“By crackulous! You young punks listen up good! You don’t know nothin’ by crackie (Pronounced cray-kye!) . Filthy young hippies! (Pronounced Hip-eyes). With your dirty minds! You young people are too sexy! Now listen up! It was the great winter ❄️ of ‘46 by Crackamundo!”
The old man 👴 loaned (past sideways participle of lean) back in his rocking chair.
“92 inches of Schnee, 52 degrees below zero in Philadelphia. My pap (Pronounced pap-wise papification) purchased me a brand spankin’ new 1946 Studebaker Commander. Sure was a fine lookin’ Auto-Mobile by crack-wise crackification! I drove her all the way down to the University of Miami with nary a scratch and only one dangling modifier.”
”I remember that drive well! I stopped at every Barbeque joint, reeferstick hut and whorehouse from Philly to Tampa. I found me the dirtiest, smelliest, fattest, oldest, ugliest, yummiest whores. Ah the smell of it, by Kraken!”
”Well I found me a nice apartment rented to me by one of them Cuban broads. There was a 20 space covered garage (Pronounced gah-rhaaaaj) I got space number 20 at the far end. It was January 20 of 19 aught 47. That night I heard on my radio 📻 that a huge Hurricane was a comin’ I remember me a few back in my Army Air Corps Training back in 19 aught 42. By Quraquie!”
”Well I was at class when the storm hit. They warned people to get their cars out of the garage but I plum forgot. When I got back to my apartment the entire garage was collapsed and all the cars 🚗 destroyed excepting for slot number 20. Not a scratch on my Studebaker. Them bastards never forgave me. Oh well 😔 time to change my diaperous bowel genie 🧞♂️!”
I didn’t mean to ruin Christmas, that is to say, as it were, that it didn’t start out in such a fashion. It was my intention to visit my brother at his College town. He was the boarder of a rather eccentric Madame G. who kept an ancient Tudor-style boarding house at 1 Hickory Lane.
The House was one of many old stately homes along a beautiful tree-lined street across from the old Protestant cemetery.
Due to a sudden snow squall that blocked the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad at McKeesport, my arrival in the town was substantially delayed. I arrived so late that only by happenstance or divine providence some would say, that I was able to catch the last trolley of the early morning, such that I only arrived at Madame G’s boarding house at 3 O’ Clock in the AM on Christmas Eve of the Year 1946.
I suppose that this is where the trouble started. My brother had to sneak me in to his room. There being only a single bed, it was incumbent upon me to sleep on the floor. Unfortunately as it were, it was in fact my brother’s attempt to search for a blanket on my behalf that caused the ferrets to get out.
Who keeps such creatures as pets? Let alone in a house occupied by diverse gentlemen and ladies. I wondered to myself.
The first shriek was heard from a Mlle. DeBlois, an Architect’s assistant who lived on the third floor just below where the ferrets got out.
You can imagine the commotion in the deepest hour of sleep when the young lady, her hair in curlers, wearing the most unbecoming matronly housecoat, began running down the stairs in a panic, all the while screaming for Madame G.
I cautioned my brother to not admit that he had been the cause of releasing the ferrets, or he might be evicted from his room, in the dead of winter, no less. The fact that I had, by my unannounced arrival, caused him to carry on the subterfuge and thus seek the blanket that launched the entire chain of events, notwithstanding.
The tumult increased as the ferrets next invaded the bedchamber of the elderly Veteran Monsieur Bartholomew MacGillicuddy who was heard to shout: “It’s the god-forsaken trench rats! They’re all over me!” He raced into the hallway brandishing a mop which he claimed to be a genuine Cavalry Sabre.
My brother and I got up and sat on chairs in his room while we pondered our next move. We shared a glass of brandy and we smoked the stale cigarettes that I had purchased during the long wait at the McKeesport Train Station.
