Mud Season

Chapter 14


Everyone stayed on the mountain with us that night, everyone being Bernie Sutton, Dana and Elenora, Dad’s parents, and Rhod Daniels.  My mother gave Bernie and Rhod a tour of the place while Elenora and Dana decided to go upstairs for a long sleep.  I sat in the living room with Dad and his parents and Ally, and Dad brought up the idea of us providing education and training for people who didn’t need college to prepare for what they hoped to do.


My grandmother seemed against it from the start.  “Why, Franklin?  That’s your money.  Why should you give it to any Tom, Dick or Harry who comes along?  What about your own family?”


Grandpa said, “Honey, Frank’s not talking about all of his money.”  He looked at my father with a wry smile and asked, “Are you?”  He took gram’s hand and said, “He’s already done well by us, hasn’t he, and for his brothers and their families?  There is a world of people out there, and most haven’t been as fortunate as us.  We would have been fine without Frankie’s help, and now we’re better than fine.”


Grandma patted his hand and looked at my father.  “Just who would this money go to?  Anyone who wants it?”


Dad said, “More or less, but we’d want some indication of true intent, and the money wouldn’t go to individuals, but to the schools they want to attend.”


“I see,” said Grandma, glaring at my father. “I still don’t like it.  I think you’re setting yourself up to be taken advantage of by every cheap hoodlum that wants a free ride.’


Dad stared at her, a look of astonishment on his face.  “Don’t put it like that, Mom.  How much did it cost you to send me to college, other than your old typewriter and your good wishes?  Don’t answer, I’ll tell you.  It didn’t cost you a dime, because this cheap hoodlum needed a free ride, and I got it all by myself – a full ride scholarship to one of the best technical colleges in the country.”


Grandpa smiled, “You did, didn’t you?  You were always so eager to learn, always wanted to know what was around the next corner.  Why don’t you tell us about some of these hoodlums you want to help out?”


Dad grinned.  “I don’t even know them except in concept.  I’ll let Paul tell you.  It’s his idea, anyhow.”


My mother had just come in with Bernie and Rhod, and she asked, “Tell what?”


“Ask Bernie,” I said.  Then I looked around and started talking.  “It started when Jamie Jenks got killed.  He was in my school, and like the most popular guy there.”


I told them about his accident and the funeral, the shock and sadness that ensued, and how I got talked into joining a dance committee not long afterwards.  I told them about the fund raising we did, and how certain people at the school wanted to use that money for other things, and I got around to telling about my conversation with Miss Warren.


“That’s the woman I spoke with,” Bernie added.


I snickered and said, “That’s her, and she won’t forget.”  I looked at my grandfather.  “Anyhow, maybe we got a little carried away with the fund raising, and when Miss Warren told me that some people wanted to put the money to what they called better uses, Bernie called her and told her exactly how to keep it for its intended purpose.  I talked to her, and she mentioned scholarships, and I asked about them.  All the scholarships they give out are for college, and for the kids who are at the top anyhow.  I mean athletes, brains, or both.  They might be poor or not, but they have some kind of talent built-in.  Nobody cares about the rest of the kids, but they all have hopes and dreams, too, something they want to be or do.”  I grinned at Dad, “Even Indian chiefs,” and he laughed.


I turned to my grandmother and said, “There’s this kid Gary in my school.  He walks funny, kind of like Frankenstein’s monster.  He’s been teased all his life, but it’s not a thing that can be fixed.  He has a brain … um … disorder, I guess you’d call it.  It’s called ataxia.  There is no fix for it, and Gary knows it.  He’s big now, like about six feet tall, so he doesn’t get teased much, or not to his face anyhow, but he never got to make many friends.”


“An outcast?”  my grandmother asked.


“I guess you could say that, but not exactly.  I think he’s kind of bitter now, but he seems an easy friend if you …” I had to think of how to put it.  “He’s easy to know if you approach him as a friend.  Anyhow, this isn’t about his ataxia or what a nice or not nice guy he is.  It’s about his prospects in life.  He doesn’t want to be a doctor or lawyer.  He wants to build roads and bridges, and I don’t mean design or engineer them.  He just wants to make them.”


Grandma asked, “So what’s stopping him?”


I said, “Money.  His family doesn’t have any, so he can’t get the training he needs.”  I looked at her and said, “Listen, I had this idea before I knew Gary.  It’s not about him specifically, it’s about all the people like him in Vermont, and there are a lot.  Gary’s family has land that’s not good for growing.  They have a bull farm, a little sawmill, I forget what else, and they take care of themselves  They won’t take any kind of welfare or anything like that, not even medical, so Gary’s kind of hung out to dry when it comes to things that cost money.  He’s the kind of hoodlum I think we can help.”


My mother spoke up.  “Hoodlum?  You never told us that boy was a hoodlum.  Whatever was he doing in our house?”


Everyone started laughing, and my mother blushed royally.  Grandma tittered, “I’m sorry, dear.  That was my poor choice of a word, and it has already been thrown back at me by my husband, my son, and now my grandson.  If you’re smart, you’ll forget you heard it.  If you’re wise, you’ll forget the word altogether, which is my plan.”


We all chuckled, and she went on.  “This is your idea, Paul?  Are you saying you’d give away your inheritance?  To what purpose?”


I didn’t know exactly how to respond.  My inheritance?  I started there.  I said, “I don’t know where to start.  Okay, don’t anybody say anything, alright?  I can honestly say I don’t know anything about an inheritance.  If any of Dad’s money has my picture on it, I don’t know that, and I don’t know how much it might be.  I have to make my own way for a long time anyhow.  Dad’s only forty-four, so I’ll be way older than that before there’s any inheritance to even think about.  He could leave everything to other people, or to some charity; that’s his business.  I just think that the money, right now, isn’t doing anything for anybody.  It just sits wherever it is having babies, so there’s more every day, not less.”


I looked at my father, and he had his hand on his chin watching me with interest, but with no real expression on his face.


I moved beside my grandmother and sat on the arm of the sofa.  “You asked, to what purpose?  You tell me.  Is it a purpose if a kid like Gary gets the chance to be what he wants to be, learn what he needs to learn?  Is it a purpose if there are a hundred Garys, a thousand, lots of thousands?  I went to Barent’s Academy where they teach people about how wonderful and privileged they are, and all about their responsibility to shepherd the family money on to the next generation.  I hated it there, Gram, I really did.  In seven years they take you from wet pants, to snotty brat, to snob, to criminally superior.  It was the best day ever when I started school in Brattleboro.  Nobody there expects anything from their family, and everyone knows they’ll have to make their own way at some point.  They’re normal, and I just want to be normal, too.  Am I making any sense?  I want to be me, not somebody’s picture of me the way they want.  I don’t want anything special, and I’m not so dumb that I can’t make my own place, but I have to learn by doing.  This stuff isn’t in any book.”


She slipped her arm around my back and squeezed my middle.  “You make perfect sense, Paul.  I believe I let dollar signs get in my way, and made assumptions that weren’t fair to you.  I do remember being your age.  I was full of hopes and nonsense like everyone is, but they were about me and me alone.  My family wasn’t poor, but there was certainly no fortune for me to think about.  The most I could hope for was encouragement and approval, and now I find myself doing the opposite for you.”  She pulled me close and kissed my cheek.  “You go, Paul.  Follow your own star, and forgive an old lady for her forgetfulness.”


I looked and she had tears in her eyes.  I leaned to kiss her forehead and whispered, “Thanks,” before I stood.


Jeez!  Everyone was looking teary-eyed, even Bernie.  I looked at Rhod and asked, “How would you have played that?”


Well, it took a moment, but Grandpa barked out a laugh, followed by my father and Bernie.  Ally literally screamed before laughing, and my mother tittered away.  Grandpa looked at his bride and said, “I just told Paul today that his gift for malarkey came from you, old woman.”


