This is a first draft of this book. Which means that there are plenty of mistakes and unclear ideas floating throughout this work. If you want to be one of my alpha readers, please feel free to make comments about misspellings, errors in punctuation, unclear sentences, or any of the other things that a good editor would comment on.
Chapter 5 – The Wild West
After reading more information about ticks than one person should have to endure, I decided enough was enough. It wouldn’t be long before the group from the Senior’s Center pulled in and I was thinking that a nice quiet ride across the ranch would be just what the doctor ordered.
Maria and Pedro had come up with a number of different packages for tourists and other people who wanted a taste of cowboy hospitality. The Senior group had opted for the Number 2 Round Up Special. This included a horse or buggy ride out to the chuck wagon, where there would be lunch and entertainment. Following lunch you could ride out to the creek and back to the stables or hang out by the chuck wagon and play cards. One thing you can be sure of with an older group was, while it might not be an exciting time it would be nice. And quiet
I walked out the front door and started across the parking area towards the stables. Just then Sam pulled into the yard in his Ford Ranger. While that old truck of his had seen better days, you wouldn’t say it was rusty, or dented up. Sam loved to drive his truck cross country and between the sand, bushes, trees, cactus, and mud, the paint job had taken a real beating. The front fenders looked sandblasted while the doors gave the appearance of having been attacked by vandals with sandpaper.
“Good morning Sam.” I said as he got out of his truck.
“Hey Fred, how ya doing?” He said, jogging up beside me. “I hope Maria has some strong coffee made. I overslept and didn’t have time to brew any.”
“Well, if she hasn’t, there’s coffee in the kitchen and some No bakes too.” I said.
“No bakes are good,” He said, “but a couple of Boston Creams would really hit the spot.”
Walking through the double doors we could hear voices coming from the break room. We entered and Sam made a beeline for the coffee pot and poured himself a large mug full. He lifted the lid of the donut box. A smile crossed his face as he brought out a Boston Cream and took a huge bite. “Today’s going to be a great day in paradise. ” he said.
Maria was going over something with a couple of the musicians. I waited until they turned to walk away and asked, “Do you mind if I ride out with you today?”
“Not at all,” She said. “In fact you can help me out with one of the guests.”
“What’s up? Are you expecting some sort of trouble?”
“No, no, nothing like that. Do you remember last year when the Senior Center Group came out there was a man, Richard Jones, who claimed to be an actor who had worked with John Wayne?”
“Do you mean Dick Jones?”
“One and the same.”
“I’ve known Dickie for years, I think he actually did know John Wayne, but his memories are a lot more glorious than the days he remembers.”
“So you agree that he is a glory seeking, braggart, who will tell all kinds of lies to impress the gullible?”
“Let’s just say Ole Dickie has been known to fabricate the truth.”
“Come to think of it, you weren’t here last year. Your friend Dickie was wound up. He went up on the stage and demanded to sing ALL of his favorite cowboy songs. I was pretty sure he was drunk or stoned, not sure which. That happened after he attempted to take over the trail ride and caused a lot of confusion. He has a lot of fun but makes it unpleasant for other people.”
“He loves being the center of attention,” I said.
“Please, take him under your arms and keep him out of everyone’s way, “
“What do you suggest I do?”
“I don’t know. Make him feel like a big shot, give him a guided tour of the place, take him down to the creek and go skinny dipping. I don ‘t really care. Just keep him out of my hair.”
“Don’t worry’ I will treat him like a skunk at a picnic.”
“What does that mean?”
“When you see a skunk at a picnic you do whatever it takes to make sure he doesn’t raise a stink.”
“You do that and I will appreciate it very much.”
I left the break room and went into the stables to get Chica bonita ready for our morning ride.
The bus from the Senior Center pulled in a little after ten. It stopped in front of the stables and Maria jumped on board, clipboard at the ready and I was right behind her. She gave everyone a warm welcome, introduced me as the owner and premier animal trainer, and was going down the list to make sure everyone was assigned a place on a buggy or was riding a horse.
“Mr. and Mrs. Polaski, I have you in the buggy I’ll be driving.”
“Richard Jones, I have you listed as riding a horse,..”
Dick stood up, dressed like he was ready for a remake of Bonanza, “That’s right Sweetheart, and I hope to God you’ve given me a better horse to ride than that Nag I was on last time I was here. Like the Duke always said, “A cowboy is no better than the horse that is underneath him.”
“We have you on a feisty horse named Diablos. I’m sure you will be satisfied with him.”
“Great!! I’ve been riding for quite a few years, and if i don’t say so myself, I’m pretty damn good in the saddle. The horse you gave me last year would have been fine for some little girl…. “
“Excuse me Mr. Jones, I see you have a couple of pistols in your belt, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave those on the Bus or put them in a locker.”
