A SMALL DIVERSION WITH LARGE IMPORT. 10-26-09
I haven’t had to as much as put a foot inside my office building, nor the factory that’s next door to it, for better than three years now. I’m not retired and I get my full salary paid into my bank account every month like clockwork.
My only contact with my manager and his bookkeeper takes place in a small private room in the restaurant where I throw an annual party for all my employees on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Our meeting takes place an hour before the party is due to begin and the manager tells me how things are progressing and then the bookkeeper shows me the books for the fiscal year and then he hands me a check for sixty percent of however much profit that the business has generated in that time.
Now that’s what I call good management.
My family and I live in the same house in Queens that I bought thirty years ago and, apart from our Condo in Fort Meyers, the only real luxury that I have is the four door Cadillac CTS with a V8 engine that I bought in 2008. Comfort, power, safety and styling – it is almost as good as the Impalas that I drove back in the 1960’s! Back then I used to change my car every year and in the eighties every two years and in the nineties every three years but, up until my recent troubles, I figured that I’d be able to keep this one well into the future. It still runs like new and looks that way too. Is it any wonder that Detroit has seen better days?
We are snow birds and every year, after Thanksgiving, we all go south to nestle in the warmth of Florida and don’t come back until March or even April.
Most of my family fly down but I drive because I like doing it and because we need the car down there. I can’t make myself buy another one and leave it there because that strikes me as divided loyalty. On the other hand, maybe I’m too cheap to do so which I can understand because I was brought up with very little in the way of ‘enough’ no matter about luxuries.
My wife’s cousin, Jim, comes with me to keep me company – so he says but I think it’s more likely to avoid having to pay the plane fare – and my mother-in-law does so too because she’s afraid of flying. If she’s told a stranger once that we’ve met on the way down, or up again, that, “I don’t mind how high the plane flies as long as I can keep one foot on the ground,” she’s told it fifty times.
Her given name is ‘Enid’ and from the beginning she’s wanted me to call her ‘Mother’ but because I can’t find it in me to call her ‘Enid’ and I can’t manage ‘Mom’ no matter about ‘Mother’ I, wittily, always call her ‘Mainlaw’ which makes her full name, ‘Mainlaw Lauderer,’ and, as I often point out to casual acquaintances when the fact that she lives with us comes up for some reason, it nearly rhymes with ‘Chainsaw Murderer.’ Well, only near enough but you get the point, right?
My surname is ‘Makers’ – which was a bit unusual until that wonderful bourbon came on the market – and earlier this year, on our way north in March, we arrived at the motel where we always stop on the first night and there was a big advert for ‘Maker’s Mark’ on the side of the building that hadn’t been there the last time that we’d stopped there. Because of that Jim took it into his head to look up my surname in the local yellow pages and he found a family with that name in it and so we decided to check it out when we came back next time.
Well, we remembered that on our way south this past November but when we got to the motel it was too late to go looking for possible relatives so we decided to leave it until the next morning.
After breakfast I bought a local map and we got the right address from the phone book and we saw, from the map, that the town was about fifteen miles south west of the I-95.
A thousand yards down the road, after we’d taken the correct exit off the highway, we came to a 4-way stop and my GPS told me to go straight ahead and soon after that the road changed into a hump-backed, pot-holed asphalt lane that was less than ten feet wide.
The Caddy’s suspension easily coped with the badly broken surface but I felt sorry for having taken her into what had become truck territory.
It was soon after that everything got hairy –
We didn’t come across any traffic for five long miles of negotiating our way around potholes and over loose gravel but then we came up behind a red pick-up truck that had one of those camper additions sitting on it.
I could see the driver’s hairy, sun-tanned left arm lolling out of the window and, when we closed up with it, Jim told me that he could see the face of his passenger in the truck’s side mirror.
It was moving at around fifteen miles an hour and we had to put up with trailing behind because, as I said already, the road was narrow but if he’d wanted to the driver could have slowed down and pulled over by partially climbing the verge, which is what I would have done in his place if only to get the other guy out of my life, but he didn’t.
I’d noticed that every half mile or so the road widened for about a hundred feet to make a passing zone so I patiently waited for the next one to come up.
When it did I moved up close to be ready to gun my way around him but the truck, perversely, moved over so that it was still, effectively, blocking me.
I had to brake and drop back.
When the next one came up I gave him a toot on the horn as I closed up but he did the same thing and, once again, I had to drop back.
Some choice words were directed at the driver ahead by both Jim and me although the oaths that we used were much milder that they would have been if Mainlaw hadn’t been sitting in the back.
