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282 Archived submissions found.
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The Folks Next Door (posted on: 22-07-16)
Things haven't been the same since the Addams family moved next door.

The Folks Next Door

 by Harry Buschman


 ''Fletcher! You're going to have to speak to this little dickens of ours. She's as much yours as she is mine you know.'' He is about to speak ... ''That's the second cat she's barbecued this afternoon - it's that little Addams boy Pugsley next door, you know - he puts ideas in her head ... ''Let's roast some cats,'' he said. Then he painted a Swastika, or whatever it is, on her head - just like the one he has on his. His is natural you know. Mrs. Addams told me he was born with it. Can you imagine? She says his dad has one too. His is ... well I don't want to tell you where she says his is. She's a strange one, isn't she? Always in mourning. For what I wonder.'' 

He is about to speak ...
 ''The trouble is the kids get along so well together. Have you seen the gallows they built yesterday? That little Pugsley is so clever, I declare. Look at it Fletcher - it's over there by the clothes dryer. That's his Uncle Fester hanging from it. Mrs. Addams said he's stretching his spine - suffers from sciatica she says. There's something strange about each and every one of them, I swear. Have you seen the father? That look in his eye! His name is Gomez, by the way ... wouldn't you know? And their butler! My goodness! Mrs. Addams told me he used to be a bodyguard for Arnold Schwarzenegger.''

 ''Fletcher, you're not listening to a thing I say! What do you intend doing with this little girl of ours?'' He is about to speak ... ''Maybe I'm being a little snobbish. Fletcher, you don't think I'm snobbish, do you?'' He is about to speak ...

 ''Well I'm not, it's just ... well ... they don't seem to fit in, do they? I knew something like this would happen when the builder said he was going to subdivide.'' He is about to speak ... ''I never see her at the PTA. They never go out, and they have this big gray dog -- you have seen him, haven't you Fletcher? I mean you are paying attention aren't you?'' He is about to speak ... They let him out at night and he howls. Just sits there and howls – I mean, what does a dog like that have to howl about?'' He is about to speak ... ''Were you about to say something, Fletcher?''

Archived comments for The Folks Next Door
pdemitchell on 24-07-2016
The Folks Next Door
Hi Harry! Tres amusing.. the word never slipping in edgeways... Mitch

Author's Reply:


Book of the Month (posted on: 18-07-16)
Couldn't figure out if it was fiction or fact -- maybe it's both -- or neither.

Books of the Month Harry Buschman These are books. Books used to be made of paper. Paper cardboard and glue. People read them, page by page. Publishers put the pages together, bound them along the edge and when they were all done they sold them. People carried them around, sat down on a park bench or in a chair at home until something else got their attention and then they'd put them down and forget all about them. They'd pick the book up again later and read on from where they stopped reading before. They'd read all sorts of things, novels, sales reports, instruction manuals, cook books and bibles… just about anything anyone ever wrote. Good or bad. It went on for years. Nobody could possibly keep all these books, brochures, catalogs and magazines they had acquired, so they built libraries to hold them all and hired librarians to alphabetize them and put them on shelves so people could find them and take them home to read, (if they promised to bring them back in two weeks.) Reading convinced many people to think they could write too, and before long there were more writers than readers and the result was that libraries were swamped with books. Libraries finally refused to accept new deliveries of books and instead filled their shelves with, newspapers, CD's, audio books for the blind and electric outlets for people with devices to download them and read them at home. It was a hopeless solution at best, because people were so busy writing there was no time for reading. People no longer read. They wrote instead, hoping that somebody somewhere would come along and read what they had written. But of course they didn't, they were all writing.
Archived comments for Book of the Month
pdemitchell on 19-07-2016
Book of the Month
Sorry, Harry, I missed that - too busy writing - so this is sadly all too true. Mitch PS don't forget the publisher's 'slush piles' of discarded manuscripts. Mitch

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Mikeverdi on 19-07-2016
Book of the Month
Those people that are writing, there not always as good at it as you Harry😊
Mike

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Harry on 19-07-2016
Book of the Month
Then, along came the internet ... through which everything ever written and anything being written found its way into the hands of every living soul on the face of the earth. It was time to reconsider ....

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The Eden Musee (posted on: 15-07-16)
A final attempt to put this tired old horse to rest.

  The Eden Musee   By Harry Buschman     The boardwalk in Coney Island was an elevated promenade above the dirty sand. 
 It was originally built for strolling in the bright summer sunshine or beneath the stars. But at night, under the boardwalk was another world, a dark and shadowy world that trafficked in man's most carnal hankerings. The only wheeled vehicles allowed on the boardwalk were wicker rickshaws rented by people who wished to sit and be pushed. They were built for two and 
had colorful parasols to shade the riders from the sun. On one side of the 
boardwalk was sand, sea and sky; on the other side were houses of enjoyment. 
There were beer halls, bingo games, and bawdy parlors. Man's baser instincts as well as his love of the sea could be satisfied in the clean and bracing air of Coney Island. The four great establishments at Coney Island were Steeplechase, Luna Park, 
Nathan's and the roller coaster called the "Cyclone." They satisfied our love of thrills and our need for food and drink. We were a younger nation then, far less educated, wildly optimistic and blind to the mortgage that would soon come due. We strolled the boardwalk, 'made out,' and sang .... Has anybody here seen Kelly . . . 
Kelly with the green necktie? or Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder? 
Nobody answered so he hollered all the louder. Although few of us who enjoyed Coney Island realized it, some people worked for a living there. Frivolity was a full time business, and a resourceful man could earn a living gratifying the hunger of his fellow man. I worked at the Eden Musee. A house of waxwork figures frozen forever in 
moments of agony and ecstasy. The original Eden Musee in midtown Manhattan, (until it burned down) was a major attraction for nearly fifty years. It was a far more educational 'Musee' than the one at Coney Island. It boasted of tableaus depicting the "Signing of the Declaration of Independence," "Lincoln's Gettysburg Address," and "Moses Parting the Waters;" uplifting tableaus with life-like figures caught in climactic moments of mankind's history. But the one at Coney Island concentrated on our darker side -- "Jack the Ripper," "Lizzie Borden," and, (my favorite) "The Crushing of the Slaves by the Shah's Kneeling Elephants." Leonard Sutton owned that Musee. He had a part interest in the original one in 
Manhattan, and when it burned down he started the one in Coney Island with 
his share of the insurance money. There is nothing more definitive than a fire in a wax museum. Leonard was a gentle man in speech, ill suited for the bloodshed and carnage that was his stock in trade at the Eden Musee. In the scatological, sexual and sacrilegious language of the Midway, I never heard Leonard say anything racier than "Jeez-um" when something went wrong. Profanity is relatively cheap and non-creative, and I suspect after he recreated Jack-the-Ripper and Lizzie Borden, Leonard had his fill of the dark side. Wax figures consist of little more than a head and hands. When you're dealing 
with an image of Lincoln, the head must look like Lincoln, but the hands can be anyone's – no one cares what Lincoln's hands looked like. The artist must search for someone who has a superficial resemblance to Lincoln, make a facial plaster cast of him and then pour in flesh colored molten wax. From then on it's glass eyes, a wig, stage make-up and costuming fitted on a show window dummy. Other than his hapless victims, no one ever saw Jack-the-Ripper and nobody could pick Lizzie Borden out of a police line-up either. Leonard's conception of Jack-the-Ripper bore a remarkable resemblance to Lon 
Chaney in "The Phantom of the Opera," and the less said about his victims the 
better. The Shah's partially crushed slaves could only be recognized as human by their nightmarish faces frozen in agony. On the other hand, Lizzie Borden always reminded me of Mrs. Sutton, or Minnie Mae, as he called her. All of us believed it was Leonard's quaint method of retaliation for her constant nagging. On a small card framed and hung on the side panel of the exhibit Leonard hung those immortal words: Lizzie Borden took an axe
and gave her mother forty whacks,
and when she saw what she had done
she gave her father forty-one. Minnie Mae manned the ticket booth on weekends, but she was apt to drop in 
unannounced to surprise us, (and particularly Leonard, who had an eye for the 
ladies. Ladies were particularly vulnerable to the nauseating tableaus found in the Eden Musee. The more robust of them frequently threw up lustily, but young and fragile ladies would invariably swoon. I was always on hand with a bucket and a mop for the former, but the latter were personally attended to by Leonard. He would fan them and murmur words of consolation, then attempt to lead them into his office where they might lie down and recover. He was fairly successful, but nine successes out of ten is a poor average in the sport of adultery. It is always the tenth that brings the house down, for on the tenth, Minnie Mae was sure to appear with her umbrella at the ready, looking for all the world like Lizzie Borden. I learned many things there; the concept of shock, stage technique and the uncomplicated technology of wax effigies. I even helped a few young and fragile maidens into Leonard's office when he was not there. This was the greatest learning experience of all, because knowing Leonard was close behind, I knew speed was of the essence. My learning experience came to a bitter end – and so did the Eden Musee, not by fire but by the fury of a woman betrayed. Some of us were uncertain as to why Leonard decided to devote one of his future dioramas to Lady Godiva. While she was a tough enough lady in her day, a female activist with long blond hair and a body a man might risk his reputation for, she wasn't what you'd expect to see in this particular Eden Musee. There was no decapitation and no dismemberment. She was naked too, and that meant Leonard would have to find a body as well as a head. Mrs. Sutton, well past forty, had been around the block a few times, so to speak, and the thought of her riding naked to Coventry was grotesque. "It's gonna be one of the swooners," I mentioned to Felix. Felix took care of the johns and dusted the exhibits.

"He ain't got the noive."

"Sure he does, when Mrs. Sutton goes up to the Catskills, he'll do it then. Just you wait and see." Minnie Mae Sutton always went to the Catskills after Labor Day weekend. Business fell off at the Eden Musee, kids went back to school and Nathan's closed its outdoor beer garden. This was also the time for Leonard to make plans for next year's season. I was sure that's when he'd get going on Lady Godiva. Labor Day came and went, and the following Wednesday I noticed two women in stylish blue suits and a man wearing a derby hat standing in front of the Shah's crushing of the slaves. The women were apparently sisters and the taller of them was the lady friend of the man in the derby hat. They found it difficult to tear their eyes from the scene of horror – they stayed there, transfixed, unable to leave. The taller woman threw up violently. My attention was drawn to the shorter, prettier girl who had her hand to her mouth. Her taller sister was heaving lustily and the combination of her problem, coupled with the gruesome tableau in front of her was too much for her to bear. Her beautiful blue eyes rolled up like those in a china doll and her legs gave way. I started for her but before I could reach her side, Leonard appeared out of 
nowhere, shouldered me aside and caught her just as she touched the floor. Her sister's boy friend had his hands full and Leonard assured him that he would take the poor thing into his office until she recovered. I have only hearsay evidence and the spotty reputation of Leonard Sutton to 
support my speculation as to what happened in his office. Leonard, I am sure had chosen this blue-eyed, flaxen haired beauty to be his Lady Godiva. Even now, I can imagine him praising her face and form and telling her that she would be immortalized in wax sitting astride a magnificent white horse for all the world to see. I am sure he got her out of her stylish blue suit, for during the following episode I saw her dart by me naked. It was only three days after Labor Day, and Minnie Mae had not yet left for the Catskills. Instead, while strolling the boardwalk, she witnessed a tall young woman in a blue suit throwing up in front of the Eden Musee. 

"Whatsamatter, dearie -- too much for'ya in there?" she inquired.

"I'll be okay ma'am, but my sister is still in there. I think she's fainted." Neither Minnie Mae nor Lizzie Borden had been born yesterday, and grasping her umbrella as though it were a hatchet, she marched inside and burst into Leonard's office. "Jeez-um Minnie I can explain!! Ow! Jeez-um!" It was pitiful to hear, but mixed with pity there was an element of satisfaction and revenge. I pictured Minnie Mae, axe in hand, in her best Lizzie Borden style giving Leonard forty one whacks after giving the future Lady Godiva forty. But her only weapon was her umbrella, and when the door burst open again it was obvious she had confined her whacking to Leonard. The young lady, wild eyed and fully recovered, emerged in panic carrying her stylish blue suit and underclothing. She looked desperately for a place to hide and darted into the Jack the Ripper exhibit. Before she reached it, however, two petite blue shoes arced after her fleeing form from the direction of Leonard's office. Felix and I had been busy mopping the extravagant leftovers of her sister, and it was evident that Minnie Mae had not yet finished with Leonard. Blows could still be heard from his office, along with his pitiful cries of, "Jeez-um --- easy Minnie Mae --- Jeezum!!" and "I'll show ya -- ya bastard ya!!" "Let's get her in the ladies powder room.'' I rushed forward, picking up her shoes on the way and found her trying to get into her bra under one of the Shah's elephants. We shielded her as best we could, and what I was able to see convinced me that Leonard had used a sharp eye in casting her as Lady Godiva. We got her into the ladies room and told her to get dressed as quickly as she could. Felix hurriedly locked the door with his master key. She finished dressing about the time Leonard had taken his forty-first whack. Mrs. Sutton emerged from the office with her bent umbrella a bare second after we let the young lady out of the powder room. Minnie Mae had gotten it out of her system by then and she probably didn't recognize the young lady with her clothes on. Poor Leonard had received his forty one whacks plus a few for good measure and he was a sight to behold; indeed, he looked like Mr. Borden must have looked on that fateful day. There was a sense of closure in the old Eden Musee, as though there had been 
a death in the family. All of us knew the lazy, hazy, crazy days of that particular summer were over and perhaps it was time to look for work elsewhere. Leonard's peculiar talent for the darker side of man was unique, and had he stuck to murder and mayhem, the Eden Musee might still exist. But, a slip of a girl in a blue tailored suit walked in and his world, and ours was torn asunder. But, as Felix and I later agreed, nine out of ten ain't bad.    
Archived comments for The Eden Musee
pdemitchell on 19-07-2016
The Eden Musee
I enjoyed this, Harry, especially the Borden references with Godiva added and the jealous violence of Minnie Mae. I have been that Leonard! Mitch

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 21-07-2016
The Eden Musee
Splendid writing again Harry, this was a tale well told.
Mike

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sirat on 22-07-2016
The Eden Musee
Excellent Harry. One of your best.

Author's Reply:


The Power of the Light (posted on: 08-07-16)
In darkness there is no light.

The Power of the Light Harry Buschman He was afraid of the light. He was safe inside the cave – far enough back from the entrance so the light wouldn't reach him. No one knew he was in here. But out there, out where the light was, he could see the dangers awaiting him… and the danger could see him too. There were storms out there, with flashes of brilliant light followed by deafening crashes of thunder. There were birds of prey and fierce animals that fed on weaker animals – animals like him. He wouldn't stand a chance out there. Yet… there was light out there – why was there light? There was no light here in the cave, and that troubled him greatly. Was it possible there were dangers here in the dark too, dangers he couldn't see? No, he was a reasoning man, he lived here… he lived here in the darkness all his life. Although he could see nothing he knew it was safe in the dark. But living alone in the dark, was that all there was? What was the use of it? He inched forward a bit, a little closer to the light. He extended his hand until the tips of his fingers were lit by the afternoon sun. A bit more and he saw his pale hand; how beautiful it was with the blue veins tracing their wayward path along the back of his wrist. How warm the sun was. What would it be like to warm his entire body in the sun? It was very tempting. He withdrew his hand and immediately his hand grew cold, as cold as the damp, dark wall of his cave. He promised himself to do this every day – to make the dark a little more bearable. He was aware that he was being drawn into a very dangerous game. The light was treacherous, it could turn on him in an instant. Only yesterday he saw a man struck dead by a bolt of lightning from the sky, a man not much different from him. He shivered with horror just to think of it. What was the power that drew men from the safety of the cave just to gain a moment of sunshine. If he knew that he would know everything.
Archived comments for The Power of the Light
Mikeverdi on 10-07-2016
The Power of the Light
If found this to be one of your more intriguing writes, lots to ponder on as to what's hiding within the words. Of course this may be just me Harry. Anyway I like it.
Mike

Author's Reply:


The Dogwood Tree (posted on: 01-07-16)
What tea and cookies can't conceal.

The Dogwood Tree Harry Buschman ''I wish you'd show a little more enthusiasm Marcie. You're playing the Saint-Saens fourth at Tanglewood in two weeks. Why don't you practice a little?'' ''I know it Ma. I know it backwards and forwards. I know it better than the conductor knows it.'' ''It's not good to take that attitude into the concert hall, Marcie.'' Marcie stood up stiffly and stretched. She walked to the window and looked out at the dogwood flowering on the front lawn. ''It's no good Ma. It would have been good ten years ago, but I'm twenty-six years old now – I'm not a prodigy any more. There will be a half a dozen girls younger than me. Each of them is as good or better than me.'' ''How about I make us a cup of tea?'' ''Good idea Mom, tea's the answer to everything.'' Marcie's mother put her sewing down and walked to the kitchen. It felt good to be doing something. Yes, tea would be just the thing. Marcie would play the Saint-Saens this afternoon after a nice cup of tea. Her enthusiasm would be revived. She'll be rarin' to go in two weeks – she'll give the performance of her young life. She could see the headlines materialize in the steam from the spout on the teapot … ''Local girl creates sensation at Tanglewood! Maestro Goldsmith praises ''performance of the season!'' She wondered a little if maybe she was driving Marcie a little too hard lately, but she quickly put it out of her mind. In the end Marcie would thank her for it. ''Ma, if it hadn't been for you I'd have given up long ago … you were the reason I won … you.'' She walked back into the living room with the tea and the cookies she had made last night. Marcie was sitll standing at the window looking out at the dogwood tree.
Archived comments for The Dogwood Tree
Mikeverdi on 02-07-2016
The Dogwood Tree
I love this piece Harry, so much to draw from it. The lost life, the what could have beens. And all on the mothers side. My mother was the same, "I could have been anything I wanted to be" She didn't realise I was already there. I got the pent up emotions of the woman looking out, brilliantly written.

Mike

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pdemitchell on 03-07-2016
The Dogwood Tree
Bravo, Harry - a wonderful melancholic snapshot of the what-ifs and what-might-have-beens in life. Mitch

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Time On Our Hands (posted on: 27-06-16)
The simple life, where did it go?

Time On Our Hands Harry Buschman Our patio out in back of the house overlooked a brook. It wasn't much of a patio, just room enough for the couple of chairs we'd drag out from the kitchen. Come to think of it, the brook was not much to write home about either. In spring it would run a bit, just enough to wash the stones that lay on the bottom. Wasn't deep enough to float a fish in. But it was our patio and our brook and Molly and me would sit out there and have our breakfast in the summertime. We look back on those few years in the house that the kids grew up in as the best years of our lives. We were suburban people, self employed. We ran a hardware store for 60 years and I guess we'd a been there yet if we hadn't been run outta business by Home Depot. After all, a nickel profit on a box of wire nails, or a dime on the rent of a snow blower adds up if y'don't mind working' yer butt to the bone and bein' open on Sundays. Trouble is suburban people these days don't do nothin' or fix nothin' no more. Best of all, me and Molly were together, every day all day. Not many marriages can survive that. But ours did. What broke our marriage up was when we was together with time on our hands… facin' the prospect of another day with nothin' to do. It got so we'd find ourselves barkin' at each other sitting' out there on our patio. That's why I went and got me a part time job over at Home Depot and Molly's workin' at Burger King. _________________
Archived comments for Time On Our Hands
Pronto on 29-06-2016
Time On Our Hands
A grand tale of our times this. I learned the hard way, too. One should not retire 'from' something but 'too' something.


Author's Reply:
Thank you Pronto. I'm so glad I'm still able to say what I want to say in as few words as possible.

sweetwater on 29-06-2016
Time On Our Hands
I loved this view into another life. A well written story that drew me in and took me there for a while. Sue.

Author's Reply:

pdemitchell on 29-06-2016
Time On Our Hands
Ha, so true Harry. So many retired husbands and wives drive each other back out to work! Mitch

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Books of the Month Club (posted on: 10-06-16)
Too much of a good thing

Books of the Month Club Harry Buschman Books used to be made out of paper. People read them, page by page. Publishers put them all together, bound them along the edge and when they thought they had enough for a book, they sold them. People carried them around, sat down on a bark bench or in bed at home until something else got their attention and then they'd forget them. They'd pick the book up again later and read on from where they stopped reading before. They'd read all sorts of things, romantic novels, sales reports, instruction manuals, bibles… just about everything anyone ever wrote before. Right or wrong. It went on for years. Nobody could possibly buy all the books, brochures catalogs and whatnot that were printed, so people had to build libraries to hold them all and hired librarians to catalog them and put them on shelves so people could find them and take them home to read, (if they promised to bring them back in two weeks.) The popularity of books convinced the people who read them to think they could write too, and before long there were more readers than writers and libraries were swamped with books. Everyone was writing them and no one was reading them. Libraries finally refused to accept new deliveries of books and instead filled their shelves with magazines, newspapers, CD's, audio books for the blind and electric outlets for people with Kindles and other devices to download them and read them at home. It was a stopgap solution at best, because people were so busy writing there was no time for reading. People no longer read. They wrote the way prehistoric man wrote – on anything that could be written on, and hoped that eventually someone would come along and read it. Trouble is, no one had time enough to read any more.
Archived comments for Books of the Month Club
pdemitchell on 12-06-2016
Books of the Month Club
Hi Sir Harry - A sad descriptive of the crumbling oublishing world. I am sure you meant 'more writers than readers' in para 3 - and don't get me started on the slush piles of rejected manuscripts clogging the cellars of many a publishing house. Mitch

Author's Reply:


The Agony and the Ecstasy (posted on: 20-05-16)    
It would be a crime to separate these two pieces of my early life. I hope you will excuse an old man who can't forget his past.

The Ecstasy and the Agony Part 1 -- Steeplechase by Harry Buschman      When I fly into La Guardia on the southern approach I look down and see the Coney Island Housing Project. It's a prison-like complex of red brick, built quickly with little love or respect for the people who live there. A form of residential incarceration you can find on the outskirts of any major city in the world. In happier and simpler days it was the site of "Steeplechase" Amusement Park.      In those days Steeplechase was called "The Funny Place." It was a wonderland of merriment and un-corseted fun. No matter who you were, rich man, poor man, beggar man or thief, you could have a good time at Steeplechase. A steel frame and glass structure built in 1897, It flourished until 1964 when it was torn down to make room for the housing project. There has been little love or laughter there since.      Steeplechase was America's first Disney World, conceived and built by George C. Tilyou. It was Maxim Gorky's favorite place in America. Imagine! Not the Library of Congress, not the Lincoln Memorial – STEEPLECHASE! You bought a ticket, one dollar; that's it. The ticket entitled you to one ride on every attraction in the park. They called them "attractions." Some of them were as simple as ten minutes on the dance floor, or the privilege of looking at yourself in a warped mirror, or maybe having your fortune told by a stuffed swami in a glass box. The grandest attraction of all was the ride on the steeplechase itself, a breathtaking sprint on wooden horses set up on trolley rails. They circumnavigated the entire park complete with hairpin turns and even a brief sprint out over the heads of strollers on the boardwalk.      There was a carousel with chickens instead of horses. There was a magic elephant. There was even a clown with an air hose who blew the skirts of unsuspecting ladies sky high. No wonder Gorky loved it, how could a man not have fun in a place like that? On a more sober note, many a maiden was de-flowered there, and many a lusty young male discovered forbidden fruit there. There, riding on a papier mache chicken built for two, the secret of life might suddenly reveal itself. Ah Maleness!, Ah Femaleness!, Ah Wilderness!     (I hope you'll pardon me, I am an elderly gentleman, and such thoughts may appear unseemly in a man my age. I hope you'll forgive me, but the memory of Steeplechase is still a magic elixir that stimulates me as strongly as the first Martini of a long winter evening.)       I was seventeen at the time, full of pimples and unrequited satisfaction. All my friends had been "laid," (we called it that in those days. A term I hope that has been changed for the better today.) I had not .... been laid that is. The fantastic sexual adventures of my high school friends stirred my libido the way my mother stirred chicken soup. I wanted desperately to be a member of that 'laid' fraternity, so that I could add my personal chapter to the teenager's book of conquest.      Steeplechase was a likely spot, and Florence Sawchuk seemed a likely subject. My friends told me that Florence was a 'good sport'. Phil Miller had many good things to say about Florence, and Phil was a recognized expert in sporting matters. We agreed to double date on a Saturday evening, he with Pearl Elefant, (everybody knew Pearl was a good sport) and me and Florence.      Florence was a tall brunette with a relaxed and promiscuous air. She wore a mixed expression of wonder and bewilderment. She vaguely resembled Fay Wray, and had eyes like two porcelain doorknobs. She shared Fay's overbite as well, and for reasons I can't remember, girls with overbite signified unbridled lust to me. Fay Wray you may remember played the part of Anne Darrow in "King Kong." No doubt Kong and I shared a similar taste in women with overbites. Flo and I were not total strangers, we had spent some time together as volunteers making a mess of the high school library catalog.      As Saturday evening drew closer I spent more and more time on personal hygiene. On more than one occasion, my father was forced to hammer on the bathroom door and shout, "What the hell'ya doin'' in there!"     My father would get very cranky when he was locked out of the bathroom. I eventually confessed to him I had a big date coming up Saturday night at Steeplechase, he grinned knowingly and gave me a dollar to get a haircut. My father and I had never indulged in a man to man talk concerning the origin of life and the events leading up to it. I believe the subject was as great a mystery to him as it was to me. He did, however, warn me to be careful because he knew all about ''what went on'' over at Steeplechase.      I picked up Flo about seven on Saturday. I was early and she wasn't ready, so I sat in the living room with her mother and I was sure she could see through me as clearly as if I were made of glass. Her husband, Max, was building a shelf in the kitchen so I went out and sat with him.      "Where you takin'' Flo?" he asked guardedly.      "We're thinking of going to Steeplechase."      "Humph, she hangs out there a lot–be careful, the two of you." Then he added, "I know all about what goes on over at Steeplechase." Her two younger brothers were sitting at the kitchen table and they began giggling together. Flo finally walked in and the two of us fell over each other getting out to the strains of "Don't do nothin' I wouldn't do," from her mother.      At that particular moment the prize didn't seem worth the game, and I was half tempted to call the whole thing off. But I didn't. We took the subway to Coney Island and met Phil and Pearl in Trommer's for a beer. That was Phil's idea. He told me earlier it was a good way to start off, "It loosens them up a little–know what I mean?"      The first 'attraction' at Steeplechase was the revolving tunnel set horizontally at the entrance through which young and old had to walk to get inside. It couldn't be done. Someone young and agile might have done it alone but the tunnel was normally filled with people who had already fallen down and couldn't get up and it had to be stopped periodically so they could crawl out. Flo and I went down in a tangle of arms and legs along with Phil, Pearl and a half dozen other couples. It was impossible for us to restrain ourselves from playful grabbing and groping, and with whetted appetites and the evening hardly begun we headed for the Chicken Carousel.      Most of the 'attractions' were built for two and the Chicken Carousel was no exception. It was a choppy ride. With Flo in front and me close behind, the chicken heaved and jiggled–up and down and side to side and had it lasted a moment longer, I believe the magic moment would have come and gone before the evening was underway.      "Wait'll you try this," Phil enthused as we approached the "Human Roulette Wheel." The diabolical 'attraction' was indeed a roulette wheel about fifty feet in diameter. Made of polished hardwood it had a raised center hub upon which twenty or so eager couples sat. From this hub, the wheel sloped down and back up again to an almost vertical rim. It began to spin slowly, almost lethargically, then gathered speed. Two by two the riders lost their grip on the center hub, and spun off by centrifugal force they were plastered to the outer rim. Once there it was impossible to move and people remained immobile in whatever position they arrived until the damn thing stopped. People lay plastered to the outer rim like swatted flies.      Flo and I clung to the hub longer than most but the laws of physics eventually prevailed and away we went. We were squeezed together on the outer rim and forced into a modified missionary position from which we could not extricate ourselves. It could have been pleasant except we were in full view of more than a hundred spectators.      Today, as I look back at Steeplechase, I am convinced that George C. Tilyou created a monumental machine devoted to foreplay. A mammoth mechanism dedicated to the proposition that all women are created differently than men, and need the stimulation that most men are in too much of a hurry to provide. The 'attractions' had stimulated Flo with no effort on my part and I believe I could have accomplished my goal right then and there on "The Human Roulette Wheel." But that was yet to come. We danced, we looked at ourselves in curved mirrors, her skirt was blown up over her head before my very eyes and we groaned and grunted our way through the "Tunnel of Love." We even had a dance to the music of Nathaniel Shilkrat and his Collegiate Orchestra.      Steeplechase had done its part--the rest was up to me! .... It was Phil who saved the day.      "Meet you under the boardwalk!" Ah! Now I understood the where, how, and what of it. That's why they built the boardwalk! There in the dark and dimness, with the smell of pine pitch and popcorn, and with the shuffling of feet on the boardwalk overhead, I heard the distant rumble of thunder–the roll of drums, and the clashing cymbals of ecstasy.      At last I had achieved what all men treasure the rest of their lives. Their own personal Richter scale of sexual experience by which they measure all succeeding ones. It was my baseline, and although at the time I didn't know whether it was high or low, I'm sure Flo did.      Looking back on it now, I'd have to say it was a 5, not powerful enough to cause structural damage, but strong enough to rattle the dishes on the kitchen shelf. The Ecstasy and the Agony Part 2 -- Bitter Rice by Harry Buschman      Phil Miller, all eighteen years of him, and with six months to go until high school graduation, was getting married––and I needed a suit. You can't be a best man without a suit. I was seventeen without a dime to my name, and the only way I was going to get a suit was to ask my old man for the money.      "What do you need a suit for? You're seventeen years old, you don't need a suit. I don't own a suit myself, and I sure ain't goin' to shell out no $18.50 for a suit for you if I don't have one. You look fine just the way you are."      I expected that, and I dreaded having to explain why I needed a suit. "I'm going to be a best man, Pa." That was the pure unvarnished truth. I should have broken the news more gently, but I had not yet reached the age of diplomacy. Diplomacy would have been wasted on my father anyway, he was a blunt man and he always knew when he was being suckered.      After all, it wasn't as though I had to tell him I was going to be a groom. When I thought how close I came to being one it made my blood run cold.      I'm sure it happened that Saturday night under the boardwalk in front of Steeplechase. Phil, the smart one, the one who knew all the answers. Phil, at the age of eighteen was going to be a father. There he was, a senior caught in the middle of the most profound depression the world had ever known was marrying Pearl Elefant, a girl everyone knew was a 'good sport'.      "Who do you know's gettin' married?" My father asked.      "Phil Miller, Pop, he's a senior .... he's been here once or twice."      "Is he that skinny blond kid with the glasses?"      My mother was more understanding .... "It's his best friend, Fred .... besides it's time he had a suit."      My father had a habit of thinking and talking at the same time, and the talking part of him would often get ahead of the thinking part. He reminded me a lot of my old friend Ernie, whenever Ernie used to talk ahead of himself, his mother would stop him, take him by both shoulders and say, "Ernest .... first you'll think, then you'll talk." My father's lips were moving and I could tell his thinking processes were doing all they could to catch up to where his mouth was.      "Too young to be gettin' married .... kid in high school .... where they gonna live .... how they're gonna get along?"      Mother knew the story .... "it's to give the baby a name, Fred."      "What baby? .... they ain't married yet .... how can there be a baby?" Then his mind finally overtook his mouth and all he could say was, "Jesus Christ!"      He lit up his dead cigar and eyed me warily, "That ever happens to you, I'll .... I'll .... " But he had never made plans for what he might do if that ever happened to me, so he and his voice trailed off to the bedroom where I knew he kept an old black leather wallet with the house money.      He came out again and mumbled .... "Come on, let's get a suit, we'll have it cut full, maybe I can wear it too."                                  <><><>      Phil and Pearl beat the stork by seven months, and it really wasn't much of a wedding. They were married by a impassive Priest in the business end of the vestry behind the altar where he kept the wine and the wafers. Other than the few grains of rice that were thrown at them at the side door there was no reception. It was a cold late autumn afternoon and I remember the rice being gritty on the sidewalk under my feet. I wiped them in the soft grass before walking home alone. I thought to myself this was one attraction Steeplechase never mentioned. Phil and Pearl drove off to a hotel in Atlantic City in his father's De Soto for the weekend. Phil was working part time now and he had to be back in school Monday morning.      A cold autumn weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I wondered how they would spend the time ... they were back early Sunday afternoon.      For the duration at least, they were going to stay with Pearl's mother, father and two sisters above Esposito's candy store. Pearl's father got Phil an afternoon job as a loader at the Wonder Bread bakery with a chance of getting a truck route for himself some day. He was pretty excited about that. I wondered why, it didn't look like much of a future to me.      I soon lost track of Phil and Pearl. Phil had no time for fooling around now, and Pearl, in her confinement, (a polite word we used for pregnancy in those days) rarely left the house. The baby was still-born, (another polite word we used for an infant born dead). My father's words, ("If that ever happens to you .... I'll .... I'll") kept coming back to me, I could hear them as clearly as if I'd said them to myself.      Another friend gone. Yesterday's friendships seemed so unbreakable, like the monoliths on Easter Island; today's were fragile, quickly terminated and they left a bitter taste. I was growing up and the world was closing in on me. It was 1937 and people said there was a war coming, a big one––bigger than the one my father fought in. What would I do with my life after high school, go on to college? Join the army? Both? Would there ever be another Steeplechase?      Steeplechase was a door to a joyful world that had opened a crack for a moment. The music and the laughter filtered through, then it closed again forever.      My father was getting gray now and there was a stoop to his shoulders I hadn't noticed before. He talked only about the old days––how things used to be back in Brooklyn when he was young. He was only forty. He had more than fifty years to live and he would spend them trying to remember how good things used to be. In time his memory would fail him, exhausted perhaps from chasing his mouth for so many years and he would remember nothing .... not even me.
Archived comments for The Agony and the Ecstasy
Mikeverdi on 20-05-2016
The Agony and the Ecstasy
Thank you, that is how writing should be. You take us by the hand, and lead the way into a world of magic and possibilities unlike anyone else posting on here...and I love it.
Mike
Nominated.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 20-05-2016
The Agony and the Ecstasy
Harry, if I may suggest you split this up a bit with larger paragraph breaks. It's a bit of a lump for a small screen.
Mike

Author's Reply:


The Rivals (posted on: 06-05-16)
I'm too old to remember much about women so I hope somebody out there can tell me if I'm on the right track or not.

The Rivals by Harry Buschman The cleaning lady wasn't able to come in today so Leila Evans was doing her own vacuuming. She sang quietly in accompaniment to the full throated roar of her vacuum cleaner. It's feeble headlight searched for dust under her new furniture. It was Saturday. CNN didn't need her until Monday afternoon and she had the whole weekend to herself. It was a pity to start the weekend doing housework, but on the other hand it served to remind her how far she had come. After only five years in New York City she was on the brink of success in television. She had an agent now and a lawyer, and no one could pull the wool over her eyes. She was going to the beach later in the afternoon and tomorrow she intended to gas up her ten year old sports car and head for Susan's summer bungalow at Copake Lake. She mustn't forget to bring something for the kids and some wine for her and Susan. They could drink to their single blessedness in the afternoon. She'd have a big head Monday on the drive back to the city, but that would be Monday, and that's how Mondays are supposed to be for single people in the television business. The make-up people could fix anything. Three years ago her weekends were simpler. She and Vinnie would spend Saturday and Sunday together. They would either do something or nothing at all, it didn't matter––just being together was all that mattered then. She turned the vacuum cleaner off and thought about Vinnie for a minute––it was strange, she did more now, never idle, always busy... like a hamster in a cage. Forever running. ''everybody else runs,'' she said under her breath as she rolled the cord up and put the vacuum away. Thinking of Vinnie made her sit down in the club chair and look out the window. Vinnie... was it only three years ago? It seemed much longer. She shut her eyes and saw him plainly––always in need of a haircut, always badly shaven, always hungry. That's how she remembered him, just the backside of him with his head in her refrigerator. Vinnie. So much talent wasted up there in Rye at IBM, and then how scared he was when he got the offer from Apple out on the west coast. ''I can't survive out there without you, Leila.'' He looked like a helpless little boy. ''Why don't we go out there together, what do you say, Leila?'' ''Well, why didn't you, girl?'' You were a blossoming news bunny, the most important job you ever had. Three to five in the afternoon––you thought you were the most important woman in the world. You couldn't chuck it all and move to the west coast. God, you were beautiful after the make-up staff got done with you! You would stare into the camera (making believe it was the face of a guest), and ask him the questions that rolled up on the prompter. The people watching at home would marvel at you––''God Almighty!'' they said. ''This broad's got brains and beauty both ... some people have all the luck.'' You know for a fact that's what started it off between you and Vinnie. He loved being seen with you and you didn't want the hassle of being alone in restaurants and bars. Swearing softly to herself, Leila slammed the closet door on the vacuum just as the telephone rang. She was sure it was Susan to talk about tomorrow and what she planned to do with the kids. While walking into the kitchen to pick up the phone she pulled the earring from her left ear. It would be a long conversation, it always was with Susan. She recognized his voice immediately. Just the way he said her name––''Hello, Leila?'' Spoken as a question, just as he always had. ''Vinnie! Where are you?'' ''I'm back, Leila. Here in New York.'' ''It's been––it's…'' ''Almost three years, Leila.'' ''How are you, Vinnie?'' She couldn't help asking him, even though she was mad enough to spit. Imagine, calling her up like that after almost three years in California! Yet she couldn't help asking him how he was. ''Have you had lunch? I'll tell you all about it.'' ''I was going to the beach, Vinnie.'' ''Go to the beach tomorrow. I'd go with you but Leslie will be back this afternoon.'' ''Who's Leslie?'' ''How about Giovanni's. Is he still in business.'' Vinnie seemed to know, instinctively, that she'd give in. He didn't even have to beg her. ''Two o'clock, okay? It'll be great to see you again, Leila.'' ''Okay, two o'clock.'' She didn't want to be sitting there waiting when he walked in, that would put her on the defensive. She was, after all, who she was. Somebody––recognizable. Two o'clock. Well––she wouldn't leave the apartment until two. If she walked, she wouldn't get to Giovanni's until two thirty. A slow walk, looking in windows along the way––she didn't want to show up breathless. But, she did take a long time putting herself together, she wanted to look as much like Leila Evans as possible. She was going to be standoffish; she had every right to be stand-offish, after all she was stood up for almost three years! Imagine Leila Evans, prime time news bunny. She checked herself carefully from all angles before leaving the apartment. Not a fleck of dandruff. Not a speck of lint. Not a hair out of place––she was as perfect as nature and make-up would permit and she had to admit to herself that she was as ready as she would ever be. The doorman gave her a close once over in the lobby, his eyes felt like two hot pokers in the small of her back. His voice cracked when he said, ''Can I get you a cab, Miss Evans?'' No, she didn't want a cab, she wanted a slow leisurely walk to Giovanni's––just as slow as she could possibly make it. She fought back the impulse to hurry, to keep the click of her heels a second apart. She was aware of people looking at her. It was something she had become used to in her job as news bunny (or news person as she preferred), but it seemed to be more obvious today. Perhaps she did too good a job with the make-up. It didn't normally bother her and there were times when she was secretly pleased, but it irritated her today. Who was this Leslie anyway––some baby faced, sun-tanned bitch from the coast. ''She better not be there when I get there!'' Her step accelerated and she had to pull up at McCulloch's upscale leather store to stare at two shoulder purses that were out of this world. Suppose this Leslie creature was there? Suppose she was sitting at his side, timid and frightened––her first time in New York, and all that garbage? Or suppose she was sitting there with her slutty little eyes half shut and those gorgeous legs crossed all the way up to ...? She was walking in place now, like a recruit on the drill field and all the while staring at the two leather shoulder purses. She decided the only way to keep from running to Giovanni's was to go in and buy a shoulder purse. Normally it would have taken her all day to make her mind up, but it was a quarter past two and ... well ... she found one very quickly. She told the clerk not to wrap it, pulled off all the tags and dropped the purse she had been carrying in the new one. It felt good on her shoulder and made her look very professional. A news-woman. Not a news-bunny. A news-woman. She approached the door of Giovanni's and pulled up short. She didn't feel professional now. Nervous and vulnerable, like her first day at CNN. She opened the door and stood in the sudden darkness, aware of the head waiter approaching her. ''Madam?'' ... then he recognized her. ''Miss Evans, your party is waiting, please follow me.'' Suddenly there he was, looking a little thinner, beautifully tanned––in a sports jacket that seemed a little large for him. He stood quickly and came around to her side of the banquette table to kiss her as she sat. They touched cheeks. His was cool and she thought her cheek was burning, and she wondered if he noticed it. ''Jesus, you're beautiful, Leila,'' he said as he sat down. ''Once in a while your program shows up on the coast, and it doesn't do you justice. Everybody out there was jealous of me.'' ''Why?'' ''For knowing you. They're pretty unsophisticated out there in spite of what you may have heard. When I said I know Leila Evans I got respect.'' ''Why are we here, Vinnie?'' He looked haunted for a moment. ''To have lunch first of all. Then I've got something to tell you.'' ''I'd rather you told me first if it's what I think it is.'' ''Well, just so you wouldn't hear it from somebody else ... I'm back again, Leila ... we're over in the village, and, well ... somebody's bound to see us together, and you'd hear about it ... '' ''What went wrong at Apple? It was a very good offer. That's why you went, wasn't it, Vinnie?'' He looked away, shrugged his shoulders. ''Things changed, Leila. I think I'll have the antipasto, how about you?'' ''I don't think so.'' She stood up quickly and slipped her arm through her new shoulder bag. ''You said her name is Leslie. What's she like? Why did you come back with her?'' ''Please sit down, Leila. It isn't that simple.'' He raised his eyes to her, the whites showed. His mouth formed the word ''please.'' She sat stiffly, her mouth set in a straight line. She wore a blank expression that she sometimes used when she was on the set but off camera. ''Leslie's a man I met out at Apple. He was very kind, breaking me in, you know. I was lonely after you, Leila.'' ''Leslie's a man?'' <><><> Susan yawned and topped up their wine glasses. ''... and what did he say to that?'' ''He didn't have to say anything, and it sounded like a dumb question to me, right after I asked him.'' Leila put her feet up on the railing of the porch and tilted back on the two rear legs of the chair. Leila and Susan were on the back porch of Susan's cabin in Copake Lake. The wine was half gone, Susan's two kids were flying the Japanese dragon kite she brought with her from the city. It was at that magic hour when something must be done about supper, everybody was hungry after a perfect day at the lake but no one wanted to break the spell. The cicadas were deafening, panicky in their realization that the end of summer was just around the corner. The grass was tall––the seed pods nodding. Any moment now the children would turn cranky and want their supper, the dragon kite would be forgotten and it would sink to the ground unnoticed. ''He was all ready to have lunch.'' Leila said. ''Can you imagine that? How could I eat?'' Susan stood up and stretched awkwardly. ''Life's a bitch, Leila. What did we ever do to deserve men?'' She stood up and walked to the porch railing and looked at her children struggling to keep their kite in the air. ''When I look at the kids I don't think of Vinnie any more––they were all he was good for. He's gone, and it's like taking a picture off the wall you didn't really like anyway. All that's left is a little light patch on the wallpaper where he used to be.'' ''What's for supper?'' Leila asked. ''I thought we'd finish the chicken. Want to shuck some corn?'' Suddenly the dragon grew limp and fell out of the sky. The air turned heavy and still, dark gray clouds moved in over the far end of the lake. Birds skittered by and for a moment the cicadas were still. A roll of thunder sounded somewhere off in the mountains. Susan cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted to the children, ''We're gonna have us a storm, kids. A whopper it looks like. Get inside here – bring your dragon with you.'' She turned to Leila who was still tilted back in her chair. ''You're going to spend the night here, Leila. You're not driving back in the kind of weather we're going to have. These roads are treacherous in the rain.'' ''I'm working tomorrow.'' ''I know, three to five in the afternoon. You can drive back in the morning. Besides ...'' she smiled, ''we can talk about Vinnie, no woman should have to cry alone in a king size bed.''
Archived comments for The Rivals
Mikeverdi on 07-05-2016
The Rivals
Yep, your on the right track Harry 😊
We can always fiddle, edit, prune or whatever. You have the story line, the hook goes in early, and you real us in. I didn't see the twist coming in the first instance, though I think others may. You could always look at that.
Another great read for me.
Mike

Author's Reply:

pdemitchell on 08-05-2016
The Rivals
Hi Harry - cracking media people "batting on both teams" double narrative. Needs a wee prune and edit here and there (especially the larger paragraphs in the middle section that stall the pace a tad) but it pootles along nicely with good scene-setting. Bravo! Mitch

Author's Reply:


The Scarecrow (posted on: 18-04-16)
A long overdo of a fantasy I wrote many years ago.

