food for you here.” She opened the fridge and pointed to a plate with plastic wrap over it. “All you need do is pop it in the microwave and you should have a nice hot meal.”
I stared at the closing refrigerator door, then looked up at her. “You’re going out again?”
Dear readers, I can hear you groan.
You know how I said it and you know it wasn’t what I should have said because those words never come out nice no matter how much you try. Deservedly, it was met with a blank stare that seemed to last forever, but in fact was barely as long as an eye blink before she answered.
“Of course. I always dance on Friday and Saturday. You know that.”
Dear, dear reader. You’re groaning again.
You know what I’m going to say and you are wishing with all your might that I wouldn’t. Shut up, Gordon. Just. Shut. Up. Smile, Gordon, you’re advising me. Kiss her, Gordon, you’re whispering in my ear. Say have a nice time, Gordon, you remind me. Say see you tomorrow, Gordon, as you kick me in the ass. If only I had listened to your wisdom.
“But, Lucinda. Can’t you stay with me tonight?”
You may rightly infer I whined because her name came out like LooCINdaaaah. Now I sounded like Carlos HaHa. God help me, I couldn’t stop. Again, she gave me the forever-stare compressed into a blink.
“You can come with me, Gordon.”
“But I don’t want to go dancing. I want to stay in with you.”
“We’ve been staying in, Gordon. Every night this week. We stayed in on Sunday…”
And here it came. A fist raised in front of her face, and with the word Sunday she raised Pointer.
“We stayed in on Monday…” Tall Man joined Pointer.
“We stayed in on Tuesday…” Ring Man formed a condemnatory trio.
“We stayed in on Wednesday…” Pinky popped up singing soprano.
“And we stayed in on Thursday.” Thumbkin finalized the band.
She wiggled all five digits. “Five days, Gordon. Five days we’ve stayed in. Five days I’ve stayed in with you. And now you want me to give up dancing?”
“I didn’t say I wanted you to give up dancing. I said I didn’t want you to go tonight.”
She kept those five fingers up and waggled them again. “Why? I’ve given you five nights in a row. Why do you want to take my time away from me?”
“What? Do you not want to be with me?”
And with that line all my well-laid plans went to hell in our first battle as she lit into me with both barrels blazing.
“It’s not about not wanting to be with you! It’s about I have been with you, and now I need to dance. I need to dance. No one can tell me I can’t dance. I won’t let anyone stop me from it, either. When I stop dancing it will be because I no longer need to do it. Do. I. Make. Myself. Clear?”
Yes, you know what I’m getting ready to do. I’m getting ready to pull out the big guns. I’m getting ready to Pop The Question. I agree with you the move was ill-timed, but in the heat of battle one does things like that because the mind doesn’t think too clearly. It reaches for the closest weapon and pulls the trigger, damn and worry about the consequences later. I was no different than anyone else after all.
“Don’t you LooCINdaaaah me,” she said in that mad, frustrated-mother tone she could do so well.
Holding out my hands in a stop signal, I implored her. “Look, baby, just stay right there. Okay? Don’t move. Okay? Let me go get something.”
As fast as I could go to the bedroom and dig through my overnight case, I came back to a Lucinda who had not changed position, got on one creaky knee, opened the ring case, and said it.
“I was going to ask you tonight. Will you marry me, Lucinda?”
I wasn’t prepared for her reaction.
My knee started hurting and still she stared long and hard at the ring as if it was a grenade whose pin was pulled and she heard Incoming! Finally, she backed up to the table, fumbled for a chair, and slowly lowered herself. I felt foolish, but couldn’t bring myself to leave the position. Finally, her eyes moved to my face. There I was. Again an open book. Her expression told me she knew all my love and longings and needs for my future were tied up in her. In that instant of time, I knew she knew this had been a long campaign to win her hand and she had seen its beginnings.
What was worse, her eyes told me she should have stopped it. “Gordon.”
Gordon. Oh, damn. This was not going to end well.
“I’m sorry, Gordon. This is all my fault.”
I could not rise, but my knee was killing me, so I sat back hard on the floor, legs crossed, holding the open ring case. I bowed my head and tried to harden my heart from the disappointment. But then her words all my fault sunk in and I raised my head.
“What do you mean this is all your fault?”
“Oh, Gordon!” She put a hand to her mouth because her lips quivered. Tears ran down her cheeks.
“Lucinda. What do you mean all your fault?”
