In driving my mom crazy during this crummy time of not-going- anywhere-ever, not doing anything whatsoever——sorry, I already got off track. Anyway, Mom told me I’m watching too many “Babysitter in the House” reruns and eating too much junk food.
So, I said to her ‘what else do you think a 12-year-old stuck in the house all day should do?’
I meant that rhetorically, but she didn’t take it that way. As a punishment, she’s making me write a letter. A letter? Who does that anymore?
Anyway, she really didn’t have to make me write you. I told her that if I HAVE to write a letter I’m writing to my grandma. I’m sorry if it sounded like I was FORCED to write you. I love talking to you and texting you. But well… letters are so lame, don’t you think?
She gave me this huge, long, boring lecture on the importance of letter writing. That it’s a long ago art, no one appreciates the practice anymore. So, I asked her when she wrote a letter last and she told me not to be a smart ass and just write the damn letter. I think I’m getting on her nerves.
How are you doing? It’s great Skyping with you and all. I wish I would have been doing that instead when Mom caught me watching TV (she commented that it was the millionth time).
I heard on the news that Cleveland is doing okay. Are you staying in? I bet you hate it. You love to go places. Just like me, your granddaughter. I guess it runs in the family.
My friend, Staci, came by the other day. She stood in the driveway and I stayed put in our open garage. We talked for over an hour. She said her aunt is doing okay now. Remember? She’s a nurse here at one of the hospitals. She just went back to work.
We started talking about being cooped up in the house all day. Staci is by herself a lot because her mom works all the time. Being a firefighter, she’s always on call, especially nowadays. She misses her but she’s glad that she can watch whatever TV shows she wants when she wants to. I’m glad my mom can work from home, but sometimes I just wish she would go on a long drive and take Mattie. Little brothers are such a pain!
The entire family is going cray cray over school starting. I’m a little edgy myself. I mean, I would love to see my friends and show off new clothes, but, that’s just stupid. It’s so hard to take all this serious, but it sure looks like we should, right?
This may sound like, what is it you say?—hogwash, to you, but with all this crud going on and all the different opinions about it, it helps me to think about what you would do. You ALWAYS know what to do, Grandma. I’m pretty sure you would say don’t be an idiot. That for now, we have to all just hunker down. That the storm will eventually blow over.
I just heard Dad come in. Mom said we were all going to eat together, even if Dad came home really late. It’s pretty late now, but I’m glad she wants to do that. Besides, I’m helping make nachos, my fave!
And, I want to hear if school officials are any closer to a decision. I know it’s tough on Dad, being a high school principal right now. He’s pulled in all different directions. It’s so embarrassing that MY dad is the principal at MY school, but for now I just feel really bad for him.
Well, take care, Grandma! I’m super hungry and well, I mean… nachos?!! Tonight’s meal will rock. So much better than that lame vegetable lasagna Mom made last night. I hope you write me back. I think it would be super cool to get an actual letter in the mail. Maybe Mom was on to something.
Dana glanced over at Chad, her usual shrug and sigh followed.
“Hey, girlfriend, don’t be too hard on old Roger. This stuff is getting to be a bit too much for the old chap to handle.” Chad said from his desk, the appropriate length of space away.
“I know. I really try to remember that. It’s just a tad difficult at times.”
Dana opened her desk drawer pulling out a dark chocolate covered nougat candy bar.
“I see you’re stress eating again.” Chad smiled as he tilted his head to one side.
“Yes, asshole, I’m stress eating again.” Dana cocked her head as she smirked. “I ate a whole pint of Chunky Monkey last night.”
“That’s all.” Chad shrugged.
“With half a sleeve of peanut butter moose tracks cookies.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he said.
“Dana! Where is the quote from that infectious disease specialist? You know, the doctor that…”
It wasn’t hard for Dana to tune out the news producer’s question. She knew where this was going. Certain requests followed an algorithm all their own. For instance:
Where are the—that would be the new cases stats, CDC current guidelines, hospitalization rates, in that order.
Bring the report on—would be ‘the-most-affected- at- the-present-time’ state data on testing sites, various countries’ safety guidelines, or air flow analysis.
