“The Child Is Father To the Man” Poem by GErard Manley Hopkins

“The child is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’
No; what the poet did write ran,
‘The man is father to the child.’
‘The child is father to the man!’
How can he be? The words are wild.”

Excerpt From
Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins / Now First Published
Gerard Manley Hopkins

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“My Heart Leaps Up” Poem by William Wordsworth on Real Joy

My Heart Leaps Up

My heart leaps up when I behold 

   A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began; 

So is it now I am a man; 

So be it when I shall grow old, 

   Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

Chapter 26 ~ Rosa’s Story Turns Joe’s World Upside Down

Chapter 26 ~ Rosa’s Story Turns Joe’s World Upside Down

Rosa gripped her white cloth napkin in her right hand as if she were trying to strangle the breath out of it. She raised the napkin to her dark brown eyes and dabbed at them. She said, “I got to tell this story to somebody besides Father Tim. Father Patrick was the Pastor when I was hired. Thank God for Blessed Sacrament. They the only place gonna hire a Mexican woman even though I was an American citizen. Everybody is asking me for my papers. They all think I sneak across the border. I was born here. That makes me a good a citizen as anybody else born here.

“At first I was the house cleaner. They already got a cook. Father Patrick, he like American food, use know, he likes steak and potatoes. He hates vegetables. I tole him more than once he better eat vegetables, but he dint. You know what happened? He got a heart attack ten years later and dropped dead right over there.

“Rosa pointed her arm toward a spot on the floor in front of the refrigerator. I still can see him. Plop, that’s what it sounded like. I was doing dishes. I hear this plop and there he was. I scream but the other two priests are out. The cook is gone shopping. I’m all alone. I run to Father Patrick, he opens his eyes. I hold his hand and I start praying. He looks at me and says, “I’m sorry.” Poof, he’s gone. I know what he’s sorry about. He’s sorry about hiring that sum oh bitch, Joe Ritchee.”

“The story I gonna tell was when Father Tim comes here. He comes two weeks after I am hired. Two weeks after Father Time comes, Father Patrick hires Joe Ritchee. He got the good looks. He got the black hair. He got the dark eyes. He got the features. And, the way he moves if use a woman with any blood flowing use gonna chase him and try to land him. He knew this. He don’t have to do anything to get any woman he wants. He only got to give them the look.”

Joe thought of his mother and wondered if she felt the same way as Rosa did about Joe Ritchie. He had only taken a bite of his food. He couldn’t eat.

Rosa continued, “I’m working in the church. I can’t go flirting with anyone. Father Patrick, he doesn’t like any nonsense going on with the help. I can’t afford to lose this job. Father Tim, here, he knows how I feel. He sees me looking at Joe when Joe doesn’t know it. Joe been working here two weeks and he starts talking to me. Small talk, he tries to use Spanish, but he don’t know what he’s saying. I think it’s cute the way he says buenas dias. He says, ‘bonus days.’ Father Tim, he got the eye. He knows what Joe is doing. I’m cleaning library and Father Tim is in the library doing his sermon for Sunday and Father Tim say, ‘Rosa, can we talk for a minute?’

“I says, “chure.” 

Father Tim says, “You have the eyes for Joe. I can see it.”

“I turn red. I say, ‘I don’t know what chu talking about.'”

“Father Tim, he says, ‘I didn’t enter the seminary until I was in grad school. I dated. I know the signs.”

“I says, “So?”

“Father Tim says, ‘Watch out. I don’t have a good feeling about him. Father Pat can’t see it. He thinks Joe’s a saint. He’s not and he’ll use you. I’m not going to say another word. Trust me on this one, Rosa. You’re a nice woman and you deserve better.”