When we saw that the next passing zone was coming up I gave him a long blast to let him know that I was past thinking that what he was doing was cute and with that he moved over but it was only so that he could swing back across the road and, when his vehicle was askew and was totally blocking it, he braked to a stop.
The driver got out of his truck and I saw that he was about forty years old and around six feet tall and was heavily built. He was wearing boots and well-worn jeans and a red, kind of plaid shirt.
He hitched up his jeans, all the way around, as he approached and then he stopped to read my license plates.
I rolled down my window a few inches in time to hear him say, “New York, huh? Well, I shoulda fuckin’ known. The worst kind of fuckin’ Yankee that there is. Sheee-hit! Fuckin’ good fer nothin’ Yankees come down here in their fancy fuckin’ cars and want to take over our roads. Hey! You hear me Mr. New York Yankee? Get out of that fancy fuckin’ Caddy right now.”
I didn’t have much in the way of options. I couldn’t turn the car around, of course, and there’s no way I could have backed up for half a mile because he could turn around and even his old jalopy could go a lot faster forwards than I could go backwards.
I had to either act or be acted on. That is, I had to get out of the car and face him, as he’d asked, because if I stayed inside with the windows closed he’d almost certainly go and find something to smash the glass with and after that – well. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
I thought about telling him that in New York it is illegal to hit someone who is sixty years old but I rejected that because I didn’t think that it would go over all that well.
One time, back in New York, I was with one of my mechanics, Lou, and he was driving because we were using his car for some reason. We were heading east on a one-way street when a bike courier, heading west, swooped around a doubled parked delivery van and hit us squarely in front. Luckily for him we were only doing about ten miles an hour at the time because we’d slowed to be able to pass the van seeing that there were only a few inches to spare on either side.
The bike rider was thrown off and over to one side and it didn’t look as if he could have hurt himself much but we saw that the front wheel of his bike was clearly badly buckled.
When the guy had picked himself up he was furious. His upper body was shaking and his eyes were bulging with rage and his face got to be red and blotchy as we watched.
He came over to the driver’s side as he shouted, “Stupid motherfucker, what d’you think you’re at? Get out of that fucking car. I’m gonna rearrange your fucking face.”
In his hand was the thick cross piece of the shackle affair that they use to lock their bikes to a post or a railing when they have to leave it outside a building. It made for a pretty decent club.
Lou, keeping his eyes on the wild man, said sideways to me, “There’s a baseball bat under your seat. Get it out and let him see that you’ve got it ready and hand it to me if I need it.”
He then wound down his window all the way and protested, “Hey man, you ran into me not the other way around. Now calm down and we’ll get a cop if that’s what you want.”
The guy spluttered out some more profanities and then he looked over to size me up and saw what I was holding in plain sight so he did calm down and remarkably quickly too.
He was obviously shaken up though because when he was all cussed out he went over to the curb and sat down on it and rested his head in his hands.
Because Lou was driving I felt a little bit like a by-stander, an on-looker, in that I had to allow him to take the initiative. He asked me to get out, wisely, and then he parked his car on the other side of the double parked van – to make way for the cars behind us that, as you’d expect in New York, were sounding off in fury as if they were all on emergency missions – and then he came back to where I, and the distraught cyclist, were.
The guy asked Lou if he had a cell phone and then asked him to call a cop because, he said, he needed an official record for insurance purposes and to be able to show it to his boss to explain why he was late with his deliveries.
When that was done he started whining about how the bike was his only way of making a living and that it was useless now and that that was Lou’s fault and, “You should give me, say, fifty bucks to buy a new wheel and to get the rest of it checked out.”
Lou said, “Jesus H. Christ man, you’ve got to be kidding. Fifty bucks? I don’t think so. You threatened to rearrange my face, remember?” And then he walked over to his car and leaned on it, looking away.
After a few minutes of having to listen to more whining I too walked over to Lou’s car and I picked up his tool box off the floor in the back and I took it, and then the bike, to where there was some space. First, I took the brake off because it was bent in and was badly fouling the wheel’s spokes and then I took the wheel off and then, by using the curb as an anvil and by standing on the rim just so and then turning it so that I could work on other parts of it, as needed, after ten minutes or so I managed to straighten it out reasonably well. When I put it back into the front fork of the bike, and made it spin, it wobbled a bit but not enough to scrape against the inside of the fork.
I then took a look at the brake and saw that, luckily, it had been its center holding bolt that had taken the brunt of the collision and because, unlike the brake assembly that was made of white metal that can’t be hammered on at all, the bolt was made of mild steel and it only took me a few minutes to straighten it out some.