Have you seen—that phrase ended with Roger. As the network evening news anchor, Roger is legendary. Chad will say that Roger is about 900 years old with over 800 years of television reporting experience. And that back in the day his reports were directly from God.
Roger’s reporting style was like no other. He had ‘presence’ as the news magazines described his aura. Tall, husky, and built like a freight train, Roger gave off an air of authority with any news story he reported. The action could be across the world, but it was as though Roger swooped down into the nation’s living rooms to speak personally from the center of shag carpets everywhere–microphone in hand, eyes cast directly on the Mr. & Mrs. as they sat spellbound, glued to their spots, senses heightened.
During his career, Roger had reported on countless wars, unforgotten presidential elections, million strong marches and protests, historical earthquakes and hurricanes. But the recent turn of events had taken a toll on him. His swagger diminished, his sharp tone now hazy, made everyone in the newsroom ache with the desire to turn their heads away. They didn’t want to watch. It was like watching a great massive bull slowly succumb to the arrows thrown his way.
Before, when the world wasn’t in hiding, Roger was everywhere. He could be found in his office preparing a broadcast, out among the staff cubicles-standing arms crossed listening to a news story, or in the production control room leaning over the panels like a kid in a pastry shop eyeing the donuts along the opposite wall.
But now, it was as if he decided to make a last stage career switch. He became a magician specializing in disappearing acts. No longer was he in the control room, his office, or even the restroom. He didn’t even patronize The Town Crier, the bar he and everyone else in the media business frequented.
On most days, staff could predict with uncanny accuracy, the exact time the producer would begin his search for Roger. This could go on forever. At which point staff began predicting when the producer would start stretching his tie away from his neck as he looked for Roger. Betting would become involved, dollars flying, Chad running the betting table. It all ended as the exasperated producer in desperation began yelling “Roger!” traipsing through cubicle rows or opening and shutting hallway doors.
Miraculously, Roger would come out of whatever shadows he found to gamely sit behind the anchor desk and report the evening’s news. His coverage wasn’t always bad. Sometimes his old swagger would reappear, his mouth would move in tangent with the teleprompter, and his eyes would focus on his viewers as he reported the numbers once again.
But for the most part, Roger’s voice would shake; his hands would tremble as he held them together on the anchor desk. The producer would stand in the control room, either shaking his head or burrowing it in his hands.
As Dana scanned her virtual files for the report her phone vibrated. A photo of a man with stubby gray hair and deep blue eyes resembling Dana’s appeared on her screen.
“Dad? How’s Mom?” Dana asked as she stopped scanning.
“Well, I had to call an ambulance. She couldn’t catch her breath and her pulse was racing.”
Elbow resting on her desk, Dana planted her forehead into her palm. For a moment her words were clogged in the middle of her throat, unable to reach the surface.
“Dana? It’ll be all right, honey.” Her dad was saying into the phone.
“I’m coming over. You can’t be alone right now.”
“No. That is the last thing you are going to do. And it’s the last thing your mom would want you to do. She would want you to keep doing your job. You know how proud she is of that job of yours.”
“I don’t care about that right now. There’s nothing here that’s more important than you two.”
“No. You’re right; there is nothing more important than family and being together. But for now that can’t happen. I have to stay here. Alone. That’s the rules. I might be… toxic.”
“If anyone isn’t toxic, it’s you Dad. But okay. You will let me know if anything happens… one way or the other?”
“Of course, I will.”
She stared at her phone as the two sharp beeps sounded signaling the end of the call. After a few minutes she hit the text button:
-Dad just called. Mom’s in the hospital.-
After a few moments as Dana waited, clenching her phone and staring at the screen, the three small dots appeared. Then:
-Babe, I’m so sorry. I want to be there so bad. Just to hold you.-
At the end of the text the red heart symbol displayed.
-I know. I will let you know if I hear any news.-
She plopped her phone down on her desk and sighed as her eyes became moist. She wiped away at them and sat still, taking deep breaths, and focusing her eyes on the always hectic scene before her.
Dana didn’t leave the newsroom. If she couldn’t be with her family she wanted to be there. This room was the one place that knew. Moment after moment a newsroom knows. Being there was right next to being constantly aware. She started looking for the virtual report again.