The Scarecrow by Harry Buschman This a story concerning a no-account writer named Ashley Rose and his alter ego Wilbur Straw. With growing disgust Ashley looked at his unfinished novel on the passenger seat beside him. Until yesterday it shared a shelf of similar trash in the bedroom of his shabby apartment in Helena, Montana, (all of them unsubmitted and unpublished). Ashley was headed west to share an apartment with his brother and his wife in Los Angeles. He didn't have much choice. He was out of money, out of work, and just this morning, with his rent due, out of a place of his own to live. His eyes drifted from the deserted road ahead to the passenger seat again and again. He knew deep in his soul that the problem with his latest novel was the character, Wilbur Straw. Ashley could no longer keep him under control. Wilbur had taken over, he was doing things on his own – out of spite Ashley thought. Ashley knew Wilbur was the personification of his own perverse and stubborn nature. When he tried to bend his character's will to match his own his story fell apart, and like Humpty Dumpty couldn't be put back together again. In a fit of rage he rolled his window down, grabbed the manuscript beside him and flung it out of the car! ''Good riddance!'' He shouted. It burst out of it's loose leaf binder in a shower of paper and drifted across the road behind the car as Ashley Rose continued on his way to Los Angeles. <><><> Wilbur Straw was a sad sight. As naked as Adam, and most important of all, his complex character in a work if fiction was scattered all over the road. He sat naked in a ditch with a field of high August corn on one side and a pasture on the other. Over his head he saw a deep blue sky with cotton ball clouds hung out to dry, and he could hear a noisy family of crows working in the cornfield. Seen through his own eyes it was a far lovelier world than his mentor, Ashley Rose ever revealed in his writing. In the past Wilbur had picked up a few facts from his creator. Some were useful, most were not. It was necessary to eat, sleep and be properly attired at all times, he wrote. ''Don't be caught in public without your privates being covered, Wilbur. The world will put up with a lot, but it won't stand for a man being naked.'' This tangential word of wisdom stuck with Wilbur – perhaps he had seen Ashley so blatantly un-attired in the past and the sight created an indelible impression. He could get along out here in the country without a grain of intelligence, but if he tried to walk naked through any town in Montana he was sure he'd find himself in jail. ''Writers are all alike,'' he grumbled as he shifted his position in the spiky grass and brushed the ants from his legs. They take forever to create a character – everything about him. Hair. Eyes. Voice. Personality – teach him all the tricks. Then, just because the book goes sour they blame the character, chuck him out the window of a speeding car in the middle of God knows where. He shook his fist in the general direction of Ashley Rose and shouted, ''I hope you get writer's block, you phony!'' It was growing late, and what had been a warm afternoon was turning chilly. Wilbur never experienced the weather when he was between the pages of a book. Fast moving clouds appeared to the east, (at least he thought it was the east) and from time to time they obscured the sun. He stood up and rubbed himself vigorously to keep warm. Looking across the road he saw what appeared to be a human figure standing in the middle of the pasture. The figure didn't move, it stood there looking at him. Suddenly a crow alighted on the figure's shoulder! ''Well,'' he smiled, ''I'll be... that must be a scarecrow.'' He climbed the low split rail fence by the side of the road, taking care not to damage anything as he straddled the dry splintery wood. He hurried to the scarecrow and waved his arms to chase the crow away. The bird, reluctant to leave, waited until he was almost there, then cawed angrily at him and flew off. The figure wore pants, (only one button on the fly, and a short length of rope for a belt) a shirt and a disreputable excuse for a tweed jacket. The shoulders were encrusted with dried crow shit. It was topped off with what had been a Boston Red Sox baseball cap. There was even a pipe in the place where its mouth should be. There were no shoes, ''But that shouldn't matter,'' he thought, not in Montana. ''Let's see,'' he thought. ''I'll need a name... what was the name that miserable writer christened me?'' He thought a bit, then smiled, ''Ah yes! Wilbur! Wilbur Straw, that was it!'' Thus Wilbur Straw was re-created. Not quite a whole man, an innocent Adam in a way, born out of a flawed figment of an unsuccessful author's imagination, and turned loose with all his imperfections headlong into an unsympathetic world. Wilbur, now fully dressed and not knowing where, (or even when) he was, hobbled barefoot down the center of a two lane blacktop leading into the town of Emerald City, situated in the northwest corner of Montana. He chose the center of the road because there was less gravel and sharp stones at the crown than at the sides. He had no idea how far he was from the nearest town, or if there was a town at all – but it was only logical to assume that no one would build a road for nothing. Surely it must go somewhere. The rutted blacktop eventually hurt his feet and he began to limp. He looked down at his naked feet and wished he had shoes. Strange, he thought, that scarecrows don't wear shoes. The illusion stops at the cuffs of the pants. A pair of pants, a shirt, some stuffing and a scarecrow has all it needs. But man, No! Man is a creature of wants and needs. He gets more than he gives and like a sponge, if he isn't told, ''No you can't have any more!'' he will soak up the world. Wilbur had learned these priceless bits of wisdom from Ashley Rose. These idle thoughts drifted through his barren but fertile mind, and gradually forged his personality. Even now, the writer who created him, would not have recognized him. Wilbur was newborn, incomplete and limited to the basic knowledge imparted to him by a writer who thought nothing of throwing him away when things didn't work out. He was as ignorant of life's responsibilities as Ashley Rose himself, and he only recognized the scarecrow in the field from a passing remark of a character in the author's discarded novel. But for the moment Wilbur's feet hurt and he needed a pair of shoes, he learned that much on his own. The first thing he saw as he approached the sleepy village of Emerald City was the town dump. Emerald City didn't have a Sanitation Department and its residents dumped their trash on the Eastern side of town, the downwind side. Not only did Emerald City not have a Sanitation Department, it obviously didn't have any people. Wilbur and his sore feet arrived at the dump which bordered the road leading into town at close to four in the afternoon. He saw a pair of yellow sneakers atop a pile of trash. One was minus a tongue and neither had laces. Although they had been worn by a man with much bigger feet, they were the answer to Wilbur's immediate problem. He also found two unmatched woolen socks which helped to keep the sneakers from falling off. He poked around in the trash and found what may have been a shirt when it was new but was later used for cleaning a paint brush before being thrown away. He could have foraged in the town dump indefinitely. It told him a lot of things about life and the people who lived in Emerald City. In his young life he discovered that it's possible to learn more about people by what they throw away than by what they keep. The hour was growing late and the sight of a distant house to the west convinced him that he really must be getting close to civilization. Wilbur was not aware of his shabby appearance. He had nothing to compare it with. He began naked this afternoon and now he was fully clothed. He walked with his head held high, and while you could not say there was a spring to his step, it was buoyant enough to carry him into the town of Emerald City, Montana. The house he had seen from the town dump was run down. The roof was patched with tin, the porch sagged, and there were torn curtains at the windows. Discarded household articles of furniture stood forlornly in the unweeded front yard. A little further on he came to a sort of village green, a half acre of coarse grass cut short by a small flock of ragged looking sheep. He picked his way through their licorice-like droppings to the center of the green and saw a crude wooden bench built around the split trunk of a Mulberry tree. A goat-faced man sat there with his head inclined backwards and resting on a lower limb of the tree. His legs were stretched out full length in front of him, one foot over the other. It was Wilbur's first encounter with a fellow human being. He paused a moment and considered walking back to the road and continuing his journey. Wilbur suddenly realized the man on the bench was asleep, indeed he could hear him snoring loudly before he approached him. The top of each snore was punctuated by a gagging snort that could be heard clearly across the village green. Wilbur approached the bench and sat down next to him. Other than the author who created him, it was the first man he had ever seen, and it was not encouraging. Yet, it was peaceful here. Bucolic, with the sheep grazing in the field and birds of many species feeding in the Mulberry tree branching above them. Wilbur thought of waking the man, there were so many questions he wanted to ask. Where was he? Was this a town? Where were the people? He waited patiently beside the goat-faced man and listened to him snore. Finally, with a strangled intake of breath the man woke with a start. He turned to Wilbur and looked him up and down. He broke into a smile when he saw Wilbur's sneakers. ''You been to the dump, ain't'cha? I threw those away a month ago.'' ''I was looking for a town, and I passed...'' ''Great place, the dump. Spend a lot of time there myself. You wouldn't believe the good stuff a sharp eyed man can find there.'' ''Like these sneakers?'' ''Well no, not them sneakers.'' The man looked Wilbur over carefully. ''You look poorly put together, son. You been havin' a hard time of it?'' The man sat up straight and dropped his voice an octave, ''Where are my manners? My name is Jonas Stark... at your service.'' ''I'm Wilbur Straw... '' It was the first time Wilbur had spoken his name aloud, and it gave him a strange sensation, as though he was somebody; a man to be counted equally among other men. ''Straw. Straw.'' The man who called himself Jonas Stark savored Wilbur's name as though he were tasting something for the first time and trying to guess its ingredients. ''We've never had a Straw before.'' ''I was dropped off down the road. I don't know where I am, by the way,'' Wilbur added. ''What's the name of this town?'' ''You're in Emerald City, son. Look around you, it ain't much. In fact you can see the whole of it from this bench we're sittin on.'' Jonas rose from the bench and surveyed the village green, hooking his thumbs in the suspenders of his bib overalls. ''It's my town,'' he said. ''I'm the Mayor.'' Wilbur quickly stood up also and looked about him just as Jonas had. ''Honored to be in your presence, Mr. Mayor, Emerald City's a great name for a town.'' ''A thimblerigger come through here back in '88,'' Jonas began the story with his nose in the air, holding his hands as though he were painting a scene on canvas. ''Devil of a fella, set hisself up in a saloon and spread the word around that there wuz emeralds here.'' ''What's a thimblerigger? ''A shyster. A man who deals from the bottom of the deck.'' Realizing he hadn't explained it at all, Jonas went on. ''Actually, it's a man who hides a pea under three thimbles and makes y'guess which one's it under... that's a thimblerigger.'' ''You mean there weren't emeralds here?'' ''Was never nothin' here, son. Emerald City's a dry hole. A lotta folks came out here though, bought property with money they didn't have, dug until they couldn't find no more holes left to dig. Died here livin' on roots and Indian corn.'' ''And they're still here?'' ''All gone now. Must'a been 10 or 20 thousand of 'em back in '88. Jest a few of us here now... they was all our grandfolk.'' Jonas sighed and sat back down again. ''Gettin' on towards supper. You got a place to stay, son. Fergot'cha name by the way, sorry.'' ''Wilbur Straw.'' ''Yer welcome to spend the night in jail. We don't have no hotel in Emerald City, and most folks are doubled up. Jail's real nice, nicest place in town,'' he added quickly. ''It's the first solid brick buildin' the town built. Had to y'know, with all the riff-raff lookin' fer emeralds and God knows what all else. It's a waste of space. I'm the Sheriff, did I mention that?'' ''I thought you said you were the Mayor.'' ''That's right! Mayor, Mayor and Sheriff too. I'm Postmaster, Notary Public and duly elected representative of the State Assembly.'' He belched loudly. ''S'cuse me. Stomach gets to rumbling' this time'a day. What say, Wilbur… can I set y'up in a nice warm cell for the night?'' ''Thanks Mr. Stark... your honor. It's kind of you, really it is... but I must be getting along.'' ''A little something to eat then. Me and the little woman run the luncheonette. You must have passed it on the way into the park. I could fix y'up a nice package of lunch t'take along.'' ''Well, actually... I'm a little short of cash... '' Wilbur had never eaten anything before; he didn't really know how to start. He had seen Ashley Rose eat and drink many times, and each time it made him sick. ''I'm really not all that hungry, Mr. Stark, I think I should be getting along.'' Wilbur detected a note of aloofness in Jonas Stark. A stepping back? At any rate, the Mayor/Sheriff/Postmaster/Notary Public and duly represented delegate to the State Assembly seemed to lose interest in Wilbur. He drew himself together and glanced up at the sky to check on the time. ''C'mon kid,'' he said. ''I'll give y'somethin' t'take and eat along the way.'' Wilbur figured it might be impolite to refuse, he trailed along after Jonas Stark like a prisoner. They walked across the village green in the fading afternoon light. Their destination seemed to be the same ramshackle house that Wilbur had seen earlier. A woman stood on the front porch beating a rug with a cane pole. ''That's my little lady,'' Jonas said proudly. ''Got me a hungry pilgrim, Madey. He's come fer a bite and must be on his way.'' Madey continued beating the rug with a strong, steady whup-whup, staring with a blank smile at Wilbur, never once looking at the rug. He had the uneasy feeling she was doing the only thing she knew how to do. The luncheonette Jonas spoke of was apparently the Stark kitchen; two stools stood at a counter against the wall on which sat a sugar bowl and a bottle of ketchup. ''Can't stand to see a poor man leave Emerald City on a empty stomach,'' Jonas said as he cut two thick slices of bread and a slice, (just as thick) of a grayish brown meat. ''It's lamb, son. Lamb from the flock of sheep you saw outside. Bread's home made too.'' Wilbur could hear Mrs. Stark beating steadily on the rug outside, and so could Jonas apparently. ''You might be well advised to eat your sandwich on the road, boy. Here, this way,'' he said, ''you can leave by the kitchen door, you won't have to pass by Madey that way.'' It seemed like a good idea to Wilbur as well, the rug was taking a terrible beating. ''Have a drink of water at the punp, boy. It'll help to make the vittles go down.'' Back on the road again with the sun descending in the west, the steady whup-whup of Madey's whip gradually faded as he walked away. A strange and wonderful town, Emerald City, he thought. A town founded on rumor and greed. Wilbur couldn't imagine what life was like in the last decades of the nineteenth century out here in the wild west. Would its Mayor and Sheriff be strong, iron willed men, or would they be like Jonas Stark and his rug beating wife? Emerald City was the only town he knew and he was homesick for it already. He threw his uneaten sandwich in the woods and in the fading light he noticed a car parked by the side of the road ahead of him. Wilbur was not a car expert, but it did remind him of... yes! It certainly looked like the familiar Chevrolet. As he got closer there was no doubt about it! It was Ashley Rose's car, the same one he was thrown out of just a few hours ago. The hood was up and Rose was bending over the fender swearing at the engine. ''Damn gas pump! Damn carburetor! Damn car! The minute I get you out in the boon docks y'crap out on me.'' He kicked at a tire and slammed the hood down. ''There! That oughtta hold 'til California! Damn car! Y'hear me? Damn car!'' He looked up and saw Wilbur. It's you!'' he shouted. What are you doing here? How did you get here? Where did you get that ridiculous outfit?'' It suddenly occurred to the author that he should probably use a more conciliatory tone of voice. ''Wilbur, wasn't it? Yes, Wilbur, Wilbur Shaw.'' ''Straw.'' ''Of course. Straw. I remember now. I'm sorry for that temper tantrum back there, but I couldn't get you to fit in somehow. The whole thing was going bad. Those things happen... nothing personal... no harm done... you're only a character you know.'' Wilbur was standing at the passenger door, the author kept the car between them. ''No hard feelings, Wilbur. Writing's a dog eat dog business. Sometimes things don't work right... and...'' ''Out the window.'' ''Well, yes... I was probably hasty... '' ''Out in the ditch. Stark naked.'' ''I'm sorry, Wilbur.'' Wilbur walked around to the driver's side and Ashley Rose, still keeping the car between them, skittered around the front of the car and then to the passenger side. ''Get in,'' said Wilbur. ''I'll drive.'' The author got in and closed the door quietly, and to keep his distance from Wilbur he sat as close to the door as he could. ''Are you sure you know how to...'' Ashley watched as Wilbur turned the key in the ignition. ''Drive?'' ''I thought I'd ask, that's all. You've never driven a car before have you?'' ''I can do anything you can do, only better,'' Wilbur said as the engine caught immediately. He gunned it a few times and looked over at Ashley. ''See… no problem. You're 37 years old. You weigh 163 pounds the last time you got on the bathroom scale in Helena... I know all about you Ashley.'' Wilbur turned sharply to the right, stopped and backed up. ''What are you up to? You're not turning around are you? Ashley looked at Wilbur anxiously. ''I'm on my way to Los Angeles.'' ''We're not going to Los Angeles.'' Wilbur started off slowly in the opposite direction. ''There, I did that as well as you ever did... you don't want to move in with your brother and his wife. I know it. You know it... and what's more your brother doesn't want you to move in with him either.'' ''I wish you didn't know so much about me.'' ''Then stop writing about yourself!'' Ashley tried to hold his temper. Looking at Wilbur, he couldn't help thinking how much he reminded him of himself. Maybe that's why he couldn't finish that damn book – he couldn't bear to see himself in such trouble. ''Where are we going, Wilbur?'' ''I know a town you don't know. Nice little place called Emerald City, ever been there?'' Ashley glanced at him quickly, then looked out the window at the dark trees slowly sliding by. ''No, never heard of it,'' he mumbled. ''Doesn't surprise me. I know the Mayor of Emerald City, know the Postmaster, the Sheriff and the State Senator too.'' Wilbur smiled contentedly and pushed his baseball cap to the back of his head. ''I have a lot of friends in Emerald City, Verdant. That's where we're going, you and me.'' The dim yellow light of oil lamps showed in the windows of the ramshackle house by the side of the road, ''Cozy town, Emerald City. I know of a comfortable hotel, we can stay there for nothing. It's a great place to finish your book, Ashley. You remember your book, don't you.'' ''I want to forget it.'' ''You'll never forget it by throwing it out the car window. The only way to get rid of a book is to finish it, Ashley … even I know that. We'll begin all over again, at the beginning and when we come to the end, we'll stop.'' He settled the cap back firmly on his head. ''But not until then, Verdant.''
Archived comments for The Scarecrow
sirat on 01-07-2016
The Scarecrow
Brilliant. I loved it. Quite long but highly original and held my attention from start to finish.

Author's Reply:


The Portrait of John Blank (posted on: 11-04-16)
Some people mature at a very early age.

The Portrait of John Blank Harry Buschman Marcel Comeau is a superb portrait painter. He has the uncanny ability to capture the most fleeting of expressions, the subtlest of smiles and the evanescent qualities that reveal a man's personality. He is painting a portrait of Mr. John Blank. Mr. Blank is president of a company that manufactures kitchen appliances that no one thinks of buying until their old ones get lost or wear out. Cheese graters. Apple corers. Colanders. There is little competition in such items; so little in fact, that Mr. Blank's company is unchallenged in the sale of kitchen appliances. These items are manufactured in Rhodesia by uneducated and undernourished children working in 12 hour shifts for 8 cents an hour. But, as to the portrait. Mr. Blank wants this portrait to hang on the wall of his board room just behind his leather swivel chair at the head of the table. He wants to establish the fact that he is CEO and President of the company. You see, Mr. Blank has difficulty establishing the fact that he is of any importance whatsoever. He is devoid of any visible significance of authority––always has been. As you can see the reason is obvious. He is a nowhere man, and Marcel is having the devil of a job painting his portrait. There is nothing outstanding about Mr. Blank. His empty eyes, hidden behind steel bifocals, are a colorless combination of green, gray and brown. His hair is thin and getting thinner, a sad mixture of gray and what might have once been pale brown. He wears a double-breasted gray suit with both buttons buttoned, a white shirt and a gray tie. He is literally invisible. Marcel is painting what he sees and as he works, he is fully aware that his canvas is a void––just as void as the person in front of him. This is not the first time Marcel has painted Mr. Blank's portrait. Many years ago, when Mr. Blank was a child he painted Mr. Blank in a blue sailor suit holding a model sailboat in his left hand and a balloon in his right. It was a charming portrait and now hangs at the foot of the stairs leading to the upstairs bedrooms in Mr. Blank's home in Westchester, New York. Marcel is about to make a suggestion. He considers the possibility of persuading Mr. Blank to hang that picture on the wall of the board room behind his leather swivel chair instead of this one.
Archived comments for The Portrait of John Blank
sweetwater on 15-04-2016
The Portrait of John Blank
I don't normally read prose, but I was intrigued by the title. I found it very interesting, I did feel sorry for the sad grey man, and wondered why he had become so non-existant. The description of him as a child was lovely.
I wondered how old Marcel Comeau was if he first painted Mr Blank as a child, and he is now obviously an older man. Sue.

Author's Reply:
Glad you liked it. Yes, Marcel is a much older man now and you can imagine his disappointment when he sees his subject has deteriorated to the extent that he has disappeared entirely. There was nothing left of the little boy with the sailboat. It's a sort of capsule story of "Citizen Kane."


The Top Floor (posted on: 08-04-16)
A very short story about getting there.

The Top Floor Harry Buschman In the basement the elevator stood waiting. The doors were open and Ronnie figured if he got on now there was no way but up, and that's what he wanted most of all. The beautiful people were up there. The big salaried men in their thousand dollar suits. He could fit in up there. He pulled his cuffs a half inch out – just far enough so his Rolex would show, if he had a Rolex. But he had a Timex, and besides the cuffs of his shirt were frayed, so he pulled them back in under the sleeves of his jacket again. He noticed a dark stain on his left sleeve, it was from carrying the want-ads section of the newspaper under his arm as he walked the streets of New York. He dropped the newspaper on the floor, he was through job-hunting. Sick of it. He'd been turned down for everything. Plumber's helper. Handyman. It was time for him to make a run for the top. That elevator would take him there. He was sure of it. It was brightly lit, maybe a little too bright, he was afraid it would make the dirty collar of his shirt and his run down heels plain to see. But, ''What the hell!'' If he put up a bold front and talked fast he'd get away with it, attitude, that was the main thing – attitude and the gift of gab! A door opened beside him and a well dressed man in a blue serge suit walked in. He paused and looked down at Ronnie, then he walked quickly into the elevator. He pushed the button for his floor and the doors closed with a whoosh. The elevator rocketed upward and disappeared. No question about it. If that guy could do it, Ronnie could do it! He stood there waiting impatiently for the elevator to return. When it did, the doors opened with a gentle hiss and he peeked inside. It was spotlessly clean, perfumed and the sound of well tuned strings played familiar music. He stepped inside but held the doors open, trying the read the call buttons. He expected to find numbers, floor numbers. Bit there were no numbers, Only words – words like Control! Power! Wealth! Authority! He wanted all these things, even when he was a kid he wanted them. He couldn't believe his eyes. Could it be this simple? Just push a button? But which one? Ronnie considered the possibilities, how could he have Wealth without Authority? And maybe along with Authority came Responsibility. Wouldn't he have to be responsible for making decisions? He wondered which button the man in the blue serge suit pushed, the man didn't hesitate, he just walked in, the doors slid shut and up he went. Ronnie swallowed hard and let the doors slide shut. He thought he'd push the top button, that's where the heavy action must be. That's where the beautiful people must be. There was a question mark on that button, but it must be the top floor. The top button was always the top floor, wasn't it? Of course it was, every elevator he'd ever been in was like that. The boss always pushed the top button. He pushed the top button. The elevator descended.
Archived comments for The Top Floor
Mikeverdi on 08-04-2016
The Top Floor
Another gem from your pen Harry.
Mike

Author's Reply:


The White Peacock (posted on: 04-04-16)
A short, short look at those left behind.

The White Peacock   Harry Buschman     My father had an annoying habit of pulling on his mustache whenever something troubled him. He was doing that now as he stood by the living room window looking out across our ragged lawn. It was a chilly evening in early April and spring was a little late that year.  "Your sister is out there Ben,'' he said. ''Maybe you better go get her – it'll be supper time before long and we won't know where she is." I walked over to him and looked over his shoulder. "She shouldn't be dressed like that. She'll catch her death of cold. Hurry Ben, first thing you know she'll be out the gate and up the street,"  "We have to make a decision, Pop. She's getting worse every day." I turned and got my coat from the hook on the vestibule wall. "She's slippery as an eel – she's out before you can catch her, especially now that spring is here."  He turned to watch me getting into my coat. "We'll make no decisions yet, you hear? Your mother won't stand for it." He turned his back to me and looked out the window again. "Just go get her ... please. Let's get through another day," he breathed out, ''It gets worse every day.''  I caught up with her at the gate. Another second and she'd have been out in the street. She was dressed in the crazy costume she wore in a play in high school. The White Peacock! It made her look like something out of a fairy tale. She was going steady with Richard even back then. I took her arm – "C'mon Sis, it's almost supper time. You have to come in now."  "Richard will be along any minute. I want him to see me first, to see if he remembers."  "He's dead Sis. Remember? We buried him a year ago. For God's sake, please try to remember."  "How can you say such a thing? He's just late from work – he'll be here any minute. I want to be here when he gets here. I don't want supper, not until Richard gets home."  She won't accept it. Even though the Lieutenant in charge gave her the folded flag and she saw his casket lowered into the narrow plot in Arlington Cemetery, she still waits for him at the gate every night. She makes Mom set a place for him at the table. I can hear her talking to him in her room at night. Mom and Pop say she'll come around in time, be patient they say – let's not make any hasty decisions.  The late afternoon air is ruffling the feathers on her costume and I can feel her tremble from the cold. She reluctantly gives up her vigil at the garden gate and lets me steer her back to the house, all the while looking behind her to see if Richard is coming.  They call it collateral damage, and in a way it's as bad as what happened to Richard.
Archived comments for The White Peacock
Gothicman on 04-04-2016
The White Peacock
Very moving Harry, excellent work as per usual.
Trevor

Author's Reply:

expat on 04-04-2016
The White Peacock
A powerful story squeezed into a small package. As ever, very well-written.

Author's Reply:


The Folks Next Door (posted on: 01-04-16)
With apologies to Chas. Addams.

The Folks Next Door

 by Harry Buschman


 ''Fletcher! You're going to have to speak to this little dickens of ours. She's as much yours as she is mine you know.'' He is about to speak ... ''That's the second cat she's barbecued this afternoon - it's that little Addams boy Pugsley next door, you know - he puts ideas in her head ... ''Let's roast some cats,'' he said. Then he painted a Swastika, or whatever it is, on her head - just like the one he has on his. His is natural you know. Mrs. Addams told me he was born with it. Can you imagine? She says his dad has one too. His is ... well I don't want to tell you where she says his is. She's a strange one, isn't she? Always in mourning. For what I wonder.''

 He is about to speak ... 
''The trouble is the kids get along so well together. Have you seen the gallows they built yesterday? That little Pugsley is so clever, I declare. Look at it Fletcher - it's over there by the clothes dryer. That's his Uncle Fester hanging from it. Mrs. Addams said he's stretching his spine - suffers from sciatica she says. There's something strange about each and every one of them, I swear. Have you seen the father? That look in his eye! His name is Gomez, by the way ... wouldn't you know? And their butler! My goodness! Mrs. Addams told me he used to be a bodyguard for Arnold Schwarzenegger.''

 ''Fletcher, you're not listening to a thing I say! What do you intend doing with this little girl of ours?'' He is about to speak ... ''Maybe I'm being a little snobbish. Fletcher, you don't think I'm snobbish, do you?'' He is about to speak ...

 ''Well I'm not, it's just ... well ... they don't seem to fit in, do they? I knew something like this would happen when the builder said he was going to subdivide.'' He is about to speak ... ''I never see her at the PTA. They never go out, and they have this big gray dog -- you have seen him, haven't you Fletcher? I mean you are paying attention aren't you?'' He is about to speak ... They let him out at night and he howls. Just sits there and howls – I mean, what does a dog like that have to howl about?'' He is about to speak ... ''Were you about to say something, Fletcher?''

Archived comments for The Folks Next Door
QBall on 01-04-2016
The Folks Next Door
It is time to seek accommodation far, far away!
As always the poor dude gets no chance to air his views in this domestic situation. Short piece of writing, but well presented.
Well done - no not the BBQ cats!

Author's Reply:

sirat on 01-04-2016
The Folks Next Door
I almost said that what you've got there was typical of most conversations that I have with women, but just in time I remembered the rules of Political Correctness. It recalls the old question: If a man said something in the middle of a dark forest and there was no woman around to hear him, would he still be wrong?

Author's Reply:
He would probably not be heard.

Mikeverdi on 01-04-2016
The Folks Next Door
Great stuff as always Harry 😊
Mike

Author's Reply:


So it Goes (posted on: 28-03-16)
Well, it goes ... and anyway what would life be like otherwise?

So It Goes Harry Buschman Look at them. Isn't it romantic? Here they sit. Barbie and Ken ... at the most exclusive restaurant in the Bahamas. It is their second honeymoon. Let me restate that––it is not 'their' second honeymoon, but the second honeymoon for each of them. They have both been married before. There! I hope I've got that straightened out. Barbie's first honeymoon was in Rome. She and her first husband stayed at the Estč estate up on the hill overlooking the city. It was very romantic––the first honeymoon usually is, (I've been told). Ken, on the other hand, chose to go to Rio de Janeiro on his first honeymoon. He had a good time too. He learned to scuba dive while he was there. When this honeymoon is over Barbie and Ken will live in a house in Fairfield, Connecticut. Barbie's first husband bought it but a kind judge awarded her possession as part of the divorce settlement. How fortunate for Ken! His 8-room penthouse in Manhattan's Tudor City is now occupied by his previous wife and her two Dalmatians. As Kurt Vonnegut has often said ... ''So it goes.'' But, to return to this, the third honeymoon of our story... Ken has just remarked to Barbie, ''This honeymoon will be my last, darling.'' Barbie assumes his statement is meant to imply that their marriage will last forever. In a flood of affection she reaches across the table and grasps his hand. The candle flame flickers and her contact lenses glisten with welled up tears. ''Mine too, Ken ...'' Her response is throaty with pent-up emotion. How could Barbie know that Ken had a chicken bone stuck in his throat? She had mistaken his words for a declaration of love, but instead, at the conclusion of his remark, Ken went into violent convulsions and were it not for the quick thinking pastry chef who rushed in from the kitchen, this would indeed have been Ken's last honeymoon––but not necessarily Barbie's. His prophecy proved to be incorrect, in any case. The present honeymoon was not the final one for Ken––nor the final one for Barbie. As Kurt Vonnegut has so often said ,,, ''So it goes.'' ...and as it goes, it went.
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Nowhere Man (posted on: 25-03-16)
Happy Birthday Chester, and I'll share it with you.

Nowhere Man Harry Buschman It's Chester's birthday and nobody knows it. Not in this town anyway. You'd think in the thirty years Chester's lived here in Old Field somebody would remember him on his birthday. On his way home from work, Chester stopped off at the market and bought himself a half-dozen chocolate cup cakes and a box of birthday candles. He thought he'd stick one in the chocolate icing, light it and sing happy birthday to himself after supper. Pretty exciting evening, Chester. Too bad nobody knows you – after being in this town thirty years nobody knows today is your birthday. As a matter of fact very few people know your name is Chester, except maybe the guys on the assembly line. You've been attaching the brush spindle on the two hooks inside the housing of the model 23050 Oreck vacuum cleaner and the two ladies on the line next to you know your name is Chester; and of course there's the guy from accounting who comes around with your pay envelope every Friday. Days go by when even you forget your name is Chester. Sometimes when you look in a mirror if you're passing by you have no idea who that was. Why ... suddenly ... today of all days did you remember it was your birthday, Chester? Nothing happened today that didn't happen the day before yet here you are with a poor man's excuse for a birthday cake. Maybe it's because you've been here in Old Field exactly thirty years and you stepped off the freight on the very day you turned twenty. Maybe something in the back of your mind – the half century button clicked over and reminded you ... ''I'm fifty years old ... how about that? No wife with a kiss. No kids with a package tied with a ribbon. Better get myself my own birthday cake.'' Well, whatever it was, you're starting out on the second fifty years tomorrow and if they're anything like the first fifty maybe it's better if you tell old man Oreck he knows what he can do with the brush spindle on his vacuum cleaner.
Archived comments for Nowhere Man
pdemitchell on 25-03-2016
Nowhere Man
The vacuum in some people's lives explicitly writ - had me humming the Beatle's song... "wearing the face she keeps in a jar by the door" Happy Birthday Chester! Paul

Author's Reply:


The Fourth Rejection (posted on: 21-03-16)
I think maybe the fourth rejection was the hardest to bear.

The Fourth Rejection Harry Buschman It happened on a Friday, and most Fridays you'll find me down at The Pit. I mean, y'gotta cut me some slack, okay? I work hard for a living at a furniture warehouse downtown, and besides, I had three stories rejected that week and The Pit's a great place to forget about it, three's enough for anybody, right? 

And speaking about letting it all hang out, there was this broad there... but before I go into that, The Pit was featuring Ingmar Dervish that Friday night. Yes, that Ingmar Dervish and his ''River Styx Six.'' They used to be called ''The Horde'' until five of them got sent up for a drug bust, leaving the remaining six to carry on, and believe me, carryin' on's what they do best. 

I was sitting there, at the bar – on my third as I recall. I was nursing it, knowing that one more and I'd be doing something I'd be ashamed of, when I saw this blond broad next to me staring into the mirror behind the bar. That way she could see herself as well as the band – like she was a part of it. She had that Paris Hilton stoned look – like she was made out of brushed chrome. Feverish eyes. Depraved mouth. She held her elbows close to her sides, her hands in the air and her fingers snapping all out of rhythm with the band. She wore a long soft, sort of silver dress that was cut down front all the way to God knows where. What's more, the sides were open, and you could see more of her than you really wanted to.

 Heedless to what might happen, I gulped down the rest of my third vodka and lime and smiled at her as seductively as I knew how. ''You come here often,'' I asked? It took a while for her to answer, as though she had to come back from a long time in another place. The corners of her painted mouth raised slightly and her eyes seemed to come into focus.

''Where is here,'' she asked? 
It was a question I've asked myself many times. ''Here. I mean here at The Pit.'' 

Although she still held her elbows close to her sides, she stopped her finger snapping and held her palms upward, as though feeling for drops of rain.

''Wherever the Six goes, I go. Is that where I am? The Pit's as good as any other.'' 

''You like 'em then? The Six Styx I mean.'' 

''Oh, they're boss. I mean listen up... cacophony man!... when Dervish turns it up I'd give it up to anybody.''

 Well... that was more like it! It sure sounded like something I could use on a Friday night after a week of rejections. 

''Can I buy you a drink, I asked?

'' "When I said anybody, I didn't mean you, creep.''

 Well, that was the fourth rejection and I don't need a brick wall to fall on me... I know when I'm not wanted.
Archived comments for The Fourth Rejection
pdemitchell on 22-03-2016
The Fourth Rejection
Nicely drawn, Harry. Been there as a teenager in the Top Rank where women prefered to dance with their handbags and not you. a friend suggested it was beacue it was where they kept their non-Doctors and rabbits. That really confused me for a few months until i got into heavy rock music and Newcastle Brown Ale. Paul

Author's Reply:

Harry on 23-03-2016
The Fourth Rejection
Deepest sympathies old man, but we must take the bitter with the sweet.

Author's Reply:

ifyouplease on 24-03-2016
The Fourth Rejection
absorbingly good - empathically simple.

Author's Reply:
Ah Wilderness.

ifyouplease on 24-03-2016
The Fourth Rejection
funny you should mention that, I'm currently reading Walden.

Author's Reply:


Lucky Little Boy (posted on: 14-03-16)
I saw a little boy with a Kindle. He was sitting on the steps of a Library.

Lucky Little Boy Harry Buschman And look, here is a white stone! And it is criss-crossed with strange wandering lines. If it were not the color of bone it might be mistaken for the brain of an adult or a piece of precious West Indian coral. And look, here is a sword, a magnificent sword with a golden hilt and crowned with the emblem of the King! Whomever can draw the sword from the stone will be the rightful King of England. He will be called Arthur and he will have a wonderful and peaceful court with virtuous ladies and brave knights and they will live in your memory forever. And here you will find sailing ships with black flags that prowl the seas for gold. You will read of bloodthirsty pirates with wooden legs who bury their stolen treasure in the sands that ring the coves of tiny undiscovered islands in the far Pacific. And here you will read the diary of a shipwrecked sailor on a desert island and the man he discovers on a certain Friday afternoon, and how they live as gentleman in the wilderness. And here you will read the story of a man who builds a machine that travels to the future and finds it to be far less attractive than the pleasant life he left behind him. And there will be a little girl named Alice who finds herself in a strange country inside the mirror in her bedroom. She finds her way through a country where everything is spelled backwards and everyone plays croquet in the afternoon. And all these things are here stacked on shelves in your bedroom, little boy. You will never be alone.
Archived comments for Lucky Little Boy
Mikeverdi on 14-03-2016
Lucky Little Boy
I also had Zane Grey 😊 I read all of these Harry, and more beside, and you're right...I was never alone. Now I have you.
Mike

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sweetwater on 15-03-2016
Lucky Little Boy
I have always loved books, and refuse to get rid of any, no mater how long I have had them, one of my favourites is 'A Thatched Roof' by Beverley Nichols. There is no substitute for imagination generated by the written word in a real book. Computer screens with all their interactive stuff just ruin the fun. I loved the images and stories you conjured up in this piece. Sue.

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Waiting for Limbo (posted on: 04-03-16)
Sometimes Limbo is the place to be ....

Waiting for Limbo Harry Buschman An old man in dirty clothes squats by the entrance to a garden. He is stuffing a wad of folded newspaper in the sole of his shoe. He looks up as a well dressed gentleman alights from a chauffeured limousine and says, "You're not going in there, are you?" The well dressed gentleman replies, "Why yes, aren't you?" "Not me, You won't catch me going in there." "Why not? That's why you're here isn't it?" "Yes, and I'm gonna stay right here. Gonna stay right here as long as I can." "How long have you been here – you don't mind me asking, do you?" "No, I don't mind. Ask me all you want. There's no answer to a question like that anyway. I mean night never comes near here and the weather don't change none, you don't get hungry and it's quiet. Gawd a'mighty is it ever quiet. Y'can hear the seconds tickin' off." "Sounds pretty boring to me." "Helluva lot better than what'cha may find in there." "You really can't be the judge of that, can you?" He cranes his neck and peers inside. "Looks perfectly safe in there to me, a lot nicer in there than it is out here. I'm going in." "Don't forget, Y'ain't allowed to come back out again." "Why would anyone want to come back to this place? Look for yourself – beautiful pathway going around the bend. Green pastures as far as the eye can see." He looks back at the first man. "What were you. I mean back there – where we came from?" "I forget. Might'a been the Archbishop of Canterbury, or a song and dance man in a two-a-day show in Soho. Might'a been nuthin at all." He looks down at his hands. "Guess I was a workin' man though – there's calluses on my hands. And look'a my shoes! Them's high button work shoes, not like them fancy polished wing-tips of yours." He looks down at the second man's shoes. "Is them tassels I see?" "I think I know your problem." "What problem? I ain't got a problem." "You've had a hard life. Touch and go all the way. A lot of sweat and tears I imagine. You're satisfied just hanging around the entrance. It's better than you expected. You're thinking it may not this good as this inside, aren't you?" "Well now, ain't you the smart one. You know all about me don't you? Never seen me before and y'know all about me. Look at you in yer pointy shoes and yer double breasted blue serge suit. Didn't surprise me none when ya showed up in yer Lincoln town car with a chauffeur and all." He gives an explosive laugh. "You had it about as good as it gets. If I was you, I'd stay out here as long as I could." The impeccably dressed gentleman shows signs of doubt. "You have a point. I hadn't considered that. You don't mind if I stay here with you a bit, do you?" He removes a handkerchief from his breast pocket and spreads it carefully on the ground. As he sits, he signals to his chauffeur, "That'll be all – for now, James."
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Marvin's Magic Door (posted on: 22-02-16)
Sometimes we have to settle for less.

Marvin's Magic Door   By Harry Buschman   A life-size picture of Tiffany Blaize hung on the back of Marvin's bedroom door, and when he closed it at night he would lie in bed and imagine she was standing there in the dim light of his bedside lamp. Yes! Standing right there in his bedroom watching him every minute. Marvin had the hots for Tiffany Blaize. And who could blame him? She was, indeed, the most perfectly manufactured woman in the world. She had no natural gifts. She didn't sing or dance. She couldn't act – she couldn't even walk down a runway to model clothes. She couldn't do any of the things a girl must do to be a success in the entertainment business. But if you had to choose one thing she could do better than anyone else, you'd have to say she attended award ceremonies better than any girl alive. Show business awards ceremonies; yes – that was what she did best. That's where Marvin was going to see her in person tonight – at the Golden Globe Awards. There was a red carpet spread out at the entrance to the old Ed Sullivan theater and a breathless Master of Ceremonies rushed to open the door of every rented limo that pulled up to the curb. A man with a video camera on his shoulder followed him as the MC guided the arriving dignitaries to a little platform so they could stand head and shoulders above the crowd. The MC had a photographic memory and he knew every VERY IMPORTANT PERSON in show business. So did Marvin, as a matter of fact – he was in the business too… in a way. He worked part time on a mixing console at MTV Studios. Marvin knew exactly when and where every award ceremony would be and where to stand and get close to the stars when they arrived. He had probably gotten closer to Tiffany Blaize at award ceremonies than any other living man had gotten to her in her bedroom. Marvin had seen in clear detail the tracery of her mascara, the tantalizing falseness of her eyebrows and the exquisite pencil work that made them unique. The color of her eyes – a striking chrome steel blue with a touch of green – very similar to the eyes of a basking shark. Then there was her mouth. Her lacquered lips – a pale pink with a touch of lavender. She rarely smiled but her mouth was always slightly open to reveal her exquisite cosmetic teeth. Her hair was whiter than blonde and hung loosely down to her shoulders. She fiddled with it constantly – pushing it aside artfully with her hand, or tossing her head like an impatient palomino. She wore loose gowns, low cut and silverish, undistinguished enough so that they never distracted the public eye from her face. Her face was the important thing and as she fielded questions from the MC that face was a symphony in obfuscation. It fielded inquiries concerning her love life and her film appearances, (which were few and far between). She seemed oblivious to where she was, what the occasion might be and blind to the existence of the MC asking her the questions he was told to ask. She was the epitome of the girl in the scallop shell in Botticelli's, ''Birth of Venus.'' To impress her this evening, Marvin wore a clean Tiffany Blaize sweat shirt and a pair of low rider jeans. He combed his hair from back to front and maintained a stylish two day stubble of beard. He topped, (or bottomed) off his ensemble with a pair of black Nike basketball shoes. He thought his wardrobe was unique, but actually he was dressed like everyone else. Tonight Tiffany arrived in a white Lincoln Town Car, white with gold door handles – and a man was with her. It was Kid Spit, the rapper. Marvin was sure he read somewhere that she had split with Spit, and he was disappointed to see them back together again. Furthermore, the Kid was in full formal attire – a skin tight tuxedo, jet black sunglasses, (even though it was 10:30 PM) white sneakers and no tie. But Tiffany was more ravishing than ever and the MC was at the door of the Town Car like a used car salesman. Marvin watched her every move. How elegant she was as she gave the crowd the merest hint of a smile and the briefest wave of her hand. He marveled at her, shook his head in wonderment and thought to himself, how much more meaningful this was than sitting on his bed in his underwear looking at her picture on his bedroom door. He was overcome by a passion greater than anything he had ever experienced, and without realizing it, he stepped awkwardly over the velvet restraining rope and raised his arms. ''Tiffany!'' ''Tiffany!'' he cried. ''It's me, Marvin!'' It never occurred to him that they had never met. He had lived so long with her picture on his bedroom door, he felt they were lovers. He stood in this position for a moment, with his arms outstretched until two burly black defensive tackle types approached him from either side. He suddenly felt himself lifted off his feet – his legs pin-wheeling, being propelled smoothly, yet rapidly from the scene. He soon lost sight of Tiffany as the two men, with him between them disappeared in the alley between the Ed Sullivan Theater and Sharnhorst's German Delicatessen. The two men set him on his feet roughly and one of them growled, ''Bend over.'' Marvin didn't think it would be wise to disobey, so he bent over. The other defensive tackle kicked him. It was not just a kick, it was the kick of kicks – as powerful a kick as the kickoff at a professional football game – as powerful as a Tiger Woods 300 yard drive, or the home run swing of Barry Bonds. Marvin cleared the ground by three feet and came perilously close to clearing the lid of the garbage dumpster outside the kitchen of Scharnhorst's Delicatessen. He settled back to earth kneeling at the dumpster like a penitent at the communion rail. ''Have a nice day, chump,'' the defensive tackle said. The Chinese salad chef in the German delicatessen poked his head out the back door to see what the trouble was, and seeing Marvin on his knees, asked him if there was anything he could do. Marvin replied ''a-a-ack. a-a-ackack...'' The Chinaman shrugged and closed the door. To Marvin it seemed that all his vital organs, reproductive as well as digestive were now relocated somewhere in his throat. There was some pain but not as much as he thought there should be, and since he couldn't think of anything better to do, he decided to stand up. He tried his voice again. ... ''a-a-ack. a-a-ackack...'' was all that emerged. It emerged a full octave above his normal voice – that is, the voice he used to have. Walking was a problem also. His legs seemed to operate only from his knees down. His knees seemed joined together. But he could stand, and he marveled at his ability to stand at all. Rather than spend the rest of the night standing in the alley between the delicatessen and the theater, he decided to head for home. It was slow going, and crossing with baby steps the intersections of midtown streets of New York was terrifying – he couldn't walk fast enough to make it across Seventh Avenue while the ''Walk'' sign was on. Horns blared at him before he was half way across. Marvin was oblivious to it. He was lost in thought, chagrin and profoundly downhearted. In spite of it all he was home almost before he realized it. He looked at the dull red brownstone facade of his four-story tenement and in his mind's eye he pictured the four flights of stairs that would face him once he opened the vestibule door. He would make it. He was sure of it – one foot after the other – one agonizing step up the stairs one at a time. He remembered reading somewhere that steps are all the same – the treads are eight inches and the risers are seven and a half. He would keep that in mind and torment himself with that fact until he reached the fourth floor and stood before the door of his two room flat. When he got there he would reach in his side pocket for his key and open the door. He would step inside and close it behind him – he wouldn't turn on the light – he didn't have to, he could walk through his apartment in the dark without bumping into anything. He would walk into his bedroom and close the door behind him, and Tiffany would be standing there as if nothing had happened, and it would be like old times again.  
Archived comments for Marvin's Magic Door
pdemitchell on 22-02-2016
Marvins Magic Door
A metaphor for the silver screen of life. We are born, kicked roundly in the groinal region for X number of years with a variety of hetero or homo-Blaizes on our bedroom doors, and we unceremoniously clog our pops. Well writ short, Harry, well writ. Paul

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Life in the Dark Star (posted on: 12-02-16)
If you've got to go, this is the way to go ...

Life in the Dark Star Harry Buschman Well, Professor Leoncavallo is gone now and none of us are surprised. Everyone knew that little piece of dark star material would be the end of him. "You can't fool with mother nature." The entire crew of the Einstein School of Celestial Studies flew by private jet to Ecuador when the professor received the exciting news concerning a small piece of "Black Hole" material had been discovered by a primitive tribe in the almost inaccessible jungle of Ecuador. The natives didn't know the little nugget was part of a black hole, but Professor Leoncavallo was sure it was. He had witnessed an interstellar explosion in the vicinity of Coma Berenice only a week before, and since time and space are no hindrance to the inter-stellar travel of black holes he expected a sample of it might reach the solar system – and possibly find its way here. Of course it had enormous magnetic properties. It swallowed up everything. Within a week the natives declared it was sacred until they ran out of virgins. They were sacrificing one a day to their new God. They called it Vakuoom – which it was in a way. That first week they lost their medicine man too, he shook has magic stick at it and the tribal chieftain witnessed his long time friend and advisor sucked into the black hole in a flash, and later, he remarked with a sly smile, ''He is with the virgins." The professor was a little more careful than that. He rigged up a device to hold his wristwatch and a camera. The camera was set at its fastest speed and he fired off a shot just as his watch disappeared into the vortex of this mighty force of nature. The picture revealed the whirling, corkscrew effect of the black hole, (a pattern of behavior he also predicted.) "A tvistink und a skvirmink." he explained. "Like a boa constrictor mit a pig svallowed haff way down." Celestial science can only really be explained and understood by the experts. The Einstein School of Celestial Studies decided upon a bold and unique plan to contain this precious chunk of dark matter. A container of solid lead would be lowered by a giant boom controlled by the Dean from afar. He would be guided by signals from Professor Leoncavallo himself as he sat astride the container. ''Lead,'' the Professor sagely predicted, was ''uniquely impervious to dark hole matter.'' Two things went wrong. The Dean was clumsy and the Professor's prediction was incorrect. As the entire contraption disappeared into the insatiable maw of the dark star the old tribal chieftain was heard to remark, "They are with the virgins." ... which, when you come to think of it, is not a bad place to be when confronted with the unexplainable.
Archived comments for Life in the Dark Star
shadow on 12-02-2016
Life in the Dark Star
Very funny - and topical! Made me smile anyway, though the thought of scientists messing with black holes sent a shiver down my spine. Still, it couldn't happen - could it?

Author's Reply:

ParsonThru on 13-02-2016
Life in the Dark Star
Made me smile. Thank you. Nice to read some solid science. 🙂

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The Moving Finger (posted on: 05-02-16)
when it's time to call it a day.

The Moving Finger Harry Buschman The things I could tell you... if I had the time, that is! Where you can find rhyme and reason in love. How deep hate can be and how both love and hate can live at peace within the same four walls. How we grow, even as we decline, and how short a span we are given, Is it any wonder things never get done? All that know-it-all horse shit from the elderly that we listened to with child-like wonder. Nothing turned out the way they said it would. It's written on the walls. The spray can philosopher and the soap box orator are in full agreement. !THE END IS NEAR! But then the end comes – and goes and things are still the same. There's the shadowy past behind us. It is written by the winners and subject to change. The waiter's moving finger takes its orders from the diners at the table ... "medium, rare or well done, sir?" "Russian, thousand island or ranch, madam?" The past is not dead–we are the past. I pick up the pen and put it down again. I was going to write something down, what was it? I've forgotten. It seemed important at the time, but the time has gone by and nothing is important to me any more. Perhaps I should cap the pen ere the ink runs dry. Someone may be along later with something important to say.
Archived comments for The Moving Finger
QBall on 05-02-2016
The Moving Finger
It may be just a short piece, but it hits home. Congratulations on, shall we say, a TIMELY story!
The only quibble is with !THE END IS NEAR! I have never seen this kind of punctuation used before. We live and learn and my life has hit the 86th year.
Les the QBall.

Author's Reply:

Pronto on 06-02-2016
The Moving Finger
I enjoyed it. At first I thought it was a bit lethargic and pointless but, I reminded myself,I'm 74 next week with an almost finished thriller! Timely indeed. Thank you.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 06-02-2016
The Moving Finger
I'm usually a huge fan of your work Harry, as I'm sure you know, but this one seemed more of a little personal philosophical reflection than a story. Something more akin to a poem in fact. For me it was okay, but left me wanting more. I wished that you did have time to tell me those things you hinted at in the first line.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 06-02-2016
The Moving Finger
This was not meant to be a piece of literature. It is something old people, in their loneliness and debilitation fall back on as their bodies slip away from them. It is their only defense – we make no excuses for their excess and no explanation for their existence.

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A Quiet Place (posted on: 22-01-16)
Life! ... is different things to different people.

A Quiet Place by Harry Buschman Frank and Mary DaSilva sat side by side in the living room on a chilly autumn morning with their feet on the window sill. Mary wore gray house slippers. Frank was barefoot. To one side of them stood a thriving potted palm, now thirty years of age, a gift from the boys on the cutting room floor on the occasion of their wedding Outside their third story apartment, the silver rails of the Third Avenue el glistened brightly in the clear morning sun. It was their habit to sit quietly every weekday morning and watch the elevated trains go by. At this time of day a train went passed their window every 90 seconds, then as rush hour drew to a close, the intervals between them grew longer. At this point, Frank would yawn, swing his feet down from the window sill, get up and go to bed. While they sat there, they would comment on every passing train. Their eyesight was trained to catch the face of the engineer as it flashed by, and they would say, ''There goes four-eyes,'' or ''There's the walrus.'' From their vantage point they would occasionally lock eyes with a passenger staring dully out the window of the train, and there would be a visual electrical connection, almost an epiphany, unspoken and unacknowledged, but riveting nonetheless. The passenger would carry an image of Frank, Mary and the potted palm in his sub-conscious mind all day. Frank and Mary could have moved from Third Avenue to the silence of the suburbs years ago. All their friends and neighbors moved away from third avenue during the building boom in the fifties, but Frank and Mary DaSilva preferred to stay on the lower East Side. They had no visitors and even the few relatives who still came to visit them, couldn't leave for home fast enough. ''How can they stand that infernal racket?'' ''How can they sleep.'' ''They must be crazy – I'd go out of my mind.'' Frank was on the night shift in a bed frame factory. He didn't get home until six in the morning. His wife, Mary, adjusted her routine of housekeeping and cooking to conform with her husband's work schedule. She did her chores at night and started supper at five AM every morning. They would both sleep the day through lulled by the clashing and clanging of steel wheels on the steel rails of the Third Avenue elevator outside their living room window. They also slept through the bustling scene in the street outside. On sunny days the street under the elevated train was streaked in sun and shade. It created a dizzying chiaroscuro. Common street horses were changed magically into zebras. Trucks and storefronts were camouflaged in stripes of black and white. Looking up at the bright sky above, one could see a latticework of steel beams, cross ties and rails, that in the imagination of many recent citizens, resembled an enormous caged enclosure built to imprison a city of immigrants. For people who love elevated railways, Frank and Mary's apartment could not have been chosen more wisely. If they were one floor lower the trains would have been above their line of sight and much of the excitement of seeing them flash by at eye level would have been lost. If they were on the fourth floor the trains would have been below them and their living room view would have been compromised by the sordid panorama of life in the apartment windows across the street. As luck would have it, there was a rail splice just outside their living room window. It was an old splice, well worn, and the uptown train wheels, would pound it with every passing. The building would tremble slightly, there would be ripples in standing water in the kitchen sink, and the potted palm in the living room window would tremble with excitement. Frank and Mary would drop off to sleep in the early morning light counting the wheels as they pounded the splice ever deeper on their way uptown. ''That's an eight-car train,'' Frank might say. Mary might agree, or she might not. Combined with the screech of steel wheels on ancient switches, the clangor and pounding lent a rhythm and a purpose to their daily lives. They were not alone in their love for the elevated railway. Their canary, ''warbles'' would fill his throat with song as the train left the Division Street station a block away and sing to it as it roared by. Warbles did not live in the living room, he hung from a peg on the kitchen wall and although he could not see the train, it vibrated the harp string wires of his cage and he knew something wonderful was happening in the next room. Frank's brother lived in Plainview, Long Island and Mary had a sister in New Dorp. On summer weekends they would reluctantly go to visit one or the other, but the utter silence of the suburbs would set them on edge and they would leave for home as quickly as possible. Frank would say, ''I don't know how they can stand it, all you hear is birds and lawn mowers.'' And Mary would agree, ''I know, I know – and eating outdoors ... ugh! Like animals!'' Quietude was synonymous with the grave; whereas the pounding, grinding, regularity of the Third Avenue el was a symbol of life to the DaSilvas, it set a tempo to the placidity of their lives, and when Danny O'Hara of the Transit Union announced the entire membership would strike the city transit system for the first time ever, Frank and Mary looked at each other in dismay. ''He wouldn't dare,'' Mary ventured. ''Oh wouldn't he though,'' Frank answered nervously. ''You know how the Irish are.'' The newspapers talked of nothing but the possibility of a general transit strike. The Mayor warned of injunctions and court orders. ''It would raise the cost of a token to 25 cents,'' he said. Danny O'Hara shook his fist and countered, ''The subways should be free!'' The possibility of conciliation faded as the strike deadline approached. Both sides had strutted and postured to the point where neither could back down. ''The deadline is five o'clock Monday morning,'' Frank said nervously. ''Supper time,'' Mary said wistfully. Frank took the elevator to work for the last time on Sunday night. He stood on the windy deserted platform and watched the flickering lights of the approaching train as it lumbered up the hill to the Division Street Station. It was a four-car train – nearly empty and it sounded hollow as it approached the platform. The doors rumbled open, Frank got on and sat down cradling his lunch box on his knees. Across the aisle an old man stared at him and flashed a timid smile on and off like a disconnected light bulb. Above the mounting rumble of the train he shouted, ''Night worker, eh? How y'gettin' home tomorra?'' Frank hadn't thought about getting home in the morning. Somehow he felt that if he went about his life in the usual way the strike would never happen, and tomorrow morning at the stroke of six, he would punch the clock and the Third Avenue El would be waiting for him, just as it always had. He would ride home on the silver rails to the Division Street Station and walk the half block to home. He stared at the old man and smiled uncertainly in return – ''Guess I'll have'ta walk,'' he shouted. But all through the night it haunted him. The men on the sleepy night shift in the bed frame factory reported they heard from the delivery men ''On good authority.'' ''They're still talkin'.'' ''Danny sez this.'' ''The Mayor sez that.'' No one knew for sure, but everyone knew it was do or die. At four in the morning someone from the spring forging room said the strike was on. Trains, buses, trolleys, everything – the union was solid behind Danny O'Hara. Some of the crew lived in Brooklyn, some in Queens – two of the men on Frank's team lived in New Jersey. Frank could walk home, it was only three miles straight down Third Avenue, but it was something he had never done. He loved the Third Avenue El and he wouldn't walk a block if he could ride. When the shift closed down at six, the men stood outside in the chilly quiet morning and stared up at the Third Avenue El. ''Well, they done it. The sonsabitches went and done it – now how we gettin' home?'' One of them grumbled. The two Jerseyites turned up their coat collars and headed west. ''Poor bastards,'' Frank remarked. ''They gotta walk all the way to the PATH tubes.'' ''I gotta hitch a ride to the Bronx,'' someone said. ''How you gettin' home, Frank?'' Frank looked up at the dark and quiet framework above him, and in a subdued voice, answered, ''Guess I'll have to hoof it.'' In pleasant weather and in happier circumstances the walk home under the Third Avenue El would have been an enjoyable one. There were stores of all description, their ethnic differences sharply defined by friendly borders separating them. It was as though the walker were a giant in a Lilliputian countryside passing through Italy, Germany, Poland, Greece and China. But on this particular day-one of the transit strike Frank's mood was black and gloomy. He looked up from time to time at the dark, forbidding structure above him, quiet now in the weak morning light. Barricades blocked entrances to the stations and newspaper kiosks were shut tight. The sight of fresh vegetables in the markets did not revive him, nor did the fat yellow chickens hanging by their feet in the butcher's windows. Even the swinging doors of the open-all-night saloons did not cause him to break his slow and solemn stride. ''You're late,'' Mary said when Frank walked in and sat at the kitchen table with a resigned sigh. ''Had to walk.'' ''I know,'' Mary said sympathetically. ''They stopped running at four a.m.. It's been dead quiet.'' ''Supper ready?'' ''Don't'cha want to read the morning paper, Frank?'' ''I can't stand to look at the pitchers of Danny O'Hara.'' Frank clenched his leathery fist and brought it down hard on the kitchen table. ''Look what he's done to us, Mary!'' They ate in the kitchen. They ate without enjoyment. The canary looked down from his cage on the wall, and sensing the air of melancholy in the room, ventured a plaintive peep. It, too, was aware of the silence, and looking from Frank to Mary and back again, decided it would be better to keep its mouth shut. ''We could listen to the radio,'' Mary suggested. Frank chewed mechanically with no appetite. It didn't seem important to respond, but after swallowing laboriously he pointed out to Mary there was no sense turning on the radio at seven o'clock in the morning. ''As a matter of fact,'' he said, ''There ain't much use in stayin' up anyways – think I'll turn in after supper.'' ''But it's seven o'clock in the morning, Frank.'' ''I'm tired, Mary. I had to walk home – besides, what's t'stay up for?'' Mary stood up and looked into the living room, which only yesterday had been their vantage point from which to watch the passing trains. She sighed deeply and gathered up the supper dishes. ''Guess I'll turn in too, Frank. Soon as we get the dishes done. Ain't much t'do without the trains is there?'' Frank helped her with the dishes as he always did under happier circumstances. They draped the cover carefully over the canary, and with a last melancholy look at the living room window, retired for the day. The canary, who lived on daylight time and confused by the sudden onslaught of darkness decided it would sing a song or two. ''Shut up in there f'Christ's sakes, we're tryin' t'sleep in here.'' Frank shouted from the bedroom. ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for A Quiet Place
expat on 04-04-2016
A Quiet Place
Why no comments for this one? A great read from start to finish. As usual, your characters are 3-dimensional and the narrative as natural as in real life.
I've never seen anything of yours that didn't pass muster with full marks.