I positioned the bolt so that its out-of-true part was vertical and then I adjusted the brake pad holders outwards so that they didn’t foul the slightly wobbly wheel and – Bob’s your uncle and is undoubtedly the brother of one of your parents.
The erstwhile wreck was back in business.
A patrol car pulled up in front of Lou’s car after a few more minutes and the injured party got up and walked over to it and poured out his laments that included, “and then that blind bastard over there came up and ran smack into me.”
The cop didn’t get out of his car and after listening for a while he got it straightened out in his mind and said, “Hold on a minute, sir. Tell me if I got this right. You were coming the wrong way down this one-way street, yes? Yes, and you want me to give him a ticket? Sir, please stand back from the car or I’ll give you a ticket.” And then he rolled his window up and drove away.
We both got back into Lou’s car and the last time that we saw the kamikaze cyclist he was blithely pedaling west in the middle of the road.
Lou said, “What an asshole! Well, at least I don’t need a ticket to show my boss why I’m gonna be late today.”
The part that impressed me most in the entire incident was the excellent peacekeeping role that the baseball bat had played. Ever since then I’ve always kept one, under the passenger seat, in every car that I’ve ever owned and I recommend the practice to my children and to everybody else that I know. It is not illegal – how could it be?
Well, to get back to Georgia, I was the one who was driving and so it was very much up to me to take the initiative and my initial decision was to wish, fervently, that it would all go away.
However, I knew that it wouldn’t go away and that very different tactics were called for in this case in that the guy coming at us was doing so coldly and had almost certainly set up the whole thing and was following his original plan – witness his ‘New York Yankee’ bullshit – and so he wouldn’t even pause, no matter about respond, to appeals for common sense.
My best hope was to catch him off guard and so I said to Jim, quietly, “There’s a baseball bat under your seat. Get it out but don’t let him see it as you do so and keep it down near the floor. Then, when I get a halfway out, put it in my left hand, which I’ll keep behind my back. OK?”
I made the window slide all the way down and I said out loud, “Stay in the car, Jim. I’ll get out and try to talk some sense into this guy.”
As I’d intended, the guy heard what I said and came towards to my side and then he signaled to his friend – who had climbed down too and was waiting to see what developed – to stay where he was. The guy backed up until he was half sitting and half leaning on the truck’s bumper. I presumed that it wasn’t his turn to start the fun.
As soon as my door began to open the guy spit out some more vicious curses but then, knowing that he wouldn’t have to pull me out, he moved to the front where there was more room to maneuver. He was going on about how he was, “Gonna teach this fuckin’ New York fuckin’ Yankee some Southern manners.”
When I was out of the car and had straightened up he saw that I was a good deal older than he was and that my upper body had slipped down some and that, all in all, I didn’t prove much of a threat.
Something in his tiny mind, or maybe just to entertain his friend, made him want to play around a bit because he reverted to an eighth or ninth-grade, if he’d stayed in school that long, bullying tactic which was to spread out his arms and say that I was to take my best shot. He indicated that I was to punch him in the stomach.
As I’d gotten out of the car, and when I was walking towards him, I’d kept my left hand behind my back, holding the bat vertical with its thick part up. When I was close to him I reached back with my right hand to grab the handle and it was only then that he cottoned on to the fact that some new, unknown, factor was about to come into play and I saw doubt and puzzlement come into his eyes. Then, when he saw the bat come into view, a whole lot of alarm showed up in the same place and he brought his arms down and made his hands into fists.
At the same time his friend, who must have seen something odd just before he did, shouted a warning.
The nasty bastard shaped up to throw a punch but I’d already started my swing and the bat hit him squarely above his left ear.
Just like in the cartoons it went – ‘Boink.’ Exactly like that, ‘Boink.’
He fell to his knees.
Not wanting to let him to get away with this with just a bad headache later on that day I moved to balance my weight and then I kicked him, hard, with my right foot and blood spurted from his nose. In his daze, he managed to lift his hands to his face and by doing that his weight shifted and he fell forwards onto the tarmac and made no attempt to cushion his fall with his arms.
By then the other guy was coming, running and spouting curses, and he was wearing a baseball cap and bib-overalls and it became obvious that their looseness, and the shirt under them, was to accommodate his beer-barrel-belly.
