FLIGHT TO ALBANYI
went outside in the garden this morning and fed the two kittens just
before I left-a combination of regular and non-fat milk and some left-over
chicken dinner. I had built this rather makeshift "cat-house" out of scrap
plywood and plastic somewhat reluctantly to please my daughter. I had
painted it a lively green and even constructed a purposeless chimney on
the roof. Well, actually it does serve a purpose. You can look in at the
top and see what the kittens are doing. My daughter was thrilled with my
efforts and the kittens must have been too, because they haven't wandered
off. I suppose they're too young or too loyal. Loyal to what, I don't
know, except my daughter's dogged regularity of service, which has been
absent these past three lonely weeks.
must say I started out being displeased at having the responsibility of
feeding them daily, hoping, in a way, that they would go elsewhere for the
attention they wish and deserve. But after three days of them not budging,
and a meager diet of leftovers, assorted bugs, grasshoppers and one tiny
field mouse, my heart softened. They had won me over. That kind of
innocent persistence to survive and remain in their "cat-house" deserved
some reward. From then on-it was cans of scrumptious cat food and vitamins
think I even noticed a shift in cat personality. The white one let me
stroke him this morning and he purred. I wonder if I needed his response
more than he needed mine?
family's yearly visit to my in-laws seemed endless.
Thankfully, my gracious neighbor across the street will take on
the feeding chores while I am away.
turned on the lamp light in the living room next to the green sofa, and
the small light in the kitchen, and the one on the dresser next to the
mirror in the master bedroom. They say that with the lights on you keep
the burglars away. I'm not sure about that but hopeful thinking is better
than nothing. I glanced at myself in the mirror and in the half-light, and
thought that I looked tired and a little strange. The moustache under my
nose looked reddish and peculiar. I'm not quite used to it and it startled
me to see myself so suddenly. Who is that man there, looking at me
switched on the table light in the baby's bedroom. The play pen was
folded, and the pad rested against the queen-size guest bed temporarily
occupied by my seven year old. That's an awfully big bed for such a small
boy I thought, but he wasn't there, and the quietness of the room saddened
me. I crossed into my oldest boy's room to make one last check and flipped
the light switch. The voice that greeted me brought tears to my eyes; a
warm and sweet adolescent voice on a tape recorder, activated
electronically by the heat of the overhead light bulb:
"Hello Dad... how are you? I hope you're not too lonely all
by yourself in your lonely house. I hope you're okay. The weather here
in Albany is beautiful and the water is great. I wish you were here... I
miss you a lot..."A
kind and considerate act for a thirteen-year-old to make-and planned so
perfectly. He knew I would wander from room to room. What fine deeds will
be done with such gifted and sensitive qualities? In these days of the
pill, wholesale abortion, and misguided vasectomies, I still remain
hopefully optimistic that our salvation cannot possibly be vested with the
visionless exponants of "Population Zero."
cab driver that transported me to my flight was a verbal type who asked me
a lot of questions that I couldn't answer about Pittsfield, Massachusetts,
where he was from. Why he thought I would know the answers, I have no
happened to say that I was going to Albany, New York, and Albany is close
to Pittsfield and Pittsfield is close to the "Shaker" community that used
to be and isn't anymore, but is now being restored. The "Shakers", who
shook with God's power when they prayed used to make fabulous and unique
wood furniture and other serviceable things back in the 1840's. They even
invented the clothespin and the first primitive washing machine-but of
course that all stopped. They were dedicated to celibacy. The cab driver
thought he knew all about the Shakers, but he didn't know why they shook
and why they stopped screwing. When I tried to explain the facts as I knew
them he became argumentative-he couldn't believe that a whole group of
people would stop having sex just because their church told them to-so I
let it drop.
thirty-one thousand feet, Wichita, Kansas doesn't look like much below the
pulled cotton clouds-abstract squares and triangles and twisted veins of
rivers and highways. So much turmoil-down below and everywhere, but you
would never know it up here.
thoughts, jumping around... forward... back... yesterday... a week ago...
am strapped in, detached... only the steady droan of the 747's
There is a young girl sitting next to me deeply pensive and so
fidgety, her foot keeps brushing my white pants. She fingers a color
photograph I glance at surreptitiously. She and her blonde boy friend are
hugging each other on a white porch somewhere in California. I had seen
him kiss her tenderly before she boarded, waving his reassurance as she
moved away. He wasn't leaving Los Angeles and flying to Chicago as we
were, but I'm sure she wished that he were-the tears still wet on her
were late in our Chicago landing. I had to run like hell to gate K-l.