Author's Reply:
Two thousand words scares a lot of people off I think.


Eva's Beads (posted on: 08-01-16)
When everything is put together it's too much for an old lady to bear.

Eva's Beads by Harry Buschman Eva St. Claire sat stiffly in her cane bottom rocking chair by the window that looked out at the ivy covered wall. The window faced south and it seemed to her the sun grew hotter every day. The air conditioner in the wall rumbled noisily, making it difficult to hear 'The Guiding Light' on her 19 inch color television set. She paid no attention to the air conditioner or the television set; instead, she stared intently at her wrinkled hands. They seemed to have a life of their own. At times they would appear locked in mortal combat or clasped together as tightly as lovers might be. They were rarely at rest, and only by a great effort of will could she make them do what she wanted them to do. They were thin hands – old woman's thin skinned, blue veined bony hands. The knuckles were swollen twice the size they once were. Holding them up to the light of the window she could see the bones through the thin skin of her hands. They were like an x-ray photograph of someone else's hands, not hers. "How thin the skin of my wrists are," she thought, "... paper thin and dry – like the skin of an onion." "But they are your hands, Eva St. Claire," she reminded herself over the droning air conditioner and the tired passion of the television lovers on Guiding Light. "They've done everything hands were meant to do, caressed lovers, changed babies, cooked and cleaned, and wrung each other dry in despair. A lot of miles on these hands of yours, Eva." Between her hands she held a necklace, it helped to keep them still. Sydney bought it for her in Florence. It was a woven silver choker supporting eighteen crystal beads. Each bead was slightly different in size and shape; although a casual glance would judge them to be more or less the same. Eva came to know each bead was slightly different and represented the years of her life. The salesman in the shop told them that one could read the past and the future in them, like rosary beads. It was a romantic story and at the time neither she nor Sydney believed any of it for a minute. But now, with Sydney gone, and sitting alone in this room in the Sweetwater Nursing Home, she had indeed learned to read them from the first bead to the last. Each of the eighteen beads represented five years of her life, and though she was only eighty-four, she had studied the last bead well enough to know the details of how the end of her life might be. She was partially paralyzed since her stroke. Her left side was numb from her neck to her knee, yet the fingers of her left hand were just as sensitive as ever. They helped the right hand in the reading of the beads. At the moment she was enjoying a story in the second bead. She was eleven, in Catholic school. It was a Friday afternoon – all the girls went to confession on Friday afternoon. She and Angela always sat together in the pews adjacent to the confessionals waiting their turn. One by one, each girl would disappear behind the curtain and confess to Father Thornton. Father Thornton was old and deaf – and as old men do, he shouted to be sure you heard him. Instead of confessing in secret, it was like shouting your sins out loud in the street. Roberta, the fat girl in pigtails was in there – "Speak up girl," Father Thornton shouted. "I can't hear you – you say you touched yourself – where? Where did you say you touched yourself? THERE!! Six Hail Marys for you young lady – and a good act of contrition!" ... Only a fool would confess their sins to Father Thornton. The whole story was there, there at the end of the second bead. Without them Eva would have forgotten the stories of her life long ago. She would have forgotten the details of the night Philip was born, had it not been for the fifth bead. First, her water broke and then Sydney flooded the carburetor, then they couldn't find the traveling bag they had so carefully packed for the trip to the hospital. There was a little indentation in that fifth bead – what did that remind her of? Oh yes! Sydney got a ticket for parking in a doctor's reserved space at the hospital that night. It was her favorite bead ... the fifth. Such a wonderful time, being pregnant, after wondering if she'd ever be. Both she and Sydney harboring the unspoken thought that the other was to blame. They were closer together those months than ever before. A little of him and a little of her – all growing inside her. Then came Philip. So much like his father, even as a baby. So demanding of her time and attention, so eager to be the center of attraction. Only children were like only husbands – they want all a woman can give. Expectant motherhood had been the best time of her life, better even than motherhood itself. "What might I have been without a family to look after? A great actress? Yes, it might have been. I played "Nora" in my senior year ... and I played the piano so well." She skipped back to the third bead – yes, at the recital! She played Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words." She looked down at her hands again. "Did these hands actually play Mendelssohn? Could they play "Chopsticks" today? I doubt it." She tried to avoid it, but like fingers picking at a sore that will not heal, she drifted ahead to the seventh bead. February 14th. It was the day she first realized Sydney had been unfaithful. "Unfaithful!" How inadequate a word! How could it ever convey the emptiness and the failure she felt in herself as a woman. Even now, the memory of that winter that dragged into the following fall, saddened and chilled her. Still holding fast to the seventh bead, she stood up and slowly walked to the rumbling air conditioner. When she turned it off the relentless torment of the "Guiding Light" was the only sound in the room. She turned the television set off as well. The seventh bead. It never failed to chill her to the bone. "Sydney, Sydney, I failed you! I grew old in your eyes – it wasn't enough to love you, was it? The lying, the lame excuses, the calls from the office at 4:30, and worst of all, the knowledge that you still loved Philip and me. Even then I knew you suffered as much as we did, and when it was over, you suffered for it the rest of your life. Even though it was forgiven and forgotten, you would not forgive yourself. Like an albatross, the guilt of it hung around your neck and weighed you down – made you old before your time, and in the end it killed you." Eva's fingers moved along the string of beads. She stopped at the eighteenth, and just as they predicted, Maggie walked in. "How we doin' t'day, Eva. You awful quiet in here. Y'got the AC turned off, child – y'feelin' chilly." "It's the noise, Maggie. I can't stand the noise. It drones on and on – I can stand the heat but I can't stand the noise." "That's 'cause you skinny, Eva. You be as fat as me, and you put up with the noise – believe me. Gotta take your blood pressure, love – then we goin' downstairs to watch the movie." "Oh, Maggie – I really don't want to go down there. Just let me stay up here, please?" It meant sitting in the dark – everybody dropping off to sleep. It would be a movie she had probably seen years ago and partly remembered, then getting it confused with others she'd seen and in the end losing track of the story all together. "Looka that, girl! 136 over 70 – you on the road back honey! We goin' downstairs f'sure. Y'gotta get them joints loosened up, you know. Y'gotta see people – get your mind off yourself. You goin' home to your family soon – Miss Eva. Listen t'me girl – y'got the rest of your life t'live out." Maggie walked to the closet, got a robe, and helped Eva into it. "There y'go. Y'look real sweet, Miss Eva. Why don't I fix that necklace on you? Them crystal beads'll look real pretty with the lavender." "No, I want to hold it, Maggie." "Necklaces are for wearin', not holdin'." Maggie took the necklace from Eva, stepped behind her and secured the clasp. "Oh, don't that look fine! You'll have all them old bucks down there wantin' t'sit next to you f'sure." Maggie could not see the bewildered expression on Eva's face as she raised both hands to her throat and tried to remove the beads. From the moment Maggie fastened them behind her they became unbearably heavy. They were like a chain of iron. She tried to turn to Maggie, but failed – she tried to speak, but couldn't. All Maggie heard were the words, "heavy, heavy!" Repeated again and again. Eva's knees gave way and she fell back into Maggie's arms. Maggie, startled, caught her and sat her on the bed. "What's wrong, honey? Oh, God! God! You just rest there a minute and I'll go for the doctor – hold on now, Eva girl. I'll be right back." Eva was vaguely aware of the sound of Maggie's rubber soled shoes squeaking on the tile floor as she turned and sprinted out of the room. It was hard to breathe now. The weight of the beads was unbearable – if she could only reach back and undo the clasp ... no, it was impossible. Well – let it be, she thought. It's been long enough, the weight will pass.
Archived comments for Eva's Beads
Mikeverdi on 08-01-2016
Evas Beads
Not been on here for a while Harry, sorry if I've missed any. This is a sad tale, but beautiful. I'm happy to be a big fan of your work.
Mike

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Supratik on 09-01-2016
Evas Beads
A beautiful read.

Author's Reply:

sweetwater on 09-01-2016
Evas Beads
Very much enjoyed reading this, an ordinary life lived which makes one warm to her. Emphasised the loneliness she felt, even during her younger years. Good choice of nursing home name too 🙂 Sue.

Author's Reply:


The Last Intermission (posted on: 01-01-16)    
A short story about people who devote their lives to other people.

The Last Intermission by Harry Buschman Jerry stared at the patient in the hospital bed and looked nervously at his watch. ''Why did it have to be today?'' he asked Carol. It was getting late. He had to go over the nocturnes again, there was something in them he wasn't bringing out. He drummed his fingers on the windowsill and looked at her. She hadn't taken her eyes from Walter. The nurse came in and checked the IV drip, then smiled at the two visitors, ''He'll be dropping off soon,'' she said. ''He should sleep for hours. You can leave then.'' Jerry looked at his watch again and whispered to Carol. ''What do you think? She made a shushing sound and put her finger to her lips, and in a voice so low he could barely hear her, said ''It's only a matter of time I guess.'' ''Do you think he knows we're here?'' They waited a minute until Walter's eyes closed and his breathing became deep and steady, then Jerry spoke up again, ''I don't know how I'm going to get along without him, I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for Walter.'' ''You'll find another agent, Jerry.'' ''I only had to think about the music, he did everything else – I feel so alone.'' ''You're not the only one who's going to miss him you know, I loved him too. What's more, he loved both of us, don't look at me like that.'' Jerry turned away, walked to the window and stared out at the fog drifting over the hospital lawn. ''He loved you too much to take advantage, you know that. I would have let him, I think, but both of us loved you too much.'' He put both hands to his face and brushed his hair back. ''I didn't think he was that far gone, you know? I knew it was cancer, so did he – but I thought – we all thought.'' ''He wanted you to think that, Jerry. I knew it. You should have known it too.'' She shook her head in pity, ''You're like a child, aren't you. We kept everything from you.'' She opened her purse and took out a letter. ''I want you to hear this....'' Carol, Carol, how beautiful you are when you're sleeping. Your lips slightly parted, your breathing as gentle as a baby's. There's a glow about you – perhaps it's the light, but more than likely it's coming from you. It's a privilege to be here with you ... to be in your presence while you sleep. I am the most fortunate of men and I only wish I could say the things I really mean. But there will come a day, I promise you, when I find words to fit your beauty. Be patient with me Carol .... ''Did he write that? It's beautiful.'' ''No Jerry, you did. Before we were married – you don't remember, do you?'' ~~~~~~~~~~~ The first half of the concert went passably well, but Jerry was not completely satisfied, the Beethoven pieces were too powerful, they focussed the attention of the audience on the music rather than the pianist. Beethoven had a way of overwhelming the performer, diminishing him. That was one of the things Jerry didn't like about Beethoven. But the second half. The Chopin! That's where he would shine! He ran over the fingering again in his mind and he was sure he could do some things even Chopin didn't think of doing. He sipped the Perrier and stretched out full length on the chaise. The muted murmur of voices from the crowd outside in the green room were barely audible here in his dressing room – he would allow no visitors. Not 'til later. After the Chopin. The crowd outside the door fretted as Carol and the stage manager reasoned with them. ''The maestro must concentrate on the Chopin, he cannot – must not be disturbed. He will be happy to meet you after the performance. Please return to your seats. Intermission will be over in ten minutes. Remember, you will not be permitted to enter the auditorium after the performance begins.'' Almost all of them were women, elderly and all of them were mesmerized by the maestro's intensity of expression, his tousled hair and the impetuousness of his playing. He reminded many of them of near forgotten flings with other impulsive youths in their younger days. ''How unkind of the management!'' ... ''If he only knew we were standing here, I'm sure he would come out and talk to us.'' It was something Carol had been through again and again. No one could get in to see Jerry at intermission, only Chopin. On second thought, she reminded herself, even Chopin, if he were alive, would not be admitted during intermission. She marveled in the beginning how ego and arrogance made Jerry what he was; did he really think the people came to hear him rather than the music? She didn't wonder any more. The ten minute bell chimed softly and the ladies reluctantly headed back to the auditorium. They wore expressions of petulance, like children denied an extra ten minutes before bedtime. Carol and the stage manager breathed a sigh of relief. Before returning to her seat, Carol knocked lightly on Jerry's door. He would rouse himself, she knew, limber his fingers on the mute keyboard and do his exercises. Before returning to her seat she made a quick phone call to the hospital. She regretted it. Walter died in his sleep shortly after they left. The nurse was upset that he had to die alone. Carol stood at the artist's entrance to the auditorium. The thought of listening to Jerry play the second half seemed impossible now. She had a momentary impulse to go back, burst into his dressing room and shout, ''Walter's dead, Jerry! Still feel like playing?'' Pampered child. Fragile temperament. The facts of life would destroy him. No, she could listen no longer, neither could she watch him play. She was not in the mood for music. The thought of Walter not being here to listen with her or to share Jerry's triumph ruined it for her. Instead of finding her seat down front she walked up the side aisle of the auditorium and pushed her way through the upholstered exit doors. She stood with her back to the wall and heard the burst of applause that signaled Jerry's return. She could almost see him bowing ever so slightly before sitting at the piano. Smiling the shy shit licking smile of fake humility that he had practiced so long in the mirror. He would then extend his arms in front of him to draw his cuffs up snug to his wrists and look heavenward as though expecting a blessing from Chopin. How phony it all was, how self-serving! It was over for her. She could stand it when Walter shared it with her; but not alone. Not without Walter. She fished in her purse for the old letter––''there will come a day I promise you ...'' She read it one more time, then crumpled it up, its dry creases digging into the palms of her hands.
Archived comments for The Last Intermission
shadow on 01-01-2016
The Last Intermission
Sad but beautiful. Marvellous how you can get so much into such a short tale.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 02-01-2016
The Last Intermission
Brilliant writing. Your work is always a lesson in how to write short stories.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 09-01-2016
The Last Intermission
One of your very best for me, a privilege to read.
Mike

Author's Reply:


God's Country (posted on: 11-12-15)
A short story about tour bus that went the wrong way.

God's Country by Harry Buschman   It was just past three in the afternoon and the tour guide's voice droned on like a lullaby rather than an explanation of the passing scene. The forty seven passengers were barely awake, the men anyway. They stared out the windows of the bus at the passing miracles – each one more impressive than the one before – yet curiously, all the same. They had been up since six-thirty this morning, eaten heavily at lunch, (courtesy of Boomerang Tours) and the majority of them had not had a bowel movement since they landed in Denver three days ago. 

Jacki Bundy had a window seat, alert as a bird on a bough. She stared attentively through the blue tinted window listening to the tour guide's every word. She held her brochure open to the page describing the vehicular tunnel through the Going to the Sun Highway, while her husband, Gordon, sat next to her trying vainly to digest the extra large cheeseburger and two dark lagers he had wolfed down two hours ago. He glanced at his wife, shook his head slowly and closed his eyes.

 The tour guide decided to take a breather. He realized very few tourists were interested in the scenery this hour of the afternoon. One mountain looked the same as another, and it was far better to turn on the tape recorder which explained the view outside better than he could.

 Jacki Bundy was attentive however, regardless of who was talking – she had fallen in love with Glacier National Park and she wasn't going to miss a thing. 

''Where are we?'' Gordon asked. 

''What do you mean, where are we? We're in Glacier National Park. Gordon, Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?'' 

''It's a picture, that's for sure.'' ''Can you imagine what it must have been like for the pilgrims .... '' 

''Pioneers dear.''

 ''Yes, them too, I mean when there were no roads and Indians around every bend.'' ''Imagine what it must have been like for the Indians.''

 Jacki chewed on that for a while, then she nodded her head as though she had dutifully considered the effect of the pioneers on the Indians. ''Jerry was talking about that this morning, just as we were going through Logan Pass.'' 

''Jerry?'' 

''Our guide, Jerry. Jerry Ward. He was talking about Indians – the Sioux I think. There was this chief, Spotted Tail, and the government did all it could to get him out of this part of the country when gold was discovered.'' 

''I must have missed that. Asleep I guess.''

 They rode in silence over the immaculately paved roads that wound their way through the passes, cutbacks and brightly lit tunnels blasted through solid rock. Most of the men were dozing, but the women kept watch at the windows and occasionally a feminine voice could be heard exclaiming, ''Oh look! There's a bear.'' or ''There's a buffalo.'' Every time Gordon raised his head to see, it would turn out to be a tree stump or a unique alignment of shrubbery that in some receptive minds might be misconstrued as a bear or a buffalo. They burst out of the tunnel into glaring sunlight and even though Gordon's eyes were closed the glare of the sky at that altitude hurt his eyes. He was about to shift in his seat when the driver called out, ''Watch it! Hang on!'' 

There was a crash up front and the windshield broke into a network of brilliant white, web-like lines. Jacki screamed and it seemed all the other women screamed in harmony with her. The bus veered to the left, crossed the road and bounced to a rough stop in a small grassy area. Jerry Ward, the guide had been riding in a small jump seat behind the driver picked himself off the floor. 

The driver's eyes were bulged out from shock when he turned to see if the passengers were all right, and in a thin tremulous voice said, ''Sorry folks, I think we killed a buffalo ... everybody okay?''

 Jacki Bundy, thinking that possibly the accident was part of the tour, expected an explanation immediately. Her husband, however was wedged in a fetal position on the floor between his seat and the back of the one in front of him. When he extricated himself he looked out the window and couldn't believe his eyes.

''Jesus,'' he said. ''We're at the edge of a cliff!'' The sight made him dizzy. It wasn't quite a cliff, but in all truth it was a precarious position at the edge of a steep decline. The ground sloped down from the bus abruptly. He turned to Jacki and said, ''We've got to get the hell out of this bus!'' 

''My bag, the cameras ...'' Jacki rummaged in the overhead but everything had skidded up to the front of the bus. Gordon was suddenly pushing her up the aisle ... ''Get out. Keep moving ... we've got to get out of this damn bus!'' 

The driver finally realized the bus was at a precarious tilt, and he, too, began shouting for people to get off the bus. Gordon was one of the first off and he noticed the step was nearly four feet off the ground. He and another man began catching people as they jumped. The last man off was the driver, still bug-eyed with confusion and fear. The bus, now lighter by thirty people began to slide down the hill. Everyone watched it in amazement, until it stopped - held in check by a huge boulder.

 ''Maybe it'll stay there,'' the driver said.

 As if to prove him wrong, the bus rolled over the boulder with a grinding sound of bending metal and the crash of breaking glass. It began to roll over and over with increasing speed. The noise faded until it could be heard no more; Gordon estimated it was a good 200 yards down the mountainside. 

''Did everyone get out?'' Gordon shouted.

The tour guide stared at him dumbly. It was obvious to Gordon that he must have a concussion ... he seemed more helpless than the passengers. The bus driver was alert but shaken, he had wrapped both arms around himself and was looking back at the buffalo lying dead in the road. 

''We can't just stand here,'' Gordon shouted loudly enough for everyone to hear. ''Has anyone got their cell phone with them?'' He turned to Jacki ... she shook her head ...

''It's on the bus,'' she mumbled. No one had a cell phone, they were all with the bus at the bottom of the ravine.

 ''What's going on with the sky?'' One of the men pointed to the west, black clouds were piling up on each other and assuming the shape of an anvil. Below them, closer to the ground, dark and ominous clouds rapidly approached them.

 Gordon walked over to the guide. ''What do we do now, Ward? We're standing out here in the road with a dead buffalo and there's a hell of storm brewing.'' Ward was in no shape to make decisions. His two months study course at Glacier National Park was focussed on its beauties and natural history, it never contemplated a bus accident on a rarely travelled road. Come to think of it, he couldn't remember anyone ever telling him that it rained here in July. Besides his head hurt and he couldn't really concentrate on the turn of events.

 Gordon gave up on Ward and walked over to the side of the road and looked down the steep wall of the ravine. The bus could barely be seen in the upper fringe of the treeline. It would take ropes and winches – maybe a crane to get it back on the road. His Nikon F3 was on that bus, so were his shoes. He just noticed that he was standing at the side of the road in his socks. The bus could wait. What was more troubling was the approaching storm. The guide had drifted off to sleep – probably a concussion, and the driver didn't seem to know much about the countryside. Gordon walked over to the driver, who was trying to revive the guide. "Do you know much about thunderstorms up here," he asked?

 "This is my first time on the Glacier route. Don't know much about thunderstorms in the mountains – haven't seen one. I hear they can be pretty bad."

They stood together for a moment. "I can get in a lot of trouble for this," the driver went on. "Should'a stayed with Empire." 

"Who's Empire?"

"It's a truckin' company. 18 wheelers from San Diego to the mid-west. Six lane roads all the way. You'd never catch a rig goin' through these parts." 

"You mean we're stranded?" 

"Til the next bus comes along – three hours at least. They may quit if they see a storm brewin' – could be God knows how long." 

Gordon walked away, leaving the driver standing at the edge of the road and looking down the slope – the bus had worked its way into the trees and could no longer be seen. Jacki was sitting on a rock talking to one of the passengers, a woman traveling alone. They both looked up at him. "Any news," Jacki asked him.

Gordon was about to answer but a dull subterranean rumble, more felt than heard became audible.

Jacki looked at him nervously; "What was that?" 

"I think it's thunder. It echoes around the mountains. Once it starts it doesn't stop." 

To the east, beyond the ridge of Logan Pass a hundred miles from them, maybe more, lightning was striking the eastern slopes of the Rockies – they couldn't see it, but they could hear the deep subterranean rumble of it.

"I don't see the lightning," she said.

 "You will, Look at those clouds building up in the east – look at the color!" 

"I've never seen clouds that color." They were a greenish black. Jet black at the bottom and turning to green at the top. They were moving fast in their direction. "I can see the lightning now," she said.

 With the lightning came the thunder – closer this time. Along with the thunder came black clouds blotting out the sun. A cold wind picked up and heavy beads of hail buffeted the bedraggled passengers. There was nowhere to hide, no cover – Gordon covered Jacki's head with arms and bent to absorb the pelting hail. It bounced and shattered on the road as if it were glass. He caught a glimpse of her frightened face and realized she was trying to say something, but her voice could not be heard above the roar of the storm. He tried to keep her flat on the ground, thinking they would be less of a target for the lightning.

When it seemed to Gordon the storm would never end, the rain and hail stopped abruptly. While the flashes of lightning were still blindingly bright, the thunder was less intense and seemed to be moving away. He raised his head and looked about him for the others. They lay in huddled heaps, like bags of wet wash in the road. He looked down at Jacki and smiled nervously, "I think – maybe – just maybe we've weathered it, old girl." 

"I'm freezing. What was that anyway?"

 "I think we were inside a thunderstorm; we're lucky to be alive I guess."

 Jacki raised her head and looked her. "Look," she said. "There's sunlight down in the valley." She turned her head and looked at the passengers huddled in the road. Some were stirring. Some were not. "Hold me, Gordon ... I'm freezing." 

"Get up, Jacki. Stand up. Get moving ... get the circulation going." He helped her to her feet. "Let's see how the others are."

 They were in poor shape, and as Gordon and Jacki passed among them, the bedraggled passengers stared up at them with blank shell-shocked eyes as though they had been through a battle field. Worst off were the single women, huddled alone in their fear with no one to comfort them. 

''Will we get through this?'' Jacki asked.

''We'll make it, love. They must be expecting us up ahead.'' He look down at her and saw the terror in her face. ''If it's any consolation we're too high up for mountain lions.''

 There was nothing to do but wait. One by one the passengers gathered together in a circle, their bodies touching, trying to protect each other from the cold. They sat with their arms around each other, touching each other for warmth. They spoke of where they came from and how pleasant life was back home. They spoke of their children and their children's children. They did not speak of the mountain or the storm or the cold – and now that it was night, they did not speak of the hunting sounds of animals – the sounds of cat and coyote. They did not listen.

But they heard them all the same. They had no idea of the time, and, as the cold seeped in consciousness slipped away. They were unprepared for what happened to them, barely human now. In less than a day they had changed from pampered, overfed vacationers to children in the wilderness. Finally, at the darkness moment, Gordon mentioned a sliver of light in the east. Another thought he heard a distant vehicle far below. The sound of hunting animals suddenly ceased, a truck was clearly heard grinding its way up the mountain and they saw headlights on the pass below. One by one they helped each other stand and slowly they felt life returning to their bruised and battered bodies. The ordeal was over but the memory of the mountain would color their lives forever. 
 
Archived comments for God's Country
Gee on 11-12-2015
Gods Country
I liked the way a very bored Gordon took charge of the situation here. I enjoyed the progression of the story and the way it changed them. A very scary situation skilfully explored.

Author's Reply:

franciman on 11-12-2015
Gods Country
I loved the story. Descriptive and nail-biting. I just felt the end was something of an anti-climax. It felt more like an afterthought, if you see what I mean? I thought the two main characters were developed throughout the piece though and made it all very believable.
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 12-12-2015
Gods Country
Loved the idea,you described it well. Having been left behind by a boat once I got the helplessness of their situation. I agree that the ending was a little weak on this one Harry.
Mike





Author's Reply:

Harry on 12-12-2015
Gods Country
Sorry about that soft ending but that's the way it actually turned out. Aside from the tour guide's concussion there were no more serious injuries ... the sudden realization that a tour bus was no match for the mountain was the lesson the vacationers took home with them.

Author's Reply:


Prom Night (posted on: 04-12-15)
Might have been funny 20 years ago. Which, by the way was just about the time it was written.

 Prom Night by Harry Buschman The moment he opened the front door, Mr. Hopkins' worst case scenario for his daughter's prom night came true. ''Can I help you?'' He asked, hoping the ghoulish figure had the wrong address.

 ''I'm Lance,'' the figure mumbled. 

''Oh, you're Lance, yes ... Patty's not ready yet. Why don't you come in?'' 

''She said to be here 8 PM, it's 8 PM.'' 

''I know, I know – but that's Patty for you.'' Mr. Hopkins laughed nervously and walked to the foot of the stair and shouted, ''Patty! Patty! Your Lance is here.'' He turned and looked for help in the kitchen. ''Martha! Patty's date is here. would you come in and say hello to ... er ... Lance ... please? 

Mrs. Hopkins walked in briskly drying her hands on a dish towel. She stopped dead in the living room when she saw who was at the door. ''Oh, you must be Lance. Patty's told us so much about you.'' She turned to her husband, her eyes filled with terror. ''Patty tells me Lance is going to medical school when he graduates, dear.'' 

She made a supreme effort to pull herself together and closed the door behind Lance. ''Why don't we sit in the living room? I'm sure Patty will be down in a minute.'' 

''What's holdin' her up – I ain't got all friggin' night.''

 ''Oh, I almost forgot, Lance – did you bring Patty a corsage?'' 

''No. She need one?''

 ''Well, yes – it's customary on prom night, you know. But I knew you couldn't have any idea what she's wearing ... and the color is so important, you know. The flower should compliment the gown – so I got her one.'' 

''Whatever.'' 

'' ... and at the same time, I bought you a carnation. They look so distinguished on a tuxedo – you are wearing one under that, that, whatever, aren't you.'' 

Mr. Hopkins, ever the practical one asked, ''How are you kids getting to the prom? I didn't see a car out there.'' 

''I rented a hoise.'' 

''A hoise?''

 ''Yeah. Like for dead people. It's gotta King-sized BeautyRest in the back.'' 

Mr. Hopkins was about to say something meaningful just as Patty rushed down the stair. ''Oh, you're here, Lance,'' she gushed. ''You've already met Mum-mums and Dada – aren't they the sweetest couple?'' 

Mrs. Hopkins held out the corsage for Patty's gown. ''Look what Lance brought you, dear. Wasn't that thoughtful of him. Say thank you, Patty.'' 

''Thank you, Lance.''

 ''Whatever.'' 

Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins stood in the open door as Patty and Lance walked quickly to the hearse parked at the curb. The elderly couple looked at each other affectionately. Mrs. Hopkins sighed deeply and in a tremulous voice recalled the night of their high school prom. ''Father didn't like you at all, did he? He couldn't understand how I chose the son of the only mortician in town, the apple didn't fall too far from the tree, did it dear?'' 

''Whatever,'' said Mr. Hopkins.
Archived comments for Prom Night

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Kissing Cousins (posted on: 30-11-15)    
A story about a place you've probably not seen and about a time that makes the whole scene seem unreal, but believe me, there was such a place and such a time ... long ago.

Kissing Cousins by Harry Buschman There is a finger of sand stretching westward from Queens County in New York called Rockaway Point. It is separated from the mainland by a body of water known as Jamaica Bay. It is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and a four lane highway bridge connects it to Brooklyn. When I was a child the only way you could get to Rockaway Point was by passenger ferry from Brooklyn. Rockaway Point was a desolate place, unspoiled, a stopover to many species of birds en route to their summer homes in the north, or their winter homes in the south. If you walk its shores and hidden bayside coves today you would never dream the place was a playground for working people in the days of the Great Depression. You might also wonder how the stubby tree trunks protruding from the sand got there. They are the last remains of the little bungalows that once stood on wooden piles before the great hurricane of 1938 swept them all away. In the twenties and thirties there was no bridge, and the place was almost inaccessible. Life was pretty much the same as it had been when the Dutch discovered it 500 years ago. There were only two permanent installations. The major one was Fort Tilden, an abandoned Coast Artillery installation built to protect New York Harbor in World War I. You could look in and see solid concrete bunkers, disappearing guns and two story barracks. If you knew the places where the wire fence had been levered up or dug under, you could crawl under and roam around the fort all day. About two miles down the peninsula there was a coast guard life saving station. The men had very little to do and they spent their afternoons hassling girls on the beach. People who spent their summers there gave them a wide berth. The rest of Rockaway Point consisted of unpainted wood shanties standing on cedar log piles. They were as basic as a sourdough's shack in the Yukon. The only running water was a hand pump at the galvanized tin kitchen sink. There were no toilets. A primitive one hole outhouse which was emptied once a week into Jamaica Bay by ''The Honey Man,'' an old Gypsy with a donkey cart. There was no mail, no electricity, no refrigeration and no gas for cooking. What little cooking got done, was done on a wood stove. Wood was cut, ferried across the bay and sold at exorbitant prices. Any serious cooking was done outdoors on the beach over a driftwood fire. Why would anyone live there? No one did, but many people rented the shanties for $20 a season in the summer. in spite of the hardships it was a delightful place to be if you loved the sea and worked in the heat of the city. The air was untainted and the sun shone down as bright and warm as it did in the Bahamas. The sands were white and the sea was unspoiled. You could eat whatever you could fish out of it; clams, oysters, cod and striped bass at every meal if you wanted. The shanties (and there's no other name I can think of that fits them as well), were filled to overflowing on weekends by families and friends of families who gladly put up with the primitive conditions they would not have endured if they stayed home. Extended families developed a schedule of rotation for their kids, leaving them there for two or three weeks during their summer vacations. The sun and salt air brought the color back to their pasty cheeks and renewed old family ties. In the meantime the parents could go places without them... sort of like leaving your dog in a kennel. Of course children loved it – it was as close to camping out as you could get, and during the week every shack seemed to have a half dozen children watched over by one adult, (usually an out of work or widowed aunt). On Friday evenings the parents sailed across the bay by ferry to join them for the weekend, carrying baskets of food and changes of clothing. Every shanty bore a different name over its front door, ''Windswept'' for example, or maybe ''Starfish.'' They looked so much alike inside and out that when you went looking for yours the name was its only reliable identification. Our shanty, or bungalow as our watch-Aunt Rachel preferred to call it, consisted of a kitchen at one end and a porch at the other. In between was a large unfinished room in which everyone slept at night and sat in on rainy days. The heat was unbearable during the day, and if Aunt Rachel decided to cook in the kitchen on the wood range, the temperature could be downright combustible. On Sunday evening the parents left for home and the children suddenly realized they were abandoned on a desert island with an old aunt they had never seen before. Sunday night and Monday morning were the hardest – for some kids it was a first separation from the family. My cousins Cora and Weaver (whose father rented the shack), had already been there since the end of school, Milly, Belcher and I were strangers to each other, as well as the others, and with the natural reticence and apprehension most children feel for strangers, we played it as cool as we could – looking for openings and weak points. But the two girls, Cora and Milly became soul mates immediately and in whispered confidence they discussed the three boys. There wasn't much to choose between us, we were pimply, clumsy and mute. We were all about the same age. Belcher was a year older, a freshman in high school. He somehow managed to sneak a pack of contraceptives in his stylish imitation alligator valise and even though he never had reason to use one he made sure we all knew he had them available and how to wear them. He looked Cora and Milly over a few times and decided they were too young for him. There were no girls in the shack to our left and only one on the right, but she wore eyeglasses and walked with a limp. My attention was centered on my cousin Milly. I vividly recall she wore a rubber bathing suit. They were very popular in Hollywood, all the Mack Sennett girls wore them, but not very practical in the Atlantic Ocean. Her suit was the color of tanned skin with a blue rubber flower between her tiny breasts. I had never seen a rubber bathing suit before and my imagination went wild. I wondered how she got in and out of it, I wondered what would happen when it got wet, and what would it feel like. Her cousin Cora wore a black woolen one with legs halfway down her thighs, but Milly's stopped at her crotch. There were times when she'd insert her finger in the tightness of the leg and allow it to snap back. The wet slapping sound of it was like a pistol shot. There were five of us – all of us on the threshold of pubescence. Cora and Weaver were brother and sister, while Milly, Belcher and I were simply cousins. We were afraid of each other for a while, afraid of our sex, yet drawn to each other and confused by the strangeness of being abandoned in this primitive environment. We lived together, ate together, played games together and all of us slept in the same room. There was no radio or television to distract us and to keep the ship on a steady course I played my harmonica, and Weaver played his ukulele. ''No one here can love or understand me,'' ''All alone by the telephone.'' On and on the music went, deep into the night. Eventually Aunt Rachel would start to snore out on the porch and we would put our instruments away. We told stories until we fell asleep one by one. Sometimes we'd go outside in our nightclothes and sit in a row on the splintery wooden planks that led to the boardwalk and look at the stars. Stars so close and bright, that it seemed you could hear them sizzling up there if you listened closely. In a loose pack, we would walk along the tide-line in the morning to see what had drifted in. The sand at the water's edge was fine and closely packed. We could walk along the water's edge and not leave a mark to show we were there. It was cool to the touch of our bare feet and if we looked at it in the right light and the right angle to the sun, it looked like diamond dust. Along the top of the dunes the sand was soft, yielding, and difficult to walk in. In the middle of the day it was so hot we had to work our feet down into it to keep them from getting burned. Reedy gray green grass grew along the topmost ridge of the dunes, it was home to the sandpipers during periods of high tide. When the tide began to ebb, they'd be down in the wet sand plunging their long sharp bills in the sand for shrimp, their spindly legs a blur as they kept one step ahead of the incoming waves and one step behind them when they retreated. Up in ''the dunes,'' as we called them, lived the giant and insatiable green flies – large as bumble bees. They would launch themselves at the tenderest parts of our bodies and gorge there until there was no blood in us. They would follow us back to the shanty at the end of the day and be the first ones through the screen door when it opened. Once inside they would hide until bedtime and look for us in the dark. The sea was our life. It was with us every hour of every day. It was our bath tub and our playground ... our constant companion. But every afternoon about three, high tide or low, the sea belonged to Aunt Rachel. She would appear in a flowered bathing suit with a long skirt, stockings and shoes carrying a large white towel and a straw basket. She would pull a white rubber hat with a chin strap out of the basket and fasten it securely on her head. She would finally remove her false teeth, wrap them in a handkerchief and put them in the basket. Then, armed with a bar of yellow laundry soap, she would march into the sea. When she reached the proper depth, (depending on wave activity and water temperature), she commenced singing and lathering herself with the yellow soap. After ten minutes or so, her toilette complete, (and her teeth back in) we would gather together to discuss dinner. On the last day we decided on clam fritters. Ignatz (''The Armenian''), had the only convenience store on The Point. He had a large family and he looked for all the world like the trapper that Charlie Chaplin shared a cabin with in ''The Gold Rush.'' He built his store on the bay side of the Point and had his own dock near the ferry landing. He and his large family brought food across Jamaica bay in a small boat and sold it for highway robber prices in his store. Everyone hated Ignatz, but there were times when you needed flour because the dampness ruined yours or maybe you needed a potato or two. For such things Ignatz was indispensable. On our last day at the Point Aunt Rachel promised to make us clam fritters if we would dig for clams on the bay side at low tide that afternoon. She gave us a quarter and told us to get a pound of white flour over at Ignatz's. It seemed like a good deal to the five of us, and we all went over to Ignatz to get the flour. From Ignatz's store on the bayside we could tell the tide was low just as Aunt Rachel said it would be. When we got back to the shanty we gathered up our rakes and buckets and started off on the trail that wound between stands of cattails and thorny juniper bushes. The boys led the way and the two girls brought up the rear. We spread out when we got to the bayside with the understanding that whoever hit it rich first would holler out and the rest of us would join him – or her. I started off on my own but I noticed Milly tagging along behind me. Before long we were both digging within an arm's length of each other, she with her toes, I with a shovel. She would twist her foot into the dark sand with a serpentine movement of her hips and look up at the sky as though listening. It was a provocative movement, but whether it was deliberate or not I will never be sure; perhaps the provocation was natural combined with a mutual coming of age – and her rubber bathing suit. ''You're going home this weekend, huh?'' She asked me, twisting her hips. ''Guess so, my folks will be here Sunday.'' ''Oh, they'll be here ... I'm staying another week.'' She reached down and came up with a clam. ''Your mother is my father's sister, did you know that?'' She put her clam in my bucket and the next thing I knew my arm was around her waist, her rubber waist, and we were kissing... hard. I could feel trap doors opening inside me. My temperature rocketed and I was suddenly short of breath. The bucket of clams fell to the sand and the two of us pulled apart, frightened beyond words – afraid to look at each other. I picked up my shovel and my bucket. I remember there were nine clams inside. ''I think we got enough, Milly. Let's see what luck the other guys had.'' They had a dozen or more and we thought that would be plenty so we walked back to the shanty through the tall grass, Milly and Cora leading the way this time ... and talking quietly together. <><><> Eight years flew by and the five of us grew up. From time to time we'd meet at family gatherings for deaths, or births, or holidays. In time we barely remembered each other. A couple made it to City College, and a couple, in spite of the Great Depression, got into the real world of earning a living. One of us got married. But we were strangers now and the closeness and the camaraderie of Rockaway Point was dead. I had already forgotten how to play the harmonica and without her rubber bathing suit, Milly's magnetism had lost its mystery. Besides, Milly was the one who got married and married women rarely wore rubber bathing suits in those days. The time for such things had come and gone, we had put our innocence away for good and childhood was a closed door. But on September 21, 1938 ... At 3:30 in the afternoon the barometer dropped to 27.94 inches (a record I'm told), and without warning a hurricane came up from the south greater than any in recorded history. The only thing left standing at Rockaway point was the coast artillery battery at Fort Tilden. All the shanties, the Coast Guard station, Ignatz's and the boardwalk disappeared in winds of more than 170 mph and 50 foot waves that roared across Rockaway Point. On that day I remembered Rockaway Point and all it meant to me ... for the last time.
Archived comments for Kissing Cousins
Mikeverdi on 30-11-2015
Kissing Cousins
Fantastic storytelling, you never disappoint Harry. Thanks for continuing to post.
Mike

Author's Reply:


The Day of the Strawberry (posted on: 20-11-15)    
How it was with us this year.

The Day of the Strawberry Harry Buschman The strawberry festival in our town is observed on the first "nice" Saturday in June. We observe it outdoors so we are at the mercy of the weather, therefore we wait for the first "nice" Saturday. Town Supervisor Bacardi makes this momentous decision personally on the first Thursday in June that forecasts a 'nice' Saturday. It is without doubt the most important decision Mr. Bacardi will ever make in his political life, for once he says "GO" he sets in motion an engine of ponderous and unstoppable power. Committees in charge of refreshments, amusements, chairs, tables, decorations, sound equipment, press coverage, and most important of all, Bridget O'Riley the balloon girl, are poised to swing into action to create the first "nice' Saturday of June. Oh!! I forgot the strawberries didn't I? The ladies of Our Lady of Congeniality will sell strawberries at the fair––they are, (the strawberries, that is) after all, the star of the show. We don't grow strawberries in Westlake Village––the Village is not strawberry country. Most of our strawberries come from Mexico. A sobering thought, but you've got to give the devil his due. When Supervisor Bacardi says "GO," his secretary calls Meyer's Trucking Company and off they go to the wholesale market in Queens. The avalanche of events has begun. With one simple telephone call the great event is underway––the process brings to mind "Operation Overlord" of WWII. During the next two days Bridget O'Riley will inflate more than a 1000 balloons with helium gas and the congeniality ladies will whip up enough cream to fill a railroad tank car. The speaker's platform will be decorated with bunting and wired for sound. There will be speeches of course––the primary one coming from none other than Town Supervisor Bacardi himself. It will be a tub-thumper I'm sure, for this is an election year. If, by some cruel stroke of fate, foul weather makes an unexpected appearance on Saturday morning, the entire proceedings will move indoors to the church basement, the only alternative to cancellation, and cancellation is unthinkable. you can't cancel an avalanche. With that possibility in mind you can imagine Supervisor Bacardi's attention is glued to ''The Weather Channel'' two weeks before the event. His only other consuming interest of course, is his speech. Daisy Donahue, his secretary, tells me he is torn between the two and he sits at his desk by the window writing and casting anxious glances at the sky. She too is a nervous wreck by the end of the week. Bridget O'Riley has her eye on the weather channel also. Her husband, Max, hasn't had a cooked meal all week and the unfinished basement is lined with helium canisters; he says his wife won't let him smoke his pipe in the house until the balloons are filled, (even though helium is not flammable). Bridget lives next door to Our Lady of Congeniality and when her balloons are fully inflated on Saturday morning they will tie them in bundles and carry them to the festival site. ... and that's where our story begins. Last year the third Thursday in June was a lovely day and all forecasts predicted the weather would be fair and warm right through the weekend. Supervisor Bacardi confidently, but with all ten fingers crossed, signaled "Go." The wheels began to spin, and Daisy Donahue breathed a sigh of relief. Bridget O'Riley opened the valves on her canisters and the ladies of Our Lady of Congeniality started whipping cream. By Friday night Bridget had inflated almost 1200 pink, yellow, red and blue balloons. She, her husband and the Ladies of Congeniality tied each of them with a four foot length of string and then tied them in bundles of six each. It sounds like a lot of work, and it was, but there were volunteers who stopped in lend a hand. Saturday morning was to be devoted to the inflation of the giant strawberry balloon, big around as a killer whale. It would be tethered to the speaker's platform and everyone throughout the village would be officially aware that the annual Village Strawberry Festival was underway. The limp vinyl strawberry was laid flat on the road in front of the cathedral of Our Lady of Congeniality in wait for Bridget O'Riley and her truckful of helium canisters. Even though he knew very little about the procedure, Supervisor Bacardi seemed to be in charge. With much waving of his arms and using his best drill sergeant's baritone, he directed the positioning of Bridget's truck, the connection of the balloon's intake valve to the canister's nozzle and a general warning to everyone in the immediate vicinity to give way to the giant strawberry as it began to swell with helium gas. It slowly picked itself clear of the ground. Everyone on balloon tethering duty cheered loudly and gripped his or her tethering line tightly. The balloon rose slowly, but triumphantly, like some monstrous storybook dragon, that just happened to resemble a strawberry. A few children cried out in terror. A few elderly ladies clucked their tongues and said, "Did you ever …?'' Young lads pelted it with pebbles––but you can't bring a forty foot strawberry down with pebbles. Or can you? Yes, in spite of the glorious weather––faultlessly forecasted by Supervisor Bacardi. In spite of the fascinating trinket booths, the strawberries lavishly lathered in whipped cream offered for sale by the ladies of Our Lady of congeniality, the kiddy carousel, the test your strength sledgehammer apparatus and the intimate fingers of Ernie Wilson and his all too accurate "Guess Your Weight" scale, I can attest that the 44th annual strawberry festival was not without a touch of terror and tragedy. Midway through Supervisor Bacardi's self-aggrandizement of his many successes as supervisor and his masterful shepherding of our town through thick and thin, it became apparent to everyone in the audience that the inflated strawberry above the speaker's stand was slowly descending. Could it be that one of those pebbles reached a vital spot after all? It was not only descending, but it was becoming flaccid as well. The audience was divided almost equally between people who were eager to see it engulf the entire speaker's rostrum and the town dignitaries, each of whom waited patiently for Supervisor Bacardi to finish his speech so they could have a crack at the microphone themselves, and all others whose better sense prevailed. The result did, however, put an end to the palaver. and the crowd on the speaker's platform made a hasty retreat. In retrospect it was a most successful day. Everyone got his and her fill of strawberries, a few cases of diarrhea were reported, many smaller balloons slipped away from the children and disappeared into the ether, or wherever it is that all balloons eventually go to die, and everyone couldn't wait for next year. Harry Buschman
Archived comments for The Day of the Strawberry
shadow on 21-11-2015
The Day of the Strawberry
It sounds like a brilliant day, and that a good time was had by all. Just a couple of questions - why do they hold a strawberry festival in a place where no strawberries are grown? And did all the dignitaries escape the descending strawberry? One sort of hopes they didn't.

Author's Reply:
Well, they escaped in time, but Mr. Bacardi held on to the microphone 'til the very end. I can't explain the strawberries except for the fact that there's a lack of any fruit in Westlake Village in June and what else goes down as smoothly as whipped cream.

Mikeverdi on 21-11-2015
The Day of the Strawberry
You know I'm a fan Harry, I loved it 😊
Mike

Author's Reply:
It was a great day for sure, it made us wish every month was June.


Lily's Last Hurrah (posted on: 06-11-15)    
A career decision for Lily.

Lily's Last Hurrah Harry Buschman Mr. Goldwyn worked his cigar around to the other side of his mouth and tried to think of something that would make Lily listen to reason. "Y'can't go on doin ingenues the rest of your life Lily. You ain't Shoiley Temple y'know, y'got nine miles of rough road on you." He went on, (in his usual brusque manner) to placate her and make her aware of the unpleasant fact that her starlet days were over. "There's mother roles, the older sister ... lookit Meryl Streep and Glenn Close ... dynamite box office broads, Lily. Just think how nice it'll be to walk around not suckin' in yer gut." Lily stood at the mirror in the drop dead black evening gown and turned around slowly. "That so? How do you like those onions, Sam? Prime stuff, huh?" She was determined to get the part that Hedy Lamarr made famous in "Ecstasy" eighty years ago. Sam sighed and put his half-finished cigar in the ash tray and leaned back. "Where'd ja dig that up, Lily ... in wardrobe? Ain't that the dress Hedy wore back in '33?" He looked at Lily critically ... for a forty four year old broad she hadn't gone to pot yet. But he knew what the press would do to her ... they'd tear her to shreds. They had the same blood lust that sharks have––just the smell of it in the water and they be on her like a pack of wolves. Then he reached for a pencil ... "Hey, that was good," he said to himself, double entendre, like the French say ... I'll have to write that down." "Lily, we've been through a lot together. Maybe me more than you ... but the fans'll judge you by your looks, they don't care what the hell I look like. They'll pick you apart. They'll zero in on that wart on your shoulder and the way you grab the arms of the chair when you try to stand up." He picked the cigar out of the ash tray again and re-lit it. "Lily, I love ya like I would an older daughter, and I don't want some two-bit word jockey pokin holes in ya, git me?" "I'm not ready to be mature, Sam. I want a fling at this Ecstasy part ... I'm good for one or two more skin flics. It'll set me up for "What's My Line" on TV." "She's a trouper," Sam muttered to himself. "Geez, that's a shame Lily. Looie Mayer and me had'ja all set up fer the 'Last Days of Cleopatra' epic next year, we're lookin' fer the men to play Mark Antony and Julius Caesar ... thinkin' maybe Tom Cruse and Brad Pitt ... " Lily stopped her strut in mid-stride – turned, and stared at Sam Goldwyn ... "Well now. let's not be hasty. Everything's negotiable."
Archived comments for Lily's Last Hurrah
Mikeverdi on 07-11-2015
Lilys Last Hurrah
Read this several times, love the play with words. The names so familiar, yet brought up to date with recent stars. Perfect for me Harry.
Mike

Author's Reply:


Happy Halloween (posted on: 26-10-15)
The tragedy for folks on the last day of October.