I looked at Gram, who smiled and winked at me, and I felt good.


We broke up shortly after that, and I went to my room not feeling particularly tired.  Dana was spread-eagled on the bed, face down with his clothes still on, and I had to stare at him for half a minute before I could ascertain that he was actually breathing.  Relieved to see that he was indeed alive, I decided to leave him be and sleep downstairs.  I changed into sweat pants, left my undershirt on, and washed up and brushed my teeth.  I took a blanket from the closet and stretched out on a sofa in the TV room.  I channel surfed for a while until I came on a Red Sox game, and left that on, with the sound down very low. It turned out that I was watching the last inning, and the game was over in minutes, Toronto the winner.


I clicked a few more channels, and the History Channel had something going about the US manufacturing effort that had been raised to support our venture into World War Two.  That was kind of fascinating to watch; button factories making bullet casings, car companies making military trucks and jeeps and tanks.  The aircraft industry was spitting out fighters, transports, tankers, and bombers like they were clothespins, and shipbuilders were doing the same from Maine to Seattle, and at every shipyard in between.  All kinds of other things were being made, too.  Helmets and uniforms, and miles of webbing for belts, gas cans, mess kits, medical supplies.  And gun companies, of course, burping up rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and all manner of ways to deliver death.  The needs seemed endless, and the whole country was churning out the things they made as fast as they could churn.  It was a fascinating video.


Then they shifted to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where a summer camp for boys had been turned into a secret laboratory where the atomic bomb was developed.  I was totally drawn into the show.  I’m not a violent person, but found the rapid development of the bomb to be fascinating, and the first pictures of the finished product brought a question to mind.  The thing was small, painted white, and looked nominally like a propane tank, though bigger than one for a gas grill.


It was innocuous looking, and they built only the one.  Even before ever testing it, there were other bombs.  One of those, named Little Boy, was already on its way to Asia to be used over Hiroshima.  Little Boy used a different technology, but another like the test bomb, called ‘Fat Man’, blew Hell out of the city of Nagasaki just two days after Little Boy did in Hiroshima.  The video was fascinating, but I was mortified by the destruction and the loss of life, and of course they had to show videos of the aftermath.


I looked for the remote to change the station, and Bernie walked in.  He was surprised to see me, and said, “Paul!  I thought you’d gone to bed.”  He looked at the television for a moment, and asked, “Why are you watching that?  He looked at me while shaking his head as if to get rid of a bad vision.


“I was just going to change it,” I said.  “Anything special you want to see?”


“I came down to see Jon Stewart.  Do you get Comedy Central?”


“I think we get everything.  Do you know the Dish channels?”


Bernie didn’t so I gave him the programming guide, ready to switch to it when he told me the location.  Then I thought and said, “It’s Saturday.  It’s on?”


Bernie nodded and mumbled, thumbing through the guide, “Re-runs.  Ah!  Channel one-o-seven.” 


I changed the station after a few fumbles with the remote.  I usually did best with ‘next’ and ‘previous’, but getting to107 would have given me a blister, so I daringly pressed the numbers and found the channel, silently cheering my success.


The show was already in progress, so it took a while for me to figure out why it was funny and people were laughing, but I got into it when the next skit started.  There were no belly laughs, but Bernie and I both chuckled through the whole program.  Then we decided a snack would be nice.  Bernie took a beer from the refrigerator, so I didn’t suggest coffee.  I just got a glass of water, and cruised the refrigerator and cabinets for snacks.


There were some new chunks of cheese that Mom had obviously bought that day.  They were the Maskell’s Farm kind that Elenora was selling.  The labels were printed, but the type of cheese was hand lettered.  I took the one that read ‘Cheddar – 3 years aged’ thinking that sounded pretty ripe, and some Camembert that was from France.  There was a large plastic bag full of red grapes down below, and I took a bunch of those, and found a new box of my favorite Town House crackers in a cabinet.


We sat at a table on the deck off the kitchen, and the air was warm enough that we were comfortable with what we were wearing.  I peeled back the plastic on the cheddar and sliced off three pieces, then opened the wrapper on the Camembert.  I put a piece of the cheddar on a cracker and bit it in half and, well, it was a wow kind of cheese!  It was potent yet mellow, and the texture was creamy.  I chewed it, then swallowed and told Bernie, “You have got to try this.  It’s great.”  I put some on a cracker and held it out to him, and fixed another for myself.


I tried some Camembert and then picked off a couple of grapes.   My first attempt at spitting a seed landed lamely at my feet, but the next was well on its way over the railing when Bernie said, “So Paul.  Tell me a little more about your friend, and where you see this potential project going.”


I looked at Bernie for a moment.  I’ve known the man as long as anyone else I know, I suppose, and he had always been this kind of benign presence.  I’d grown up knowing how important he was to my father, and by extension to me and Mom, so I guess I’m a bit prejudiced.  Bernie isn’t, at least in his appearance, a formidable person.  He’s average height and a bit plump; has a receding hairline but is nowhere near bald.  I want to say his intelligence, but it’s really his apparent knowingness, just seems to radiate from his every pore.  He wears too-expensive clothes, is far better known than my father, and is often sought by the media for his thoughts on the business climate in the U.S. and worldwide.


That’s his thing.  He knows business as well or better than anyone.  His own life hasn’t been that great, though.  He’s twice divorced, and has a daughter that he has partial custody of.  The exes and his daughter all love him, but he never made enough time for them to keep things together, and he seems resigned to that.  I think he still likes his life.


I had to reply, and I coughed on a sip of water, and I coughed again.  “Sorry,” I said, and I coughed yet again.


Bernie asked, “Are you okay?”


I said, “Yeah, it went down the wrong hole or something,” in the croaking voice I get following near-death experiences.


I looked over at Bernie’s expectant face.  “Okay, you know what we talked about on the phone.”  I tried to get my thoughts together.  “This kid Gary … Gary Andrews … wasn’t even on my mind when I thought of doing kind of non-college scholarships.  I still think that’s something good to do with the … you know … the money.”


Bernie smiled and didn’t say anything, so I went on.  “I wasn’t really thinking about someone like Gary, you know, with a medical problem.  That just happened.”  I looked imploringly at Bernie, and asked, “That proves the point, though, doesn’t it?  Gary’s not dumb, and he’s not lazy, but with his walk and no special education everyone’s gonna think of him like some big lunk.  He’ll end up at some nowhere job, and he’s better than that.  He really is.  I mean, look at me.  I’ve know him for a week and I can see what’s in him.”


I stood up and tried to imitate Gary’s walk, and asked Bernie, “What would you do if you saw me?  I’m Gary Andrews, and I’m pretty smart. I need a job. I work hard, and I show up every day.. Can you please not notice the way I walk?  What would you do, Bernie?  Tell me what you’d do.”


Bernie stared at me as I sat down.  He nibbled another piece of cheese, tried a sip of his empty beer, and frowned.  He looked at me, looked down at his hands on the table and said, “Sadly, I think I’d do what most people would, and look the other way.”  He looked up at me and smiled, “That’s what I would have done … before this conversation.  Don’t stop talking, Paul.  Let me get another beer, and I’ll record everything you say.”


I was surprised, “You’re taping me?”


Bernie shook his head and pointed to it.  I got it.


He got a beer and I went to the bathroom.  We were back on the deck in just a few minutes.


I started, “I don’t know where this idea came from; it just kind of formed.  It was just about fairness at first.  I mean, if the smart kids get scholarships to colleges, and the good athletes get scholarships, what happens to everyone else?   Does anybody except their families care about them?  I mean, I’m sure most do fine anyhow just based on what’s inside them, but a lot would do better if they had as good a chance as the brainiacs.  So why shouldn’t they … have that chance, I mean?  Why not?”


