“Oh I just can’t stand it when my wife goes shopping at those crazy underground shops in Greenwich Village and Union Square,” moaned Clem to his friend Basil.
“Ever year she goes Christmas shopping there and buys all kinds of fruity things,” he whined.
“This year she got me a magnum of Slovenian blueberry liqueur.”
“I understand she means well,” he went on. “It’s just that sometimes the especially offbeat gifts have quite a terrifying effect upon me, as I was just explaining to that cat a few days ago.”
“What cat?!” asked Basil. “I don’t see a cat!”
Each week Rochelle Wisoff~Fields leads us in Friday Fictioneers, an attempt to write a hundred~word story base upon a photograph prompt. This week’s prompt is supplied by Scott L. Vannatter.
An entire decade is quite a long time, so I can’t remember precisely which specific day since 2004 may have struck me as the most hectic of all. I can most certainly think, though, of a few days since the end of last year that have been among the top contenders. During the course of last December I went one day with Steve to St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, with the intention of spending the day there, and then going to Union Square in Manhattan to do some Christmas shopping. Because all the bathrooms in that entire section of New Jersey were out of order that day, though, everyone was sent home very early. We then went to Union Square. Somewhere around that part of the year Mary Anne, Steve and I, along with the usual collection of friends and cousins, went to Manhattan on Friday and Saturday nights one weekend. The first night was to see Madama Butterfly at Lincoln Center. The second night was to see a tribute to Woody Guthrie in Greenwich Village. Each night was quite an exceptionally nice time but I was quite frustrated, for the same reason I was so worn out when we went to New Jersey and Union Square. I’m not used to all that exercise. We spent a lot of time on trains and subways, walked constantly and each day lasted very long into the night. Everyone knows how weird and uncomfortable New York trains and subways are. I made the mistake of standing for a while on one of our subway rides. That was quite a nasty experience. In a very real sense neither the trip to New Jersey and Manhattan, nor the trip to only Manhattan, was all that big of a deal. What made each trip quite a hectic frustrating experience, though, were all the irritating problems that went with it.
Early last Saturday afternoon I was sitting at a table at one of the local cafes on Park Avenue, leisurely sipping my caramel cappuccino, when I was approached by a tall stranger in a dark grey pin striped suit. He asked me my name. I introduced myself politely, not understanding entirely why I bothered. The fellow, who insisted on remaining anonymous, nodded and replied,
“I’ve been looking for you.”
He went on to explain that a group of gentlemen, whom he would only refer to as Messrs. Waverly, Solo and Kuryakin, were interested in getting in touch with me about quite an exceptionally urgent problem. According to him, they believed that I was the only man in the Western Hemisphere who was capable of handling such a grave responsibility.
“Aah!” I exclaimed. “So my reputation appears to be all that people have told me it is.”
He then asked me to get into his unmarked limousine so we could take a brief ride to the nearby train station. We got onto the Long Island Railroad train and rode for about an hour to Penn Station in Manhattan. We then walked over to one of the restaurants in the station and he proceeded to introduce me to the three gentlemen. They explained all they wanted me to do. Another fellow gave me my passport and a large sum of money in order to facilitate my adventures. Of course I’m not at liberty to divulge any information. Naturally I was a little taken aback at first, not having been positive that I could be expected to handle such a responsibility. After a while, though, I started getting quite a kick out of it all. I knew I’d be expected to wear expensive clothes and hairstyles, to drive a seriously fancy car, to consort with exceptionally lovely women, and to drink my martinis shaken, not stirred. Inevitably I shall soon be given a collection of guns, and all the other hep gadgets that go with such a groovy lifestyle. I shall also have to learn about all the requisite protocol that inevitably is incumbent upon a gentleman who has taken such a profound responsibility upon himself. It will take me a while to become acclimated to my new surroundings and circumstances but I’m really looking forward to it.
