Story

A story excerpt because we were just talking about this

Okay, two. I'm warming up to write some little vignettes and want to share two here up top for someone who asked. These are from several years ago, but I do a few each year. 6-7 minutes total average read.


Jack walked into the front of the store from his office, where he'd been busy all morning preparing end-of-month details for the accountant, and as he walked he whistled the tune to "Innamorata" by Dean Martin. "I'm at heaven's door, innamorata, want you more and more, innamorata."

"Sounds like someone had a good weekend, Vinny," Tommy chuckled.

Jack shot him a dangerous look, and Tommy grinned, but didn't say anything else.

Jack said, "Can't a guy enjoy a little good music in the morning?"

"Sure, sure," Vinny said. "But that song is from a Martin and Lewis movie. And that Jerry Lewis was a putz. To use one of his own terms. He wasn't cool, or funny. Right, Tommy?

"Yeah, I don't know. That was Artists and Models, right? That's not a bad movie, I think. Shirley Maclaine was in that one."

"Yeah, I know you love Shirley Maclaine, Tommy, but we're supposed to believe a girl like her, even all goofy like that, is all hot and bothered over Jerry Lewis? Never would happen." Vinny shook his head in disgust.

Jack said, "All I knew of Jerry Lewis for a long time was his appearance on the telethon. He was always sweating, and he took himself very seriously, and I couldn't believe it when my parents told me he was a real comedian. So when I finally saw him as one, he was doing some horrible Chinaman act or something, it was embarrassing, even for a kid. And then, you know, the French."

"You figure that's true, how they loved Jerry Lewis in France?" Vinny mused. "Cause I don't really get French movies, so much. And that might explain a few things..."

Tommy said, "I think you were encountering Jerry Lewis during his bitter period. Kind of like Sinatra, you know?"

"Yeah, when I was a kid, I didn't understand at all how anybody could like Frank Sinatra, that bitter old has-been. I think it's why I started to love Dean Martin. He was never not cool, until he got old and sad. But Frank, he spent a good fifteen years just resenting the fact that it was no longer his world with the rest of us just living in it. He probably resented Dean, too, for not even caring."

Tommy said, "I doubt if he resented him. But he might have been jealous, you know, that Dean could just take it easy and nobody made fun of him for it. You know, he never really was a has-been. He just sort of drifted away. But Frank, man, people loved ragging on him. Until New York, New York, then he was suddenly cool again."

"What about Jack Lemmon?" Vinny said suddenly. "Did that make sense, her going for a guy like him, twice in fact?"

"Jack Lemmon could always get the ladies, Vinny. There was Kim Novak, and that one Italian, you know, the bombshell, Virna something. I don't know. And Judy Holliday, too."

"I know this," Vinny said. "Jack Lemmon was much funnier than Jerry Lewis, any day of the week."

"Yeah, but Judy Holliday was better for William Holden. You know about him, Jack? He was good but he was a drunk."

Jack answered, "Yeah, he died when I was in high school. Mom was crushed. She made a videotape of Love is a Many-Splendored Thing and watched it over and over again, crying every time. Dad thought she was nuts."

 

This one is actually in a post here somewhere, but here's a slightly edited version:

Over at the card table, Tommy and Vinny were arguing again. Today it was about who put on a better show; Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdinck.

“Did you know that Engelbert Humperdinck’s real name was Arnold? Who goes from Arnold to Engelbert? Somebody who takes himself way too seriously, that’s who!” Tommy shook his head mournfully. “Tom never did that. That’s why he still has a career.”

Vinny laughed, shuffling the cards slowly and deliberately, as he always did. He’s never in a hurry. “Some producer or agent named him that, that’s all. It’s what they did back in those days. Didn’t you ever think about what name you’d take to become a big star, Tommy?”

“And what’s wrong with my name, then, huh? You think there haven’t been plenty of famous people named Tommy before? Tommy Smothers, Tommy Dorsey, uh, Tommy, I don’t know, it was good enough for Tom Jones, wasn’t it?”

“That’s just my point. It’s a belly button name. Too common, too ordinary. And your last name, Gagliardo, nobody would have gone for it back then, too Italian, too hard to spell. They all changed their names, except Sinatra.”