Bernie’s smile was gentle.  “You just said most do fine.  That sounds like there is a remainder.”


I thought about that and said, feeling tentative, “Maybe that’s the way it is.  Some people just don’t know where to go.”


Bernie looked at me and made a winding motion with his hand, which I took as a signal to follow my own thought.


It came to me easily enough.  “Why don’t they learn?  Why do they give up?  It’s passed on, isn’t it; is that what you want me to say?”


Bernie shook his head vehemently, “I want you to speak your own thoughts, Paul, and I prefer that you flesh them out in your mind before expressing them to me.  Your reaction is right-on, though.  Take this thought to bed with you, and we’ll talk again.  I’d like you to wonder why, other than finances, some people do just fine, as you put it, while others never seem to step over the starting line.  Make a mental list of possibilities.  Don’t test them for validity yet, just think of them, anything that sounds plausible.”  He suddenly smiled, “You’re doing well in school?  What’s your grade point?”


“I think it was three point four.  I made low honors.  That’s for three terms.  Finals didn’t start yet.”


He eyed me and asked, “You do like school, don’t you?”


“I do now,” I said.  “I wasn’t kidding when I said I hated Barents.  I really didn’t like it there.”  Then I remembered seeing Percy at the airport and gushed, “I never told you.  I saw my old roommate from Barents on the way home from Florida.  He left Barents too, when he learned why I left.  He doesn’t want to run a business either.  I forget exactly what kind he said, but he wants to be a scientist.”


Bernie smiled, “I remember little Percy.  Paynter, right?  We’ve had dealings with his family’s business over the years.  It’s a well run outfit.”


I snickered, “Percy ain’t so little anymore.  He’s not even Percy anymore; he’s Dan now, his middle name.  He’s bigger than me and all happy looking.”


Bernie sliced off some more cheese and held a loaded cracker out to me, and looked like he was thinking.  I took the cracker, and he said, “Friends are important to you, aren’t they?  You don’t have to answer; I can see they are.  I hope you don’t think you have to go through life supporting them.”


I said, “I never thought that.  I never said that.”  Bernie’s eyes narrowed, and I said, “I talked to Dad before last Christmas, and we decided to use some money to help other people instead of buying things we don’t need for each other.  I know he gives to charities and everything, but we never see where it really goes.  So anyhow, we decided to do something, but never figured out what it would be.  Then Dana ended up here all frozen, and Dad was talking to the emergency people.  It was so we could see if Dana was hurt at first, and he kept talking and learned things about Dana and Elenora.  We didn’t even know who they were yet, but we decided to help them out because they had a tough life.  We didn’t know what at first, and didn’t really think about it a lot.”


“Don’t stop now,” Bernie said.


I said, “I didn’t stop.  I was getting there.  Anyhow, it was in a blizzard, and it was the next day, late, when Elenora got here.  I thought there was no way she was Dana’s mother, but she was … is.  Dad sent me and Dana to do something, then he made dinner and he sent us away again.”  I smiled, “Well, you know Dad.  When we came back he had this plan all worked out, and made it sound like Elenora would be doing him some huge favor if she’d run a Laundromat he had his eye on.”


Bernie was snickering, because he knows my father better than most anyone.


“He had it all worked out,” I continued.  “I mean, what you saw today was what he thought of in ten minutes last winter while he was making a meatloaf.”


Bernie said, “Meatloaf?” and started laughing, but wheezing because he was trying to be quiet.  He finally said, “You can stop there, Paul.  Please!  I do know your father, but not many of the circumstances surrounding his thoughts.”  He grinned, “I know one that I’ll bet he never told you about.”


I laughed in advance, “Tell me.”


“He told me he had the idea for checkout software for shopping sites when they were bringing you home from the hospital.  He picked your mother up, and the nurse brought you to them in a basket, and then they had to sign forms for ten minutes while you complained loudly.”


“Tell me you’re kidding.  Please tell me it isn’t so!”


“Sorry, Paul, but it’s the truth.  Now that I think of it, you were the real billion dollar baby.”


“No way!”  It was funny, but I didn’t want it to really be true.


Bernie was still laughing.  “Okay, maybe not a billion, but thereabouts.”


I was astounded.  “From one friggin’ idea?”


Bernie smiled, “That’s how it works, Paul.  The design was patented, the process copyrighted, and a company was founded to promote it.  When it caught on, and it did in a huge way, the company was sold and it was time for the next idea.


I asked, “Why don’t I get royalties or something then?”


Bernie smiled, “You’re living off them, Paul.  Tell me why you don’t think you’ll have an inheritance.”


That made me stop and think, but I had said it.  “I said I don’t know about one, and that’s the truth.  I don’t think Dad will leave me in the dust, but I don’t think I’ll see anywhere near a billion dollars.”  I looked at Bernie, “What would it mean to me if I did?  I don’t know what to do with money like that.  Dad doesn’t know what to do with it, does he?  I know he doesn’t.  I mean, he complains about being unemployed, but that’s just a little joke.  He could hire himself for a billion-dollar-a-year salary and nothing would change, because it would just go into a different pocket.”


Bernie suggested, “He could buy up beachfront property, land in the mountains; hell, he could buy mountains, maybe even a state or two.  Yachts, maybe one of those mega-yachts.  He could take glamorous vacations, and bring you along, to the world’s most luxurious resorts.  He could buy his own resort, his own island, skyscrapers. None of that tempts you?”




Bernie grinned.  “No?  That’s it?’


I said, “No, Bernie.  It’s not tempting, not even fun sounding.  I want things.  I mean, I want a license, a car.  I love skiing and the beach.  I know that things aren’t cheap, but lots of people aren’t billionaires and get those things, get to do them.”


Bernie kept prodding me.  “You won’t have to work a day in your life if you don’t want to.  You could collect cars, beautiful cars.  If you wanted to, you’d be able to ski every day of the year, find a sunny beach whenever you like, and stay as long as you care to.”


I said, “I don’t know where you’re going, Bernie.  Do you know what my grandfather said when I asked him how he liked being retired?”


Bernie raised his eyebrows in question.


“He told me that when he wakes up in the morning, he has absolutely nothing to do.”


Bernie waited, and when I didn’t continue he said, “And?”


I tried not to, but I grinned just the same.  “He said that when he goes to bed at night, he’s still not finished.”


Bernie laughed merrily at that one, and fetched another beer.  While he was pouring it in his glass, he said, “Okay, enough poking and prodding.”  He smiled, “Do you have any vision of how you want your life to go?”




Bernie just looked at me.  “Nothing?  Nothing at all?  Yet you want to help other kids to reach their goals, make their dreams reality?”


I said, “That would be nice. Yes.”


He shook his head a little, “So is it your aim to spend your future funding kids who need training they can’t afford?”


“No, I want to do that now … set it in motion.  I don’t see where it will take a lot of work after we’re familiar with the schools.  I mean, we want what these people want for themselves.  You said you can keep people honest, so I don’t see a big challenge.  It’s not something I want us to run ourselves.”


Bernie said, “I see.  I get your point, too; how hard can it be to give away money?  We can solve all that, but we’re getting away from my question.  I’d like to know where you see yourself in five years … ten years.” 


I put on my ‘I’m thinking’ face and sat silent for a minute, then said, “Well, um, me and Dana were thinking that once he has his Olympic gold medals, and I’m out of college, we might start a training program.”


Bernie’s face brightened.  “Keep going; share your idea with me.”