It became obvious that the ferrets had progressed to the second floor when we heard a Monsieur Huang, him so being a graduate student from Canton China, a Mlle. Korazov, a refugee from Ukraine and a most Reverend Doctor Thomas, a young Episcopalian priest, join the angry throng as they too were chased from their rooms by the relentless ferrets.
My brother and I finally gathered the courage to emerge from his room and we met up with the group in the great room on the ground floor.
Beneath the tattered Elk trophy, next to the Christmas Tree, by the fireplace, I, as a recently returned Veteran in my own right, announced the battle plan to recover the ferrets, who by Madame G’s account, numbered eight.
We used a wicker clothing hamper and the Cavalry broom to scour the first floor and then the second to gather the ferrets one by one until we cornered the last of the eight vermin in the ancient third floor bathtub.
The entire venture was completed by 7:00AM sharp with the ferrets safely locked away in the attic.
Madame G. assembled all the residents in the great room at the conclusion of the escapade. She only asked one question: “Who opened the attic door?”
I raised my hand, but my brother being the painfully honest sort said: “I was getting a blanket for my brother.”
“Who the hell is that person, and what the hell is he doing in my house without my permission?”
Asked Madame G.
I looked around at the carefully stacked Christmas presents and the beautifully labeled stockings and the sad faces of her teenaged children when I realized the gravity of my offense.
”You ruined Christmas!”
Screamed the red-faced Madame G. The entire populace, in various states of disturbed sleep stared at me in rapt attention as if waiting for a valid explanation.
”Wait… no never mind.”
”Get him the hell out of here if you want to keep your room!”
She yelled at my brother.
I quietly packed my belongings, bid my brother adieu, all the while profusely apologizing to Madame G. and the other angry tenants. Only Monsieur Huang seemed to accept my apology, in a hastily arranged exchange for a pack of stale cigarettes.
I walked out into the snowy morning only to return to the train station and then find a room at a flophouse in town. I slept till at least noon, when I awoke with a start, realizing that it was Christmas Day and that I had in fact, ruined Christmas.
So I took a walk through the woods from Utonic Manor and I ended up here:
We have nice things in our neighborhood, you dig?
I was walking with the Boten-Daughter through the grounds and the house at Fallingwater. Then we went down to the water’s edge at Ohiopyle.
The Boten-Daughter appreciates art and she creates art.
She once met Peter Max and they had a long conversation about his childhood in China.
She recently created a Peter Max inspired abstract design sketch that is nothing short of spectacular. She created a mindscape worthy of Vaughan Bodé. I would show it here, but I can’t display her work without permission.
I thought about the 25 years when the Kaufmann’s dwelt at Fallingwater. The quiet evenings, the parties with intimate guests. The House is so alive. The grounds so uncluttered and clean.
Then, I think of Utonic Manor, ancient, thick with a spiderweb of macabre vines, Old moss-covered stairwells and funereal gates, swampy woodlands and haunted dead trees.
If ye should travel up ancient Washington Road, to the ancient Countie of Fayette in the Free and Accepted Commonwealth of the Hon. Quaker Wm. Penn past a multitude of 18th Century White Stone cursive Mileposts ‘97 Miles to Wheeling’ take a turn and visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater. Take a walk on the Rocks next to Ohiopyle.
It’s not terribly far from D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, if you have an extra day, you can get here from New York, Buffalo, Cleveland or Delaware, so if you happened to be in these very separate, isolated and fully independent United States 🇺🇸, take a drive down.
In 1516, the crazed Arabian Al-Khufu of Mocha, Yemen 🇾🇪 bought coffee beans from the mad Ethiopian Ras-Sneferughu. The beans were delightful. Soon coffee houses grew all over the Ottoman (Pronounced Osman) Empire.
A young English Emissary named Lord Cockbaume brought the drink to Coventry. The drink made its way across the Atlantic to the Virginia Roanoake Colony, where a special variation of Arabic Coffee ☕️, 🐮 cow’s milk 🥛 and African Chocolate 🍫 was made. It was called Mocha Croatoan. The colony disappeared after the coffee beans ran out and ‘Croatoan’ was carved into a tree 🌲 by desperate Colonists.