He was about my age – when I saw that I forgot about telling him about the New York rule against hitting seniors because he was up there himself and that probably negated the rule, which made me smile and, I figured later, that seeing that smile of mine would probably be his most vivid recollection of the entire episode – and his arms were reaching out as he ran and his body was bending forwards, football style, as if he was going to tackle me when he got near enough.
Well, as everybody knows – I do mean everybody even in countries where baseball is never played – those bats have another attribute, besides being very hard and perfectly balanced and easy to swing on target, and that is that it is around three feet long and so it gives close to that much advantage as regards reach.
I swung it upwards, when he got near enough to begin his tackle, and it caught him full in the face and stopped him in his tracks. His teeth, as they broke off, made a cracking noise.
Blood shot out and down in great gouts and his hands came up to his face as he fell to his knees.
I thought, in for a penny in for a pounding, (sorry) and so I stepped to one side and swung again.
Another perfect ‘Boink’ and so I figured that if they weren’t father and son they had to be, at least, closely related.
Jim came out and around and he was cussing too but in triumph.
When he’d calmed down a bit I got him to help me with pulling the two guys off the road and then we lined them up, properly parallel to the slope, and let them roll down it.
They were both out cold and when they’d stopped rolling we saw that the blood that they’d spilled up to then had been covered with dirt and gravel but it kept coming and soon formed a new, bright layer.
I handed the bat over to Jim and asked him to back up our car until it was well clear and then bring it up again when I’d moved the truck. Even with his exhilaration, at the huge turn of events in our favor, when my words had sunk in a large grin came to his face because I’d never let anyone else drive my car before no matter what.
I saw from the exhaust that the truck’s engine was still running so I got in and pulled forwards and over which left room for Jim to drive up and on past.
I then backed the truck up until it was well clear of its comatose owners and then I stopped and set the handbrake and put it in neutral and switched the engine off. There was a big old cell phone in its holder, which was tied to the gear shift, so I eased it out and took it with me, and the keys too.
I threw the phone up into the shrubs one way and the keys the other way and then I leaned into the truck and let the hand brake off. The road wasn’t quite steep enough to get it to run downhill on its own so I had to shove it to get it started.
It rolled on down the road, gathering speed as it went, and about thirty feet further down something deflected the front wheels and its rear end tried to run up the slope to its right but when it had done so for a little way the wheels turned the other way and then the whole thing careened across the road and went down the slope and then the front wheels turned yet again which made it veer abruptly enough to get it to fall onto its side.
One the corners of the cabin that was perched on the back hit the ground and gouged out great clouds of dirt and clods of grass and there were loud banging and clanging and splintering noises and then it broke completely free of the truck and when the dust had settled it looked for all the world as if there were two separate wrecks down there.
I walked back up to the car and when I passed the two guys I checked them out and if one or both had gotten up I would have run to get the bat to deal out some more rough justice, of the ‘boink’ variety, because seening their senseless and totally uncalled for violent behavior, and nearly becoming a victim of it, had turned me into an honorary thug.
My supply of adrenalin, and courage, had been all used up by the time that I got to the car and my legs turned to rubber a second after I’d lowered myself onto the car seat and I had to pay a lot of attention to keep filling and emptying my lungs sufficiently. I remember wishing that I’d brought my supply of Valium with me to get my heart to slow down.
I had to take a few minutes more to calm down enough to be OK about shifting into drive and when I’d done so we drove away from there and I was never more thankful for automatic transmission and power steering and power brakes and, yes, cruise-control which, I found out, works just as well at twenty-five miles per hour as at seventy.
We were all so traumatized that not one word was spoken in that car for about a half hour. We came up to a crossroads four or five miles down the road and I called on the GPS for advice and it showed us that the village that we’d been headed for, before our brush with Georgian inhospitality, was to the right and, without a second thought, I turned left and a few miles down that road we came to a four way stop and there were signs there that told us how to get back to the I 95.
When we got to the entrance ramp we saw a huge sign that cheered us all up considerably. It said, ‘To the South and Florida.’
We had to stop for gas an hour or so later and none of us wanted a sandwich nor even a soda.
Normally, I could have driven all the way to Fort Myers from where we were but as soon as we’d crossed the state line into Florida I pulled into the first motel that we came to.
After booking two rooms I pulled Mainlaw’s two suitcases out of the trunk and I took them, and her, to her room.
When we were inside she walked over to a straight chair that was by a little desk and she plonked herself down on it and, before she could turn her head away from me, I saw that her face was as white and as drawn as it had been when I was driving away from the brawl site.