“It’s like this.  Dana’s been caught doing some things he shouldn’t have done, but never really got in trouble even when people knew he did those things.  I have the gift of gab; it’s an Irish thing.  I guess most people call it bullshit when it comes from me, but I just learned today that it’s inherited.”  I smiled brightly at Bernie, “So anyhow, me and Dana have this idea that we could start a program for kids who get in trouble, and teach them the art of bullshitting their way out of it.  You know, give them the skills they need.  We figure we can get funding from all the states because of all the court costs, and all the other expenses of incarceration and et cetera.  If kids can bullshit their way out of trouble, then there are no court costs, no incarcerations, and no et cetera.  To top it off, it will lead to life lessons, so they will continue to cost the system nothing if they decide to move on into adult crime.”  I beamed at my brilliance.


Bernie groaned.  “Asshole.  You’d probably pull it off, too.”


Then he laughed, and I laughed, and I took a sip of his beer.


We talked and laughed some more, and Bernie didn’t push me when I told him I really didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do for a living, nor did I have any plans for the future.  I didn’t know enough, hadn’t seen enough, and had never been challenged seriously by anything.  I knew I wouldn’t be retired before I started, though; I knew that for sure.  There were things I could rule out, like medicine for the ick factor, and anything very technical for my general lack of skills in mathematics and science.  That still left a big, wide world of options, and I decided right then that I should start thinking about them someday.


Bernie headed upstairs to bed after we talked, and I went back to the TV room, turned off the set, and dropped dead on the sofa.


+ + + + + + + +


Ally woke me the next morning.  She didn’t mean to, but didn’t know I’d slept in the TV room, and she came in with a coffee to watch the early news.  I heard the door open, and opened my eyes just when she was about to sit on me.  I quickly rolled to the floor, tangling myself in the blanket.  Luckily, she noticed me before she stepped on anything vital, and I managed to squirm away.


She stood there, hands on hips, and eyed me suspiciously.  “Why are you on the floor?  Why are you trying to crawl under the coffee table?”


I managed to free my mouth from the blanket, and I smiled.  “Hi.  Um, no real reason; I was just trying to come up with an escape strategy for when I might … you know, someday … come under a rhinoceros attack.”


“Oh,” she said as she sat down.  “I don’t think you really have to worry about that in Vermont.”


“I think you’re right,” I said.  “I didn’t really have Vermont in mind, but we’re going skiing in South America this summer, and I don’t want to go without a plan.”


Ally sighed, like she does when she smells crap. “Paul, the Andes is probably the last place you’ll have to worry about a rhinoceros attack.”


“You don’t know that,” I said, knowing my time was getting short. “One could escape from a zoo, and it would be just my luck.”  I was finally free of the blanket and headed for the door.  I took one last shot.  “Nobody cares if I end up being a nose decoration on a stupid rhinoceros.”


I hurried upstairs to my room, noticed that the bed was empty and the bathroom was tied up once again.  It didn’t matter in this house; there are bathrooms everywhere.  I got some underwear out of my bag and headed down the hall to another room.  I went back to my own room after my shower, and it was empty.  The bed was done up like a hotel maid had been there, and when I went to shave and comb my hair I couldn’t even hold my hand steady, I was laughing so hard.  The end of the toilet roll was fixed up like the little baskets the maid in Florida did, and the tissue showing from the Kleenex holder was fanned up like a seashell.


It was too funny, and I nicked my ear shaving, because every time I saw that seashell it changed my focus.  I didn’t know an ear would bleed so much, but faced with the choice of ruining the toilet roll or the tissue box, I ran back down the hall to where I’d showered and pulled about fifty feet of toilet paper from there, and hurried back to my own bathroom with the big wad in my hand.


I kept sticking bits of paper to my ear until it stopped bleeding, and then brushed my teeth.  I had forgotten that I never finished shaving, and when I remembered that I forgot, I went back and shaved again, not altogether certain where I’d left off the last time.


When I was done, I was not in a good mood, and I had a bloody wad of toilet paper decorating my ear.  I took my desk chair out to the deck and sat there.  The railing was right in front of my eyes, but seeing something wasn’t important right then.  I needed a good sulk, and there was no reason for it.  It just happens.  I was in a pissy mood for no good reason, and I knew nothing good would come of it if I flapped my mouth.  So I sat and stared at the railing for a good half-hour.


When I had my head to a point where I was more dazed than angry, I heard a noise in the room behind me, and Dana stuck his head out.  “There you are!  Aren’t you going to eat?  Didn’t you hear us calling?  What the hell happened to your ear?”


I grumbled, “I had van Gogh moment.”




I said, “Never mind.  Let me get dressed and I’ll be right down.”


Dana gave me a look and asked, “What’s wrong?”


I was ready to voice a complaint or two, and shook my head instead.  “Nothing.  I just woke up grouchy is all.”


He said, “Better move, then.  We’re gonna do some hiking, maybe have a picnic.”


I took another look off the deck, and it was a beautiful morning.  Hiking sounded good, and my mood changed.   “Hike where?”  I asked, as I got up and went into the room.  “All I brought are sneakers.”


“That’s fine,” Dana said, and left the room.


I got out of my sweats, pulled a pair of jeans on, and I had to struggle to button them, but they were long enough.  I looked in the closet and I did have an old pair of hiking shoes there, but I couldn’t get them on my feet, so I went with the sneaks.  I got into one of my new shirts and headed down the stairs.


I wish I’d thought to look in the mirror first, because both my mother and Elenora shrieked when I walked into the kitchen, and my mother was all over me at once.


“Oh, Paul!  What have you done to your ear?


I swore under my breath and ran to the bathroom, where I saw the toilet paper on my ear, and the entire mess of it was red.  I had to wet the paper to get it off because it had become properly glued to me, and when it was off the nick opened again, so I was bleeding all anew.  Instead of toilet paper, I took a wash cloth and held it against my ear so I wouldn’t drip, then quickly moistened it and put it back on my ear, determined to have some breakfast no matter who I grossed out.


I walked back into the kitchen, washcloth at my ear, and Ally was suddenly beside me saying, “Okay, Buster.  Let me have a look.”  She pulled my hand away with the cloth in it, and slapped it right back where it came from.  She said, “Wait right here,” and hurried upstairs.


I looked around and everyone was looking at me.  “What?”


They all got busy after that, and Ally was back in a minute.  She said, “Stay where you are.  Don’t move, because this will sting.”  She pulled my hand away again and rubbed something hard across the nick, back and forth, and it really did sting.  It only took a few seconds before she said, “There.  Give me the cloth and eat your breakfast.”


I sat down at the table kind of sheepishly.  What I really wanted to do was look in the mirror again to see if my now-burning ear had actually stopped bleeding, but a few exploratory touches with my finger told me it had.


I really thought everyone else would have eaten, but Dad and Elenora put out a plate of biscuits, one of bacon and sausages, and they started taking orders for eggs.  We had to get our own coffee, juice and milk from the counter.  I got an OJ, and the first thing I reached for was a biscuit.  It was warm, and with a little butter, fantastic.  Ally’s doing, no doubt.


My bad mood had evaporated, and breakfast was loud and cheerful, with Elenora and Dana suggesting place after place to hike.  We weren’t equipped for real hiking, so we ended up walking the trails of a cross-country ski area that ran between a road and the river.


It was a nice place to be on a sunny day.  The trails ran through piney woods, open fields, and beneath shade trees along the river, which was still in freshet with the last of the mountain runoff.  There were hills along the trails, but they weren’t steep.  It was easy going, and we saw other couples and small groups around, and were passed several times by runners and cyclists.  When we were walking along the river, there were a surprising number of people in canoes and kayaks out enjoying the fast water.


Even with the easy going, when we got back near the cars we’d gone over four miles by Ally’s pedometer, and Dad said we shouldn’t push it.  I think he did that for Bernie’s sake.  Bernie wasn’t really breathing hard, but he was red and sweaty looking.


Dana smacked my arm and asked, “Wanna race?”