The Indian (One guy representing all known Native American tribes) kept the secret of Mocha and it was passed to the Mohicans who were wiped out by the shitty Magua and the white devils.
Mocha was later passed on to a Scottish soldier named macTaggerty who joined the American Revolution and he shared the drink with Benjamin Franklin (Pronounced ‘wa-wa’) then Franklin shared it with the founding fathers.
Years later, the recipe (Pronounced ress-sip-pee) was found in Franklin’s journals by a student 👨🎓 at Penn known as Schmuely ‘Skimmer’ Bergboim Cohenheimer Boingboomtschak in 1966.
In 1970, Schmuely moved to LA where he opened a coffee shop on Hollywood Boulevard called the “We’re not too Jewish Mocha Hut”
Schmuely sold the shop and went into the movie business and the rest is history.
’Defender of the Faith’ is a 1962 story by Philip Roth about a Jewish Sergeant, Marx, who is a combat Veteran just back from the war in Europe and his manipulative Jewish draftee Grossbart.
Without going into the story in depth, the apocryphal fable told about Jewish soldiers in the U.S. Army at the tail end of WWII, is one that sadly, I’ve seen before.
My distant family, three of them, the first born in America, all joined the Army to fight in the Spanish-American War. Somewhere a faded sepia-toned photograph ala Butch Cassidy may show them in their super-slick SAW uniforms with their slouch hats, slung pack and Krag rifle. Man, they looked muy macho.
Long story short, our family tradition has literally extended to every war from 1898 to this day. So the topic is very sensitive to me.
American Jews, post-Korean War, rightly or wrongly, had a reputation as draft dodgers. They served in solid numbers through the Korean War, but Vietnam and the college deferment was a huge blot on our reputation as Americans.
Even worse, by the epoch of the War on Terror (I served until 2011) the percentage of Jews in the Army had fallen to a level so minuscule that it equaled the number of Muslims. 3,400 souls in the entire Army. I was stunned. A higher percentage actually served in Theatre in Vietnam. It’s a statistical fact.
I don’t think there were more than five Jews in my Brigade in Iraq. Out of 3,500 soldiers… Unfathomable… Then, when I got back, only two Jews in my Battalion… me included. WTF?
Who pulled the charred remains of our brethren out of the ovens in 1945? The same U.S. Army. The same U.S. Army that wasn’t good enough for us by 1965?
When I first joined, early in my long unillustrious career, we had Passover services at Ft. Benning where 44 Jews showed up. 44! That’s a lot for anywhere.
I remember a Jewish recruit whining to me about how his sergeant treated him because he couldn’t do enough pushups. He wanted me, a Jewish Lieutenant to stand up for him. I refused and I made him do more pushups until his spindly arms fell off. I was furious. He was an embarrassment to my people.
Maybe Roth’s Sergeant Marx and I were more like the vicious Sergeant Waters from ‘A Soldiers’s Story’ who thought that by brutalizing the weak links he would bring up the image of black Soldiers in the Army.
This was exactly the story of Defender of the Faith. Grossbart plays on Marx’ emotions as Marx just returned from the front: 1945 Germany. Grossbart weasels his way out of orders to the Pacific. Grossbart whines for special privileges on account of being Jewish, then takes advantage when he gets them. Like me, Marx was furious and embarrassed for his people.
Marx gets Grossbart’s orders changed back to the Pacific. He does it not to defend Grossbart whom he views as a bad example, but to defend the reputation of American Jews in the Army.
I originally hated Roth. I thought he was ‘too Jewish’ and he made our people look like self-indulgent perverts. Sure, the Psychiatrist’s couch in Portnoy may be a veiled reference to Kafka’s cockroach, but Roth’s story is much harder-edged than Neil Simon’s rose-colored Biloxi Blues, where the snarky Jewish wise-ass brats put one over on the over-matched, shell-shocked combat Veteran Sergeant Toomey.
