CHAPTER ONE

A warm June afternoon in Dayton, Ohio would have made Wright Patterson Air Force Base a pleasant place to catch a flight in 1969, had Lisa been there.  Going to Sweden seemed to me like an adventure, but Lisa didn’t see it that way.  All Lisa could see was me going to Vietnam.

I forced a coin into a pay phone and covered one ear against jet noise.

“Please don’t go,” Lisa pleaded, but it was more of a command.

“If I stay here, I go to jail, Lisa.  If I skip to Canada, they’ll put pressure on the Canadian government someday and I’ll get extradited, which means jail.  Sweden is the only answer.”

“It’s not the only answer.  The right thing is to go serve your country.  Then, when you come home, we can pick up where we left off and everything will be fine.”

“Lisa, I’m asking you one more time.  Please come with me to Sweden.”

“I told you, it’s out of the question.”  Line hum filled a long pause.  “I know you’re scared.  I’m scared, for you.  But, if you go to Sweden, I’ll never see you again.  This is not what we want.  Just come see me one last time.  Please?”

The flights to Washington, Brussels, and Stockholm departed without me.

“I’m so happy to see you,” Lisa welcomed me, her blonde hair half down half up like Brigitte Bardot.  She hugged me enthusiastically.

“I still want you to come with me to Sweden, Lisa.”

“Not now.  Don’t talk.”  Her green eyes peered deep inside me.  “Let’s just have some time to ourselves before you leave.”  She unbuttoned a Madras blouse, revealing high full cleavage.  “We belong together,”  A kiss led to heavy breathing, groping, and disrobing. “If you go to Sweden, we’ll never be together again.  Oooo, I love you and need you so much,” she whispered in unison with thrusts that rocked the bed.  “Don’t make me spend my life without you.”

After the passion and a shower, our appetites drove us in search of dinner.  “Understand this, Lisa,” I swung our XKE Jaguar onto a parking lot, “that I have no qualms about standing up for what is right, which is what I’m doing by choosing to go to Sweden.  I’d have no reservations about going to war if there was a real threat.  Hell, I condone deadly force when the circumstances justify it.  If someone tried to break in on us, or tried to harm you, I could kill in an instant.  But, it’s quite different going into someone else’s back yard.  I mean, I can’t see how you can invade and then call it self defense when you return fire.”

“All I can say is, my brother served his country and he was no coward.”

“Coward?  Is that what this is about?  Your brother sat on a ship off Newport News and sailed once around Cuba.  That’s a lot different than humping through a jungle dodging bullets.”

Seated at a restaurant bar while waiting for a table, Lisa munched a pretzel.  “Look at you.  You’re smart.  You have lots of experience.  They won’t put somebody like you on the front lines.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Lisa, but did you ever hear about how the Army seems to find the job farthest from your experience?”

“Nonsense.  They already made you a disc jockey, didn’t they?”

“Great.  Do you know what disc jockeys do in Nam?  I talked to guys in my unit at Fort Bragg who had just come back.  You know what they did?  They went into the jungle with loudspeakers broadcasting propaganda.”

“See, they came back.  You will, too.”

“This is what I want to do, go into a jungle full of enemies and crank up a loudspeaker saying here I am?”

It had gotten so we couldn’t hold a decent conversation.  Our every utterance always led to dissension over what I should do.

Reluctantly, I gave up on Sweden and put my love for Lisa ahead of my intuition and judgment.

The night before my departure we checked in at a Fort Lewis guest house, where walls painted recently off-white stank of pungent fumes.  Bare gray floors showed no scuff marks and no dust anywhere.  The vacant walls begged for a plant or a picture, anything.

A desk corporal checked us in and a private led us upstairs to a room.

“Breakfast starts at seven,” the young private said.

“I’ll be gone by then.”  I looked around.  “I don’t see an alarm clock.”

“No, sir.”  He didn’t know my rank as an enlisted man.

“We have to get up at five-forty-five.  Will you see if there’s an alarm clock available?”

“Okay.”  He left.

“What about a wake-up call?”  Lisa rattled hangers in a closet.

“No Phone.”  I peeked around a window shade at shingles and darkness.