At nine p.m. Dana gathered her metro card and purse to head out the door. Earlier, Chad had tried to convince her to go with him to meet his husband for a late downtown restaurant dinner. After she told him she wasn’t really up to dinner, he tried without luck to get her to go home with him. He said that he would call Sam and explain. They could sit on the couch and watch a housewives’ reality show or something. Although his invitation was kind, Dana didn’t want to disrupt their evening. She said she would be fine. Besides, she told Chad, her dad had called telling her that her mom was stable, no change.
So, Dana donned her face mask and headed toward the station floor’s elevator. As she walked down the hall, a shadow moved across the corridor. Startled, she drew in her breath and clutched her bag.
“I’m sorry about your mom, Dana. Have you heard anything?” A voice said. As Dana recovered, she crept toward the voice. Roger stood in front of the newsroom door, arms folded, his sports jacket thrown over his shoulder, a black and silver mask across his mouth and nose.
News spreads fast in a newsroom, Dana thought to herself smiling for the first time in hours at her little pun. She looked up at Roger and answered.
“My dad called earlier. He said she was holding her own. Thanks for asking.” She smiled at him realizing that over her five years in this job Roger barely spoke to her outside of demands for data or details on news items.
“Well, please know that your mom is in my thoughts. I’m hoping she will be out of that hospital soon.” Roger sighed as the elevator doors opened and he gestured for Dana to go in first.
As the doors slammed shut he said, “As it turns out, I had a late phone conference with L.A. I’m usually home by now, with a Manhattan in hand, anticipating a good night sleep. Since all this stuff started though, it’s been a little harder to convince myself to go home.” He looked down at the elevator floor. “My wife died a few years ago. That was hard. But, back then I could go see people if I started feeling… you know. I could enjoy a drink with friends. Now this—it’s… well…”
“I know.” Dana volunteered. “My boyfriend, Clay, he’s stuck in Germany—he’s a colonel in the Army. It would be nice to have him home.”
“So…” Roger said as the elevator doors opened to the lobby and outside. “Did you know the Town Crier installed those Plexiglas dividers? At the bar? Anyway, would… never mind…”
Dana stood silent for only a nanosecond as she observed Roger. His shirt, usually crisp and smooth as glass, sported wrinkles and ink stains. His always fastidiously groomed hair stuck out in random places. He had on reading glasses which he never wore, giving off a deer in headlights impression.
Dana shot him a half smile. “Roger, I can’t think of a better thing to do right now than to sit at a bar with a Plexiglas divider.”
“So, do you think these things will stay after all this is over? I mean, I’m sure they might come in handy in certain circumstances.” Roger said. Divided by the glass, the two sat at the bar. Dana had no trouble hearing Roger’s deep baritone anchorman’s voice.
“Like when you’re on a date and the guy you’re with is a total creep?” Dana laughed.
“Or just to get away from a rowdy bar group?” Roger offered.
“Or you are at the bar when it’s crowded and a rude drunk spills his drink. The red Jägermeister hits the Plexiglas and not your brand new white dress?” Dana countered.
They both laughed as they sipped their drinks, Roger’s a Manhattan, Dana’s a Whiskey Sour.
Roger raised his glass saying, “A toast.”
Darla picked her glass up in confused preparation.
“To twenty years as an anchor for a top network news show!” Roger said as they clanked their glasses together.
Darla lowered her glass and added, “And I’m sure there will be many more years.”
“Nope.” Roger took a swig of his drink. “I handed in my retirement paperwork a month ago. Today was my last day.”
Darla shook her head trying to justify the words Roger spoke. “Wait. You just said your last day was today?”
“Yep.” Roger’s knee hit the Plexiglas as he turned toward her. “I’m done. About time, right?”
“No.” Darla said in a sharp tone. “It’s not time. Now is the worst time. How can you do that? Why, you’re the voice of reason during this particular time in history.”
Roger chuckled. “The voice of reason,” he repeated as if to himself. He smiled at her, “It’s not that I’m headed out to pasture.”
“What?” Dana asked.
“Headed out to pasture? It means, done, dried up, old. You are a young whippersnapper.”
“Oh my god.” He turned again hitting his knee on the hard plastic. “I’ve got things to do still. But, it’s time to pass the torch.”