“I tell Father Tim not to worry. Nothing is going on. At the time nothing was going on, so I was telling the truth. A week later, I’m in the laundry room and Joe comes in. I see him and my heart starts beating. He gives me this kind of smile I can’t describe. If I was chocolate I melt all over the floor. I’m putting clothes in the drier. He comes up behind me puts his arms around my waist and pulls me up and the next thing I know we’re kissing. It’s not long before I spending the night at Joe’s apartment. Three months later my period doesn’t happen. Joe knocked me up. Did he ever. I know I’m gonna get fired. I tell Joe. He tells me it’s impossible, I must be sleeping with someone else. That sum ah bitch. I don’t sleep around. I was in love.

“The next day Father Tim see me. I keep my back to him because I’m crying. Father Tim asks me what’s wrong. I break down and tell him the whole story. Father Tim says don’t worry, you’re not going to lose your job. He tole Father Pat and I hear them arguing. Father Tim he hollers at Father Pat and lets him know what’s the right thing to do. Father Pat gives in and he doesn’t fire me, but he believes Joe. 

Tears are streaming down Rosa’s face. She stopped speaking, closes her eyes for a minute before continuing. “Eight months later two things happen, I give birth to the most beautiful baby girl use ever seen. I name her Graciaella. I love her. Joe won’t even come to see her. It’s his child. She’s got his eyes and his hair. It don’t matter because Joe leaves Blessed Sacrament.”

Father Tim interrupted. “Joe left Blessed Sacrament with the Sunday collection. One of the ushers saw him grabbing it and told me. I told Father Pat. I thought he might have a heart attack. We called the police. Joe Ritchie was caught heading toward Salina. Father Pat got the Sunday collection back but wouldn’t press charges. No one knew where Joe Ritchie went. He disappeared off the face of earth as far as we were concerned.”

“Good riddance to that piece of trash,” said Rosa.

“Rosa,” said Father Tim.

“Lo siento,” said Rosa.

“I have a sister?” said Joe.

“Yes, you got a beautiful sister. She going to graduate school at Boston College. She gonna be a lawyer.”

“Can I see a photo?” asked Joe.

Rosa smiled for the first time. “One minute. I gots lots of photos.”

Sam watched Joe and what he saw wasn’t a look of happiness that he had half-sister. What he saw was a dark look the kind he saw when human feeling is wiped away with human anger

Chapter 24 ~ Joe Picks Up Clues to His Father’s Past

Chapter 24 ~ Joe Picks Up Clues to His Father’s Past

Joe and Sam traveled across Missouri Route 36. The landscape was a mixture of wooded areas, cornfields, soybean fields, and small towns. Joe set the cruise control at 70, just over the posted speed limit of 65 mph. They stopped three hours later in Cameron for a fill up and bathroom break when Sam threatened to let go in Joe’s BMW. It was fall, they talked football and the baseball playoffs. Sam was pulling for the Cardinals to go deep into the baseball playoffs, but he had no hope for University of Indiana football. Joe talked about the Cleveland Indians going deep in the baseball playoffs. Both men agreed it would be good to a Cleveland against St. Louis in the World Series. When they weren’t talking sports, Sam twice asked Joe for his iPhone. Twice Joe told him no. 

When they left Cameron, they exited Route 36 and turned onto Interstate 35. Interstate 35  travels through Kansas City and straight to Wichita. If you stay on it long enough, north or south,  you’ll end up in Canada or Mexico. Once they entered Kansas, I-35 turned into a toll road. Joe picked up a ticket from an automatic ticket dispenser. The speed limit was 70 mph.

Sam broke the silence, “You got yourself wound up tighter than a squirrel during squirrel hunting season.”

Joe gave Sam a half glance, “There’s no such thing as squirrel hunting season. I’m not a hunter and you know that.”

“That’s what you know. You went to college and you think you got all the answers. You don’t got half the answers, any fool kin see that.”

“When is squirrel hunting season?” said Joe giving Sam a smug look.

Sam chuckled to himself. Then he said, “You grew up in the city, am I right?”