Next to a bed stood a one-drawer night stand with a lamp and a gray metal ashtray.  In the drawer lay a crisp new Bible.  The small double bed jounced springy and stretched squeaky coils.  In a corner of the room sat a steel gray chair with hard plastic arm rests and large chrome glides.

“There’s no shower.”  Lisa threw up both hands.

The bathroom floor had a black diamond pattern repeated in small ceramic tiles.  I put my shaving kit between porcelain faucet handles on a pedestal basin.  A mirror reflected amber discoloration in three corners.

Lisa plugged a rubber stopper into the tub drain and started water thumping brown against rust-stained porcelain.  “Look!”

“It’s just rusty.  Let it run a minute.”

Behind the front desk, the corporal sat reading.

“Is the private here?  I asked him to see if he could locate an alarm clock.”

“We don’t have one.”  The corporal went back to his reading.

“At least he could’ve come back and told us.”

“He was off at ten, probably forgot.”

“Can you or somebody knock on our door at five-forty-five?  I have to leave for Nam in the morning.”

“Not allowed to knock on doors, might disturb other guests who want to sleep.”

“You mean there’s actually someone else here besides us?”

Back upstairs, a different private in the hall outside the room carried a leather encased clock strapped over one shoulder and stopped at a designated location and inserted a chained key into the clock as proof of his patrol.

“Are you on duty all night?”

“Till six a.m.”  He guarded his response.

“I need a favor.  We have to get up at five-forty-five.  I know you can’t knock, but how about if I stick a corner of a sheet under the door and when you come by at five-forty-five you give it a tug?”

“You’re serious?”

“Of course I am.”

Water gurgled down the tub drain.  Lisa wore one towel around her, two corners tucked together over her breasts, and another towel twisted round on her head to hold her hair.

I brushed my teeth and watched my brownish reflection in the mirror.

Lisa was in bed with the light off.  “How will we know to wake up?”

“Hold on.”  I slid the bed closer to the door and uncovered Lisa’s feet.  “I’m going to stick a corner of this sheet under the door and the guy on guard duty will come by and give it a tug at five-forty-five.”

“How will that wake us up?”

“This end gets tied to your toe.”

Morning showed the area to be nestled among towering pines.  Angular blades of sunlight sliced through coniferous treetops and projected bright patches on amber clay roadways and blacktop drives.  Diesels whined under olive drab loads while drivers of Jeeps watched impatiently for opportunities to pass.

An expansive parking lot dotted with a smattering of civilian cars surrounded a small building where a sergeant confirmed that this was the departure area.

“You’re sure this is how you want it?”  My words seemed to echo back to me in the quietude of the car, windows rolled up, sun radiating off the dash.

“You’ll be fine.”  Lisa leaned over and gave me a quick kiss.

I dragged my duffel bag from the back seat, hoisted it onto one shoulder, walked around to the driver side, motioned for Lisa to roll down her window, leaned forward, and kissed her.

She broke our kiss.  “Don’t look back.”

The car started and clanked into gear.  The emergency brake released.  The power steering pump whimpered from too hard a turn while Lisa pulled away.

*   *   *

The last time I had honored such a promise to not look was in the winter of third grade after an all night snowfall had blanketed Potter Park Golf Course.  On the fourteenth hole, neighborhood youngsters and I played noisily, pushing sleds from a tee area where downhill momentum sped us in the direction of a green.  Then came a steep climb, clutching a frozen rope, dragging a sled to the top again.  Our shouts and screams in the still of summer would have been audible clear to Shannon Lane—the street where my family lived, named after my childhood sweetheart, Shannon Harris, who unintentionally embarrassed me when she proudly exhibited to our class at school a homemade valentine I’d created for her on the softest most delicate substance available when the mood had struck; namely, toilet paper.  Now, however, the snow muffled our glee.