Where was Toomey’s thanks for saving those two brat’s people? Simon never gets the point, does he? Contrast Wouk’s Caine Mutiny where the mutineers’ Jewish Navy JAG lawyer, Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, has sympathy for Queeg, because Queeg stood up to serve long before many others did and help keep Greenwald’s mother from being made into ‘soap’.
In Roth’s ‘Defender’, the wise-ass Jewish brat doesn’t get away with it. Marx knows what the stakes are: he saw it in the liberated concentration camps and he knows who liberated them.
Roth, with an unblinking gaze, speaks an ugly but unsaid universal truth about the wise-ass Jewish kid who thinks he’s too special and too smart for the Army. Yes, I’ve seen them first hand trying to game the system more than once: don’t any of my soul brothers dare tell me that I haven’t seen it.
Roth was excoriated by the Jewish community for telling this story and he stood his ground. This is who we are, warts and all, Roth instructs us. This story is a triumph of truth over self-deceit.
Some of us, in the end are Sergeant Marx, the patriot, and some of us are Grossbart, the shirker, who makes a mockery of his own faith.
Call me what you will, but given my family history: from The Spanish-American War through Iraq, we jealousy guarded the reputation of the Jewish soldier in the U.S. Army until apparently there was no-one left to care.
She was a beautiful sophisticated Southern Belle. Classic American girl from North Carolina. Platinum blonde hair, perfect features, 40’s pinup figure, piercing pale blue eyes.
She married her high school sweetheart. He was a young Captain in the U.S. Army. He died in a shitty muddy shell hole at Anzio Beach.
She most missed the ‘feel’ of him. The comfort of his presence. When he died, she lost her future.
She never dated again. She never had relations again. It was too late with every year that passed by.
She went back to school, took her time. In the late 1950’s, she was studying for her PhD. She became friends with another PhD student about six years her Junior. Unfortunately he was engaged to another young lady, a Masters student. The three of them were inseparable until he graduated.
She never moved in on him, but she never let go of him either. She was adjunct faculty at a negro college in South Carolina through much of the 60’s.
In 1968, he became chairman of his department at a University in Upstate New York. He contacted her, then hired her to be a professor.
He lived in a town fifty miles away, so he spent four nights a week in the college town and three nights a week at home.
He was tall, lean, quiet, sophisticated. He reminded her of her husband. Not as dashing, not as handsome, but cool, like a 1950’s detective from a film noir movie, the thin guy in the raincoat and hat, standing under a streetlight in the mist. He was quiet and mysterious.
She loved him. She had always loved him. For eight years, though, he was put completely out of her mind.
They would have dinner together sometimes in the town, sometimes at her little house, decorated with artifacts from her overseas travel and the aromas of European soap.
Sometimes, they would have coffee in the shop across the street from the college. They would chat and she would nod when he spoke. He would listen to her in rapt attention.
Often they would go for walks across campus and even all the way home, as it wasn’t that far. Now and then they would catch a movie. He didn’t speak too much but he was fascinating, a Renaissance Man. A WWII and Korean War Vet. He was a study in black and white.
One night, they had a drink together at her place, about a month after his wife died from a botched operation. He was stoic.
They looked at each other for a moment across the little coffee table between the ornate Moroccan chairs. Just a moment. A little moment, and he took her.
She gave herself to him utterly.
She gave him every part of herself as deeply as possible.
She gave him her soul and he devoured every piece of her.
She walked alone for a long time. She had spent the last night in a hiker’s shelter with a couple of families of four who were hiking the trail together. She was the odd one out.
The family banter was annoying at best, but she played along. They asked her lots of questions about why she was hiking alone, where was her boyfriend and so on.
What a disappointment. Where were all the interesting hikers about whom she had read so much? She was almost glad to be alone as long as she was away from these cozy troupes.