I asked her how she felt but she didn’t answer. She did, however, turn her head towards me and what I saw in her eyes shocked me because there was both hate and loathing in them. That surprised me because up until then I‘d thought that I’d been a bit of a hero back there. Still she was a mother-in-law after all and not only that she was my mother-in-law and so – ‘nuff said.
I figured that she needed something to boost her spirits and what better to do that than some spirits so I went back to my car and I fished out the bottle of bourbon that I always bring on trips. I poured some of it into a water glass that I found in the bathroom and I put it on the desk near her.
Her eyes, holding the same amount of loathing, had followed me the whole time and I told myself that if she hadn’t mellowed somewhat by the morning I’d get Jim to have a word with her to find out what exactly had turned her against me because I certainly didn’t want her to meet up with my wife while still feeling that way.
I said, “We’ll go and eat at around eight, OK?”
“We’ll see,” she replied without unclenching her jaws.
When Jim and I had dropped off our bags in our room we walked to a bar that we’d spotted when we’d arrived that was in the little mall that was to the side of the motel.
We’d automatically ordered beers when we’d sat down on stools at the bar but then I realized that beer wouldn’t cut it so I asked for a double Jim Beam and Jim went for scotch with no ice.
When we’d let air get at the bottom of the liquor glasses and we’d drunk some of the beer we both felt some much needed relief seep in. We ordered more relief.
Jim spoke up first, “Jesus, man. You know, if you hadn’t had that bat in the car we wouldn’t be sitting here drinking good whisky – nor bad whisky someplace else neither, come to that.”
I was a little peeved at him for not commenting on my ability with the bat but I figured that by downsizing my part in the, uh, in the fracas the fact that he’d been a non-combatant got to be diminished in significance. But remember, I could have told him, one thousand times zero always equals zero.
At one time in my life his attitude would have bothered me but nowadays I can muster enough patience to be able to weigh the amount of hurt pride that I feel and compare it with what I’ll lose if I give myself free reign to sound off and Jim is a good man and I like having him around and that was more important than ever on that particular afternoon.
“You got that right,” I said. “Uh, listen, I was just thinking. We don’t want the world to know what happened back there, do we? We’d better be cautious, right? You know how local judges and magistrates and police chiefs favor their own people especially over out-of-Staters, true? Well, for you and me keeping quiet about it goes without saying but what about Mainlaw?”
I gave him a moment to think about it and then I said, “Uh listen, Jim. I had time on the drive down here to think up something to tell Martha (my wife) tomorrow. Tell me what you think about this: We could tell her that we made a diversion to check out that family that you found in the yellow pages called ‘Makers’ and we’ll say that when we got there we saw their name on the mailbox but there was a humongous great dog loose in the garden so we just sat there until a woman came out to check on what all the barking was about. Well, seeing that she couldn’t make the stupid animal quit with its snarling we stayed where we were and asked her, over the fence, about her family name and she told us that her husband’s father had been born, uh, ‘Makerowski’ or some such, and had shortened it, ‘most of forty years ago.’
“What d’you think?”
“Yeah, sounds good. That’ll mean that we won’t ever have to take her there to ‘go visit kin.’ Clever.”
“Yeah. Like you said, and that way we’ll never have to go anywhere near that red-neck area again. Hell, come to think on it, I’m so shook up by what happened back there that in future every time that I come up to that exit I’ll probably move over to the far lane to make sure that we’re forced to go on bye.
“So, the big question now is how do we get Mainlaw to go along with the story?”
We tried to come up with something but we didn’t get even near to finding an answer that might work.
Our bodies – more like ‘our entire systems’ – seemed to need a lot more booze than usual and so I kept it coming and then, when Jim fell off his barstool for the second time, the barman suggested that we go and sit in a booth.
While I remember being asked to leave the place, a lot later, for singing and shouting too loudly I have no idea how we made it back to the motel.
I woke up the next morning, still fully dressed, on top of one of the beds and I saw that Jim was on the other one and likewise.
To see where he was I had to roll my whole body over because I was so hung over that I couldn’t lift my head enough to look around.
It got to be eleven o’clock before I could get to my feet and a shot of bourbon helped but only to give me enough strength to stagger to the bathroom to throw up. It hurt my throat that time and the next two times.
I wanted to, I needed to, take a shower but the effort was way too much so I gave up on that and tried to bring Jim back into this world and when I’d succeeded I wished that I hadn’t because he started in with moaning and dry heaving and retching and it got to be too much pretty damn quickly so it drove me out of the room.
The second that I’d put one foot outside the door a maid came hurrying up and told me that because it was near check-out time she needed to clean the room and so, instead of answering her, I opened the door all the way and said, “Mira, m’hija.”