“So? Lots of people grow up in the city,” said Joe.

“Hell, if you grew up in the country where the real folks live, you’d learn every day is squirrel hunting season. That’s why squirrels are always twitching and acting like it’s their last day alive, which it probably is. In the city where they been domesticated. You been domesticated? Jody wants to domesticate you.”

Joe shook his head, “That’s a lame answer. It’s not official. And, I’m not interested in Jody. I am not domesticated.”

Sam laughed, “Touchy, touchy. She’s reeling you in bit by bit. You got her lure stuck in the corner of your mouth. Sam lowered his window and stuck his arm outside the car and waved it. Take a look Joe, this is all open range, it’s called the Flint Hills. You won’t see a house here. It’s got the richest grazing land in the world. Ranchers bring their cattle in here all over the world during the summer to get fat. In the spring, they do controlled burning to make sure the grasses stay pure. Sometimes the turnpike gets shutdown because of the smoke.”

“How do you know all this stuff?” asked Joe.

“You think I stayed in Terre Haute all my life? I learned the way any smart man learns, by living. Try it sometimes.”

“I didn’t mean to say you were dumb. I was only asking a question,” said Joe.

This was the way the conversation went between Joe and Sam as they traveled down I-35 through Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, El Dorado, and until the came to Exit 50 in Wichita. They exited onto Kellogg and took a left on Rock Road and drove for a mile until they came to E. Douglas. Joe took a left. He said, “It’s a little after one, let’s go to Blessed Sacrament Church and see if anyone knows anything about Joe Ritchie, then we’ll grab some lunch.”

Sam nodded. Then he said, “You want some advice or you going to be stubborn?”

“What?” said Joe.

“You’re going to be traveling through an independent town in the middle of Wichita. It’s Eastborough. The speed limit is twenty miles an hour. The cops will nail your butt if you’re going twenty one miles an hour. If you want a ticket, it’s up to you. I won’t say another word.”

Joe glanced at his speedometer. It read forty miles an hour. He hit the brakes as his BMW went past a sign saying, Entering Eastborough, Drive Safely. Speed Limit 20 – Strictly Enforced.

Joe said, “I owe you Sam.”

“Don’t mention it, you can git me a decent lunch. I don’t want no salad or fast food.”

Ten minutes later Joe pulled into the parking lot of Blessed Sacrament Church. Joe and Sam walked to the rectory, rang the door bell, and were answered a minute later by a small dark haired, Latina woman Joe assumed was the housekeeper. She said, “Can I help chu?”

Joe said, “Is the pastor in?”

“What chu want wit Father Tim? He’s busy, he gonna eat lunch in ten minutes. If you selling, give me the information, I’ll give it to him. If you converting, come back in an hour. If you need to go to confession, those are on Saturday.”

“I really need to see him. It will only take a few minutes, promise. I’m not selling anything. I’m trying to find my father.”

“Why dint you say so in the first,” said the housekeeper. She left and walked down the hallway before disappearing to her left.

Sam nudged Joe, “Git a load of that smell. I smell apple pie in the oven and some of those Mexican fajitas on the stove with green peppers and onions. Father Tim does okay. I bet he weighs over two hundred pounds the way that senora feeds him

A moment later, a thin gray haired man, in black pants, black shirt and Roman collar came down the hallway. He smiled at Joe and Sam and when he was five feet away, he said, “I’m Father Tim. How can I help you?”

Joe gave Sam a quick glance then said, “Hello, Father Tim. This is my friend, Sam. My name is Joe Astore. I’m trying to find my father Joe Ritchie. I heard he worked years ago. You probably never heard of him, perhaps there is a custodian or someone who might have known him. I just learned he’s my father and I’m trying to find him.”

“My God, Joe Ritchie. Joe Ritchie. You’re Joe Ritchie’s son. I can see the resemblance. Come in gentlemen. Would you like to stay for lunch and we can talk? I’m starving.”