Happy Halloween by Harry Buschman There's a book store on Greene Street just around the corner from Washington Square. People who live in the neighborhood pass it by, tourists ignore it. Nobody gives a damn about it one way or the other. Why did John Reade choose this tree lined side street in Greenwich Village to open his ''Praxis'' book shop in the first place? Rent is cheap for one thing and there are two rooms in back big enough for a retired high school English teacher with modest means to live the little left of his life surrounded by books, even if they aren't his. The odor of age is the first thing you notice if you open the front door, and if you let it slam behind you, dust drifts down from the ceiling and the lights flicker. You get the uneasy feeling that if you breathe you will choke on it. Faded books are scattered haphazardly in the show window as though they were dumped there many years ago. The few passersby who might glance in at the titles quickly lose interest and their eyes drift from the books to the coils of fly paper hanging above them. In the beginning Mr. Reade made an attempt to organize the books in coherent sections. Fiction on the left, non-fiction on the right, children's in the back and so on. He eventually threw up his hands and stacked them anywhere he found room on an empty shelf. Consequently, a browser might find Robert Louis Stevenson and Mary Higgins Clark in intimate proximity on a shelf labeled ''Bible Studies.'' Nobody cared, least of all John Reade. The ''Praxis'' is a place to live and work, but living comes first. A visitor might find a forgotten cup of coffee or a half eaten sandwich abandoned on a stack of books if the phone at the cash register interrupted his lunch. Mr. Reade held a letter from his landlord in his hand. It troubled him and it would undoubtedly trouble the three tenants living above him. He was the major tenant and he realized the letter concerned their future as well as his. He would have to tell them in the morning. There are three small apartments above the Praxis book store. They're occupied by extraordinary people... the kind of people you expect to see in Greenwich Village and nowhere else. The Village is an 'omphalos', a hub of strange and exotic castaways, want-to-be's, used-to-be's and pretend-to-be's. On the second floor there's a tattoo parlor run by an ex-school principal named Amadeo Russo. Mr. Russo, in his younger days, was a teacher in the city's vocational public schools. But unlike Mr. Reade, he moved on up to be the school's principal, and eventually an official in the New York Board of Education. Amadeo's father, Bruno Russo, was a common sailor in the Merchant Marine. His body was tattooed from head to foot by experts in Marseilles, Shanghai and Alexandria. His elaborately illustrated body fascinated the younger Amadeo and when he eventually retired from the Board of Education he moved with his family to Greene Street. His lifelong dream of an exclusive tattoo parlor in Greenwich Village gradually took shape above John Reade's book store. Everyone was getting tattooed those days. Hippies, rock stars and uptown ladies in their fifties and sixties looking for 'tramp stamps' came down to have butterflies and obscure erotic symbols tattooed on the parts of their bodies only their most intimate friends would ever see. Recently a woman arriving by chauffeured limousine endured four painful three hour sessions to have a lion tattooed on her chest. The elderly Mr. Holiday lives on the third floor – one floor above Mr. Russo. He is ninety-six years old and chain smokes cigars. His doctor, (now deceased) told him more than thirty years ago to give up smoking or he would die of emphysema. Mr. Holiday sits at his living room window in the morning and watches the girls walk by on their way to New York University. To get a better view of them he often leans out precariously with both hands on the window sill, his neck craned out as far as it will go. His lunch and dinner are brought to him daily by an enormous black lady from Meals on Wheels. It is one of the high points of his day. As she stacks the food in his refrigerator, he will stare down into the bottomless chasm of her cleavage and try to engage her in bawdy conversation. When she leaves, Mr. Holiday will consume all the food immediately, light a fresh cigar from the gas burner on the stove and resume his vigil at the living room window. If the weather is mild, Mr. Holiday will get into his lumberjack's shirt and hobble down the three flights of stairs to the street. He'll walk to Washington Square Park and watch the girls who sit in small conversational groups... how attractive they are! How appealing when they're unaware of the lust in men's eyes! On his return to Greene street he'll stop at the show window of ''Erotique'' and gaze longingly at the wide array of stimulating sexual paraphernalia. Mr. Holiday enjoys a fuller sex life than men half his age. Mrs. Riordan lives above Mr. Holiday. She is a grass widow, and has lived in the Village all her life. She met her husband Timothy in a parking garage next to the Bottom Line Strip Club shortly after the war. In those golden days Mr. Riordan was an Irish poet who carried a small framed diploma in his shirt pocket proving he had a PHD in English literature from Harvard University. He read his poems on the street with the likes of Ginsberg, Kerouac and Bob Dylan. His golden voice and honeyed words quickly melted the heart of the future Mrs. Riordan, and before the month was out the two love birds were living in an abandoned Ford Biscayne under the West Side Highway. The union lasted all of three years, until Mr. Riordan suddenly found steady employment as a card dealer on a cruise ship that shuttled between the Greek islands. Sad to say, Mrs. Riordan has tended towards the bottle of late – not heavily, but steadily. A beer for breakfast, a mid-morning snack with a bourbon chaser, a martini for lunch and a few highballs in the corner saloon in the afternoon. Therefore, as our story begins, it was not unusual that Mr. Reade found Mrs. Riordan wandering aimlessly through the Halloween festivities in Washington Square Park on the last day of October. Mr. Reade saw her walking unaccompanied and without purpose through the park and talking to herself. He graciously volunteered to see her home from the Halloween festivities. Had he not done so, Mrs. Riordan would have undoubtedly spent the night on a bench. ''I don't normally allow myself to be picked up in the park,'' she remarked primly to Mr. Reade as he took her arm and steered her back to Greene Street. ''Did you know I am still married, Mr. Reade? Yes. after all these years. The little bastard walked out on me thirty years ago, bad cess and good riddance to him.'' Were it not for Mr. Reade, Mrs. Riordan's rubbery knees would have given way on the walk back to Greene Street. He had a difficult job keeping her in a straight line despite his steady hand. ''He was an uncouth bugger,'' she went on. ''Do you think he would put the toilet seat down? Oh no! Oh no, not Timothy Riordan. 'I need it up' he would say. 'You don't hear me complain when you leave it down, do you' he would say.'' They stopped in the street outside the vestibule to the apartment and Mrs. Riordan stared at the building she had lived in for fifty years. ''Why are we stopping here, Mr. Reade.'' ''You live here, Mrs. Riordan.'' Mr. Reade regretted seeing Mrs. Riordan in the park. He could be reading in bed by now if it wasn't for this absurd woman – now it appeared he would have to help her up three flights to her door. They made their way awkwardly up the three flights to her apartment, Mrs. Riordan in front and Mr. Reade pushing her from behind. When they reached her door he asked her for her key. ''My key, why?'' she asked, "what on earth would you want with my key?'' ''So I can open the door to your apartment Mrs. Riordan.'' ''You must think I'm incapbubble of... '' She considered the possibility of letting herself in, then unslung her shoulder bag and handed it to Mr. Reade, who fished through tissues, both clean and used, combs, nail files, bills and match book folders from every bar in Greenwich Village until he found her key. ''A woman in my position can't be too careful Mr. Reade. Only last month a friend of mine on Houston Street had her snatch pursed in Bloomingdales.'' She leaned against the wall while Mr. Reade unlocked her door. ''Did you know I was a prominent vocalist in my day? The critics said I had a pure, almost angelic voice.'' She smiled in remembrance of a happier day. "On a good evening I could stretch three octaves.'' She belched loudly. ''I'll have you know I auditioned for Massanet's ''Le Cid'' and Gounod's ''Faust.'' She leaned back against the wall and slid her entire body down to a sitting position on the floor with her knees spread wide as Mr. Reade got the door open. Alone at last in the Praxis book store, Mr. Reade picked up the letter the landlord left that afternoon. He looked out at the dark street through his fly specked show window. The word ''Praxis'' stared back at him in mirror image – a life's dream come true. To live and work, to sleep and eat in the close companionship of the world's best literature! Well, maybe not the best – the best was, and would always be, a matter of critical opinion. But they were all good books, every last one of them. The feel of them, the smell of the paper and ink, the binding and glue that held them all together. The sound of the pages when you riffled them with your thumb. Even the amazing concept of the last word on a page carrying over to the first word of a new page to keep the reader going on and on endlessly into the night. He placed his hand on the cover of ''Moby Dick,'' removed it and placed it on the cover of ''For Whom the Bell Tolls.'' He could feel the different worlds inside them. The blind fanaticism and the impartial hand of fate. The acts of courage and cowardice, sacrifice and greed. Each and every book held a universe of its own, living within its own laws – its own space and time. Then he read the letter again. Dear Mr. Reade;      I am writing to you as the prime lessee of 422 Greene St. to inform you of my intention to sell the entire premises to Werner Gottlieb & Sons, agent for the Greater Greenwich Development Co. The 422 Greene St. tenement will become part of a larger parcel devoted entirely to commercial properties. The building must be vacated no later than December 31st of this year.      As the major tenant and superintendent of this building I am notifying you a month in advance of the others. Very truly yours, Byron Frazier, Esq. He switched on the fluorescent lights in the ceiling above the haphazardly arranged book racks and absent-mindedly began to re-arrange them. ''I should have done this months ago,'' he mumbled to himself. ''It shows a lack of respect, ''Leopold Bloom doesn't belong there. He should be over here with the crew of the Pequod.'' What would happen to his beloved books he wondered, when he was put out in the street? Would they be safe? ''Yes,'' he assured himself, ''of course they will. They are immortal! They will make their way to a distribution warehouse somewhere'' Yes, his books were immortal – but people were not. Queeg, Captain Ahab, Lorna Doone – nothing could happen to these people. Age would not wither them, they would stay just as the author left them years ago. Ever green. Ever young. The author would shrivel and die, the reader would fade away, but the heroes and heroines were immortal. Every time a person picked up a book they would live again. ''Ah! But the Russos,'' he reminded himself. ''Mr. Holiday and Mrs. Riordan. What about them? And what about you, John Reade? We wax and we wane. We finally expire, and like sour milk and cheese we must be taken off the dairy shelf lest we contaminate the rest of the produce.'' ''Good night my friends, sleep well up there. I will share the news with you tomorrow." ©Harry Buschman 2002 (2224)
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Synapses (posted on: 19-10-15)
We all know what it's like when you're not appreciated, don't we?

Synapses Harry Buschman Lucille waited for the light to change and then stepped smartly off the curb. With her head held high she set her eyes on the green ''walk'' light ahead and dared any driver to challenge her right-of-way. Doctor LeRoy had just told her she had very active synapses and she was walking on air. As he held her head between his hands he smiled paternally, and said, ''What's going on in there, Lucille? I can almost feel the switches opening and closing, you're a super Miss Brainiac. Your synapses must be of a very high order.''
 He went on to explain that the human brain contains upwards of between 100 and 500 trillion synapses. She felt a warm rush throughout her entire body when he added, ''But you're probably off the chart Miss Bundy, may I call you Lucille?'' She flushed right up to the dark roots of her blond hair. Lucille worked in Macy's stout girl's lingerie. ''Wait 'til I tell the girls in underwear,'' she said to herself. She had given up her lunch hour for a session with her shrink, Dr. LeRoy, and she was glad she did. She felt lean and mentally alert, as if all her synapses had been turned on at the same time. She never felt like this after sharing a corned beef on rye for lunch with Arnold. As she waited for the light to change at 33rd and Fifth, a man looked down at her and said, ''My, you'se a fine lookin' white girl,'' and smiled warmly. ''Go suffer,'' she retorted. Normally she'd look the other way, ignore it and pretend she didn't hear. Anything to get across the street, pick up her pace and out distance him. But this time she looked the man square in the eye and told him to, ''Go suffer!'' It must be, as Dr. LeRoy said – she was hot wired. her synapses were at fever pitch and no man was a match for her. While still in this electrifying state of mind, Lucille took up her station in Macy's stout girl's lingerie section ready to confront her first customer of the afternoon. At the same time she kept a sharp eye out for her boy friend Arnold as well. Arnold supplied dummies to the stout girl's department and he always saved the best dummies for Lucille. She wanted to impress Arnold with her new found synapses. Arnold appeared mid-afternoon wheeling a cart load of naked dummies and half dummies. He stopped to say hello to Lucille and she asked him, ''Do you notice anything different about me this afternoon, Arnold?'' ''No, I don't, Lucille. But about tonight, er something came up.'' He seemed uncomfortable. ''You know George down in shipping, don't you?'' ''No, I don't Arnold...'' her synapses were tingling. ''Well, he's got an extra ticket for the hockey game at the Garden tonight. The Rangers versus Detroit. You know how much I like hockey, Lucille. You wouldn't mind if I go with George, would you?'' ''No. That's okay, Arnold.'' Suddenly it was like somebody pulled her circuit breaker. She got that feeling you get whenever all the lights go out and the TV goes dead. ''Have a good time, Arnold, she replied.''
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The Waiting Game (posted on: 12-10-15)
A thousand pardons for the length of this piece, off-putting I think. It was originally a four chapter piece, but I think it works smoother this way. There is an underlying theme which repeats itself much like Polish food on an empty stomach.

The Waiting Game   By Harry Buschman   This Morning 
Barney Trammel couldn't believe his luck when his roommate sold him the 
tandem bicycle. Barney and Sheila planned to be married in a month and 
every penny counted. If it wasn't for their impending marriage, Barney would buy a new car, or at the very least a respectable used one like the 1958 silver Oldsmobile Roadster with the hydramatic transmission he saw yesterday over at Lemmon's lot. It was $475, a good buy, but it was out of the question – he had responsibilities, the wedding was only a month away and the engagement ring was still unpaid for. Then there was the furniture to buy and the apartment needed painting. In spite of his financial problems, Barney was so deeply in love he woke up in a cold sweat two or three times a night thinking of Sheila. At work he would find himself staring into space and thinking of her in his father's haberdashery. His father asked him, ''Are you all right Barney?'' Barney would sigh and smile vaguely into the distance. His father would shake his head in sympathy mixed with a touch of envy. He too could remember a time, not so many years ago, when he was single – he would often catch himself dreaming of the present Mrs. Trammel. ''How quickly it passed,'' he muttered quietly to himself – quietly enough so Mrs. Trammel could not hear. Then, in a louder voice, so that all three of them could hear, he would comment, ''It will be a blessing to both of us when you're married, Barney.'' Sheila did not feel as strongly about Barney as he did about her. Very few women reveal their emotions as openly as men do. Like a dog, a man licks his master's hand whether its master is kind to it or not, while a woman, like a cat, often gives short shrift to hers regardless of his kindness. Sheila was acutely aware of her effect on Barney and she parceled out her charms as though they were made of gold. The technique increased Barney's desire to an alarming degree; he was frequently tongue-tied and clumsy in her presence. Barney fell in love unconditionally and as clumsily as a puppy in a pet shop window. After a date or two Sheila moved his classification from 'possible' to 'likely,' (one step below 'probable'). Sheila was an out of town girl, a career girl – a shorthand stenographer on the staff of the State Senator of McCibben County. When she first arrived she planned to move in with two other women on his staff, then she noticed the abundance of eligible young men in town. Quite by accident she met Barney at his father's haberdashery and checked him off as a possible – but far from a probable, all the while keeping him at arm's length – a practice she learned at her mother's knee. Sharing a lease with the ladies on the Senator's staff was put on the back burner. She chose the respectable boarding house for ladies run by the rock-ribbed Imogene Landlock. The house was highly recommended by the Senator and Parson Peavey, the Minister of the Presbyterian Church. Barney called at Mrs. Landlock's boarding house for young ladies every Sunday. The parlor was available for entertaining male visitors during the weekend daylight hours. However, Mrs. Landlock burst in unannounced at irregular intervals to see that participants were not getting out of hand. The boarding house had an impeccable reputation for safeguarding the chastity and virtue of the young ladies who boarded there. Their comings and goings, (as well as doings) were under constant watch. Mrs. Landlock issued no house keys to her lady boarders, she would sniff 
loudly and shake a warning finger. ''Keys can be copied you know.'' The 
girls had to be in at a decent hour, an hour decent enough that Mrs. Landlock herself would be awake to answer the door. 10 p.m. was the hour she deemed proper. If a young lady, for reasons of career or a late movie, found herself 
standing under the wrought iron portico past that hour, she would be reprimanded in no uncertain terms by Mrs. Landlock, (who would appear in a gray lace wrapper with her hair in a net). ''Proper young ladies do not wander 
the streets in the middle of the night.'' The girl's parents, (who chose Mrs. 
Landlock's boarding house for young ladies) would be notified of their daughter's late arrival. Sitting in the parlor with Sheila on Sunday afternoons in the company of two 
or three other couples was torture for Barney. There were no sofas. She would 
sit in one anti-macassar covered easy chair and he would sit in another. From 
this remote and clinical distance he would stare at her lovingly and try to make conversation. If it was quiet too long, Mrs. Landlock would launch herself into the room saying, ''Oh! Sorry to interrupt, I thought you folks had left.'' The new bicycle built for two would give them the freedom to pedal to Cherry Hill park for the afternoon and even into the early evening if things worked out
the way Barney planned. In the park, they could hold hands, walk by the lake 
and even indulge in a little controlled petting on the woolen blanket he had 
folded neatly and crammed into the bicycle's pannier. Sheila would have preferred a movie and an early dinner at Finnegan's Cafe. 
There, she could have worn her new gray tweed suit and even smoked a 
cigarette in the ebony and gold cigarette holder that took her fancy at the 
novelty shop near her place of employment. A bicycle meant slacks and a 
sweater, and for nourishment, a frankfurter with a coke at the hot dog stand. in the park In addition, she would have to keep Barney under control all afternoon while sitting on a musty blanket spread out over the goose droppings in Cherry 
Hill Park. Barney knew Sheila would not be enthusiastic about sharing Sunday afternoon on a tandem bicycle. It is not a ladylike means of locomotion, therefore he was thoughtful to find a lambs wool seat cover to protect that part of her anatomy that had been giving him so many sleepless nights of late. He would ride the rear seat, and do the lion's share of pedaling. This would give Sheila the choice of the route through the park and give her a chance to enjoy the scenery. He showed up at Mrs. Landlock's boarding house early looking very respectable 
in his roomy Bermuda shorts showing his legs only from his knobby knees 
down, and his bright green sport shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the bulge of his biceps. He also wore a smart safari hat with colorful fishing flies embedded in the crown. Mrs. Landlock answered the door and looked him over critically – she could find nothing disgraceful in his appearance. Ludicrous perhaps; which, on the face of it might be something she should write to Sheila's parents about. Furthermore, the tandem bicycle had beaver tails on the handlebars. She made a mental note to include that bit of information in the letter as well. ''Bicycle riding on a Sunday! Really Mr. Trammel, you can't expect a lady of 
breeding to pedal around town on a bicycle, particularly on a Sunday 
afternoon!'' ''But it's healthful, Mrs. Landlock. There are hundreds of folks pedaling through the park. Wholesome families out for the afternoon – far better than sitting in a stuffy parlor – no offense ma'am.'' ''Well! she retorted, ''You'd never catch me on one of those things, and I dare say when Miss Troxel's parents hear of it, they will not be pleased!'' Sheila appeared in the doorway behind her dressed in white linen slacks and a 
pink sweater. She wore a broad brimmed straw hat tied securely under her chin. ''We shan't be long, Mrs. Landlock. I think perhaps the fresh air will be good for me.'' She looked sternly at Barney. ''I'll be back long before dinner, I promise.'' She smiled grimly, ''I'll probably be famished.'' ''It will be mutton, my dear.'' ''I certainly wouldn't want to miss that, Mrs. Landlock.'' Mrs. Landlock stood with her meaty arms folded across her chest as the two 
mounted up and pushed off. They gathered enough speed to lift their feet and 
grope awkwardly for the pedals – then, after a quick fleeting wave of her hand, Sheila grasped the handle bars with a grip of iron. ''Comfortable?'' Barney asked. ''Not entirely.'' Barney was not at the helm, his only assignment was to pump steadily and 
offer advice. His attention was riveted on Sheila's backside. Her sweater had 
ridden up an inch or two leaving a band of creamy yet well toned flesh almost 
at the end of his nose. The curve of her lumbar vertebrae oscillated gently 
before him, and there was a delectable quarter inch of blue silk underpants 
visible just above the belt line of her slacks. He was extremely uncomfortable. ''I'm not sure this was a good idea, Sheila.'' ''It was your idea. You wanted an afternoon in the park, I didn't – I wanted 
to see the new Paul Newman movie. What's the matter with you anyway?'' ''Would you mind if I rode up front, Sheila? I'll put the cushion on the back 
seat.'' They stopped on the bicycle path just inside the park entrance and 
Barney made the exchange, Sheila all the while shaking her head and tapping 
her foot impatiently as he moved the cushion from the front seat to the back. It wasn't until they mounted up again and got underway that Sheila realized 
what bothered Barney. It hadn't occurred to her before, but she realized she 
gained another powerful weapon in her arsenal. The simplicity of men! She 
watched with calm appraisal the inch or two of his muscular back as he pumped 
the pedals in front of her – it was hairy, like the back of an animal. Yes, Barney was far from perfect, but she was sure she could make a decent husband out of him. Her mother had told her long ago – no man is a natural born husband dear, they've got to be made. They spent the afternoon soberly. Sheila kept Barney's attention riveted on the wedding and her plans for a modest reception, his frequent suggestions that they investigate the nature trails in the woods were countered with prudence and promises. ''You'll be so glad we waited, Barney. I will be all the woman you can handle – but it will be so much sweeter .... etcetera .... etcetera.'' 
 This Afternoon It was late afternoon when Barney put the bags down and fished in his pocket 
for the key. The honeymoon was over. He was still seething about the taxi driver, he turned to Sheila and grumbled, ''They said it would be $28.50 when I made the reservation. That's what they said, right?'' ''Oh, Barney – don't fuss. It was a lovely honeymoon, wasn't it?'' ''I suppose so.'' He unlocked the door and pushed it open. The living room blinds had been pulled down to the window sills and it was dark, musty smelling and almost forbidding. ''I'll get the lights, Sheila – don't come in. We don't know where anything is, we'll fall over something.'' He found the wall switch, and Sheila gasped. ''Mother! She's got the sofa on 
the wrong wall, and look at that oak chair, that belongs in the bedroom. 
Before we do anything else Barney, we've got to put this room straight.'' Barney collapsed on the sofa. ''Let it go 'til tomorrow Sheila – tomorrow. 
I'm bushed – I got up at four this morning. Sheila stared critically at the sofa. ''It looks a lot different here than it did in the store, more green than blue.'' ''It was the lights,'' Barney said sleepily, the showroom had fluorescent lights.'' He yawned and pulled off his shoes. ''Fluorescent lights make everything look green.'' ''I suppose I'll get used to it. It was nice of mother, wasn't it? She spent 
a week here in the empty apartment waiting for the furniture.'' ''What else does she have to do?'' ''Really, Barney! Give her credit for that at least.'' Sheila threw her arms wide as if to embrace the entire living room. ''It's ours Barney, all ours. Our first apartment. We're really and truly married. Aren't you glad we waited?'' ''For what?'' ''I think you know 'what.' If you had your way we'd – anyway I'm glad we 
waited. It was all the sweeter, Barney. It was a beautiful honeymoon. Whoever 
heard of a honeymoon in Nova Scotia in April? It rained every day.'' ''The sun came out one afternoon, I remember. I looked out the window one 
afternoon and the sun was out.'' Barney got wearily to his bare feet and pattered his way out to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and swore softly. ''What's the matter, Barney?'' ''Two little things of yogurt, a jar of mustard and a loaf of damn gluten bread. You think she might of left something to eat!'' He walked to the wall phone and dialed 'operator.' ''I need a number for Domino's, sweetheart – nearest one to area code 11514.'' Sheila, still enraptured appeared at the kitchen door. ''I'm so glad we waited, Barney. As the years go by we'll think back to this day, our first day in our own home as man and wife, and – '' .... "Thank you operator can you get that number for me?'' He sat down carefully on one of the two new kitchen chairs and put his feet up on the new kitchen table. A reproving glance from Sheila made him sit up straight again and put his feet back on the floor. ''Hi! Name's Trammel, 37 Lilac Way apartment 3-C. I want a large pie with double cheese, anchovies and mushrooms. 20 minutes? $16.50? You gotta deal – Oh, wait a minute; half liter of coke and a bottle of Bud, okay?'' ''You're so masterful, Barney.'' Sheila sat on Barney's outstretched legs, put her arms around his neck and locked her fingers. ''Aren't you glad we waited?'' He looked at her as a man might look at a woman who was not his wife. ''Yes 
and no, Sheila. Yes and no. On balance I'd say mostly no.'' He held her so 
she couldn't get up. ''Before you blow up let me say something, okay?'' ''What?'' ''We could have been just as happy six months ago. We would have had a six 
month head start on happiness. Think of it Sheila, when we're wheeled in 
and out of the old folks home sixty years from now and somebody says 'here's six more months of wedded bliss,' how would that sound to you?'' Sheila was smart enough to know when to drop it. She'd get him to admit it 
some day. She slid out of his grip and opened the refrigerator. ''I can't believe Mother would leave us an empty refrigerator. She must have known we'd come back hungry.'' She saw a bottle of champagne in a slot in the door. ''Look there's champagne. You didn't see that did you?'' ''I saw it. I was looking for something to eat.'' ''Let's have some now, before the pizza comes. To celebrate our first night.'' ''No glasses.'' ''We have glasses. We bought glasses, they must be up here somewhere.'' She 
opened a closet above the sink. ''Here,'' she said. ''Here's two glasses.'' ''You can't drink champagne out of water tumblers, Sheila. It just isn't done.'' He smiled evilly. ''You'll be glad you waited.'' ''Never mind that. Work the cork open – I want some champagne now.'' ''First comes the pizza, Sheila – then comes the champagne.'' This Evening It wasn't a new house and it wasn't in good shape. It stared belligerently at its well kept neighbors and when the wind blew, a shutter on the street side living room window pounded relentlessly on the worn clapboard siding. But the agent praised its latent virtues and said it was the best buy in the neighborhood. All things considered, it was the answer to Barney and Sheila's prayers. The 
baby was a year old now and took up all the available space in the apartment. 
The bedroom was a nursery and a changing room – it often smelled like a 
kennel. The baby, a light sleeper, (if he slept at all) spent most of his nights restlessly thrashing in bed between them. The bathroom was a drying yard and the dressing table was a sea of baby oils, powders and paper diapers. The kitchen resembled the laboratory of the late Dr. Frankenstein and the dirty dishes waited patiently as the infant was bathed in the sink. With the arrival of the new baby exactly thirteen months after the honeymoon, Barney and Sheila were now a threesome. They had to get out of their apartment or go mad. Barney was doing well now, the haberdashery was thriving and his father was 
thinking of moving into the mall. He was doing well enough so Sheila could 
stay home with Montgomery, little Montgomery Trammel. The name was 
Barney's idea. Monty Winger, third baseman for the Orioles was his boyhood 
idol – one of Barney's cherished possessions was a baseball signed by Monty 
Winger in an almost illegible hand. Sheila was about to put her foot down and 
dig her heels in about the name, but after thinking it over she decided it could have been worse and 'Monty' wasn't a bad name. After all, her father's name had been Newton. It wasn't easy in the beginning. When the weather cooled, they tried to operate the furnace with tragic results – the oil burner filled the basement with smoke which found its way through the ductwork and ruined the pale lavender drapes Sheila's mother had given them as a wedding present. There was a family of squirrels in the attic and an army of termites in the base plate of the kitchen wall the water closet in the upstairs bathroom was reluctant to flush and a hungry hungry family of field mice under the kitchen sink had to be trapped one by one. Can any couple put their fingers on a point in their life and say, ''Here, this is where we changed from a pair of newlyweds to a married couple? Here, right here, this is where I became husband and you became wife.'' More likely one of them will wake in the morning and wonder why things have suddenly changed. They will know exactly what has to be done, there's no choice. Gone are the days when the husband could lie in bed, look at his newlywed wife and say, ''What shall we do today dear?'' No! He knows exactly what must he must do that day. If it's a weekday, he's got to get the store open at nine, get the dust covers off the merchandise, check on the shop windows to see if the displays haven't fallen over and the sale prices are accurately placed. He's got to test the lights, nothing repels a customer more than burned out light bulbs. He's got to do all this before nine because Pop doesn't get in until eleven or so, and then he has to take a nap at three in the afternoon. If it's a weekend, Barney might spend a happy half hour in bed, (if Montgomery is willing) then he will put together a hasty breakfast for both of them. After all, Sheila's week has been just as trying as his.Then, he has to get started on the painting of Montgomery's bedroom, scrape the wallpaper off the bathroom walls and fix the third step from the bottom on the stairs to the basement. Will it ever end, he wonders? Is this what Sheila meant when she said, ''Aren't you glad you waited?'' If you're Sheila you're up on a weekday morning before Barney. She tiptoes down the hall, hoping Montgomery has at last decided to sleep an hour or two 
before regaining strength. Does Barney have a clean shirt? Will he have to wear his underwear another day, and where, oh where is the mate to his black silk sock? When Barney leaves, Sheila waits for the second awakening. Montgomery, sensing he is the only man in the house and therefore in complete charge, demands her complete attention until the middle of the afternoon. Most weekday evenings the store is open until nine p.m. and Barney gets home 
somewhere around nine thirty. He's hungry, but he's more tired than hungry, almost as tired as Sheila. They look at each other dully, like two automatons whose batteries have run down. ''Hi, Sheila. ''Lo, love – hard day?'' ''Yeah, you?'' ''A little better today. The rash is going away and he seems to be taking the 
formula, at least he doesn't throw up.'' Sheila rouses herself from the sofa and stretches. ''I suppose you're hungry. Me too. I haven't eaten all day.'' She picks up the receiver for the transmitter that hangs above Montgomery's head in the nursery and walks slowly to the kitchen. ''C'mon Barney, maybe we can eat before he wakes up.'' Sheila has learned the fine art of cooking a meal while caring for a baby, and in less than ten minutes dinner is on the table. ''I've got great news, Sheila.'' ''Save it until you open the wine.'' ''What wine?'' ''I bought wine today. It's in the fridge – and here's the corkscrew. I finally found it, it was in that tool chest of yours. That's what gave me the idea of having wine tonight.'' Montgomery's steady breathing is amplified in the radio receiver that sits on 
the table between them. Sheila keeps the volume at maximum so she can hear 
him wherever she is. He sounds like the sleeping giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, and as they eat they listen for the first intimation of his awakening. They don't have to wait long. With a gurgle that grows in volume and then a 
plaintive wail that increases in intensity until it threatens to shatter the windows Montgomery announces his presence. He will be awake now until midnight. ''We should let him cry a little,'' Sheila said. ''It's not a good idea to pick him up the moment he cries.'' ''Well at least turn down the volume, he'll wake the neighborhood.'' They 
listen for a bit, then Barney sheepishly announces that after hearing the name Montgomery for a year and a half he is sick of it and would like to change it to Benjamin. ''You're out of your mind,'' Sheila said. ''You can't change a baby's name, what's the matter with you? He's already christened. You picked out the name in the first place.'' She looked at him as though he had lost his mind. ''There was this Monty something -- the football player ....'' ''Baseball.'' ''A child's name is not not something to fiddle with, Barney. You should know 
better. If I told mother my husband was thinking of renaming his son, she'd 
tell me to put you away.'' Barney sits back in his chair and looks up at the ceiling. ''Oh, I don't know. I had a dog once, a sort of a cross between a terrier and a spaniel. I called him ''Whiskers'' for a while. Then I got tired of the name and I called him – I forget what the second name was. It's not important. The thing is he got used to his second name in a week flat.'' Barney lowers his gaze and smiles at Sheila. ''C'mon Sheil. I'm only kidding, you know that.'' Sheila shook her head, ''Go in and pick him up. He's been crying long enough.'' ''Me!'' Barney panicked, ''S'pose he wants something I can't give him?'' ''Bring him down here, I'm open all night.'' Barney struggles to his feet and makes for the stairs. When he walks into the 
nursery the crying takes on a different tone. The wail of abandonment dissipates, it is now one of demand and ultimatum. As Barney gathers the little but loud Montgomery into his arms, he gets a whiff of the problem – he is not up to its solution. He calls downstairs .... ''He needs you Dear.'' Sheila, sitting next to the receiver can hear them both, and sensing the problem, momentarily philosophizes about motherhood and the complete inadequacy of fathers. What good are they? They really have no purpose after the birth of their offspring. They can neither feed them, change them, or swab their throats when they are sick or sit at their side in the middle of the night. ''Sheila!'' ''You can handle it, Barney.'' She wonders vaguely what Barney's surprise was. ''I'll tell you what the surprise is if you come up, Sheila.'' 
 Tomorrow Barney sat on the yellow and red striped convertible and Sheila sat on the other side of the room trying to adjust the controls on the motorized lounge chair. ''This is one hell of a color combination for a sofa, Sheila. Who picked it out, Dierdre? Monty would never....'' ''Do you know how to get the footrest on this damn thing back out of the way. 
I want my feet on the floor.'' Barney got up and walked across the room. He took the remote control from 
Sheila and pushed one of its buttons. ''Now you've got the back too straight! Why can't people buy a chair that's 
just a chair and not some motorized astronaut couch?'' Barney put the control down and pulled Sheila up out of the chair. ''Give it 
up, dear,'' he said, ''It's beyond us, come over and sit with me on the ugly 
sofa.'' Barney and Sheila volunteered to stay at Monty and Dierdre's apartment while 
they honeymooned in Disney World. As the days dragged by they commented on the fact that Sheila's mother had done the same for them many years ago and probably thought the same about their furniture. They both agreed that tastes 
change, not always for the better, even tastes in where people go on their 
honeymoons. In retrospect, theirs had been pretty strange too. Imagine! 
 Nova Scotia in March! ''Well it was your idea wasn't it, Barney?'' Sheila reminded him. ''Damn good one as I remember,'' he smiled. ''Disney World isn't bad either. 
After all, Lennie's almost four now. He'll enjoy it.'' Sheila sat on the new sofa tentatively, ''Look my legs don't even touch the floor. Very uncomfortable. Why don't young people think twice before they buy 
furniture?'' Then she changed the subject. ''That's another thing about 
Lennie – I wish they waited the way we did.'' ''Well, they didn't – kids don't wait for anything any more. Monty told me 
once that they wanted to be sure before they signed up for the long haul.'' 
Barney nudged Sheila. ''Do you realize what a chance we took, no samples –
nothing. We just plunged into it, hoping....'' ''Now wait a minute,'' Sheila broke in, you're turning the whole thing around.'' In various and separate ways she and Barney brought the subject up all their 
married life. Most of the time it was in jest, but there were occasions when 
she could sense he meant every word he said. Sheila could never be sure until 
it was too late. It was best, she thought, to let it pass. She knew she was right, of course, and that's the main thing.
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Mikeverdi on 13-10-2015
The Waiting Game
Harry, what can I say, you never let me down...another wonderful read, thank you.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Many thanks Mike, very glad you enjoyed it.

shadow on 13-10-2015
The Waiting Game
This is a whole novel in 4000 words! Very enjoyable, especially the suppressed eroticism an part 1.

Author's Reply:
Thank you shadow, I find it increasingly easy to suppress my eroticism

Andrea on 19-10-2015
The Waiting Game
Class, Harry, class.

Author's Reply:


The Italian Lesson (posted on: 02-10-15)
A little Italian goes a long way.

The Italian Lesson by Harry Buschman Leo couldn't understand it. He was forced to admit he must be undergoing some kind of erotic upheaval at the most inconvenient and unexplainable times. Early this afternoon, coming back from lunch in a crowded elevator he stared down the neck of a raven haired woman carrying an umbrella. Her breasts were huge and separated by what appeared to be a chasm of incalculable depth. But it was the umbrella that aroused him. What was she doing with an umbrella in an elevator on a spring day as lovely as this? Perhaps she felt she must be ready for any eventuality... ... and then this morning at the manager's presentation to IP Productions, in the stillness of the board room the swish of Martha Livingston's legs as she restlessly crossed and re-crossed them under the conference table threw Leo completely off stride. While he waited to be called on to speak, he had visions of the measured heaving of the restless sea as it ran up the shore and ran back down again. And then later that afternoon he took the bus home because of the threat of a shower. Normally he walked from the office to his apartment on the East Side, but it began to rain as he left the office. It speckled the sidewalk with water drops and put a gloss on the manhole covers along 42nd Street. He found a seat on the long bench behind the driver and began reading the advertisements above the windows on the other side of the bus. Three blondes in jeans from Hunter College in a fine feminine frenzy got on in a clatter of clogs. They stood in front of him talking in high spirits and swaying to the rhythm of the bus. They all wore low-rider jeans, (the preferred mode of dress for undergraduate women.) Their navels gyrated an inch or two from his nose. Two of them were adorned with silver rings, the other was as naked as the day its owner was born. Leo was transfixed, caught up in their enthusiasm and completely fascinated by their aggressive girlishness. They must have sensed his interest because without a word being spoken, the three of them turned their backs on him and crossed to the other side of the bus. There, of course, Leo could only see their backsides, which were equally fascinating, as the girls shifted their weight from leg to leg to the rhythm of the bus. He caught himself smiling and staring, completely unaware he had ridden beyond his stop. He stood up reluctantly at last and made his way to the front of the bus. As he waited for the next stop, he looked back longingly at the young women. It was raining heavily now, but Leo was unaware of it. He retraced the path of the bus, wondering what on earth was the matter with him. There was a thickness in his temples and an appetite inside him that he hadn't felt in years, not since he was a boy. He thought back to his three years with Julia and so far as he could remember, their relationship never aroused in him the eroticism that had been on the boil for the past two weeks. His apartment was just ahead and by force of habit he raised his eyes to his two living room windows on the 23rd floor. His windows were identical to all the other windows, and he thought to himself how illogical it was for people to feel it necessary to have their own space, to live a private and isolated life behind four walls in a building housing 500 people. The doorman told him there were 500 people in the building and not one of them knew the other; but they all knew the doorman and he knew each one of them by name... especially at Christmas time. He ducked in the lobby just as the rain began to fall in sheets and stood there looking at Salvatore in his little cubicle just inside the door. ''Hello, Mr. Pointer. You're early tonight – you got your nice suit all wet – should have waited 'til the rain was over.'' Leo nodded in agreement, opened his mailbox, extracted what looked like two bills and hurried to the elevator. He wanted nothing to do with Salvatore and his advice. Salvatore was always ready to tell him what he should have done after he had already done it. Leo's wet suit didn't bother him, he had other suits. His problem was more basic and it seemed to be growing more assertive daily. He wondered, with a wry smile, what Salvatore's solution would be to solve the problem of his libido. He was lucky to keep the apartment when his wife walked out. She could have decided to kick him out and stay here, but she said it was too small, she wanted something bigger, something bigger uptown. Imagine, he thought, she needed a bigger apartment without him than she did with him. He let himself in and switched on the living room light, everything looked the same as he left it this morning. He pushed the play button on his answering machine and got out of his wet suit. While listening to the machine he took a beer out of the refrigerator. Last in the litany of telephone calls, the familiar voice of Martha Livingston stopped him in his tracks... ''... Just got in Leo... thought you'd be home by now... I want to see you about the IP Production account... '' Her voice was low, throaty, she tumbled over her words. Leo had the distinct impression that he could hear the swish of her legs as she spoke into the phone. ''... Would you call me at home Leo... please... 627-8875…?'' She seemed to breathe deeply, just once, and then hung up. Leo stood there in his underwear with a beer in his hand. It was the last message on the answering machine and he looked around nervously. ''Martha! Good God, she wants to see me,'' he mumbled. He took a sip of the beer, then looked at the can, turned around and walked back into the kitchen and emptied the beer in the kitchen sink. He wondered if it would be out of order to call Martha in his underwear. Did she really want to see him about IP Productions, or was that just an excuse? She never wanted to see him about an account before, or anything else for that matter. Now she wanted him to call her… at her home number too. She's probably at home now, maybe waiting for the call. Yes, he thought, I'd better get some clothes on, I don't want to call her in my underwear. Leo got into a pair of chinos and pulled a T-shirt over his head, then, just before replaying Martha's message, he scuffed himself into a pair of moccasins, jotted her number down and dialed it. Martha picked it up immediately. ''Oh, Leo. You just caught me. I was on my way over to see you. We have to straighten this out, Leo. Wait for me.'' ''What's up, Martha? You mentioned IP Productions.'' It was all he could think of to say, and just about the time he got the last word out, she hung up. The very thought of Martha Livingston here alone with him in his apartment aroused him, and at the same time frightened him out of his wits. Should he call out for supper, maybe some wine and flowers! Damn it, he must have had twenty vases but no flowers. First I've got to clean the place, ''My God! The cleaning lady hasn't been here in two weeks!'' He dashed around putting yesterday's dishes in the dishwasher, Sunday's Times under the sofa and his dirty laundry under the bed. There wasn't time for anything else, ''After all,'' he reminded himself. ''First impressions count the most.'' He barely finished dressing before the phone rang again and it was Salvatore. ''Mr. Pointer? This is Salvatore down in the lobby. I have a lady down here.'' ''Miss Livingston?'' ''Yes, that's who she says she is. Shall she come up?'' Then in a lower register, he added. ''Highly recommended, Mr. Pointer.'' ''Send her right up, Salvatore.'' He figured he had a minute, no more. He straightened up what seemed out of place, sprayed the room with essence of pine and tried to compose himself. The doorbell rang and Leo took a deep breath. He had to keep his pace down going to the door, after all, it wasn't a fire or the pizza delivery man, it was just Martha Livingston. He took the last few steps at a trot. She stood in the hall, looking a head shorter than usual. She wore baggy gym pants and a sleeveless T-shirt still damp from the rain. To Leo, except for the armload of file folders she carried, she looked like somebody who might run past him in the park on a Saturday afternoon. ''Leo, I only have a minute.'' He noticed she wore no make-up, her eyebrows had disappeared and her hair was tied in a knot behind her head. He wondered why he went to the trouble of putting on a clean shirt. ''What's the hurry, Martha?'' ''I have a week's vacation coming,'' she smiled shyly. ''Wally and I are going skiing upstate. They're still making snow at Great Gorge.'' She dumped the folders on his coffee table. ''Wally?'' ''Of course Wally. Wally Backman in Contracts. You know Wally, don't you?'' ''Yes, I know him, but I...'' Leo decided not to pursue it. Martha shrugged her shoulders. ''Anyway,'' she went on, ''There's the residuals. I've worked them out the way I think IP wants them, but you've got to stay on top of it, Leo. They have to be ready by the end of next week. Wally and I will be back by then, and I'll go over it with you.'' Her presence in the room was no longer feminine, he looked at her and wondered what he ever saw in her. He wished she'd leave. ''I'll get on it. It'll be ready. Go. Have a good time. Say hello to Wally for me.'' She gave him a half smile and left closing the door firmly behind her. Now what, thought Leo. Can it get any worse? He couldn't remember a day as bad as this. He leafed through the folders Martha brought with her and put them back on the coffee table. He began pacing the room, then suddenly he got down on his knees and fished the Sunday Times out from under the sofa and turned to the movie directory. He checked out the films in the porno theaters in the neighborhood, but unfortunately he'd seen them all, some even twice. But there was a Fellini movie at the Empire, ''La Citte Delle Donne,''... ''Hmm, never saw that,'' he muttered. ''Fellini, hmmm, gotta be X-rated.'' He pulled on a turtle neck sweater, stepped out into the hall and slammed the door shut. Down in the lobby Salvatore caught his eye. ''That was a quickie, Mr. Pointer. How did it go?'' The Empire Cinema was just around the corner, it catered to the once-married, under forty crowd. Most of the men came in corduroy jackets with leather elbow patches or turtle neck sweaters and sun glasses. They carried slim volumes in the crooks of their arms and if they brought a date with them, she was invariably flat chested and adenoidal. It wasn't uncommon to see both of them using their cell phone talking to people, who, in turn, were standing in the lobby of other cinemas. None of them would ever think of walking in the middle of a movie, therefore they stood in the lobby and talked to each other until a new show began. If the movie was Italian with English sub-titles, the crowd could be heard trying to speak the Italian they learned at school or in the crash language courses given for junior executives. Leo tried to remember the movie. Fellini's ''La Citta Delle Donne,'' The City of Women, or something like that. The faint smell of stale popcorn had gotten into the air-conditioning system and it turned his stomach. He edged over to the wall on the other side of the lobby and stood under a poster advertising a black and white French movie he had seen years ago when he was in college. There was a girl standing there with a tote bag at her feet. She was the least attractive woman he had seen all day. She was small, almost child-like, thin and very intense. She wore a sort of suit, British cut, the skirt of which had worked its way around to the front so that the zipper looked liked a man's fly. ''Probably a dike,'' he thought, and yet she made a half hearted attempt to stand a little straighter and fluff her hair when he stood next to her. ''Hi,'' she said. ''Hi, you like Fellini?'' She had no idea what he was talking about. ''Fellini?'' she said. ''What's a Fellini, I never had a Fellini?'' ''This is a Fellini movie. ''La citta,'' it's one of his later movies. Quite good.'' ''As long as it's Italian, right? That's why I'm here, I want to keep up with the language, I'm going there this summer.'' ''Why do you want to go to Italy?'' ''The sun's out all the time. The food's good too they say... my mother's first husband was an Italian. He spoke Italian. You speak Italian?'' she asked. ''No. Can you say something to me in Italian?'' ''Quando era l'ultima volta avete fatto l'amore ad una donna.'' She turned away. ''My name is Maureen, what's yours?'' ''Leo. Leo Pointer, what did you say to me in Italian?'' ''Quando era....'' ''No, I mean what does it mean?'' ''You can figure it out. You know all about Fellini movies, you're an expert, right?'' ''Well, let's see... it started Quando, then era, right? It means 'In what year' was the last... oh, I don't know. I give up. Maybe it's something about the year the women got the right to vote, right?'' A chirping sound came from the tote bag at her feet. She reached into it and fished out a cell phone. ''Hello,'' she said. ''Hi, Paula. Now? Yeah, okay. I'm not doing anything. Same place? Okay, I'll be right over.'' ''You have to go?'' Leo asked her. ''Yeah,'' she said. ''Something came up. You know how it is.'' She walked off without looking back, ''Wait a minute,'' Leo called after her. ''What does it mean, the 'Quando era' thing?'' She turned and walked backwards a few steps... ''I don't know,'' she said. ''Ask Fellini.'' ''C'mon, Maureen––tell me.'' She smiled and slipped her arm through the strap of her tote bag. ''When was the last time you made love to a woman.'' She turned again and was gone.
Archived comments for The Italian Lesson
Mikeverdi on 04-10-2015
The Italian Lesson
Thank you Harry, your writing inspires me.
Mike

Author's Reply:
As long as I'm good for something, I'll always be a good-for-nothing.

e-griff on 06-10-2015
The Italian Lesson
Harry, we urgently need your permission to publish your work in the anthology. Full details are at forum 'anthology', or just reply to anthed2016@aol.com with updated bio if wished.

Author's Reply:


Battersea Bridge (posted on: 14-09-15)
What hath Whistler wrought?

Battersea Bridge Harry Buschman "We are artists are we not, Miss Wilding?" Professor Parsons asked. He elevated his head and lifted his brows as though expecting her most fervent agreement. ''We must never forget that, musn't we?'' Not getting any response whatsoever, he went on. "I trust you know what an artist's duty is and what an artist must do." "I suppose..." Naomi looked puzzled. "Artists are born to create beauty, I thought we all knew that. Of course beauty is all things to all people, each of us sees beauty in a different light. But you and I know what beauty really is, don't we Miss Wilding?" Naomi knitted her brows and looked past Mr. Parson's head and out the window open to a gray featureless sky. "It's so difficult to put into words, Mr. Parsons." "Especially when an ''A'' in Art Appreciation is necessary to land a lucrative career in commercial television?" Mr. Parsons permitted himself a mirthless smile meant to put Naomi's hopes for a career in television in its proper light. "Success in television is not a true measure of beauty, Miss Wilding, especially to those of us who have been privileged to study the masters. You must never forget the giants who trod that path before us." "Oh, I shan't," she hastened to add. "They will always be my mentors and my guides, Mr. Parsons – Velasquez – er, Rubens – er, and what's his name, Monet." Her mind went blank for a moment. "And of course Mr. James Whistler, too. He's a favorite of yours I know." Mr. Parsons, whose eyes were, until this moment sharp and piercing, now seemed to lose their focus. His entire body appeared to melt like butter in a hot skillet at the mention of James McNeill Whistler. He rose from his chair unsteadily and turned to face the rear of the room upon which hung a framed reproduction of Whistler's ''Battersea Bridge.'' He raised his right hand slowly describing an arc, perhaps intending to illustrate the pervading fog obscuring the details of the Battersea Bridge on a foggy winter afternoon. Professor Parson's mind held a crystal clear image of Whistler's obscure technique while Naomi's mind had gone blank again. ''You're describing something, aren't you Professor?'' Naomi had seen Professor Parsons in this state many times before, so had most of the other young women of the graduating class of the Art Student's League. Their sights were set on a career in computer generated graphics for television, and a ''A'' in the League was the first hurdle. The League taught the basics of classical art in much the same manner as it was taught at the Sorbonne two centuries ago, even though those basics were completely ignored in computer generated graphics. Professor Parsons could not hold a job with an advertising agency or a graphics company but he knew for certain what beauty was all about. He looked at Naomi with his sheep's eyes and let his hand fall to his side. He sighed deeply and for a moment she thought he might faint. "Are you all right Professor?" The weight of the world seemed to bear heavily on Professor Parsons narrow shoulders. "Yes, Miss Wilding. I am quite well, under the circumstances." He looked deep into Naomi's vacant eyes... "But what chance have I? I have studied beauty. Worshipped beauty. Dedicated my life to beauty." "Is there anything I can do, Professor Parsons?" He drew the back of his hand across his brow, a gesture meant to wipe the weariness away and at the same time rearrange his few blond locks that had come astray. "No, thank you, Miss Wilding, your promise not to forget the noblemen of our sacred art will suffice – for the moment." He glanced up at her quickly, "Perhaps another time." Naomi took the opportunity and left quickly. "Now what exactly did the old lecher mean by that." she puzzled. "Another time? I wonder if he meant what I think he meant." Whatever he meant, Naomi was focussed on getting that passing grade in art appreciation from Professor Parsons. Without it, she had no hope of graduating this year, and without that diploma clutched tightly in her fist there was no chance of getting a job in television. There were openings on the Simpsons program next year. A lot of the illustrators had moved on to Disney and Bollywood. She could hold her own with any of them but she couldn't even get an interview without that diploma. "He's a creepy old dude," she told herself, "but if I'm gonna get my ass anywhere in this business..." Her hips swayed violently as she left the room and flounced down the corridor to her class in ceramics, she made a mental note to be especially nice to Mr. Parsons from here on as long as it was necessary, but not a minute longer. <><><> ''Little tart,'' Mr. Parsons mumbled as he watched her go. ''She'll be back here trying to turn me on, pretending a love for art she will never have. She'll smell of perfume, she'll brush up against me cooing like a wood dove, giving it all up for a ''A.'' Mr. Parsons turned to the reproduction of Whistler's blue and silver study of the flotsam adrift on the river Thames. He flicked an almost invisible grain of dust from the ornate gold frame. His lips were pursed the way mothers purse their lips when they wiped their child's lips after they had suckled. J.M. Whistler was a potent tool – he was quite satisfied with himself. ''She'll get her 'A' he thought, or even an 'A+' perhaps if she tries extra hard, and she'll earn every bit of it.''
Archived comments for Battersea Bridge
Mikeverdi on 16-09-2015
Battersea Bridge
Quite a different story line Harry, faintly disturbing. Not to say I didn't enjoy the read.
Mike

Author's Reply:

Harry on 16-09-2015
Battersea Bridge
What evil lurks in the art professor's portfolio ....?

Author's Reply:


The Ex-Husband (posted on: 28-08-15)
When faced with a woman problem can you buy your way out of it? Not really.