Ann (Andy) Klose was an exceptionally lovely young lady, about five feet, six inches tall, with very dark long hair and blue eyes, in her early thirties. Originally from Lindenhurst, New York, she had recently taken a job in the payroll and personnel department of the Susquehanna Hat Company in Manhattan. Early one Monday morning she finished her daily breakfast and coffee, and left her apartment at around eight o’clock so she could take her predictable walk over to the local bus stop on Mott Street. She fully expected nothing more eventful than the typical brief trip to work with its inevitable annoyances. That, however, was not to be. As she prepared to board the bus, she was frozen in her tracks when she recognized the man getting off it with a copy of the New York Times under his right arm. He was Mark Otter, her former fiance. After a very brief, polite hello, he explained to her the he was now a policeman, working for the New York Police Department. Although there wasn’t, she thought, any real love between them anymore, at least the former couple were quite willing tactfully to humor each other, briefly engaging in respectful small talk. Flashbacks and anxiety attacks haunted Andy. She knew he had always been such a good person and a perfect gentleman, ever since their days as undergraduates at S.U.N.Y. Farmingdale. They simply weren’t right for each other unfortunately. As long as he wasn’t around, she was quite happily getting along with her new life. Now that he was living and working nearby, though, all sorts of problems plagued her. Would she have to face him regularly? Did they travel in the same social circles? On her lunch break she explained her problem to her best friends, Linda Brown and Margret Simo Narcy. Even if they couldn’t help her, she thought, at least by listening to her troubles, they could try to lessen the emotional strain. They worked so hard in order to try to convince each other that Andy’s and Mark’s dealings with each other were in another time and place entirely. Immediately after work they all went out to a local bar and grill to have some drinks and to talk it over much more seriously.
I was born in northeastern Pennsylvania and have lived in New York for most of my lifetime, with the exception of my first three and a half years, and for seven and a half of the past eight years. During that time I lived in northeastern Pennsylvania. If I were ever to be forced to pick only two places between which to split all my time I should have to pick Long Beach, New York, where I live right now, and the surrounding region of Long Island, as one of them. The other would be northeastern Pennsylvania.Since I have spent so very much time in each of these places, and have always felt so very comfortable in them both, it would be an ideal arrangement for me. Long Beach is only about an hour’s train ride, on the Long Island Railroad, from Manhattan and the other boroughs of New York City. I could do quite a lot of sightseeing there. My recent trips to Manhattan were exceptionally interesting. Eventually I really want to get into the habit of going to Queens every once in a while so I can feel really comfortable with the trip in case I ever have a chance to visit my old neighborhood in Jackson Heights and to go to a St. Gabriel’s reunion in East Elmhurst. It’s also very close to Suffolk County. While I’m here I can have a nice time visiting my cousins in eastern Nassau County and Suffolk County. By staying here I can have a really easy time getting to Lindenhurst to visit my old neighborhood there, and to West Islip for reunions at St. John the Baptist. In the immediate vicinity of Long Beach, there’s a nice self-contained world, with a business district, a beach and really nice neighborhoods.
Besides Long Beach I should really like to spend the rest of my time in northeastern Pennsylvania. I’ve only lived there for around seven and a half years as an adult but I’m quite accustomed to it because, since my parents were both from there, I’ve been visiting it throughout all my lifetime. It took me quite a while to get accustomed to driving through the steep Poconos but the scenery is perfect. The Susquehanna River is quite an impressive sight. Aunt Lauren, and Michelle and her family, live in Harding and Dallas so I can visit them frequently. Krissy Krissy Krissy and her family live only around an hour away so I can visit them sometimes too. There are a lot of nice places to see and things to do on a significantly smaller scale than New York. There are no significant cosmopolitan hot spots there but they have concerts I can attend. One day seven years ago my cousin Gino and I went to a Meat Loaf concert at the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton. They even have Jitty Joe’s Ice Cream in nearby Moosic too. If I were ever forcibly restricted to only two places in the world , I could honestly say that I could count on being my happiest in those two.