Sam spoke, “That’s kind of you, Father Tim. We accept your invitation.”

Father Tim started walking down the hall toward the kitchen, he spoke as he walked, “I knew Joe Ritchie. This is my second tour at Blessed Sacrament. The first time, a number of years ago, I was a much younger priest. Blessed Sacrament was my first assignment after my ordination. Time flies, that was twenty-five years ago. Now, I’m back as the pastor, and I have two new priests trying to learn the ropes, just like I did back then.”

Father Tim turned to is right and entered a large kitchen area with a table and six chairs. He said, “Rosa, do you mind setting two more places for at the table. Joe and Sam are going to join us.” Then Father Tim said, “Joe Ritchie was hired as church custodian one month after I arrived. Oh, yes I know Joe Ritchie. What do you want to know?

Rosa looked over her shoulder, “Joe Reechee?” Then she said something in Spanish neither Joe or Sam understood. 

“Rosa, Joe here will want to know your story, too,” said Father Tim.

Chapter 23 ~ Joe Learns of His Father’s Betrayal

Chapter 23 ~ Joe Learns of His Father’s Betrayal

Joe and Sam stopped by Max Stein’s home after they left Donna and the Riverside Grill. Joe pulled up next to the curb, looked out the window at a small square house with worn white siding, and grass badly needing a haircut. He got out of the car, Sam followed him. They walked up a five foot long sidewalk. Joe rang the doorbell. It didn’t work. He knocked on the door. A heavyset woman, with blotchy skin, answered the door, partially opening it. She stared  the through the small space proved by the security chain. 

Joe introduced himself and explained he wanted to talk to Sam. He asked if she was Sylvia, she nodded and listened politely, but shook her head no. She told Joe Max’s dementia progressively worsened and on top of that, he suffered from emphysema. Sylvia said Max was sleeping and he usually slept most of the time. Joe asked if Max ever spoke about Joe Ritchie. Anger flashed across her face at the sound of Joe Ritchie’s name. She undid the chain latch and invited Joe and Sam inside cautioning them to speak softly. She led them into the living room. 

The smell of cooked cabbage, smoke, and  mildew filled the air causing Joe to stifle a gag reflex. Sam followed Joe and they sat down on a worn, stained, sofa. The coffee table in front of the sofa held an ash tray overflowing with cigarette butts, and three empty beer bottles. Sylvia plopped down in a worn E Z boy chair across from them.

“I don’t have much time. I got to be to work at Hardees by 8. I work the drive through window until midnight. It’s not much, but it’s something. I don’t suppose either one of you got a smoke?”

“No, ma’am,” said Joe.

“I gave it up ten years ago,” said Sam.  

“I can’t live without them. I don’t know what anybody told you, but I’ll tell you one thing, Joe Ritchie is dirty rotten son of a bitch,” said Sylvia sticking a thumb into the roof of her mouth and adjusting an upper plate.

Joe said, “I thought he helped Max when Max had cancer?”

“Hah!” Sylvia slapped her leg. “He helped him out okay. What he was really doing was helping his self out. That’s what he was doing. In his prime, Max was a genius. All he needed was a break. You ask anybody who heard him, he was as good a drummer as ever lived. Anybody tell you Max started playing drums when he was five? He never had a lesson. He picked it up all by his self. He could fill in on any song anyone played. You didn’t have to tell him the music. He was that good. He was even better as a song writer. The tramp Gloria, who slept with any man she thought might help her get ahead, convinced Joe Ritchie to steal Max’s music and make it his own.”

“How do you know this?” asked Joe.

