30 March 2013

Way back in the dark recesses of my life, I’d married unwisely.  Oh, to be sure, things got off to an auspicious start, but by the time we returned from our honeymoon, I had a nagging suspicion things were going wrong.  She began to nag.  And whine.  Endlessly.

She also let herself go.  First came the fat, then came the dirty hair, then came the blackheads.  The blackheads, ah the blackheads.  She sprouted a good two dozen of them, all in her nose.  Perhaps they were always there but were hidden by her war paint and only became visible when she washed it off.  Nevertheless, they seemed to be a matter of great pride to my wife; she seemed to care for them in the way a gardener tends his turnips.  Day by day they grew until they were easily seen from across the room.  The best depiction of her nose is taking a boiled egg, peeling it, then pressing into its surface, about a dozen black peppercorns.

Her teeth also came in for criticism; they acquired a crust of calculus and a scummy coating of tartar.  I was waiting for the green rind to appear at the gum line.

Her knees and elbows became covered with dingy callouses and cellulite began to dapple her thighs.

A true beast.

Divorce seemed inevitable.

Her constant k`vetching about money caused a lot of friction.  I was no Bill Gates, but we were doing OK, but OK was not enough.  So I went back to school, attempting to get a degree in some subject or other.  At this time, and thanks to one of our infrequent assignations, she became heavy with child and during summer break, her father got a job for me selling furniture.  It was at a B-grade retailer on the south side.  The job stank, as did the pay.  But trooper that I am, I slogged ever on, hoping against hope I could make enough money to shut her up.

And for a life like this I threw away my OK job?

Anyway, to make a long story tedious, the furniture store also hired a stunning woman my age.  She was everything my woeful wife was not: Slim taught body, pert breasts, round little rump, the legs of a Las Vegas show girl, a head full of raving auburn hair, a peaches-and-cream completion and luminous green eyes.  Gad.  In addition to her fetching appearance, I discovered a wholly charming aspect to her personality: She laughed and laughed easily.  She dressed well and comported herself with a superb feminine grace.

Her name was Leslie.

Leslie had been recently divorced with no sturm und drang and was joyously free of romantic entanglements.  Working together on the sales floor of the furniture store, we quickly became acquainted.  Soon thereafter, became flirtatious.  We frequently took lunch together.  After work, we frequently went out for a lingering cup of coffee, or sometimes a quick dinner.  We’d talk for hours.  I began to think of her constantly, imagining what life with Leslie might be like.  Of course, I had no firm knowledge of how she felt about me.

Then one day I found out.  The store’s manager, a taciturn and choleric man named Vernon Whitbeck — who became known to all as Vermin Wetcrack — had called an 8:00 AM meeting to chew us out for not making his numbers; his bonus was in jeopardy.  I arrived a few minutes late.  Everyone was seated and hanging on Vermin’s every ugly word.  As I walked in from behind Wetcrack, I looked over my assembled co-workers and there she was.  With that, Leslie looked in my direction while I looked in hers.  We caught each other’s eye and Leslie broke into a smile that said, “I’m glad to see you”.  At the same moment, I was smiling at her, conveying the same sentiment.  We shared a conspiratorial wink and I took a seat.

One cold night about three months into the furniture business, Leslie came back into the store, telling me her car wouldn’t start and would I please see what I could do?  Ya bettcha.  The engine oil must have been thick as tar for the starter labored and quickly and drained the battery.

“It’s no good,” I said and quickly offered Leslie a ride home — which she eagerly accepted.  It was as if she had been waiting for me to ask.  Naturally, my blood pressure started to rise and a palm got a bit sweaty.  We hopped into my Barracuda and in moments we were nice and toasty.  As I drove to her apartment, we were prattling and chatting and laughing as we did when we were together.

All too soon, we were in her apartment’s parking lot.  Neither of us felt like terminating the conversation so we kept going.  After a bit, Leslie said, “It’s to cold to sit out here, why don’t you come in for a while?”   Before I could think of some insouciant, reply, I blurted, “I’d better not, Leslie.  Because if I did, I wouldn’t want to leave.”  Well, that sure let the cat out of the bag.

Leslie leaned toward me and put her hand on my knee and looked me straight in the eye; “You wouldn’t have to, Merlin” she said.  We sat quietly for a few moments while I composed my thoughts.  Eventually, I said No, citing The Beast’s pregnancy and my impending fatherhood, a responsibility I could not — would not — shirk.

Of course we saw each other every day until Leslie told me she was leaving the store.  Both of us were about to cry.  Then she was gone.

But not forgotten.

About a year later, I was continuing my futile attempts to earn a degree.  To help keep body and soul together, I drove a cab.  One gloomy afternoon in the fall, as only Minneapolis can be gloomy in the fall, I dropped a fare at a house in a mid-scale neighborhood, down by the river.  The street was narrow so with cars parked on both sides, it was down to one lane.  I parked in a vacant spot, made change for my fare and she debarked.  While sitting there, I saw a VW coming my way.  As it drew abreast, I looked up and — oh, good Christ, there she was!  Leslie in the passenger seat, looking for an address.