“I do know what that means.” Dana said as she sipped her second drink. “It’s just that I’m not sure our newsroom can withstand any changes given the immediate circumstances.”
“What newsroom can? But isn’t that what the news is? Reporting change?”
“You know what I mean. Sometimes I feel as if no one is listening.” Dana shrugged.
Roger moved closer to the glass. “Oh, but child, you’re wrong. People do listen. Sometimes they just don’t want to hear the truth. So, they spin their own version or listen to skewed voices of those behind anchor desks willing to give them what they prefer to hear. Now, more than ever, we all need the truth.”
“So, now is when you decide to give up?” Dana glared at him, shaking her head.
“I’m not giving up. And I’m not leaving the news.” Roger shrugs “I’m just pivoting a bit. And you? What are your aspirations? Are you planning on a career here?”
“I don’t think so. At first, the fast pace mesmerized me, the gathering of important information, the ability to reach so many people at one time for a single worthy purpose. But now, especially now, that purpose seems flat. No one seems to care anymore.”
“Ah, but you’re wrong. People care. They are just a little misbegotten. It’s our job to steer them to port. To help them sort the chaff from the wheat.”
“There ya go again. I have no idea what you are talking about.” She took another swallow of her drink and banged her glass down on the bar.
“It’s in the Bible. Actually, the verse goes, ‘In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.’ Matthew 13:30. For me, it helps to explain separating the false from the truth.”
“I went to Sunday School,” Dana declared in a defiant tone of voice.
Roger laughed. “Just promise me you will keep that fresh view. And don’t give up on the news media. Stick with it.”
Dana considered his words then said, “I don’t know that I have the stamina needed to stick with it.”
He then did something she will remember the rest of her life. He placed his hand on the Plexiglas. Dana hesitated a moment, smiled, then placed her hand on the other side of the glass over his.
As he leaned closer he said, “I believe you do. Just never let lies fog the gathering of facts. Research and research again. Don’t get caught up in anything just because it’s easier to follow. Always search for the truth, report it, and the rest will take care of itself.”
With that Roger sighed, took out his wallet and laid cash down on the bar. “I have to go. It’s way past my bedtime. You take care of yourself. Your mom will be fine. We’re all going to be fine.”
Dana watched him amble out the door and walk out of sight. She ordered one more drink as she sat and reflected on their talk. As she sipped the last of her drink her phone vibrated.
“Tonight’s news begins with a story of breakthrough technology that will revolutionize the medical field.” Dana spoke into the camera with ease, excited to report the exhilarating news to her over five million viewers.
When the broadcast ended the producer walked up to the desk. “Good job tonight, Dana.”
“Thank you. Well, I have a date with a good looking man and his darling children. Have to go.” She got up from the desk, putting on her shoes under her seat.
The producer slapped the desk, smiling. “Tell Clay hello. And give those two little girls an enormous hug from their Uncle Chad, okay?”
“You got it.”
Dana picked up her purse. Her phone vibrated displaying a photo of an attractive elderly woman, a bright smile on her face.
“Mom, how’s it going? Are you and dad packed for your trip?”
“We are! And excited! It will be an entire day and a half of travel to get to Australia, but well worth it! Your dad is practicing his embarrassing Aussie accent, right now.”
“It’s not embarrassing! I’m getting good!” Karla could hear her father’s voice in the background.
“Well, keep me posted! I’m off to dinner.”
“Give the girls big kisses for me! We’ll be calling and texting.”
As Dana hung up the phone she walked down the hallway toward the elevator glancing in particular at one of the photos lining the wall. She patted the photo as was her habit each night upon leaving.
Roger stared down at her from his elevated spot. He died a few years back, but his image remains a huge legacy at the network. She thought of the conversation they had years before, at the Town Crier. Recalling his words, she smiled; he wasn’t giving up, and he wasn’t leaving the news. ‘I’m just pivoting a bit’, he had said.
Roger went on to write a bestseller; a scathing account of the condition of broadcasting, social media content, and a cry to humankind that if we ignore truth and justice, the world will not be able to ignore the chaos and madness manifested as a result.