He seemed serious, so I asked, “Where?”


“Where we just went.  C’mon … one time around.”


I shrugged and took off at a trot.  Dana passed me in a sprint, but I caught up after about five minutes because he’d exhausted himself, or so I thought.  We ran side-by-side for a while and he took off again.  I picked up my pace a little, and caught him again, and he was breathing hard.  I actually got ahead of him for a little bit, but he flew by me once again, and it continued like that until I caught up to him one last time, and we reached the others together.


Ally handed each of us water in reusable, insulated cups.  She refused to buy bottled water because she was sick of seeing every beautiful walking area littered with plastic water bottles.  I didn’t mind the cup, because our well water was plenty cold and tasted as good as anything from a bottle.


Dana and I were both sweating, and we sat beside each other under a tree to cool down.  I asked, “Why do you run like that?”


He looked at me, “Like what?  Oh, you mean the sprints?  That’s ski training.  It makes running more like cruising, like at first you’re on nice easy stuff, and then you hit a steep with moguls and have to really work at it.  It gets you used to changing your breathing in a hurry.”


“Oh,” I said, thinking about that.


“At school we have to run up a hill full speed and just jog back down.”  He frowned, “Over and over.  You know it’s working the parts you need to work, but it’s really boring.  There’s nothing better than being in snow and doing the real thing.”


I asked, “Did you look at skiing in South America at all?”


“I looked some.  You?”


I shook my head, “Not yet.  What looks good?”


Chile looks nice.  The ski places there aren’t like around here.  They have their own hotel and their own couple of restaurants, but nothing much else.  The best places are only around twenty miles from the capital.  There are four areas right there.  I always heard about Portillo, but that looks almost like a club.  You pay for a week and ski with the same people all week, and a lot of it’s just simple slopes.  The other places are more for skiing; they’re higher up and have steeper trails.  We can get a helicopter to take us away from the areas if you’re up for that.”


I was getting excited and said, “Let’s go there!”


Dana looked at me and said, “It’s mostly powder there.  You’ve skied that, right?”


I said I had, and Dana said, “Good.  You can keep me alive until I figure it out.  We don’t get much real powder here, and the machines knock it down before you get a good chance to try it.”


I said, “We can both take a lesson.  So it’s Chile?  We should tell Dad so he can make plans.”


Dana looked worried, “He said we should make our own.”


I snickered, “I think we just did.  I don’t think he means for us to find our own hotels and things like that.”


Dana pointed his finger at Dad and asked, “Think we can find out now?”


Dad was in a semi-circle with his parents, Elenora, Mom and Ally.  Rhod and Bernie were off to one side, and appeared to be telling jokes.


I said, “We can try,” and pushed myself up to a standing position, where I brushed pine needles off my butt.


We walked over behind Dad and I tapped his shoulder.  I think that was a mistake, because he jumped like I’d touched him with an electric wire.  He spun around with a totally startled look on his face, and it took a second for him to focus on us.  “Jesus!” he said.  “Don’t do that.”  He took a breath, smiled, and asked, “What’s up?”


“We want to go to Chile,” I said.




“No, in …” I looked at Dana.




“August,” I agreed.


“August,” Dad repeated.  “When in August, and for how long?”


Dana said, “Around the first and … can we stay till the end of October?”


Dad started, “If that’s what you want … wait a minute.”  He put a hand on my shoulder and his other on Dana’s, and addressed Dana.  “If Paul wants to, he can stay till he’s thirty, but you absolutely have to be back by the time school starts.  When is that?”


Elenora said, “It starts right around Labor Day, and Dana will be back two weeks after he leaves.  That’s the offer you made them.” 


She smiled and wagged her finger in front of Dana’s face and said gently, “You have a new life, baby.  Take what you get, and don’t slip back into your old ways.”  She put a hand on each side of Dana’s head and pulled him to her.  “God, I love you Dana,” she sniffed.  She said very slowly, one word at a time, “Don’t mess it up.”  She added, speaking normally, “Don’t take advantage.  It’s your turn to share.”


She let Dana go, and he turned his back on everyone and walked away.  At first I thought he was angry at something, but when his shoulders shook I realized he was crying.  I started to go after him, but Dad held my arm and stayed me with his eyes.  “Let me.”


Dad followed Dana and they soon disappeared in the trees.  Everyone watched until they were out of sight, and my grandmother asked, “What do you suppose brought that on?”


I shrugged and Elenora said, “I don’t really know.  Dana is very touchy sometimes, so something I said must have bothered him.”


Ally remarked, “I didn’t hear anything out of line,” and looked at me.  “What were you two just talking about?”


“Skiing.  We were supposed to spend some time looking at places in the Andes to go skiing, but Dana was ahead of me.  He compared the places and all I did was agree with him.”


Elenora said, “It had to be something I said.  I’ll go and talk to him.”


Grandpa said, “Never mind.  Here they come.”


I turned and Dad was walking with his hand on Dana’s shoulder talking to him.  I don’t know how they knew where they were going, because they were looking at each other.  They didn’t stumble, though, and when they were close enough Dana stopped and said, “Mom?”  When Elenora looked, he made a little ‘come here’ gesture with his hand and she went over to him.  Dad patted Elenora’s arm when they passed, and then joined us, while Dana and Elenora walked away, apparently talking.


“What was that about?”  Grandma asked.


Dad shrugged and smiled, “Nothing to worry the rest of us.  Is anyone else tired of restaurants?  Why don’t we get some fixings and cook out at home?”


I mumbled, “Nice segue,” under my breath.  Rhod heard me and poked my arm so I’d see his smile.


Everyone said a cookout sounded fine, and Rhod volunteered to pick up some food if I’d show him the way to the store   Dad and Rhod talked a bit about what to get, and Dad asked if Rhod needed some money.  Rhod said, “After all you’ve done for me, I think I can swing some picnic food.  I guess we’ll just meet back at your house, then.”


I left with Rhod in his crappy looking old Volvo, pointed the way, and asked, “Why are you driving this thing?  I would have thought a Ferrari or something.”


Rhod laughed.  “I live in Manhattan.  It costs more to garage a car for a year than to buy one.  I can leave this thing on the street and not worry about it.  It looks more beat than it is.  It only has just over sixty thousand miles on it after seven years.”


I said, “I believe that about parking.  Ally told me what she paid for her garage space and it’s …”


“Beyond comprehension, I’ll bet.  I’ve heard about a single spot in a condo’s garage going for a quarter million dollars.  And people bid for them.”


I said, “Crazy … bear to the left up here.”


We parked in front of the IGA in about two more minutes, and Rhod got out and opened the back door to the car before we went into the store.  He reached in and came out wearing the same cowboy hat that he used the day before, but wore regular glasses instead of shades.


I asked him if he wore glasses and he said they were just plain glass ones like they used as props.  The effect was just as good as the shades.  I wouldn’t have recognized him.


We got a cart in the store, picked up some lettuce, tomatoes and onions, a jar of mayonnaise, bottles of ketchup and mustard, and packages of hamburger and hot dog rolls.  Rhod went to the meat counter while I went to the dairy cooler and got butter, milk and cheese before joining Rhod.


Rhod was still looking at the meats when I got there, and he asked me what kind of hot dogs were good.  I told him the ones with natural casings, and there were some fat ones there so he asked for a dozen.  The man behind the counter seemed suspicious of us, but that’s not out of the ordinary in Stockton.  It was when Rhod asked me if I thought two pounds of hamburger would be enough that things changed.


“You don’t know my father, Rhod.  He gets maybe five burgers out of two pounds.  Better get like five pounds, and buy the sirloin or the round.  He watches the fat he eats.”


When I looked back, the guy behind the counter was really staring at me.  “What’s your name, son?”


The question surprised me, and I considered a wisecrack, but I didn’t.  “I’m Paul Dunn.”