If there’s one thing that can compete with cold weather for the distinction of being the thing I most bitterly despise, it’s when I’m forced to stay up late at night. Of course, I arrived, quite a while ago, at the conclusion that I have all sorts of major neurotic problems about control anyway but there’s something about staying up late that tends to drive me especially crazy. Besides that I always, whether I like it or not, and whether I’m obligated or not, end up waking up obscenely early each morning. I always tell people that I haven’t gotten an entire five minutes worth of sleep since the Kennedy-Nixon debates. That may be perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but throughout at least most of my adult lifetime I always have been incapable of sleeping well at night. What make things even much worse are the facts that I have a major problem with impatience and frustration and that I get unusually tired out anyway, combined with my inability to fall asleep. Many people claim to be able to fall asleep either by reading or by watching television. Things like that never do me any good. I just like to lie in bed and wait for sleep to happen. I got to the point, quite a while ago, where I finally decided to settle for as much rest, though not necessarily sleep, as possible. Often people have told me to go to bed later than I’m used to, based on the assumption that a later bedtime will help. Having taken them up on it, I found out the hard way that I wake up with a headache if I stay up too late. For quite a few years, my cousins and I were on a bowling league with St. Jane Frances de Chantal Knights of Columbus council 6526 in Wantagh. Although it was always quite an especially enjoyable experience for me, it drove me crazy whenever the night lingered on until very late. Whenever we ended up staying in the bowling alley’s bar for an even somewhat long time I got frustrated and restless. It was even worse at the end of each season at the annual party. Those nights lasted until at least midnight and always drove me nuts. Cousins Larry, Gary and Joe enjoyed being out all night long but I was the lone voice of dissent among us all. Another example of this problem was when Mary Anne, Steve and I, along with Mark, Laura and some friends of theirs, spent two consecutive days and nights in Manhattan a few months ago. It drove me entirely out of control. Besides the fact that both days were filled with non-stop activity, neither ended until insanely late at night. I simply couldn’t handle the strain. Those were examples of nights that are filled with activity, but I can’t even try to enjoy a late night of peace and quiet. After a while all I really want to do is to go to bed, no matter how especially nice and enjoyable my circumstances are, and to get it over with. I seem to be quite good only during the daytime. In the morning, no matter how much I may dread having specifically to get up out of bed, once I’m up and taking a shower, getting ready to start my day, I can count on having all the spunk and I’m going to have, as well as quite an exceptionally charming personality. I appear to be the veritable personification of the rule about early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise. If I do things any other way I’m simply incapable of functioning.
Saturday night has always been such an exceptionally nice quiet relaxed time for me. Unlike earlier decades there’s nothing especially good to watch on television. I’ve never been in the habit of going to parties. For some reason I don’t even think I’ve been missing out on anything anyway. Although I can quite thoroughly enjoy the occasional Saturday night party-there’s no rule against inviting me to a party-my typical Saturday night is just quietly sitting around without any specific plans, simply taking each thing as it comes my way. Sometimes I watch a DVD. Everyone knows how I’ve always so thoroughly enjoyed old television shows and movies. Lately I’ve really been getting exceptionally interested in my computer too. The internet is quite a weakness of mine. As anyone can see, after having gotten to know me, I’ve always had quite an obnoxious side. On Saturday nights, though, I can be quite quiet and inconspicuous. I can take advantage of the nice relaxed quite atmosphere and circumstances by playing the guitar, drinking tea, or perhaps reading a book or periodical. Now that I have to spend so much time with Mary Anne, Steve and Bridget, they may want to do something every once in a while. I occasionally get mixed up with them for certain kinds of things. One weekend, a few months ago, Mary Anne, Steve and I, along with Mark, Laura and a few other people, even spent both Friday and Saturday in Manhattan. I’m most certainly not entirely averse to something like that. As a change of pace it’s exceptionally interesting. It would drive me nuts, though, if it ever were to happen on a regular basis. I’ve been noticing over the years that I quite enjoy an occasional trip like that. Unlike many people, though, I have absolutely no patience whatsoever with the kind of lifestyle that would involve something like that on a regular basis. I realize that there are very many people who thrive on constant activity of that nature. I’ve most certainly done my share of trying to keep up with the party animals in my crowd. It’s quite a bit more trouble than it’s worth though. Just let me have a lot of time to hang around and relax, with only occasional spurts of activity for a change of pace. That, and finishing it up with an early bedtime, can make for a fine Saturday.