His book, along with ethical leadership and monumental strides toward education and cultural cultivation resulted in a societal shift in attitude towards the credibility of news reporting. Dana reaped the benefits of the chaff separated from the wheat. She worked her way up the news ladder from investigative reporting to production, then on to a significant series investigating the criminal justice system.
For the last ten years she has occupied the news anchor spot delivering eventful stories from catastrophic weather to consequential Supreme Court decisions.
But for now, it was time to head out into the darkness. Darkness that enfolded her for only a brief while as she anticipated the glow inside the restaurant while dining with her husband and family among the many restaurant patrons. The day was over, and she reported it as good.
I used to think there was something inherently wrong with cats. My argument involved the fact that they creep up on you, or slowly slink by as they rub their sides across your legs. And when they sit and stare up at you, I believed it was a sure sign that they would like to pounce on you, much like their Tigris species descendants.
I’m a mail carrier. I drive one of those white box trucks with the red, white and blue insignia on the sides. Nowadays, I have a mail route that Alexander the Great would have been proud to call his own. Yeah, it’s that big. Consequently, I work pretty long hours. With everyone on the home delivery band wagon nowadays, my route can take me past sunset. That can get pretty annoying. But most particularly it can get annoying when a stray animal darts in front of the truck.
You know where this is going. I had a crazy, suicidal cat on my mail route. This feline is what they call a a tabby cat. Its color is striking, but perhaps because of its agility (for lack of a better word) this cat resembles a smallish Bengal tiger. Orange and black stripes run parallel down the sides. But its best feature is its eyes. They’re copper. I know this because the damn thing stares at me after racing across the street in front of my truck. Its look is brutal. It’s as if it’s beaming a challenge —next time, lady—next time.
A large portion of my route is within a tree lined, older but generally kept up neighborhood. This area holds multi-aged, multi-incomed, and generally friendly residents. The streets are urban-community narrow and perpetually crowded with cars that are parked along the sides. To navigate the streets takes Mario-Cart prowess. The only added frustration would be an object darting in front of your vehicle. Hence, the cat.
And for that matter, isn’t it dogs that chase vehicles?
There was no question in my mind that this cat wasn’t constantly on the lookout for me and my mail truck. I could sense its gearing up for attack as I began my drive through its territory. Most of the time, I was ready. I would drive very slowly down the street, my eyes darting right and left. If I was lucky that day I could breathe a sigh of relief as I turned and headed at a right angle down a more mail-friendly road. Those are the good delivery days.
But on this particular evening I was done in. I yawned as I tried to focus. Suddenly, a dark shape careened in front of the truck, a pair of iridescent eyes staring straight at me. As I slammed my foot down on the brake, the cat calmly lowered its feline shaped body down on the asphalt directly in front of my truck. Then it began licking its fur.
I forced myself out of the truck and onto the hard pavement. As I rounded the corner of the truck to the front I began yelling. Not expletives. As a mail person I maintain a distinct dignified decorum. But I yelled nevertheless. It didn’t matter. The cat was gone. I’m sure I posed a solid Instagram worthy picture as I knelt down in the middle of the street looking for the cat underneath my vehicle. It was of no use. I got back in and finished my route.
Due to a lighter load the next day I was able to deliver on the challenging cat road at midday. Because of the time of day and cooler weather, there were several masked residents outside; sitting in lawn chairs, watering their flowers, or simply waiting for their mail. I took this opportunity to ask if anyone knew anything about an orange and black striped cat in the neighborhood. I asked from the respectable distance, of course. No one knew anything of the demon cat. Of course, there were people that had cats; they had tabby cats, calico cats, Persian, but not MY cat.
This line of questioning did allow me the opportunity to converse with the neighbors. As a mail carrier I don’t get that chance very often. Many of us are captives of our trucks, delivering to the boxes waiting for us at the side of the roads, and we are on a very tight schedule. And that doesn’t include the time we spend delivering packages to residents’ front doors.