Fortunately, the two families were headed South, she North, so she set off alone. She was alone almost the entire morning. She contemplated the woods, the trail, her life. Would the trail change her? Would she meet any interesting people? Or, was it all just a waste of time?
A few small groups passed her from time to time, exchanging only a wave, but no-one caught up to her and no-one else seemed to be headed North.
She gained on a sole northbound hiker around 11:00AM. She followed the anonymous hiker a long way, four miles according to her GPS app.
He would stereotypically stop occasionally, to take a cellphone picture or to methodically scratch his wrists. Wrapped around his neck was a small brown towel that he used to wipe his forehead. Whenever he stopped, she stopped. He never looked back or seemed aware that she was gaining on him.
He had an unusual gait, almost bouncing to his right side. Something about him irked her. She reminded him of the useless 50-something slugs at work. She hung back a little. The more she observed him, the more she disliked him. She didn’t know why. There was just something about him.
She finally caught up to him when he stopped to adjust his pack. He knelt on the trail and she stood above him, hands on hips.
He answered looking up at her.
“How do you hike that light? Are you just a day hiker?”
She snarked, as they took a breather on this particularly high-altitude segment of the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia.
She was about 36. Very attractive, in an executive-power-chick sort of way. He was 56, grizzled at best with just a simple backpack, a bedroll and other gear.
She thought he was an amateur. Another faceless, pathetic old dude who got divorced and fled to the East Coast to hike the Appalachian Trail as some kind of bucket-list thing. She hated him at first sight.
“A through-hiker, for the time being, kid.”
“Huh, is that so?”
He gave a weak smile. He tried to ignore her by looking away from her unblinking gaze rather to the 1930’s WPA-era arrowhead symbols and the colored vertical rectangular trail markings on the trees.
She was too young, too pretty. He didn’t want to take up her time. He did not want to hike with her, but he believed that a woman hiking alone on the trail was a risky venture at best. There were always weirdos about in the deep woods.
He thought back to when he encountered a woman hiking alone with two Rottweilers once upon a time near Pilger Ruh in Pennsylvania. He guessed that she probably was safe at any rate. Her hounds looked like the Cerberus who guarded the gates of hell.
“So, I’ll bite, what’s your story, grandpa?”
She squared to him with her arms crossed, trying the feminine executive dominance thing that he always hated so much. She had light brown hair in a ponytail and she sported Khaki shorts, hiking boots and a nice jacket.
“Whatever you want it to be, kid.”
“I’m not your kid.”
“Nobody is. Have a good hike, kid.”
He turned away and he started hiking up the trail. The path narrowed, continuing a slight winding rise over the past four miles. She stopped and fumed for a second, then she angrily stomped after him. No-one had talked to her that way in a while. She ran in front of him and tried to force eye contact.
”May I help you Miss?”
He stopped, stone-faced.
”Who are you to patronize me?”
He looked her in the eye with no expression.
”Kid, let’s go enjoy our separate hikes.”
He stepped around her and she followed closely. He probably seemed like the kind of man she was used to intimidating.
“I’ve been hiking for two days with no conversation and I have to run into an asshole.”
He didn’t respond.
”Why do you have a canteen and not a Camel-Pack™? Are you trying to play Army?”
She asked, mockingly.
“All the cool kids carry canteens, Miss.”
He responded with amusement.
”You’re wearing a ring, are you rude to your wife too?”
He looked down at his hand.
“My wife? Long gone. She was a sweet soul though.”
He had no idea why he was engaging her banter.
“Why do you still wear a ring?”
“She died. Please go your own way, kid”
He wiped his brow. He ran the towel around his neck. It was cool, but he sweated from exertion.
She said in a quiet, falling tone. It was more mechanical like she had said something mildly inappropriate.
She had very green eyes, he noticed.
“Find your pace, kid.”
“Do you have children?”
She was persistent, he thought. Maybe he was judging her harshly, but that’s what people do.
He scratched his wrist under his watch. No mosquitos yet, but it was still itchy. He had a little green compass on his other wrist.
