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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"

One Last Chance

This snippet is a story I started one day but never made up my mind where the story was going. I can't help but think that this crotchety old coot must have had some kind of a story to tell, though. -- WB

My kids were driving me nuts.

I'd had them around me and on my ass for four straight days. Things were hard enough as they were without their being around to "help" me.

I needed a break.

Janice was the one hanging around and doing the most to "help me" -- i.e., bug the living hell out of me -- not that Will and Keith weren't just about as bad, but at least being guys they had some sense of proportion. Janice, like her mother, never knew when enough was enough and she was starting to get to me. Finally, when she was heading for the bathroom, I told her I was going out for a bit and let her think that I was going out for a cigarette. That would guarantee a few minutes of peace and quiet, all I really needed.

The Wildfire was in the storage shed, right where it belonged, everything that I would need bungeed into place, just like I'd left it the last time I'd used it. That was habit -- I never knew when I might have to make a quick escape, and I'd had to do it many times before. I'm pretty picky about things, a place for everything and everything in its place, so there's no hunting for stuff when I want to go someplace. It was only the work of a moment to slide the Wildfire off the rack, slide a gunwale onto one shoulder and start walking.

I have a reputation around this place as "The guy with the canoe." Any number of times I've had people comment that it's pretty wild to see a man my age walking down the street with a canoe slung over one shoulder. People must either think that I'm a nut or I'm Superman, but the truth of the matter is that my Bell Wildfire is made of carbon fiber and only weighs 19 pounds, and I have maybe another three or four pounds of gear loaded aboard. Most over the people around here don't have a lot of experience with canoes, and if they do, it's probably an old Grumman aluminum that weights maybe eighty or ninety pounds, so I suppose they must think my little Bell weighs about that. Now, in my younger days I humped one of those old Grummans over most of the forty-rod portages the Boundary Waters Canoe Area has to offer, and anyone that thinks that it's not a good way to wear your ass out is welcome to try it. Two-manning one of those beasts over the obstacle courses they laughingly refer to as "trails" while carrying full packs is not a task for the weak or the weary. Sauntering down a paved street with a canoe and gear that weighs 22 or 23 pounds just isn't in the same category.

Canoeing really hadn't been a part of my plan when Eloise and I moved here -- it had been years since I'd been in a canoe -- so it was just pure luck that a canal that led to the river and on to the bay was just up at the end of the street, a hundred yards or so. Janice was probably still taking a dump when I set the canoe into the water, got in and paddled away. In only another minute or two I was around the bend and effectively out of sight. Except for the traffic noise, I could have been out in the middle of the wilderness, rather than just a couple hundred yards from the development. The canal is small -- the word "canal" is stretching it, because as far as I know it's really a drainage ditch and it's too narrow and too shallow for boats, except little human powered ones like the Wildfire. I'd made some long trips, even some overnights, starting from the little patch of sand at the end of the street.

I was in the mood to paddle a bit, just to get away. Paddling is good exercise and occupies the body while you think about things. God knew I had enough to think about.

This was the first time I'd really had the chance to get by myself and just think without interruption since Eloise died five days before.

Her heart attack shouldn't really have been a surprise, since she was so high risk for it that I was surprised that it hadn't happened before. When I first met her she was, well, not slim, just solid. She had a large bone structure on a short body, at least in modern terms. In those days she was just on the heavy side of average, not in any way objectionable. Well, the years passed and she gained weight to where she was over 300 pounds. Her exercise program consisted of getting in the car to drive down to the center to play bridge or pepper, her cholesterol numbers were stratospheric -- and well, you get the picture. She was a heart attack waiting to happen, and it happened while she was getting set to bid a three no trump or whatever the hell it is they bid in bridge -- it always struck me as a dumb game and I never tried to learn it.

My kids, Janice at the head of the pack, seemed to think that I should be devastated by their mother's loss. Now, I'll admit I was not happy, since you don't kiss off forty-five years of history without a pang or two. But as soon as the kids heard they were on planes this way, bringing spouses that didn't always get along, and kids in a range from late teens to training pants. It was the first time in years the whole herd had been together in the same place at the same time, and the house, small to begin with, was a madhouse, especially with everybody trying to cheer me up when the best way to cheer me up was to leave me the hell alone.

Janice, especially, was bound and determined that I was going to drop everything right now and move in with her in St. Louis. No way was I going to do that. I wasn't all that fond of this place when Eloise and I moved here, but I've gotten used to it. As far as I can tell, when God decides to give the world an enema St. Louis is where He's going to stick the nozzle, and the fact that Janice seems to be nuts about it is a leading reason for my feeling that way. Not that I don't love my daughter, but when she got married to a guy from St. Louis and moved away from Pontiac I found it more comfortable to love her at a distance.