“Now just a minute Pilgrim. Your boss Freddie and I went over this three or four years ago. These are the Pistols that the Duke used in Rio Bravos and gave to me after the filming. Freddie said I could wear them on the ranch as long as I promised that the guns were disabled and couldn’t shoot or they were loaded with blanks.”
He looked at me, pulled the pistols out of their holsters’ and said, “Here Freddie, you can examine them again. But I swear to God that they’re exactly
them the last time.”
“That’s fine Dick, Put the guns away. I trust you…they’re just for show.”
He tipped his hat, “appreciate it.” and started to sit down.
“Come on Dick, Diablos is waiting for you. Let’s get out of Maria’s hair and I’ll show you around the homestead.”
“That’s what I like about you Freddie, You treat us Stars like we should be treated.” He glared at Maria and said, “With RESPECT.”
We climbed off the bus and started towards where our horses were waiting. “You’ve been on this ranch so many times, I’m sure you know your way around? Would you like to take the lead?”
“Yeah…, yeah…., Thanks. There’s a quiet place down by the creek that I especially like. It has an almost Cathedral feeling to it…holy somehow. Follow me and I’ll show you what I mean.”
We rode out towards the creek and Dick started singing,
“Back in the Saddle again, Out where the injuns your friend, where the vegetables are green,and you can pee right in the stream, back in the saddle again”
“When do you open in Vegas?”
“Joke all you want Freddie boy, but I remember when singing cowboys were all the rage. I came west in the hopes of becoming a singing star like Gene Audrey and Roy Rogers.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“?Pecos, Illinois!!??” I laughed “That explains why you played a cowboy instead of working as a cowboy. “
“I would rather be a cowboy in a movie any day. Real cowboys work hard in the hot sun and sleep alone on the hard ground. Movie cowboys play all day in the hot sun and at night sleep with a pretty woman on a soft bed.”
“It’s a rough life but someone has to do it. “
“Those days are over for me. Now I get to go around bragging about the good old days. People tell me I should write a book. “
“Are you going to put your memories in a book?”
“Probably not. But it might be fun. I could tell the whole truth about the Duke. I was his stunt double in a couple of movies, which means if he was afraid of getting hurt I got to do the stunt. People don’t think of Big John Wayne as being afraid of anything, but I can tell you, without any hesitation, that Snakes made him scream like a little girl.”
“Was that the time you guys put a rattlesnake in his bed and he came to bed pretty drunk?”
The trail took a turn around some large trees and down a hill. The creek was widest down there and made a pond which was framed in by the rock cliffs. The trees filtered the sunlight and lowered the temperature by a good ten degrees. I had to agree with Dick this spot was almost magical. Dick rode Diablo into the water and slid off his saddle.
Dick pulled a flask out of his back pocket, took a hit, and handed it to me.
“You dating anyone yet? I can see you’re still as skinny as ever so I figued you’re not getting any Tender loving care.”
“I’m not ready for a new relationship yet?”
“Some guys never are, and others are and just don’t know it. But let the right woman come along and BAM!! Everything falls into place and they’re singing, “Back in the saddle again…”
“I doubt that will ever happen to me.”
“Do you remember old George Jeffries? Remember how he would do the litany, I’ll never fall in love again. Couldn’t trust any woman, I would be waiting for the other shoe to drop and I just couldn’t stand the pain. I saw him at WalMart last week and he was with a woman and seemed so happy. They were living together and were engaged. He’ll probably be inviting everyone from the group to the wedding.”
“George is a good man. He deserves to be happy”
“Yeah …well, so do you. If you’re not going to find happiness in another woman, maybe you should write a book to help other people in the same situation. Helping others brings great healing to the one doing the blessing,”
“I’m not at that place yet either. What good would it do to write about the pain of losing the best thing that ever happened to me without an ending, or an answer, or hope?”
“You used to write great Newsletter Articles for our group. Guys still quote you. My favorite was, How to lose weight divorce style. You said you lost fifty pounds of ugly fat and one hundred and twenty pounds of a beautiful wife. You were funny as hell one minute and made us cry the next. You know, If you’re up for some freelance work, I could use a few good articles.”
“Thanks. I’ll think about it. Really….It just got to the place where I was saying the same thing over and over. ”
I glanced at my watch, “We’d better get to the Chuck Wagon. Don’t want to miss lunch.”
Dick jumped back into his saddle and said, “Last one there buys the beer!” He galloped off.
I was quickly after him but couldn’t seem to catch up. Diablos was such a strong, fast horse. We came into view of the Camp, I could see the chuck wagon and to the right of that the barn with the corral. None of the other guests had arrived yet and we would be the first ones in the camp for lunch. Suddenly, Dick started pointing and yelling, I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying.