She took one look at Jim and backed away as she said, “Ay Dios mio! Regreso cuando haya terminado con todos los otras cuartos.” Or something like that because my Spanish is a bit iffy and, because of that, the only word that I can be sure of pronouncing correctly is ‘Mira’ which is far and away the favorite word of Puerto Ricans, in New York anyway. Because I’d used it expertly she presumed that I was fluent in her language.
We’ve got a lot of Puerto Ricans working for my company. We’ve employed them from day one back when they were the most numerous Latinos in the city – incidentally, we gradually learned to not refer to them as ‘Hispanics’ and, although I still can’t figure out why exactly, seeing that it means such a lot to them why the hell not? – and when they proved out to be good workers in the production end we tried more of them in the office and, ditto. Nowadays we’ve also got men and women from most of the other countries in the Caribbean and Central and South America. In fact, so many of them that I’m sometimes accused of practicing reverse discrimination.
The thing is that, apart from wanting to take too many personnel days off, they’re mostly good workers and we have very few labor problems. We always pay them well and they get bonuses and because technical innovations keep letting us produce more with less cost why not share the higher profits by giving out bigger bonuses every year?
Same for benefits. The cost is huge and the amount of paper work is horrific and so when, ten years or so ago, they got together to put their case to me I put them off with spurious excuses but when we were having a beer together after work one Friday a few weeks later one of them put a cutting from a magazine in front of me that asked the sixty-four dollar question – If members of congress get good benefits, which they do, in spades, how can they justify not seeing to it that their constituents get at least adequate ones too?
I tried to find an answer to that but its inherent good logic got to work on me and eventually won me over because it came to be obvious that all that I and my staff could come up with to reject it were self serving justifications and lame excuses and weak evasions. Soon after that we got started on looking at various plans and methods that fairly involved a sharing of the costs and a few weeks later – Bob is either your mother’s or your father’s brother.
Anyway, as I was saying, by working with all those Latinos I gradually picked up some of their lingo. Well, enough to get through the day without looking stupid or, worse, as if I didn’t care.
So, it’s ‘Buenos Dias‘ in the morning and ‘Buenas Tardes’ and ‘Buenas Noches’ in the afternoon and night – everybody knows that but you have to be careful to get the ‘O’s’ and the ‘A’s’ right (because it’s ‘El Dia’ and ‘La Tarde’ and ‘La Noche’) and if you don’t do so that labels you right then as a Gringo who thinks that the golden rule (the other golden rule) ‘He who has the gold makes the rules,’ over rides all else including good manners – then there’s ‘Que Tal?’ and ‘Que Pasa?’ for use as friendly greetings, on passing, through the day. On being introduced to someone you can say, ‘Mucho gusto’ or ‘Encantado’ and if the one you’ve just met is effusive you simply wait until he or she has finished and then you answer ‘Igualmente’ which is a very useful thing to know because it pleases them a great deal in that, for some reason, they believe that all of the nice things that they said about you is also true for them and so, it follows, the thicker they’ve laid it on the better you must think of them.
Then there’s ‘Voy a ver. Dejarla conmigo, por favor’ which is kind of long but it’s a good thing to get down pat because it can get you out of trouble when someone asks you something and you haven’t quite understood what it is that he or she wants. When he or she has gone you make a note on your pad, like, ‘Eduardo Lopez has a problem. Please deal with it.’ and then you put it on the desk of his foreman.
Then there’s ‘Exactamente’ for when you know for sure what’s being asked of you and you agree. They all use ‘Entiendo’ a lot and you say that when you know that nothing much is required from you in the way of a reply.
I absorb a lot of words by straightforward osmosis – like ‘Mira’ and ‘Vale’ and ‘Andale’ – and, of course, the favorite curse words which you have to avoid using because nuance is everything and Latinos are quick to take offense. They use some unbelievably coarse ones and some of the blasphemous ones nearly curl your hair. It’s a curious fact that the worst of them aren’t readily translatable into English nor are they ever used in English, which, I guess, amounts to the same thing.
Another good thing to do, if you don’t remember the person’s name, is to add ‘Senor’ or ‘Senora’ or ‘Senorita’ to the end of the words that you’ve selected and you’re in business.
Well, for the maid in the motel I selected the words, “Entiendo, senorita y muchas gracias.” and I got a nice smile in return, along with, “De nada, Senor, no hay de que.” and both things were straight forward enough to be very welcome given the way that I felt.
