Chapter 15 ~ Joe and His Navigator

Chapter 15 – Joe and His Navigator

Joe left the gas station knowing a bit more about Joe and the Flamingos and not much else. He was sure Sam was altogether. He chuckled to himself about the donuts he bought for Sam and how Sam hustled him for both coffees. No loss on the coffee. He tried to think how he’d describe the coffee. The dark roast smelled like burned rubber, and the taste left a bitterness in his mouth he hoped wouldn’t linger past his next cup of coffee. The only similarity to coffee was the color and the color wasn’t great. When Joe was ten feet from his car, he pressed the remote to unlock the car doors. There was a Starbucks close by where he’d get a real cup of coffee. With any luck, it’d take away the bitter taste in his mouth.

Joe walked to the driver’s side of the car. He opened the door and slid in to the driver’s seat. As he pulled on his seatbelt, the passenger door opened and Sam slid in carrying his donuts wrapped in brown paper napkins in his right hand and Joe’s coffee in his left hand.

Joe turned and stared at Sam. Sam had a toothpick sticking out of the corner of his mouth, and he was wearing an old St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball cap. His shaggy gray hair stuck out from the edges of the cap and covered the tops of his ears.

Joe said, “What are you doing, Sam?”

Sam ignored Joe. He sat the coffee in the cup holder, put the napkin covered donuts on his lap, and slip the seatbelt on. He said, “I’m your co-pilot, navigator, what do you think I’m doing? What are you waiting for, let’s hit the road.”

“Do I have to call the police?” asked Joe. Joe was now convinced Sam was nuts.

“Don’t do that, it’s not in your best interests,” said Sam matter of factly.

“What’s in my best interests is to have you unbuckle the seatbelt, and get out of the car. I’ve got twenty dollars for you if you’re nice enough and leave without causing any trouble.”

Sam turned his head slightly toward Joe. He said, “Sonny, you don’t know the diddle about life. That’s a fact. You probably been to college. Me? I made it to the eighth grade. But I learned a lot more than you ever did in college. You ever learn how to go across the country hitching rides on freight trains? I don’t think so. You ever learn how to make it day to day when you don’t have a job and nobody is hiring? I don’t think so. I got more street smarts in my baby toe then you got in your whole body.”

Joe’s temper was nudging the boiling point. He fought to control it.

Sam said, “What’s it going to hurt to have me along for the six hour ride to Quincy? That’s where you’re going.”

Joe stared at him. He couldn’t figure out Sam’s game. Joe’s iPhone chimed. He glanced at his phone. Jody sent him a text.

Sam continued, “Think of me as your big brother. I’m going keep you out of trouble. I gonna help you find your dope tokin, coke sniffing excuse for a father.”

Joe’s eyes widened. His heart began racing. He didn’t mention anything about searching for Joe Ritchie, let alone Joe Ritchie being his dad. He couldn’t think of anything to say.

“The longer we sit here, the older we’re both gonna get,” said Sam.

“What makes you think Joe Ritchie’s my father and I’m searching for him?” asked Joe.

“I’m not as smart as a lot of folks. One thing I got is a memory. I don’t forget and I don’t forgive. I got a score to settle with Joe Ritchie. I don’t know what you’re going to do with him when you find him and I don’t much care. You look just like him. When I first saw you, I thought I was looking at Joe Ritchie’s double. I knew you couldn’t be him because you looked like him way back when I saw him. And, you got that little bitty birthmark under your left ear on your neck, just like him. It’s the same place, same color, and it’s shaped a little like a grape. I just guessed at the rest. Let’s go. Look, leave me in Quincy if you don’t want my company any further. I got to get out of this town. I’m living with my sister and her good for nothing boyfriend. I swear he’s cooking meth in garage. He keeps it locked.”

“Why are you looking for Joe Ritchie?” asked Joe.

“He stiffed me and Kenny out of our money. I don’t forget and I don’t forgive. He’s going pay me with interest. I figure he owes me.”

“Only to Quincy,” said Joe. He started the car and headed to Starbucks.


Chapter 14 – Part 2. The Old Man Met Joe’s Father

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 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 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.

Chapter 12 ~ Joe Gets More Than a Fillup at at the Gas Stop

Chapter 12 ~ Joe Gets More Than a Fillup at the Gas Stop

Joe left Starbucks with mixed feelings about Jody Sanger. On one hand, he respected Jody’s ability as an investigative reporter. She’d discover anything anyone in Columbus knew about Joe and the Flamingos. She’d also find out any information on Joe Ritchie. On the the other hand, he always felt Jody liked him, liked him enough to get involved. He always hesitated, there was something about her that bothered him. He couldn’t put his finger quite on it what it was, but it was something. She was pretty, not in a knockout way, but she catch whistles from construction workers. She looked good in jeans. She was intelligent and witty. Still, he thought there was something.