“He didn’t have to.”

Vinny said, “Damn straight. But everybody else did. Dean did it, Tony did it, Bobby, too. And plenty of others. A whole lot of Italian people on TV, but you can’t tell by their names. Look at Alan Alda.”

“Alan Alda? He’s Italian? I guess Alda might have started out longer, eh? But you’re so out of touch, Vinny. Alda ain’t been on TV in years. People don’t change their names so much anymore, either.”

“True enough, but they did. Jack over there, he might be Alda’s cousin. You know about his famous dad, right? Robert Alda?”

Tommy nodded. “Of course. He played Gershwin, back in the day.”

“Yeah, the Jewish guys, they had to change their names, too. He used to be Gershowitz, matter of fact.”

Vinny’s fact bank was overflowing with such information. Tommy was used to him spilling it all out now and then, and provided just enough questions or argument to keep Vinny talking. Tommy won a lot of card games that way, melding left and right while Vinny chattered away.

“Those Jewish guys changed their names, made it big, then Italian guys played them in the movies,” Vinny went on, “Anyway, you ever hear of Alfonso D’Abruzzo?”

“Is that Alan Alda then?”

“Yes, and his father, too. In fact, Robert’s name was Alfonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto D’Abruzzo.” Vinny leaned back with a satisfied look on his face.

Tommy demanded, “Why do you know this? Why do you know this stuff? And who has four first names, anyway?”

Vinny answered, “I just know. I read a lot. And my mom had four first names. Well, she had a first name, and two middle names, and then her confirmation name. So.”

“Why did she have two middle names?” Tommy asked. “I never heard of anybody else who did.”

“Well, now you know two. My mother, and Robert Alda. My mother said she had hers because they had her name all picked out but then her parents wanted to name her after the nurse who took care of her in the hospital. So they added it onto the rest. But probably lots of people have two middle names. You’ve got no culture, Tommy, so you don’t know about this kind of thing.”

Tommy yelled over to Jack,”Hey, Jack, is Alan Alda your cousin or something? Vinny here says you have the same for-real last name.”

Jack yelled back, “I dunno, could be. We’re probably all cousins, Tommy. All our grandparents and great-grandparents came from the same places, right?  They just emptied Sicily and Southern Italy onto boats and sent them over. ”

Tommy said, “This is true, sure. But Abruzzo is a whole place, not even in the south.”

“Yeah, but D’Abruzzos, those were undoubtedly some people who left there, went south sometime, and that’s how they were known. ‘From Abruzzo.’”

Vinny said, “What I wonder is if Jack is related to Bobby Darin. Not so many Cassottos around, I think.”

“No, I think there are a lot of those. Jack’s mom’s a Cassotto? Sure, I’ve known a few. Plus, you know, the accordion.” Tommy looked smug as he said this, sure that he was about to one-up Vinny on the trivia field.

“Accordions, sure, my uncle had one. He played it at my wedding, matter of fact.” Vinny had a blank look on his face. He knew Tommy knew something he didn't, but he was not going to ask.

Jack had come over to listen to the conversation, and looked from Tommy to Vinny, back to Tommy, before finally going ahead and asking, “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s an accordion got to do with Cassottos, Tommy? Did a Cassotto invent one?”
 
Tommy beamed. “No, a cassotto is a box inside the accordion where they put extra reeds, to make it sound better. Though I personally do not think there is much you can do to make an accordion sound better, this is apparently a good thing for one to have.”

Jack replied, “Sure, okay, I think cassotto just means box in Italian anyway, that makes sense.”

“Edward.” Vincent spoke suddenly. “That’s what I picked.”

Tommy asked, “You wanted your name to be Edward? What’s wrong with Vinny, Vincenzo?”

“No, no, I wanted to be Vincent Edward. That was my trumpet-playing name, back in high school. Only then I got drafted, and Vincenzo Mancaruso was good enough for the army, then for getting married, you know.”

Tommy looked annoyed now. “Vinny, nobody ever called you that in high school. I remember, I was there.”

“Yeah, you weren’t in the band, though. We all had names like that, two first names, you know. It was a little trick we all did when we played at dances and clubs.”