“I’m sorry. We didn’t start off right.”
She stated, pacing alongside him, while she looked straight ahead.
“Kid, go enjoy your hike.”
They walked in silence. She fell back. Despite his obvious limp, she noticed that he had a relentless pace.
He had known women like her. He chafed at their arrogance. He wasn’t the club Med type, more the old society parlor type. But he did like Manhattan cafés.
She felt an odd sort of worry, but she couldn’t put her finger on it, he was a tall, powerful-looking man, too athletic for his apparent age, but he also seemed unusually articulate, a bit like a professor.
It was May Day, still nice and cool, but the vegetation was already getting thick. You now had to wait for a lookout point to see any good vistas. No insects out yet. Every now and then a cool wind broke through and cut the humidity a bit.
For some reason, he thought about a time many years ago on the Trail in Central Pennsylvania, when he had seen two Mennonites in a meadow; a young man and a woman holding hands in a trail clearing. They were silently enjoying the magnificent vista below, almost like a still painting. They seemed so peaceful.
Now this woman walked ahead of him. He tried not to notice how athletic and attractive she was, but it had to be nothing to him. Just a wasted thought, a mere moment’s reverie. Time had passed him by. He was old, she was young. He knew not to waste his energy.
He deliberately let her get further and further ahead. Eventually, he spotted a clearing with a nice rocky outcrop to his right. Hikers had probably sat there since 1936, Indians since forever.
It was now high noon in the mountains of West Virginia. Time for lunch. He saw her disappear up the trail so he switched his focus to his meal. Solitude again.
He pulled off his pack and he searched for his trail meal. His shirt was sweaty from the backpack. He shook his shirt as if that would help make it instantaneously dry. The pain from his heavily-wrapped knee was withering.
He always kept a bottle of Irish Cream with him. He placed it on the rock. He closed his eyes for a long moment, when he was abruptly summoned from his meditation by a harsh voice.
“Hey, old man, do you think maybe you might want to share some of that?”
It was the lady. He collected his energy and he pulled out two little Bavarian pewter shot glasses from the side pocket of his pack.
She sat on a flat white rock across from him.
”There’s something unusual about you.”
She observed, pointing her finger, then she removed her high-end gear.
“Not really, kid.”
“So what is your story, old man?”
She said resting on her palms like a teenager.
”My story is not interesting.”
He stated, without looking up.
”I apologize. For before, I mean. I was kind of out of line.”
”Kid, no offense taken, but you wouldn’t enjoy my company.”
”That’s for me to decide. Why are you hiking alone, what about your friends?”
She asked, hoping to hear his old-man bucket-list story. She opened her silver trail-mix foil packet with a loud tearing sound.
”I don’t have any.”
He whispered dryly.
”Friends, like Yossarian, but you wouldn’t know who that is, kid.”
”Catch-22, Heller, I’ve read the book, old man.”
She added sarcastically.
”OK, a worldly one.”
“What was your wife like?”
She kept up her terminal stare with her crazy green eyes.
“She was kind, ethereal, mystical, romantic, melancholy, Old America, Old Baltimore, like from the time of Poe. We had a son, but he died.”
She wondered aloud. Twirling her hair with one finger and cocking her head. She inhaled the breeze and she closed her eyes for a second, trying to imagine the tragedy.
”Sometimes people just die.”
She muttered, as she munched on her power bar.
The breeze cycled through again, shaking the trees out of their silence and forcing him to put a hand on the empty wrappers.
“I can guess your story: Ivy League wunderkind at some investment house or firm in the City.”
She became agitated and she squared to him angrily.
”Now you’re out of line. Don’t you dare judge me. What makes you think I’m from the City, anyway?”
She was standing up, hands on her hips again, like a petulant eight-year-old with pigtails.
”I’m from Albany. High School in the Bronx. Your gear is top-of-the-line. Your watch is about 15k. Even your boots are high-end. Your accent is Upper West Side.”
He sipped his drink.
