My First “Olds”
My first car was an Oldsmobile Toronado; year unknown. But since this beast of a car was only built from 1966 to 1970 it’s a pretty good bet that it was about seven years old when received it as a graduation gift from my parents.
The last thing I thought I would get the on the day I received my diploma from Brockton High School was a car. My parents had very little money and this purchase must have been made at the expense of something else. It was an extremely thoughtful gift but history told me that my jubilation with car ownership would be short-lived. Some background on my parent’s automobile strategy may put this car purchase into perspective and no mention of this strategy would be complete without the word “disposable”.
My parent’s strategy was simple; pay $100 for a car, drive it until it died, junk it, and then buy another. There was no need to find a reputable mechanic; whatever tinkering needed to be done to keep the car moving could be handled by the downstairs neighbor or one of my brothers. There was also no need for a car payment; the purchase price could be turned over in one day, paid in full. It was a simple life and a very stress-free method of car ownership. An added benefit was that the kids I knew from school thought we were a multi-car family; every few times they saw us, we were driving a different car.
Their car dealer of choice was located in East Bridgewater, MA; Hewin’s Used Cars. Hewin specialized in all types of cars; beach wagons with wood paneling, muscle cars with racing stripes, boxy sedans and my mother’s favorite; the Oldsmobile Cadillac. My rusty green Toronado was purchased using this strategy so when it died after being registered in my name for no more than two months it was par for the course.
I began work at the Travelers Insurance Agency immediately after graduation, the day after actually; no rest for the wicked. The trip from our apartment to the Westgate Mall was short so I did not add too many miles on the Toronador during the work week. Since I had very limited driving experience, I couldn’t say whether there was anything wrong with the car or not. Since it got me back and forth to work and to whatever beach or pond I wanted to hang out at on the weekend, it was running fine.
Then, one day, without too much fanfare, ‘Old Bessie’ refused to move forward. At first I thought it was me; that I suddenly forgot how to drive. But, alas, this was not the case. ‘Old Bessie’ as my mother loved to call cars that had driven their final mile, was in need of a new transmission. For a car, this is like a heart transplant. There would be no reviving the Toronado, I was to be her final owner.
Everett’s Junk Yard was called and the noisy wrecker came and took her away. I watched with sadness as my graduation present was hooked up like a prize fish and towed away. My mother showed little sympathy, after all, this was a usual event at our house. Her eulogy for my first car was quick and to the point; “Well, we bought you your first car, the rest of them are up to you.”
Not long after, I followed the family tradition when I stopped in to see Mr. Hewin.
The Story of Florina Martin
Billy Martin was a bastard who drank to excess then beat his wife. Florina Martin worked as a lunch lady in my high school cafeteria. On more days than not, she would arrive at work with a black eye or bruises on her arms. She had a noticeable limp, the result of a broken leg that never healed properly. The kids at school, instead of empathizing with her plight, gossiped and joked about it. But the great flood of 1982 would put an end to that.
When the Susquehanna River overflowed its banks and nearly destroyed Pittsville, I felt it to be long in coming. Pittsville was true to its name, a derelict former mining town where over fifty percent of its population was on some type of government assistance.
Five people lost their lives and three more went missing, their bodies never recovered. The most unusual death was that of Billy Martin. When he was found beneath the rubble he had a fireplace poker through his stomach. It looked like Billy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The sheriff and local coroner termed it an accidental death. Well, at least he couldn’t hurt Florina anymore. Maybe there really was a God…or so we thought.
Florina’s body was never found. Some neighbors saw her being swept away by the powerful current that turned Spruce Street into a tributary of the Susquehanna. Search crews found her red jacket caught on a tree branch but nothing else.
Within one month of graduation I had secured a job out of state, packed my bags and said goodbye to Pittsville, PA. I thought of that great flood every so often over the years but never returned to Pittsville, I had no reason to. As far as anyone knew, I had no family and since I wasn’t much for small talk, after a while, people stopped asking.
During a two week vacation, my assistant was authorized to hire three new people for the corporate cafe. They had already begun work when I got back. After reviewing their apps I noticed one was near retirement age. Florence Jones would definitely help our demographic profile but I wanted to be sure she could handle being on her feet all day. I decided to get lunch in the café so that I could observe her.
She was clearing tables when I arrived and seemed spry enough. I ate near a back window while watching her clear plates and sweep under chairs. Then déjà vu set in, but why? When she began clearing the table next to mine, I smiled at her, but it wasn’t returned. Her eyes offered little insight.
A heart-shaped locket slipped from inside her uniform as she leaned forward to wipe the table. The locket was about an inch across and engraved with the profile of a little girl. As I watched it rock side to side like a slow-moving pendulum, my body tensed.
Florence finished her tasks and pushed the cart to the next table. I watched her limp away. Like an old movie, memories of Pittsville, PA played out; the high school taunts, the flood, the disappearance of Florina Martin, the accidental death of Billy Martin. It all came together.
I followed her, stopping when I was within three feet then waited until she acknowledged my presence. When she looked up, all I could say was “Hi Mom”.