Jack interrupted. “Have you ever noticed how many people around here have two first names? Also two last names. It gets confusing sometimes, especially when they go by their last name instead of their first name. Like Officer Craig.”

“Actually, Jack,” Tommy spoke politely, “I never did notice that. Do tell.” He looked over at Vinny and shrugged.

“Oh, well, I just thought of it, there’s nothing else to tell. Think about it; there are a lot of people around like that. And there’s Dean Martin. He had two first names.”

Vinny and Tommy looked at each other with eyebrows raised.

Vinny said, “I never thought of it that way. Huh. I wonder why he picked it.”

The idea that Vinny didn’t know all there was to know about Dean Martin surprised everyone within hearing distance. But that just brought him back to his original subject, which had been the inferiority of Englebert Humperdinck to Tom Jones, both in name and in talent.

“Who gives a guy the name of an obscure German opera composer, anyway? And why such a long weird one? I guess they thought it would make his music sound more interesting but it didn’t work.

“But here’s the real proof that Tom Jones is better, Tommy. He bought Dean Martin’s Bel Air mansion, back in the early 70s. He knew what a good thing that was, and it probably rubbed off on him, that’s why people still like him now.”

“What rubbed off on him?”

“The coolness of Dino, that’s what.”

“Tom Jones is not cool, Vinny.”

“No, he kind of is, I think,” Jack spoke. “He never really took himself too seriously, except maybe for a little while. That’s what being cool is, pretty much. Knowing when not to take yourself so seriously. Knowing how to be amused at the world and what it thinks of you.”

Tommy frowned. “He had the longest sideburns ever grown. Never was that cool.”

“So did Humperdinck. We all had sideburns that long 35 years ago, Tommy. Even when there wasn’t much hair on top, everybody had plenty growing down the sides of their face. We thought women liked it. I don’t think they really did, though.” Vinny mused over this. “We wore our shirts unbuttoned too far down, to show our chest hair, too. We were making sure everyone knew how masculine we were. And nobody was more masculine then than Tom Jones.”


A very short story I wrote this summer...

It's about 3000 words. I planned for there to be a couple more sections, but decided to leave it as it was. It's quite silly.

1

"How much of this experience do you remember?"

"Oh, all of it! I couldn't forget it if I tried. I did try, a little. But even though a lot of the party seems murky to me, what I did afterwards is too crystal clear."

"And this makes you uncomfortable?"

"I'm a little confused by that. Yes, I'm very uncomfortable. I feel guilty, but…"

"Yes?"

"I think I feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough." Taylor raised her eyes, making full eye contact for the first time since the session began. "It was a mistake. I can't let it happen again."

"But you think maybe you want it to, perhaps?"

Taylor nodded, looking down again.

“And you did decide on this plan of action before you got to the party? Do you feel as though you took advantage of him?”

Up to this point, Taylor had appreciated the even, detached manner of her therapist Lisa’s speech. She now detected a note of something more. It wasn’t judgmental, precisely, but it sounded different, with a slight edge, maybe. She replied with care.

“No, I don’t believe I took advantage of him. I mean, I’m new at this. But I’m not a teenager; I was considering his feelings, that is, if he had expressed any deeper ones, or...” Taylor stopped herself. “I knew he was interested in me, but he isn’t interested in serious relationships. He jokes about his brother being tied down. And that’s why I chose him, yes, before the party. Before I had three vodka tonics, before I flirted with him and then brought him home to my apartment. And after I decided it was time to stop, after all these years, being a virgin for someone I’ll never even meet.”

Lisa nodded. “Good. Because you have to own the decision as much as you have to own the consequences of following through on it. Taylor, once you realize you’re ready for mature adult relationships, you get to stop thinking of yourself as a symbol of purity for someone else to take, and start thinking of yourself as a person with sexual desires, with the ability to enjoy a healthful union with a partner who wants to meet your needs just as you’ll want to meet his.”

Taylor sat quietly for a long minute. Then she spoke. “I’m not a symbol anymore, at least.”

“What did it mean to you? Do you believe you’ve given something up? What did you gain?” Lisa’s voice held less tension now, her expression remained placid and receptive as ever.