One boy decided we should play follow the leader and appointed himself leader.  One by one we went down the hill; laying down, seated, standing up.  Someone announced that next we would sled down with eyes closed.  I was third and lay face down on my trusty sled.  I got a good grip with each hand on the wood steering yoke and closed my eyes.  The kids behind me moved my sled and pushed hard.  At first it was a rush of excitement, flying through the snow.  But, it got very fast and bumpy, unlike I’d ever felt on that familiar hill.  The rules were to not look.  The rules were to not …

Snow was being packed on my face.  I lay on my back looking up at a white sky and kids’ faces huddled round with expressions of alarm.  With my brother’s help I made it home, complained of a soreness and explained to mom what had happened, rode in her car to a doctor, then, to a hospital, where warm plaster of Paris was layered with cheesecloth to form a sleeveless body cast from my hips to the top of my head, with openings for access to my hair and my navel.

I had honored my promise to not look and had broken my neck—severely the doctor had said.

The kids had aimed me, not down the hill, but over an adjacent cliff toward a creek, and a tree with my name on it.

Ten years later on that same golf course, Lisa and I fanned our flames of infatuation in the winter of `63, warming our hands beside bonfires and skating off into shadows near a dam to exchange affections.  We had met during Christmas vacation at an open house dance.  Lisa was fifteen and I was a freshman broadcast major, home for the holidays from the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.  With the finale of Gary U.S. Bonds’ lyrics about dancing till a quarter to three, Lisa concluded her Watusi, clapping, laughing, casting her vibrant spell on her entourage of classmates—drawing admiration from around the YWCA hall with her stunning features; naturally blonde hair, gracefully  tall, proportioned like a Playboy Vargas illustration.

Our first dates were the usual fare, the local drive-in restaurant with speaker ordering and car-hop service.  It was the same hangout where I’d initiated my radio career, inside near a service counter doing Taft Teen Talk, a weekly high school radio show; and where one night, after placing a curb-service order through a speaker, we pushed a burning Camel cigarette onto a silver-tube fuse, left it on the speaker, and watched from across Dixie Highway until it exploded, knocking the speaker tray catawampus and causing a car hop to spill our order in the middle of the parking lot; nearly the same location where one Saturday night in front of everybody, I’d stopped my ‘53 Olds and opened the trunk for Lisa and her girlfriend, who scrambled out embarrassed thinking they had sneaked into a drive-in movie.

The Ramona Drive-In Theater nearby had as its feature one weekend, “Three Faces of Eve,” and Lisa, aspiring thespian that she was, just had to see Joanne Woodward’s performance.  Not to take anything away from Mrs. Newman’s exceptional talent, but parking on an incline row and wrestling with stiff wire, hefting an iron speaker and hanging it inside a car window aroused anticipation of a new chapter in my book of nookie.  A single black knob controlled speaker static, as well as soundtrack volume.  Lisa sat engrossed, head forward, and tolerated, somewhat indifferently, my amorous advances, so long as I didn’t block her view of the screen.  A little frustrated, and rather tired from long hours of work and commuting to Cincinnati for school, I laid across the front seat of my ‘56 Chevy and rested the back of my head in Lisa’s lap.  Her gentle fingers stroked my hair and one side of my face.  I closed my eyes and hoped there’d be a love scene or something in the movie that would loosen Lisa up so I’d at least get some action later in her driveway.

“What the hell?”  I felt my forehead.  “Did you spit on me?”

“Shh,” she answered.

“You spit on my forehead.”

“Shh. I didn’t.”

“You did it again.”

“What?  Oh!”  She threw back her head.  “My nose is bleeding!”

Lisa had portrayed Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, she’d played Carol Burnet’s role in Once Upon a Mattress, and in her senior year she’d passed on the physically more likely roles of Daisy Mae and Stupefyin’ Jones to contort her voice and her five-foot-ten frame into a commanding rendition of Lil’ Abner’s Mammy Yoakum.