Over a month ago, on Saturday, February 8, I drank my usual cup of hot tea with honey and sugar and went to bed at around 9:00 p.m. I know quite well that I was in Long Beach in 2014 then. When I woke up on Sunday morning, though, I was in for quite a shock. Somehow, upon opening my bedroom door, I appeared to have been transported back in time, precisely a half century, to Sunday, February 9, 1964. Besides that I was in front of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. At first I couldn’t possibly have known that I was so far away in the past. After a few minutes, though, I started catching onto all the anachronisms. Because of my having been so interested, for as far back as I can remember, with the era, I soon recognized all the then-current styles of vehicles, clothes and hair. Billboards, taxicabs and buses advertised for the New York World’s Fair at Flushing Meadow, and the movie, “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World”. A few stylishly dressed teenagers were listening to the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”, that was referred to as new, on Music Radio WABC 770 AM. People were cussing out Lyndon Baines Johnson and Nelson A. Rockefeller, as they tried to recuperate from the recent assassination of Johnson’s immediate predecessor, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a few months earlier. There was talk of Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council. It all really sank in when I picked up a copy of the New York Daily News at a nearby newsstand. My suspicions were confirmed. It was that fateful day in the winter of 1964. All sorts of references to, and pictures of John Winston Lennon, James Paul McCartney, George Harold Harrison and Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr), were staring me in the face. There were countless references to their upcoming appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” at 8:00 that night. It’s quite interesting to take note of the fact that I was already alive back then. I was a little boy in Jackson Heights, Queens, and I got a bit of a kick out of wondering if I could come up with the nerve to go to 92 Street to say hello to my young adult parents, infant sister Mary Anne, and toddler me. After a few minutes I looked up from the paper only to get quite a major shock. The legendary John, Paul, George and Ringo were standing right in front of me. In those days they were all still so very young and handsome. Because their manager, Mr. Epstein, was still alive to keep them in check, there was none of the noticeable rampant excess that would characterize their later style. They were quite a friendly bunch. John greeted me with a jovial, “Well, ‘ello”, in their characteristic Liverpudlian scouse accent. He then said, “‘Ey, Paulie, me buy, get a load o’ this fellow!”. They were dressed quite casually, and George was wearing a bit extra because of his having recently recovered from a sore throat. All their notorious Beatle charm shone through. After a few minutes they invited me into the Plaza and we had a few drinks. They told me a lot of stories about John’s wife Cynthia Powell and son Julian, Ringo’s girlfriend Maureen Cox, and Paul’s girlfriend Jane Asher. George would meet Patti Boyd in a few months. I ended up having to make quite a few adjustments in my attempt to explain to them my circumstances. Never having been aware of all the etiquette of time travel- I don’t suppose there’s an official rule book that covers it- I tried ever so desperately to refrain from telling the young Fabs about what was up ahead of them. They explained what went on, during their early days, with Klaus Voormann, Jurgen Vollmer, Astrid Kirchherr and all their other friends and family. I tried, as they told me that they intended to sing “All My Loving”, “Till There Was You”, “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” that night at Studio 50, to maintain some semblance of composure. I sat there uncontrollably stunned, somewhat politely humoring them. They talked of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Who, the way just anyone would refer to his friends and people at work. All I could think of were things like the infamously nauseating sexual revolution, drugs, the war in Southeast Asia and everything else that would make such a mess of a time frame that would be forever referred to as specifically the Beatles’ era. Besides remembering that they’d break up in April of 1970 I couldn’t help cringing over the events of December 8, 1980, when John Lennon got killed, and November 29, 2001, when George Harrison died. Assuming I should consider myself as