Love is an endless mystery,
for it has nothing else to explain it.
– Rabindranath Tagore
Love is an endless mystery,
for it has nothing else to explain it.
– Rabindranath Tagore
“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.”
Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins / Now First Published
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Chapter 14 – Part 2. The Old Man Met Joe’s Father
Joe decided Sam was nuts. He started to get up when Sam touched his arm, “You want to hear about Joe and the Flamingo’s then keep your itchy ass in the seat. You young people got to show more respect and patience.”
Joe forced a smile, “Go on, Sam. I’m listening.”
“All right. I had to give you the background stuff. You don’t know nothing until you know context. Maybe I didn’t go to college, but I graduated from the school of getting knocked down and getting back up. Yes sir. I graduated with honors from that place.”
“What about Kenny?” Joe prodded.
“I was just getting to that. You gonna drink your coffee? You only took a sip. If you’re not going to drink slide it on over.”
Joe slid the worst tasting coffee he ever tasted in his life across the booth to Sam. Sam took a sip and said, “Man, this is strong. It’s going put hair on my chest, not that I need any more. I like it. You don’t know what you’re missing, son. The guy next to me happens to be Kenny. I say, “Kenny?” He turns a bit sideways, you know you can’t turn full sideways when you’re at the urinals it’s against urinal protocol. That’s another rule. Anyway, Kenny goes, “Kiss my ass if it isn’t Sam Fidler.”
Joe made a mental note of Sam’s last name and was going to text it to Jody. It is one piece of information.
“Well Kenny and me, we go way back. Kenny invites me to have a drink at a bar down the street. We have a beer and talk over old times. He tells me he’s working with Merle. Can you beat that. Kenny Langoff, who can’t tell up from down, got himself a job working sound for the king of singers, Merle Haggard. He tells me he has to work sound for this other group, the Flamingos. They were a warm up act for Merle. He said the lead guitarist and singer, his name was Joe something or other. I think it ended in a vowel. It was some kind of foreign name like Mexican or Italian. I can’t tell the difference. I got nothing against them, I like their food.”
“What did Lenny tell you about Joe?” Joe prodded again.
“I tell you, I didn’t like this guy from the second I seen him. The damn fool was wearing sneakers instead of cowboy boots. Do I have to same more?”
Joe shook his head.
“Besides, he couldn’t hit the right note if it stood right in front of him. His mama must have been the one told him he could sing, because he’d scare a cat off the fence at midnight with what come out of his mouth. There was this girl, now she was a looker. She was pure country. She was poured into her jeans and was wearing real cowboy boots, she looked mighty fine with her blonde hair and all. She could sing. She sounded a little bit Patsy Cline and a little bit like Tanya Tucker. I could tell she and Joe were together, the way they looked at each other. Joe could play the guitar okay, but he was no Merle, no sir. The other guitarist was fair at best. He played like he smoked one too many of them funny cigarettes. Now, the drummer, he was the only one with any real talent. He’d whack away on the drums trying to give whatever they was doing a good beat. You could tell he was frustrated.”
Joe glanced at the time on his iPhone.
Sam noticed and said, “That’s the trouble with young people, you’re always in a rush and miss out on life. It’s the last time I’m gonna tell you to take the ants out of your pants. Don’t make me lose my place. Kenny was telling me that Joe wanted Kenny to get him some cocaine for the Flamingos. Kenny told him to find somebody else. He don’t do drugs. Kenny, he’s a straight shooter. He tells Joe to find another sound man. Joe pleaded with Kenny to do the sound. Kenny said he’d do it but he’d need help, it’d cost an extra fifty dollars. That was me. That’s how I got to shake Joe Flamingo’s hand. I never seen him again.”
Joe said, “Thanks.” He offered his hand and stood up.
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.
Joe stood up, walked to refrigerator, opened it, pulled out a bottle of beer, opened the bottle, and carried it back to his gramma. He said, “Gramma, this is your third beer. You sure you can handle it. You’re not a big woman. I don’t think you weigh more than a hundred ten pounds and you’re no more than five feet two inches tall.”