“It’s been ten years, almost to the day, when I committed myself to this idea. Maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty for breaking my vow to myself, and I know it was silly, but it stood for something important to me. Something I could honor in myself, and be true to.” Taylor stopped, reflecting.

“Why don’t you tell me how it all began?”

2

“I grew up in an old house in a little town about 30 miles outside the city. I rode the bus to the next bigger town to school, and so the kids I saw at school lived too far away for me to spend much time with them in the afternoons, weekends, and summers. For a few years, I spent most of my play time either by myself or with a girl down the street who was two years younger than me. But when I was 12, a new girl moved in a couple blocks away, and I started doing things with her, as well. She was just a year behind me in school. She lived across the street from a boy I’d known since kindergarten, and had a fierce crush on him. I think he was embarrassed by that and was less friendly to me than he’d always been. Kaitlyn was a little heavy, and wore glasses, and was just sort of a plain girl boys wouldn’t notice at that age. And she was so boy crazy. My other friend was more into sports and had a lot more friends so I saw her less often at that point. The two of them didn’t like each other much, anyway.

“Kaitlyn and I had lots of fun together, walking or riding our bikes to the store, making cookies, listening to music, and even reading teen romance books, which I’d never been interested in before. We watched a lot of movies, and she always had a crush on the young actors, and knew all the gossip about them. Yet at school, boys took no notice of her. I mean, they didn’t really take notice of me, either, but she seemed to have this real need for a boyfriend or for attention that I just assumed would come around later when I was older. We weren’t in the same classes, so I didn’t see her at school, and then I started high school a year before she did, and it was all very different for me. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but I don’t really know how school was for Kaitlyn, whether she had a lot of friends or did well in her classes, even though we spent a lot of time together otherwise.

“When I was 15, I had a sort of boyfriend I’d met at another school, that I didn’t really see much of; we talked on the phone, mostly, and he sent me notes. He wasn’t allowed to chat with me online or anything like that; his parents were very strict and old-fashioned. I think Kaitlyn felt a little separated from me because of him, though they did like each other when they met, and he didn’t really take any of my time from her.

“But a few months after that, my parents were divorced, and Mom and I moved to the edge of the city. I went to a different school, and didn’t see Kaitlyn much anymore. We talked sometimes, and I knew she was now hanging out with another girl from our neighborhood, a girl I always thought was a little wild, but I knew my friend was a good girl like me and wouldn’t get into trouble.”

Here, Taylor paused and laughed, and Lisa smiled. “We see in others what we wish to see, don’t we?”

Taylor said, “Kind of like a mirror, I guess. But I think Kaitlyn just really liked being liked, and I just always assumed people either would or wouldn’t; I didn’t work at it very much.”

“I guess, I’m starting to realize I was really deeply inside my head all this time, not thinking about what was going on inside anyone else’s.”

Lisa said, “Tell me how it was for you at your new school. Did you make friends there?”

“Yes, in a way. For one thing, the previous school was one of those places where all the kids seemed to just ooze money and privilege, and at the new place it was more varied, I guess, different things seemed important. I felt more like I could just be me. And it was just more friendly, kids got along with each other, so I felt connected to it all, even though I was still sort of a loner.

“I can’t even tell you why I didn’t make friends easily. Looking back, I can see people liked me. They do now. But like I said, I think maybe I was just inside my head too much, only I don’t know how to explain that very well. Anyway. This whole story has to do with the last time I saw Kaitlyn, and I keep wandering off track.”

Lisa smiled again, “Tell me what happened.”

“My mom was going away for a business retreat, and didn’t want me to stay alone for that long. I was nearly 18, and wasn’t afraid or unable to take care of myself, but it worried her, so she called Kaitlyn’s mother and they planned a reunion for us. Kaitlyn had a little car her parents had bought her and came to pick me up. That was a revelation for me, and also slightly humiliating because I hadn’t gotten my license yet. But she was friendly and happy to see me, and before we went to her house, we stopped at Sonic for shakes and onion rings. The Sonic was near my old high school where she still attended, and was one of those teen hangouts I’d always wondered about, imagining it like the teen romance books we’d read in junior high. Except it wasn’t the shiny bright place I remembered. The area around it looked somewhat depressed, and I saw a couple people off in the corner of the parking lot obviously making a drug deal.