The Ex-Husband Harry Buschman Fletcher Tishman is sitting in his recliner holding a letter from his wife. He found it pinned to the bedroom door. What will he do now? Who will take care of him? He can neither cook nor clean. The washing machine has always been a female mystery to him and so is almost everything in the ktchen. Fletcher tells himself to sit down and relax–to think things over calmly. ''First things first,'' he says. ''The rest can come later.'' It isn't the first time a woman has walked out on a husband, although it was the first time Stella walked out on him. Anyone who knew Fletcher Tishman would tell you she should have left him long ago. He gave her reason to walk out again and again – had a nasty habit of looking down his nose at her, and no man as short as Fletcher can look down on anyone. He was arrogance. He preached rather than spoke to Stella. Raising his index finger, like a teacher reminding his class not to forget their homework over the weekend, he would explain to Stella the importance of statistics in the insurance business and the necessity of starch in the sleeves of his white shirts, and the sooner she accepted these facts the better – and on and on. Now, as he sat in his recliner, he suspected he might have been a little overbearing. He looked across the room through the golden light of the whiskey decanter in his hand, wondering if he should turn on CNN. He reached for the remote, then put it down again and considered his present state. An unattached male, admittedly somewhat short, but of more than sufficient means, now separated from an unappreciative wife, a man young enough to consider having another go at some kind of relationship. It was the first comforting thought he had since Stella left, but it was brought to an abrupt halt when he looked down at his feet. His socks were two different colors – one brown, and one blue. It was a sobering sight to Fletcher. In a way it reminded him of Stella. If she were here that would never have happened. It reminded him to check on his shirts and underwear. Did he have enough clean linen or was everything stuffed in the hamper? He thought it would be a good idea to check his wardrobe. CNN could wait. He polished off the whiskey quickly and put the wet glass down firmly on the polished mahogany end table, never once considering that the whiskey would leave a ring forever. Stepping across his cluttered living room and carefully putting one brown socked foot down after a blue one, he found his way to the bedroom. The mates to the mis-matched socks were in his top bureau drawer – the penalty of dressing in the dark, he thought. There was only one clean shirt and no clean underwear. He panicked when he realized he had no idea how to operate the washing machine and dryer. He dreaded domesticity in any form. It was no job for a man, especially a business man of his stature. What he needed now was a maid – no, more than a maid. A cook too, and a valet. He couldn't do these things alone. He had more important things to do, he was a man after all. He was the man of this house. The breadwinner. If things were this bad in the bedroom what were they like in the kitchen – and even worse, the bathroom! Fletcher glanced at his watch, (that, at least was functioning) 7:30. Already dark. He couldn't think here in the apartment, he must go out to eat. ''That's the ticket,'' he said to himself, ''I'll find a nice quiet place to eat, and think it over. I'm sure I'll find the answer.'' ''Strange,'' he thought as he was leaving. ''The things you have to think of when you live alone. Have I got my keys? Did I leave the water running? Is the answering machine turned on?'' When he stepped into the street he turned and looked back at the old four story brownstone, the red sandstone steps of the stoop were worn down in the middle like the steps of an ancient altar. The wrought iron filigree covering the beveled glass doors was rust-pitted with age. How long had he and Stella lived here? It came as a shock to remember that they had always lived here. They moved here right after their honeymoon. ''Honeymoon,'' he grunted. ''That's when the trouble began. When we stood beside the car looking at Monument Valley and the 'Four Corners,' we couldn't agree in which of the four states we were standing.'' The sex was good however, he remembered. The physical side of it. But, in time it became a chore, it became sexless and as automatic as a popup toaster. Fletcher clutched his coat collar close to his neck to ward off the evening chill and headed for the Greek restaurant around the corner. The ''Athenian'' was a favorite eating spot for Fletcher and Stella in the beginning, it was smelly, the food was only faintly Greek and the decor, with its faded pictures of the Acropolis was ice cream parlor art deco. It was family owned and operated. That meant everyone in Victor Fada's extended family was there all the time, every day, whether they were working or not. They were an argumentative family. Sometimes the arguments would spill over and involve the diners as well. Victor seemed to be everywhere. From the wine cellar to the cash register, (which boasted the sign, 'no plastic please') to the kitchen. It was in the kitchen that his deep chested roar could be heard night and day, and when he stormed out of the kitchen his blue black jowls still pulsated with the remarks he didn't have time to deliver. He would stop, however, at tables occupied by nervous diners and ask them with a threatening stare, ''How does the food? You like? You eat like bird.'' His bushy black mustache would broaden and reveal his enormous teeth. At such times Fletcher and Stella would nod agreeably and chew as though their lives depended on it. It was warm in the Athenian that evening and the smell of roast lamb and onions was overwhelming. Fletcher felt his appetite might not be up to Victor's standards, but after a retsina or two he was sure he could handle it. Anyway, he had an ulterior motive. The Fada family was abundant and he was sure one of them would be willing to be a maid, cook, laundress and whatever else was necessary to take the place of Stella. He stopped for a moment in the doorway to consider that thought. Stella? Had she been a domestic? Is that what their relationship had been these many years? And if that was what she was, then what was he? Fletcher shrugged out of his coat and took a small table near the back of the room. Victor was on him immediately. ''My friend. You are alone. Your wife is ill? It is not surprising to me, if she ate here more often she would not be susceptible to colds and flu.'' ''No, she's not ill, Victor, so far as I know. She's ... just not with me tonight.'' Victor sat down sat down across from Fletcher. He smoothed his mustache and tried to appear understanding. The smell of the kitchen seemed to ooze from him. ''Would you care for a smoke, my friend?'' He pulled a package of Gauloises from the pocket of his checkered shirt. ''Is okay. We permit smoking at the tables for two. If anybody complains I tell them to go elsewhere.'' ''No thanks Victor.'' Fletcher picked up his menu, hoping that Victor wouldn't get too comfortable. ''You have lamb chops I see.'' ''Yes. Yes. Of course. Moussaka, and squid, and split chickens as usual – but why is your wife not with you?'' ''It's a personal thing, Victor.'' Victor's bushy, black eyebrows shot up as one and his brow wrinkled in pain. ''We've had a slight disagreement, you might call it. We thought it would be wise to take some time off from each other, just for a bit. In the meantime it's made things a little difficult for me.'' Victor's eyebrows now expressed condolence. Fletcher was amazed – they reacted to every word and seemed to have an life of their own. ''You need woman?'' Victor planted both elbows on the table across from Fletcher and leaned forward. ''My wife's brother – he is no longer with us – I have no regrets. But what I mean to say is, he had a daughter. She is not a looker ... '' ''Really Victor ... I.'' ''Say no more. I understand. But, if you change your mind you will let me know, right?'' Victor smiled broadly and winked. One eyebrow suddenly sank like a stone. ''Have good digestion, my friend.'' ''Just a minute, Victor.'' ''Yes?'' ''I am looking for a good domestic. You know, a maid. One who would also be able to cook and clean.'' ''Full time?'' ''It would almost have to be, wouldn't it, Victor?'' ''Like a wife, you mean?'' ''Well, up to a point, Victor, if you get my drift.'' Victor sat back and pondered, his brows hung low over his eyes as if they, too, were thinking. They slowly lifted and Fletcher was suddenly aware that Victor was staring at him. ''The husband of my younger sister has a brother in New Jersey. This brother has a daughter, Alexandra by name. Alexandra is a fine Greek name, (he pronounced it ''Giddick''). It means, the savior of mankind.'' ''Impressive,'' Fletcher said. Victor stubbed out the butt of his cigarette in Fletcher's butter dish and stood up. ''She's in the kitchen. I bring her – don't forget, Alexandra.'' Fletcher wished he hadn't decided to have dinner at the Athenian. It would have been wiser to put an ad in the paper. Hiring a relative of someone you know, didn't seem like a good idea now. He scanned the menu half-heartedly. Nothing looked good to him, but he knew if he didn't eat something he'd never get through the night. ''Can I help you?'' Fletcher thought it was the waiter, but when he raised his eyes it was an olive skinned girl in her middle twenties. She was wearing black slacks and a man's denim work shirt. A soiled apron, untied, hung loosely about her neck. ''Are you Andromeda?'' he asked. ''Alexandra. Uncle Victor said you wanted to see me.'' ''Yes, Alexandra – er, it's a little hard to explain. Why don't you sit down?'' ''What's so hard? Your wife bailed out and you're up the creek. You need a woman, right?'' She took off her apron, pulled out a chair and sat down. The movement was quick and efficient – almost masculine. ''A woman to cook and clean, and wash. You know, a domestic.'' ''Whatever,'' she said, looking directly at him. ''What's your name?'' ''Tishman. Fletcher Tishman, I work in insurance. I live around the corner on Regis Street, it's a four story brownstone – there's a kitchen, a bedroom, a living room, a bathroom – oh, and a den, there's a small den where I sometimes work nights.'' In one sentence, Fletcher had blurted out everything. Alexandra hadn't batted an eye. ''Dogs? Kids?'' ''No, nothing like that. I'm the only living thing in the apartment.'' ''Y'gonna be bringin' in people?'' ''I don't think so. I never have. I live a quiet life.'' ''No sweat then.'' She sat up straight and looked back at the kitchen. ''When can I see it?'' ''Well, I was going to have dinner but we can go now if you can get away.'' ''No, have dinner first. Uncle Vic'll have my ass if you walk outta here without eating. After you're done we can take a look at it.'' Fletcher ordered quickly and ate quickly. He was preoccupied about the arrangement. She was a strange girl, this Alexandra. He had never met anyone quite like her. When he stood up to leave, Alexandra walked out of the kitchen – he figured she must have been watching him through the little window in the swinging door. She had her coat on, a short leather coat with a lambs wool collar. A hat too, a knitted woolen cloche pulled down over her ears – it gave her a more vulnerable appearance, something he wasn't expecting. ''How did you like the moussaka,'' she asked? ''It was good. It's always good here.'' ''I made it tonight,'' she said. ''I'm getting good at it.'' They walked out into the night, it was colder than it was when he came in. There were icicles hanging from the canopy over the sidewalk. When they started to walk, Fletcher circled around her to walk between her and the curb. ''Are you deaf on the other side?'' She asked. ''No. It's an old custom I guess. The man is supposed to protect the woman from runaway horses. I guess it's old-fashioned, huh?'' ''I wouldn't know,'' she said. ''I forgot what you said you did for a living?'' ''I sell commercial insurance.'' ''Sounds like fun.'' Fletcher didn't catch on until he saw her laugh. ''What do you do?'' He asked. ''City College, nights. Third year Engineering School, I want to be a structural engineer.'' ''I went to City – God it's twenty years ago. I wouldn't know the place.'' He stopped and said, ''This is where I live, I'm on the second floor.'' Fletcher dug out his key at the lobby door. Just as he did, he noticed the curtains of the living room windows on the first floor part quickly and close again. ''That was Mrs. McBride. She owns the place. She's probably putting two and two together.'' '' ... and getting the wrong answer.'' Alexandra said firmly. The apartment was dark and Fletcher flipped the lights on as they went from room to room. When they were through, he said ''That was it, not much to see. The wife and me, we didn't spend much time here.'' She pulled off her hat and opened her coat. ''Got a vacuum?'' she asked. ''Oh sure,'' he answered quickly. ''In the closet over here. A nice new Hoover.'' She suddenly turned to him when he flipped the light switch in the closet. ''Okay. Now listen up! This is the way it'll go down. You make your own breakfast then get outta here, I don't wanna be lookin' at you in the morning. I'll be here at eight and I'll do what's gotta be done all day until four. I'll have your supper all ready sittin' for you in the oven. All you have to do is eat it'' She smiled at him. ''You can feed yourself, yes?'' ''That's Monday to Friday,'' she went on. ''Weekends you're on your own. I got my own stuff to do. Go somewhere. Do somethin'. Eat at uncle Vic's if you have to.'' She paused a second or two and looked up at the ceiling. ''I'll take 200 bucks a week and bill you for what I buy.'' ''I can live with that, I guess.'' He answered weakly. ''Check or cash, don't make a bit of difference to me. Got a spare key?'' He opened a drawer in an end table, ''Here's the key to the lobby door and this one's for the apartment. My wife left them.'' ''That's it,'' she said, pulling her hat on. I'll be here at eight a.m. tomorrow, be gone when I get here. I gotta get back to uncle Vic.'' She began walking to the door. Before Fletcher wanted to ask her to stay a moment but she was gone. The apartment was empty – emptier than it had ever been before, even when Stella was there. The lingering aroma of the Athenian restaurant still hovered in the air. Fletcher walked to the window in the living room facing the street hoping to catch a glimpse of Alexandra, but she was too fast for him. She had already turned the corner. What an amazing young woman, he thought. Twenty years his junior and already more capable of living in this world than he was. Something must have done it to him. Something had made him unfit to live without assistance – he was like a blind man crossing the street. What a wife she would make some day, he thought. But who could handle her? Well – he would put himself to bed now. That much he could do. He would get by on his one clean shirt and today's underwear tomorrow and be out of the apartment right after breakfast. Breakfast? He would spend half the night wondering what to have for breakfast.
Archived comments for The Ex-Husband
Mikeverdi on 28-08-2015
The Ex-Husband
Thanks for posting Harry, another unusual story filled with interest. Having been an Ex Husband twice I get the picture. HaHa! I think your work with the conversations is always excellent, but then I am a true fan of your work.
Mike
ps typo 2nd line....Kitchen.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 29-08-2015
The Ex-Husband
It certainly maintains interest all the way through. I felt though that it was building up to something that never actually arrived. The ending seemed a bit flat. Other than that, no complaints.

The only technical thing I spotted was a couple of repeated words: 'Victor sat down sat down across from Fletcher'.

Author's Reply:
To tell the truth, I've written and re-written this story so many times I don't think I can reach a satisfactory conclusion. Fletcher is a hopeless case, his wife must have been a sucker or a saint and the young lady deserves a far better man in her life than Fletcher will ever be. Uncle Vic, to me, seems the only solid character in the piece.


Merry Christmas Girls (posted on: 21-08-15)
My Christmas shopping is finished!

Merry Christmas Girls! Harry Buschman Hallelujah! My Christmas shopping is finished! For a while I thought I'd never get it done – and then a brilliant idea occurred to me. Why not get them all the same thing! "After all, there's ninety of them," I said, and they're basically all alike in every important respect. They are my favorite ladies of Victoria's Secret – the ones I pass by on my daily constitutional walk through the Rososevelt Field Mall in Garden City. You see, on days of inclement weather, (and to men my age, all of winter is inclement – so is most of fall and a good part of spring as well) I take my constitutional walk in the Roosevelt Field Mall. It's heated and well lit. It's dry, and there are interesting things to see along the way. Furthermore, when the walking is done I stop in at Starbuck's to pass the time of day indulging in political gossip with my friends and neighbors. At the three quarter mark through the Mall I pass Victoria's Secret. It's a good spot to stop for breath. I could stop a little sooner and look in Marlboro's Book Shop, but to be frank you can learn a good deal more at Victoria's Secret. I have developed a connoisseur's taste for the models in the window. I note with pleasure Candice Swanepoel, the 5' 9" South African with her wide set pale blue eyes and her counterpart, Julie Ordon with her pensive baby face. But I can't rule out any of the others either. Each of them is unique in her own essential nature. All of them pass the critical lingerie lace test with flying colors, and I catch myself lingering at Victoria's window like a schoolboy at the baker's window, and by the time I get to Starbuck's my friends have all left without me. So here's to all of you lovely ladies of Victoria's "Fantasyland.'' Your secret is safe with me. Wear your lace proudly. My present? Yes of course – it's a picture of me – in my Tommy Hilfiger's elastic shorts. Mid-thigh length. Eat your hearts out!
Archived comments for Merry Christmas Girls
chant_z on 22-08-2015
Merry Christmas Girls
Very nice story. Wonderful ending. Thanks!

Author's Reply:


Nothing But the Truth (posted on: 14-08-15)
It can be a mad, mad world.

Nothing But the Truth Harry Buschman "Mr. O'Hanlon, have you been here before?" "No, ma'am." "Doctor Wallenstein is busy with another patient at the moment. Will you fill out this questionnaire while you wait?" "Yes, ma'am." Darin O'Hanlon looked about the empty waiting room, chose a chair in the corner, took a deep breath and sat down. He glanced at the questionnaire and reached absentmindedly in his shirt pocket for a pencil. "Ma'am?" "Yes, Mr. O'Hanlon." "I don't seem to have a pencil." "Oh, no problem, Mr. O'Hanlon, I have one." She held out a white coffee mug with a smiley face on it. It was loaded with needle sharp pencils each of identical length and each tipped with a pink eraser. Darin O'Hanlon sighed, walked to the receptionist's desk and, even though they were all the same, chose one with great care. Some of the questions were personal, disturbing, and apparently intended to expose his darker side. Some involved his parents and pets he had as a boy. His hobbies were of great concern to Dr. Wallenstein and so were his choices in clothing and reading material. He answered all the questions frankly, honestly, and in great detail, so much detail in fact that he found it difficult to squeeze the answers in the space allotted. While doing this he could not help overhear the mechanical doll's voice of Miss Upshot, the receptionist, speaking to patients on the telephone. "Oh, Mrs. Kaminsky, I'm so sorry. All night you say, and you took how many this morning? But that's two more than you were supposed – well yes, I know but – he'll call you back shortly, don't take any more Mrs. Kaminsky, okay? Hello. Yes, who? Oh, Mr. Paterson, what can I do for – you are? Well, don't jump, Mr. Paterson! Oh, you're only joking! You're a cut-up, Mr. Paterson." Darin O'Hanlon realized at that moment that Dr. Wallenstein's patients appeared to be on the ragged edge. His own problem seemed minor by comparison. His only difficulty was he couldn't tell a lie. He didn't need a psychiatrist for that. He wasn't suicidal. He wouldn't dream of overdosing on prescription drugs or leaping from a windowsill. He was the picture of health. In tip-top shape. If he hadn't been sent by Dr. Ottermann for outpatient care, he wouldn't be here in the first place. A jittery man emerged from Dr. Wallenstein's office. He walked quickly, darting this way and that. He paused at the receptionist's desk, and in a hoarse tenor, far too loud for the small room, he announced, "Doc says I need another appointment." As the receptionist thumbed through her appointment book, the man noticed Darin in the corner, and said, "What are you in here for? You don't look crazy." "I'm not." "Don't let him give you desipramine." "I won't." "It'll rot your brain." Then he smiled and lowered his voice like a conspirator. "Medicare gave Doc the green light, I'll be comin' in once a week from now on." The receptionist handed the man a card with his new appointment. He stuck it in the band of his hat and slouched towards the front door, eying Darin suspiciously. Darin watched him through the half drawn Venetian blind as he made his way to his car. The car backed abruptly into the one behind it, then laid down two streaks of rubber as it roared out into the street and through the stop light at the corner. "A troubled man," The receptionist remarked as Darin handed her his completed questionnaire. "Shouldn't be driving," Darin remarked. He turned his head sideways and looked sharply at the receptionist. "Do you sit all day?" he asked. "You're at least twenty pounds overweight." Miss Upshot blushed a beet red, but before she could respond a buzzer sounded on her desk. "Dr. Wallenstein will see you now." She rose from her desk stiffly. "Please follow me," she said coldly. "Guess I shouldn't have said that, Miss, but that's why I'm here you see. I can't help telling the truth." Darin followed her down the carpeted hall, and though his eyes checked out the girth of Miss Upshot, he kept his mouth shut. She opened the door and stood aside as Darin walked in. She followed him and handed the finished questionnaire to Dr. Wallenstein. "I'm Felix Wallenstein, Mr. O'Hanlon, please sit down. Make yourself comfortable. "O'Hanlon" – what a fine Irish name. I knew an O'Hanlon at school, I believe he was a Dublin O'Hanlon." "Odd first name, "Dublin." "Oh, I'm sorry – no I mean his family was from Dublin. I really can't remember what his first name was." Flustered, Wallenstein turned to Darin's questionnaire. "Well now, you've been out of Queen's Central three weeks I see. Emil Ottermann has passed you on to me. Fine man, Otterman. How are you getting on, Mr. O'Hanlon?" "Not well, Doctor. Not well at all. I still tell the truth." "You can't expect miracles, Mr. O'Hanlon. May I call you Darin?" Without waiting for approval he went on, "Lying takes practice you know. Does the medication help?" "Not much, Doctor. About an hour after I take it I find I can stretch the truth a little. Just a little mind you, not nearly enough to get my old job back." Darin had been a promising junior partner at Liebowitz, Ferrara and O'Hanlon, but his addiction to the truth thwarted his chances of moving up the corporate ladder. In fact they almost ruined the corporate ladder itself. Liebowitz, Ferrara and O'Hanlon's accident cases, malpractice suits, even armed robbery indictments were thrown out of court because Darin couldn't help telling the truth. Attorney Liebowitz finally took him aside and they stood by the heavily draped window overlooking City Hall. "Look, O'Hanlon,'' he said. ''You tell the truth, you pay the consequence, see. There's no room for truth in a court of law. You think this is the movies? Ferrara and me, we both got big families. We only get paid if we win." Darin collapsed in court one day while trying to defend a surgeon who had left two clips in the belly of a Puerto Rican teenager while bungling a "C" Section delivery, it resulted in her death. The breakdown sent Darin to Queen's Central. He was in a terrible state, nearly catatonic. He spent two long years in the fourth floor ward where the patients had lost track of the world about them and lived with the devils of their own existence. The road back was slow and painful, but under the patient supervision of Dr. Emil Ottermann, Darin gradually worked his way back to reality. For the past six months he was in the minimum security ward of Queen's General. Now, here he was in the plush office of Dr. Wallenstein. He let his eyes wander about the room and admired its expensive furnishings. On Doctor Wallenstein's desk was the picture of a long legged platinum blond woman in a bikini, far too young to be his wife – his first wife anyway. It might have been his daughter, but a proper father would never display such a frankly erotic photograph of his child. An elaborately framed diploma was on the wall behind his desk. Felix P. Wallenstein Professor of Psychiatry Purdue University Hmmm, thought Darin, an agricultural school. He was disappointed. He expected Yale or Pennsylvania. Near the diploma was a group picture of twenty or more men in formal attire taken at a dinner, any one of whom might have been Dr. Wallenstein. Each of them wore identical goatees. It was difficult to tell one man from the other. A celebration of some sort? A retirement? Perhaps the unexpected recovery of a wealthy patient. Dr. Wallenstein glanced over Darin's questionnaire. "Life is a treacherous path between reality and fantasy, Mr. –" he looked momentarily at the questionnaire, "O'Hanlon. Psychiatrists ask questions so they may find a way to the truth." "I know all about the truth, Doctor, the truth is what got me in trouble." "Do you resent having to visit a psychiatrist?" He asked. "Of course." "And why is that, Mr. O'Hanlon?" "It's a long story Doctor Wallenstein, and if you were as omniscient as you think you are, you should know the answer without asking me. Do you realize what I've suffered for the truth? Have you ever been forced to move your bowels in the presence of a two hundred pound male nurse who picks his teeth? How about eating dinner with a plastic knife and fork next to a man who can't control his bladder? Have you ever spent the night on your back, strapped in a bed with bars? No, I shouldn't think so! Ask yourself the question then, remember it? 'Do you resent having to visit a psychiatrist?' You're damn right I do!" Darin stared at Wallenstein and watched him lower his eyes. "I used to be an attorney, Doctor. Do you know what I do now?" "Why yes, it's right here in your – " "I'm a winder in a broom factory, Doctor. I work shoulder-to-shoulder with parolees from Riker's Island, men just out of rehab, 'employables' they call them. Pretty steep penalty for telling the truth don't you think? By the way Doctor, is that a weave or an implant?" Doctor Wallenstein was flustered, he had never dealt with this particular symptom. It unnerved him. Sometimes, he reminded himself, these schizophrenics can turn the tables on you. Before you know it, you find yourself on the couch and they're sitting behind your desk asking the questions. "Now slow down a moment, Mr. O'Hanlon, or may I call you Darin? You indicate a considerable degree of resistance. I can understand that, it's not unusual in cases like yours." "Hold on yourself, Doctor. You haven't answered my question." "I don't remember –" Darin broke in quickly. "You don't! Forgetfulness is inexcusable in a psychiatrist! Let me remind you then. I asked you if that was a weave or an implant!" Damn him! This was going to be a hard nut to crack. He considered the possibility of referring him to his friend Carl Bunsenburner, with his acupuncture needles, but Carl would probably just send him right back again and besides, O'Hanlon was good for fifty or sixty visits at $150 a pop. The contentious meeting continued until the hour expired. Doctor Wallenstein's probing questions had barely scratched Darin's armor, and he had to admit his own armor was pierced in several places. Had this encounter not occurred in his own office he would have been completely demoralized. His note pad contained little vital information on Darin O'Hanlon. He fanned himself with it and turned on the video recorder. It was obvious O'Hanlon was in complete control of himself. It was as though he was a representative of the licensing board checking on Wallenstein's credentials. Wallenstein sat at his desk in a classic Freudian pose, elbows resting on the blotter, chin resting in his clasped hands with his index fingers extended– "Hmmm," he thought. "O'Hanlon's only problem is the truth. What a strange disease! Suppose the world was suddenly afflicted with a virus which compelled it to tell the truth? Every man, every woman, every country unable to hide the truth from each other! It would collapse! It simply could not exist." He went to the small wash room between his office and the receptionist and looked in the mirror. "Is my weave really so noticeable? Unnerving isn't it? What am I hiding? Hiding the truth, that's what I'm doing. Then there's the standard psychiatrist's goatee. What is that for? A masquerade! To make me look like a psychiatrist. Just as a uniform makes a frightened teenager feel as brave as a soldier." He walked into the empty waiting room. "Miss Upshot, are we through for the day?" "Nothing more in your book, Doctor." "What did you think of Mr. O'Hanlon?" Would he get an honest answer. Would she tell the truth? "He's okay, I guess. Told me I was fat." "You're not fat, Miss Upshot." Now wait a minute, that was a lie too, she most definitely was fat. "What do you mean – okay?" "Well, I mean you get some real cases in here, Doctor. Mr. O'Hanlon didn't seem so bad as them, but you could see something was eating on him." "Be frank with me, Miss Upshot. Can you tell if I have a weave or not?" Miss Upshot seemed anxious to call it a day. "I really can't say Doctor. I don't think I ever seen you without one, you know?" "Good night, Miss Upshot." "Toodle-oo, Doctor." She turned off the designer light over her desk and shut down the computer. She got her coat from the rack and shrugged herself into it, turned off the lights in the waiting room and was out the door all the while keeping a wary eye on Dr. Wallenstein. Dr. Wallenstein sat in the dim waiting room. Yes, by all means "toodle-oo." Tell me true, Miss Upshot, do you or don't you? Would she lie about that too? Of course she would. No woman would dare say, "Of course I do," unless they were sedated. Terrible to realize that truth can only emerge under the influence of drugs. Sodium Pentothal – perhaps O'Hanlon's system produces it. Think about it Wallenstein, four years undergraduate, two years internship, two years for the thesis and the Ph.D. What has all this experience taught you about the truth, or the human mind for that matter? He got his coat and hat. The broad snap brim, same kind of a hat Carl Jung used to wear. The coat was identical to the kind Adler wore, and now, here he was with the weave, the same hairline and goatee that Professor Freud made famous. He reached for the knob to let himself out and suddenly stopped. He looked at his watch and took off his hat and coat. He turned on the high-tech light over Miss Upshot's desk and thumbed through her Rolo-dex for a number. "Hello Emil. Wallenstein here. I hoped I'd find you in. How is Mrs. Ottermann? Good, glad to hear it. Do you have a minute? Do you remember a former patient of yours at Queen's Central, man by the name of Darin O'Hanlon? You referred him to me. ...Yes, that's the one – the truth nut. He was in today and I have to say Emil, I must recommend he be returned for further treatment. He's really in no condition to walk the streets. The upstairs ward? Yes that sounds good. I'll sign him back to you tonight and you'll take care of it, right?" He hung up, put on his hat and coat again and turned out the light. He felt much better now. O'Hanlon would be in good hands, perhaps electric shock might help, he couldn't get that sort of care outside of Queen's Central. Quite frankly he wasn't sure what to do with him. "Better all around, it's not worth the money," he said under his breath as he locked the waiting room door. He walked down the carpeted corridor to the back door and stepped out into the night. There was a man leaning against the driver's side door of his Mercedes. It was Darin O'Hanlon. "Hope you don't mind, Doctor. Something I wanted to say in there, didn't get around to it. You know how it is when you have to say something important to say but don't know how to put it in words? Thought this might be your car – only one in the lot with an MD plate. Figured that was you, right? Nice piece of machinery, Doctor. Had a Mercedes myself once – they took my license away. "What was it you wanted to say, Mr. O'Hanlon?" Darin took a deep breath and stood a little straighter. "Come hell or high water, Doctor, I'm not going back there, understand?" "Where?" "Queen's General. You've got to understand that. I'll kill myself first – that's the truth." "Oh, come now, Darin, let's not get melodramatic. We'll do what's best for you. That's the main thing isn't it?" Darin reached in his side pocket and took out a folding razor. He opened it fully, the blade glinted in the dim light of the street lamp. He pulled back his shirt cuff and drew the back of the blade across his wrist. "It's as simple as that, Doctor. The choice is yours, not mine." He folded the razor and slipped it into his side pocket again, turned on his heel and walked away. A chill chased its way down Wallenstein's spine as he opened the door of the Mercedes. He sat in the driver's seat with the ignition key in his hand thinking of the call he just made to Ottermann. Should he call him back? No, he's got to be lying, he can't be serious. He's playing on your conscience. He's devious – they're all like that.
Archived comments for Nothing But the Truth
Mikeverdi on 14-08-2015
Nothing But the Truth
You know what I'm going to say Harry....I loved it. And that's the truth. 🙂
Mike

Author's Reply:
Much obliged Mike. Pretty bleak piece, but I had to get it off my chest.

Kipper on 27-08-2015
Nothing But the Truth
Great story well told, except of course for the odd typo and some spelling mistakes.
Otherwise I guess it's OK.
Now, do you want the truth?
Great story, well told!
Best, Michael.............honest!

Author's Reply:


The Confession (posted on: 10-08-15)
Hiding the truth in fiction.

The Confession Harry Buschman Some writers can only write in bed. Others need a quiet room in the house devoted to writing and nothing else. Still others, like me, can't write at all when they're home. Too many distractions in my house, temptations – I find myself on the phone or fiddling with the television. The trouble is the crime stuff I have to write is dishwater dull and I'm constantly looking for an excuse to be doing something else – anything else. Crime is nothing but statistics. How many break-ins? When is so-and-so getting out on parole? APB's. MO's. Just the facts ma'am. There are perpetrators and enforcers, and when you're on the outside looking in, like me, there isn't much difference between them. So when I really have to write a crime piece for the Sentinel and there isn't much time to do it. I go to the library. There I know I'll buckle down and work at it until it's done. I found a vacant carrel in the reference room Monday morning and sat down with my laptop to the right and my notes to the left. I was sure I'd have the crime editorial for the paper done by early afternoon. But, it was Monday morning after all, and the reference room was very still. There were skylights in the ceiling of the room and sparrows were building their nests up there. It brought the outside inside and, listening to the birds, it was hard to believe I was indoors working on an editorial for the Westlake Sentinel. It was distracting but not nearly as bad as being home. I thought if I just shut my ears to it, settle down and get the first page on paper, I knew the rest would come. By late morning I had the gist of it under way. It was coming together so I sat back in the chair and stretched ... Someone said ''Ahem,'' at my elbow. I brought my arms back down again and turned my head. A man in his forties sat behind me. He had a notebook closed in front of him, it was one of those stiff marbleized notebooks children carry to school. He was a sandy haired blue-eyed man and he sat there rubbing the index finger of his right hand with the fingers of his left hand. ''Do you write fiction?'' he asked. ''Only as a pastime,'' I answered. ''I work for the Sentinel.'' What impressed me more than anything else was the man's worried expression. He looked like a man expecting the telephone to ring with bad news. One of his blue eyes twitched and both of them were underscored with dark livid crescents of sickness or worry – or both. ''Yes, I know you're a newspaper man. I've read your work. I write fiction,'' he said. ''Only fiction. I'm still learning,'' he gave me a sick smile. ''I get bogged down sometimes.'' That was as far as I wanted the conversation to go and I made preparations to leave. I put the lap top to sleep and snapped the lid shut. I unzipped the attache case and slid the computer in. Then I turned around to the man behind me. ''Well, I'm done for the morning, Mr ...'' ''Evans. Do you have a minute – a minute before you go?'' ''Maybe later,'' I said. ''I have to hand-deliver this text to the paper ... It'll need proof-reading. But I'll be back here later this afternoon.'' I wouldn't of course, but I thought I'd tell him that. It's a trick I learned in this business. God knows, it's been pulled on me often enough. He looked disappointed, but he took the bait and tried to set a time. ''I can't really promise a time, but I'll be back late this afternoon. That okay?'' I was sure he wouldn't be there if I looked in later. For some reason the incident in the library that morning stayed with me all day. The name 'Evans' meant nothing to me. I didn't know an 'Evans' – I couldn't remember ever meeting an 'Evans'. He wanted me to look at something he wrote ... something of fiction. I hate reading something with the author standing by. Watching him watch you, trying to catch your expression before you have something to say ... it's doglike. But you do it because it's the least you can do and when you think back you remember once somebody did it for you. Maybe that's why I went back to the library that afternoon. I promised myself that if I didn't see him at the carrels where I left him, I'd turn around and walk out again. But he was there. He was sitting at the carrel I used earlier that day. His face lit up when he saw me. As I approached him he stood up awkwardly and said, ''I thought maybe you forgot – maybe you wouldn't come.'' ''I said I'd be here. Do you have a draft with you? I'll take it home with me.'' ''Draft? No, I don't have a draft yet.'' I pulled away. ''No, let me explain,'' he touched my arm as I turned to leave. ''Let me tell you the plot ... just tell me if I'm on the right track. I have to know if I've forgotten anything important.'' I just couldn't stand the thought of sitting in the carrel with him and listening to him drone on about his plot. ''That's not the way you do it, Evans. You write a draft, and if you're lucky enough to find someone to read it, you let him have it a few days. I'm not going to sit in a public library and listen to you tell me about a story you're thinking of writing.'' He looked desperate. His eyes looked up to the skylight above the carrel as though he expected an answer would come from there. ''Please, it won't take ten minutes––I have the whole thing right here in my head.'' ''Okay, I'll give you ten minutes. I warn you––I've got a date for dinner. So, ten minutes and I'm out of here ... also I have a terrible headache. I warn you.'' Evans looked away. He looked as though he was looking for the proper way to begin. ''It's about a man,'' he started, ''a man about my age, and the fix he finds himself in.'' ''He's a structural engineer ... a project leader on a new bridge over the Lackawanna. His company has an office in the Chelsea building downtown. Maybe fifty men––no women. He has a family––a wife and two sons. In the suburbs ... a place like this. He's been married seven years ... okay so far?'' ''Go on.'' ''He reaches a point in the bridge project where he needs to correspond with the highway department ... '' ''What's that got to do with anything?'' ''Well, they assign him a secretary to handle his correspondence. A girl in her early twenties. Blond.'' ''What's his name, her name? What do they look like?'' He was crumbling now. Looking like a witness giving testimony. He turned away from me and sat down. ''I don't know yet. I haven't picked out their names ... he looks ... I don't know ... about my age. I'm not into character yet." ''That's one of the first things you do. You get yourself a character. Create a human being ... all the action begins with your characters. Without them you've got nothing.'' ''I ... I want to tell you about the plot. How his secretary tries to break up his marriage.'' ''I'm sorry, I don't want to hear any more. It's boring, It's the oldest plot line in the book.'' ''But ... he kills her you see.'' ''Who kills who?'' ''The man. He ... he kills the secretary.'' Evans suddenly brought both hands up to his face and began to sob. I quickly looked about the workroom to see if anyone was watching us. ''Evans ... '' I put my hand on his shoulder. ''Are you all right, Evans?'' ''It wasn't his fault ... I mean it's a man's responsibility isn't it ... to protect his family I mean. All right, maybe he was a little weak, but he never promised her anything, the blonde I mean. If you want to blame someone, blame her ... '' I reached out to him and pulled his hands away from his face. His face was wet and his eyes were shut tight. He kept his hands together as if they were handcuffed. ©Harry Buschman (1400)
Archived comments for The Confession
Mikeverdi on 10-08-2015
The Confession
For me, you are the best prose writer on this site Harry. I love your stuff, this is brilliant. I'm never disappointed in your stories.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Great to hear that on a Monday, thank you Mike.

Kipper on 28-08-2015
The Confession
Harry.
Me too!
Michael.

Author's Reply:


The Last Word (posted on: 31-07-15)
Miss Emily's notebooks.

The Last Word Harry Buschman Miss Emily has been up in her room all day. Alone in the room she writes in. With a world of other things to do and places to visit and people to see she has chosen to stay up there, alone and apart from life. 

Her housekeeper, Mrs. McFadden, has shaken down the fire in the dining room and set the table for dinner. Miss Emily will come down and eat alone as usual. There may be a phone call – she may raise her head to listen, but she will choose not to answer it. There may be an invitation in the mail, but she will not open the envelope. She will eat sparingly, "Hardly enough to keep a bird alive," Mrs. Mcfadden will say under her breath. Then, she will rise from the table and walk to the tall windows at the end of the room. She will stare out at the leaf covered lawn and into the distant trees. 

Mrs. McFadden will ask, "Will that be all, Miss Emily?" 

She will turn from the window, and with the saddest of smiles, say, "Yes, that's all, Mrs. McFadden. Supper was delicious, thank you." She will walk to the foot of the stair and say, "I'm going upstairs now. I'll ring if I need you. "

Mrs. McFadden will watch her until she sees the light of the writing lamp flicker on, then she will clear the table. She will say to herself, (as she has said a thousand times) "Poor woman. Such a waste." She knows Miss Emily writes up there, but to write all day, every day? ''What can there be to write about? She sees nothing of life, what can she have to write about?'' 

She will clear the table and carry the dishes to the kitchen and put them in the sink with her own. After washing the dishes there will be nothing more to do until morning. She will sit there and think of her own past life, of her children, now grown and gone away – and her husband, dead now these seventeen years. She might think to herself, if I were a writer what things I would have to write. The ups and downs – so many good times, times to share. 

On this particular night the call bell rang and Mrs. Mcfadden, lost in thought, suddenly realized that Miss Emily wanted her. She hurried to the living room and climbed the stair to the door of Miss Emily's writing room and knocked before entering. 

 "You rang, Miss Emily." 

"These notebooks. I want them burned, Mrs. McFadden – all of them." There were notebooks everywhere, on the bed, on her writing desk, even a pile of them by the door. "I'll help you down with them, Mrs. McFadden, then we'll burn them in the fireplace – one by one, until the last book is burned."

 The two women sat by the fire stirring the ashes. Mrs. McFadden looked at Miss Emily from time to time and shook her head. When she could stand it no longer, she finally spoke up... "Miss Emily, pardon a stupid old woman asking, but you have been writing in your notebooks for many years. For all the years I have been here; and now you burn them up, every one. I don't understand...." 

"I don't know, Mrs. McFadden," she said, stirring the ashes once more. "They were not written to be read. It was a way of remembering the days and living them over again. It was all I hoped for. Very few of us ever get to live life over again."
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sweetwater on 01-08-2015
The Last Word
I very rarely read prose, but something drew me in, and I am so glad it did, every word held me transfixed with their lives. Such a seemingly simple story holding such a lot. I was completely there with them. Sue 🙂

Author's Reply:
Very glad you liked it. Thank you for the comment.


The Lord's Press (posted on: 17-07-15)
The first real job of his lifetime, and what did he do?

The Lord's Press by Harry Buschman Warren Davidson graduated six months ago and his patience was wearing thin. He was losing hope of ever making a living in the newspaper business. He was sure he'd spend the rest of his life in Mason's car wash. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, came a personal letter from Babylon Kingston, publisher of the Beesville Trumpet. He wanted a staff writer! It seemed too good to be true. Warren grew up with the Beesville Trumpet. It came rolled up tightly with a rubber band on the front porch every morning. Everybody called it ''The Trump,'' and it was the only newspaper in town that had a Sunday edition with two full pages of comics. Warren's mother washed and starched his newest white shirt. He wore his Sunday shoes and a Christmas tie that had never been out of the gift box. The letter from Mr. Kingston said to be in his waiting room at ten o'clock. Warren was there when the building opened at eight. ''My, you're early Mr. Davidson. What time was your appointment?'' Mr. Kingston's secretary was a gray-haired woman with apple red cheeks wearing a flowered print dress. She carried tiny eyeglasses attached to a long black ribbon tied to a cheap looking cameo pin on her shoulder. She gave the impression, (to Warren at least) of being a poor relative of the Kingston family––a widowed aunt perhaps, or somebody's stepmother. But as early as Warren was, he was barely earlier than Emil Arnsacker who burst red-faced into the waiting room just as Warren sat down. Warren knew Emil from Limestone State College. He graduated a year before Warren. It would have been two years, but Emil had to make up math after a disastrous senior semester trying to deal with advanced calculus combined with a shotgun marriage to a town girl who worked in the school cafeteria. Warren hoped he wasn't going to be the competition. They greeted each other nervously, like rookie gladiators waiting to enter the arena. After a quick sizing up they ignored each other and concentrated on the birdlike movements of Mr. Kingston's secretary. She fiddled with the things on her desk, straightened her papers and sharpened her pencils, then she suddenly jumped up and pulled the window blind up to let the morning sun in. ''I'm sure he'll be in any moment,'' she said. ''If you boys would like to freshen up there's a wash room down the hall.'' Emil seemed to be on pins and needles and he grew more fidgety as they waited. He leaned over to Warren and said he had a touch of diarrhea, and he thought he'd sit in the john awhile. ''Come get me please when Mr. Kingston gets here? I need this job so bad, you have no idea.'' Warren had a pretty good idea. From all he'd heard, Emil's wife was due any day now, she was on maternity leave from the cafeteria and Emil was walking on hot coals. Warren sat thinking of Emil in the toilet stall, probably rehearsing what he planned to say––as he slowly dehydrated. "Just my luck," Warren thought. "They'll pick Emil for sure. He's desperate. Mr. Kingston knows his family. The whole town knows his problem––just my damn luck." Warren remembered waking to find his father sitting by his bedside this morning. He was on his way to work even before Warren struggled to get out of bed, and there he was. ''Just wanted to wish you luck son,'' he said. His father worked all his life in the strip mine. He knew nothing about the newspaper business but he wanted Warren to know he said a prayer for him and wished him well. He thought warmly of his parents and their rare tolerance for people in all walks of life. Neither of them objected to Warren's youthful wish to be a newspaper man. If he told them he wanted to be an astronaut it would have been perfectly all right with them. Warren's thoughts drifted far from the Publisher's office of the Beesville Trumpet. He thought back to his small family and their house on Maple Road. Life, until now at least had been smooth and simple from childhood right up to graduation from Limestone State. The tender years in public school, county fairs and Saturday morning fishing trips with his father at Waloon Lake. The teenage years – he thought back to the night he went to the movies with Dorothy Lowder. She impetuously kissed him goodnight at her back door. He was so surprised he never got a chance to kiss her back. He stood there, he recalled, like a deer caught in the headlights. Now, these innocent chapters in his life were over and done with. They were years he would remember with pleasure forever, but right now he was entering a new and serious phase – his career as a journalist for the Trumpet. It scared him a little. He was startled by the sound of someone gargling in Mr. Kingston's office. Was it Mr. Kingston? How did he get in there without passing through his waiting room? He glanced quickly at the elderly lady who was in the process of arranging a tiny bouquet of lilies of the valley. She smiled knowingly at Warren... ''He often comes in the back way––to avoid, you know, people sitting in the waiting room.'' The gargling continued. It reminded Warren of feeding time for the animals in the County zoo. It was suddenly amplified a hundred fold when Mr. Kingston switched on his intercom. ''You out there, Becky Mae? Aaaaargh –Aaaaargh. Hear me? The King man needs his coffee!'' So that was her name, she must certainly be an aunt, an old one, one of his wife's relatives maybe. Becky Mae hurriedly turned the intercom off and leaped to her feet, ran to the percolator in the corner and poured a cup of coffee with trembling hands. As she passed Warren with the steaming cup she mumbled nervously, ''He'll be wantin' to see you and the other young man soon's he gets his coffee down. He ain't a bit of good without him first havin' his coffee.'' ''I'll tell Mr. Arnsacker.'' Warren got up and walked down the hall to get Emil. He peered into the newsroom on the way, it was nearly empty. Well, he thought – it's early. Yes that was true, but he could also see that even if every desk was occupied there wouldn't be many people there. Weren't newsrooms always humming with people – phones ringing – copy boys running from desk to desk? That's the way it was in the movies. Emil was alone in the men's room. His heavy breathing and stifled grunts were unsettling. Warren tapped on the door of the stall and told him that Mr. Kingston was in. ''Take deep breaths, Emil. It's now or never.'' He wanted to be fair, but after all, Emil was competition. Baby or no baby. Back in the waiting room, Becky Mae was at her desk. ''Where's Mr. Arnsacker?'' ''He's on his way, ma'am. Will he see me first, ma'am, after all, I was here first?'' ''Oh, I'm sure he'll want to see you both together.'' Again, gargling came from the intercom, mixed with a growling and clearing of a throat. Finally, the unmistakable sound of a snort and a spit. ''Them young whippersnappers here yet Becky Mae? Send 'em in together, I ain't got all day. God's waitin''' Emil returned from the wash room mopping a film of perspiration from his brow. Warren stood up and waited for Becky Mae, ''Should we wait for you Ma'am?'' Warren asked. ''Oh goodness no! No. It's you fellas he wants t'see. I ain't goin' in there lessen I has to. Jes' march y'selves right on in.'' In spite of his disability Emil managed to get to the door before Warren. He twisted the knob but the door wouldn't open. Becky Mae spoke up, ''He must have the lock on. I'll ring the buzzer.'' It seemed to Warren their entrance to the inner sanctum of the Trumpet was off to a rocky start. ''The first one in gets shot at,'' Mr. Kingston laughed. ''You fellas seem a little anxious. Whyn't'cha pull y'selves a couple of chairs over here and set down 'fore y'break somethin'.'' The room was dark. Heavy green blinds were drawn against the morning sun. Light crept in around their edges and sent shafts of golden dusty light across the room. Warren could catch the scent of hard liquor somewhere in the room, and wondered if it came from Mr. Kingston or some hidden cache in a closet or perhaps in the bookcase behind his desk. Mr. Kingston was a huge man, nearly bald, with eyes set very close together. He held an unlit cigar between his teeth in the very center of his mouth. He stared at the two boys as though measuring them for a suit. After a long look, he removed the cigar and leaned forward with both elbows on the desk. ''My name is Babylon, boys. My father was a man of God, and so, by God am I.'' He noisily swallowed the last of his coffee and sat his cup in his saucer upside down. Next to the saucer was a freshly opened bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. As yet neither Warren nor Emil had introduced themselves. Mr. Kingston poured himself a Bourbon, then squinted at both young men. ''Y'ain't much t'look at boys. Who's who, or what's what is more like it. I assume both you boys were baptized, I mean, y'do have names don'tcha?'' ''I'm Warren Davidson, sir.'' Warren turned to Emil, who still looked under the weather. ''Emil Arnsacker, sir.'' His voice was slightly strangulated. ''Whyn't you sit closer to me – over here,'' he pointed to two chairs at the side of his desk. ''You look sick, Arnsacker, sumthin' gnawin' on ya? Emil was more than eager to explain. He went on about the sleepless nights, his wife's discomfort, living with her parents, and not being able to afford ... etc. ... etc. Mr. Kingston poured himself a shot of Bourbon and downed it quickly. ''Payin' the price for it, huh Arnsacker? Who would'a thought a little thing like a dick could get'cha into so much trouble.'' He picked up a paper and read, more to himself than anyone, ''Warren Davidson, huh?'' Warren nodded. ''You look like you got it all together, boy. No strings on you I bet, fancy free.'' ''I'm single sir.'' ''Like to write, boy?'' ''Yes sir.'' ''It's a gift. I ain't got it. I know what I wan't said but I can't say it.'' ''Frustrating.'' ''What's that mean?'' Warren reddened. ''Oh. I mean, when you can't say what you want to – it must be, well, frustrating.'' Kingston leaned back in his chair, his brows knitted in thought. He polished off his glass of Bourbon and stood up and bellowed, ''Arnsacker! I want you for the newsroom. It's a good job, you'll like it. Go out there and ask for Joe Willie Keefer.'' Emil, after listening to the conversation between Mr. Kingston and Warren, had just about given up all hope of landing a job with the Trumpet. He nearly stepped on his own feet getting to the door. ''Thank you, Mr. Kingston, you won't be disappointed, I promise.'' He cast a quick triumphant glance at Warren. ''Sorry Davidson, that's the way it goes I guess.'' Mr. Kingston waited for Emil to leave. His eyes following him much as a cat's eyes would watch a mouse going back into its hole. When the door clicked behind Emil, Mr. Kingston turned to Warren and smiled. ''A kid like that don't know when he's been screwed. Twenty years from now he'll still be wanderin' around the news room takin' shit from Joe Willie.'' He lit his cigar and poured himself another Bourbon. ''I know y'kin' write kid; I got friends at State and there ain't much they know that I don't. Trouble with me is I never had no formal education. I know exactly what I want to say, but I have this thing you called, what was it? ... festation.'' He held his cigar in front of him and contemplated the growing ash, then he tossed off the second Bourbon. ''I think. You write. Get me?'' ''Not entirely. Mr. Kingston.'' ''I want to send my message out to Beesville every day, an article on the editorial page devoted to God Almighty.'' He blew a perfect smoke ring which drifted across the room; Warren watched it change color as it passed through a shaft of sunlight. ''In our schools I wanna see a Bible on every teacher's desk. A Bible laid out so all the kids can see it. I wanna see, spread out from wall to wall on the proscenium arch in the auditorium – right across the whole of the stage, so every one of the 400 people sittin' out there in the audience can see it.'' ''See what, Mr. Kingston?'' ''Jesus is my Lord!'' ''It's unconstitutional Mr. Kingston.'' ''What is?'' ''To mix religion in the school curriculum, Mr. Kingston.'' ''Bullshit! That ain't the way God looks at it!'' There was a hard edge in Mr. Kingston's voice and Warren wished he hadn't brought it up. ''It's like this, Davidson... '' The hard edge in Mr. Kingston's voice softened somewhat, but now there was a feverish look in his eyes. ''He talks to me, y'know?'' ''God does?'' ''Betch yer ass, He does.'' ''He doesn't talk to me, Mr. Kingston.'' ''Course He don't! You don't run a newspaper, I do! Why the hell would He want to talk to you? Every afternoon about about quittin' time I set back in my chair and put my feet up here on this mahogany desk of mine and have a word with the Lord.'' Warren had to face his first problem as a man. It was the first time in his life that he could remember a still small voice within him, telling him that this man in front of him was a fruit cake. He had seen a few nuts in his experience, harmless nuts, the kind who walked through town waving their arms and talking to the air. There was Clemens who used to surprise everyone by running through the car wash before anyone could stop him. But here was Mr. Kingston; the publisher of the Beesville Trumpet, with the power of the press behind him! God dropping in every afternoon to whisper in his ear while he sat there with his feet up on his desk... It could be his first job on a newspaper. Just what he always wanted! All he had to do was go along with Mr. Kingston, kid him along, maybe he would change his mind. Maybe today was just a bad day – a hangover maybe. Tomorrow might be a better day... ''There's somethin' special about me, '' Mr. Kingston went on. ''The Lord knows I can get His holy word out to the people of Beesville. Get His word back into the Constitution. You know about evolution, dont'cha?'' ''Yessir, I know.'' ''The hell y'do! It's poppycock! The Devil's work! Look at me, Goddamn it! Do I look like I got monkey blood in me. God told me – personal mind you, that He made me, and you too, Warren – fresh outta the mold. Just like he made Adam.'' Mr. Kingston put his cigar down and raised his pig-like eyes to Heaven. ''I wanna get that message out to every man, woman and child in Beesville. Whadd'ya say boy?'' Warren stood up. His knees were quavery and the room swam before his eyes. ''I don't think so, Mr. Kingston – I don't think God talks to you.'' He reached out for the back of his chair and steadied himself. Mr. Kingston lowered his eyes to stare at him, and Warren could see their bloodshot rims. He could also detect a nervousness in Mr. Kingston's hands as they reached for the Bourbon bottle. ''I think you talk to yourself, Mr. Kingston.'' ''Git'cha ass outta here, y'little shit.'' Warren started for the door. ''Y'missin' out on the chance of a lifetime. A chance t'speak for the Lord – fuck off!'' He hadn't realized how dark it was in Mr. Kingston's office; the light was blinding in the waiting room. Becky Mae looked up at him sweetly. ''Well young man. How did it go, are you with us?'' She smiled at him like a doting aunt. ''I knew it was going to be you but I didn't want to say anything while the other young man was with you. Mr. Kingston's had his eye on you for some time.'' ''He must have thought I was somebody else, Ma'am.'' Warren looked in the newsroom as he walked out of the building. Emil was in there talking to an old man in a vest wearing a green eye shade. Emil already had his coat off and his sleeves rolled up. Before walking over to Maple Road and heading home, Warren stopped at the car wash on the edge of town and told Mr. Mason he'd be in after lunch.
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Black Out (posted on: 03-07-15)
A long-winded short story concerning the New York black-out from a generation ago and how it affected the life of a well-to-do couple from the upper east side.