We’d argued because Lisa wanted me there opening night for Lil’ Abner, but I had to work.  Sitting at the microphone and feeling guilty, I announced, “It’s time for a special feature:  One half-hour of America’s favorite group; those bad boys from Liverpool, THE BEATLES!”  I released ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ on side one of Something New and set the level; ran out of the studio, out of the building, jumped in my ‘56 Chevy, raced across town to the only florist that had answered the phone after hours, bought a dozen roses, raced back past the radio station and across to the opposite side of town to Greenhills High School, ran down a hall and slid around a corner, quietly opened a backstage door and heard a roar that became a standing ovation during Lisa’s bow, which is when I sent the roses onto the stage.  Back in my Chevy, the radio on, Ringo and the fab four were winding down.  I sped at the limits of prudence for city streets—limits I’d learned at family picnics, Labor Days and Memorial Days, when dad would bring junker trade-ins from his car lot to Nana and Gump’s farm and drive them over ramps; teaching me in the process, practicing for his annual guest appearances in the Joey Chitwood Thrill Drivers shows at the Butler County Fair.  Mr. Chitwood had offered dad an opportunity to tour as a featured attraction with the show in Europe, but mom nixed the idea.

I flew down High Street, weaving lane to lane past evening traffic and threw the Chevy into a four-wheel drift, the wrong direction, up a one-way street.  The closing strains of ‘Matchbox’ gave way to a scratchy hiss, punctuated by a tell-tale thump-thump that repeated, 33 1/3 times a minute, as the dead-tracking stylus bounced against the groove end at the label.

WPFB, the new station that hired me, was in Middletown, which had a city limits sign to remind you it was the hometown of basketball star Jerry Lucas.  Every morning I signed on at sunrise and engineered religious programs, reports on soybeans and pork bellies, and newscasts with sports and weather.  At nine, Jimmy McLain, whose notoriety in thirties radio had been substantial as “Doctor I.Q.”, now hosted a live breakfast club program from a motel dining room.  Ten-thirty till noon was my show of upbeat song stylists, targeted at a female audience.  Noon news and features followed, and then “Moon Mullins” owned the afternoon playing country hits with lyrics like “If You Can’t Bite, Don’t Growl”, and “Papa Sang Bass, Mama Sang Tenor”.  He’d ad-lib commercials, usually with shock value, always humorously, and create increased revenues for his advertisers.

“Y’all get on down to Sparky’s Butcher Shop now and pick up on those special priced pork chops, and all the other fine meats that you know are the best tasting meats in the whole world, and you don’t have to take my word for it,” he’d say, “just go down to Sparky’s and see for yourself, five thousand flies cain’t be wrong.”

Lisa had one goal in mind, and that was marriage.  I was tired of driving twenty miles to Middletown before sunrise six mornings a week, leaving Middletown every afternoon at five o’clock and driving thirty-five miles to the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati for night classes, returning home around eleven.  For some reason her persuasive arguments in favor of marriage added to the attrition in such a way that finally I said, “Okay, let’s get married,” and we did, but not without second thoughts on my part.  A couple of friends and my brother were dispatched to my apartment to insure that I would not be late, or worse.  So, I got them good and drunk and we stumbled through the ceremony.  Then Lisa and I drove north on Interstate 74, which stretched ahead in the dusk of a February evening, past woods of bare limbs; past farm acreage and service plazas.  WPFB had a barter arrangement with a motor hotel in Indianapolis and they kindly made accommodations available for my honeymoon weekend with Lisa.

“How far is it to Indianapolis?” Lisa touched her wide gold wedding band and the petite diamond engagement ring I’d given her. She had picked them out. They were what she wanted. She liked the contrast of the wide band next to the petite diamond. It’s a good thing. They were all I could afford. The notion some had, that my work was glamorous, would have been easily quashed by a look at my paycheck.

Lisa’s mother had a wide band next to a diamond, but the stone had been upgraded since she and Lisa’s father had first traveled from Kentucky to Ohio in search of economic opportunity. What they’d found was a Fisher Body plant where Lisa’s father advanced to machining tools and dies in the production of car and truck bodies for General Motors.

She Wouldn't Say2He was a good provider, but the monotonous routine had taken its toll.  The price he’d paid for mortgaging his soul to the company; for chaining himself in perpetuity to the industrial oars so that his wife, son, and daughter would not want; so that Lisa, in her glory as student council president, head majorette, cheerleader, and musical comedy star never had to wear the same clothes twice all through high school; the price he’d paid, relinquished ambition and freedom foregone, needed anesthetizing.  Wild Turkey straight up and beer chasers were his anesthesia of choice, and when Lisa and her mom weren’t around I’d join him for a taste near a linen closet where there was always a bottle of Wild Turkey stashed behind clean towels.