“I don’t have it first hand, but I know this for a fact. I know this because I was always there. He’d come in and see how Max was doing. Not all time, but occasionally he’d give me ten bucks toward Max’s health costs. Ten bucks don’t go far. It paid for a few packs of cigarettes that’s all. Anyway, every time Joe comes in the room when I was there, Joe starts talking about music. This always got Max’s interest. He was always asking Max about the songs he wrote. He said Gloria went on the road with Danny whatever his last name was while he was in county. He said Gloria needed new music and the Flamingos were going to get back together when Max was better. I knew this was a bunch of horse manure but I didn’t want to say anything to upset Max. When Max came home, Joe Ritchie kept coming and the next thing I know he stops coming. I asked Max about it. Max told me he gave Joe Ritchie all his original music. That was the only time Max and I ever fought. Joe Ritchie stole every piece of music Max ever writ. A year later, Max is listening to a station and he hears one of his songs. He starts swearing and beating his fist. He’s screaming, ‘It’s on the charts. That’s my song.'”

“Did Joe Ritchie perform the song?” asked Joe.

“Hell no. He can’t sing worth a damn. It was one of the big country singers. It could have been Garth or George or Tracy. I don’t remember. But it broke Max’s heart and he’s never been same.”

“Do you remember the name of the song?” asked Sam.

Joe glanced at Sam and wondered why he hadn’t thought of that question. 

Sylvia said, “I’ll never forget it. It was called “Fallen Angel. But the hit was called “Falling Star.” All the words was the same so was the music according to Max. He should know, he wrote it. We even went to a lawyer. The lawyer asked if we had a copy of the music. How could we, the excuse for a man who’s lower than whale crap and that’s at the bottom of sea, took it. Anyway, I got to leave and that means you two can get out of here. You don’t have twenty you can spot me? I’ll pay you back when you pass through town again.”

Sam gave Joe a look. Joe stood, thanked Sylvia for talking to him. He reached into his back pants pocket and pulled out his wallet. He took out a twenty and handed it to Sylvia. She tucked the twenty in her bra and walked Joe and Sam to the door.

The next morning Joe and Max were on the road, coffee in the cup holders. Joe had a breakfast wrap from Starbucks to go with his coffee. Max had a breakfast sandwich and coffee from MacDonalds. They headed back toward Hannibal and across Route 36 to Cameron, Missouri where they’d pick up I-35 to Wichita.

Sam took a sip of his coffee and said, “Who do you believe, Joe? Their stories are as different as night and day.”

Joe shook his head, “Who is Joe Ritchie, Sam? Is he as good as Donna said or as bad as Sylvia said. I’m more confused now than when we began. Donna wouldn’t know about the music. At least I don’t think so. It doesn’t seem like she hung out with Sylvia. If Joe Ritchie befriended Max while he was sick so he could steal his music, he’s about as low a human being as there is.”

Sam sat quietly for a while. He stared out the window as the crossed the Mississippi and went through Hannibal. Twenty minutes later, Sam spoke, “You ever hear of Ken Peterson?”

Joe’s first thought, here comes another story. Joe said, “Never heard of a Ken Peterson. Who was he?”

“You’re the sports announcer. How kin you call yourself a sports announcer and you never heard of Ken Peterson?”

“What sport did he play?” asked Joe choosing not to argue.

“I went to high school with Ken. That was when I lived in Terre Haute. I didn’t always live in a hick town like Greenville. Ken was two years ahead of me. He played centerfield for the high school team and I swear he was better than Willie Mays. Ken could hit the cover off a baseball. He got signed right out of high school by the Cubs. He played only one year of Triple A ball and the Cubs called him up. Have the woman who’s chasing after you look him up. He went to Spring training and won the starting job in centerfield. He lit it up. Everybody in Terre Haute followed what he was doing. He was going to be the next hitter after Ted Williams to hit four hundred. I know he would have made it. He was hitting four twenty two in the middle of July. He scared all the pitchers. That’s like getting a hit every other time. Then he fell apart. He stopped hitting. He was benched by the end of August. The Cubs let him go after the season.”

“What happened?” asked Joe.

“His best friend on Cubs stole his girlfriend. You may as well has stolen his life. Same thing happened to Max is the way I figure it.”