“Let me try to guess you now.”
She said sitting right next to him.
”Please don’t, Miss.”
He finished his meal and he took another sip of Irish Cream, pinching the little shot mug between two fingers. He leaned back and he looked out at the dark-green chasm in the forest floor.
They were so far up that he couldn’t see any roads or cell towers, just dark, early Spring green. It was oddly quiet. No birds or insects. Too cold yet? He eagerly awaited the next gust of wind.
”You’re retired, a typical boomer, probably a tech guy. Got downsized, probably by a female executive. Now you’re hiking the trail to find yourself. Your equipment looks like cheap Army surplus, including the canteen, your boots look sturdy, though some brand I’ve never heard of.”
He noticed how dry the ground was. He hated rain, rain complicated everything so this weather was good.
“I’m a killer, kid.”
He said, fixing his own ice-cold, green-eyed stare on her.
”Funny, but not funny.”
She said, then she froze up, realizing that they were a million miles from civilization or another human being and she had no cell signal. She also sensed the silence of the forest while every bad TV series about psycho-killers flashed in her head.
”I’ve been killing people a while. But they mostly deserved it. The rest, I feel pretty bad about from time to time. But it was my job.”
He took another sip, still looking down the mountain.
”What are you talking about?”
She said, raising her tone like a frightened child.
”I was in the Army, kid. More than thirty years. I did get this gear from an Army surplus store in Junction City, Kansas, when I was with the B-R-O. The Army was too cheap to supply us properly before we went overseas.”
He paused to drink some water from his canteen. He refastened the cap.
“I was kicked out on a medical. But I run twelve miles a week, I have all the time in the world, I no longer live anywhere, so there it is, here I am.”
He tossed his desert pattern ID holder to her. It had his last valid Army ID chip card. She looked at it, flipped it over.
”You scared me, you know. I thought you really were a serial killer. You can be scary when you want to be.”
She got up and sat on the ground in front of him with her legs crossed.
”I’m anonymous. I have no family. I have nothing to do for the rest of my life, so I’m hiking, so I can meet awesome people, kid.”
He chewed on a dried mango slice.
”Now I suddenly like when you call me kid.”
She waited for a while to catch breeze.
“So maybe you really do know what you’re doing out here then. I should have known because your gear is so Spartan.”
”Kind of. I have met some cool people out here, though. Not everyone is an ‘asshole’ like me. One was a preacher whose church gave him three months leave to hike the trail. I saw a couple of families hiking. Then I met two women who were fast-hiking the trail for some LGBTQ challenge thing. We hiked together for three days, but they were too fast for me.
He adjusted his hiking shoes.
She began her story.
”I’m doing a month on the trail. I saved up vacation time. I am actually an investment banker, so good work, Sherlock. I’m single. Of course. I don’t like the men I meet in the City, so I’m trying to do outdoorsy activities, everyone talked about the App Trail. Maybe I’m looking for people who are real. When I go out, in the City, it’s always the same. They try to impress me, they’re so generic.”
He poured her more booze.
“I know how I can impress you, kid: to New York, Excelsior!”
He said, raising his pewter glass in a toast to their home state.
She replied with a smile.
“Kid, I can’t wait to cross the New York Line.”
He began to reassemble his pack and clean up His detritus.
“You know, kid, out here, it’s all Dharma bums, seekers, lost souls, old creepers, extreme athletes, hip Millenials, weird foreign guys. I love every one of them.”
”Why did you get kicked out of the Army?”
She crossed her arms over her knees like she was listening to a campfire tale.
”It was just a like Wild West showdown. I was calling in air strikes and this dude comes out of a canal like Rambo and he shot me right through the knee and hip. I shot him in the face.”
He recited awkwardly like he’d never told the story before.
She asked wiping her brow.
“Real life isn’t ‘Call of Duty’. It’s actually quite sad. He was bold, this kid. In real Arab garb, like a young Sheik. I kind of admired him.”
“Why did you admire him?”