Of course everyone else had an opinion on the subject and no one seemed to care too much about my opinion. For Christ's sakes, I'm only 72 years old, and in considerably better health than Eloise was. I'm not overweight, even considering my age, I exercise although not a fanatic about it. I may not feel that way in ten years -- I can't help but understand that things are winding down, but I've still got a few plays left in my playbook.

I could see a gator lying along the side of the ditch a ways away. For some reason they don't seem to come up the ditch much, although every now and then someone loses a yappy little toy poodle or other lap dog and the gators are always suspect. If they're responsible, I think they're actually performing a public service. Normally, I would have just glided my way by and try not to bother him too much, but right at the moment I didn't really have anyplace that I wanted to go all that badly, so I just decided to let the gator make up my mind for me. I stowed the paddle up in the bow, with part of it laying over my leg -- I use a double-ended kayak paddle, carbon fiber, of course to keep the weight down -- and decided it was time for that cigarette that I had used as an excuse.

I suppose all you politically correct people are going to blanch and shudder at the thought that I might be lighting a coffin nail. Tough. I've smoked since I was about thirteen, enjoy it, am addicted to it, and don't propose to change now. A cigarette relaxes me, gives me something to do with my hands and mouth while I'm turning things over in my mind. That was one positive thing about Eloise dying -- after I got home I lit a cigarette, the first time I'd had one in the house in the over twenty years since she got pissy about it. I laid off it after the kids started to arrive, but as soon as they were gone things were going to be different.

That big old gator was laying there not paying much attention to me, which was fine. Gators and sawgrass and things like that were pretty foreign to me when we moved down here, but over time I'd gotten a little used to them. Given a choice I probably wouldn't have moved here at all -- Eloise and I had a comfortable house in Pontiac, actually in the city but a suburban development just off Elizabeth Lake Road. It was a short and not stressful drive to my job at GM World Headquarters only a few miles away, and I liked the being close when I listened to some of my co-workers bitch about commutes of an hour or more. But that development really had never been a neighborhood, at least in my mind. We lived there over thirty years and I could not have told you the names of the people three houses away at any time. Even after all that time, there was nothing holding me there but habit -- no local friends, no particular special interests.

It's not like my folks, not at all. I grew up in what was really not either a large or an especially nice house -- it was a crowded, grubby neighborhood, but it was most importantly a neighborhood. I knew everyone there -- everyone knew everyone. Kids could go outside and play without supervision, because the whole neighborhood was supervision and not dangerous. Dad was a factory worker and the house was within walking distance of the plant, so we never had a car until after the war. Dad and Mom bought the house not long before I was born, at the depths of the depression, and I guess they got a whale of a deal on it. When Dad retired, there was none of this move to Florida stuff, not for him. He and Mom stayed right there in that house; Dad could go to the neighborhood bar he'd gone to since back in prohibition, sit and drink a beer or a coffee with his friends, most of who were about his age and worked at the plant, too. Mom had her regular circle of friends too, people she knew all her life and would have been uncomfortable leaving. Both of them stayed there into their eighties. When Dad died, Mom wasn't doing too good, and the neighborhood was deteriorating and getting blacker, so Mom moved in with my sister Shirley, since she had a big house with plenty of space. I just had a tract house with five of us in three bedrooms, and one of those not large, so it wasn't a candidate. Mom didn't last long after that -- the change in scenery killed her as much as anything, I think.

When I was still working, I had visions of doing something like get a motor home and do some traveling. I never got to travel as much as I wanted to since Eloise wasn't much of a traveler. In the last ten or fifteen years before retirement she sort of went along with the concept, telling me we could do some traveling when I retired like we'd always planned. Fat chance of that. We made a couple trips to Florida but mostly to check out where some of her friends had retired to, and somehow she came to the conclusion that we had to be in this retirement village. The motor home? The traveling? Don't make me laugh. We got away for a few days here and there, but she was always missing her gossip and her bridge club, and couldn't wait until we got back.

To tell the truth, Eloise dying on me hadn't come as any big surprise, although I'll be the first to admit I hadn't made any real plans about what I would do with the rest of my life with her gone. It seemed pretty clear that my life was going to be a lot more peaceful and a lot less stressful, but I hadn't ever really given any consideration to the details since it hadn't seemed like it was really going to ever happen.


This rant was intended to go later but I never wrote the connecting section.