Up until a few months ago, my mail recipients weren’t home to receive packages. But now, with so many people working from home or sadly, unemployed, my residents are home. It’s still the same. I’m usually not able to converse with the package recipients. Leaving their parcels at their front door is safer. And actually this isn’t a change—with carriers long routes now, we can’t indulge in much chit-chat. If we did, we’d be delivering mail all night long. I do have to say that for the most part, I’m fortunate in that I don’t have a large constituency of packages to deliver. Some of my carrier friends are inundated with packages. Guess it depends on the neighborhood.
But there’s this one older guy, Felix Halton at 814 that receives packages all… the… time. Most of the time, Felix waits at the door for his parcel. I believe he sees me as I approach in my truck. His most distinguishing feature has to be his beautiful shoulder length white hair. Sometimes his hair is up in a ponytail trailing down the back of his neck. Felix is a tall guy, about six-three, and wiry thin. He looks like he’s been through the ringer, his features rugged and dark from too much sun.
It just so happens that the same day the damn cat decided to lounge in front of my mail truck I had a 25 pound, five foot long package for Felix. As usual, approaching his door I see Felix in the door frame, leaning against the door, a red bandanna across his lower face. He resembled a forlorn aged bandit. One of those sneering outcast characters you might see in an old spaghetti western.
“Looks like you have a situation on your hands,” Felix said from the doorway.
“You must mean the cat that likes to play chicken with my truck?” I laughed as I placed the package on the porch.
Now, Felix doesn’t like small talk. I know this as a course of the way things go. Most of the time I gently lay down his package and he waits for me to walk away before he picks it up.
So, I was a bit surprised at his remark. but he was done. He just smiled at my question, not bothering to answer, and walked back in his house shutting the door behind him.
My route takes on a film-feed not unlike a shady neighborhood version of Rear Window . The family in the two story creamy yellow house has five children. The mom perpetually looks haggard.
The bungalow on the end of my first block is home to four “Generation S’rs” (per up-to-date social media). The occupants run out to cars day and night, doesn’t matter the time, headed to jobs or a happy hour. A quiet elderly couple occupies the brick federal style house at 810. No matter the time of day that I load mail into their box, their little yippy dog waits outside to greet me.
Out of all of my residents, it’s Felix that puzzles me the most. His packages vary in shape and size, coming from all over the world. And he receives tons of mail. Not only ads or promotional stuff like a lot of mail nowadays, but envelopes with actual handwriting on them. Don’t see a lot of that these days. Especially now, everyone is Skyping or Zooming or Facetiming. Old fashioned letter writing has become obsolete. Kind of like me.
I just left a twenty-two year-old marriage. Harry, my ex decided the grass was greener on the other side of the cul-de-sac. Seriously. He literally told me that he was in love with our neighbor, at the end of our circle block.
So, most days I run solo. Harry and I have a fantastic daughter but she moved into her own apartment a year ago. Running around with a group of good friends helped me pass time, that and this job. But now my time with friends and even my daughter are limited. We might get together the social distance way—outside on patios or under trees in park settings—but there are a lot more nights at home now, with a bowl of popcorn and subscription channels as I binge watch the newest British detective series or follow house flippers.
That’s after I get off work though. There can be a lot of long work days, stretching way into the later evening hours.
On one such day the sun started disappearing over the horizon as I began the final part of my route. I had a lot of package deliveries and a not anticipated break in my schedule earlier, making the day even longer.
As I inched down ‘cat street’ my combat companion made a beeline for the truck. Slamming on the brakes, once again, tires screeching, the dominant smell of rubber permeating the air, I clinched the steering wheel in wary anticipation. I must have hit him, I was sure of it. But there he was, his copper eyes staring at me from the side of the road. Before I could get out of the truck to throttle his sneering, sleek composure, he had vanished.
Still shaken, I got back into the vehicle and, in an attempt to collect myself, I grabbed a package: Felix Halton. The name cascaded across the label. I grabbed the parcel and headed for Felix’s front porch. As I rounded the corner of his sidewalk a voice called, “I’m around back.”
I decided to follow the voice and walked around to the back of Felix’s house. There he sat on an old orange and white webbed lawn chair, his long legs crossed at the ankles. For quite some time, I hadn’t seen him without the bandana face mask. He was drinking a bottle of beer, his face relaxed. A smile, hidden for all this time, stamped on his face.