I got closer and realized that Dick was screaming, “Black mamba, Black Mamba. Black Mamba!!!” He pulled one of the pistols out of the holsters and began shooting towards the snake. His so-called blanks were drilling holes in the side of the chuck wagon, and finally hit the black mamba which was actually the hose for the propane tank that was under the wagon, With a mighty roar the propane tank exploded and fiery splinters of the chuck wagon flew in every direction.
The explosion spooked Diablo, who reared back and then took off in a dead heat for parts unknown. I started after them, knowing how difficult it can be to stop a panicked horse. Dick seemed to be holding his own until Diablo went over the fence instead of around it. Things seemed to go in slow motion, as I watched Diablo go to the left and Dick to the right. My first thought was, ‘Oh God, let Dick be alright.’b n
Just then the buggy Maria was driving pulled into camp. Ribs, fries, beans, coleslaw, hot dogs and buns began falling from the sky. From the back of the carriage, Mrs. Polaski said, “Isn’t this exciting? It’s just like that movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”
“YEAH, real exciting.” Her husband responded,”but they could have waited til we got here before serving it.”
Chapter six – is there a Doctor in the house?
I jumped off Pretty Girl and ran over to where Dick was laying. He was on his back, but his eyes were open and he watched me coming over to him. “Are you alright?”
“Not totally sure but I think both of my legs are broken.”
I knelt down beside him, His left leg was going off at an odd angle. “Well, the left one for sure. You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck.”
“Good training in being a stunt double,” he said.”
“What the hell were you thinking bringing a gun with live ammunition here?? You lied to Maria about it and took advantage of our friendship. Then, to top it all off, you go and blow up my chuckwagon. Just what do you think I should tell the cops about this?”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to destroy your chuckwagon. Right now, I’m in a lot of pain. Could we talk about this Later?…. You want to help me get up off the ground?”
”There is no way in hell that you’re going to do anything but lay there until the EMTs come and check you out.”
I rolled up my jacket and handed it to him. “Use this as a pillow, I’ll send someone over with some water in a minute. You lay right there til I get back.”
“Forget the water, I’d rather have a beer.”
“I’m sure you would. “
I stood up and started to walk away, stopped, turned around and said, “If you make any attempt to stand up, I will kick your ass into next week. Got it!?”
“Alright! One little explosion and you become a real …”
I jumped into the saddle pointed at Dick and said, “Keep talking and I’ll Kick your ass just for good measure.”
I swung Pretty Girl around, I was sure as soon as I had my back to him he flipped me off. I started towards what was left of the chuck wagon, which was burning out of control, the grease, from the deep fryer making dark black billowing smoke. I could hear sirens coming up the road towards the ranch.
As I got closer I saw Pedro and Sam, trying to put the fire out in the grass and trees around the Chuck Wagon, to keep the fire from spreading any further and taking down the out buildings. Maria, and some of the other staff, were with the Senior Group in the barn and corral, I rode over to them and dismounted.
“What happened to the chuckwagon?” Maria asked.
“I’m not totally sure, but it seems that Dick thought the hose for the propane tank was a snake tried to kill it and instead blew up the chuck wagon.”
“Don’t tell me you gave him a gun with live rounds in it because I know, for a fact, that the pistols he has only shoots blanks. “
“Very true, but with blanks like that you don’t need live ammunition. “
“I know he’s your friend but every time I have to deal with him I think of the bumper sticker that says, ‘Why are there so many DICKS and so few Richards?’ Where is the old Skunk boy anyway?
“He took a tumble off Diablos and is laying on the other side of the Northern Fence with a broken leg or two,” I said. “If you could direct the ambulance that direction, I’m going to sit with him until the EMTs take him to the hospital.”
“Better you than me. “
“What’s going to happen with the Senior Group? Are they all going home early with Refunds all around?”
“Please. They are made of much tougher stuff than that. We’re going to load them back up and ride out to the creek and have a picnic lunch. Tina’s in the kitchen getting a few things around and she’s put in an emergency order to the pizza palace. I want to get the Seniors out of here before the place gets all cluttered up with police cars and fire engines,”
“Sounds like everything is in good hands. I’ll check back once Dick is on his way.”
I grabbed a couple of beers out of the cooler and started back to where Dick was laying.
When I got to where Dick was, he had somehow moved himself so that he was sitting up with his back against a tree. I handed him one of the beers and said, “Maria wanted me to tell you that Black Mambas Live in Africa, not in California.”
“You didn’t have to tell her that part of the story! SHIT!! Now she’ll think I’m some kind of a pussy where snakes are involved,”.
“I was just pulling your leg…”
“My broken Leg.”
“Your broken leg. I didn’t say a word about you screaming “Black Mamba!’ to her. I didn’t know you were so terrified of snakes.”