Black Out Harry Buschman Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone's marriage was marked by quiet disenchantment. It was not a wash-out, but it lacked that ultimate degree of satisfaction that marriage promises but rarely provides. Their vague feelings of regret were shared by many of their upscale neighbors living on Manhattan's exclusive east side – they labored long and hard to get to where they were only to find it wasn't where they wanted to be after all. At times Mrs. Gladstone grieved over the opportunities that slipped by and in the her idle moments she often replayed them. Mr. Gladstone had picked up the ball and run with it only to drop it before he scored. She did not reveal her disappointment in a mean or bitter way, and never in the presence of their friends; instead, she would emit a long drawn sigh or a bitter smile to reveal her wish for something that might have been, and wasn't. It was a deadly feminine tool, well worn and certainly powerful enough to remind her husband that he was chiefly responsible for their failure to achieve social acceptance. Therefore, receiving an invitation to the Henderson's dinner party this Friday was a personal achievement for Mrs. Gladstone. She accomplished it simply by removing her name as a candidate for chair-ladyship of the New York Chapter of The American Poets Society which permitted Mrs. Henderson to run for the post unopposed. She was sure the Henderson's Friday dinner invitation was in response to her act of personal sacrifice and it would signal a step up for her, and her husband, in the social world of New York. It would be a paradise indeed to sit next to a poet at a chapter luncheon instead of at the end of the table near the swinging kitchen door. Mrs Gladstone was sure her sacrifice would pay handsome dividends in the end. The Gladstones stood at the elevator in the lobby of The Barclay on this warm Friday evening. Mrs. Gladstone noted that the Barclay's elevator was operated by a silver-haired gentleman in a white uniform with polished brass buttons, while theirs was self-service and she had to push the buttons herself. Furthermore, she often found herself sharing it with delivery men or unwashed service personnel in overalls. Her anticipation had already been dampened this evening by the disgraceful behavior of her husband and the taxi driver who drove them there. They played double or nothing for the taxi fare, and as usual Mr. Henderson lost. To make matters worse, this degrading incident was discussed within earshot of the Barclay's doorman. They arrived at the 38th floor. The hushed elevator doors opened and the operator saluted the Gladstones smartly as they left, reminding them that the Henderson's apartment was 38A. ''The gold door at the end of the hall, sir.'' ''All too fucking posh for my taste,'' mumbled Mr. Gladstone under his breath. Not far enough under, however, that his wife didn't hear it plainly. She, in turn, reminded him the Henderson's must have a lovely view of the river from the 38th floor, while their living room window overlooked the air-conditioning equipment on the roof of the adjoining building. The Henderson's door was not really gold of course. All the doors to apartments above the 35th floor were painted gold as a status symbol. These privileged Barclay's tenants also received a neatly folded Wall Street Journal gratis at their door every morning – except Sunday. The Henderson's uniformed maid answered the door and her normally aloof expression switched to one of bewilderment and she fumbled for something to say. Instead of admitting them, she said, ''Wait there, I get Madam.'' Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone immediately sensed something was wrong. They glanced at each other nervously and Mr. Gladstone remarked something to the effect of the situation being out of joint – ''Why do I feel like I'm selling girl scout cookies?'' he asked. It wasn't the warmest of greetings for invited guests to a dinner party, no doubt about that. As the Gladstones stood shifting their feet on the thick carpeting outside the golden door of the Henderson's apartment, they had the uneasy feeling that they would not be eating dinner there tonight. Mrs. Henderson could be heard inside accompanied by piano music, ''The Gladstones! Really! Whatever for?'' The piano hesitated, ''Oh, go on Leopold – don't stop – I'll just be a moment.'' She appeared at the door in lounging pajamas with an unlit Galouise in her cigarette holder ... ''Helen! Arnold! What a surprise.'' After several false starts as to why the Gladstones were unexpected, and why she wasn't dressed formally, and why her piano teacher was inside, it became clear there would be no dinner this evening. Mrs. Henderson's husband was in Cleveland! He would be back tomorrow morning! The dinner was tomorrow night! He wouldn't be in Cleveland if the dinner was tonight, now would he? ''How embarrassing. I've never made a mistake like this. If indeed I have – Helen, you or Arnold must have gotten the date wrong. I'm terribly sorry. You can make it tomorrow, can't you? I'd never forgive myself.'' Red faced and chagrined, The Gladstones said goodnight and retraced their steps to the elevator. ''I'm positive it isn't my fault, Arnold. It must be yours. Now what do we do?'' Mrs. Gladstone remarked as they stood in opposite corners of the descending elevator.'' (This time the operator ignored them completely.) Her husband casually remarked they were all dressed up with no place to go. The remark did not sit well with Mrs. Gladstone, who insisted she had planned on an evening out, complete with dinner, and under no circumstances would she go home unsatisfied. Furthermore, if her husband thought she could appear at the Henderson's golden door tomorrow night in the same gown she wore this evening, he was mistaken. ''But you bought it special, Helen,'' he reminded her. ''Just for tonight, remember?'' ''I'll buy another in the morning! How do you like that! And my hair, it will never do. I'll have to make an appointment at Antoine's tomorrow afternoon!'' In Mrs. Gladstone's play book no respectable woman could appear in the same dress on the following night, even if her husband misread the invitation in the first place. She suddenly turned to him when the elevator doors opened and asked him, ''If it's not your fault, Arnold – although it has to be. Do you suppose – ?'' ''She did it on purpose you mean?'' ''It would be just like her.'' ''Didn't that kind of thing go out of style with the Machiavellis?'' ''I don't know. I don't go back that far.'' Her husband suggested that maybe they could eat at home. '' ...not in these clothes. I'm dressed, Arnold, Do you expect me to cook supper in the kitchen. It's cook's night out. We are out, we are therefore – dining out!'' Across the street, a subdued blue neon sign announcing ''Chez Internationale'' beckoned them. They were tempted, but skeptical. They were in unfamiliar territory. The restaurants they frequented were midtown, all of them bordering on Fifth Avenue. This was Tudor City. United Nations territory – chez this, and chez that – alien and unpredictable. Therefore, Mr. Gladstone in deference to Mrs. Gladstone, asked her, ''What do you think, dear, okay?'' ''Well, they do have an awning. That's something.'' All the midtown restaurants had awnings from the front door all the way out to the curb. It was a sign of status. She thought it might apply here as well. ''Let's go for it,'' said Mr. Gladstone as he held the door for Mrs. Gladstone. Save for another couple with a small boy, the restaurant was deserted. Mrs. Gladstone hesitated – ''I don't know Arnold.'' ''Madam – Monsieur – '' A distraught, dark-suited man, possibly the head waiter, yet obviously a man concealing great emotional turmoil burst through the kitchen door. He weaved his way through the unoccupied dining room and appeared at their side. ''Please be seated. Anywhere will do. Reservations are not required this evening. As you can see, we are trying to recover some degree of normalcy. I assure you everything is under control. Here? Or there perhaps – I will light a candle. We've had such an emotional afternoon.'' The Gladstones reluctantly decided to stay. They chose a table as far from the couple with the small boy as possible. The distraught head waiter confided to the Gladstones that his name was Gregor and he would see to it that they would receive his personal attention. ''Our sommelier is recovering in the kitchen, Monsieur, but here is our wine list, it is second to none in the city – and very modestly priced let me assure you.'' He went on to explain that in the cellar of the Chez Internationale rested rare Cabernet Sauvignons at only thirty dollars a bottle, and – ''A Bordeaux, Monsieur for $69.99 ... its nose has an astounding intensity, reminiscent of cigar smoke and roasted coffee beans.'' Mrs. Gladstone, after studying the menu, cleared her throat, ''Gregor, may I ask what was the problem in the kitchen?'' ''Madame?'' ''You mentioned there was a difficulty in the kitchen.'' ''An altercation, Madame. May I suggest the rack of lamb?'' ''An altercation?'' '' er, yes Madame. Old wounds – dating back to the great war. Cook is a dedicated patriot – Greek you know. The pastry chef is a Turk. The sommelier is French of course – the combination was unstable.'' ''Was?'' ''I'm afraid so – there was an altercation, as I mentioned,'' he turned to Mr. Gladstone. ''The Bordeaux, sir? I'm sure I can reduce the price if Monsieur and Madame have it with the dinner.'' ''Sounds good,'' said Mr. Gladstone. ''Did you hear what he said, Arnold – there was a fight in the kitchen! Someone may be dead – aren't you listening?'' ''Not really, dear. I'm looking at the wine list. We're having a hell of a time getting dinner tonight, you know that?'' Mr. Gladstone looked up from the wine list in surprise to see his wife standing. ''What is it dear? Are we leaving?'' ''For all I know there's a dead man in the kitchen. Do you think I can eat under such conditions? Arnold, I want to leave now. I want to get a cab and go to some restaurant we've been to before.'' Mr. Gladstone put the wine list down and wearily got to his feet. He looked at the head waiter and shrugged his shoulders philosophically. ''I guess we're leaving, Gregor. My wife is sensitive about such things, even when they're said in jest.'' The Gladstones walked through the deserted restaurant and Gregor, professional to the core, reached the door before them, opened it and bowed stiffly at the waist. ''Please do come again – there will be better days I assure you, Madame.'' The door closed behind them, and as if it had broken a connection, every light in the street went out! The light inside the Chez Internationale and its blue neon sign in the window, street lights, traffic lights, lights in the high rise buildings around them, even the lights in the Barclay Apartment across the street, where presumably Mrs. Henderson's piano lesson was suddenly interrupted. The Gladstones clung to each other in the sudden darkness. ''This is definitely not our night, old girl,'' was all Mr. Gladstone could think of to say. He realized that for the first time in his married life he must make decisions in a situation he'd never faced before. ''I better not blow this one,'' he thought to himself. ''It would be a good idea to stay away from the curb, Helen,'' he stated in a voice that surprised him with its ring of experience and authority. He took his wife's arm and steered her close to the dark wall of the Chez Internationale. ''The traffic can't see where it's going,'' he explained. ''A bus might be up over the curb and run us down.'' Mrs. Gladstone was more than willing to take orders from anyone, even if they came from a man as unreliable as her husband. It seemed to her that it was natural for a man to cope with emergencies like this, in spite of the fact that to her knowledge he had never faced one before. She suddenly turned to her husband's voice in the dark and said, ''Arnold. Something's at my leg!'' A disembodied voice in the dark replied, ''It is my dog, Madam. A thousand pardons – he is as blind as you in the dark.'' The incident didn't seem any stranger than the rest of the night to Mrs. Gladstone. She managed to put her husband between herself and the dog. ''Please see to your animal,'' said Mr. Gladstone.'' ''He is a 'seeing-eye' dog sir – I'm afraid that's impossible.'' ''You're both blind then?'' ''When it's dark, yes. He is as blind as I in the dark. I assume all of us are blind at the moment.'' ''My name is Gladstone, Arnold Gladstone. My wife and I live in town. Once a week we go out for dinner, I think we picked a bad night.'' ''Barry Hyper here. My dog's name is Escamilio, it was his idea really – his name I mean. I wrote three different names on three pieces of paper – and my dog picked 'Escamilio.'' Mr. Hyper reached over to pet his dog who was trying to get another whiff of Mrs. Gladstone. ''You might wonder how I knew he picked Escamilio, since I could not read the note. The amazing thing is, I kept repeating the three names and Escamilio was the only name he responded to.'' The blind man straightened up again and stared into the blackness. ''Life asks as many questions as it answers, Mr. Gladstone. Do you have a dog?'' ''I had one. Many years ago, when I was a boy I had a cairn terrier – why did you bother to write the names if.... ?'' ''Then you were a shepherd.'' ''Oh no. I was a city boy, the dog was purely a pet. I don't think he'd have recognized a sheep if he saw one.'' ''Nor would I, Mr. Gladstone. Nor would Escamilio for that matter. Gladstone is a very proper name, isn't it? Formal, I mean. Mine is not. Hyper, to me, infers a person is obsessed – a certain bubbling inside about to erupt. There, there Escamilio...'' Mr. Hyper attempted to distract his dog. ''Leave Mrs. Gladstone to Mr. Gladstone. You have other duties, pressing dog duties, remember. Guide me. Can you guide me, Escamilio, guide me in the dark, or must I guide you?'' Escamilio slowly, and somewhat indecisively walked off with Barry Hyper in tow. Together again, Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone considered their next move. ''This is ridiculous,'' Mrs. Gladstone remarked, ''can't we get a cab and get out of here?'' ''Traffic's at a standstill, my love. It's hard enough to drive in this town when things are working, It's suicide without traffic lights.'' ''Let's see if Florence Henderson is through with her piano teacher.'' ''Are you willing to climb thirty eight stories, Helen? That's seventy six flights – two flights to a story.'' ''Let's find a policeman, or a church. Churches are always open aren't they? You can always depend on a church in times of trouble.'' ''I'd settle for a movie, the seats are more comfortable – and they've got rest rooms. I could use a rest room about now.'' ''Let's walk,'' Mrs. Henderson said. ''Maybe we'll get lucky.'' So they walked. They walked in the dark, in the half-light of candle lit store fronts, flashlights and disembodied voices. Crowds gathered around portable radios. ''Even Detroit – from Maine to Virginia – the airports – the west side of Staten Island has just lost power.'' The Gladstones kept well back from the curb. They held each other's hand for the first time in many years and tried to work their way back home. In less than ten minutes Mrs. Gladstone discovered she could not walk another step in her shoes, they were strapless dinner pumps, not walking shoes. They stopped at a Nike's sport shoe store, open, but lit only by a candle. She chose a supremely comfortable pair that appeared to be black and yellow. They were inappropriate to the rest of her attire but it was not apparent in the darkness. Mr. Gladstone had to pay by check – the credit card machine refused to function without power. The East Side Cinema had thrown its doors wide and they found seats in the back. They sat and watched a young woman with an acoustic guitar who sang folk songs on the narrow stage in front of the dark screen. She asked for requests but none were forthcoming. Emergency lighting flickered weakly from from the side walls of the theater; the scene was reminiscent of old Battle of Britain WWII movies. ''If she'd be quiet we could take a nap,'' said Mr. Gladstone. ''I don't think I'll ever sleep again. Too much has happened. I will never sleep again.'' Mrs. Gladstone hadn't sat down since they left the restaurant and the comfort of the plush upholstery had a telling effect on her. She turned to her husband and used his first name for only the third time this evening. ''Arnold, I'd really like to go home. I don't like the way this evening is going at all.'' ''It's twenty-seven blocks in the dark, Helen. Feel up to it''? ''You mean walk I suppose.'' ''In the dark – and when we get there we're really not there, you know.'' ''I know, there will be no elevator, only stairs, but maybe there will be a miracle. We're due for a miracle.'' Mr. Gladstone stood up and offered her his hand. ''C'mon love. Let's give it a go.'' They walked out of the theater and into the dark street again. The city was in turmoil. Nothing that was supposed to work, worked. It was like a biological experiment that could no longer continue because a simple thing like a fuse had blown. The mice were on their own. In the dark and left to figure things out for themselves. On the long walk home, Mr. Gladstone remarked to his wife that New York City was a lovely place to live so long as nothing went wrong. ''You go along,'' he said, ''never giving it a thought. Everything ticking along like a Rolex – and all of a sudden...'' ''The hostess tells you it's tomorrow,'' replied Mrs. Gladstone. ''Or there's a fight in the kitchen,'' added Mr. Gladstone. ''Or you meet a blind man with a four-legged nose.'' ''Imagine being a seeing eye dog in a black-out,'' he smiled to himself when he remembered the incident. ''Do you suppose they spay them.'' ''Not this one.'' So the conversation went, block after tedious block. By the time they reached their midtown apartment they were sick of the black-out and their miserable evening. They were hungry, and thirsty, and tired, and New York City itself. The landlord advised them to stay downstairs in the the lobby. ''All power is off, folks. Can't get the generator to work. There's nothing you can do up there anyway. No water. Pumps are out. You can't cook. You can't use the john. You're safer down here.'' He tried to smile. ''Ain't much of a fun city tonight.'' Mr. Gladstone nudged his wife, ''Let's see if the German deli is open. I could use a Pastrami and a Heineken.'' ... and so they watched the chilly dawn break somewhere over Brooklyn from the dirty window of Scherer's take-out German Delicatessen. The beer was not quite as cold as it should have been, nor was the pastrami piled as high as they liked it, but the Gladstones were in no mood to complain. The long night would pass and, given time, somehow the people in charge of such things would put everything right again. They sat in the dimness of the dawn, their trust in things as they knew them had been shaken. They would find it hard to push a button, turn a switch or flush a toilet with the same blind confidence they once did. But it was all they knew how to do, they'd have to be satisfied with their dependency. Daylight returned, but not the power. Mr. Scherer graciously offered the Gladstones the use of his combined men and women's toilet facilities while he offered a confused and disorganized interpretation of the cause and effect of the previous evening's power failure. ''Infrastructure,'' he shouted as he re-arranged yesterday's bagels behind the glass window, ''You would think somebody is watching out. How long would a car run if you didn't put in new plugs – a distributor cap – a battery now and then?'' He straightened up. ''Tell me. Do you think these bagels look a day old? You can fool some of the people …''You would think somebody is watching out how long would a car run if you didn't put in new plugs – a distributor cap – a battery now and then?'' Mr. Scherer looked beyond the bagels and out to the dark street. ''The sun will be up soon and maybe somebody will find the short in the wiring. A fuse maybe, a switch he didn't pull, or pulled when he shouldn't pull.'' Mr. Gladstone turned to his wife. ''Scherer's got a point, Helen. Fact is, it runs until it don't run any more and we can't last a day if it don't.'' Instead of answering Mr. Scherer, the Gladstones looked thoughtfully at the weak light dawning in the east. They considered the day ahead and the night just past. They balanced their fragility and their ability to exist when things went wrong. ''The indians could do it, couldn't they? What's wrong with us?'' Mr. Gladstone asked no one in particular. He turned to Mr. Scherer who still contemplated his day-old bagels. ''Mrs. Gladstone and I will both have one – with a schmeer and lox on the side. Life must go on Mr. Scherer.''
Archived comments for Black Out
Mikeverdi on 03-07-2015
Black Out
You tell a great story Harry, always pleased to see your name, pure entertainment 🙂
Mike

Author's Reply:

sirat on 05-07-2015
Black Out
There seems to be a bit of repetition and confusion in the third paragraph from the end, but the tale held my attention as yours always do. My feeling though was that you were trying to make some point that went over my head. Is it just a small slice of New York life, or is something more intended?

Author's Reply:
I believe there's a good bit of confusion from the beginning to the end. From the mistaken invitation through the unpleasantness in the kitchen and the blind seeing eye dog and the day old bagels, life can be confusing to people in stressful situations whether they are well-to-do or not. It was a trying night as I well recall.

expat on 12-07-2015
Black Out
Another very readable story. I particularly liked the restaurant 'incident' section, in which we knew what happened without being told.
Masterly writing all the way through.

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much, expat – very glad you liked it, it was a bad day for all.


Rosemary's Baby (posted on: 26-06-15)
All that glitters is not gold

Rosemary's Baby Harry Buschman Agnes couldn't wait to get to the phone. She fumbled dialing Beatrice's number and had to do it over again. "Beatrice! I couldn't wait to call you," she bubbled breathlessly. "What have you been up to, Agnes? Ernie at his old tricks again?" Ernie was Agnes's husband and he did get himself in a lot of trouble in Westlake Village. "No way Beatrice, it's the new baby. Rosemary's baby ... I just saw it. She was out walking it the stroller this afternoon." Agnes paused for another breath. "You'll never believe it." "I'll bet it's cute ... she's got a hunk of a husband." "Agnes, it's a monster. You'll have to see it yourself." In defense of Agnes it was a strange looking child. A shock of coarse red hair down to its shoulders. Big shoe button eyes. A smile that went from one ear to another––if indeed it had ears. There was no sign of them. When Agnes asked Rosemary if it was a boy or a girl, Rosemary shrugged her shoulders and said the doctors were still working on that. "Everything in good time," she added. "We've been waiting so long for a baby, we can wait a little longer to find out whether it's a boy or a girl." Everybody in town was anxious to see Rosemary's baby and by the time they did they were well aware of what to expect so they practiced their gushing responses before they stopped her in the street. Even the menfolk that hung around Westlake Auto Repair passed around a few observant remarks ... "helluva lookin' kid, ain't it .... jeez, I'd throw it back if it wuz mine." Time passed. Rosemary and her husband mutually agreed that the baby was a boy, because it couldn't possibly pass as a girl. They named it Andy ... and the infant picked the name "Andy" out of his father's hat, so you could say he chose the name himself. As time dragged on he grew up. He did well in school. Excelled in athletics, but the girls kept well clear of him even though he finished Westlake high school as the star quarterback and played trumpet in the band. The girls thought he was too weird to date ... the thought of kissing him goodnight would send them into gales of laughter. But he was granted a full tuition and board grant to McGill University and achieved a PhD degree in biotechnology. His monograph was delivered in French, a language he only learned a week before his dissertation. He went on to Pfizer Pharmaceuticals as chief toxicologist and developed many life saving and prolonging procedures, finally winning the Nobel Prize for medicine last year. When the news reached Westlake Village, the flush of reflected glory spread its warmth to his family and friends. Agnes called his mother and father immediately ... "Dear Rosemary," she said. "I knew from the day I first saw him that he was destined for greatness, I remember calling Beatrice to give her the good ...." There was a click on the other end of the line.
Archived comments for Rosemary's Baby

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Recovery Room (posted on: 19-06-15)
A chess game with the devil.

Recovery Room Harry Buschman 
 Death stared at the board and moved his pawn to King four. 

''Why are you playing white?'' Mr. Duncan said nervously, ''It gives you a slight advantage you know.'' 

''I always have a slight advantage.''

 ''I think it's unfair,'' Mr. Duncan said. ''After all, I'm playing for my life.'' 

''Would you expect to have an advantage over death?'' 

Mr. Duncan shifted in his seat. ''I haven't played chess in years. You probably play every day.''

 Death looked at him confidently. ''That's right. Sometimes three and four times a day. I moved my Pawn to King four, are you going to play or are you conceding already.'' 

''Oh no! I'll play. I don't have a chance at all if I don't play.'' 

''That's right.''

Mr. Duncan moved his Pawn to Queen's Bishop three. ''Are we playing by the clock?'' he asked. 

''No need for that. It's just a friendly game – you against me.'' Death moved Knight to Queen's Bishop three. 

''Wait, can we start over? I know what you're going to do next and I really don't have a good defense against that.'' 

''You're trying to delay the inevitable, Mr. Duncan. You agreed to the operation, didn't you?''

 ''Yes, but ...'' 

''The doctor told you there was no guarantee. Didn't you agree to go ahead with it?'' 

''What choice did I have?'' 

''You could have said no. Some people do - they take their chances. A few months, a year maybe. You wanted more. You lost.''

 Mr. Duncan stands abruptly and turns his King over. Death glares at him. ''You can't resign now, we've only just begun.''

 ''You will win. I know you will win. I don't have a chance.'' 

''That's not very sporting of you, you should play the game. Who knows?'' Death laughs at him. ''I might let you win.'' 

''No you won't. You'll play with me and just when I think I may have a chance, you'll close the trap. I don't mind dying, believe me - but I don't want to lose.'' 

Death stands and the two of them stare at each other. ''Damn you! Damn you!'' Death shouts at him. He sweeps the men off the chessboard, turns his back on Mr. Duncan and walks off. 

Mr. Duncan sits again and watches him go. There is a voice behind him, ''Mr. Duncan. Awake, Mr. Duncan?'' 

''Who is it?'' 

''Good news, Mr. Duncan.''
Archived comments for Recovery Room
ParsonThru on 19-06-2015
Recovery Room
Brilliant! Really love this, Harry. The helplessness of contemplating the odds. Very vivid. I could see the whole thing. Great writing stay with you, and this image is stuck in my mind.

Author's Reply:
Many thanks. There is a lot going on between the lines I guess...

Mikeverdi on 20-06-2015
Recovery Room
Another great story, this one I will remember,I may well be under the knife again soon it seems. Keep them coming Harry.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thank you Mike, and all my best wishes.


The First Violin (posted on: 05-06-15)
I can hear it now, so can you.

The First Violin Harry Buschman It was a chilly gray day in October on the northern Adriatic coast. A day that chilled the bones of an old Italian farmer as he sat disconsolately under a spruce tree in his barnyard. His name was Gepetto and he hummed an old song to himself, one he remembered from his boyhood days in Calabria. It was on a farm near the toe of the Italian boot. Life was easier there. The days were longer. The girls were prettier – and there was music in the air everywhere from morning 'til night. It was the music he seemed to miss most. As he hummed the old songs he was struck with a musical inspiration. He envisioned it in complete and finished form and it was played on the tail of a horse, the dried exudation of a spruce tree, and dragged across the intestines of a dead sheep. "What would happen," he considered, "... if I built a box of seasoned spruce, cut a hole in the center and stretched a dead lamb's intestines across the face of it, then if I stretched the resin-coated tail hairs of a gray male horse drawn tight on a maple stick––like the string of a cross bow, and then if I dragged them across the gut on the face of my spruce box? What would that sound like?" There was no one around to answer his question. It was a rhetorical question in any case. But because the old man was Italian he knew the answer without asking. He didn't need anyone to tell him. "It would give forth beautiful music," he answered. Yes, the old man was Italian, and as all Italians know from time immemorial, all the great questions in life can be answered in musical terms. The trials and tribulations of the barber in his shop, the gondolier, the waiter, even the organ grinder, with his monkey on a string see everything in terms of music. The old Italian sitting under a spruce tree suddenly realized that God had given him all the necessary materials to make a violin. He had never seen or heard a violin – he certainly couldn't play a violin, but with all the raw material God had given him, he sure as hell could make one.. ... and that he did.
Archived comments for The First Violin
ifyouplease on 06-06-2015
The First Violin
lovely story! enjoyed the read

Author's Reply:


The Setting Sun (posted on: 29-05-15)
We can waste our lives trying to reach it.

The Setting Sun Harry Buschman   Two men sat by the side of the road at the close of day. The younger of the two stared at the setting sun and sighed. ''Oh, how I would love to be where the sun sets. How beautiful it must be to live in Sunset Land.'' The older man thought a bit before he answered ... ''where the sun sets, you say. Hmm ... now why would a man want to go where the sun sets?'' The young man stared fixedly at the setting sun. ''Think how wonderful it must be to live where the sun sets. Look there old man, it's touching down just over the crest of that long dark hill. That's where I want to be.'' ''I think you will find it is gone when you get there. Stay here, young man––this is your home. You can watch the sun set every night from our village.'' But the young man would not be persuaded to stay. To make his home in Sunset Land was his fondest dream. It was a beautiful sight from here but he was certain it would be many times more beautiful to live where the sun set. He thought the people there would be far more handsome and intelligent than those in the simple village he lived in. So the young man set out on a journey of many years. Each night he would walk toward the setting sun. He would walk all night only to discover that the sun had risen again and hung low in the eastern sky behind him. He would question the natives every morning ... ''Tell me,'' he would ask. ''Did the sun set here last night.'' They would look at him strangely, point to the west and tell him the sun always set in the west. So he marched on, looking for the western land where the sun set. There would be days of rain or snow when the sun was nowhere to be seen, and the young man, (now growing older) would wait for it to appear again. He crossed many borders into lands that were foreign to him. There were people of different colors, different tongues and customs that were strange to him. He crossed great oceans––great mountains––burning deserts ... but to no avail. He grew old in his search for Sunset Land and he became frail and tired. He was almost convinced the sun never really set anywhere, that it was all a cruel trick and he had wasted his life in a vain and selfish attempt to satisfy a youthful whim. To his great surprise he arrived in the town of his birth one day and it occurred to him that, in walking westward, he had searched the earth around and was home again. He wanted to find the old man whose advice he had not taken when he was young. But the old man had died many years ago. That evening he sat by the side of the same road facing the western mountains and watched the sun sink over the crest of that same long dark hill he remembered from a time when he was young.
Archived comments for The Setting Sun
Mikeverdi on 29-05-2015
The Setting Sun
A sad reflective tale Harry, something of a moral in there.
If I may be so bold...
I would have finished it with a young man coming and sitting beside him saying.....
Mike

Author's Reply:

deadpoet on 31-05-2015
The Setting Sun
The grass is greener in Sunsetland no doubt. I'm still on my way to sunset land. I'd love to end up in the city of my childhood.
Your story reminds me of these Persian poets and writers- endearing and very wise.

Author's Reply:


Schmidt's Radio (posted on: 08-05-15)
The heat that brought back the old days.

Schmidt's Radio Harry Buschman Schmidt stood like a man planted in the middle of 110th Street. He felt the softness of the hot asphalt under his feet and squinted up at the fourth floor window of his apartment. It was shut tight. ''Good,'' he mumbled to himself. If anybody was up there the window would be open. It was a mid-August afternoon. 97 degrees on the thermometer in the corner drug store on 110th Street. It would be 120 in his apartment. There was nothing but the wood framed cockloft and the uninsulated black tar roof above him. Working in the mattress spring factory had been no bed of roses either, and if he had any sense at all he would turn around and walk back to the Shamrock Bar, have a beer or two and wait there until the sun went down. By nine or ten o'clock the roof would cool down a bit and the heat would be bearable. But he reminded himself that if he had any sense he wouldn't be standing here with the tar melting beneath his feet in the first place. ... and besides, he couldn't wait to get up there and turn on his radio. He was a disheveled man. Unkempt. From a passing glance it was impossible to tell if he wore a beard or needed a shave. A closer look would reveal that he hadn't had a haircut for some time. And if you looked down you would see his shabby shoes and the frayed cuffs of his jeans. ''Yes,'' you would decide, ''He's not an elderly, eccentric Ph.D after all, he's just a tramp looking for a place to eat the bucket of Kentucky fried chicken he's carrying under his arm. Schmidt shifted the container of Kentucky Fried Chicken and opened the lobby door of his four story apartment. The blended cooking smells of the three families who lived there smothered him like a musty blanket. The discordant harmony of aromas was an orchestration of cooking, moldy upholstery and winter clothes in dark closets. There were three families in the tenement; Irish, Greek and Polish – he never counted himself one of them. As he climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, each nationality achieved a certain temporary ascendancy until, on the next flight, another took over. The smell of cabbage from the O'Connor family on the first floor, the peppery smell of oregano and sour cheese from the Greco clan on the second, and last, the smell of fish from the Weinstein's. Schmidt never noticed his own personal smell, he was only sensitive to the smell of other people on the floors below him. There were times, however, when he opened the door to his apartment and thought, ''someone's been here,'' only to realize it may have been his laundry piled high in his bathroom, or maybe food that had been in the refrigerator too long. Like many men who live alone, he wasn't aware of his own bad habits. It was a little stronger tonight. Maybe it was a combination of the heat and Friday. Everybody was here on Friday – it was the night when every Jew was a king, every Greek a philosopher, and every Italian came home for the weekend with a wife and four kids. Schmidt was no scientist, but he knew the symphony of cooking smells would work their way through his apartment and eventually leave by way of the fire door to the roof. It would be a long hot night. It wouldn't be so bad if somebody invited him down for dinner once in a while. But money was tight and things were tough these days – it was hard enough feeding your own family without asking a stranger to come in and take part of it away with them. But Schmidt didn't need company, he had his radio. It was a beauty, a Philco, Model 90, and he would never forget the day he bought it in Montgomery Ward. The man said he could get Philadelphia and Cleveland on it if he hung a wire out the window. When Schmidt brought it home and plugged it in, he discovered it was a lot better than that. It was back in 1935 and when he turned it on the first night he heard a broadcast from Germany – Hitler had just restored universal military service. The man in Montgomery Ward never told him he would hear Hitler in Germany. Oh, it was from Germany all right, it wasn't some American news station. Hitler was shouting, and Schmidt could understand every word Hitler said. German was his second tongue, a language he learned from his father, a sour faced butcher from the Upper West Side. ''It is the language of our country,'' his father told him proudly. ''Some day it will be the language of this country too.'' The radio was an heirloom by now, they didn't make vacuum tubes any more and they had to be scavenged from old radio sets. He could probably sell it as a museum piece. The strange thing about it was it still reported the news of the world the way the world was when Montgomery Ward sold it to him back in the thirties. It took a lot of shaking, and sometimes Schmidt would have to hit it in back with the flat of his hand. It took forever to warm up, but when it did, all the familiar voices came back and Schmidt would sit and listen to them all over again. On a hot night like this he would get angry at the radio. He would talk back to Hitler. He would shout a warning to stiff-assed Neville Chamberlain to take a stand and stop this madman before he set the world on fire. He would advise Franklin Delano Roosevelt to get ready... ''PREPARE, while you still have time!'' Schmidt suspected there was something supernatural about the old Philco. After all, he was drafted in 1941, and he put four years of his life into World War II. He knew the war was over and the world was unsuccessful in its second attempt to exterminate itself. But, he chose to live a double life – days spent in the present and nights in the past. He accepted it with stoicism, an obedience to a recollection of an earlier time, and for more than sixty years he kept the secret of his radio to himself. He would often shout at his radio, shake his fist and call Hitler names – names his shoemaker father taught him. He thought there might be a chance Hitler would hear him: after all, it was a magic radio. Perhaps those crazy men at the other end; Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Roosevelt might hear him. Maybe there was a chance he could stop the madness, rewrite history, and save the ten million lives that were lost in World War II. Then again, maybe not! The conundrum plagued Schmidt. During the day he read the words of today's leaders in the newspaper, and though he never believed a word of them, Schmidt could tell they had learned nothing from the words of the past. ''Don't you ever learn, for God's sake?'' He mumbled to himself all day. On this Friday night as he climbed his way upstairs to the fourth floor of his apartment, the sixty year old seed of discontent that stuck in his craw finally germinated. Maybe it was the heat of this particular August afternoon, but he felt it was more than that. He thought he had enough of the old world... and the new one too. He was fed up! and if anybody came out of the O'Connors or the Grecos or the Weinsteins to say, ''Good evening, Schmidt.'' He would have told him to go back inside and fuck himself. The heat was unbearable as Schmidt stood at his front door and reached in his pocket for his key. He could hear voices inside. He opened the door slowly thinking somebody might be in there waiting for him, but no, it was the radio. Chamberlain's voice. An ultimatum! Hitler must stop his invasion of Poland instantly! Ha! Ridiculous! It was too late for ultimatums. Did that old gray headed fool with the skinny umbrella think Hitler was going to stop his giant Wehrmacht machine and go back home to Germany? ''No, old man! You had your chance three years ago. It might have worked then – but not now – not today. This war machine of Herr Paperhanger is on the march!'' He walked to the radio, his crazy radio that aired the news of sixty years ago. It didn't need him any more, it was turning itself on now. It didn't care if he was there to listen or not. He was going to put an end to it! Enough of that God damned war! He lifted the radio off the table and the plug pulled out of the wall, but the radio continued with the melancholy and familiar story of September 3, 1939. The day the end began. He carried the radio to the window and opened it with his free hand. Without thinking, he threw it into the street below. It continued to play until it hit the sidewalk. In the sudden silence that followed, he heard the voice of old man Weinstein downstairs. He was praying at the head of the family's seder table. Schmidt couldn't understand a word of it, but it was good to hear his voice anyway. ''I know it's Friday, old man. Pray, pray out loud. Pray for me too, let's hope somebody hears us this time'' But he seemed to remember a prayer in German from a long time ago. He walked to the kitchen and opened the window looking out at the junk filled yard. He turned and sat at the kitchen table and took the cover off the container of Kentucky Fried Chicken. His father used to stand stiffly at the table and pray before he ate... he mumbled when he prayed as if he didn't want God to hear him. But when he was finished, he would always raise his head and shout out loud... ''Im Namen des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes –– Amen.'' Then he would turn to the family and stare at them as if they were strangers. They were the only words Schmidt could remember. But the stare he never forgot.
Archived comments for Schmidt's Radio
Mikeverdi on 10-05-2015
Schmidts Radio
Wonderful Harry, the depth of feeling you generate in your writing, I am instantly drawn in to the world you create.
Thanks for sharing it with me.
Mike

Author's Reply:


Metric Justice (posted on: 24-04-15)
A short look at fair play and the blindfolded lady with the scales.

Metric Justice Harry Buschman ''THWACK!!'' The judge brought his gavel down with a resounding ''THWACK!'' All heads looked up in the crowded courtroom, and Bernie Shapiro, the attorney for the defense, who had just risen to begin his client's side of the case, looked around to see what was wrong. ''My purpose in calling the court to order at this time is to remark on the lateness of the hour.'' The judge removed the stopper from his water pitcher and poured himself a glass. The pungent scent of juniper could be detected as far back as the second row of spectator seats. ''The Prosecution's case against the defendant seems powerful strong to me,'' he said soberly. ''Therefore, I see no reason for this trial to continue. It's late in the day and in the effort to conserve energy, the Justice Department here in Cactus County has already decided to turn the air-conditioning off at 3:30 PM in this here very courtroom we're sitting in.'' The jury groaned and began fanning themselves with their notebooks. The judge then turned to Attorney Shapiro. ''Mr. Shapiro, I see you standing. Do you have something you want to say?'' Mr. Shapiro ran his finger around his neck inside the collar, and in a timid voice mentioned the fact that a vigorous defense of the accused was a necessary component of equality under the law of justice and he would therefore respectfully suggest.... etc. etc. ''Justice, yes... by the way, that's my middle name Mr. Shapiro. I know a few things about justice let me tell you. When I say it's late, it's late. And when I say it's over, it's over. Do I make myself clear?'' The Judge refilled his glass and noted that the pitcher had run dry. ''My, where has the afternoon gone,'' he remarked. Attorney Shapiro shuffled his papers. ''But my client, your honor... is the jury going to render its decision without hearing the defendant's side of the case?'' ''This is Texas, Mr. Shapiro. We don't take kindly to lawyers down here and the less we hear from them the better. It's my intention to render a verdict and a suitable sentence right here and now without the jury retiring to the jury room to debate. They'll only get into an argument or start playing cards back there and somebody's liable to get hurt. ''Besides,'' he added, ''my water pitcher's run dry.'' ''But, your Honor... justice must be served...'' attorney Shapiro's notes trembled in his hand. ''Listen up, Shapiro... and you too, defendant––whatever your name is. The verdict is guilty, get used to it. Guilty of exceeding 55 kilometers per hour on a state road in Cactus County––that's 32 miles per hour on your speedometer, by the way... we use the metric scale down here in Cactus County... when it suits us. You were also wearing Calvin Klein jeans and a silk Italian shirt. Men are not permitted to wear female items of attire down here. Furthermore, you were driving a Japanese automobile!'' Judge Justice consulted his ledger. ''Now as to sentence... I think 90 days at hard labor chained to illegal Mexican immigrants clearin' brush on former President George W. Bush's ranch would cover the penalty.'' ''This court is adjourned... THWACK.''
Archived comments for Metric Justice
Mikeverdi on 26-04-2015
Metric Justice
HaHaHa! Harry that's strait out of a 70's T.V program, and I loved it.
Mike

Author's Reply:


The Man Who Would Be King (posted on: 20-04-15)
Getting to be that time in the USA

The Man Who Would Be King Harry Buschman There was a one-eyed man who lived long ago in an isolated country called Tartaros. He considered himself to be the wisest man in the land, and the man most worthy to rule because all the other inhabitants of Tartaros were blind. He traveled around the countryside telling crowds of blind people how much they were missing by not being able to see the sunrise, the flowers of the field and the rainbow. He reasoned that having seen all these wonders, he, and he alone deserved to be King of Tartaros. But the citizens of Tartaros disagreed with him. Instead, they argued, ''What good is it to see? To us there is no such thing as the sun, or the flowers in the field. There is a time of warmth when vegetables can be grown for food. A time when water falls from above to help them ripen. That is all we need to know.'' The one eyed man tried desperately to describe the colors of the rainbow and the placid beauty of the grazing herd. ''There must be words,'' he said to himself, ''that I can use ... words are all I have in common with these unfortunate people of Tartaros.'' ''Let me see,'' he said to an old man feeding his chickens. ''Suppose there was a precipice in front of you, and your next step would be your last ... who would warn you in time?'' ''A precipice?'' ''Yes. A precipice ... a cliff ... beyond which was a bottomless pit ... a life-threatening danger you could not see. Who would warn you?'' ''There is no precipice in Tartaros. If there were, we would not be here.'' ''But if there were, you would need someone to guide you, would you not?'' The old man shrugged his thin shoulders and continued feeding his chickens ... ''Here chick .. here chick..chick..chick. ''Maybe that's a bad example. Let me try again ...'' the one-eyed man (who would be king) thought a bit, then continued his argument. ''Suppose you were lost at sea and needed the north star to guide you ... er, perhaps that doesn't apply either.'' '' The blind man smiled. ''You seem to be at a loss for questions, young man. In spite of your ability to see, you know very little of this world.'' In desperation the one-eyed man continued. ''I want all of you to understand that the citizens of Tartaros are at the mercy of nature, yes and of envious neighbors at your gates who would enslave you. You need a man who can see the dangers ahead.'' Other blind people, hearing the voices of the two men, gathered around and wanted to be heard. ''Nature is not our enemy,'' a farmer's wife said, ''and of what use are we to an envious neighbor.'' ''You are blind are you not? an envious neighbor at your gates would want to make slaves of you. A man who can see would have control of you.'' ''In short,'' said the chicken farmer, ''With your good eye there is little difference between you and an envious neighbor, is there?''
Archived comments for The Man Who Would Be King
Mikeverdi on 20-04-2015
The Man Who Would Be King
Great stuff Harry LOL It's the same all over.
Mike

Author's Reply:

Pronto on 21-04-2015
The Man Who Would Be King
Can't help feeling I've experienced this theme before sometime way back. Loved this story and it's analogy so concisely told.
Well done.

Author's Reply:
Yes, of course. Rudyard Kipling, James Brooke, Josiah Harlan and the latest is Barack Obama.

Andrea on 21-04-2015
The Man Who Would Be King
Nice one, Harry 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks, all of you for the nice reception, and a hug for Rudyard who will never be forgotten.

pommer on 22-04-2015
The Man Who Would Be King
g great write Harry.Peter.

Author's Reply:


Incident in Muttontown (posted on: 13-04-15)
So much for the commandments.

Incident In Muttontown By Harry Buschman Two stone tablets of native granite hung above the entrance to the court house in Muttontown, Idaho. On one of the tablets, the following inscription was clearly visible. ''Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.'' Below them, just inside the doorway stood, like an irate shortweighted housewife, the familiar blindfolded figure of lady justice, holding her empty scales aloft. Cliff Porter, the defendant, leaned forward and put his chin in his hands – he had a life and death interest in the inscription over the doorway, and in the blindfolded figure holding the empty scales. They were the very charges read aloud to him in a sing-song voice by the court clerk on a warm Friday afternoon in the courtroom of Muttontown, Idaho. He was accused of coveting. The fact that there was no evidence to prove him guilty was of no interest to the court, for he was not an equal in the eyes of the law in Muttontown. Cliff was a vagrant and a drifter. He owned no property, held no office and owed nobody anything. Therefore, it being Friday afternoon, and bearing in mind all hangings are performed on Saturday afternoons in Muttontown so all citizens could attend, it was important to get a decision from the jury immediately. Judge Monday hemmed and hawed the court to silence and peered over his spectacles at the jury. ''Now I know all you good people,'' he began, ''... want to reach a verdict as quickly as possible ... '' He looked at the large clock on the wall. ''... rather than waste the court's time while you're sittin' out there shootin' the breeze in the the jury room, let's reach a verdict in court right here and now.'' Cliff stood up and said that was illegal – that the jury must deliberate in private – they should not be influenced by anyone in the courtroom. ''Sit down young man,'' the judge said. ''God tells us what to do here, not you. I say you're guilty and I know every man in the jury box thinks you're guilty too.'' ''That's another thing,'' Cliff shouted. ''Why are there no women on the jury?'' ''Bailiff!'' the judge banged his gavel. ''Sit this man down and make him be quiet ... you're an out of towner sir, and you may not understand the law in Muttontown, but ignorance of our law is no excuse. You're a coveter Mr. Porter. We live by the Good Book here and coveting is a serious crime in Muttontown. To answer your question – we don't allow women to make decisions of such magnitude.'' He stared at Cliff belligerently and added, ''Thou shalt not do anything we say thou shalt not do. We here in Muttontown know exactly what God had in mind when he forbade coveting.'' The men of Muttontown knew just about everything there was to know. They knew exactly when time began, for instance. It was in the last week of November, on a Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., three thousand and forty nine years ago. They also knew from long experience that when a man was brought in for trial he was guilty – even if some out-of-town huckster lawyer proved him innocent, and when Friday rolled around things were tied up neatly, the prisoner would get a last supper, a good night's sleep and the sentence would be carried out the next day. For Cliff, the sentence was hanging. Was he guilty? Cliff was sure his intentions were as honest, upright and innocent as a man's can be. He did not covet Marianne. ... ''Marianne.'' Such a lovely name to be linked with Brady Wicker. Not to mention their young son, Ben ... in danger of becoming a vacant headed farm boy because his father spent every night in the Nugget saloon with the boys at the bar ... he needed a father's guidance. But did all that constitute covetousness? Cliff didn't think so, helping Ben with his school work, singing songs and telling stories was the only contact he had with Marianne and her son. Cliff was a vagabond, yes – and mistrusted for that. His guitar and a few books were all he owned. He'd pick up a job if he had to, but only long enough to make some traveling money. It had been sheep shearing time at the Wicker place when he arrived in town and they were hiring anybody. Cliff hung on a little while after. Mrs. Wicker said Ben was having trouble in school and maybe he could use a little extra learning at home. So Cliff unraveled the mystery of numbers to little Ben, he made numbers stand for something – not 2, but two eggs. Not 17, but the seventeenth of August. Day by day Ben's eyes lit up with understanding and the riddle of arithmetic was finally resolved. To celebrate, Cliff read stories to him, and watched his bright, mischievous puppy dog's eyes. He told Ben tales of wonder ... of dwarves and giants. Of princesses and dragons. He sang him songs ... ''The king of France with 40,000 men. Marched up the hill, and then marched back again.'' ''Oh, do you know the muffin man ... Who lives in Drury Lane?'' And to the lady – the lone and lovely lady, he sang songs of sadness and love ... ''I'm bound, I'm bound away ...'' ''But I being young and foolish ...'' Her brown, unblinking eyes ... yes, he watched them too. They stared beyond him to a place neither of them dared to go. ''But did I covet?'' he asked himself. ''I did not dare to covet. I grieved – I grieved for them and their lack of a husband and father.'' Judge Monday, a personal friend of Brady Wicker, did not agree, and the jury, (looking at the big clock on the wall) was of a mind to heed God's will. ''Yes,'' they agreed – no man in such a situation could avoid the sin of covetness. ''You're right, Judge, we agree. Every man Jack of us.'' ''Then it is my duty to pronounce sentence upon you, Cliff Porter. You shall be hanged tomorrow afternoon at three pm from the hanging tree in the village square.'' He banged his gavel smartly and the bailiff took Cliff away. <><><> As night fell in Muttontown, Cliff stood by the window of his cell and watched the sky darken and turn cerulean blue at the horizon and a darker blue above. The first stars of the evening began to appear and he tried to remember their names. Polaris? Orion? But he was in a strange town and the stars were in different places. His cell window faced the village square and he could see the tree from which he would hang tomorrow. It was an old tree, bare of leaves on its north side – he thought he could see the gallows branch. How many men had died there? However many there were, there would be one more tomorrow ... unless. Something was bound to happen. Something or someone would step in tomorrow to save him. It had to be. <><><> It was a lovely late summer Saturday afternoon, and except for the drunks who couldn't tear themselves away from the Nugget Saloon, the whole town was gathered on the village square. The hangman's stand was already in place by the hanging tree. Its red, white and blue bunting, now slightly faded from a summer in the sun, decorated the rail at the front and hung down low enough to conceal the body of a kicking, and finally dangling, man. Mrs. Eunice Monday, the Judge's wife. sat up front on a folding chair, somewhat overflowing it, periodically glanced at the large watch pinned to the bodice of her black lace blouse. She always dressed in somber black for hangings, although black did not become her, she considered it necessary attire for the wife of the only criminal courts judge in Muttontown. She was an impatient woman with a roast in the oven and if the hanging didn't get under way soon, she knew it would be overdone. The appearance of the bailiff, the warden, the minister of the Church of Latter Day Saints and Judge Monday himself with Cliff Porter between them was the signal for everyone to stop talking and face the hanging tree. The youngsters playing baseball on the grassy field called a postponement and slowly fell in line behind the adults gathered at the gallows stand. Cliff was shackled and appeared composed as he awkwardly made his way up the stairs to the gallows. Some people mistakenly thought his composure was an outward sign of contrition – actually he was waiting for the miracle that would prove his innocence. Gossip and small talk was suspended and dry throats were cleared. The only voice to be heard was that of the preacher who murmured words of prayer and consolation. Cliff was heard to remark that he had not, in any way, coveted anything not belonging to him–– ''in fact,'' he mentioned in passing, ''I didn't even covet the things I owned.'' The hangman adjusted the noose so its knot was situated snug against the occipital bone behind Cliff's left ear, then fitted the black hood over his head. The officials on the stand then looked at each other and shrugged – signifying there was nothing more to do. The lever was pulled and Cliff dropped out of sight. There was a sharp crack! It was loud enough to startle everyone. It was far too loud a crack to come from Cliff Porter. Everyone, hanging party and onlookers alike, gasped when the limb from the hanging tree fell with a crash to the gallows floor, pinning the occupants beneath it. The judge, preacher, hangman and warden disappeared in a welter of arms and legs and broken branches just as Cliff, himself disappeared behind the red, white and blue bunting below which concealed his dangling body. The astonished onlookers gasped, the women covered their mouths with their hands. The men removed their cigars and the children cheered. Mrs. Eunice Monday went over backwards in her chair. Her black straw hat fell off and had to be retrieved by a bartender in red sleeve garters. ''Well, I never!'' she exclaimed as he helped her to her feet. <><><> When the trapdoor opened, Cliff blacked out for a second or two, and now, having regained his senses, he assayed his present condition. With his condemned man's hood tied securely under his chin, he could see nothing. He could feel nothing. But he could hear frantic voices and a crash somewhere above him. If he had passed into another dimension shouldn't things be a little better organized? Was it possible that life in the hereafter was just as disorderly as life on earth? He had no way of knowing that the hanging branch of the hanging tree had broken and fallen directly on the platform where the warden, the minister of The Church of Latter Day Saints, Judge Monday and the hangman stood watching him disappear through the open trapdoor – presumably on his way to eternity. Actually, due to the slack in the rope, he landed on his feet below the platform wondering what on earth happened and why he was still alive. Only one of the party on the platform was conscious. The hangman, standing a little to the left and somewhat to the rear of the others, was relatively untouched, the others lay flattened under the tree. He glanced at the judge, the preacher and the warden and crossed himself hastily. He had seen many men die in his day and he was quite sure these men were done for. He looked out at the crowd gathered on the village square, in particular he noticed the black stockinged legs and multi petticoated skirts of the judge's wife who had just fallen out of her chair in the excitement. Such foresight, and so womanly of her to dress for the dead, he thought ... but did she know it would be her husband and not ... Cliff Porter! He suddenly remembered the executed man was down under the platform! Had he escaped his own execution? The hangman found his way down the platform steps and pulled aside the red, white and blue bunting that had been hung to hide the dangling body of the condemned man. He was alive and standing with the slack noose dangling from his neck. ''There's been an accident,'' the hangman said. ''You're a free man.'' ''What happened?'' Cliff asked. The hangman untied Cliff's hands and removed the hood and noose from his neck. ''Come,'' he said. ''See for yourself.'' It was a sight to behold. Cliff stared out upon a sea of faces, all turned to the gruesome panorama on the platform above him. The sentence of death for the crime of coveting had been irrevocably revoked ... by whom? Was it fate who intervened? Was it the hand of God, or was it planned – perhaps by the hand of a sympathetic Muttontowner? Was the branch sawed half-way through? Cliff turned to the hangman and said, ''What do we do now?'' ''We only have one go at a hanging,'' the hangman said. ''If it doesn't go off as it should, the prisoner goes free.'' Cliff was in no mood to disagree. He thought perhaps it might be nice to say goodbye to Marianne and her son, but decided to let sleeping dogs lie. He thought perhaps he should stop off at the Muttontown jail and pick up his guitar and his books of stories and songs, but he decided to let those dogs lie also. As he walked westward into the setting sun he looked behind him at the milling crowd around the gallows tree. He reminded himself that the ten commandments carved above the entrance to the Muttontown courthouse were a good rule to follow, but a lame excuse for a legal document and an unreliable verdict for an execution. © Harry Buschman
Archived comments for Incident in Muttontown
Mikeverdi on 15-04-2015
Incident in Muttontown
Another fascinating story told in a wonderfully laconic way. I always enjoy your writing. Congrats on the Nib.
Mike

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The Waiter (posted on: 03-04-15)
A man born to service

  Some people are born to a life of service. A butler, whose sole purpose in life is to see his master well-turned out. A doctor. A plumber. They stifle their own needs and even their own well being to make life less of a burden for the people they serve. For the relatively short period of time it takes for a man and a woman to have breakfast in a modest cafe such as Lucille's, the waiter will tend to their every need. He will even accept the blame for the mistakes in the kitchen. If the guests come every day, sit at the same table and order the same things to eat, the waiter will accept them as family. The waiter at Lucille's was like that... He waited on a middle aged, middle class couple every morning. They sat and ordered coffee and a brioche every day. The man carried a newspaper, kept the first part for himself and gave the woman the second part. They argued firmly and steadily, but quietly – never raising their voices enough for the waiter to hear. Yes, they came every day, ordered the same thing and argued, quietly and constantly. When they finished, they left together. The waiter watched them as they stood on the sidewalk outside. After a final argument, and a cold, brief kiss, they went separate ways. Months passed... One day the man came in alone. He wore a black armband. He ordered a coffee and a brioche. He opened a notebook and wrote in it laboriously, lost in thought. He tore up everything he wrote and stuffed the papers in his coat pocket. He did all this without fail, day after day. One day, after he left, the waiter noticed one of the discarded wads of note paper lying under the table. It said... ''Carol, Carol, how beautiful you are when you're sleeping. Your lips slightly parted, your breathing as gentle as a baby's. There's a glow about you -- perhaps it's the light, but more likely it's coming from you. It's a privilege to be here alone with you... to be in your presence while you sleep, breathing the scent of you. I am the most fortunate of men and I only wish I could say the things I really mean. But there will come a day, I promise you, when I find the words to fit your beauty. Be patient with me Carol.... '' ''How beautiful this is,'' the waiter said to himself. ''The gentleman certainly didn't mean to throw this away. I will return it to him tomorrow – but if I do he will know I've read it. It was not meant for my eyes – no, for hers – Carol's. It was a poem for her and in some strange, warped, yet wonderful way, the gentleman and I will share this poem forever.'' ... and yet it troubled him. The waiter mourned the loss of 'Carol' as deeply as the writer. He kept the discarded note in the pocket of his white coat and from time to time he would slip his hand in the pocket and renew the memory. "Why?" he wondered, "why did the man return day after day now that she was gone. "It must be painful to sit at the same table without her." Then there was the argument, that was the strangest part of all. They bickered constantly while she was alive and his love for her seemed irreconcilable with the note in the waiter's pocket. He was alert for other notes the writer might leave behind, he was sure they would explain how true love and contention could exist together. He considered the possibility that the woman was not Carol, and from that moment infinite variations ran through his mind. Perhaps Carol was a woman other than his wife. But the waiter quickly dismissed that idea, reasoning that the armband was a public admission of a lost loved one and would certainly not be displayed for a mistress. But, who could tell for sure? The waiter pursed his lips and knitted his brow as the writer sat writing and absent-mindedly eating his breakfast. He occasionally looked up at the ceiling as though considering a turn of phrase, a metaphor perhaps, then look back at his notebook, and finally, in desperation, he would tear out the sheet of paper he was writing and put it in his pocket. A month passed, maybe more – the writer writing and the waiter waiting. The waiter considered speaking to the writer, using as an excuse, the writer's armband. An expression of sympathy would certainly be appreciated, and perhaps he might learn something more. He could not go on weighing and balancing the endless possibilities and liaisons. Was it a triangle, how could that be? Was he a devoted husband devastated by the loss of his wife? The waiter was too involved now. It was as if it were his own life – not the writer's. It was settled then, tomorrow he would approach the gentleman after he was seated and before he opened his notebook and instead of asking him what he wanted for breakfast, he would offer his condolences. "I would like to express my deepest sympathy..." Yes, that's how he would begin. "You have lost someone dear to you and I..." but it began to get complicated then, and he hoped before he got that far the gentleman would break in and express his thanks. They might chat a bit then, man to man, and this matter would be put to rest at last. The next day was a quiet one, a Thursday. For some reason Lucille's was always quiet on Thursday morning. The waiter thought it might be a good day to approach the gentleman on a matter as delicate as this, but as the morning wore on and the gentleman did not appear, the waiter grew nervous. He caught himself glancing up at the door whenever someone walked in -- he steered these diners from the gentleman's usual table. As the morning wore on it became apparent the gentleman would not be there that day, for the first time in many months, even before he began wearing the armband. The waiter was left with all his questions unasked on that particular Thursday. He consoled himself with the thought that Friday was usually a busy day and the gentleman would be back -- he would certainly get a chance to clear up the mystery tomorrow. Yes, his patience would be rewarded, tomorrow. But the gentleman didn't show up on Friday either! By the close of the breakfast hour the waiter was in a nervous state. It was a terrible morning, he made one mistake after the other. He mixed up orders, spilled coffee on a middle-aged woman who gave him a piece of her mind and didn't leave a tip. His anxiety reached a climax when he lost his temper and had words with an elderly man who demanded the same table the waiter reserved for the gentleman. Yes, a terrible morning, and with the weekend ahead, Lucille's would only be open for dinner. The waiter worked the breakfast and brunch shift on week days, now he would spend the weekend in his room thinking of Carol and the gentleman with the black armband. Yes, Carol – her lips slightly parted, her breathing gentle as a baby's. A glow about her – the waiter was sure he'd never make it through the weekend. One can only imagine the torment that racked him through most of Friday, all of Saturday and all day Sunday. He could neither eat nor sleep. The turbulent vision of the couple at the table tortured him constantly and the people in the apartment below him could hear his nervous pacing in the living room above. But it stopped suddenly. The waiter's ordeal was over. He was a man born to service and the well-being of those he served had more meaning to him than his own. He decided to write a note to Carol himself. He sat as his small desk in the corner of his living room and with the gentleman's note opened in front of him, he began writing. ''Carol, Carol,'' he began, ''how beautiful you are when you're sleeping…'' Then, with a sigh, he crumpled it up and put it in his pocket.
Archived comments for The Waiter
Mikeverdi on 03-04-2015
The Waiter
You never disappoint me Harry, I am involved from the moment I start reading...this was no different. Weirdly I thought I had read it before, maybe something similar.