She cleared her throat and told me. Thirty minutes later I was gone.
You remember, of course, that Lucinda warned me early on that when we made love the first time we’d have our answers: Stay or Go. Of course you remember. How could you not? She also said the answers would be correct and best. Yet we had never discussed our respective answers.
“I should have told you then, Gordon, what my answer was,” she said to me. But she didn’t speak up at the time because of three important things.
One: She felt if I wanted to know definitively, I was a grown man and could ask. Two: She didn’t want to volunteer her answer because she didn’t want to deal with the reality of mine. Three: She needed to make love and needed that physical presence of a man and there I was, an eager volunteer. Who was she to turn down a grown man?
Did she love me? Oh, yes, indeed she did. On that she did not lie. She still loved me. But did she love me enough to now put her life in my hands? No. She had done that for twenty-plus years with the son of a bitch, and look where it had gotten her. She could not allow a man to be in the position of changing her life until she was ready for it to change, and…
“Gordon, my love, I am not ready to quit dancing. I must dance. I must.”
That told me all I needed to know about her emotional needs. If missing one night of dancing was this difficult, then it wasn’t time for us. I had my final say during which time she cried sadly even if she was relieved.
“Ah, Lucinda. I don’t want the cord to our past to be cut and I don’t want you to promise me a particular future right now. I’ll leave you to finish your journey until you are ready for me. I love you. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone and that won’t stop. So, my love, my love, my love, I’ll go and I’ll spend time decompressing from my years on the front and I’ll wait for you. The memory of our time will bring me from a very dark place into a better sunlight. And when you reach your sunlight, we shall revisit this question. This ring still holds my promise to you. I won’t lose it.”
It was a grand parting speech I gave her. Meant every word of it. Like a good soldier who is willing to fall on his sword for his leader, I fell on mine for Lucinda. I took the blame, and told her so. She sat at the table. I heard her crying when I closed the door.
I stopped not too far down the road for a cup of coffee to go, found a John Prine CD in the backseat, slid it into the player, and took the long way home. Ten miles down the road John was singing:
You and me
Sitting in the back of my memory
Like a honey bee
Buzzin’ ’round a glass of sweet Chablis.
Windows rolled up,
And my mind’s rolled down.
“Yes, Lucinda,” crying aloud to her into the night, wiping tears, “it’s gonna be a long Monday.”
It’s been three years since I released this book. The copy you hold in your hand is the third printing. The publishers suggested I add a postscript to bring the reader up to date on certain items left hanging when it first went to press. I’ll get to those momentarily.
The closest I now get to the front lines of the Dance Floor Wars is my neighborhood bar which plays music quietly in the background — when someone remembers to turn on the radio. Old soldiers and other war collateral like myself sit around the bar and pass the time telling jokes — only occasionally speaking of specific battles.
I was approached to write a book with the subject of women supporting women. Why a man would be asked to write it should be abundantly clear to you shortly. I spent a year researching endless organizations around the globe claiming that they will empower you to be a better woman in a man’s world.
My in-depth research, however, did not reach a politically correct conclusion. I had to fight for the title and reminded the publishers that controversy based on fact always sells while limiting liability. My good friend, Tom, named my book Catfights: Why Women Espouse Sisterhood But Can’t Work With Each Other. It’s due to hit bookshelves April next. My publishers have said they will line up interviews with TV Journalists. I can’t wait, I told them, tongue-in-cheek.
Bitterroot married — and was divorced before the ink on the license was barely dry. But the pre-nup was airtight and she got some go-away money. She felt like she had won a battle for the sisterhood and went on the speaking circuit telling her story to similarly embittered women. She outlined ten steps to a son-of-a-bitch-funded financial payday in an easy to follow workshop/seminar that made her a little bit of money. For a short while she became an in-demand commentator filling the void left by a nearly silent Gloria Steinem after she married into money. But Bitterroot didn’t have the grace and talent of Ms. Steinem. Her agent told her she was too caustic. If she could tone it down, she’d make money. She refused. Surprise.
The Reed’s body was found one mid-morning behind Hydrate. His naked body looked as if it had been scrubbed from head to toe and cleanly laid out on display. The details of his death have never been made public, except one. I heard that tied to his right wrist was a blue ribbon imprinted with the words First Place Winner.