It was only then that I remembered that Mainlaw was with us and that she was probably still waiting for last night’s dinner!
I hurried along to her room and she called out, “Come in, it’s open.” Which gave me hope.
Them there hopes were promptly extinguished when I saw that she was sitting in the hard wooden chair by the desk and, seeing that the bed was fully made up, she might well have spent the entire night there.
On the desk was the untouched glass of whisky that I’d given her and a half full glass of water and an empty bag of potato chips and a few cheese-cracker wrappers. “Oh, Jesus,” I said to myself, “may the good Lord protect me from present evil and, later, when she finds out as she undoubtedly will, from my wife’s lashing tongue.”
She turned her head in my direction and I saw disgust and hate in her eyes, again, and I dealt with that, from then on, by looking about six inches above her head.
Before she could start in I told her about the check out rule and I carried her already packed – I didn’t ask – suitcases out to the car and she followed me. I guessed, with a real and well-deserved stab of guilt, that she hadn’t eaten anything much since yesterday’s breakfast and so I suggested that we go and get some lunch before leaving for Fort Myers.
She said, coldly and with a snarl that was controlled only because she wanted to be understood, “My next meal will be a lunch-dinner-brunch one so yes, I think that I might manage to eat something.”
When we were sitting in a booth she ordered tomato soup, “but no crackers, thank you, (dig) and, to follow, three scrambled open range eggs and fried tomatoes and mushrooms and whole wheat toast and coffee and then a piece of coconut pie, a la mode.”
I asked for black coffee and I hoped that I could keep it down if, that is, I could force myself to drink some of it in the first place.
When it came I managed to swallow some and I did keep it down but it made my stomach churn and so I figured that it would be best, and safer, for everyone if I escorted it outside.
The waiter brought the bill with Mainlaw’s meal and so I took it with me, the bill that is, and I left a tip of five dollars on the table and then I paid the cashier on my way out.
I rousted out Jim and, after leaving a twenty on the bedside table, I pointed him towards the car and urged him on and then I carried out our two bags – already packed in that we hadn’t open either of them – and I steered all three items into the car and then we waited for Mainlaw.
She took her own sweet time about it, knowing, without a doubt, that she was irreproachable and protected by having justice on her side, and when she came she got into the back.
She looked at Jim – he’d made the back of his seat recline into some of her space and his eyes were closed and he was holding his head with one hand and was breathing very shallowly and was spacing out his moans because they hurt too much – and she nodded to herself as if in confirmation, and then trotted out her obviously rehearsed speech – which, unknown to her and fortuitously for Jim and me, went a long way to solving our big problem:
“You know, I’ve never had much time for men in general but what you two have put me through over these last two days has been disgraceful even for men.
“There was the silly, macho, horn-blowing that started it all and then the schoolboy bravado and the callous, brutal beatings and the wanton destruction of property. And then, in the afternoon in this motel, there was the complete abandonment of me and then, a whole lot later, there was your drunkenness and shouted obscenities and blasphemies and dirty, disgusting songs and then the loud and nasty throwing up.
“So, let me tell you what I’m going to have to do now to save my sanity. When we get to Fort Myers I’m going to rest up and then I’m going to get on a bus back to New York and then I’m going to check into that Home where my sister is living.
“It’s an ugly, depressing place that’s very much like a jail and I don’t like to even visit it no matter about wanting to live there but that’s where I’m going to and it will be on a permanent basis. You hear me?
“I’m going to do it for only one reason and do you know what that is? I’ll tell you. There are absolutely no men living there nor on the staff nor can they ever go past the reception room, which is isolated from the main building. There! That’s exactly what I want for the rest of my life. No, none, zero men in it, ever again.”
She said not another word until we pulled into my space in the parking lot of the Condo, which meant that the radio had held sway in the car because neither Jim nor I were in a talking mode nor a making-much-sense one either.
However, she must have been thinking about and putting together another speech on the drive down because she launched it at us a moment after I’d switched the engine off.
“By the way,” she said, “I’ve got one more thing that I want to say to you two. For thirty odd years I’ve known that you tell people that ‘Mainlaw Lauderer’ rhymes with ‘Chainsaw Murderer’ so it’s a pity that you didn’t adopt my daughter’s surname when you married her, but anyway, even though I hope that I’ll never see either of your faces again, whenever I think of you two in future one of you will be, ‘Pat Lauderer,’ and you, Jim, will be, seeing that I can’t think up a name that rhymes with ‘Accomplice’ or ‘Patsy,’ you’ll be ‘Jacky Lauderer’ which rhymes with ‘Lackey Murderer’ which is what you are.”