Three miles south of West Lane Avenue, Joe signaled to turn right exiting the 315 and turning on to I-70. If he stayed on I-70 traveling west he leave Ohio, drive across Indiana and Illinois. He’d go over the Mississippi at St. Louis and about thirty miles west of St. Louis he’d leave I-70 and take state route 60 north until he reached Hannibal, Missouri. There, he cross back into Illinois and be only ten miles from Quincy and hopefully he’d find Max Stein. And, Max could tell him where he’d find Joe Ritchie.

Joe set his speed at 69 mph, four miles above the posted speed limit hoping the police wouldn’t bother him if he stayed under 70. He traveled in the passenger lane and watched other cars pass him as if they were heading to an emergency room. He played music on his iPhone connecting it by bluetooth to the car speakers. He sang along with his favorite songs. He felt good. He was going to find out about his father, maybe even meet him. At the moment, he wasn’t feeling angry at Joe Ritchie. He was more curious. He less desire to form any kind of relationship with the Joe Ritchie than a two-year old has to take a nap. He only wanted to meet Joe Ritchie and say, ‘Thanks for being there for mom and me. Thanks for helping me play ball. Thanks for taking me fishing.’ The more Joe thought this way, the more his anger began to rise up again and his curiosity slink away to a dark recess in his mind.

He tried to drive the angry thoughts out of his mind by concentrating on the scenary. Both sides of I-70 were farmlands. Many still had cornstalks waiting for harvest for feed corn for cows or pigs. He passed into Indiana and it was more of the same. The sun was now rising behind his back. He looked at the time on the console and saw it was 7:45 a.m. He’d miss the Indianapolis morning rush hour traffic. Joe estimated he pass through Indianapolis about 9 a.m. With any luck he’d make Quincy, Illinois, by mid afternoon.

About thirty-five miles outside of Indianapolis Joe’s bladder began sending signals he needed to stop for a bathroom break. Joe checked his fuel level, he was a bit under a half tank. He decided to look for stop where he could refill his coffee at Starbucks and find a gas station. He wasn’t sure of the Indiana laws about hand held cell phones, so he asked Siri, the iPhone’s electronic assistant, “Siri, where is the closest Starbucks?” Siri answered, “It’s 32 miles ahead in Greenville, Indiana. Take the North State Street exit and turn left. Starbucks will be a .5 miles ahead on your left.”

It was all good. The sky was blue, the sun rising, and coffee was waiting for him. Twenty-five minutes later Joe exited I-70, waited for at a red light to turn green at the top of the exit ramp. He took a left and turned into the first gas station that looked like it had inside bathrooms. On the green light, Joe turned left and went on a bridge spanning I-70 below him. Joe spotted a gas station on his right, he made a right turn signal and pulled into a pump. He filled his gas tank. Locked his car and went into the gas station to use the toilet facilities. He might buy a pack of gum for the ride.

That wasn’t all Joe found when he went inside.

Chapter 11 ~ Coffee’s Not All Joe Finds at Starbucks

Chapter 11

Coffee’s Not All Joe Finds at Starbucks

Joe slung his backpack over his right shoulder. The night before, he pack two travel suitcases in his truck. He took a wistful look back at his apartment and said a quick prayer for his gramma. He got in his car, turned it on and headed for Starbucks before heading to I-70.

Joe took the 315 toward I-70. He passed The Ohio State University on his left and made a a right turn signal to turn toward Lane Avenue. A Starbucks was a half-mile up Lane toward Upper Arlington. He drove past OSU farm land and signaled to turn into a strip mall. The Starbucks drive-through line was out to the street. Joe pulled into a parking space, pulled out his iPhone, clicked on the Starbucks app, and mobile ordered, and went inside.

Joe bypassed the early morning line of coffee drinkers and went straight to the pickup counter. A minute later, his venti coffee with an added shot of espresso was set down and the barista called, “Venti coffee with a red eye for Joe.”
Joe picked up his coffee and headed to the door. He stopped in his tracks when he heard a woman’s voice call, “Joe. Joe.”

He turned at saw Jody Sanger waving him over to her table. The last thing he needed this morning was to talk to a former work colleague. But, he always liked Jody. They worked well together and she didn’t deserve an attitude or disrespect. He walked over to her table, “Hi Jody, how are you?”