Airline connections are a nightmare to miss. I couldn't bear to sit around
O'Hare Airport getting heartburn from drinking too much coffee, making
"explanation" phone calls, and then not getting on the next
scheduled flight because it was over-booked! There is nothing more
wasteful than time lost between connections, depriving you of the time you
need just to catch up-with your waiting loved ones....
The perspiration seemed cool under my arms as I made a mad dash
down the crowded terminal corridor. People parted and turned to look at
this possessed, sport jacketed sprinter with a small flight bag tucked
under his arm like a football....
Victory or defeat can hang in a suspended moment....
I remembered what it felt like. I remembered... and it was such a
long time ago. I was only seventeen... it was the last play of the game...
no more time left... it was me or nothing!
There would be no other chance!
remembered. I could still feel it, the strain in my legs... the
weariness... so hard to churn them, to lift my cleats out of the muddy,
rain-soaked field as I frantically charged to the goal line... so distant,
so unreachable in those last few seconds...
screams of the surging thousands reverberating in my ears... two, three,
yards to go... and one last defensive back sliding in from my left out of
nowhere... my legs, like lead as he slashed hard across my gimpy left knee
with a crushing impact!
toppled and sloshed and slid over the pool of muck and mud at the goal
line... and then, over the goal line!
I was over the goal line!
holding the football as tight to me as I could, I twisted my aching neck
to see the referee with two arms raised. Touchdown!
The cannon boomed!
Holy shit! I had scored!
We've won! We've won!
couldn't move. Something made me just lie there in the mud, like a pig in
a pen, soaking up the jubilant roar of the home team crowd-some sense of
the theatrical and the dramatic. It was a moment of grandeur, a moment
designed for a monarch. A treasured remembrance in a fleeting moment of
time in my lost youth-never to be equalled-or as deeply felt in any
subsequent accomplishment as an adult.
touched down at the Albany runway with more than the necessary speed it
seemed to me, and I felt my heart jump and my muscles tighten. The
reversal of the engines startled me even more. Why can't they be more
careful? My god, I haven't seen my family in three weeks! It would be a
dreadfully strident note to end on after three thousand miles.
Oh, God... are they ever going to stop this damn monstrous thing?
How many tons of breaking power are needed to halt its hurtling motion and
at what distance? Energy, speed, and distance is an equation from college
physics, I think, but the formula's use at this time escapes me. What did
that stewardess say about emergency exits? I know there is a proper
preparation for death, but I'm sure it has nothing to do with physical and
They were all there-my family, spread out before me in a happy,
arm waving tableau-my seven year old eating a popsicle. I saw my daughter
running toward me, her long hair curled around her smiling, radiant face.
We hugged hard. She had grown up in these three interminable weeks. I
wonder if I have changed as much to her. My moustache is longer and it
certainly ages me.
"I'm going on an over-night sleepout, Daddy." She gushed."I hope
you don't mind... is it okay? I won't see you until Tuesday."
Did I really have a choice? My beautiful wife pressed against me
and trembled slightly as I kissed her, her shining eyes comforting me
deeply. She handed me the baby. I nuzzled his sweet, delicious neck with a
sloppy smooch. Long distance phone conversations are such a poor
substitute for flesh and blood. Voice minus body equals zero-a principle
unanimously approved by the scientific community.
eldest son, standing behind my wife, took my hand grinning widely. Then,
with an affectionate squeeze he wrapped his strong, young arms around my
shoulders. We kissed unashamedly and laughed at our mutual
"Your moustache looks real red, Dad." He said. "Your father had
red hair, didn't he?"
"Yeah, when he was young... but it was mostly white on
"I'm glad you're here, Dad. I sure missed you a lot."
"I missed you too, son. I went into your room... I heard the
recording. That was very thoughtful of you... and it really got
nodded. He chuckled softly as the seven year old tugged at my jacket, then
tilted his head up for a kiss and offered me a popsicle taste too. I had a
short lick as we all made our way to the baggage area arm in arm.
"Delicious!... delicious!" I said.
was all so delicious.
THE BEST BURRITOS IN THE VALLEY
6"You want another Burrito, kid?" Nessa heard someone say.
She wiped her eyes again before turning around. The young man she
saw was sporting a moustache, a thick one, and it hung more than slightly
over his upper lip. He was carrying two burritos, a milkshake container,
and a clump of white napkins, several of which fluttered away like stray
kites. He deposited his food on the table and sat down next to her,
"How about another burrito? I been watching you, sitting over
here by yourself, and I bet you'd feel a lot better if you ate another
burrito. Here, take one of these. I bought two." He extended his hand with
the bulky food enclosed, graciously peeling back the orange waxy
"No, thanks," she said shyly.