Every night was the same, or nearly so—a visit after work to the Chevy Bar, where earlier he’d spent his lunch hour—and he’d arrive home about midnight feeling no pain.  Lisa’s mom usually had steak or meat loaf or fried chicken, and always skillet corn bread ready, but she rarely ate what she prepared.  She’d pick a little, if she was hungry, and always sat at the end of their couch, one leg pumping continually as she chain-smoked menthol cigarettes held deep between fingers of her right hand while her left hand cradled her right elbow.

We arrived in downtown Indianapolis and registered for the first time as husband and wife and went to our room to freshen up before dinner.

“I’m starved.”  I threw my Mustang keys and loose change on a night stand.  “This place isn’t so bad.”

“I always wondered what a honeymoon suite would be like.” Lisa dropped her purse on a fuchsia bedspread, flipped on a bathroom light fixture and touched towels.

On the way to dinner I tapped the turn signal lever and slowed the Mustang.  “This place looks good.”

“That Mexican place?”  Lisa pointed.  “I don’t like Mexican food.”

“You’ve never had it, have you?”  I drove onto the parking lot.  “Hamilton doesn’t even have a Mexican restaurant.”

Outside, after enchiladas and a tamale, I leaned against my Mustang.  “See, I knew you’d enjoy it.”

“Enjoy it?”  Lisa put her hands on her hips.  “It was awful.”

“You ate it.”  I picked my teeth.

“Believe me, I didn’t enjoy it.”

“C’mon, let’s walk over here.”  I took her by one arm.

“Oh no.”  She pulled free.  “You’re not gonna shoot pool on our honeymoon.”

Back in the honeymoon suite, I dried off, wrapped a towel round my hips and strolled from the bathroom to the bed, where Lisa, chin propped on hands, lay watching “Ninety-Nine” in the throes of the KGB while “Maxwell Smart” botched a rescue attempt.

“It’s time.”  I patted Lisa’s buns.

Lisa looked round, cracked a shy smile and sauntered into the bathroom.

Nothing of interest was on the Indianapolis channels.  I snapped off the television and all but one lamp, which I switched to its dimmest level.  I flipped back bedcovers, peeled back a sheet, and slid between linens so cool as to feel almost damp until they warmed from my squirming and turning on a mattress as firm as one in my first apartment, the sanctimonious site of a seven-orgasm Sunday when Lisa had set the hook, letting me have my way with her.  Since then, she’d pulled back the bait and had me flopping like a fish out of water in sleepless frustration.  Her goal had been marriage.  Sex was her bargaining chip.  She’d echo her mother’s sentiment:  “Why buy the cow when the milk is free?”

That’s how Millie, a blonde sex goddess eight years my senior, had entered the picture for several months of unencumbered pleasure prior to my wedding, a milkmaid rather than a cow.

The bathroom door cracked open and the light went out.  “Turn off that light,” Lisa whined.

“Hey, I wanna see my new bride.”

“You’ll see.  Just turn off the light.  Please?”

I switched it off, waited for her silhouette to emerge from the darkened door frame, then switched it on.

“Come on!”  She spun and retreated, her sheer gown wafting, into the bathroom.  “You promised!”

“I did not.”

“Then promise now!”

“For Christ’s sake, we’re married.  It’s been what, all of seven hours and already you’ve forgotten about the honor and obey business.  Talk about promises.”

“Please.  I’m just a little embarrassed and I want this night to be perfect.”

“There, it’s off.”  This time I took my hand off the switch.

“Promise you’ll leave it off.”

“Fine, I promise.  Can’t believe you’re so shy.  Hell, you can get up on stage in front of hundreds of strangers and act goofy…”

“Goofy?”

“Alright.  Uninhibited.  And the man you just married wants a good look at you in sexy lingerie and you insist on turning the light off and him with it.”

“Oh?  Now I don’t turn you on?”

“Are we having a phone conversation here?  The light’s out.  It’s tough getting excited when you’re in there and I’m in here.”