I was startled to inaction.  The VW went past and I watched it recede.  Instantly I decided I’d run the VW to ground, yank open the passenger door, get down on my knee and declare my undying love and beg Leslie to come with me.  The cab company, the university, her friend and The Beast be damned.

I jammed the cab into gear, executed a three-point turn and headed off in the VW’s direction.  But there was a delivery truck parked down the block, obscuring the corner.  By the time I could see around the truck, the VW was gone.

Which way had it turned?  I sped to the corner, stopped and agonized over which way the VW had turned.  I chose right and around the corner I went.  No VW.  I drove down the street with purpose.  Perhaps the VW had turned into a driveway.  No luck.  At the end of the block, I turned right so I could reconnoiter the other street.  Nothing.  I was frantic.  I drove around those two blocks a good half-dozen times and saw nothing.

Again, Leslie was gone.

The one chance I’d found for a real, meaningful love with a lovely, beautiful woman had twice slipped through my fingers: First at the furniture store, and now here on this ugly street.  I finally gave up, pulled to the curb, beat my head against the steering wheel and indulged in some scream therapy.

Of course, I now have Jo, and I can’t think of a better match.  We’ve been married for forty years and I couldn’t have made a better choice.

My regret in the Leslie affair is I didn’t act when I could have.  I choked at the bat.


In the years since, I’ve seen seen many people commit similar blunders, all to their regret.  Career opportunities blown.  Investments turned down.  Family relationships unmended.  Old friendships killed off.  And, of course, loves forgone.

So, dear reader, a bit of advice.  Whenever you know the opportunity before you is right, when you know that you can pull it off and suspect such an opportunity may never come again, pounce.  Do not let it get away.  Sure, you may drill a dry hole from time-to-time, but you won’t have gnawing pangs of regret troubling your days.  And you’ll probably be happy.

As it said in a church bulletin, circa 1963:

On the plains of Hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, at the dawn of victory, sat down to rest, and resting, died.

Take the winger.



6 March 2013

Back in Minnesota, the only times I saw an American Eagle was on the US currency, or in a zoo.  OK, National Geographic shows too.  American Eagles were once on the endangered species list and there was a good chance they’d go extinct.

Around the time American Eagles were recovering their numbers, we moved out here.  One day my friend, Dan, and I were up in the mountains (about a half-hour drive) doing some plinking when Dan said, “Look”, there was an American Eagle soaring high above.  Having never seen one on the wing, I wasn’t sure what Dan was pointing.  “Look carefully and its head and tail,” Dan said.  Well, sure enough, white feathers.  I’d seen my first eagle.

The eagle was on the hunt, for without a single flap of his wings, the eagle was flying in a progressing pattern of overlapping circles.  He didn’t find anything in our area so in a short while, he’d moved beyond a peak.

I’ve seen many eagles since.

In fact, there’s a pair living in the Snohomish River valley 3-4 miles from here and every now and again, they’ll come visit.  You’ll hear them talking with one another.  Then scan the sky and, sure enough, there they’ll be.  One morning a few summers back, one of them perched for a while in the big cottonwood tree just up the block.  He was enormous.  I didn’t think a bird could grow that large.

Well, one cloudy afternoon last week, Jo and I were coming back from Monroe on the Tulaco Loop Road, putting along at maybe fifteen miles an hour, just rubbernecking.  We’ve seen this area oodles of times before, but never tire of it.  Off on the right was a field chock-a-block with white swans.  (There are so many swans around here they’re almost pests.)

While we were gawking at the swans, something dark swooped over the car, heading for the open field of swans.  It was a pair of American Eagles flying synchronously, just like Olympic swimmers (you have to see an eagle fly to appreciate the depth of their wing strokes).  They broke formation and chased each other around the sky.  First one, then the other, would pull up vertically, turn over on its back, execute an immelman maneuver  and dive toward the mate.  Then one, thanks to those  huge wings, hovered like a hummingbird as the other came up from below, rolled on its back, and it looked like they were trying to lock feet.

We watched as they played this kind of grab-ass for several more minutes as they progressed toward the river bottom, where we assume they nest in a cottonwood.  The swans, or course, remained resolutely on the ground.

The eagles were just going out of sight when one broke off, turned, and headed back in our direction.  He was no longer soaring, he was coming back on business.  A few strokes of those wings and the eagle accelerated, coming on as straight as an arrow.  By the time he crossed Tulaco Loop about two blocks ahead of us, he must have been going fifty miles an hour and no more than twenty feet off the ground.  He then banked to the right and swung behind a grove of old Maples and was gone.

Moving as one, the flock of swans took flight and headed in the opposite direction.

Neither the Blue Angles nor the Thunderbirds can do aerobatics like those two eagles.  If you want to know what an eagle must surely feel, here is “High Flight” — a classic poem written by Gillespie Magee of the RAF:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.