"No? Well, how about a chocolate milkshake or a coke?"
"I don't want anything more, thank you."
"Okay... if that's the way you want it. I hope you don't mind me
sitting down at the same table with you. I just hate to eat alone, ya
know. It's a real drag... you know what I mean?"
attacked his meal voraciously. Nessa watched him, not knowing whether to
go or stay and too numb to care what she did.
"Hey... wow... hmmmm... this is real good. It's true what
that sign says... they do make the best burritos in the valley!"
He sipped on the milkshake straw but decided the liquid was too
thick for that, so he threw the straw on the table and grinned at
"Hey... wow this is like glue! They must put a lot of ice cream
in there... or maybe... just glue! Ha ha!"
was amused with himself. Then he paused and eyed Nessa intently.
"What are you so serious about, kid? I been watching you, and
you are really heavy... you know what I mean? I was standing back
there at the counter, ordering my stuff, and I saw you crying, and I said
to myself, this kid has got something buggin' her... and since I never
like to eat alone, if I can help it, I'm gonna see if she'd like some
company. Maybe I can lighten her up."
burrito sauce rolled down his hand as he went for another mouthful. His
tongue licked at the oily stream as he chewed hungrily.
Then he picked up the milkshake carton and brought it to his
lips, carefully lifting his long moustache hairs at the same time to
provide a clear passageway. Nessa was fascinated by the procedure and
found herself questioning the curly-haired stranger in the leather
you always do that?" she asked.
"Pull the hairs back to drink?"
"No, not always. Sometimes I just let it slop all over... but
since I'm sittin' with a lady, I like to show her my best side."
Nessa smiled, the tension broken.
"Hey, you've got a nice smile. A real nice smile. You ought to do
that more often..."
"Thank you," Nessa said. "You work around here? I mean, do you
come here a lot?" As she spoke, she noticed the scar on his cheek and the
don't come here at all. I was just passing by. You know where Disneyland
is? Well, that's where I come from... near Disneyland. In fact, I used to
work there until I got laid off. You know those big animals that walk
around and greet the people and do dances and things? Well, that's what I
used to do. I was a white duck... and I had this little dance step I had
worked out that all the people used to enjoy. Then my boss decided I
should turn in my duck outfit and go work in the parking lot
"Hell, I didn't want to park no cars... you know what I
mean? Anybody can park cars. Any stupid ass can park cars but it
takes somebody special to do a dance in a duck
outfit, with all that weight on top of you. You see, you're
about eight feet tall when you got the duck outfit on, and you just
try and do a dance! If you don't know what you're doin'... I mean,
you can fall flat on your ass faster than a firecracker
Nessa fingered the gold identification bracelet on her left wrist
as she watched the young man tear the paper away from his second burrito.
She wondered what it would feel like to have eight feet of a white duck
weighing down on her.
"Well, what did you do?" she asked, "I mean... did you
"Well, not right away. I went out to the parking department and
went through the motions for a couple of days. I thought I'd give it a
shot, you know what I mean?"
Another inch of food disappeared from his hand and his jaws
churned vigorously in accommodation. Nessa's curiosity was piqued. She
found him interesting and fun to listen to, and for the first time all
day, she wasn't thinking about herself or what had happened that morning
in the car.
"Did you stay there long?" she asked.
head shook slowly, and his voice suddenly sounded bitter. "No... I didn't
stay there long... no sir... I wasn't there long at all! I wasn't gonna
hang around with a bunch of morons five days a week and every other
weekend, workin' my ass off directing traffic! That's not my
idea of how to be creatively engaged... you know what I mean? I got
more important things to do with my life."
Suddenly, he smiled again and looked piercingly at Nessa, "What's
your name... do you mind telling me?"
"Nessa Allen... what's yours?" she said without
name's Maxwell... Maxwell Nardino," he said, wiping the hairs of his
moustache. "I never use Maxwell, though... it's too faggy sounding... so
just call me Max."
traffic roared by on Sherman Way, and in the distance, the purr of a
helicopter partially muted the sounds of the flapping flags that were
festooned above the picnic table where they sat.
continued, "What were you crying about? Do you feel like telling
Nessa wasn't sure, so she made an "I don't know"
"Did you lose your job, too? Or did your boyfriend go stupid for
Nessa was amazed that he had taken her for a working girl with a
steady boyfriend, so she immediately decided not to dispel that illusion
by talking about car pools and junior high school, of all things. She
self-consciously smoothed her hair and wanted desperately to look at
herself in her compact mirror to verify the newly acquired maturity, but
she resisted the impulse. She just smiled as she spoke, adopting a casual
off-handed delivery that seemed to suit the occasion.
uh... had an argument with a girl I know. She, uh... always has to have
her own way... and I just got tired of doing everything she
wanted to do, and never what I wanted to do."