“Kaitlyn said, all casually, ‘I know the guy in that car. His name is Jim. We were at a party together last week.’

“I was a little surprised, but played it cool, and just asked her how the party was, if she liked Jim. She told me she’d gone there with her friend Brooklyn, you know, her best friend after I moved, and that they’d all started drinking and then Jim shared some X tabs with them."

“That shocked me. I’d always thought of drugs as something sort of alien. A few other people did them, but not really anyone I knew. Kaitlyn told me everyone did, but even then I understood that is the kind of thing people say based on who they hang around with. We’d just been hanging around very different groups. So I tried not to seem judgmental, but I was worried a little, because she told me she couldn’t remember everything that happened that night, as she’d had more to drink than she should have.

"Kaitlyn described the party like it was a fantastic dream, with great music and lights, and people were dancing instead of just sitting around with cups of beer. She’d never felt so happy and felt like she was surrounded by a great group of friends who all loved her. But then she’d gotten a little sick and fallen asleep. She’d woken up at Brooklyn’s house at lunchtime, and Brooklyn told her about having sex with Jim on the back porch of wherever the party was. I asked her if Brooklyn was happy about that, and she said it made her feel really sore and achy the next day, but she was glad she’d done it. And then Kaitlyn said she was kind of mad about having slept through it all, because Jim had started out interested in her, first.

“Kaitlyn asked me if I was still a virgin, and I told her I was, and she said she was, too, but she was ready to change that. I really didn’t know what to say except that I thought maybe she shouldn’t be drunk or high when it happened. At first she acted mad that I’d say that and we didn’t talk anymore while she drove, but by the time we got to her house, she told me she was really happy I cared about her, and that she’d be careful when she did it. What else could I say except I hoped she found the right guy? Inside my head I was thinking, ‘and that he doesn’t think he needs to give you drugs to make it happen.’ Slightly ironic, I know.”



3

“It’s been awhile since I thought all this through, I mean, nearly ten years, but I remember that whole weekend very well. As it turned out, it was the last time Kaitlyn and I spent any real time together. It was clear we were taking different paths. We did have a fun time, though, and what made it especially nice was seeing how well she now got along with her younger sister, who was about thirteen then. When we were younger, Kaitlyn tended to pick on her or ignore her, but Hannah had matured quite a lot, and was very smart. We included her most of the time we were at the house.

“The second night I was there, we were playing music and dancing around, pretending to be on one of those TV contests, and we were in Hannah’s room, because it was larger. We stood on the bed for a stage, and the other three; a friend of Hannah’s was there, were the judges. Hannah had posters on three walls of Justin Bieber, which was funny to me, because the other wall had a periodic table of elements and a whiteboard with math equations written on it. Hannah’s friend, Kylie, jumped up and down on the bed while she sang and sometimes she’d stop and make kissy faces at Justin. I remember her saying something funny like, ‘Hannah practices making out by kissing her posters.’”

“And I said, ‘Oh, Kaitlyn used to do that with her Puzzle Place puppet!’ I remember thinking she’d be mad at me for revealing that, but she just laughed and said that it came in handy for when she experienced the real thing. Kylie and Hannah talked about a boy they knew at school who would be a perfect kisser, and I reminded Kaitlyn about how much she wanted to kiss the boy who lived across the street. She said, ‘But you just always wanted impossible dates with movie stars, never anyone we’d actually know for real.’” Taylor paused and looked up at Lisa when she said that.

Lisa tilted her head and spoke after a few seconds. “It’s normal to want a fantasy boyfriend at that age, I mean, around thirteen or so. It’s a safe way to explore your desires until you’re ready for the real thing. And yes, to answer your question, some women do continue to fantasize about a celebrity even after they’ve grown up and experienced actual relationships. It can be a healthy outlet as long as it doesn’t supplant reality.”

Taylor replied, “I guess I can understand that. Back then, I just told Kaitlyn I wanted to save myself for someone special. Truthfully, I was scared of sex, I mean, it had this great power, I thought, that could take you over and change you. But the other girls, even Hannah and Kylie, all said they knew how they wanted their first time to be, and Kylie said she hoped she wasn’t still a virgin when she was as old as Kaitlyn and me.”