Chapter 14 – Part 1. An Old Man Has a Long Memory

Chapter 14 – Part 1 – An Old Man Has a Long Memory

Joe stood in front of three coffee machines, dark roast, regular, and hazelnut. Joe poured a small cup of dark roast for himself and a regular for the old guy. The old guy stood in front of the donut tray with a paper plate in his hand. He stacked two jelly donuts, two glazed donuts and one bear claw on top of each other. Joe walked over to the counter and pointed to the old guy.

The cashier hollered, “Hey, Sam, how many donuts you got?”

Sam answered and waved, “I got five on my plate, but I’m gonna come back and get two to go.”

Joe paid the cashier and carried the coffees over to one of four booths that sat along the windows. Sam was already sitting down and eating a strawberry jelly donut when Joe arrived at the booth. Joe set a coffee in front of Sam and one on his side of the booth.

Sam spoke to Joe with his mouth half full with the Jelly donut, “What’s your name so I can thank you properly?”

“It’s Joe.”

“Thank you, Joe. I usually don’t eat much, but since you offered, I figure why not. These are good donuts, want a bite?” Sam said offering Joe the half eaten strawberry jelly donut.

Joe raised a hand, “No thanks, Sam. I’m not hungry. Tell me about Joe and the Flamingos. When did you meet Joe? What did he look like?”

“Not so fast, Joe. That’s funny, you got the same name as the Flamingo guy. Why you interested in them?”

Joe didn’t want to go into his story. He wasn’t even sure Sam could help him. But, Sam might know something. Joe said, “My mom loved that group, she had all their recordings.”

Sam put the rest of the strawberry jelly donut in his mouth and wiped the excess jelly on his hands onto this pants. Then he picked up a glaze donut. He held the glazed donut in his hand while he quickly chewed on his jelly donut. He took a sip of coffee, swallowed what was left of the jelly donut and then fit half of the glazed donut into his mouth. When he finished chewing the glazed donut, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said, “Sometimes my eyes are bigger than my stomach. I got lunch and dinner on this plate. I thank you for my three meals today. About the Flamingos. I seen em twice. The first time I seen em was right here in Greenville when they performed with Merle. Boy that Merle Haggard was good. You ever listen to his stuff? If you listen to old country music he’ll be on it.”

Joe nodded to keep Sam talking.

Sam continued, “It was at the fairgrounds. Merle was the star attraction that year. The place was jammed to see Merle. They had a couple of warm up acts, Joe and the Flamingos was one of the warm up acts for Merle.”

“Joe and the Flamingos played country music? Joe asked.

“Let’s put it this way, that’s what they was trying to play. I was here with my buddy Kenny Langoff. You know Kenny?”

Joe knew this was a mistake. He began to look for a way to end the conversation politely.

Joe said, “No. I never met Kenny.”

“That’s a shame. Kenny ate hard boiled eggs whole, the shell and all. He’s the only one I ever saw could do that.”

“Quite a man that Kenny to be able to do that. When did you meet Joe?”

“Kenny was the sound man for the Flamingos. Kenny and me, we were in the Army together. Things was better for me back them. I rented a trailer between jobs. You ever live in a trailer?”

Joe shook his head.

Sam continued, “My rent ran out and I had to either pay up or get e vic ted. I didn’t have the dough to pay so I was going to leave early the next morning and drive my pickup to Rockport where I figure I could get a job on a barge on the Mississippi. I didn’t have enough money for gas all the way. I was going to try to do odd jobs like cut grass something like that. It might take me a week to get there. I stopped right in this here station. I filled my pickup truck with gas, then I come in here to go to the toilet. Just like I met you, I bellied up to the urinal. There were two of them at that time. Normally I would not look at the guy next to me. Nobody does that when you go. It’s an unwritten rule.”