Jody stood up and hugged him. She stepped back a half step, “Sit down Joe Astore, you’ve got some big explaining to do. You left me the station up the creek without a paddle. Do you know who replaced you? Timmy Winters, that’s who replaced you. He still looks like he belongs in high school. Our ratings are going to be so bad.”

Joe took a deep breath. He said, “I’m heading out of town, Jody and I want to beat the Indianapolis traffic. I can only stay five minutes.”

They sat down and Joe set his drink on the table. He got himself ready for the questions he expected to throw one after the other at him.

“How are you? Why did you quit? Do you have another job? You were the top rated sports personality in town. Our ratings are going to go down the tube, believe me, the six and eleven o’clock news are in trouble,” said Jody with deep concern in her voice.

Joe took a deep breath and said, “It’s personal, Jody. It’s something I have to do. It came up suddenly. The station won’t keep Timmy in that slot. He’s probably only there until they can find an ex jock to fill my shoes and do a better job.”

“You’re not getting off that easy, Joe. We’ve worked together for five years. When you came to the station, they sent you to all the games and you worked out great, it took you one year to rise to be the sports anchor. What about your Sunday sports show? It’s gone. Are you sick? What is it?”

Joe knew Jody was the TV station’s top investigative reporter. She had offers from larger markets but turned them down. She was everything a major television station would want for a news anchor, beautiful, young, intelligent, and a winning personality. Joe said,

“I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell another person. I want your word.”

Jody made a sign of crossing her heart, then said, “You have my word, Joe. Promise.”

Joe told her the story of his finding the letter, his conversation with his grandmother, and his plans for finding his father. When he finished, Jody reached across the table and took his hand and said, “Let me come with you. I’m a good investigative reporter. I can help you.”

Joe smiled, and said, “Thanks, but no thanks Jody. One person wrecking their career is enough around here. Besides, it’s something I’ve got to do by myself.”

Jody withdrew her hand and said, “I’m bored here. It’s time I’ve moved on. Please let me come?”

Joe thought about it for a second, but thought taking Jody with him would eventually lead to complications. He was tempted for a moment, but he said, “I tell you what you can do for me, if your really want to help.”

“What, Joe? Let me know how I can help you,” said Jody.

Joe said, “You ever hear of a local group called Joe and the Flamingos?”

“What kind of group are you talking about, Joe?” asked Jody.

“A music group. They would have been around about 27 or 28 years ago,” Joe was thinking of his age.

“What kind of music did they play?” asked Jody getting into her investigative reporter role.

“I don’t know. I don’t think they were very good. They played local beer joints. My Gramma mentioned something about a place called The Crazy Cat. I think it was over in Short North just above the university. My gramma told me that’s where mom met Joe Ritchie. I only know Joe Ritchie started the group. He dropped out of OSU to start the band and he and mom got together and you’re looking at the result.”

Jody wrote the name The Crazy Cat on a paper napkin. She asked, “Who are the the other members of the band?”

Joe pulled out his iPhone and looked on his notepad. He said, “Besides, Danny Dubliski, there’s Max Stein. Stein was a drummer and Dubliski was a guitarist. They picked up a vocalist by the name of Gloria Fallon. Dubliski is on parole in San Antonio from a drug conviction. Gloria Fallon lives in Boulder. And, Stein lives in Quincy, Illinois. That’s where I’m heading. It’s the first stop. I’ll decide what to do after I talk to him.”

“I’ll get on it. This story has great potential. I can see promo, Whatever Became of Joe and the Flamingos, Watch the 11 O’Clock News. I might win an award, Joe. Thanks for letting me help. Remember, you need anything, anything at all, call or text,” said Jody.

Joe smiled at Jody and for a brief moment, he wondered what she meant by anything at all. He said, “Right now, find out all you can about Joe and the Flamingos. I don’t even know if they ever recorded anything. It’s the only lead I have. If you dig deep enough, maybe I’ll find some answers.”

“Be careful, Joe. You may not like what you find. Some bones are better left buried.”

“You sound just like my gramma. She said the same thing, a little differently,” said Joe.

Jody said, “Your gramma is a wise woman, you really ought to listen to her.”

“Can’t do it, Jody. It’s something I’ve got to do. I’m going to go. Let me know if you find anything,” said Joe.

Jody took his hand again, “Listen, Joe, you need me, I’ll be on the next plane. I want to help you, that’s all.”

“Thanks, Jody,” said Joe. They stood up and hugged and Joe left with his coffee.

Chapter 9 ~ Digging Up Dirt

Chapter Nine ~ Digging Up Dirt

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.”