Teresa took a long sip of her beer then set it on the coffee table in front of her. She said, “Beer don’t bother me.What bother’s me is water. Water puts the weight on you. You don’t believe me? Go weigh yourself then drink a big glass of water, then weigh yourself again, you gonna gain weight. Besides, they put so many chemicals in water to make it clean you might as well be drinking laundry detergent.”
Joe shrugged and decided not to get into a debate on how many calories are in a glass of water. Instead he said, “I never heard of Joe Ritchie or any family with that last name.
There were no Ritchie’s living near us. I didn’t go to school with any. At least I don’t remember any families near us.”
Teresa looked at Joe and said, “You know why there was no Ritchie’s living near us? You want me to tell you why?”
“Yes,” said Joe. He wanted to keep the conversation moving.
“That’s because the Ritchie’s are no good riffraff. Every one of them. They not the scum of the Earth, they lower than the scum of the Earth.”
“How do you know this, Gramma?” ask Joe trying to visualize what Teresa said.
“I tell you how I know. I know it because anybody who raise a son like Joe Ritchie can’t be any good and they got to be lower than scum. That’s how I know.”
Joe kept quiet. He took a small sip of his beer so he didn’t have to answer.
Teresa continued. Joe Ritchie he’s four years older than Annette. He quit going to Ohio State when he was a junior so he could start his own band. He got this stupid idea he can sing and play guitar. He got two other nobodies to quit with him and they start a group. He thinks he’s gonna make it big.”
Joe interrupted Teresa, “Did mom know him when he quit going to OSU?”
Teresa waved her hand, “No, she didn’t know him them. Don’t interrupt me. They start a group and call it Joe and the Flamingos. What kind of name is that? Nobody ever saw a flamingo around here. They start playing at some beer joints. Annette, she’s underage, but they go to this beer joint I think it was called The Crazy Cat but it’s closed. They don’t check the ID of the woman if they are pretty and Annette, she knock any man’s eyes out of his head. She got this dark, curly hair. She’s got these dark brown eyes. Her skin is a bit darker like yours and mine. I’m from southern Italy, not like the snobs from northern Italy. She’s got the face and body that make a man’s heart stop cold when he looks at her. You get your looks from her. Believe me, Joe Ritchie his face can’t make the cover of a dog magazine.”
Joe said, “She fell for Joe Ritchie, a college dropout? I never heard of Joe and the Flamingos.”
“Ah, you think I’m surprised you never heard of a has been, never was been? But, Annette fell for him like a ton of bricks fall right on top of her. She stop paying attention to her studies, she starts being Joe and the Flamingos groupie. When she come home we fight all the time. I tell her Joe Ritchie is a no good bum who not going to do anything with his life. Annette? She’s listening to her heart instead of me. I’m going embarrass you now, but you can’t embarrass the dead, so it’s okay if I say it. Annette dropped out of college and starts living with this guy. I beg her to use protection. She tells me not to worry. You ever know a mama not to worry, of course not. Six months later, Annette tells me she got a loaf of bread in the oven. You know what I mean? She was pregnant with you if you’re brain’s not so good.”
“What did Joe Ritchie say?” asked Joe.
“How do I know? He never come by. Me and Patrice never see him. Annette tells me the Flamingos are on the road and he’ll be back and they gonna move together to Hollywood when he makes it big. Then they talk about getting married. She ask me if she can stay in her room until Joe Ritchie comes back to get her. What I am going to say? Of course, she can stay in her room. You know what happened to the Flamingos? I tell you what happened to them. They flew the coop. They never came back. All she get is a few letters from Joe Wright. Joe Wright, huh! I shoulda named him Joe Wrong. But his real name is Joe Ritchie. Now you know the whole story. What you gonna do with it?”
“I’m going to find Joe Ritchie. I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m find him.”
“Joe, I warn you, you digging up dirt. You know what happens when you dig up dirt you should leave in the garden?”
“No, Gramma, I don’t have any idea.”
“You gonna end up tracking the dirt in your house and you gonna be sorry.”