Thanks for continuing to post your stories on this site, I love your writing.
Mike

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The Proposal (posted on: 20-03-15)
On selling oneself too cheaply.

He felt the loss of a little of himself every day. Not quite enough for others to see, but he knew it, and he was aware of it whenever he had to do something he used to do with ease. Now it seemed the smallest thing was a harbinger of something worse to come. He might miss a high step, or maybe the telephone might ring in another room without his hearing. He was convinced that living alone contributed to it. Each day's loss went unnoticed. But whenever Agnes came to visit––which seemed all too seldom these days, he thought––she'd mention it in an offhanded way. ''You're not listening to me, Richard.'' He heard her talking, but as attentive as he tried to be, he couldn't recall what she'd asked him. So he shrugged it off and said, ''I'm sorry, Agnes... I was thinking of something else, would you mind repeating that?'' And she'd repeat it, mouthing the words carefully. She knew of course, she had to know. Then occasionally they'd be walking and he'd take her arm, not so much to help her, but to ask silently for her help. It was sad feeling his love inside and knowing it was not nearly enough to keep her all to himself. He'd lose her in the end––he knew he held a losing hand. He decided to tell her next Thursday night. It was their usual night. He decided for her sake more than his. It would be best to do it then. ''How best?'' he wondered, ''before or after dinner?'' ''During.'' ...and then he realized he was talking to himself again. ''Why do I do that?'' he asked himself. He shook his head irritably. ''Lutesce'' would be a good place to do it, somewhere between the entree and the dessert. There was always something symbolic about clearing away the dishes and wiping the tablecloth free of accumulated crumbs and dribbles. That would probably be the best time to bring it to a head, Cast off the old––yes the old. He almost felt she would welcome the chance to break it off gracefully, without rancor, and take up with someone younger. ...and him? How would he feel about it after? A warm spot by the fire, with the bitter wind outside, maybe some music––turned down, nothing intrusive. Yes, a man of fifty should begin to think of living alone. Think about thinking backwards, of remembered snapshots and scented letters. Agnes would get on well––he was sure of that. She would turn up the volume and pick up the beat. Wouldn't she though! That was the gist of it, he'd been a stone around her neck for a long time, an anchor where none was needed, or worse––an obstacle. So he took special pains choosing a tie. Nothing gay or gaudy. Not too somber either. Something casual, as though it might have been chosen at the last minute before going out. Green and tan perhaps. No, not that one! She gave him that one for his birthday. There! Brown and blue knitted. It would be acceptable with the blue suit. Then he asked himself––what did it matter. It would end badly, whatever he wore. It was late spring and she walked into the restaurant wearing a light wrap over a print dress. They didn't bother to check it, instead she draped it over the back of her chair and it formed a decorative setting. He was reminded of a flower in a bouquet of lesser blooms––like a diva, he thought, waiting for her cue from the maestro. ''I wish I knew what I wanted,'' she said from behind her menu. ''Do you realize I'm thirty seven years old and I've never had duck in orange sauce. Is it good here?'' ''It's good everywhere,'' he answered. His mind was far away: certainly not on the duck––not on the soft light that seemed to surround her. His mind was searching for an entrance line, something to help him ease his way in. ''How many times have we eaten here?'' he asked her. ''It can't be the first time you've had the duck.'' She thought a moment, then smiled. ''I suppose we've eaten here a dozen times or more, I''ve always loved it here, Richard. Every time we come here we make an important decision. You changed jobs once, remember? I rented a new apartment ...'' It was the opportunity he was waiting for! ''Agnes,'' he began. ''Don't start off like that,'' Agnes laughed. ''That's the way they taught us at teaching school.'' ''How shall I begin?'' ''Tell me what's on your mind? You've been thinking I know ... I can always tell. I can even tell you what you're thinking.'' ''No you can't. You couldn't possibly know.'' ''Richard, we've been dating more then three years. I haven't seen anyone but you in three years. It's the same with you I know. That's long enough don't you think?'' ''I don't know as I'd put it that way.'' ''''Well I would. I think it's time we got married.''
Archived comments for The Proposal
Mikeverdi on 22-03-2015
The Proposal
Harry I am always entertained by your stories, this is no exception. I loved the way it unfolded. If I had a problem it would be the title,giving to much away maybe? His description of his life made him older,or perhaps that's how he sees himself. I really enjoyed it.
Mike

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ifyouplease on 22-03-2015
The Proposal
yes i thought he was eighty or something not fifty, that she was fifty and he was much older and that she could find a younger man hmm

but the story was well written and I enjoyed reading it.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 22-03-2015
The Proposal
Those ages were the key to this short story. A man of fifty begins to notice things about himself and he wonders if marriage is the answer. Is he looking for help in the process of growing old? Then there's the possibility a 37 year old woman could conceive a child. Could he be a father to a growing child? Agnes, on the other hand, knows it will make a new man of him and she's just the kind of woman who can do it..

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The Partial Passing of Donald J. Newman (posted on: 06-02-15)
Let us praise those who came before us.

The Partial Passing of Donald J. Newman Harry Buschman Donald J. Newman lay supine on a stainless steel operating table supported on two trestles in the Children's Room. That's what they called it here in the Bern, Switzerland Morpheus Clinic. Type to enter text As he relaxed, he reminded himself that in this day and age senility is a curable disease and people with money, (like he, Donald J, Newman) could be completely regenerated at the Morpheus Clinic. One might think reaching the ripe old age of 176 years would be enough time for anybody in this world, but it is in the nature of wealthy people to not only stretch the envelop, but to tear it up, throw it away and get a bigger one. Here, in this pleasant sunlit room, with the snow-covered slopes of the Matterhorn visible just outside the window, Donald J. Newman was determined to be as young as possible all over again. Not as young and innocent as a child of course. No one wants that. He intended to be in full possession of his potency, (such as it had been) and with a Ph.D. in Investment Banking ... but free and unhindered of his past marital entanglements. He made many mistakes in his 176 years, 11 marriages, 37 children and numberless ill-advised business adventures. ''It will be exciting,'' he thought to himself as he stretched out comfortably on what was known in the clinic as 'the drain board' ''to see what I can achieve – knowing what I know now.'' Various tubes and probes had been inserted into his 176 year old body, and by gravity, the presence that had once been Donald J. Newman was draining drip by drip into a fresh corpus directly below him with zero miles on its odometer. The most important procedure of all was the transfer of the seat of Donald J. Newman's ego. After many years of investigation, Dr. Morpheus had located the seat of the ego, or soul, the thing that makes you, you ... and me, me. It is located in a very remote corner of the lower bowel, and when at last the ego is drained into a new host, the very essence of the individual, the precious ego – with all its memory and love of self, would be given a fresh start. But Professor Morpheus was shocked when he entered the Children's Room to see how things were getting on. He found both Donald J. Newman and the young man directly below him, who would have been Donald J. Newman II, were stone cold dead. It was later discovered that the ego of Donald J. Newman was so big that it would not fit through the tube through which it should have flowed to Donald J. Newman II. The funeral was a quiet one, with only the family attending.
Archived comments for The Partial Passing of Donald J. Newman

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Men in Love (posted on: 19-01-15)
The single life led by three males in the city.

Men in Love by Harry Buschman Parker lives in a small apartment on the second floor front of a brownstone on East 75th Street. He has a living room with a dining area, a kitchen alcove off to the side and a small bedroom. He doesn't sleep in the bedroom, his office is in there. At one end of his office he has a small efficient bathroom with a shower stall. There's a tiny window in the shower stall that overlooks the adjoining building, and if he stands on his toes he can see into six other shower stalls just like his. However, once back on his heels, he feels secure in the privacy of his anonymity and anonymity is the ultimate privacy of the upper East Side. Few people want to know their neighbor, or want their neighbor to know them. What's more important, many people on the upper East Side do not even know themselves. He does know Shawn, however. Shawn is a gay man and lives on the second floor rear with a very large white cat named Sebastian. When Shawn goes to Point-O-Woods in Suffolk County to visit his friend Emery, he leaves Sebastian with Parker. It is a sad fact of Shawn's life that he and Emery, although madly in love, live in separate spheres of endeavor. Shawn is a production assistant for the Tonight show and Emery is the youngest son of a vintner on Long Island's East End. Their affection for each other knows no bounds, but neither man will abandon his profession. ''He will not commit,'' Shawn shook his head sadly, while stroking his cat. ''You'd think, wouldn't you, Parker, that he'd see it my way. Manhattan's the only place for people like us to live, not some Godforsaken grape orchard out on the fucking end of Long Island?'' He buried his head in his cat and sighed. The embarrassed cat looked at Parker, as though requesting assistance. Parker, is a good listener, but probably not the best person to discuss a gay alliance with. Parker has his own problems. His girl friend, Sylvia, lives in Greenwich Village and works in an art gallery that features the work of recently dead artists. He's been trying to get her to move in with him but she says it's too far from the Village and she would have to ride the unbearable subway to get to her job in the gallery. She is also allergic to cat fur. Parker works uptown; he writes copy for CNN news anchors, he can't move downtown with her because CNN is exactly one mile from his apartment, (the ideal jogging distance). Furthermore, Sylvia has a roommate, a girl singer with the Bottom Line band, and that rules out Parker spending weekends at her place. Both Shawn and Parker, (except for their sexual orientation) are victims of unrequited love. Sebastian, the cat, has none of these problems, he's been spayed, de-clawed and deodorized. Sebastian has adapted to his environment and his limitations far more gracefully than either Parker or Shawn. The couple on the floor above Parker listen to Gustav Mahler night and day on their stereo. Parker feels that people who play Gustav Mahler on their phonographs should really live in buildings of their own. It is his opinion that Mahler is too monumental for a brownstone, unless everyone who lives there loves him with equal fervor. He feels Mahler is only endurable when shared by thousands of people, not limited to a couple in a small apartment. Angst of cosmic proportions can be overwhelming as well as deafening. It can lead to nostalgic telephone calls and overeating in the middle of the night. Parker occasionally knocks on the ceiling with a broom handle but it goes unnoticed – a broom handle is no match for Gustav Mahler. On Fridays during the summer, Parker gets home early from CNN. The staff gets the Op Ed page together by early afternoon, and by four o'clock everyone has established CNN's corporate opinion concerning the events of the world. After a week of news everybody is sick of the world in the first place, and the heavyweight commentators are warming up for the onslaught of politician's opinions on Sunday. When Parker gets back to his apartment on Fridays he rounds up his dirty laundry and makes reservations for dinner with Sylvia, (they have eaten in every French restaurant in Manhattan, and now they're on the second lap). This particular Friday evening, Shawn knocked on Parker's door. Parker straightened up from his laundry, took a deep breath, and out-shouted Mahler, ''Come in Shawn, it's open.'' Shawn walked in with Sebastian and two cans of tuna fish. In an hour Shawn would be on the Long Island Railroad headed east for his weekly tryst with Emery in Point-O-Woods. This would result in many tears, a bitter argument and a long solitary train ride back to the city again Sunday afternoon. Upstairs, the Frere Jacques movement of Mahler's ''Titan'' symphony joined in his discontent. ''Looks like the weather will be beautiful, Shawn. Don't forget the sun block.'' Shawn would not let himself be shaken out of his funk ... ''I don't like to travel in the first place, it's a thing with me.'' He sat on the sofa in the middle of Parker's dirty laundry and stroked his cat. ''When I was a child my father took me on a business trip with him.'' The cat, (who had heard this story before) assumed a sphinx-like attitude. ''I guess he forgot I was with him ... he took off for the airport and left me back in the hotel.'' ''How old were you?'' ''Ten or so ... it was frightening.'' ''That was twenty years ago, Shawn.'' He rocked the cat to and fro like a child. ''It marked me ... really Parker, some things stay with you for life.'' The cat tried to get away but Shawn had his fingers through its collar; it flashed Parker a look of helplessness. ''When father got to the airport he discovered he had an extra ticket. Then it dawned on him. He never forgave himself of course. For the rest of his life he was agreeable to anything I did. I could do anything I wanted.'' The cat, at this point struggled to free itself from Shawn's grip and this time he let it spill out of his hands to the floor where it promptly disappeared under the sofa. ''What are you doing this weekend?'' Shawn asked. ''Not much. Sylvia and I have reservations at Marmitte this evening. Tomorrow? I don't know. She has to be at the gallery in the afternoon.'' ''Spending the night here?'' ''Why?'' ''Oh, I just mean – if you're not going to be here I'll leave Sebastian in my apartment. Except ... he can't stand being alone, you know?'' There were cowbells and country dances in the Mahler Symphony No. 2. Parker wondered if this would be a good time to knock on the ceiling again, or to give Shawn an answer, if he could think of one. He did neither. Instead, the phone rang in his office. The two men looked at each other and Parker walked to the phone. ''I still have a few things to pack,'' Shawn said. ''I'll stop by with the litter box before I leave.'' Parker knew it would be Sylvia, and he knew she'd only call if there was a problem about tonight. He took a deep breath and picked up the phone. ''Hi, Syl.'' ''Oh, Parks, I've got bad news.'' There was a dead space. ''... how'd you know it was me, Parks?'' ''Oh, I don't know – something in the Mahler upstairs. Do you know Das Lied von der Erde?'' ''Are you all right, Parks?'' Sebastian came in, his tail pointed straight up at Mahler on the floor above. He knew Parker's office well – there was a warm shelf – a wide one, just above the radiator, and if it wasn't covered with papers and books, Sebastian had every intention of sacking out there for the evening. ''I'm just fine, Syl. Mahler is sounding off upstairs.'' ''I called about tonight, Parks.'' Parker sat down at his desk, and at the same time Sebastian reached the wide warm shelf, by way of the arm of Parker's chair. ''You can't make it, right?'' ''We're putting up the Archipenko exhibit tonight. Oh, Parks ... it's going to be beautiful. It's a retrospective ... you know ... ?'' ''Archie who ...?'' ''Oh come on now, Parks, you know who Archipenko is. The exhibit was supposed to be in Philadelphia, but they had a fire.'' He could tell she was smoking while talking to him. She promised she would stop smoking. ''I'll call the restaurant.'' ''Don't be mad, Parks. This has to be done ... the opening is Sunday afternoon.'' Sylvia paused and it sounded to Parker as though she had taken a final deep drag on her cigarette before stubbing it out in the large overfilled ash tray that sat on the night table by her bed. ''Why don't you come down for the press review tomorrow? It's for the media, you should really be here. We can have dinner in the Village later.'' ''I may have to work.'' ''On Saturday?'' ''Why not? You're working Saturday ... and Sunday.'' ''That's different, Parks ... Archipenko comes along once in a lifetime.'' Another pause – an uncomfortable one. ''A lot of people come along once in a lifetime, Syl ... '' he wanted to add his own name to that list but it seemed a little too much like Mahler. ''Maybe I'll be there, Syl. Maybe not – let's call it a definite maybe.'' He hung up quietly and looked at Sebastian. His feet were curled under him and his head was sinking slowly into his body. Upstairs, the double chorus and orchestra of Mahler's eighth erupted in full vocal and instrumental splendor. It heralded the arrival of Shawn with Sebastian's litter box. ''Well, I'm on my way, I'll be back Sunday afternoon – they're having their first pressing Sunday morning. It'll be hell I'm sure.'' He poked his head in Parker's office and remarked, ''You okay Parker? You look whipped.'' ''Something like that. Have a nice weekend Shawn, Sebastian and I have a lot of Mahler to get through.'' The two men looked at each other with a touch of blank understanding, neither of them were optimistic about the coming weekend. Upstairs, Mahler agonized over the past, present and future weekends of all mankind. Sebastian was the only one in the room who was content with things as they were – the shelf was warm enough – wide enough, and that was all there was. But the two men clung to a masculine dream of formalized relationships, as though their loves must be conquered and submissive. They must be docile, domesticated and dominated – content to drop what they were doing and save their creativity for the art of love. Sebastian learned to live on canned tuna and a wide warm shelf. It was all there was. ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for Men in Love
Mikeverdi on 19-01-2015
Men in Love
Another great read Harry,I find it hard to critique your work..I enjoy it to much! There is always room for improvement in all our work, the use of certain words: the/and/but are ones spring to mind. It really is a personal choice in my opinion. Just keep writing and posting; I'll be happy. Congrats on the Nib 🙂
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thank you Mike. One of the secrets, (and I wish I could do it the way it should be done) is to catch the character through their use of their words n conversation.i


The Bed By the Window (posted on: 19-12-14)
A group of seniors at Birkbeck College of the University of London have adapted this story of mine for a screenplay. It will be filmed and presented as their thesis at the end of the senior year, then they hope to enter it at a film festival next summer in Europe.

The Bed by the Window by Harry Buschman In Jefferson Memorial Hospital, two old men, both of them seriously ill, were confined to a room in the cheerless recovery wing on the twelfth floor. It was a small room, no bigger than 10 by 12 feet, painted pale green and connected to another room of identical size by a tiny bathroom. Mr. Vincent, the man in the bed by the only window in the room was not doing well after the removal of one of his lungs. He was in severe pain most of the time, and every afternoon a nurse came in and propped him up to a sitting position to clear the accumulated fluid in his remaining lung. He sat by the window and between labored breaths he told his roommate, Parker, all the things he could see outside. It was good for Parker. Parker was in an accident last month and his lumbar vertebrae was dislocated, resulting in the loss of cartilage between them. He was forced to lie perfectly still on his back until it healed. All he could see was the ceiling curtain track and the face of the nurse when she bent over him. The two men talked through the long nights and the early morning hours. They spoke of their families and friends, their jobs and their experiences in the war. They were restless and resentful of their confinement in Jefferson Memorial and the waste of the precious time left to them in their senior years. They dreaded the bed pan and the cold wash cloth – and although they wanted to be left alone they were filled with deep sadness during visiting hours if no one came to see them. Worst of all they lost track of the world outside. Whenever Mr. Vincent was propped up by the window, Parker would ask him, ''What do you see out there Vinny?'' Mr. Vincent would hesitate before answering, partly because of the pain in his chest and partly because he wanted his words to be worthy of the scene, ''Well, first of all it's a beautiful day. The kids must have the afternoon off from school ... they're all over the park. I remember now, the nurse said there's a school board election.'' ''How would she know?'' ''Well she had to get a sitter. That's where her little boy is – over there, in the park. I'll bet he's the one by the lake. He's got a sailboat and it's headed for this little string of ducks ... look at that!'' ''What? What?'' ''The little boat. It sailed right through the line of ducks ... now it's headed for the other side of the lake. The little kid is running like hell around the lake trying to get to the other side before his sailboat does.'' ''Gee, I wish I could see.'' ''You will, you will, as soon as they let you sit up. You're a sick man Parker ... remember?'' Every day the park was different, and every day Mr. Vincent had a different story to tell. ''It's cloudy today – it looks cooler. Must be breezy too – you can see the water rippling on the lake.'' ''Any kids in the park?'' ''Not so many as yesterday.'' ''You'll tell me when you see something, Vinny ... won't you? Mr. Vincent turned his head back to the window. ''I see a couple walking under the trees at this end of the lake.'' ''What do you mean, 'couple'?'' ''You know what I mean. A man and a woman walking together. The man has his arm around her and her hand is on his shoulder. They just stopped by the willow – you remember the willow tree, Parker?'' ''Yeah, I remember. What are they doing now?'' ''What do you suppose?'' ''How the hell do I know! I'm layin' here flat on my back ... you can see. I can't.'' ''They're kissing.'' A moment or two passed and Mr. Vincent turned to Parker ... ''They're still kissing. How long can can you hold a kiss without breathing Parker?'' ''You breathe through your nose, remember – you can go on for hours. ... they still at it?'' Mr. Vincent took a quick look out the window. ''No, they're walking off arm in arm. Those were the days, weren't they Parker?'' ''You kiddin'? I proposed to my wife in that same park.'' ''By the willow tree I'll bet.'' Both men could hardly wait the afternoon of the parade. When the nurse came in at three o'clock, both Mr. Vincent and Parker were on edge. They had already checked the route of the march in the morning paper, ''They'll be coming down Fifth Street then turning north up into the park,'' Parker said. ''You'll be able to see them all the way up to the exit.'' He looked up anxiously at Mr. Vincent. ''Well. Well, what do you see?'' ''Gimme a chance, will you. I only got two eyes.'' He sat up extra straight. ''Beautiful day for a parade ... I can see the High School band.'' ''Are you sure it's the High School Band? My grandson's in the High School band.'' ''What color uniforms?'' ''They wear green and white. My grandson plays the clarinet.'' ''Gimme a break. They're a block away, I can't pick out a clarinet a block away. I can see the tubas and the drums though.'' ''He marches right in front of the tubas.'' Parker looked puzzled. Shouldn't we be able to hear them from here?'' ''No. Not with these double glazed windows – you can't hear anything through these windows. Like the traffic in the street down below – there's traffic down there, you can't hear any of that either.'' One hour a day may not seem a lot, but for both men it was an hour that sustained them through the sleepless hours of the night. Parker would close his eyes and relive the scenes that Mr. Vincent had painted for him. Mr. Vincent, in turn, felt as a great artist might feel – painting a picture in words for someone who could not see. The day after the parade the nurse was particularly energetic. Her rubber soles squeaked on the tile floor as she put on the brakes next to Mr. Vincent's bed. ''Three o'clock, Mr. Vincent. Time to sit up – get some air into that lung.'' She rapped on the side rail of his bed – ''Let's go, let's go ... Mr. Vincent ... '' There was a pause, then she spoke his name more gently. ''Mr. Vincent, Mr. Vincent ... oh dear God no. No. No!'' Parker turned his head to look at her, ''What's the matter with Vinny. Nurse? What? What?'' She turned and with her hand covering her mouth, she ran from the room. She was back in a moment with the floor doctor and a specialist. Two nurses followed them with an EKG machine. Parker lay there and tried to make eye contact with someone, but all eyes were on Mr. Vincent. The floor doctor straightened up and shook his head. ''He's gone,'' he said, ''Been gone at least a half hour or more.'' He waved off the two nurses with the EKG machine. The surgeon searched for a heartbeat at Mr. Vincent's wrists, neck and leg. He finally straightened up and closed Mr. Vincent's eyes. The nurse was shaken and the floor doctor put his arm around her ... ''It's okay. It's okay. It happens. Nothing you could have done.'' He pulled the sheet up. ''Let's get him downstairs.'' The nurse, the last to leave, was still sobbing, she looked at Parker as she left. ''I'm sorry Mr. Parker.'' ''It's not your fault.'' ''I hate it when this happens. I'll never get used to it. Are you okay? Can I get you something?'' She brightened up a little and said, ''There's good news for you, by the way. Your X-rays show the cartilage is building – you'll be starting on re-hab.'' He listened to her shoes squeak on the tile floor as she walked out of the room. He lay there looking at the covered figure. The man who had been his eyes for the past month. With his own eyes closed, he could see the park, the children by the lake, the lovers, the parade – as clearly as the day Mr. Vincent described them. ''What would these last two weeks have been like without Vinny? Never got a chance to thank him, did you Parker? Course you did! You had all the chances in the world.'' He wished he'd taken the time – once in a while – just to say, ''Thanks Vinny. Thanks for seeing for me.'' Now it was too late, who was going to see for him now? A sleepy eyed attendant came in with a gurney. He pulled it up to Mr. Vincent's bed and looked at Parker. ''Lost a bunky, huh?'' Without waiting for an answer, he pulled a curtain around Mr. Vincent's bed and went to work. When he pulled the curtain back again, the bed was empty. The bed stood empty against the wall by the window. In his imagination, Parker could still see Mr. Vincent there, looking out the window with the back of the bed cranked up. His face would often break into a smile when he saw something to humor him, and he would turn the scene into words so Parker could see it with him. He wondered if he could talk the nurse into letting him have that bed by the window. He was responding to the first week of therapy and his spine was better now, there was less pain and it was torture to lay there not knowing what was happening outside. ''How are we doin' Mr. Parker?'' The nurse walked in pulling a cart with one hand and shaking a thermometer down with the other. Without waiting for an answer she put the thermometer in his mouth. ''Gonna give you a sponge down Mr. Parker. Gonna get up real close and personal.'' ''Can I ask you a question?'' Parker said around both sides of the thermometer. ''What's on your mind, hon?'' ''I was wondering if I could move to the bed by the window – where Mr. Vincent used to be.'' ''Sure. Why not? You're gonna have a new bunky the end of the week, he can take over on your side. I don't know what you want with the window though, there's nothing to see out there.'' ''The world is out there.'' The nurse shrugged, ''It's up to you, hon. I'll roll you over when I'm done, okay?'' He wanted to be alone when he looked outside. What was out there was between Vinny and him. Nobody else had a right to that view, it was theirs. When the nurse was finished with him she wheeled Mr. Vincent's bed out of the way and rolled Parker over to the window. He waited, watching her finish up around the room – looked up at the ceiling and listened for the squeak of her rubber soles to fade away as she walked out of the room and back down the hall. He tried to sit up and a stabbing pain in his lower back stopped him cold. He held tightly to the bed rail but he could stand the pain no longer and he dropped back panting and drained of strength. His eyes closed and he counted until ten waiting for the pain to subside – then he tried again. He was able to raise himself on one elbow. The pain in his lower back was fierce and unrelenting but he stayed with it. His chin was almost on a level with the window sill, and if he could just ... just push a little more ... that's all dear God ... just an inch more. He got the inch and he brought his face to the window. He opened his eyes and looked out. There was a brick wall out there! Nothing else! Nothing but a brick wall! ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for The Bed By the Window
e-griff on 19-12-2014
The Bed By the Window
I did guess the end as it's been used before. However, that took away little from my enjoyment of the way it was told.
One glitch: the narrator says 'last month'. He is narrating in the past tense, so it should be 'previous month' or 'month before' otherwise it jars.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 20-12-2014
The Bed By the Window
Congratulations, Harry - very well deserved. Please keep us updated!

Have a lovely Christmas.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 28-12-2014
The Bed By the Window
Terrific writing Harry, you never disappoint me; guessing the end was just part of the story for me...I loved it.
Mike

Author's Reply:


The Suitcase (posted on: 01-12-14)
A bit of flash fiction, with the thought of it being non-fiction a dreaded thought always in mind.

The Suitcase Harry Buschman Ali Terif stood no more than thirty feet from the American Airlines agent's counter at Kennedy airport. He shifted his suitcase to his other hand. It was heavy, small but heavy. He didn't have a ticket. He didn't need a ticket. He wasn't going anywhere. Tomorrow was Easter Sunday in this foreign country; this arrogant country who considered the rest of the world indentured to them... they will get a taste of Islamic retribution this afternoon. "Keep the case horizontal, Ali," Aaqib told him. "Stand it on end and the timer begins. When you take the case to the airport, carry it flat on your lap. It will be uncomfortable, but you are a son of Islam Ali, you are used to discomfort. How good a soldier are you?" No question about it. Ali Terif was a good soldier. He had no home he could call his own. He had no wife, no children... but he had ambition, and if he lived after completing this assignment he would be an honored member of the inner circle. He intended to live, he was not ready for his rewards in Heaven, tempting as they might be. Ali Terif also knew what was in the suitcase. Aaquib told him all about it, "It's a little heavy. Tarif –– forty kilos, think you can handle it?" Ali bragged and said he could carry it to Mecca and back if he had to. ''That will not be necessary Ali. From the taxi to the American Airlines Terminal. That's all. Put it down on its end and walk out again. It has the force of one hundred and ninety tons of dynamite and it will leave behind the curse of atomic pollution for a generation." Aaqib smiled warmly at Ali Terif. "You will have time to get a cab before the explosion, Ali. It will give you a warm feeling perhaps, on your ride back to the city." So he stood in the terminal, a solitary figure in the crowd. Families. Children and old people in wheelchairs. Lines of people everywhere – inching forward a step at a time. There was a touch of bedlam in the air, not very different from from the airport in Kabul. It was not what he expected. These people were not idle, nor did they seem rich and spoiled. They were not very different from the people he knew back home in Afghanistan. He felt lonely and homesick among them. But he was wasting time! Best to stand the suitcase on its end over there by that column and get out of here! Goodbye, little boy, old woman in your new hat. You shall not spend your Easter day where you planned. He stood the suitcase on its end by a nearby column and quickly walked to the terminal exit. He felt guilty – imagine! As though he had done something wrong – a strange sensation, he did not feel like soldier should feel. He wondered if there was still time to go back and get the suitcase.
Archived comments for The Suitcase
Nomenklatura on 01-12-2014
The Suitcase
A chilling tale, Harry, and one all too likely to come true, I fear.

Ewan

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 01-12-2014
The Suitcase
We in the west have much to fear, it seems everyone wants to bomb us. As Ewan said in his comment... All to real now. Great writing.
Mike

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 01-12-2014
The Suitcase
Not to take away from your skill in writing, Harry, but this to me is a little predictable. Almost anyone could have written this on a topic that is currently fashionable and sensational here, but superficial. I prefer it when you go deeper, see more, and tell us more about the characters, real motivations. This was too easy dare I suggest ... 🙂

with very best regards, JohnG

Author's Reply:

sirat on 02-12-2014
The Suitcase
I think I have to agree with John (even if it hurts!). I don't think you've done much more than tee it up. It needs driving down the fairway. Why is he doing this? I don't mean what ideology does he adhere to, I mean what is going on in his head in the psychological sense? What brought him to this point? Regarding the plot, is it an option for him to return to the bomb and somehow switch it off? Or what are his options at the point where the story ends? I think this is fine as a beginning but I don't think it's a complete story yet.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 02-12-2014
The Suitcase
I don't believe any amount of explanatory background, character analysis, religious fervor or revenge analysis on my part could ever interest a reader in the possible action of Ali Terif. It's either done or not done, nothing else matters.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 02-12-2014
The Suitcase
I disagree. Whether it's done or not done is the only thing that would matter to the people at the airport, but to the reader of the story it doesn't matter at all. The interest for the reader is in the mind set of somebody acting in this way. I tried to write a story along fairly similar lines myself, you can take a look at it and see what you think. At least I think it works better with the emphasis that I've given it in this one: Doubt.

Author's Reply:


The Tenants (posted on: 17-11-14)
A philosopher learns a lesson.

The Tenants Harry Buschman Many years ago along the ragged border separating Manhattan from the Bronx there was a zone called ''The Belmont.'' It's gone Latino now, but in the old days it was Italian––solid Italian, street festivals, funerals, with black horses and brass bands, and pushcarts selling food just off the boat from the old country. It looks like a bombed out city now. Isolated five-story tenements stand alone in rubble strewn lots like graveyard monuments. Three five-story tenements stand alone on East 185th Street in the Belmont. Their addresses are 27-29 and 31 and the city pronounced them unfit for human habitation six years ago. Time has been tough on the old buildings, they are falling apart, in the last stages of benign neglect. They were built shortly after the Civil War and in the intervening one hundred and fifty years they were home to more than 300 families, almost all of them Italian. A man named Klopotnik owns them. It was Mr. Klopotnik's ambition to demolish the three abandoned tenements and erect a single twenty story up-scale apartment, or 'town house' as he preferred to call it. It was to be known as ''Exeter House'' and as he walked by the three deserted eyesores daily he considered how far he'd come––and how far he had to go. The architect's plans were finished but they languished in the building department in City Hall, awaiting approval from the zoning board. Mr. Klopotnick cherished the thought that it might be soon – even as soon as a month or two! By summer perhaps – who knew – the ball might swing and the three run down rat traps would collapse into the street. The windows on the top floor of the center tenement, (number 29) were open, but all the others were boarded up. The fire escapes had been removed to prevent squatters from gaining access. The front doors were gone and replaced with steel shutters. Mr. Klopotnik wanted no trouble from squatters in the neighborhood. He knew if they took over the abandoned buildings it would take forever to get rid of them. To keep them out, he permitted a Columbia adjunct professor of comparative philosophical studies to stay on the top floor of number 29, rent free. It was Mr. Klopotnik's opinion that if anyone could keep people out of a building it would be an adjunct professor from Columbia University. On this spring afternoon the window in the living room of the top floor of the professor's apartment was open wide and the ragged curtains were blowing out. There was a pot of Boston Fern and another of Weeping Ivy on the window sill. Between the two pots appeared the face of Professor Zacharias peering down at Mr. Klopotnik. ''Good morning down there, Klopotnik. Come to check on your town house?'' Klopotnik wondered if he should go in and have a talk with Zacharias... he didn't trust philosophy professors completely. But it wasn't easy. He had to go down the cellar stairs and ring the bell for the fifth floor – all the other bells to the building had been disconnected. Zacharias would have to come down six flights of stairs and unlock the cellar door to let him in. Then what? He had nothing to say to Professor Zacharias, they had nothing in common. He was just there, living rent free, to keep intruders out of the three buildings until they were torn down. His was the only apartment with electricity and water. Klopotnik thought, he was lucky to find someone who would live in such conditions. Professor Zacharias said he wanted to finish his philosophical treatise – he needed absolute quiet. ''How are you Zacharias – everything quiet up there?'' ''Just me and the roaches, Klopotnik.'' He picked one off the window sill and tossed it down to him. ''Watch him when he hits the sidewalk, Klopotnik. He will pick himself up, dust himself off, and run back into the building again. Indestructible. Indomitable. Worthy successors to the human race. So how long I got, Klopotnik?'' Klopotnik watched the roach bounce on the concrete sidewalk. It made a circle or two, then skittered back into the building. ''At least two months, maybe more. Things go slow downtown.'' ''The slower the better – I'm stuck inside Kierkegaard.'' Things are quiet up there, no? Nobody sneaking in?'' Zacharias hesitated a fraction of a second... the hesitation was not lost on Mr. Klopotnik. ''The sounds at night, the voices... nothing more.'' ''Perhaps I better stop in to see you tomorrow, Zacharias.'' Zacharias did not answer, so Klopotnik shrugged and walked off. Maybe he should have stopped in today. ''Old Zacharias,'' he muttered. ''What does he do with himself? Talk to the roaches? What's this with the voices? Yes, tomorrow I will stop in and see for myself if he is pulling on my leg.'' Zacharias watched Klopotnik's figure grow smaller as he walked to the corner. He enjoyed sitting by the window with his manuscript during the day. The occasional sounds of the street outside made him feel as though he were part of the human race. A member in good standing. Later, when darkness closed in, he would reluctantly close the window and draw the torn shade. Then the creaks and groans of the tired old tenement would begin, along with the disembodied voices of the people who lived there years ago. Their ups and downs. It was as though they rewound the tapes of their lives and played them back for Zacharias to hear. Until then he had work to do. His book! Three years in the writing! Much too long he thought. He was at a point where he argued with himself every time he sat down to work. ''This was wrong – that was unsupportable.'' He refuted his arguments and doubted his conclusions. Just about every time he drew an inference and tried to express it, he thought of a counter interpretation that made him sit back and reconsider. ''It's harder than I thought it would be,'' he said to himself as he sat surrounded by his notes and papers. ''Who the hell do I think I am anyway...!'' He grabbed a rolled up newspaper and brought it down as hard as he could on a roach walking across his work table. Because of his poor eyesight it was only a glancing blow. The roach shrugged it off and ran for cover behind the L.C. Smith typewriter. There it sat and wondered what that clap of thunder might have been... it seemed to come from the elderly gentleman in the chair. The roach held no grudge against Professor Zacharias, thousands of generations had taught the roach that these warm blooded giants were very possessive of their kitchens and bath rooms, their water pipes and dripping taps. It was their way of life... but a reasonable person should know by now, as all roaches know, you can't kill a roach with a rolled-up newspaper. The life sciences were never a strong point with Zacharias. His only love in life was philosophy. He vaguely remembered he had a brother in Denver and a wife in New Rochelle from whom he was separated. These two people and Mr. Klopotnik were the only living humans he had spoken to in the last three years. But he spoke constantly with Spinoza and Schopenhauer. At the window overlooking the street in the afternoons he had long arguments with Socrates and Sartre. The world of today had passed him by. It consisted of nothing but living people. There were too many of them, and to be perfectly frank, he couldn't tell one from the other ... except maybe Mr. Klopotnik. Dead philosophers were the only people he talked to, violently disagreed with and slavishly respected. ... but later, when darkness settled in, Zacharias would close his books and wander aimlessly through the three empty tenements. He was kept awake by the whispering of families who once lived there. He carried a Coleman lamp with him to light his way. Holding it high, it revealed ancient scars on wallpaper – ceiling leaks – patched floors and abandoned broken pieces of furniture left behind. In broken English and fluid Italian, the voices could be heard in the still of the night, and from the sound of them there was as much disagreement, argument and tragedy as Professor Zacharias found among his philosophers. He often asked himself, ''had there ever been happiness in this place?'' He never heard an expression of joy or gladness. ''Shouldn't there be some echo of that joy, some sign that there was once a moment of hope in this house?'' Yes, they were similar in many respects to the voices of the dead philosophers he worked with during the day. There were remembrances left behind. Old newspapers lining closet shelves – stains on wallpaper where pictures once hung – a sachet bag hanging in a bathroom – the stub of a ticket to a church lottery. Zacharias stared at these things and wondered what part they played in the life of the families who lived here. One of the newspapers, a tabloid, crisp and yellow, still revealed a photo of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan with the news of their disappearance in the Pacific. Zacharias tried to remember when that was –he couldn't, but he was sure it was a long time ago – before the war he thought. The newspaper fell apart as he held it in his hands. His nocturnal walks were like visiting the ruins of an ancient civilization – trying to discover what life might have been like in a city whose language and customs were strange to him. Like Vesuvius or Macchu Picchu. It was as hard to decipher as the writings of his beloved philosophers. He might have imagined it, but Zacharias thought the voices had grown louder and more insistent now that the tenement's days were numbered. Maybe they were having one last fling before they were silenced forever. For the past three nights it seemed all three hundred families were talking at the same time; he couldn't sleep. He was forced to walk the empty rooms until daylight came. Other than the rooms he occupied there was very little difference between night and day in the tenement and the stale air was a perfect sounding board for the voices of the past. It was in the third floor kitchen of number 27 that Zacharias found what he thought was the hot spot. He thought of it as 'the omphalos', the focal point of the sound and presence of the place. As he stood there holding his lamp high, the voices could be heard clearly, one tumbling over the other and he imagined he saw vague images of people in the light of his lantern. WOMAN'S VOICE: Speak to him. You're his father, you have to speak to him. MAN'S VOICE: I drive a cab! Eleven hours a day I drive. He's never here when I get home. How can I speak to him? <><><> CHILD'S VOICE: When can we go to grandma's? I like it there. <><><> MAN'S VOICE: Nessun figlio di mine farebbe una tal cosa! <><><> OLD MAN'S VOICE: Twelve years I been here now in this country, and when I dream I still dream of Palermo. OLD WOMAN'S VOICE: You remember papa ... walking into the wine cellar, the smell of the sausage, the salamis, the cheeses and the proscuittos hanging from the ceiling? <><><> WOMAN'S VOICE: Madre del dio–proteggali! <><><> Who were they? He couldn't see them but their voices were clear and there was the urgency of life in them. There was no doubting the fact that these people once lived here. He looked around the kitchen – it had probably been the kitchen of a dozen families, and now except for him and the roaches, it was abandoned. He was filled with sadness when he thought of this old tenement being demolished – what did Klopotnik say – two months maybe more. Yes maybe less too. Who could tell? What could he do to stop it? Would Klopotnik do such a thing if he knew about the voices? Maybe not, he was a good Polish Catholic. He carried rosary beads in his vest pocket and Zacharias had seen him cross himself while he stood waiting for the light to change on Amsterdam Avenue. Maybe there was still a chance to save the old place. Maybe it could be converted into something else without destroying it, a museum maybe. Klopotnik said he would stop by tomorrow... <><><> The next day, about four in the afternoon Zacharias heard him in the street below as he shouted up to the fifth floor window. ''You up in there, Zacharias? Zacharias, sleepy eyed from wandering about the house all night came to the window and looked down. ''Klopotnik! Good to see you. We should talk.'' ''Come down and open the cellar door my friend. I would like a word with you, at the same time.'' ''Tell you what, Klopotnik. Go up to the deli on the corner and get me a sandwich and a beer. I have yet to eat today. I'll be waiting at the cellar door.'' ''You have a preference, Zacharias?'' ''For what?'' ''For what kind of sandwich? What kind of beer?'' Zacharias waved his hand. ''Anything will do. When you're hungry anything will do.'' Klopotnik turned and walked quickly to the Belmont Deli. Zacharias lighted his lantern and started on the slow descent to the basement of 29 West 112th Street. He stood there, shifting his weight from foot to foot, wondering how to tell Mr. Klopotnik about the voices and how to convince him to abandon the idea of the Exeter town house. Then there was a knock on the door. ''Klopotnik out here. Are you in there Zacharias?'' Zacharias opened the door and Klopotnik handed him his bag of lunch as he stepped inside. If Zacharias stood erect he would have been a head taller than Klopotnik, but from years of writing and the numbing weight of philosophy on his shoulders, his posture had deteriorated. As a result both men were almost identical in height. ''This is your lunch, Zacharias. My treat. Enjoy.'' The two men slowly climbed the stairs to Zacharias' room Klopotnik a step or two behind. ''I promised myself to see you today, Zacharias. I worry about you sometimes. Your book is going well, no?'' ''It's like pulling teeth, Klopotnik. I doubt if I will ever finish.'' He hesitated a moment on the landing to catch his breath and turned to look at Klopotnik. ''Do you know Kierkegaard, Klopotnik?'' ''I have not had the pleasure.'' ''He wrote, 'If we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason.' I used to think that was bullshit. But now I'm not so sure maybe so much anymore.'' ''It is bullshit. I am the most reasonable man in the world and yet I would not give up the church. The church and The Exeter House. They are the two most important things in my life.'' ''There is your family, no?'' ''That's different.'' Zacharias sat on the top step of the fifth floor landing and opened the paper bag. ''I have much to tell you, Klopotnik ... is this corned beef? I haven't had corned beef in years.'' ''You mentioned voices yesterday,'' Klopotnik said. ''I want to ask you on the up and up; you are not harboring squatters in here are you? We agreed man to man, remember?'' ''Even squatters would not live here, Klopotnik.'' ''They stick like glue once they're inside, Zacharias. The police will do nothing to evict them, they would rather have them in here than out on the street. You understand, don't you, that when the plans are approved I want to tear this place down – one swing of the ball – ba-da-bing as they used to say up here in the Bronx.'' ''There is something else.'' ''Like what else, Zacharias... don't scare me?'' ''There are people here... '' ''Ha! I thought so! You're trying to pull a fast one, Zacharias.'' Zacharias took the last bite of his sandwich and finished off the beer. He put the empty can and the sandwich wrapper back in the bag and threw it over the banister. A second later they heard it hit the first floor landing. Then he picked up his lantern and stood up. ''Come,'' he said ''There are more things, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' Hamlet said that, Klopotnik. He had a head on him, that one.'' ''Where are we going?'' Klopotnik asked. ''To number twenty seven next door. The third floor, that's where they are.'' ''Who's there?'' Klopotnik asked nervously. ''I thought you said no one is here.'' ''The voices are there. You will hear them for yourself . You might even recognize some of them.'' They could hear the voices as they passed through the basement door to number 27. ''I can hear someone,'' Klopotnik said worriedly. ''Come clean, Zacharias. Are you hiding people in here?'' ''You're obsessed, Klopotnik. The past is in here – nothing more.'' They reached the stairwell of number 27 and Zacharias paused. ''The third floor, especially in the kitchen, Klopotnik; that's where the big decisions were made, that's where the families sat around the table to argue and count out the money to pay the landlord... is that where they paid you, Klopotnik?'' The voices grew louder as the two men climbed to the third floor. They were clearly understandable now as they stood at the door. ''There are people in there, Zacharias. What are you trying to pull?'' ''They're in there all right,'' Zacharias said. He opened the door to the apartment on the third floor and the voices tumbled over each other. In English and Italian, frightened and angry, young and old, all talking together. The figures were vague – they appeared and faded again passing through each other like puffs of smoke or fog, each of them for a moment assuming prominence and then melting into the background. ''I know these people, Zacharias, they lived here! But they moved away years ago! Why are they still here? Why did they come back!?'' Klopotnik held his rosary beads high and groped in his side pocket for his crucifix. Zacharias had only his Coleman lamp for protection; his philosopher heroes were back on the fifth floor of number 29 next door. They would not have been much help in this unusual situation in any case. The spirits of the tenants had a lot to say. Most of their wrath was directed at Mr. Klopotnik and his indifference to the supply of heat and hot water and his merciless insistence on being paid in full on the first day of every month. Zacharias did not escape their anger either. ''Kierkegaard indeed! What good is your Kierkegaard? He can't put food on the table! Socrates can't pay the rent – and Spinoza can't find a wealthy man for the oldest daughter either.'' They told Zacharias to stop sneaking around at night. ''Go back next door and play with your philosophers,'' they told him. With great haste, Klopotnik and Zacharias hurried down the three flights of stairs and crossed into the friendly confines of number 29. Zacharias unlocked the cellar door and the two men burst through into the street. They stood looking up at the seedy edifice of the old tenement in fear and wonder. ''What do you think now, Klopotnik?'' ''Once a tenant always a tenant. They will always be tenants.'' Klopotnik put his crucifix back in his vest pocket. ''I could tell you things, Zacharias... the shoe fits my foot too, you know. I would rent a flat to a family of four... I come back next month and there are twenty people living there. Heat, light and the electric for twenty people instead of four. Imagine, the cooking! The oven on full blast twenty-four hours a day! It was no bed of roses, Zacharias.'' He pulled back his sleeve and looked at his watch. ''I shall go home now I think – maybe have a cup of tea.'' He shook his head in exasperation and wonder... but mostly exasperation. ''What about you, Zacharias?'' ''They were right about Kierkegaard and the rest of them you know. Life goes on better without philosophy.'' ''But it's all you know how to do, Zacharias. If you are not a philosopher you are nothing.'' He straightened his shoulders a bit and stood as tall as he could. ''Are we to fold up like cheap suitcases? Look at us Zacharias – we are men, are we not? Are we to turn around our tails and run for shelter when a ghost says 'boo' to us?'' ''You are brave now, Klopotnik.'' ''Yes, I am brave now. I frighten easily, Zacharias, but after the fear I am brave again. There is no alternative, when life has you by the balls, fighting back is all you can do.'' He threw an arm about Zacharias' narrow shoulders. ''Come, let us both be brave again. Go back in there and talk this over with your philosophers.'' ''Are you going to talk to your wife about abandoning the Town House, Klopotnik.'' ''We need the money, Zacharias,'' he said defensively. ''Two kids in Harvard and the oldest girl is engaged. It's not a good time to run from voices.'' He withdrew his arm and sighed deeply. ''I am in hock up to my ass, Zacharias. The architect, the engineer, the bank – you wouldn't believe.'' He stared at Zacharias with burning eyes. ''Put this down in your philosophy book, Zacharias – nothing stiffens a man's pecker more than the threat of financial disaster.'' Klopotnik turned and walked away. In the growing twilight, Zacharias considered the wisdom of what he just heard. It was true – he never read that in Sartre or Socrates. Why hadn't they thought of that? It was true! Klopotnik had bigger pair of balls than any of them. Zacharias squared his shoulders and walked into the cellar entrance of number 29, held his Coleman lamp high and as he climbed the stairs, he shouted, ''Get ready up there, you phonies – I'm coming. We're going to have it out, you and me – I'm not afraid of you any more either!'' He was talking to his beloved teachers who argued quietly and dispassionately among themselves, their voices muffled by the heavy imitation leather covers. They were alarmed by this new mutinous tone of voice. But Zacharias was also fully aware his words were heard by the tenants who seemed to feel the old building was still theirs, and the roaches! Yes. Bless their hearts, the roaches who in many ways had always been the real tenants and the true inheritors of 27, 29 and 30, West 112th Street. It was quiet on the 5th floor. Zacharias had grown used to the whispering undercurrent of voices and he was shocked at the silence. Only the muted city noises outside the parlor window. Where were the voices? His bravado slowly dissipated and he wished Klopotnik was with him to give him a little moral support. The door to his apartment was slightly ajar, just as he left it. He never bothered to shut doors any more, there was no one in the building but him and he grew used to leaving them wide open – he considered it the philosophical thing to do. The door creaked as he slowly swung it open, slowly revealing his writing table with his books piled high on one side and his dog-eared manuscript, sitting beside the old L.C. Smith typewriter. He asked himself again, as he had a thousand times before. ''Who cares, who gives a shit? These old tenements, the voices and the tired words of philosophy – who cares? The only living things are the roaches.'' Zacharias took the fasteners out of his manuscript and scattered the pages on his bed. He broke the backs of his Schopenhauers, Kierkegaards and Nietzsches and flung their pages around the room. Then he walked into the kitchen and reached for the box of wooden matches that hung on the wall. ©Harry Buschman 2006 (4070)
Archived comments for The Tenants
Mikeverdi on 19-11-2014
The Tenants
SO pleased to see the Nib Harry, I enjoyed the read. Sadly not enough hits or comments; this deserves more attention.
Mike

Author's Reply:

sirat on 26-11-2014
The Tenants
Yes, an excellent piece of writing, as always from Harry. I could see the ending coming but that didn't matter, the atmosphere of the piece was truly powerful.