“No fear. If some foreign army was invading my country I would shoot at them too. What a World. The Witch was right.”
“You know, the Wicked Witch of the West…”
She kept twisting her hair.
“I recovered OK, but my leg kept being an issue and I ran out of time.”
”Does it hurt?”
”Always. I never took pain-killers.”
He paused and he looked across the sea of trees.
“Kid, if a tree falls in the forest and and there’s no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
”What’s the answer?”
”It does make a sound, but there’s no-one there to hear it.”
They cleaned up their trash ‘to leave the trail better than they found it’ and they got ready to go on.
”You seem sophisticated for an Army guy.”
”I have a PhD in Physics.”
‘I may be smart, but I ain’t no fool, it’s US Army Physics School.’
He sang quietly.
”I spent years in Defense research and R&D while also doing my real job as an Artillery Officer.”
He said idly..
”Do you miss the Army, old man? Did you like being cool?”
“I used to think other people thought Army people were cool, but now I think they see it like any other profession. No-one cares if you’re a cop or a banker or a plasterer.”
They got ready to head back up the trail, when she abruptly stopped and put her pack back down on her rock.
”How do I know you’re not making this all up, old man?”
She asked, hands on her hips again.
”Look me up online if you like. Of course, that could be all bullshit too, Miss. But out here… out here, kid… you can be whoever you want.”
”F@&k me, old man.”
She said, with one eye askance, blowing a lock of hair from her face, hands on hips, standing on the big flat rock.
Two marvelous green-eyed people all alone in the woods.
Willa woke up. Didn’t check her cell phone. She went directly to the shower. Her roommate was gone, he usually left early. The cat was up and about, Abby liked company but not too close.
It was another day. A Thursday. She had to be at work. She finished her shower and she got dressed. She checked her phone. No signal. She made breakfast. Fiddled with the phone. No signal. Usually she could hear the elevator.
She opened the door to the terrace and she sat down outside. It took a minute to realize that there was no traffic on the Williamsburg bridge. No cars, no trains, no bicycles, no pedestrians. She peered down to the courtyards twenty stories below. No people.
She went in and turned on the TV. No signal. Maybe a cell tower was out or even a main trunk line. Was it a holiday? Was the bridge closed for repairs? Where was everyone else? Terrorism? Gas leak? Hmm. Better to take a look. She got her dad’s binocs. She scanned the horizon.
What if there was a problem? Water. Water is key. She filled up all the sports bottles with drinking water and the pitchers.
If there was a problem, she would wait at least 24 hours. If they were rounding up people or if it wasn’t safe to be out, she would need one full cycle to diagnose it. Wanda was an engineer by trade. She needed a proof of concept and a test.
She walked down her hall, ringing each doorbell. They were the old New York mechanical push-button bells. No answer. She could hear little dogs barking. What if everyone was gone? Would thebowners come back? Could she break in?
She risked the elevator. She went to the basement. The super’s door was unlocked. She grabbed the entire key box and a set of tools.
She took the elevator back up to her apartment. 7:30 AM. She opened the door to her apartment. Then the power went out.
Next Mission: Navigate the Roads to Sideling Hill
I had a wind-up watch. I would wake up in the pitch dark every hour. I finally woke up at 0430. I took a shower in the gym by the light of my flashlight. Getting dressed was an elaborate ritual.
Andrea, Bethany and Michael were still asleep. ‘Boo’ the rather atrociously-named dog was awake. He was following me around, fascinated with my activity. I poured him a container of water that I got from the office kitchen. I fed him some jerky. The dog was calm, so I can assume that there were no other people anywhere close to our refuge.
In the morning we were able to take showers. Apparently the Office park had its own water cistern somewhere. Good point to remember.
We continued on our way. It was amazing how much debris was on the roadway. We went slow, no more than 20-30 mph. Any faster was too high of a risk.
He wondered who else was out there. For some reason he thought of his co-worker from many years ago. Willa the engineer.