“Truth is, I’m not afraid of all snakes. My fear of Black Mambas comes from when I was in Africa, with John Wayne, filming the movie Hatari! This was in 1961 and, to be honest, I’m not sure why I was there since he did all of his own stunts. There were a lot of stories from local people about the snake Black Mambas. To hear them tell it, if a black mamba wanted to kill you it would chase you down and there wasn’t a man alive who could out run one. One of the crew was bitten by a mamba and through some mixup there wasn’t any venom in the first aid station. ..”
He glanced down, a look of grief came over his face. He took a swig of his beer. “Damn it all!! Why do I always Bullshit people? The truth is, I know exactly why I was there. I had fallen in love with a beautiful brunette named Joy. Let me tell you that woman lived up to her name. Joy. To know her was to know joy and I was going to marry her. When I heard she got this gig with Duke in a movie that was being shot in Africa, I did everything I could to be a part of it. Let me tell you, There is nothing better than being in love on a movie set. It was like we were having our honeymoon before we got married.”
“I was helping some of the crew set up for a shot when someone ran up and said, “Joy is in the first aid station and has been bitten by a snake!” After that everything is a blur. I was holding her, we were both crying….she started having spasms, almost like an epileptic seizure….It seemed like it went on forever…then she was gone.”
I reached out and touched his shoulder. “I’m so sorry,”
He reached up and put his hand over mine. “Thanks. Some things you just don’t get over….You know, they get better but…”
Just then Maria and two EMTs, carrying some kind of medical equipment, came around the fence. “There’s your patient.” She said, Pointing to Dick.
He grabbed my hand and quietly said, “Do me a big favor and take my guns and belt. More than the monetary value they mean so much to me, a gift from Duke and all. I don’t want them stolen or some body thinking they should be held as evidence if this thing blows up in my face.”
“Evidence?? For what, a mechanical failure on my propane tank? By now the chuck wagon is nothing but a pile of embers. I’ll keep your guns safe, but there is nothing to blow up in anyone’s face.”
I picked up his belt from beside the tree and walked over to Maria. “Are the Seniors on their way?”
“By now they should be down by the creek eating lunch and listening to good country western music.”
“I appreciate the way you can so quickly come up with plan B when plan A goes all to hell. You are one in a million.”
“Does that mean I get a raise?”
“Will you look at the time! I need to get into town and see my lawyer.”
“Yeah, I see how it is.”
Dick was on the stretcher waiting to be loaded into the ambulance, I went over and stood by him “How are you doing?”
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve had more fun.”
“You always did enjoy breaking stuff and blowing things up. But next time keep yourself off the list of things that you break. “
“Listen. If I’m admitted to the hospital I might need a huge favor.”
“Anything. Just name it.”
“I’m scheduled to speak at tonight’s Divorce Support Group meeting. My talk is on my laptop which is in my truck. You could either read what I’ve prepared or update the talk you gave the last time you spoke to the group. “
I turned away, rubbed my eyes and said, “Shit!!” under my breath, pasted a smile on my face, turned back and said,”Hey, I said anything.”
Chapter 7 -Get Set…
I pulled out of my lawyer’s parking lot. She said the contract was acceptable and had potential for a positive long term cash flow. The downside is, if the project didn’t show results within an eight month window everything would be shut down. I wasn’t sure if we would be given a dishonorable discharge or just shown the door.
I made a right on Anderson figuring I might as well see how Dick was doing and if I was going to have to fill in for him. I really didn’t want to give a speech to the Divorce Support Group but I shot off my big mouth. I was ninety-nine percent certain that his left leg was broken…DAMN! of all the luck.
I sat at a Red light desperately trying to think of a way to get out of the Support Group. In the past I would have begged God to make a way for Dick to be at the meeting. But since my divorce became final I pretty much gave up on prayer. I remember begging God thousands of times to turn my wife’s heart back to me. I guess you could say I lost my wife and my faith on the same day.
I pulled into the Loma Linda University Hospital and followed the signs to the Emergency room parking. Walking through the double doors I could hear voices and laughter coming from somewhere behind the nurses station. I knew immediately it was Dick telling tall tales about him and John Wayne or another star who he was best friends with.
Walking into his room I said, “Sounds like a party in here. Are you ready to get outta this joint?”
“Don’t I wish?” Dick said. “Doc says I’m going to be admitted. Isn’t that right Doc?”
A woman who looked awfully Young to be an ER Doctor answered. “I’m afraid so. We have him scheduled for hip replacement surgery first thing Thursday morning. “
“I’m Not Surprised. From the angle his leg was in I thought he’d fractured it for sure. I wasn’t even thinking the hip might be broken. Not that I really know anything about medicine….I mean….I’ve taken a basic First Aid Course….but….that is pretty limited…I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Fred James, an old friend of Dicks.”
I held out my hand, she took it in hers and said, “Nice to meet you, I’m Doctor Marshall.” Her handshake was firm, good solid grip, gave me the feeling that she liked people and could be trusted.