The man beamed.  “That’s what I thought.  You’re Frank’s kid.  I knew it when you said two pounds of beef for five burgers.  I’ll tell you, I wish I had fifty Frank Dunns buying here; I might be able to retire someday.”  He looked at Rhod, “You take the sirloin.  I just put it out a half hour ago, ground fresh: Black Angus, the best.”  He peered at Rhod, “You look like a westerner, but you’re from New York, right?  I know the accent.”


Rhod took off the hat and glasses and smiled, “Guilty.”


The grocer’s jaw dropped, and he looked behind him and called, “Fran!  Come out here right now, will you?”


I expected to see his wife, but a young woman came out and stopped in her tracks when she saw Rhod.  Her hands went right to her hair and she said, “Oh, my.  Rhod Daniels, it’s you.  I heard you were in town yesterday.  Oh!  Excuse the way I look, I was just making potato salad in the back.”


Rhod smiled and said, “Potato salad is on my list, and I’ve been told you make a fine one here.”


Actually, Dad had told him that it was passable potato salad and the baked beans were pretty good.  That didn’t matter to Fran; she was swooning.


The grocer disappeared for a moment, and reappeared almost immediately through a door beside the counter.  He held his hand out to shake with Rhod.  “I’m Horvath: Ralph Horvath, as in Horvath’s IGA.  What brings you to Stockton?”


Rod grinned, “I came so I could be at the Danamat opening.”


Fran appeared behind Mr. Horvath, and he stepped aside, announcing proudly, “This is my daughter Frances.”  He glanced at her and said, “Why don’t you say hello while I get the order ready?”


While he was wrapping the meat, Mr. Horvath said to me, “Tell your father that his opening did wonders for my own business yesterday, and for others along the road, too.  I sure hope everything works out for you.”  He smiled, handed me two packages of meat and asked, “Um, did you want potato salad, too?”


“Oh yeah, and do you have baked beans?”


“Always have beans.  How many people?”


Mom always said, ‘Better too much than too little, and we had all been walking, do I said, “Figure on twelve … that should be good.”


“Coming up.  You sure a dozen hot dogs are enough?”


I wasn’t.  “Let’s make it two dozen.  I’ll get some more rolls.”


When everything we needed was in the cart, we checked out and put the food in the trunk.  Rhod told me to wait while he took a publicity photo out of a box and a pen from the glove box, and went back inside to autograph it for Fran.  He was back out in five minutes with his hat on his head and his glasses in hand, and beaming a bright smile.


He got in and drove away, and I reminded him that we lived in the other direction.  He said, “I knew that,” and swung around at a gas station.


When we were on the way to the house I said, “You like that, don’t you?  I mean being the way you are with your fans.”


He smiled, “Most of the time I do.  Some people can be rude, but most treat me pretty much like they see me on television, thinking I’m this real level-headed arbitrator type of guy.  I can ask nicely to be left alone, and they see me in my role and go away.  Men who play real lady-killer types have to take off running sometimes.”


That struck me funny, and I laughed while Rhod drove right by our driveway.  I didn’t even bother to say anything because the road ended with a turnaround just a few houses up.  We got to that, and Rhod asked, “Did I go wrong somewhere?”


I said, “No, just follow the road.”


He did, and I warned him when we were close to the house because the turn into the drive was very sharp from uphill.  I knew that because Dad drove past his own house almost as often as he remembered where it was.


Ally’s car, as well as Bernie’s and my grandfather’s were there when we pulled in, but Elenora’s wasn’t yet, and I wondered about that.


I don’t know if Rhod noticed it missing, or if it was just coincidental that he asked, “What do you think upset Dana before?”

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to guess myself.  “He’s not usually real touchy, but he is sometimes.”


“I should leave it alone?”


I nodded, “I’m going to.”


We brought the groceries in, and it was Dad who held the door for us.  That was a surprise, and I asked, “Where’s Elenora and Dana?”


Dad grimaced and said, “Jogging.  Leave it be, Paul.  They’ll be here when they get here.”  He took the bag I was carrying, and I went to the car for the last one.  I couldn’t close the trunk, so I came back out once again.  Even with two hands it was hard to close, but it finally made a boing and a thunk and I hoped the boing wasn’t something breaking.


Ally and my mother had pulled some of the deck furniture out.  They were cleaning it as they set it up.  The gas grill wasn’t there, so Dad would be using the indoor grill.  Mom and Ally were almost done, so I went in and asked Dad if he needed help, but his mother and father were already there.


I went upstairs for a quick shower and to change, and when I went to comb my hair my freaking ear was bleeding again, this time dripping on my shoulder.  I pulled a pair of shorts on, stemmed the bleeding with another washcloth, and marched downstairs and onto the deck where I asked Ally, “Where’s that stuff?  Look at me.”


She took a look and said, “Come with me.”  I followed her upstairs to the room she and mom used, and she was in and out of the bathroom in a few seconds with a little tube in her hand.  “Keep it, Paul.  It’s a styptic pencil.  Take the cover off, hold it end-up, and rub it over your nick … gently.  Keep it in your shaving kit.”


I took the thing and looked at it, and at Ally.  ‘What’s styptic?”


She said impatiently, “I don’t know.  It’s alum or something similar.”


I wasn’t used to Ally’s tone of voice and asked meekly, “Are you mad at me for something?”


She looked at me in surprise, sighed, and said, “Oh, of course not.  I’m sorry.  I’ve just been on edge today for no good reason.”


“I think it’s catching,” I said.  “Forget it, I’m the same way.”


Ally kissed at me and left, and I went to my room to tend to my ear.  The word styptic didn’t mean anything to me, but it sounded somehow right for the job it did, because it once again closed up the tiny cut on my ear.


I tried some of the shirts from my drawer, but I’d outgrown them all.  I didn’t have another new one, so I dug through my t-shirts until I found one with a Killington logo that fit fine.


I had socks in my hand when I decided I didn’t need them, or shoes, and went downstairs in just shorts and my tee shirt, which was like my summer uniform.  Elenora and Dana still weren’t there, so I slipped into the living room and called Dana’s cell, pretty much expecting no answer.


He picked up halfway through the third ring and asked, “What’s up?”


“I was just wondering where you are.  What’s going on?”


Dana said, “We’re just turning up the mountain road now.  We’ll be right there.”


“Everything’s okay?” I asked.


Dana sounded surprised, “Why wouldn’t it be?  We’ll be there in a minute, so hang up.”


I did, and wondered why I’d been worried to begin with.  Dana and Elenora always sorted things out when they went at each other, just like I did with Mom and Dad. Whatever it was that day just took longer than usual.


When I went back to the kitchen, I was really glad I’d picked up an extra dozen hot dogs, because Heinrich and Karen were there, and Heinrich was plugging in his laptop to show Ally the before, during, and after pictures of the Danamat project, which I wanted to see myself.  When he had it ready, he gave his seat up to Ally and stood back after he showed her how to advance the pictures at her own pace.  I stood beside Heinrich so I could see.  The first pictures were only interesting in a half-ass way:  pictures of the building, pictures of dumpsters being delivered, of the old roof and siding coming off, material being delivered for the reconstruction and things like that.  The first pictures of the men gutting the upstairs were neat, but that got old after a while.  Ally skipped through a lot of them, stopping only long enough to see that the current one was just like the one before it.


There were things I didn’t know, like the fact that the six peaks that made up the outline of the second floor had been pre-built, and were lifted into place with a crane.  Then the roof went on, followed by the shingles, and the glass was installed.  Those shots at least showed progress, so they were neat to look at.


The next photos were of the original water supply system in the basement, which looked positively amateurish compared to its replacement.  The first pictures just showed the tanks being set in place, and the next several were of different tanks that we hadn’t seen at all.