I’ll Take That To Go
Pete’s Deli was still busy, even with all the construction going on out front. When I went inside I saw that most of the customers were taking their sandwiches to go; only half the tables were occupied. Awesome, I thought, no standing at the window counter today!
I ordered tuna on wheat with lettuce, tomato and cucumber, a small diet Coke and a bag of Smart Fries. Pete smiled. I ordered the same thing every time I came in here. At least today he didn’t admonish me for not trying something different. After I paid, Pete handed me my soda, then clipped the order request onto the carousel that sat on the pass-thru between the dining area and the kitchen. My phone rang just as I set my drink on a table near the window; it was my son. I answered but the noise outside was making it difficlt to hear so I made my way to the back hallway which led to the Ladies Room. I thought it might be quieter there.
We talked for about ten minutes before I started back into the diner. The construction noise had not subsided and I was reconsidering my decision to eat in as it would not be a very enjoyable lunch. When I opened the door I got quite a surprise; the place was empty! I was taken aback for a few seconds, but not incredibly so. Maybe all those folks at the tables decided the noise was too much also and opted to go down the street to the park or back to their office to eat.
I approached the counter and saw that Pete was staring down at his register drawer, not moving and barely breathing.
“Wow”, I said, “where did everyone go?”
But Pete ignored me and kept staring down at his register.
“Well, Pete” I said cheerily, “it looks like just you and me today!”
Suddenly he looked up at me and his face was red with anger. “We’re closed! Come back tomorrow.”
I stared at him but his gaze was unflinching. What was going on?
He yelled again, “Go now! I don’t want to do business with you! Just leave!”
Pete was scaring me. I had never seen him angry nor heard him raise his voice. I started toward the door and glanced back as I exited. Pete was still standing there, but it wasn’t anger I saw in his face, more like fear. What the hell happened?
That evening, on the six o’clock news I found out. Pete’s Deli had been robbed.
I saw Pete the next day and he told me what happened.
It seems that after I went into the back hallway to take my call, a gunman came into the deli. He told everyone to stand against the wall. Then he went behind the counter, pulled a plastic bag from inside his jacket and told Pete to empty the register. ‘Do it’, he said, ‘or someone gets a bullet’.
Pete must have opened the register just as I finished my call. As I pushed on the door the phone slipped from my hand, banging loudly against a box of empty soda cans. The robber heard the noise and ducked behind the counter telling Pete, “Don’t say a word or you’re dead!” As soon as he ducked down all the customers ran out the front door; it was only Pete and me. Pete knew the customers that escaped would get the police and he was afraid that one of us would be shot in the confrontation or, at the very least, taken hostage.
So, as he said it, ‘I got really mean and pretended not to know you, so you would go.’ It worked.
The Mysterious Bacchante
I live fairly close to Boston so when the mood strikes, I’ll take my Canon SLR, hop on the Red Line and spend the day wandering about the city. There are unique photo ops everywhere, you just need to be observant and have an open mind; maintain the discipline to bypass the ordinary and appreciate the unusual.
On this particular day I nearly changed my mind about venturing into the big city as the morning sky was overcast and rain appeared imminent. However with nothing else on the agenda I took a chance that the weather would be kind for a few hours and, with any luck, I’d have some great sky photos.
I came upon the shoes quite unexpectedly. They were as gray as the day was dismal. A pair of suede heels on the edge of the fountain which is located in the enclosed courtyard of the Boston Public Library. They seemed to be placed there with great care, standing side by side, much like the way a woman might store her shoes in a closet. I looked around the fountain which was silent at this early hour, certain that the owner was somewhere in the vicinity. But no, it was just me and this pair of shoes. With a slight smile and a pat on the back for sticking to my plan, I began working the camera settings. My trip into the city was about to be rewarded.
As I photographed the shoes from various angles my mind pondered their presence. Why had the woman who owned these very expensive shoes suddenly abandoned them? The fountain was quiet now but the evening before the water would have been flowing freely, splashing daintily around the basin.
When I’d finished shooting the shoes, I stood and looked at the fountain. The much admired “Dancing Bacchante and Infant Faun” is the focal point of the courtyard. The elegant fountain is situated on a small plaza surrounded on all sides by an arcaded gallery; café tables and benches provide a place for quiet reading and intimate conversation. A feeling of romance, even in this early morning hour, swept over me. I stood as still as the statue of the dancing priestess holding the infant child. Yes, I mused, that must be how the shoes came to be here.
The courtyard is a magical place in the evening. The arcaded gallery is lit in a way that reveals the Romanesque nature of the graceful arches; the perfect setting for an amorous interlude. Shielded from the hustle of the city, a couple can walk quietly along the covered walkway, in and out of shadow, without a need for spoken word. Always in their sight line is this fountain, mesmerizing in the shadow of night. The lighted fountain spouts water upward from its basin; long translucent fingers dance about the pedestal, straining to touch the “Bacchante”, failing in their attempt and then lamely falling back to be lost in the tepid water. Time and time again, the tendrils reach toward her, time and time again they fail; until last evening.
The fountain’s persistence must have paid off, finally touching the “Bacchante”, and sweeping her off her feet.