“I tell most of my patients, who are his age, not to climb up a ladder, or even a step stool. And Here he is riding a horse and jumping over fences. It’s a wonder he didn’t break his neck.”
“After he blew up my chuckwagon it’s a wonder I didn’t break it for him myself. “
“Hey Doc, Don’t pay any attention to Freddie’s idle threats. That boy is a lover not a fighter.” Dick said. “Listen Doc, I was wondering about how long before I get outta here?”
“Let’s see. ” She said, rolling the computer stand along.. “Hip replacement Thursday morning. Followed by three to four days Physical therapy. If things go well, no complications or an extended stay in rehab….You could be home by Monday. “
“Monday,” He seemed to be mulling over the idea, “I thought I’d be staying for at least a week.”
“For the remainder of the day I want you to rest. When your room is ready you will be taken up to the surgical floor, room 435.” She turned to me and said, “Nice to meet you, Mister James. “
“Thanks Doctor Marshall. Good to meet you as well. “
She left the room and immediately started talking to a nurse who was walking by.
“Listen, Freddie, I’m truly sorry about destroying your chuckwagon. I will either build or buy a new one. “
“Don’t worry about it. You need to focus on getting better. I’m sure that Maria and Pedro already have contacted our insurance company and plans are being made for a ‘New and Improved ‘ chuckwagon. “
“Thanks. I appreciate your kindness. Are you still okay with speaking for me tonight?”
“You can’t think of anyone else who could take your place?”
“Normally I could ask any of the leadership team but they are all at a leadership seminar down in Dallas, Texas. I think they were getting pretty desperate when they asked me to speak. Fact is, when they couldn’t find anything at the bottom of the barrel…”
” They turned the barrel over and found you underneath it.” I said. “It’s an old joke. “
“And I’m an old man who likes to finish his own jokes. “
“In that case you need to get some new material. “
“Don’t you have anything better to do than to harass a broken up old man?”
“As a matter of fact I do. Give me your truck keys. I need to get your laptop to go over your talk.”
“All my clothes are in a bag under this gurney. The jeans aren’t worth a damn. Those EMT sonsabitches just took a pair of scissors and CUT them off. I told them to spare the jeans, THEY wouldn’t listen to anything I said. Just Zipp Zap, my legs were just hanging out in the cold. They’re lucky I wasn’t going commando.
I reached under the bed and pulled out a large plastic bag with the name and logo of the hospital on it. I handed him his cell phone and put his keys in my pocket.
“Do you want me to have Sam take your truck out to the ranch for safekeeping?”
“Probably a good idea. Listen Freddie….”
At that point I really didn’t have much time to listen to everything Dick wanted to talk about. I had to get back to the office before Lieutenant Baker called.
Chapter Eight-The call
I was back in my office by four-thirty, just in case Lieutenant Baker was one of those, “If you’re not ten-minutes early , you’re late, ” kind of guys.
As it turns out he was not one of those guys. At five-fifteen I checked the phone for a dial tone. At Five-thirty I began to think about what it would be like to tell Maria I’d lost the contract. I had just gotten to her saying something along the lines of , “El stupido grando,” when the phone rang.
“Animals on Call, Frederick James speaking. “
“JIMMY!!!!” Lieutenant Baker calling. How have you been?”
“I’m doing really well. How are you?”
“Well that depends on your answer. Have you decided to become part of the team?”
“Well Lieutenant Baker, I had a staff meeting yesterday and they’re on board. I went over the contract with my lawyer earlier and she gave me a green light. So, I am definitely in.”
“That’s GREAT Jimmy! You had me worried for a minute, with all that talk about staff meetings and lawyers….You signed the contract and had it notarized. Right?”
“Absolutely. It’s signed, sealed and ready to be delivered. You just need to tell me what the next steps are. “
“Alright! A tentative meeting has been scheduled for this coming Monday at O, Eight-hundred hours on the base. If that works with your schedule I’ll make reservations for three nights for you at the Conquistador Hotel. They have free breakfast and you can pick up the rest of your meals on base. Are you with me so far?”
“Yes. Sounds good so far.”
“Great. You will be meeting with Colonel Potter, Sergeant Smith and I. The animal trainer, who has been working with the opossums, unsuccessfully, for the past four months. Sergeant Flummoxed, will also be there. He will give you an overview of the project and a tour of the facility.”
“Will I be working directly with Sergeant Flummoxed?”
“I was about to tell you that Sergeant Flummoxed is transferring to another base. Let me see…a Sergeant MacKenzie will be replacing him. I haven’t met or heard anything about Sergeant MacKenzie. I will get on the horn and see what info I can find out about him.”
“Okay, sounds good. “
“If you get to the motel early enough, on Sunday, give me a call. I’ll give you the nickel tour of town. There’s a little Steakhouse we could go to for dinner and I know some great bars to get a little dessert, if you get my drift.”