Heinrich had stopped narrating, and I asked, “What’s that?  I didn’t see those.”


Heinrich said, “That’s just the wastewater recovery system.  It’s quite boring.”


“What does it do?” I asked, and Ally had turned to see Heinrich’s reply.


“It filters the water so we can reuse it.”


“How well is it filtered?” Ally asked.


“The water is clean, and it goes back into our hot water system instead of the septic system.  We hope to recover at least seventy-five percent, perhaps more.”


Ally looked at Heinrich and asked, “You don’t think that’s interesting?  I find it fascinating that a laundry can be green like that.  What happens to the soap and impurities in the water?”


“Different filtration methods are used.  The actual solids, the large ones like hair, lint, sand and whatnot are screened out early in the process.  They go into a drum that can be emptied into the dumpster.  Then the water enters another filter, where tiny solids are trapped, and moves on to the third filter system which gets out the oils, soap, grease, odors, and anything organic.  Then it is stored until needed, and goes through a last process of treatment with ultra violet and ozone that kills any bacteria or viruses.  There are several steps, but it’s not really complicated.”


We went back to the slide show.  It was neat to see the place going together, but there were too many pictures to really hold my interest.  When Ally reached the pictures of the finished men’s room I asked her to stop and looked at Heinrich.  Can you send me some pictures of this tile work?  I know the man who makes those tiles.”


Heinrich seemed surprised, “You know Mr. Mongillo?  He is an artist, don’t you think?”


I agreed, and Heinrich said, “I have some videos of the waterfalls.  They are each different than the other.  I’ll put them on a disk for you; they might be too big for email.”


I had been paying attention to the pictures, and only remembered that Dana was back when I heard him talking to Rhod out on the deck.  I excused myself from the picture show and went out there.  Dana and Rhod had their backs to me while they stood close together leaning on the rail.  From that deck the woods are close-in, which gives it a nice sense of privacy.  They were talking away cheerfully and I decided not to butt in.  My legs were a bit sore from standing all day at the Laundromat the day before, and from hiking and running earlier, so I plopped down in a chair where Grandpa was talking to Bernie.


Bernie smirked and said, “I was wondering what it might take to wear you out.  You sure know how to use up a day.”


“Yes he does,” Grandpa said.  He looked at me, “When your father was the age you are he was the same way.  He was always running eight ways from Sunday.  He wore out as many bicycle tires as that Armstrong boy, and likely even more shoes.”  Grandpa was smiling at the recollection.


I asked, “He never got into trouble?”


Bernie looked like he was suppressing a laugh.  Grandpa said, “Sure he got in trouble, plenty of it.  Nothing like criminal trouble, not stealing or anything, but he was pretty rambunctious.”


“Like what?” I asked.


“Oh, it was silly things mostly.  He had a slingshot he wasn’t very good with, and he hit some things that shouldn’t have been hit, like a barn window down the road and the only streetlight in town.  Then he was always dreaming up things, like the time he decided to wrap his sled runners with plumber’s tape.  He hit the woods so fast it’s a wonder he didn’t knock his head off.”


Bernie said, philosophically I guess, “Ah.  You know, the saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention.  I think that the real mother might be an enlightened and free childhood, and necessity is the grandmother, or maybe an aunt or something.”


I started laughing.  “Necessity is the aunt of invention?  That’s funny.  Why not second cousin?”  I’d lost my concentration wondering if Dad was actually bad with his slingshot and broke things when he was trying to shoot something else, or if that was only his excuse, and he hit exactly what he meant to and only said oops to mask his intentions.


I was feeling foolish, and the yak around me was all lighthearted, so the day was fun again.  Dana was cheerful, so whatever passed between him and Elenora earlier was already history, and I didn’t feel any desire to know the details.


Ally gave us fair warning that the food was almost ready, and to find a place to eat.  We’d been kind of huddled around a single table, so I moved to another one and was followed by Dana, Rhod and Bernie.


Dad came out to make sure that everyone wanted their burgers medium-rare and their hot dogs scorched, and he didn’t wait around for any dissent.  Mom brought the potato salad out in bowls for each table, and came back shortly to serve baked beans the same way.  Bottles of wine appeared along with dishes of ketchup, mustard and relish, and other dishes with sliced onions and tomatoes.


After a while, Mom came out with a tray of grilled rolls and offered them around.  I think most everyone took one of each, hot dot and hamburger, to get started with.  Rhod was the only one who didn’t know what to expect from my father’s hamburgers, but he learned soon enough when Dad dropped one on his bun.  Dad not only uses a lot of meat in his burgers, but he forms them very loosely so they look about double the size they might.  The fat hot dogs had swollen with cooking, so they looked huge too, with the skin popped open in places and the insides poking out.


Rhod looked at his plate and said, “Oh my,” but his face displayed happy anticipation.


It all looked good to me, and I stacked my hamburger even higher with slices of cheese, onion and tomato on top.  I put mayo and lettuce on the top half of the bun and used both hands to put the thing together.  It looked beautiful, about four inches thick.  Of course, in order to eat it I had to squish it down, which released a ton of juices, some dangerously close to the opposite side of the table.  No matter, we had napkins.  I proceeded to fix up my hot dog, which I like pretty simple.  I decorated it with a little chopped onion, mustard and ketchup, and decided to go ahead and eat that first.  About halfway through, I put some beans on my plate thinking they’d be better with a hot dog than with the hamburger.


The Horvaths really did make good beans.  There were lots of different ones in the mix along with bits of onion and pepper, and the sauce they were cooked in was almost like a sweet and sour sauce: very yummy.


We all munched away with very little talk until I went inside to get another hamburger and that caused a stir with Bernie and Rhod, who were both politely muffling their burps.  Rhod seemed alarmed.  “You’re going to have a second one of … those?  Where will you put it?”


I used Dad’s old line.  “One’s for the body, one’s for the brain.  If you ask me tomorry, I’ll be saying the same.”


In the kitchen I was debating whether to put the burger in the microwave or start the grill again to warm it up.  I decided on the grill and got the flame going.  I waited a minute to get the grids hot, and before I put the meat on, Dana and Ally both turned up asking for seconds.


I put three hamburgers on the grill, thinking about a minute a side would get them warm enough without overcooking them.  I set the timer for a minute, and then looked around for the rolls.  No rolls.


“Can you find the rolls?” I asked, and that got Dana and Ally both poking around the kitchen looking for them, but with no luck.  The timer went off and I flipped the burgers and set the timer for another minute, feeling a bit desperate, so before the timer went off again I got a plate out of the cupboard and put the meat on that.


I said, “These are ready.  Who needs another bun anyhow?  We’re not here to eat Wonder Bread; we’re here to eat man food.”  I looked at Ally and my right hand started moving, like it was apologizing for my mouth, but Ally is Ally.  “Man food,” I repeated, and walked back out onto the deck with the plate.  I brought one to Ally’s place and deposited it before bringing the others back for me and Dana.


We both ate them pretty much plain.  Dana used a little ketchup, and I took a couple of tomato slices.  I don’t know about Dana, but mine was just as good the second time around, bun or no bun.  I was definitely full when I finished it, though, and remembered with some regret the standard snide comment at Barent’s after a particularly good meal, where the words I wonder what the poor people are doing always raised a laugh.  God, I hated that.


Bernie turned the talk to serious when he asked Dana, “Dana, have you told Rhod yet about your plans for that money?  I think it’s fair that you let him know.”


Dana gulped, blushed, glanced at me first, Bernie second, and turned to Rhod.  Then he looked back at Bernie, “It’s decided?”


Bernie smiled and said, “It’s decided.  Go ahead and tell him.”