That took all the wind out of me and so I stayed sitting there after she’d gotten out and was walking towards the elevators.
Even though she’d humiliated me I had to come up with something that would get her to hold her tongue, in the short term, about our ‘encounter’ with the redneck thugs although, happily, she’d already told us that there’d be no long-term threat.
Her statement about leaving us ‘for ever’ after she’d rested up had, of course, delighted me but I dreaded to think what would happen when she and my wife met up in the apartment in a few minutes time because, being mother and daughter, they could both read the state of the other’s mind at a glance.
After a while the answer came to me and so I got out of the car and retrieved all the bags and suitcases and then Jim and I followed in her footsteps and, on the way, I did some rehearsing of my own.
I knew that she’d have to wait for me at the elevator lobby because you have to swipe a card to get the rear doors to open and, besides that, she’s scared not just of airplanes but of elevators too. However, I’ve noticed that she’s not scared enough to want to walk up the stairs to the thirty fifth floor.
When the elevator’s doors had closed and we’d started up I turned to her and I said, “All right Enid, I think that we have to get something straight right now. None of us should ever say anything about what happened yesterday because if it gets around the Georgia police might come looking for us. Also, after you’ve heard what I’m going to say to you, I don’t think that you’ll tell Martha anything about it, ever.
“So. When you get up to that safe haven of a female fortress of yours, up state, I want you to do two things for me. First, ask your sister how much it costs to live there, year round, and then ask her who sends them the check every month and then ask her how long would they let you both stay there if those checks stop coming. And second, when you’ve settled in up there, think about what might well have happened to you if I hadn’t been ‘callous and brutal’ with that bat. The whole thing was staged from the moment that those two psychopaths saw our out-of-state plates on that empty stretch of country road. They’d have decided to steal the car and everything that we have and then, after dealing with Jim and me, what do you think they’d have done to you? You were there and you would have seen everything, right? That would have made you a prime witness against them.
“I guess you think that they’d have taken you home and put you up in their guest room for the night and then, after a nice breakfast of bacon and grits and some pie a la mode, they’d drive you to a train station and buy you a ticket to Miami. Am I right? Well, I don’t think so, Ma’am. You might not have noticed but the older one had a ‘Vietnam Vet’ badge on his cap and over in Vietnam evil crackers like him learned a thing or two about how to best exploit the girls and the older women in a village because when they took one over they’d always find that all the fit men and all the young and middle aged women had gone away soldiering and so they found a unique way to get their jollies with what was available. Because the old women and the kids were very capable of triggering a concealed bomb they’d have zero compunction about dealing harshly with them and so what we’d call atrocious behavior they’d think of as being wise precautions.
“So, what would have happened was they’d have parked my car and their truck in that lay-by and then they’d have taken you into that hunting cabin affair that was on the back of their truck and when the younger one had finished with you – and, believe me, he would have, uh, used you because men like him will never pass up the chance to, uh, to do it to any woman who they haven’t been with before and who have no say in the matter – he would have left you for the older guy and he’d have driven my car away to hide it in a barn somewhere until he’d painted it a different color and had filed off the identification numbers.
“Now listen to this bit carefully. The older one was the one who knows how to arrange for and then to utilize a woman’s death spasms and convulsions to augment his orgasm. I read that that it was a regular thing and that they called it ‘The Ultimate Happy Ending’ and I’m guessing that he’d really like to experience one of those again after all this time.
“What’s that look for? You don’t believe me? Well, I agree that it doesn’t sound possible but if you want confirmation, and the gory details, feel free to ask me and I’ll bring it up on my computer for you.
“Well now, it’s your turn Jim. Tell her what you think might have happened.”
The elevator began to slow down then, as we approached our floor, and he straightened up and gathered his forces to say, “I don’t know anything about that last bit but what I think right now is that if he hadn’t used that bat of his in the way that he did we‘d all be sharing a hole in the ground that wasn’t very far from that road and we’d be slowly turning into Georgia dirt. That’s what I think.”
As I was offering up my key to the lock on our apartment door I paused and looked back at her. The hate that had been in her eyes had changed to bewilderment.
If there was any justice in the world that bewilderment should have been gratefulness but it was a huge step in the right direction because I knew that when my wife saw it she’d read it as a symptom of aging and tiredness after a long, boring journey.
Two days later, after dropping off Enid at the bus stop, I traded in my dark green CTS for a brand new silver-gray one that, you can be very sure, came with Florida plates.