Joe felt like he was running on a treadmill and making about as much progress as if he were. He knew Sam wanted company and he was going to drag out his story. Joe said,

“It’s a rule I live by.” He did this just to show Sam he was listening.

Sam took a long drink of his coffee, “I’m glad you didn’t bring me the hazelnut. I can’t stand it. I’m careful of the people who drink hazelnut coffee. You know why?”

Joe shook his head no.

“I think they cheat on their taxes. I can’t prove it. But I wrote to the IRS about it. They never answered.”

CHAPTER 14 CONTINUED AFTER EASTER – HAPPY EASTER

Chapter 13 ~ A Startling Conversation at the Urinal

Chapter 13 ~ A Startling Conversation at the Urinal

When Joe walked into the gas station, he saw donuts sitting next to a coffee bar. Two truck drivers were filling up thermoses at the coffee bar. They glanced at Joe. Joe nodded. They nodded back, and Joe headed for the room marked, Men’s. When Joe reached the Men’s room, he pushed the door and saw four urinals. He held his breath, the men’s room smelled as if the urinals and toilets hadn’t been cleaned in a week. He had to go, so he started breathing through his mouth and walked toward the urinals. Two of them had Out of Order signs posted on them. An old guy with a face resembling an overcooked bake potato and a shaggy hair cut that gave every appearance it was self cut without the aid of a mirror. The old guy was standing in front of the third urinal. The only empty urinal was next to the old guy. Joe noticed that the first three urinals had large full page ads on the wall advertising goods he assumed the gas station sold. The fourth urinal had an old faded poster featuring the deceased country singer Merle Haggard.

Joe walked up the to fourth urinal. The man next to him, gave a slight glance and returned his stare straight at the wall. He said, “A guy your age doesn’t have to wait for the flow. I been here five minutes and I believe I’m going to be successful. You got to be my good luck charm. You live around here or traveling through?”

All Joe wanted to do was empty his bladder, but he didn’t want to be impolite. He said, “Passing through.”

The old guy glanced over and said, “I know you from somewhere. I won’t forget.”

I don’t think so. I’ve never been here,” said Joe.

The old guy said, “I’m retired. I can stand here all day if I have to. It’s not boring, guys like you come and go. I get to ask them where they’re going. Where’re you headed?”

Joe rolled his eyes up at the poster, and was eyeball to eyeball with Merle Haggard. Joe said, “Quincy, Illinois.”

“I know where that is, it’s on the Mississippi River. You ever swim in the Mississippi?” asked the old guy.

Joe only wanted to finish up and get on the road. Stopping here was a mistake. He said,

“I’ve flown over it, I never swam in it.” Joe finished and zipped up his pants and turned toward the sinks.

“Too bad. Only real men can handle it. I remember when I was your age, I was working on a barge and jumped in and swam to shore. Know why I did it? My buddy bet me a buck I didn’t dare do it. Hell, they never stopped to get me and I never got my buck. I didn’t get my pay either. It’s coming.”

The old guy said, “I seen you staring at the poster. I met him. Shook his hand.”
Joe said, “Merle Haggard?”

“Don’t bother me, son. I’m flowing and when your flowing you’re knowing.”

Joe walked away from the urinal to the sinks and began washing his hands.

The old guy came up and stood at the next sink. He said, “I stand in front of the urinal for ten minutes to go for ten seconds.”

Joe half smiled and nodded and reached for a paper towel.

“Nope. It wasn’t Merle. If it was, I’d never wash my hand. It was the leader of the Flamingos. I got to shake the group leader’s hand. He’s a lying son of bitch.”

Joe turned and looked at the old guy and said, “Joe and the Flamingos?”

“I don’t know his last name. I think the guys last name was Flamingo. He named the group after himself, Joe and the Flamingos.”

Joe said, “Can I buy you a coffee and a donut? I’d like to hear your story.”

The old guy looked at Joe in mirror and stared at him for a moment, then nodded.