Dana took a long time with his eyes looking up, down, and all around, his mouth tight, and his hand jittery enough that he clamped his other one over it.  He looked at Rhod and said, “I gave Bernie that check to invest.  He said it’s not really a good time for that because things are going down.  I’m putting eighty-five percent into a bunch of CDs at some small banks, and Bernie’s gonna put the rest at … at risk.  Not too much risk, he says, because he thinks some things will be safe and make money.”


Rhod smiled at Dana like he was really admiring him.  Then he turned to Bernie and said, “Maybe we should talk, Mr. Sutton.  What do you say?”


Bernie said, “I’ll get you my card.  I’m going to be in Manhattan Tuesday and Wednesday.  I’m booked for meals but I have free time both afternoons.”


Rhod thought for a second and said, “That fits.”  He smiled, “I’ll call you tomorrow, if that’s alright, to firm up a time and place.”


Bernie smiled, and they both stood and shook hands.


I looked at Dana and asked, “What stocks are still gonna be safe?”


He shrugged, “Lego and Apple Computer.  That’s what Bernie says.  He says I should think big.”


+ + + + + + + +


Lego and Apple, I was thinking on the drive back to Brattleboro.  It sounded more like something I’d think of than Bernard Sutton.  Playthings:  high-tech Apple and no-tech Lego.  It figured that toys would survive in a rotten economy.


I called Lisa when we were finally on the Interstate, and said I’d be home in about an hour and, since she was no longer grounded, asked if she wanted to come over.  We could pick her up on the way.


“Hold on, I have to ask.”  I waited for about two minutes and she came back on.  “I can come over for a while, but you don’t have to pick me up.  Call me when you’re home and my father will bring me.  He wants to see you, too.  Is that okay?”


I said, “That’s fine,” hoping it was.  I still carried an image of an angry Mr. Mongillo with an ever-larger Bowie knife in his hand, aimed right at my rear-end.  I thought I had a bargaining chip with the DVD Heinrich had given me with pictures of all the tile work, including the waterfalls complete with sound.


We talked until my low battery signal started beeping, and I told Lisa I’d call when we got home.


We were still at least a half-hour out, so I closed my eyes and came to only when Ally slowed for the exit.  I knew where we were just from looking out the window, so we rode on to the house with Mom and Ally speaking softly in the front.  I could hear the sounds, but not the words.  I helped carry our things into the house, then went back with Ally to retrieve the antique sled they’d found at a shop.  It was a little wooden thing, clearly handmade, and most of the original red paint still clung to it.


Looking at the sled, I could appreciate the work that went into it.  Some father might have made it for a child a hundred and more years ago, or made it for someone else’s kid.  The crafter and child would be dead and buried, but this toy survived them both, and I was too big by far to even try it out.  It looked like, with a little soap on the runners, it would give a nice ride to someone about six years old or so.


I carried it into the house and left it against the wall in the living room by the fireplace.  Then I took my bag up to my room, washed up, and called Lisa.


+ + + + + + + +


“Look at that!  Will you just look?  A waterfall!  That’s not something I ever thought of.  It’s beautiful, just …” Lisa’s father looked at me, “Do you think I can get a copy to show customers?”


That was Mr. Mongillo’s first reaction to the pictures taken in the mens room of the Danamat, and when he saw the copper fixtures that matched the copper in his tiles I thought he might cry.  I had to rescue Lisa from his grip and let her sit on my leg.  That was a good and bad idea.  Good because I could hold her close in the presence of her father, and bad because her weight hurt my overworked leg.  I didn’t move though, and I wouldn’t.


The video of the ladies room had her poor father almost orgasmic.  The tiles in there were basically a very dark green, with other hues mixed in, and the metallic streaks were golden.  The waterfall was different, too, because the wall didn’t make a simple curve like in the mens room, but took a wavy path around the same arc, and there were several smaller cascades instead of the one big curved sheet.  It’s awesome, and I added artist to my idea of Heinrich’s many talents.  The fixtures in there were also gold, the stall doors black with brass trim, and the overall look was awesome, really gorgeous.


When it stopped, I said, “I can make you a copy right now.  The computer up in the office has two DVD recorders.  It’ll take about ten minutes.”


Mr. Mongillo looked at me and asked, “You don’t mind?”


“No, not at all.”  I gave Lisa’s shoulder a stroke and continued right down her arm.  I whispered, “I can’t get up with you on my leg.”


She stood with her back to her father and asked, “Can I watch?  I’ve never seen a copy being made.”


The ever-insightful Ally said, “Joe, why don’t we adults sit in the kitchen and have some coffee while Paul does his thing with that disk of his?”


Ally can be evil.  Exchange one little s with one little c and you can see what she was suggesting, which was exactly what I was thinking.


They went to the kitchen, I extracted the disk, and Lisa and I headed upstairs to the privacy of Dad’s office.  While the computer was booting, I got a blank DVD from my room, got the copy going, and spent a very pleasant twelve minutes and forty seconds with Lisa.  When the copy popped out, I decided that a second one was a good idea, so while Lisa labeled that one I got another disk and we started over again.  When that one popped out and was labeled, it seemed that it would be a good idea for us to watch them both to make sure the copies were good, which they were.


We both knew we’d pushed our luck, so with the disks in sleeves we went downstairs and into the kitchen.  Lisa’s father looked up when I held the disks out and said, “Already finished?  That was fast.  What’s this, two of them?”


I smiled and shrugged, “Well, yeah.  Better safe than sorry is what I always say.”  I caught my mother rolling her eyes in a big way and decided that it would be a good idea for me to lay off, or at least spread it thinner.


We all protested when Mr. Mongillo said they should be going, but I’m sure he wanted to show those pictures and videos to his own family, and whoever else had an interest in his tiles.


I did kiss Lisa kind of in front of him after I walked to the car with them.  He was already in the car so I don’t know what he saw, and I wasn’t really worried about it.  We had some protection around there somewhere, looking over us.  I just wondered how much they saw.


Nobody was really hungry that night, so we just skipped dinner, and I walked over to Tommy’s to see what he was up to, and to seek ideas about how to finagle Gary into seeing an unknown specialist in an undetermined place.


His father opened the door for me and said, “Hi Paul, what’s up?”


I said, “I have come to seek the wisdom of the great Tomasso.”


He backed up and grinned, “You what?  Honey, come here.  You have to hear this for yourself.”


Mrs. Timek showed up in a second, and held her arms wide to me.  We hugged, and she asked, “How was your weekend?  Was the opening all you hoped it would be?”


I said, “I think it was great.  I was on TV, you know.”


“We saw you,” Mr. Timek said.  “So you just happened to drive up just for the opening?”


“That’s exactly what we did”


Mr. Timek laughed.  “I um, I think you neglected to mention you owned the place.”


“Did I?  I guess nobody asked.  What did you think about it?  The Danamat I mean.”


Mr. Timek was suddenly serious, and asked, “How is your father doing?”


Both of Tom’s parents were looking at me.  I said, “I think he’s fine.  He’s just totally back to normal.”


“That is very good news,” Mrs. Timek said.  “As for the Danamat, I think it looks wonderful.  I haven’t had to use a public laundry in years, and they were always such bleak places.  I do think you’re on to something.”


Tom’s father put his hand on his wife’s shoulder and said, “Paul is here to see Tom.  Let me get him.  Tommy!” he bellowed, “Front and center.  You have company.”


I started into the house, finally, and Tom came hurrying down the hall.  He was barefoot and bare-chested, wearing only sweat shorts.  He stopped short when he saw me and exclaimed, “It’s alive!”  His parents disappeared, and he said, “I saw you on television,” as he tugged me toward his room.


When we were there he sat on his bed and asked, “What’s up?”


I meant to tell him that we needed a ploy to get Gary some help.


That’s what I meant to say.


It came out, “We need to make a real UFO.”