“I rarely even went out with boys, even in groups. I was convinced the only reason they could be interested in me was for sex, not for who I was or for fun and friendship. So that night, when the other girls asked me who I’d like to be with for my first time, I told them it had to be someone so amazing and special, no one else could compare. Kaitlyn said, ‘You really do want to save yourself for a movie star, don’t you?’ And Kylie yelled, ‘Or a singer! Like Justin Bieber! I’d let him be my first!’”

“So just to get them to stop hounding me about it, I said yes. I was going to save my virginity for Justin Bieber. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. He was just a little older than me. Of course I was going to move to the city after I graduated, and I’d have a great career, we’d run into each other at a party. Maybe I’d be just a little older than the typical virgin, but obviously I’d been putting my studies and plans for the future ahead of that, and he, a high-powered star, would completely understand. I decided I’d be trying to catch a cab in the pouring rain, and he’d offer me a ride in his limousine. We’d talk and find out we had so many things in common. And it would all happen from there.

"I made up my mind to it almost immediately, and then spent the next couple of years adding details and refinement to this plan. And then I kind of put it at the back of my mind, because I really was focused on my studies and plans for the future. And now here we are.” Taylor shrugged her shoulders. “That’s that.”

Lisa said, “I think you left out a great deal of middle, but we will have to take that up again on Thursday. Until then, I recommend you call George, or,” Lisa shook her head a little, “at least text him if that’s how your crowd communicates. But a phone call is better. Write down what you are going to say, if you need to.”

“But what on earth do I say to him? Thank you?” Taylor winced a little, waiting for the answer.

“I think the safest thing to do is apologize if he felt taken advantage of. And then you can go from there, based on his reply. You have a few more issues to sort out, though, so it would be wise to avoid a heavy vodka tonic session for awhile.” Lisa looked a bit stern and motherly as she spoke, but then she smiled, saying, “Once you figure out just what it is you really want from this, you’ll be ready to make the next sober move.”

Taylor sighed. “Thanks, Lisa. I’ll...think about calling him. Or I’ll text. And I’ll call Megan and tell her how much I enjoyed her engagement party...” she trailed off.

“Good. Emily Post would be proud. I’ll see you on Thursday.” Lisa waved Taylor off and sat down to type out her notes, laughing despite her attempt at professional objectivity. “Justin Bieber?”


we never say "goodbye"

Shall I tell you a story today?

Do you like the sound of my voice in your head? I hope that, when you read my words, you feel the surface of what I'm touching and experience the taste on your tongue. And I hope I sound girly and strong and smart and sexy and funny, but mostly I hope I sound interesting. I hope my words are fragrant enough to draw you in.


Once upon a time there was a woman who liked to watch a man run. Any man, sure, but most particularly, this man, long and lean and earnest. She studied him as an artist studies a nearly-finished canvas. She watched his chest rise and fall with the cadence of his steps, and the way his shoulders moved up and back in corresponding rhythm, and even though she wasn't quite close enough to hear, she could easily imagine the increasing strain of his breath, the quickly exhaled puffs matching the beat of his sturdy heart.

Now and then he'd shake his head to fling the beads of sweat from his hair, and it reminded her of a boy she once knew and loved. Truthfully, that was a boy she imagined loving, not one she actually knew at all. But this many years later, the memory was just as good as reality might have been. She saw that boy in the man's face as he ran his hands through his hair, but she appreciated the sinewy strength of the mature adult he'd become. 

She saw all of this in her mind's eye as she sipped her coffee, sitting in the bookshop by the window facing the street. She had every detail memorized and for many years hoped that someday she and the man would meet so that she could marry reality with the short reel she carried in her head, but now, after so much more time passed, she knew it would probably never happen. So, she contented herself with building memories from the photographs he once shared, and from all those afternoon phone calls in years past.


He's older now, they both are, of course. He wears more lines on his face and she wears more heaviness on hers. But she knows the sound of his voice will have changed little; she remembers the shift in tone when he is optimistic and when he is concerned and when he is aroused. And she knows he is still strong and can still run fast and far. Those are the best things to know, for now.