“Sounds like a great time on the town. “
“If you have any questions or concerns, give me a call. Otherwise, I will see you on Sunday.”
“Thank you Lieutenant. Goodbye. “
I hung up and did a little dance around the room.
Good news like this needed to be shared. It was times like this when I really missed being married. If only Catherine were still here. We would have danced around the room together, gone out for steak and Champagne, or cleared off the top of my desk and made mad passionate love.
Instead I picked up my phone and called Maria. “Hey Maria, I just spoke with Lieutenant Baker….”
Chapter Nine – Dinner out
Sam and I decided to drive through Little Porko’s and pick up sandwiches and fries for dinner. After that Sam would drive Dick’s truck back to the ranch. Dick’s laptop and I would continue on to the Divorce Support Group meeting where I would deliver his stirring message of love and hope to the assembled crowd.
We pulled into the drive thru lane and when we got to the speaker I said, “I would like two Porkzilla sandwiches with cheese, one porky’s delight, hold the cheese, a side of beans, two coleslaw and the pig out fries with bacon and cheese. A large Cola and a medium ginger ale. “
“Did you want to take advantage of the Tuesday Special of half price pork rinds or Uncle Bubba’s sweet potato pie?” the server asked.
I looked at Sam who said, “Both sound good to me.”
“I guess we’ll add one pork rind and two pies.” I said.
We pulled out of Little Porko’s and drove to the Senior Center parking lot. I pulled into the space beside Dick’s truck.
“Is there any sandwich better than the pulled pork from Little Porko’s?” Sam asked as he wadded up the wrapper from his first Porkzilla sandwich and tossed it out the window. He reached in the bag and pulled out his second Porkzilla and his Pig out fries.
“Oh they are really delicious.”I agreed, taking a bite out of my Porky’s Delight. “Are you trying to lose weight? You only got two sandwiches tonight.”
“YEAH, My twenty-fifth birthday is next month and I was thinking about how it’s time for me to get serious about getting in shape. “
“It’s the milestone birthdays and anniversaries that cause people to take stock and evaluate where changes need to be made. Anything else you are going to work on besides your physical shape?”
“Eventually I would like to settle down, get married, have a couple of rugrats, same as everyone else. Problem is, no woman will ever see me as a man with a plan as long as I am still living in my mom and dad’s house. “
“Failure to launch, ey?”
Sam took his Porkzilla, fries, and pork rind wrappers, stuffed them in his drink cup and tossed them out of the window.
“Which is why I’ve been thinking about getting another job , or a second job . I need to save a lot of money to either buy, or rent my own place.
I’ve entered the Ranger in this weekend’s, Mojave Off Road Pickup Scramble, I know I won’t take first place but I could still bring some money…”
Just then someone rapped on the passenger window. I looked and a deputy motioned for me to roll the window down. I lowered the window and she said, to Sam,”Is there a reason why you find it necessary to throw your garbage out the window and litter up the Senior Center parking lot? First of all, some older person could slip and fall on this crap and injure themselves. You do know that there are laws against littering and that I could write you a ticket?”
“I plan on picking everything up and taking it with me. ” Sam said. “I just put it there for safekeeping.”
“SAFEKEEPING?? Have you been drinking or taking street drugs? I can tell you know. I’ve had training so don’t try to con me. “
“No Ma’am, I don’t do drugs and the only thing I’ve had to drink is a Cola with my pork sandwich. “
Lowering his voice as if he were letting her in on a secret, he said, “That’s my boss and this is his truck and he’s a bit of a neat nick. His friend Dick hurt himself and we’re here to take his truck to a safer place. I thought, instead of getting on the bad side of my boss by trashing his truck I would just toss the junk into the back of Dicks truck. My aim is the problem. Instead of going into the truck it kept hitting the side and landing in the parking lot. “
“Why don’t you get out here and clean up this trash while I talk to your boss?”
I tossed Dicks keys to Sam and he slid out of the truck. The Deputy came around to my side of the truck and said, “I heard about Dicks accident. Such a sweet old man. How is he doing?”
“He got a rough road ahead of him but he’s a fighter. Long-term, He’ll be fine. He is scheduled for hip replacement surgery on Thursday with physical therapy following that. How long have you known Dick?”
“He dated my Mom for a while after his divorce. I thought he was going to be my step dad for a while. I was a teenager then, I’m afraid i wasn'[t very nice to him.”
“Why don’t you stop in and pay him a visit? I know he would love to see you. “
“I might just do that. “
She turned, walked to her patrol car, and got in. A great idea for a practical joke suddenly popped in my head. I jumped out of my truck and trotted over to where her car was sitting.
She rolled her window down and said, “Anything I can help you with?”