having been sworn to absolute silence and secrecy, I asked more than I told. “Gentleman”, I was tempted to say, “Even you, with your seemingly infinite imaginations, couldn’t possibly begin to imagine what you’re up against!” Knowing about Lewis Carroll’s influence on the musicians of the 1960’s I kept thinking of it all as a trip through a looking glass, down a rabbit hole, or in some other offbeat out of the way direction. They could even be seen as a four-part variation of Robert Browning’s Pied Piper, with Liverpool standing in for Hamelin. From the point of view of an entirely favorable interpretation of their impact on the world they most certainly got rid of quite a few metaphorical rats. We sang a bunch of their early songs together. They showed me some guitar tricks. Conveniently their sense of humor turned out to be quite compatible with mine. I kept trying to convince them to put some colorful twists, of my invention, into their songs. We kept cracking each other up. Throughout my lifetime I’ve always considered their early songs, style and image to be their very best so I was absolutely as high as could be. Conveniently I managed to avoid any anachronisms and all went quite well. Eventually the moment of truth came to pass. It was time to get ready for their legendary appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. We all went over to Studio 5o. I somehow cajoled them into letting me join them. They even let me hang around backstage. When they started the show, they sang, “All My Loving”, and “Till There Was You”. Immediately after Ringo’s world-changing drum fill and John’, Paul’s and George’s perfect chant of “She Loves you yeah yeah yeah!” I was back in Long Beach yet again, in 2014, sipping tea with honey and sugar. It’s a true story.
One weekend last month Steve, Mary Anne and I made two consecutive trips to Manhattan, one on Friday and one on Saturday. On Friday at around noon, Mary Anne and I took the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station. After a brief subway ride we met Joel. We three got something to eat at a small local diner. After we finished I, always having been such a compulsive bookworm, went over to N.Y.U.’s nearby college bookstore to hang around while they had an important meeting with someone they were supposed to see. Later we met Steve who joined us after his having gotten out of work. Then there was yet another meeting with an architect and his friend, a Jewish woman from Canada, who owns the company that’s in charge of the circumstances they were involved with. After it was all over we visited Joel and his wife Andy at their apartment. After a while Mary Anne, Steve and I went to Lincoln Center to see a production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly”. I have several opera C.D’s but unfortunately I can’t even remember the last time I saw an opera. Steve got the tickets from his friend, Father John Mullen, S.J., whom I accidentally met while on line at Lincoln Center’s men’s room, when he asked about my St. Peter’s Prep sweatshirt. Because I’ve never felt comfortable among strangers I sort of expected to have a hard time getting used to having to deal with all the new people but it didn’t bother me so much. I was entirely worn out by the end of the night though because of all the trains and subways, combined with the seemingly incessant walking. Because it had been quite a long time since my last subway ride, I had forgotten how nightmarishly cramped and uncomfortable they are. By the time the night finally ended, we had been subjected to a full thirteen hours worth of all this activity. On top of everything else, on our way back to Long Beach, a woman on the train threw up in the car we were in. The next day there was yet another trip to Manhattan and we all went to a play in Greenwich Village. That time we drove. We left at around 6:00 p.m. We saw “East Towards Home”, Billy Yalowitz’ story of the life and times of folk singer and musician Woody Guthrie, told from the point of view of a young man growing up in a radical left wing Jewish socialist environment. It’s set in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Of course we all know about my notoriously intense lifelong opposition to both liberalism and socialism. I thoroughly enjoyed the music though. Mark and Laura, and Mary Anne’s friend Lisa, were there with us. After the play we all went to a really nice Indian restaurant. As with Friday’s trip I was yet again forced to deal with many strangers and a lot of walking but I somehow made it. At least on Saturday the day started much later and we didn’thave to be bothered with public transportation.