“It’s supposed to be romantic.”

“Your idea of romance is to spend the night in the bathroom?”

“Come on,” Lisa whined.

“Come on what?”

“Okay, I’m coming out now.”

“How difficult is that?  You look beautiful.”

“Is that why you had to get drunk to marry me?”

“I didn’t have to.  I chose to.  Think of it as my way of celebrating.  Is this your idea of romantic conservation?”

She came close and knelt on the bed.  “It was my mom’s idea.”

“What was?”  I fondled her through silk.

“To delay things.”  She rubbed my arm.

“What on earth for?”

“She said it would build the excitement.”

“Your mom said to hide in the bathroom and you’d have more fun on your wedding night?  Bad joke, Lisa.  Remember this if we ever have a daughter.”  I kissed her long and passionately.

“What’s this?”

“Hmm?”  I ignored her stall tactic and went after her breasts.

“Let’s try it.”  She fumbled with change on the night stand.

I pulled at her lingerie and kissed about her abdomen, when a coin dropped inside a mechanical device and a grinding humming vibration increased through the box spring and mattress until the bed shook us like cans of paint in a hardware store mixer.

“Why, Lisa?”  My voice quivered.

“It said stimulating massage.”  Lisa’s cheeks jiggled.

At WPFB, I spent afternoons on the FM side hosting a jazz show, which was interrupted by day games when baseball season started.  Our station served as a network feed for stations who rebroadcast our signal during the games, but confusion reigned from a lack of procedural continuity.  Announcer Joe Nuxhall, former pitching ace who had joined the Cincinnati Reds on the mound at a record young age of fifteen, would throw it back for a spot and nobody was sure what to do.  It was simple, but the program director failed to act.  So, I stayed late one night, wrote and made copies of a format procedure, recorded jingle carts for intro and closing, listed all the cues and disseminated the packet.  Not only was there a lack of appreciation from the program director,  he also began a process of terminating my employment by disrupting my schedule and assigning me to engineer tapings of bible-thumping preachers who ranted themselves hoarse begging for donations, leaving a microphone and a table spattered with spittle.

“What are you going to do now?”  Lisa released a TV dinner and a few peas and carrots rolled over an aluminum divide into Salisbury steak gravy.  She positioned the meat nearest me on a TV tray.

“Send out tapes?  I don’t know.”  The mashed potatoes spread easily and steam escaped.

“We could make more money if you went to work at Fisher Body.”

“Actually, I read recently that we could lease one of the small islands off the coast of Florida for ninety-nine years for a dollar a year.  All we have to do is erect a permanent house of some sort.”

“Great!  People get shipwrecked, and stranded, and die in such places, and you want to go there on purpose.”

“Think how romantic it would be.”

“Getting killed by a hurricane is not my idea of romantic.”

“Laying under a full moon on beach sand still warm from afternoon sun, sipping rum from half a coconut shell and watching palm fronds gently rattling in a soft breeze, while swells roll fluorescent in moon-glow and wash warmly over our toes…”

“Eat your steak before it gets cold.”

Route 4, locally called Dixie Highway, runs from Middletown to the north, through Hamilton’s used car row and past Fisher Body, south to Cincinnati’s suburbs.

“Visitor parking is over there.”  Lisa’s mom pointed.

Painted skylights and industrial fixtures cast a green hue inside the Fisher Body plant, where yellow floor stripes showed safe walking areas through stations of line-workers wearing expressions of resignation befitting roadside prison gangs in South Georgia.

“There he is.”  Our escort gestured with a rolled sheet of paper.

“Howdy!”  Lisa’s dad hollered above the slap, bang, and hiss of work in progress.  “Welcome to the sweat shop!”  He lifted off clear goggles and wiped a denim sleeve across his brow.

“Sure is loud in here!”  I raised my voice.

“You get used to it!”  He grinned.  “He show you around?”

“Yes, thank you!  It’s quite an operation!  First time I’ve been inside a factory!”

Later, at our apartment building the Anthony Wayne elevator behaved like an old dog.  You’d command it, and the command would register, but it took its own sweet time before it cooperated.  Its buttons showed wear where fingers had prodded impatiently.