I'm not sure who said it, but "The past is a different country, they do things differently there." That couldn't be more true than when it comes to sex.

Don't get me wrong: sex was a big deal when I was younger. The popular culture didn't make as big a deal about it, and for the most part tried to ignore the details, but it existed. I've heard it said that each generation thinks they invented sex, but I don't know how true that is.

Sex has always existed, the birds and bees have always been there. When I was in high school, I don't think I was any less horny than a high school kid today might be. The only thing is that the kid today probably has a whole lot more opportunity to do something about it. The old saw is that there are good girls and nice girls, the good girls go out, go home and go to bed, and the nice girls go out, go to bed and then go home. As far as I've been led to believe, that still holds true -- but the only thing is that there were darn few nice girls running around my high school, and most guys my age that I've talked to pretty much say the same thing. In fact the only nice girl I can remember in my high school was Susie Halloran, and she always had a waiting list. I never even managed to get on it. I was totally a virgin until an Army buddy took me to a whorehouse in Japan while were held there before coming back stateside. The girl was tiny and moderately good looking for a Japanese, and she definitely knew what she was doing. That opened my eyes, but not really my opportunities. There were a couple more whores outside Ft. Riley, but there were less competent -- or at least, less interested -- than the Japanese girl.

The good girl/nice girl thing held in college, although there were a few more nice girls running around and I managed with a couple of them over my first two years of college, but it never went anywhere. In those days there were girls in college that were actually there with the intention of learning something, but a damn good percentage of them were after a Mrs. degree. Some of them would spread their legs once they got an engagement ring on their finger, but a lot of the others wouldn't do it until after the wedding. Eloise fell in that category.

I met her in the cafeteria one day. She was a freshman, and I was a junior. We got on pretty easily, nothing special, but after a while I began to get conventional. She was a nice-looking woman, bright and perky, and frankly seemed like good wife material; by that point in time I was looking for good wife material, not just a roll in the hay, not that I was going to get any from her. Oh, we messed around in a back seat a few times but it never went anywhere since she was always wearing a heavy panty girdle, the 1950's version of a chastity belt. It was just about impossible to get one off a girl, especially in a back seat. There were no panty hose in those days, so the girls would tell you it was to keep their stockings up, as if Sears didn't sell garter belts. At the time it seemed like it would be worth the wait.

So we got married not long after I graduated. That ended her college career; she'd gotten her Mrs. I've since come to realize that she was looking for a meal ticket as much as anything, since if Eloise worked a day in her life for a paycheck it was before I met her. She was always a stay at home mom, even after the kids were gone. That was not all that uncommon back in those days -- it was a financially reasonable option for a lot of people and it was for us. The women's libbers used to gripe about the stereotypical housewife that keeps the house, watches the kids, and provides sex in return for her meal ticket. It was true for a lot of people, including Eloise.

Sex, though -- it wasn't quite like that. We were like typical honeymooners and fucked ourselves silly. It would have been very awkward for both of us to be virgins, since she didn't know some of the simplest stuff -- sex education was just not done in those days, by schools, parents, TV, or the then-nonexistent Internet. Fortunately my limited experience dating back to Japan helped. We went at it several times a week for the first year, our only birth control "Pope's pinball" -- the rhythm method. They call people that use that method "parents" and that's what happened to us, not that we were all that sorry about it since it was clearly in the near future in any case. We still kept at it pretty good until the kids got a little older, and then it tailed way off -- down to once or twice a month, missionary position, no tricks. I mean no tricks at all. Conventional. I'm not even sure if we knew then that people could even do oral sex, not that we would have. Nice people didn't do those kind of things, only sickos.

I had hoped that things would pick back up after the kids left, but it didn't -- it slid downhill even more. Finally, a couple years before I retired Eloise flat out told me that she wasn't interested in sex any more, even to satisfy my desires, she considered it messy, painful, and, worst of all, boring. I probably should have made a stink about it, but by then Eloise was pushing toward 300 pounds, wasn't very appealing, and had a nasty tendency to fart every time I pushed into her. Not just little ones, either; she could really stink up the place, not that she didn't fart a lot anyway. By now it had been almost ten years, and realistically I hadn't missed it all that much.

Check that. I missed sex a lot. I didn't miss sex with her all that much. If she had shown some interest I would have been more than willing to oblige. You've heard me bitch about her enough, you're probably wondering why I even stayed married to her. Lots of reasons -- she did have a good side, she was a friend, the kids, inertia, the unwillingness to trade the devil you know for the devil you don't. I was adequately comfortable with the way things were going and not uncomfortable enough to louse them up.

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