I sat his package down on the patio, smiled, and started to leave. It was then that I glanced into his back window. Aided by several lit lamps inside I could make out the interior of his house. It looked warm and inviting. But what caught my eye was a drum set situated in the middle of the room. Inscribed on the bass drum were the words: The Basic Essence.
Back in the 1970’s and 80’s The Basic Essence rock band was the epitome of the music world. They won Grammies, performed in capacity filled arenas, and sold millions of records. But the 1990’s weren’t kind. Because of grunge, alternative, and country’s explosion, there wasn’t room for their brand of music. Their lead singer tried to make a solo go of it, but he tanked. The other members slowly advanced into obscurity.
Felix Halston’s stage name was Hal and that basically was the only name he was known by. There was no question that the man sitting in the frayed lawn chair was Hal.
I turned around. “You’re Hal.” My brilliant skills honed through dozens of hours of British detective shows did not go unmerited.
“That’s right. I was Hal.” He shrugged and smiled. “And now I am Felix Halston once again.”
Felix took a swig of his beer, then said, “I’m that stereotypical person that haunts all those news stories, books, and movies. The person that dropped out of society, never to be heard from again. The guy that leaves his billion-dollar CEO wrecking ball of a job to repair old boats on some seashore. The woman that makes a bundle on Hampton Place Housewives that chucks it all for a server job in New Mexico. That’s me. Only I play drums.” He nodded toward the drum set on the other side of the window.
I shrugged and tried to comment in a wise sage kind of way, “Sometimes that’s what it takes. Dropping out of society.”
“I suppose you’re right, my dear. I dropped out a lot of years ago, but now, it’s pretty easy to hide. Isolation is the new ‘under the radar.’ Not crazy about the times we’re living in, but for a fella like me, it’s not that hard to get used to.”
I gave a half-smile, “I get it. I’m not one to complain either. Right now I don’t mind the alone time. It’s curative. Well, it’s been nice. This conversation.”
As I waved a goodbye a sudden movement against my legs caused me to jump.
“C’m here, Gilda.” Felix said as he slapped his hands on his lap.
The orange and black striped cat sprang into his lap, meowing a soft purr in contentment as he or I guess she settled down, then stared at me with sleepy content copper eyes.
“You know this animal?” I asked.
“You mean Gilda? Yeah, she’s been coming around for about four months now. I’m not sure if her owner had to move or what.” The ‘what’ stayed unexplained. “She looked through this window at me one morning so I started feeding her and leaving cream outside. At night she’ll wander over, sit in my lap for a spell, then leave. I’m not sure where she goes. It’s her business, I guess.”
That was a year ago today. I’m still delivering mail. Most of my customers are still on the same route. The cars are still parked all over the street and the two story house with the bunch of kids is still a creamy yellow color. And Felix is still at 814.
Gilda still comes to visit. And so do I. After that night, Felix left a note in the mailbox that said he enjoyed our visit and anytime I felt like having a beer on the patio, six feet apart, he would welcome my company. About two nights after that note, as I was considering which detective series to start watching, I changed into my jeans and a t-shirt, and drove to Felix’s house.
We now have a routine. I’ll text, if he doesn’t answer I know he just doesn’t want company that night, and some nights he will text and I will do the same. But most times after a green light, I find myself on Felix’s patio, drinking a beer, celebrating life, and exchanging cat stories while we both sit with cats in our laps.
You see, the surprise was not only that Gilda was a female, but that she was a pregnant female. Her litter is a part of the neighborhood now. The five kids in the two story have a golden brown kitty, the elderly couple—a brown and white male named Alexander that actually does get along well with yippy dog. Three of Gilda’s kittens went to the Gen S kids. But I got the best of the litter—Cleo.
Gilda no longer runs in front of my mail truck. She wouldn’t dream of stirring up the guardian of her precious baby. And for now, Felix and I are kindred spirits in a world full of kindred spirits.
We’re all just now coming back out of our houses and into a new world. We’re finding that people we love and know have been there all along, maybe with a beer and a chat—perhaps leaving us with a sense of relief, a flicker of a thought that we are a little less vulnerable.
All kinds of threatening situations stare us down, exposing our frailties. But we can stare back. And refuse to run; realizing that these situations can oftentimes become a source for something good.