“Dad talked to the foreman.  They can get you on.”

“This is good news?”  I unlocked our apartment door.

“Do you have any idea how many guys would love to have a job there?  Do you know how hard it is to get on?”

“Huh?”

“I said, do you know how hard it is to get on at Fisher Body?”  Lisa switched on a table lamp.

“Huh?”

“I said, do you…   What are you laughing at?”

“Huh?”  I put a hand to one ear.

“Come on, now.  It wasn’t that bad.”

“Now I know why your dad just smiles that funny look and doesn’t answer sometimes.  He can’t hear.”

“That’s not so.  I’ll get it.”  Lisa picked up the phone. “Hi, Jimmy!  Everything’s fine.  Yeah, I’m Fine.  They’re fine, too.  He’s fine.  You wanna talk to him?  Here.”

“Hi, Jimmy,” I said to Lisa’s brother.

“How’s things?”

“You know Hamilton.”  I flipped the telephone cord around a coffee table.  “Nothing much changes here.”

“That’s why I left, man, and I ain’t coming back.  Called mom to wish her Happy Mother’s Day and she said dad’s fixing to get you on at Fisher Body.”

“Have you ever been over there?”

“Long time ago.”

“The noise is deafening.  Everything is green.  Talk about numbing the senses.  I don’t know how your dad stands it.”

“He makes pretty good money.”

“What’s happening in Seattle?”

“There is so much work here, you wouldn’t believe it.  And the money is great.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know anything about wiring ships.”

“You don’t have to be an electrician.  There are tons of jobs.  I’m telling you, man, Seattle’s a boom-town.  You got Boeing aircraft.  Every day they have a whole page of job openings.  And this place is beautiful.  You got snow-capped mountains, the ocean.  My apartment has a view across the bay at the Seattle skyline.  Why don’t you and Lisa come out and stay with me?  See if you like it.”

“I don’t know Jimmy.  I’ve kind of had it in mind, if I leave here, to go to Australia.”

“Australia?  Pygmies, boomerangs, and kangaroos?  Listen.  Saturday I went down and looked at these cargo hulls for sale.  They’re about eighty by twenty-eight.  They use them to tow cargo around the harbor.  The damned things are solid.  They’re ocean-going.  But, now and then they sell them off dirt cheap and replace them.  I got it figured out.  For twenty-five hundred I can pick one up.  Then I enclose it for living quarters and park it on Union bay.  Man, I’m gonna have the perfect houseboat.”

“Now, this I like.  Are there plenty of these?  Could I get one, too?”

Seattle people walked around with heavy coats and umbrellas of a June afternoon when Lisa and I rolled in and unloaded our Mustang at her brother Jimmy’s apartment.  It was thirty-one days before we saw sunshine, or even a shadow.

Shipyard potholes puddled with muddy water rocked the Mustang’s progress past corrugated shacks and dry-docked vessels surrounded by scaffolding, to a dark green structure marked above its only visible door with a black and white Office sign.

“Hi!”  I closed the door behind me.

A redheaded old-timer looked up with something on his mind and scratched through his red beard with the lead end of a pencil.  His narrow eyes gazed between scraggly eyebrows and weathered cheeks.

“My brother-in-law sent me.”  I moved toward him.  “I’m here to buy a cargo hull.”

“Which dock you from?”

“Not from any dock.”

“Where’d you suppose you’d keep it?”

“I was hoping to make arrangements to store it for a few months while I do the work on it.”

“What kind of work would that be?”

“First, I have to install a couple of masts…probably telephone poles…then an engine for emergencies and a modest living quarters stocked with provisions.”

“What in God’s name are you gonna do?”

“Take my wife and sail to Australia.”

He pushed a button and leaned near a microphone.  “Al!  Get in here right away!”

A thin man about fifty wearing a carpenter apron came in from the yard.  “Yeah?”

“Listen to this, Al.”  The old salt got up grinning and threw down the pencil.  “Tell Al here what you told me.”

Excerpted from She Wouldn’t Say by Davy Hoffman. Copyright© 2000-2014 Davy Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of the author; All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Davy Hoffman.

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