“I have a great idea for a practical joke we could pull on Dick. “
“I wouldn’t mind giving that old philanderer a run for his money. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“The practical joke has to do with the events before he fell off the horse and broke his hip….” I went on to tell her the story of snakes, flying bullets, and an exploding chuck wagon. By the time I got to the practical joke she was in with a capital I.
CHAPTER TEN –The Meeting
About twenty minutes before the Divorce Support Group meeting started people began arriving. Some people come early because they are lonely and this group becomes a temporary family for them. Others are early because they hope to meet that special someone or at least have a one night stand to help them make it through the night. I didn’t see anyone from the days when I attended the group.
I guess there were about 15 people talking, drinking coffee, eating cookies when Manuel decided it was time to get the Meeting underway. He went up to the microphone, tapped it and said, “ Good Evening,” No response. “HEY, COULD I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE.”…. IF EVERYONE,… Could you PLEASE take a seat. We want to get the meeting started.”
Almost everyone broke off what they were doing and moved towards the rows of seats that had been set up. A few made a dash back to the coffee pots for a refill and another cookie.
“Because our leadership team is attending a seminar in Dallas we have a guest speaker.
Dick Jones was supposed to speak tonight unfortunately he was thrown from a horse and broke his hip. In his place we’re going to hear from Fred James. Fred,was a past member of our Leadership Team and was an author of many of the pamphlets in our rack. Good to have you back with us Fred, you have the floor. “
“Thank you Manuel,” I said. “When Dick realized the extent of his injuries he asked me if I would take the meeting for him. He has put together a multimedia presentation drawing from movies, songs, literature and folk sayings. I haven’t had time to go over the entire presentation but what I have seems exciting. Fasten your seat belts! If I know Dick, we’re in for quite a ride,”
The lights were lowered and the projector sprung into action, Captain Jack Sparrow was being chased down the beach by a large group of angry natives. The scene changed and Captain Jack was being slapped by one angry woman after another. Scene after scene of the Captain in trouble was shown and then he looked at the camera and said, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand? “ Captain Jack’s face froze and then was replaced by the words” The Problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem, which scrolled across the screen. The words, DO YOU UNDERSTAND? Scrolled to the middle, stopped and then enlarged until they filled the screen from side to side.
I began reading from the second screen on Dick‘s Laptop. “Captain Jack Sparrow has asked us a question, one which for many years I would have answered, “Hell NO I don’t understand! If I Didn’t have the problem I wouldn’t have the BAD attitude. It has taken me over 80 years to understand what Captain Sparrow is asking…”
“Just so you don’t get the idea that I am related to Aragorn son of Arathorn, you know, one of the Dunedain, I think I will reread that last line.” I said. “It has taken Dick over Eighty years to understand that question.”
“It’s more likely that you’re related to Marty McFly and you just arrived using Doc Brown ‘s time machine. ” someone quipped from the front.
Someone else, using their best Biff impression said, “Come on McFly, Dick only has fifteen minutes to finish his talk. You wouldn’t want to get him in trouble by having his presentation go too long would you? ….WELL, WOULD YOU?”
“Okay, okay. I will just read what Dick has written. Let’s see….he writes, ‘It has taken me over eighty years to understand what Captain Sparrow is asking. At first the question itself made me mad as hell. However, the more I thought about it the more I thought he might be on to something.
My problem goes back to the year 1961. I was in Africa with John Wayne shooting the movie HATARI! I wasn’t there for John Wayne, travel to exotic places, or even the movie. I couldn’t care less about those things. At that time, the only thing I cared about was a beautiful brunette named Joy. We were madly in love and, for the first time in my life I wanted to get married.
The time we had together in Africa were among the best days of my life. That movie set became our honeymoon. Just to see Joy across a room, to catch her eye, would fill my heart to overflowing with a mix of love, happiness and joy. I could have sung every love song ever written that cries out with the desperate longing, “Oh baby I NEED YOU, can’t live without you. If we’d fallen in love today, I would have proclaimed to the world that I had found my soulmate, the one person destined to make me whole.
Listen as Etta James sings of her experience in finding her true love…”
Etta James replaced the script on the screen as her sultry and soulful voice gave life to the words. “At Last, my love has come along, my lonely days are over, and life’s become a song.” We listened spellbound as she became the embodiment of a life transformed by love.
When the song ended, the words, “The Problem is not the problem…” once again scrolled across the screen, ending with, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” which filled the screen.
I began reading, “We both dreamed of our future together. How could such a perfect love have anything but happily ever after ending?”
“There is a snake in Africa, the Black mamba, whose ability to kill people is legendary. Africans say that if it wants you dead it will not rest until you are. “People speak about the mamba as the devil personified: It can outrun a horse, it will track down a man, nothing can deliver you once this damnable snake has you in its sights.