The more Nessa talked, the easier it was for her to lie. She
enjoyed the surge of power her fiction generated. It was a totally new
experience for her and she decided to play the role for all it was
mean, we were best friends, and all that... and I still like her an
awful lot. I guess that's why it really bothers me so much. But there
comes a time when people who care for one another have to be more... more
considerate of each other's feelings... I mean..."
Nessa was really sailing now. "If, for instance... Winifred,
that's her name, Winifred... if she wants to play a record by Barbra
Streisand or something, and I want to listen to James Taylor, we always
have to listen to Barbra Streisand first! And by the time that
whole album is finished, she doesn't want to listen to James Taylor
anymore, even though she agreed to it. Now, she wants to go
to a movie, or to Farrell's for ice cream... and if I don't do what
she wants, she gets all drippy, and says she has a headache,
or some other pain. She makes me sick!"
listened sympathetically, occasionally glancing at his watch. "Hey,
listen. Anybody with a name like Winifred doesn't deserve to have a friend
like you... that's a pisser!" he laughed.
"Well, I call her Winnie for short... she was named after her
great grandmother," Nessa explained, pleased with this touch. "And that's
another thing. Just last week she wanted me to start calling her 'Wynne',
and I just couldn't remember Wynne that quickly, so we had a big fight
young man laughed heartily. "Maxwell and Winifred... they're both a couple
of stinkers. They sound like the king and queen of Turdsville! I
never use Maxwell. I don't know why I even told it to you. I guess
I thought it would make you laugh."
"Oh, I don't think Maxwell is such a funny name. It's kind
of nice," she assured him. "It sounds like an important
"Yeah?" He thought about that. "Maybe you're right... but I used
to get a lot of wise ass comments about it when I was in school, so I
stopped using it. Say, do you go to school? I mean, shouldn't you be in
class or something?" He studied her a second, then asked, "How old are
you? Do you mind telling me? You don't have to... I mean, you must be
about sixteen or seventeen, huh?"
Nessa was pleased she had left her books in Mr. Horvath's office.
Junior high book covers would have been a dead giveaway. She moistened
her lips and announced, "I'll be seventeen in April." She waited for
his reaction, tickled by her own bravado.
"Yeah, that's what I figured you to be. Where do you go to
go to Taft High, but I got out of class today. I uh... I said I had to go
visit a relative who just had a serious nose operation. They're good about
things like that. The school, I mean."
"Did you go?" he wanted to know, taking a comb out of his tightly
cut denim jeans.
"No," she said, "I didn't go. I made it all up. I just felt like
going to Topanga Plaza." Nessa smiled mischievously.
"Hey, that's cool," he said, combing his hair. "You want me to
take you? I got my bug parked over there in front of Standard Shoes.
Nessa looked from Max to his car, then back to Max again. The
prospect of getting in a car with a perfect stranger scared her. She
immediately thought of all the warnings her parents had issued on the
subject and the consequences that might ensue. She was aware of all
that, but there was an excitement, too, that stimulated her, and took
precedence over the common sense instilled in her since childhood. She was
finding it difficult to refuse.
"Uh, I don't know. I don't even know you," she protested,
"Whad'ya mean, you don't know me? I'm Max, and you're Nessa...
right?" he said, pulling on his ear and grinning engagingly.
"That's right... but I mean... we just met about twenty minutes
ago," she said, reaching into her bag.
"No, you're wrong. We met thirty-five minutes ago, and I
never make a mistake when it comes to telling the time on the big hands of
my Swiss-made watch," he said, as he pushed forward his wrist, displaying
the time-piece. "It's been thirty-five minutes, and that's enough time to
get to know anybody! Come on! I've got a tape deck in the bug. You
can listen to James Taylor, or Frank Sinatra, or anybody you like. You
just push it in, flip the switch, turn it up, and sit back and relax.
Eight track stereo... beautiful!"
don't like Frank Sinatra," Nessa said, studying herself in the small
mirror of her compact.
"Well, then don't listen to him," he said, getting up.
"Do you have Carole King?" she asked, afraid he might leave
without asking her again.
"Yeah," he answered. "I've got all the latest Carole King... cost
me five bucks apiece. She's terrific... but I still like Sinatra. Are you
coming?" His white teeth glistening in the sunlight when he smiled made
him look particularly handsome.
Nessa answered quickly this time. "Okay," she said, and quickly
stood up. Out of habit, she began clearing the refuse from the
"Come on... leave all that crap!" he said.