Hey-Sailor decided to live up to his name. He went into partnership with his good friend, another sea-rated captain, and bought an ocean-going mono-hull sailboat. They carry twelve paying passengers from one Dance Floor front to another in ports around the globe. I have no proof, but I hear things. They have a well-funded silent partner. Haven’t heard who or what.
Eternal Sunshine of the Not-So-Spotless Mind and Tattoo Ingénue ran a campaign to stop the use of Panty Peeler Songs, especially on friendlies. Enemies, yes, bomb the hell out of them with that powerful weapon they said, but please stop the use domestically. The old man or the girl had a lot of juice in the right circles or a lot of money to blow, because the campaign gained some traction until their first Stop Panty Peeler Songs parade was scheduled to take place in Atlanta, Georgia, the new headquarters of The Dance Floor wars.
Sitting at the bar one evening, I saw them being interviewed by a nationally known TV journalist who, in a pitiful attempt at inserting commentary to prove the validity and gravitas of the subject, was instead herself led down the garden path by an unwitting and earnest Tattoo Ingénue, and wickedly innocent Eternal. Every time Tattoo Ingénue made an outrageous comment to the TV Journalist, Eternal sat right beside her, smiling into the camera and nodding his head in wide-eyed innocence. I didn’t explain to anybody at the bar why I laughed so loud.
National news footage a few days later showed the parade. I thought I’d bust a gut. There was Eternal and Tattoo heading up the columns of passionless, embittered women (and a few pussy-whipped men) intent on spewing out a repetition of Save Our Children. Stop Panty Peelers. It wouldn’t have been so sad — or funny — except the signs they waved vigorously were of a circle and a slash over a pair of thongs being pulled down from a gorgeous booty by a disembodied pair of lecherous hands under which was one line of music. I don’t read music, so I couldn’t know if it was a real song or not; but Eternal was having his little joke, I just knew it. The riot that ensued was equally uproarious. You probably remember seeing it.
W— became president of the company he worked for. All energy he had expended in his futile attempts at proving he was a man, went into a brilliant turnaround for a broken company. His picture was on the cover of Forbes. Of course I bought a copy. His children, two of whom now worked at the company and were instrumental in bringing in new technologies (the college educations paid off), were quoted as saying that, while as children they hated him, as adults they loved and admired him.
When asked how he was able to pull off such a brilliant coup within the ranks of the elite at the world-wide company, he humbly said, “It was nothing. When one has truly seen the dark side of war, company politics is a walk in the park. I know what it’s like to be in a position where you have no power and then have someone champion your cause. [The executives] were stupid. They dropped the ball and let employees and investors down. I thought it unfair and proceeded to right a few wrongs…with help from others of like minds.”
I wrote him a letter, enclosed a copy of my book Dispatches from the Front, and gave him my number. I asked that, if he remembered me from O’Malley’s, would he please give me a call. Four weeks later, corporate mail rooms and hierarchies being what they are, someone finally decided this was an important letter and put it and the book in his hands. He called immediately.
I told him I was on the third release of the book and updating information in it. People often ask about W—. He said that to this day he had not had sex again and didn’t miss it. He found a woman and they married. Both of them fucked out when they met, they simply wanted to be together for companionship and love. They have been married for two years and are just as happy as they can be. His kids love her.
After retirement, I moved to the Keys. I went dark and unplugged from all technology except for my new phone with no internet capabilities. I have one number in it: Lucinda’s. Last week I called it. Hearing her voice was the sweetest thing I’d heard and the old, satisfying, longing ache came back as if it had never gone. I left a message that I would call her again. By the time you read this it will be a sure bet I’ll have talked with her and invited her to visit.
I bet she’s decided what she wants, and probably is very ready for it. Maybe her it will be me. My it is still certainly her. Her ring is in the top drawer of my dresser, in the right front corner. A good friend of mine once told me some people will stay in our orbit or we will stay in theirs. Journalist to the core, I’m staying in Lucinda’s: At the least, I must know how her story turns out. At the most, I want to be her man, and she my woman.
Though never a particularly religious man, I’ve had my share of looking skyward in supplication: Please let her come to me. Please let her want me. Please?
Who knows? Maybe our long Monday will soon be over. The conclusion of the matter, though, everything having been heard, is this:
Love hurts, but damn, what a way to go.
Opinionated Author, Barstool Philosopher, Man in Love
In this the six thousand and forty-second year of the eternal war between the sexes
Your comments are always appreciated: GordonUnplugged@outlook.com