I was helping Jack Barnhart work on the Range Rover when someone from the First Aid station came running up and said, “Joy has been bitten by a snake and is calling for you. ” She had been bitten by a black mamba and the antidote was missing. The medical staff was doing everything they could to find the venom, or get another bottle brought in. Joy and I were holding each other, crying, scared. I kept assuring her everything was going to be okay. She began having seizures, uncontrollable shaking…these went on for a long time,…the seizures stopped and her breathing became shallow, I could tell she was leaving me. I’m not a religious man but I began begging God, ‘Please, please, please. No. God, don’t take her!’ But,…of course…just like that, she was gone. “
“Well, Captain Sparrow, MY PROBLEM is, the woman I loved more than life itself was snatched out of my embrace and there was NOTHING I Could Do to stop her death from happening.
My problem CAPTAIN is that, our life together with children, and grandchildren, and all of the other dreams we shared died on that same day.
Tell me Captain Sparrow, you celluloid phoney, how wonderful would your attitude be when the great storms of anger, rage, and hatred have you shaking your fist at God one minute, and plotting to kill every snake on this good earth the next.
Come on Captain Jack, walk off the screen and into the real world and let’s see how long your flippant attitude lasts when the PROBLEMS of life push you down, down, down into the darkest pit of despair where there is no hope and no one can write you out of the problem.
We are all waiting Captain. Everyone in this room has days where we are just putting in our time, feeling nothing at all. But the next day a tsunami of sorrow has us in its grip and we’re too over come with grief to get out of bed. We cry over nothing or everything and we fear that we are losing our sanity. And you have the arrogance to tell us that our real problem is our attitude. Come on Man!!”
- Dick had written, (STOP READING HERE & ACT LIKE YOU ARE THINKING SOMETHING OVER.)
“Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you believe that our problem is THE PROBLEM?”
Almost every hand went up.
“And how many of you will agree with the Captain that our attitude is the real problem in our life?”
A few more hands went up.
“I’m an old man and a lot of years have passed since that day that Joy died. I’ve come to see that there are times when the Problem is overwhelming and your attitude has little to nothing to do with how your life is going. At such times your life is out of balance and your emotions are out of control and Captain Jack’s assertion is a bunch of Bull Shit. However, You should come through such times and gain some new skills for coping with life. That’s why this group exists to help you successfully pass through the mine field of divorce.
Then there are times when Captain Jack Sparrow is absolutely correct. Joy’s death was such a shock and caused such deep pain, that I carried a lot of baggage because of it. I became a real control freak and was so domineering that, in my desire to protect the ones I loved , I would make them feel trapped. Plus I was filled with so much anger and mistrust of life, the universe, God, and that anger spilled over into everything I did. It took a lot of years to see that my bad attitude was a poison that destroyed my three marriages, my relationship with my children and other important people.
In my remaining time I want to give you a few ways in which you can come through this time of life better equipped to deal with the slings and arrows of life. If you will apply what I am about to share you will take less baggage into your future relationships and be better able to receive the love people desire to give you.
I’m probably going to run way over my allotted time. If I do you can fire me, I’m too old to care. If you decide you don’t like what I’m telling you get a cup of coffee, there’s an empty room across the hall, do what you need to. ”
Suddenly a thin blonde woman in blue jeans and a t shirt ,woman stood up and said, “Just One Minute! This is supposed to be a support group meeting. “No one said anything about holding a seminar tonight!” She motioned with her arms to include every one around her. “I have some things I need to share with my friends, you know, to get it off my chest. I’m sorry Dick fell and broke his hip and I’m sorry to hear about the death of his great love. But, He’s already way over his allotted time, which means it’s our time to share.”
The woman sitting next to the blonde stood up and said, “I agree with Judy. We’ve had quite enough of Richard for tonight. As much as we love him the way he “mansplains” everything gets old very quickly”
“MANSPLAINS? what the HELL are you talking about?” A tall, muscular looking, black man stood up turned towards the women behind him and said. “As a black man, I can pick up on white condensation as quick as the next person, I haven’t picked up ANYPLACE where he talked down to us.”
A Hispanic lady sitting in the front row said, “Above everything else, we must all hear Judy and Lolita go on and on about the same stories they’ve talked about every time they come to the meeting.”
“I BEG YOUR PARDON?!!!” Lolita said.
I raised both of my arms up and said, “STOP!!! The only thing we need to do right now is to vote on how to proceed. We are going to vote with our feet. If you are ready to move on to a regular support group, stand up. ‘
Twelve of the sixteen people in the group stood up.
“Okay, Let’s take a five minute bathroom break,” I said. “If you wish to listen to the rest of Dick’s presentation, please return here. If you’re ready to move into the support group session, please go into the room across the hall. Coffee, tea and various snacks are already prepared for you there, Finally, if you’re sick of the whole thing this is your opportunity to take off.
I was really tempted to take off and go somewhere and have a beer.