I only spotted two small mistakes, which isn't bad in more than 4,000 words. A missing indefinite article in 'Klopotnik had bigger pair of balls than any of them' and the address of the tenements changes from 'East 185th Street' in the second paragraph to 'West 112th Street' throughout the rest of the story.

Author's Reply:


The Man Who Married Lily Bart (posted on: 07-11-14)
About a book salesman who almost, but not quite, gets carried away.

The Man Who Married Lily Bart (A Ghost Story) by Harry Buschman My name is Higgins. J.C. Higgins. I work at the Sunrise Mall Book Shop in Sayersville, New Jersey. That's a true fact, one I'm sure of. The rest of my story, while just as true, is more difficult to believe. I am a single, youngish man, somewhat carelessly dressed, balding, yet not completely unattractive to women. Until today I have worked in retail, and sadly that fact more than any other has brought me in contact with women. Women, in the act of buying things can be unattractive... sad to say. I see many women in the Sunrise Mall Book Shop. Most of them are women... young women. If they know the title of a book, they don't know who wrote it. If they know it they can't remember the title. To save face they may buy two or three, hoping one of them is the book they wanted. One of them might say, "Do you have "Bare Bones?" I might answer, "I think so, ma'am, that's the one by Kathy Reichs, I believe." "No, it's by Tom Clancy." "I don't think so, ma'am. He wrote "Teeth of the Tiger." That was by the front door as you came in. Perhaps..." "Oh no. I'm quite positive... it's Clancy's latest... maybe I should speak to the manager." By then Mr. Purvis, the manager, will have both books in front of her and there is always a great deal of soul searching, sometimes resulting in the purchase of both. Or the technique might fluster the customer, embarrass her, and end up a no sale. "You can always return the one you don't want," Mr. Purvis would suggest. He knew they never would. It would get lost or borrowed or left out in the rain. In the summer, older women drop in for "something to read" while on vacation down at the shore. It isn't unusual for a woman to ask for a half dozen Danielle Steel's, (as if they were bananas). "It doesn't matter if I've read them before," they'll say, "I forget them the minute I've read them." Fiction does not attract many male customers. The few men who visit the shop can be found burrowing through computer manuals or the biographies of dead sports heroes. But it was not that way with "Bargain Ben." Mr. Purvis used to call him that. He'd nudge me and say, "Here comes Bargain Ben, ignore him... he's a pain in the ass." Bargain Ben dropped in almost every day during lunch hour. He worked in a dental appliance lab in the mall and he spent his lunch hour with his nose in the bargain bin. He silently mouthed the titles and the author's names as he passed his hand over the bargain books. His real name was J. Maudlin. He always bought something and he always used his credit card; that's how I knew his name was J. Maudlin. Mr. Purvis wouldn't bother to wait on him, "I'd soon be out of business if all my customers were like him," he said. A month or so ago, on a rainy Thursday, J. Maudlin stood in front of me, shifting his weight from foot to foot and clearing his throat to get my attention. When I looked up, he asked, "Have the bargain books come in yet, young man?" His eagerness was plain to see. It was far and above the kind of eagerness you see in a book store. His glasses were set askew on his nose so that one of his eyes seemed lower than the other. I recognized in Mr. Maudlin a kindred spirit. He must have been a bachelor, as I was. But unlike me, Mr. Maudlin apparently had a different passion in life, it was not one I would have chosen. He knew the bargain books arrived on Thursday. They came in unmarked cartons and were dumped in the store room. Mr. Purvis and I wouldn't get around to them until Friday and they would seldom be stacked in the bargain bin before late Saturday afternoon. But Bargain Ben knew they were back there and he wanted to be the first customer to get a crack at them. I pretended to be occupied and without looking up I mumbled, "Yes, I think so. But the cartons haven't been opened yet. We're very busy with the best sellers." "I'm on the lookout for John Updike, there's so much of him that's out of print. The short fiction you know… and there's Chekhov? The late works," "Maybe Saturday. We have more time on Saturdays." "You open at nine on Saturday, right?" "Ten thirty." "I'll be waiting." It seemed to go that way every week or so. The same questions, the same answers. Finally I would ring up his purchases and Bargain Ben would pay with his credit card. Back he'd go to the dental appliance lab with another sack of books. On a Saturday three weeks ago I arrived at the store at ten thirty. Mr. Purvis hadn't come in yet but Bargain Ben was already waiting at the door. We stood together and chatted about something or other, the weather probably. It was unusually warm for November. When Mr. Purvis arrived, the three of us entered the store together and Bargain Ben said he would wait by the storeroom door. "I can help you if you'd like," he suggested hopefully. If anyone else walked in at that moment they would have thought he worked there. Mr. Purvis and I took our time. I made coffee and he opened a bag of buns he brought in. From time to time I looked through the peephole in the storage door to see what Mr. Maudlin was up to. He was fidgeting, pacing up and down impatiently. He browsed through the shelves and bins he had combed through the day before. He even looked at some of the popular best sellers on the tables up front, all the while glancing anxiously at the storeroom door. I felt sorry for him wandering around out there and I mentioned to Mr. Purvis that maybe we should take pity on him and let him in. After Purvis finished his coffee he felt more sociable and he said it would be okay. I opened the storeroom door and asked Mr. Maudlin if he'd like to come in and give us a hand. "That would be awfully kind of you," he said. He skittered past me and stood by the open cartons, scanning the titles. "I know I must be imposing," he said. "but I can't tell you how much this means to me." "I never saw a man as interested in old books as you, Mr. Maudlin," I said. "There's nothing here of value you understand. The wholesaler looks them over very carefully before they leave the warehouse." "I'm not looking for something old or rare in that sense. It's more a matter of the books that have been forgotten... a sort of benign neglect, you know." I watched him rubbing his fingers over the shabby bindings, his lips moving ever so slowly, his glasses askew. "There! Look! Franz Kafka, Flannery O'Connor – that was published in 1933. Never sold well – bad reviews – no one wanted it. Imagine!" "It's only words," I shrugged. ''To me books are books." Mr. Maudlin was frustrated, unable to express what the books meant to him. I thought I knew what he was driving at, books are nothing until they mean something to somebody – I guess that's what Mr. Maudlin was trying to say. But so what! I was a clerk, I sold them, they could have been screws or washers, vegetables or underwear. He closed his eyes half-way, as though he saw something no one else could see, "Did you ever read Wharton, Edith Wharton, young man?" "No I haven't. Is she in the ten best?" Maudlin's eyes blinked open again, as though the spell had been broken. "Turn of the century young man... the last century. something I read last night... suddenly the character, a woman named Lily Bart was standing there. Herself. Not Edith Wharton, but the woman in the book. I was reading "House of Mirth." Remarkable – Wharton's sense of presence. The words haunted me. Listen to this young man," and suddenly he recited a passage from memory, as though he held the book in his hands... ..."They turned into Madison Avenue and began to stroll northward. As she moved beside him, with her long light step, Seldon was conscious of taking a luxurious pleasure in her nearness." Maudlin closed his eyes again. "Can't you see her young man? Have you ever walked up Madison Avenue with a beautiful woman on your arm?" "Well, not exactly," I answered. "But I see what you mean." He opened his eyes wide again as though the girl in the story had returned... "He had a confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her.'' …''Can't you see that woman before you? The picture is clear to me. The words –– they're like a bridge to a another time." Maudlin must have bought fifteen books that Saturday morning, It was probably the biggest sale of our day and the normal taciturn Mr. Purvis had to admit that old Bargain Ben wasn't such a bad customer after all. That was the last time either of us saw Bargain Ben. ... Until today. The weeks slipped by quickly and with the coming and going of customers, both of us suddenly realized with a start that Bargain Ben wasn't dropping in at lunch time. He had been a commonplace fixture in the store at that time every day, and I suppose we thought he was there even when he wasn't. I mentioned to Mr, Purvis that Bargain Ben hadn't been in the store for three weeks. "The reason I know it's been three weeks, is that I was stacking Nora Roberts' "Dream Makers" on the front table. Now here I am stacking Nora Roberts' "Morrigan's Creek." She bats one out of the park every three weeks. I'm sure he hasn't been around –– look at the bargain bin. It's loaded." It was definitely loaded. I walked over to it and even though I had an unpracticed eye I could see books by Vonnegut, Malamud and even one by Doctorow. Bargain Ben would have been delighted. I shook my head and turned back to the check-out counter. Beyond the counter was the show window looking out on the crowded mall. It was lunch time and many people were walking outside. I realized I would be busy at the check-out counter for the next hour or so and I broke open some coin tubes for change, still thinking about Mr. Maudlin. As I closed the cash register drawer, I looked outside and there he was! He was walking by the window with a very attractive woman on his arm. There was an aura of intimacy between them. As she held his left arm his right hand was closed over hers. There was an expression on his face that reminded me of the Saturday morning in the store room three weeks ago. The woman he described then seemed to fit the woman with him –– "Turn of the century," he said. Yes, that fitted her exactly; people didn't dress like that any more. I watched them walking together until they were lost in the crowd. I puzzled over it and finally mentioned to Mr. Purvis later in the afternoon that I had seen Bargain Ben walking in the mall with a young woman. He shrugged and said I must have been mistaken. "He's not the kind of person to be walking arm in arm with a woman –– no way." That wasn't enough for me. I was positive I had seen him. As the afternoon wore on I kept one eye on the people in the book store and another on the passersby outside. About four in the afternoon I saw Mr. Maudlin outside again, this time walking alone. I told Mr. Purvis I'd be gone a minute and I caught up with him outside. There was a sparkle in his eyes I hadn't noticed before. "We were wondering if anything happened to you, Mr. Maudlin. It's been weeks since you've been in the store... lots of new stuff... I just saw two books by Vonnegut." "Who?" "Vonnegut. Kurt Vonnegut. Isn't he one of your favorites?" His face softened a bit when he recognized me. "Oh yes, you're Mr. Higgins –– from the book store here at the mall. I didn't recognize you. Yes, yes, quite right, I remember you now. Vonnegut you say, yes, excellent writer. New novel, eh? Hope it does well." His eyes lowered a bit as he stared down the length of the mall. "I used to read a great deal myself –– fiction mostly. Might pick up on reading again... after our honeymoon perhaps. First things first, you know." It was almost too much for me to take. Giving up on the bargain bin and getting married. I stumbled over the words, but I remember saying, "Congratulations, Mr. Maudlin. Yes, I understand, Vonnegut can wait. I think I saw you pass by with a young lady earlier, was she... ?" "Had to be, young man. Wasn't she lovely?" "Yes, very pretty. Is she an actress?" "No, why do you ask?" "Well... I thought... I mean, the way she was dressed. I thought she may have been in costume." "I can see why that confused you." Mr. Maudlin rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Yes," he said more to himself than me, "That hadn't occurred to me –– strange it should make a difference, but I guess it does." He turned away from me almost as though I wasn't there and began to move into the crowd. Then he turned around and said, "Perhaps I should explain. Is there a place where we can sit?" We found an empty table in a coffee shop near the bookstore. "Let it be my treat," he said. He took a paper napkin from the holder and polished his glasses. "This business with the young lady... I don't know if it has a happy ending or not." He held his glasses up to the light and polished them again. "That remains to be seen, I suppose. It's a strange story, a little like science fiction, romance and I dare say a fairy tale thrown in for good measure. Her name is Lily Bart –– does that mean anything to you?" "I don't think I've heard the name." "She's the one I told you about some time ago... the girl in the story by Edith Wharton." I shook my head. "Wait a minute. Not the girl I saw you with." Our coffee came and Mr. Maudlin leaned back to wait for the waiter to finish. "Yes. She's the one. The very same." "How can that be?" "I can only say she appeared to me suddenly one evening as I held the book in my hand. Edith Wharton had drawn her so sharply, so faithfully... that she was suddenly there, standing before me. You know, Mr. Higgins, a character may be fictional to the writer, and at the same time, very real to the reader." "It's too much for me. I can't believe it." "You saw her yourself." I hadn't heard him say he was in love with her. Although it's not something a man readily asks or confesses to another man, but I felt it was not something to be left out of our conversation. "I'm sure there will be a happy ending, Mr. Maudlin –– after all you're in love." 'I really don't know, Mr. Higgins. I wish it were that simple, she seems more of an obsession, something I've created –– a woman perhaps, born out of the pages of a book. She comes. She goes. She is unpredictable." I finished my coffee quickly and stood up. "I should be getting back to the store, Mr. Maudlin. Thank you for the coffee... and I hope it all works out for you..." I tried to congratulate him on his forthcoming marriage again but the words stuck in my throat. "Must you go? Yes, I suppose you must. I'd like to tell you more about her, she's a unique person. Some other time perhaps... oh," he added, "there is one thing..." "What's that?" "I know her future –– Miss Bart's, I mean. She does not. She died of a drug addiction in the story. I can see the beginnings of it now. It's a terrible thing to know the future of someone you love. I must control her if I can... she will be my responsibility, you know? She no longer belongs to Edith Wharton." I didn't want to hear any more. The man was mad, he admitted as much –– he said he was obsessed. As I walked back to the store, it occurred to me that he was as much a victim of an addiction as Lily Bart might have been. He had lost himself in a novel! I remembered long ago when my father read me to sleep... we would both get lost in the story. Then he would close the book and turn out the light. He had my mother to go to, but I'd be left behind, trapped in the story. When I got back to the Sunrise Mall Book Shop I looked carefully –– maybe for the first time, at the hundreds of bedraggled books in the bargain bin. It suddenly occurred to me there were women in them, not the women of Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts. These were tragic spirits –– sirens waiting to change the lives of lonely men like Mr.Maudlin who discovered one standing at his side one evening while reading an old book by Edith Wharton. I picked one at random. It began... ... ''Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita ...'' Fiction was not for me. I put it down quickly! ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for The Man Who Married Lily Bart
Mikeverdi on 13-11-2014
The Man Who Married Lily Bart
Harry, I have no idea why this hasn't attracted more attention; I think its wonderful. Thanks so much for posting it and making my morning.
Mike

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Andrea on 15-11-2014
The Man Who Married Lily Bart
Absolutely brilliant, harry - loved it!

Author's Reply:
Can't remember who I loved more, Lily or Lolita.


What Kind of German? (posted on: 15-09-14)
Last thoughts of a patriot

What Kind of German? by Harry Buschman It was a poor excuse for a trial. They did not think it legal to give me a lawyer, and I know nothing of the law as it is practiced in Germany today. I was accused and found guilty even before the trial began. It was over before I knew what was happening to me. Guilty of harboring six Jews. Harboring! What does that mean? Did I harbor them? What would you have done, let them stand out there in the rain? And now as the sergeant counts out "BEREIT," I must ask myself that question. It was the same question I asked Gestapo Hauptmann Ketzel at the trial. He said I should have called the police immediately. Perhaps I should have, but you see, if I did that, I knew what would happen to them, and it's different when you know. They were trucked in to sandbag the river which was running a meter above flood stage as it flowed through our little town of Arnsberg this spring. As Hauptman Ketzel saw it, there was no excuse for compassion at this stage of the war. Germany had patriots or it had enemies – it had nothing in between. Those Jews are long dead now, all six of them. What did they do, these enemies of the state? They were born Jewish, and although they had been born German as well, they would forever bear the stain of their Jewishness. Their mothers and fathers were Jewish. No one could be of Jewish blood and live free in Arnsberg in 1943. No stroke of good fortune could ever come their way – no helping hand from a stranger. Even though the guards left them alone on the dike and forgot to count them in the camp when day was done. Even then. It was my duty as a German to report them, even if no one knew they were missing. It is strange to stand here so calmly at the shout of "BEREIT" to think of my shoe factory. At this time of day the shifts are changing, and before the next shift arrives I shall be gone. My factory! It was mine for a little while. Lady's shoes. Shoes for gentlemen, and shoes for little boys and girls, but after the Reichstag fire it was boots. Boots for the Wehrmach. My factory, "Well," Hilda said, "it is our country after all. Our country is bigger than your shoe factory. What can we do? Be patient, and when this war is over, you will have your factory back again." Then, she became ill, and old Dr. Ewald said there was a growth, and it must be cut out immediately or it will spread. But he could do nothing! The hospital was filled with troops wounded in the Africa campaign. Oh! How I hated the Jews that day! Yes, and the encircling armies of the damnable English, Americans and Russians as well. Were it not for that Hilda might have lived – could you blame me? I don't know when my hate turned itself to the country of my birth and upon myself as well. It was long after Hilda died. The factory was running 24 hours a day. Anyone who could stand for ten hours could work there. It seemed to me the whole world was against Germany, our only allies were an Italian comic opera buffoon and an emperor dressed like a toy admiral of the Japanese navy. Our young men, our wealth, and the irreplaceable beauty of our land was slipping through our fingers like sand. Slowly but methodically all my Jewish friends in the shoe business disappeared. One by one their wives and children vanished. There were stories, I couldn't believe the stories I heard in the street, but then there were facts too. The Jews could no longer own their factories and the shops they had saved and scrimped for. They could no longer live in their well cared for houses, and it had been said, they could not travel from place to place as free people do. We wondered what happened to them. The arm bands they wore? Yes... I know. The scuffles in the street in the dead of night? Well... there was a war, such things happen. We heard of the centers? Ah, yes... well, who could tell. The rumors were unbelievable. The stories were unbelievable. Such things could not happen in a civilized country. But when the spring flood of '43 came, we knew, we couldn't help but know. The six of them stood there. One of them, a little boy, no more than fourteen spoke in a voice so low it seemed to come from a different place. He said, "We are Juden, we have been forgotten, the lorry left without us. We shall be killed if we are found." They were wet, cold and barely able to stand. Little more than skeletons at my doorstep. At the time I thought it unbelievable they did not take the opportunity to escape, but as I stand here now in the warm spring sun I realize how stupid I was – where could they go? Where could they have found the strength to go? Their only hope to live another day was to return to the detention camp at Arnsberg. I asked them in, I did not know what else to do. I decided to feed them. I let them dry their clothes by my fire. Birgit my cook, eyed them with hatred, and with a slow intake of breath she looked at me with reproach. I asked her, "We have soup from yesterday, yes Birgit?" "You would feed these Jews, Herr Nachtmann?" Birgit had lost her two sons in the debacle of Leningrad, and like so many of us she looked for someone to blame – a whipping boy. All she had were the Jews. It is useless to accuse your country. You cannot prosecute your country, even when it is guilty. "Had it not been for these Jews we would not have undertaken this accursed war, Herr Nachtmann – they are to blame! What kind of a German would feed a Jew?" "Look at them, Birgit, look at them! They are victims too. We shall feed them tonight, and tomorrow Luckner takes the lorry to Aachen for hides. Perhaps they can lose themselves in the city." "ZIEL!" So soon? It must mean they intend to go through with my execution. So soon after "BEREIT," comes "Ziel." To be shot for a Christian gesture! Oh Lord how far we have come. Patriots or enemies ... nothing in between. It was she, Birgit, who called the Arnsberg police and before the poor wretches' clothes were dry, the police and the Gestapo burst through the front door. Yes, it was Birgit who told them of my plan to help them. She was consumed with hate and venom, it seethed like a wild beast within her. She had been with Hilda and me so many years, and yet she stood like a witch in the corner pointing her finger at me .... "I shall bear witness. Herr Nachtmann took them in and he planned their escape. What kind of a German would do that?" A very good question, Birgit. When this is over, you will be called to identify me. It should not be difficult, I am told the squad does not aim for the head. You will be avenged. Then what Birgit? Probably you will cook for the Gestapo and know that you have avenged the death of your two sons. Then you will see the kind of German I am, Birgit, and the kind I could never be. So quick it was between "BEREIT", and "ZIEL"! Now I wait for "FEUER." It seems it will never come. I stare at the twelve one-eyed men who stand between me and the sun – dark impenetrable faces -- I recognize some of them. They are young boys from the town, one whose father worked for me. How can a country of Beethoven and Heine produce such children? The Hauptmann to the right has raised his hand, and as though he were a statue, he will not bring it down. In the fading sanity of my country does he wonder too? How long can he hold it there? Why does he wait so long? Is this all a game of cards – a bluff to frighten me? "FEUER!!" .... The sergeant's voice is tentative – with a measure of reservation and regret, like the voice of a man who cannot remember if he turned off the gas before leaving home. I thought I might hear the rifles, but it is as they say – you never hear them. ©Harry Buschman 1998 (1450)
Archived comments for What Kind of German?
sirat on 15-09-2014
What Kind of German?
A great piece of writing. You really manage to get inside the mind of this bewildered and despairing man, condemned to death for displaying ordinary human decency. Up to the end we hope the sentence will not be carried out, but it is entirely inevitable that it will be. A study in human mass psychosis, a disease still widespread and seemingly uncurable.

Author's Reply:
Took a little time, this one. Hard getting into someone else's shoes, but once there it seemed to write itself.

Mikeverdi on 15-09-2014
What Kind of German?
Harry, that was bloody brilliant. I could feel my skin tightening as I read through the words. I felt like he must have , not wanting to believe what was happening; wonderful writing. I have to rate this.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Very kind of yoiu, Mike, comments from you are very worthwhile

expat on 11-11-2014
What Kind of German?
Accomplished writing.
I've never clicked on a story of yours that wasn't a pleasure to read.

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The Casualty (posted on: 08-08-14)
A monologue of a wounded man.

The Casualty Harry Buschman The soldier on the table doesn't miss a trick. His eye follows every movement of the nurse in the holding room. His doctors are looking at his x-rays through the illuminator and there is soft piano music coming from speakers in the ceiling. He is in a cold sweat, and to hide his anxiety he clears his throat and starts to talk in a brittle voice... to no one in particular. "I could never figure that guy Chopin. What the titles meant, I mean. Who knows what was on his mind. He called that piece an etude, that's all I know. ''Etude.'' That's a study, right? Well, what's that got to do with anything? I mean, you play it. You try to get the notes right... you're not studying anything, you're just trying to get the fuckin' notes right.'' ''Then there's old man Hemingway and his 85 percent crap below the surface... I mean, it's all bull shit when you get right down to it... show biz. You do the best you can." "I didn't tell you about the time I got quartered up in Portland, Maine, did I? There's nothing up there man, nothin' to do but look out the window and stare at the snow. You know what kind of USO shows get sent up to Portland, Maine? You might as well stay in the barracks and play cards or maybe knock down a fifth in the day room. I got started reading in the Portland library the very day Anita O'Day came up to sing at the USO. I read guys like Joyce and Conrad and whatever and I kept the corners of my bunk sharp and square." He looks over at the doctors... "Tell me how much it's going to hurt before you do it Doc, would you please? I want to be ready for the pain. I can stand a lot of pain when I'm ready for it, but when the bullet hits you before you hear it... well, it hurts like hell. The hand will be all right won't it doc. I play the piano y'know. I got a thing for music." He swallows hard and turns his head to the nurse again. "There was this American Lieutenant named Pinkerton, he was stationed on a cruiser in Nagasaki harbor. He doesn't know a word of Japanese – I mean, who does, right? He falls for a geisha girl and she doesn't know a word of English, so they decide to talk in Italian. Will you tell me how people can sit still for that shit? Two fingers you said, right? I'll have to get along with two fingers on the right hand?" "What kind of glove? Soft kid with three artificial fingers. I'll have to get used to the idea of it – shakin' hands y'know. Y'can't just walk up to a man and tell him he's going to live the rest of his life with only two fingers on his right hand – specially if he's right-handed I mean. He's gotta find a way to live with that. Like dialing a phone and opening a door. Did you know Maurice Ravel wrote a piano concerto for a man with no right arm? Had it shot off during double U double U 1. Pretty nice gesture I thought. I'm rambling I guess. How long does it take for the gas to kick in Doc? I've been talking here y'know. Rambling like. You haven't given it yet? Oh, they're not ready yet? How long does it take? The operation I mean... after that I'll be layin' out in recovery, right." The soldier was quiet after that. He might have run out of things to say, or maybe he was so full of personal thoughts he was unaware of the anesthesiologist standing at his side. Whatever the reason, nothing was heard from him until he woke up in his bed with his hand in a soft cast. He felt no pain, there was a throbbing in the hand, but no pain. It would have been nice, he thought, if somebody was here with him... somebody who could tell him how the operation went. What came next? He had no idea, but he felt entirely unprepared for it. As unprepared as the day it happened. That day – the day it happened, there was a commotion at the corner. They pulled over and stopped diagonally at the curb so they could turn around fast if they had to. They stormed out of the hum-vee and stood on the lee side of it during the firing. Somebody said he saw a rocket grenade being fired, somebody down on one knee. That was about the time he was hit. He felt as though someone had brushed his hand aside, nothing more. Then he saw the bloody stump of his right hand and he got loose in his bowels. They helped him back in the vehicle and the driver got them out of there. He had his eyes shut tight all the way back, didn't even know somebody had tied his bloody arm up to stop the bleeding. His eyes were shut tight all the way. From that afternoon to this he lost all track of time. It seemed like everything happened in one long continuous day. The medics were stringing him along, he was sure they were holding the bad news back. "What did you do before the war?" They all asked him that to start off with. When he said he played the piano they swore he'd play it even better when he got out of the hospital. "They do re-construction miracles these days," they said – "you'll play better than ever," they said. He didn't believe it for a minute. He didn't give a damn either way. He was finished with the piano. That was why he signed up with the Guard in the first place. His trio was dead in the water. Never made it out of the East Side – even with that damn blonde soloist – she took them on one at a time. Changed her tune every time. Blues with him. R & B with Ernie on the alto and finally took off with a guitar player she met in the Village. He was never happier than he was with the Guard, until he got to Iraq, then it got dirty. He found himself firing blind sometimes, not giving a damn what he hit or if he hit anything at all. The people wore rags, head to foot, shifty eyed, mumbling together... you couldn't turn your back, and in spite of his organization and his superior equipment during his tour in Iraq he always felt vulnerable. ... and now, with the war behind him, and the rest his life ahead of him, he feels more vulnerable than ever. ©Harry Buschman (1147)
Archived comments for The Casualty
sirat on 18-08-2014
The Casualty
A simple story, well told. Makes you think of the lives lost and destroyed out there and the billions spent on the war – all to leave the people who weren't killed by one side or the other ten times worse off than they were before, and the whole area in total chaos and a paradise for terrorists and suicide bombers. Nice bit of foreign policy that.

Author's Reply:


Redondo Rose (posted on: 28-07-14)
Maybe you remember her. It was not so long ago, back in the days of Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy.

Redondo Rose by Harry Buschman The surfers at Redondo Beach noticed the dark clad woman the week before Memorial Day. They were taking the rescue course for the coming summer and didn't have time to give her their full attention – but they wouldn't have anyway. She was a most unattractive woman. She was there every day. Some days even before the life guards arrived. It didn't matter what the weather was, so long as it wasn't raining she would be at Redondo Beach. The surfers called her Morticia. They were young and never heard of Pola Negri or Gloria Swanson. The only woman they had ever seen dressed like that was Morticia in the Addams Family. An older man... one with a good memory might have seen in her a vague resemblance to the old movie star Michelle Keyes. She would arrive in an all enveloping, multi-paneled black dress that hung from her gaunt body like a shroud. It fitted loosely, and as ragged as the feathers of a molting bird. Her appearance at the beach drew the attention of, not only the surfers and life guards, but families with children out for a day in the sun. They were drawn to her out of curiosity, for the same reason people watch someone making a fool of themselves in a public place – to see them to do something grotesque. Morticia never failed, she looked like someone who had gotten loose from the madhouse and was waiting at the beach for the guards to come and get her. She wore a wide brimmed black straw hat similar to that worn by wine growers in the south of France, it was tied under her chin with a purple sash. She wore very black sunglasses, so impenetrably black that the outside world must have seemed like night to her. Her lipstick was applied with utter disregard for the shape of her lips and made her mouth look like the opening of a fresh wound. She carried a large wicker basket in which she carried a light blue plastic tarpaulin. She spread the tarpaulin out flat in the sand and sat in its geometric center with the basket nearby. From the basket she removed a secretary's note pad and a ball point pen. Casting a surreptitious look about her, she removed a thermos jug and placed it by her side – almost ready now, but first she reached under the hem of her dress and pulled down the top of her black stockings. One by one she rolled them down to the tops of her shoes. Then she fit a king sized cigarette in a long black holder and lit it with a wind-proof lighter. Her skin was chalky white. Although she sat in the sun all day she had the unhealthy look of someone housebound. The whiteness of her skin contrasted with her black dress, and her face under the wide brimmed hat, except for her garish lips, was ghostly pale. What kept her from acquiring a tan or protected her from a lobster red sun burn? The people at Redondo Beach often wondered – as the summer wore on they got darker and darker, and by July most of the surfers were the color of roasted chestnuts. Morticia remained maggoty white. She sat until everyone had gone home, and paid no attention to the water or the families about her. Her only interest was writing in her notebook. She often paused in her writing and looked up at the sky through her black sunglasses as though considering a turn of phrase – or to take a quick sip from her thermos. Reaching into her wicker basket at noontime, she withdrew a chicken leg ... sometimes a wedge of cheese. At regular intervals she removed the stub of her burned out cigarette from the holder and replaced it with a fresh one, carefully depositing the stub in a hole she previously dug in the sand. Children were drawn to her. With undisguised curiosity they stood open mouthed in front of her as though she was some sort of attraction and perhaps at any moment would spring into action and do something melodramatic. As time passed and nothing happened they would grow bored and drift away. She continued writing in her notebook and stared at the sky through her black sunglasses. As the summer season progressed and the crowds began to fill the beach, she became less conspicuous and like an eccentric loner in a large city, she was swallowed up in the crowd. Occasionally a lifeguard would look in her direction and nudge his sidekick, ''She's still there, over there between the two red umbrellas.'' The lifeguards had a bet going; ''If she ever needs help in the water, I'll toss you to see who goes for her – loser has to go, okay?'' She was seventy-four years old and the last forty of her years had been spent in total retirement. Forty years ago she would have been recognized instantly – so would two of her three husbands. Michelle Keyes was a regular feature in the monthly movie magazines. There were women far more beautiful than she – almost every woman in Hollywood was a better actress, and all of them were easier to work with, but there was something about Michelle that men could not resist. Truck drivers and actors alike were mesmerized by that something – and that something was just as powerful in the last row of a movie house in Chattanooga as it was in her bedroom. She spent almost all her years in Hollywood creating and preserving the image of Michelle Keyes – a woman who never existed. In her notebook she had just written .... .... ''Manny says I don't know how to sit down or get up, I can't drink out of a cup and keep my elbow down,'' then I took Ronnie's hand in mine. ''I gotta do it like Michelle Keyes,'' I said. Ronnie Kelly was complaining about my new ''look,'' I was a brunette now, and he knew me as an ash blonde when he married me back in Rockaway Park. ''It was no good in the camera,'' I explained. ''I looked prematurely gray. You can understand, can'tcha Ronnie? It had to be platinum or black – there's no in between in the movies.'' .... ''What about us, Rosie? What about me?'' He always came back to that. ''I never married a Michelle Keyes, Rosie.'' .... ''I gotta forget all about Rose Hanrahan, Ronnie. Like she never was ....'' ... He looked at me sadly, ''Your name was Kelly – Rose. Remember? We're still married.'' .... ''Aw .... Ronnie, don't make it any tougher than it is.'' .... ''The upshot of it was that Manny, my agent, paid Ronny off and for $5000 Ronny went back to Rockaway Park and filed for divorce. From then on it was work – the demanding work of turning Rose Hanrahan into Michelle Keyes. Now, at the age of seventy-four, I wonder why they picked me, of all people to live the life of this woman.'' Once in a while, as she stared up into the sun the answer seemed to be on the tip of her tongue. Just about the time she perfected the character of Michelle Keyes, the studio told her she was too old to play the part. Manny tried to break it gently, but he couldn't hold back the truth. .... ''It'd be diff'rent, Mitch if y'could act, but lookit the facts. You read the reviews of ''Mother's Girl'' dint'cha?'' Manny put his cigar down and stood up. He came around from behind his desk and put his arm around my shoulder. ''Republic ain't gonna put their money in nothin' without it bein' a sure thing. If I wuz you sweetie I'd get the hell outta Hollywood – y'owe it to y'self.'' .... I well remembered how I felt – humiliated, defeated. I wanted to crawl off somewhere and die, not for myself – not for Rose Hanrahan, but for Michelle. I let Michelle down. And how right Manny was, ''Mother's Girl'' might have been a better movie if Michelle, trying to avoid looking like an older woman, wasn't in it.'' The sun was lower now, and some of the families at the beach were packing up. Cranky children, emotionally stretched out mothers and fathers had enough of each other for the day. Michelle/Rose took a long swallow of the thermos – the vodka was almost gone, and when it was, she would leave too. But first a word or two more about the husbands – the ones after Ronnie. .... ''Ellery John with the Ronald Colman mustache and the British accent – how could I? Two of his girl friends called him on our wedding night – yes, he told them where he'd be! What was love to him? Was it any more than a glandular exercise? I put up with it for two years and finally called Manny. ''What'll I do, Manny, I love him – what'll I do?'' .... ''Manny, sensing a burst of positive publicity and renewed popularity handled the whole thing. Photographs of Ellery on the beach with Kay Hampshire, the Gucci model, and attending a Hollywood premiere with Lola Bacon, Republic's answer to Jean Harlow. He also arranged, (with quiet dignity) my second divorce – from Guy Champion, the sexually ambivalent cowboy.'' .... ''Michelle's experiences with men were disastrous, followed by long periods of regret and withdrawal. Somewhere deep within me a nagging voice told me there would never be another Ronnie Kelly, and how could there be – there would never be another Rose Hanrahan either. ''Tell me where to go, Manny. Where to stand, what to say – shall I laugh or cry? What should I do – how should I do it?'' Dear Manny – had he lived, had he not been married – if he had shown the least interest in me as a human being. But I could easily tell when he looked at me he was counting the faults, the slips that kept me from measuring up to his vision of Michelle Keyes.'' She drained the last of the vodka and stood up. The sun now hung low in a nest of pale gold clouds, it was nearly six and she had been here all day. It was time to go. It would take her two hours to get ready for dinner, to make herself look like Michelle Keyes again. She folded the tarpaulin and placed it in the wicker basket along with her thermos and secretary's note pad. Finally she rolled her stockings up and knotted them just above each knee and with her foot she filled the hole in the sand, which by now was nearly full of cigarette butts. It was time to go. After a few steps she stopped and turned back to look at the sea. The sun was down now and only a fiery glow on the western horizon remained to mark its passing. She removed her dark glasses to see it more clearly. Her eyes were wet with tears and her makeup had run. She brushed her face with her hand, streaking it further. She resembled a clown or a blind woman's unsuccessful attempt to make herself beautiful. She looked around her in confusion, as though she had no idea where she was. Suddenly, noticing the sand at her feet, she remembered a movie called ''The Desert Song'' and smiled, then spoke nervously to no one in particular .... ''Oh, a retake. How is my make-up?'' She touched her hair nervously then put her wicker basket down and pulled out her purse. She rummaged through it and found her lipstick. ''There it is – Michelle will be there in a minute, Manny'' She scrawled the lipstick clumsily across her mouth. ''I'm ready, Manny. Where do I stand? What are my lines... and my motivation, Manny, what is my motivation?'' There was no one there to answer. ©Harry Buschman 2002 (1990)
Archived comments for Redondo Rose

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Living Together (posted on: 14-07-14)
The single life, in pairs

Living Together by Harry Buschman Stephen was sure he found the perfect apartment. ''Lincoln House'' was two blocks from his office in Lincoln Square and regardless of the weather or the day of the week he would be able to sleep late, if Barbara let him. Best of all they would be living together. ''Living together.'' Just the sound of it was exciting to Stephen. He was sick and tired of rolling out of Barbara's apartment at three in the morning, saying goodnight to her nosy doorman and finding his way home cross town. Living together was what New York was all about, all the advantages of marriage and none of the chains of matrimony. Wedded bliss might be all right for some people, but not for Barbara and him. Not right now anyway – some other time. Bliss was all they needed. Bliss was all they wanted. It was a little pricey. But looking ahead and counting on a raise or two and with Barbara's salary he was sure he could swing it. His duplex in Murray Hill was nice enough in the beginning but the cross-town commute was murder. Manhattan is a north south town, and if you have to get from east to west it's bad news. The new apartment overlooked the north plaza of Lincoln Center and by stretching his neck a little as he stood at the living room window he could see a corner of Central Park. Living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath – almost more room than they needed. He'd have to get a chair for the living room and a kitchen table – but not right away, Barbara had a few pieces too, she would probably want to bring them. All in good time, ''Don't sweat the details,'' he reminded himself. Only four people on the floor, all of them singles – paired off and living together but single. La Dolce Vita! The only downside to the new apartment was the previous tenant committed suicide there. At least the rental agent was up front about it from the first. Right from the beginning Javits said, ''You'll find out for yourself sooner or later so I'll tell you now.'' But instead of continuing, Javits held the lease and the pen in his hand and looked at Stephen for a sign of encouragement. ''What's the problem?'' Stephen asked. ''Well, no problem really. The previous tenant, man by the name of Lennie Baker committed suicide in here, that's all.'' Javits dismissed the information with a wave of his hand. ''That doesn't trouble you, Mr. Whitman does it?'' He asked the question somewhat plaintively. The apartment was still too attractive to pass up. ''We've repainted,'' Javits went on. ''The whole place?'' ''Well no, not exactly. Just the room – you know? The room he did it in.'' He just about decided he was going to take the place in spite of Lennie Baker and his suicide, and for his own peace of mind he didn't want to know any more details. Javits, mistaking his reluctant decision for indecision, handed the lease and the pen to Stephen and rubbed his hands together. Then, almost as though he were confiding a secret, he said he would sweeten the deal. He offered to cut the rent twenty dollars – not a big thing, Stephen thought, when you're paying $2500 a month, but it was a gentle and effective nudge. He went for it. ''You'll like the place, Mr. Whitman. Nice people on this floor – singles you know? He gave Stephen a wink as he pulled two brand new brass keys out of his side pocket and told him to stay as long as he liked. ''You probably have to make plans, you know – where to put the furniture and all that. Let me know as soon as you can when you think you'll be moving in, okay? We'll give the place a final dusting down.'' They walked to the door and Javits touched two fingers to his forehead in an informal salute, then smiled and was gone. Stephen closed the door softly behind him and looked across the small foyer and into the living room. There was something tragic about an empty apartment, he thought. It's cold and dark, like an empty refrigerator. But it isn't only because of the emptiness – the emptiness is no surprise. Indeed, it would be strange to find someone in an empty apartment. But it's dispiriting and tragic all the same. Someone once lived here and there's an echo of that someone left behind. He walked into the living room and noticed an oval of lighter wallpaper at eye level just above where Lennie Baker's sofa might have been. A picture? Of what – of whom? In the small kitchen a calendar still hung crookedly on the wall by the phone. Two months old now. April, with the days ''exed'' out up to the 27th. Was that the day? What brought things to a head on April 27th? What made Lennie Baker's life such an insurmountable burden on that particular day? Was this the room in which he killed himself? Probably not – ''People don't kill themselves in kitchens,'' Stephen said to himself. He found himself wishing he'd asked Javits more about it. With a start he looked at his watch. Nearly six. Barbara would be home by now. He absent-mindedly picked up the wall phone in the kitchen to dial her number. It was disconnected – of course it would be, he rgought. ''What's the matter with me,'' he asked himself? He normally didn't make mistakes like that. The smart thing to do would be to get over to Barbara's apartment and give her the good news, call the phone company from there, take her to dinner and come back here. She couldn't help falling in love with the place – and the idea of living together. He tried the keys in the door before leaving. Then he turned and looked into the empty room again with an unsettled feeling, as though he forgot something or maybe left something behind. ''We never really vacate an apartment,'' he thought. ''We leave things behind us, calendars, oval patches of lighter wallpaper, coat hangers. It's the things we leave behind more than the things we take with us that reveal who we were and who we might have been.'' There was a strong presence of mortality in the room, and he almost felt compelled to say goodbye. ''I'm sure,'' he thought,'' it won't be like this after we furnish it. It's because of the emptiness.'' He wished he asked Javits where Lennie did it and how – maybe there was a question of why, too. But maybe it was best not to know why. <><><> Barbara had been in New York a year. Life on the East Side was exciting in the beginning, but her relationship with Stephen changed all that. The idea of living together in Lincoln Square was irresistible and she fell in love with the view; she even liked the doorman. She never liked the doorman in her apartment on the West Side. She could feel his eyes following her as she walked through the lobby. While her enthusiasm was at its peak, Stephen mentioned Lennie Baker. It was as though someone had turned a switch. ''You mean he killed himself? Right here? Really Stephen – you don't expect me...'' ''It's nothing Barbara. It doesn't make any difference.'' He put his arm around her and walked her to the window again so she could look at the corner of Central Park. ''Every apartment in New York has a secret or two, it's nothing... really.'' ''I don't know, Stephen, it's kinky, you know?'' ''They repainted.'' He reminded her. ''They probably had too. Oh, Stephen, please don't tell me any more.'' But in the end, the view, the apartment and even the prospect of living with Stephen won out. Both of them made plans, much the way newlyweds do. They enjoyed that. My sofa. Your lounge chair. My silverware. Both our dishes. <><><> Stephen held the bottle up to the light. ''Look how clear it is. It's almost like water isn't it?'' ''Maybe it is.'' ''Oh no it isn't,'' he bristled, then he turned the bottle over and read the back label. ''From the vineyards of Maurice Plaisir, Montrechat.'' He opened the door of the refrigerator and laid the bottle down reverently. ''$28.50 Barbara. It should make the chicken go down very easily.'' Barbara riffled through the mail on the small end table. ''What chicken,'' she asked. Then before he could answer she said, ''Damn! The minute you move in you're on everyone's list. There's even fourth class mail for Lennie Baker.'' She shivered a bit and dropped the mail in a wastebasket under the table. ''It looks like we're eating in tonight – I mean, with the wine and all.'' ''I thought it might be nice. We hardly ever eat here – don't you get tired of eating out?'' They stood close together under the low arch that separated the foyer from the living room. Barbara shivered as Stephen's arm slipped around her waist. They looked into each other's eyes for a brief second, then broke apart – Barbara turned her back, and said in a small voice, ''It isn't as good as we thought it would be, is it Steve?'' ''It's very good. I'm sure it's as good as it gets – it's just that there's something...'' ''What did you get besides the wine?'' Stephen roused himself and walked quickly into the kitchen, ''Oh, I got a roasted chicken, some asparagus and a container of homemade sorbet.'' He rattled around in the packages. ''Glad you reminded me. I forgot to put the sorbet in the freezer.'' Barbara followed him to the kitchen and stood in the doorway. ''Just the two of us, right?'' ''Yes. Just the two of us. Why?'' ''Why did we have to rent this place, Stephen? Of all the apartments in the City of New York – why this one?'' Stephen slid the freezer door shut and sighed. ''Come on Barbara, you know why.'' He stepped on the flip-open garbage can harder than he should and it fell over. ''He'll be eating with us won't he? I swear sometimes I feel he's sleeping with us. I want him out of here Stephen – can't you get him out of here?'' She began to sob convulsively. Stephen hurried over to her and rocked her like a child. They looked at each other helplessly, and the uncertainty that only needled them in the beginning was now full blown. The ghost of Lennie Baker was a physical presence, stronger than both of them. The doorbell rang... ''I'll get it Barbara – be right back.'' An overweight man of middle age stood there. He was coatless, wore suspenders and strangest of all, wore pink bunny slippers. ''Hi,'' he said apologetically, ''I'm Shawn from down the hall, do you know anything about canaries?'' Stephen stared at him blankly and Shawn smiled understandingly. He turned and pointed down the hall. ''We're in the end apartment,'' he said. He extended a long delicate finger. ''I'm Shawn Taylor… Desmond and I had this canary... '' He ran his fingers through his hair as though to straighten it. ''I must look a mess, musn't I? But you see I'm at my wits end. Desmond will be home any minute and if he sees I've done nothing about the canary he'll be furious.'' Barbara came to his rescue... ''Oh, Mr. Taylor.'' She stepped between them and turned to Stephen. ''Stephen, you haven't met Mr. Taylor yet, have you?'' Without waiting for him to answer she swung the door wide and Shawn Taylor walked in. Taylor made a pirouette in the middle of the living room. ''Oh, I love what you've done with the place – did you have a decorator dear?'' Barbara, flushed with pleasure, said, ''You like it then? No, I did it myself.'' She turned reluctantly to Stephen. ''With a little help from Stephen,'' she added. ''Oh, I should explain I guess. I'm thinking of how it looked just after Lennie...'' He stopped and looked nervously at Barbara and Stephen. ''You DO know about dear Lennie, don't you?'' ''Yes.'' Stephen said. ''So sad,'' Shawn sighed. ''A slave to love I'd say. What some people will do for love.'' He lowered his voice an octave. ''You know how he did it, don't you?'' Stephen shook his head and Barbara looked away. ''You should know – really you should. It helps to understand.'' ''Understand? Understand what?' Stephen asked. Shawn glanced momentarily at his watch. ''I should really be getting back, Desmond will be home any minute.'' Then, as though making up his mind to stay a minute longer, he sat down. ''Desmond's reading his poetry at B&N down in the village. I suppose he'll be late.'' He giggled and added, ''He'll be so full of himself when he gets home. Riding on a crest of adulation, you know how poets are.'' Stephen and Barbara sat on the sofa across from him. ''What is it we should understand, Mr. Taylor?'' Stephen asked. ''Please, please, for Heaven's sake – call me Shawn. I haven't been called Taylor since law school. I'm waffling I guess, trying to find a way to tell you about dear Lennie.'' ''Would you like a drink, Shawn?'' Barbara asked. ''Oh no. No, I never drink unless Desmond's with me. Lennie drowned himself... in your bathtub by the way. I mean, isn't that the most bizarre way to go? How do you drown yourself ? How do you hold your head underwater? ...I'd bob up like a cork.'' He looked at Stephen and Barbara with a half smile, then grew serious again. ''It was a girl, a very special girl... to him anyway. She called herself Emerald, Emerald LaMarr. She had a part in the Broadway revival of ''The Pajama Game.'' ''Isn't that sad,'' Barbara said. ''A man-eater. An eight cylinder bitch if you ask me,'' Shawn added. Stephen couldn't resist a grin. He was beginning to like Shawn, he might have been off the wall but there was something that rang true about the man. ''First she made a slave of him, then she turned him into a fool. Some women like to do that you know.'' Shawn looked down at the floor and quietly said, ''My mother was like that.'' He paused and looked at Barbara. ''Where was I? Oh yes, Emerald. She would have Johns up here in the afternoon, producers, publicity people. Then, at night, she and Lennie would party. I can only imagine what went on in poor Lennie's head, he was whipped, truly whipped. Then, finally, when the show folded Emerald went off to Tinsel Town with the producer. You can't imagine how Lennie carried on. It wouldn't surprise me if...'' ''If what? Stephen asked. ''Well, what I mean is... that kind of passion can go on and on... echoes. I mean even after death.'' Stephen and Barbara moved a little closer on the sofa. ''You don't believe…?'' Barbara asked. ''I'll tell you a little story,'' Shawn began. ''Do you know who had our apartment before Desmond and I moved in?'' They shook their heads. ''His name was Roland Petit. He was head chef at Marquisette. Desmond and I used to eat there a lot – best French chef in New York. Well, don't go there now, Roland's dead. Died of food poisoning by the way – poetic isn't it? Anyway we're living in Roland's old apartment, right here in Lincoln Square.'' Sensing he hadn't explained the connection, Shawn stood up and pointed to the door. ''Right down the hall – he died by his own hand too – in a way. Died from his own cooking. The minute we heard the news, Desmond and I got the rental agent out of bed and signed up.'' Shawn stood up and looked at his watch. ''The thing is… we couldn't get rid of him. We were condemned to share the apartment with the dead chef of the Marquisette.'' ''We would come home late,'' Shawn continued, ''and catch the aroma of cooking. We would find leftovers in the refrigerator we hadn't put there, or things would be put back in places we didn't leave them in.'' He looked at Stephen and Barbara and shook his head slowly. ''The presence of Roland Petit was as constant and persistent as the presence of Lennie Baker might be to you.'' ''Passionate people.'' Shawn went on ruefully, ''take forever to die.'' He related the case of Lisa Shottenheimer, the piano tuner, who lived in the apartment facing the court. ''For 15 years she tuned all 28 pianos in Lincoln Center – a momentary lapse of attention. She stepped in front of the downtown bus on Amsterdam Avenue.'' He made a thumbs down signal. ''For months you could hear a piano in that apartment even though it was taken out before the new tenants moved in.'' He looked at his watch again. ''I have to go. There's so much to do. Desmond must be wondering where I am – then there's the damn dead canary. God knows what I'll do with it. Life gets more complicated every day. I just thought I'd tell you. We all have our problems here you see. We live with our ghosts.'' He smiled sympathetically and moved towards the door. Stephen stood up and opened it for him. ''Goodnight Mr. Whitman, you're a lovely couple, by the way,'' he added wistfully. ''You'll be fine here. Just leave a little room for Lennie, he won't stay forever.'' Just outside the door, he turned, shrugged his shoulders and said, ''.... life is so short, isn't it? Love should be more important than it is.'' ''It's been nice meeting you,'' Stephen said. ''We'll set a place for Lennie.'' He turned to Barbara – she was by the window, staring out at the park. It was suddenly quiet in the apartment, just the hum of traffic in the street below. Barbara placed the palm of her hand on the window and felt the coolness outside. She shivered involuntarily and turned to Stephen. ''I'm not sure I can handle it, Stephen. Now that I know more about him.'' ''Lennie, you mean?'' She folded her arms across her chest and shuddered. ''Every time I use that bathroom I'll...'' Stephen crossed the room hurriedly and tried to put his arms around her, but she shook him off and raised her eyes to the ceiling. ''How did we ever get ourselves in this mess, Stephen?'' ''Look Barbara, it hasn't stopped those two down the hall, and the couple that moved in after the piano player...'' ''Tuner.'' ''I guess she only plays when no one's around to listen.'' ''Don't be funny.'' ''Come on, I'll warm up the chicken. You can do the asparagus – I don't know how to handle asparagus – then I'll open the wine and we'll make a toast...'' ''I'm not eating here.'' She walked to the hall closet and got her coat. She held it out to Stephen, and with a sigh of resignation he held it for her. ''Damn!'' She stamped her foot. ''I have to go to the bathroom before we leave!'' ''Want me to come with you?'' ''No! I'll shut my eyes. Stephen, how could he do such a thing?'' Stephen didn't have a ready answer. Lennie Baker's suicide was something he couldn't quite accept either. Shawn Taylor seemed to understand the power of obsession, maybe it was easier for a gay man to understand, but Stephen could never imagine himself doing such a thing. Then, he thought a bit more about it... ''If Barbara walked out on me – left me alone in this place, with nothing but the emptiness and that light oval patch on the living room wall...'' Well, he wasn't quite so sure of himself after all. ''Why aren't you ready yet? Get your coat on, we're going out.'' She seemed anxious to leave. Stephen was not, he would rather stay and talk this out. Reluctantly he walked to the closet and got his coat. Then he remembered the chicken. ''I have to put the chicken away, won't be a minute.'' He went to the kitchen, wrapped the chicken in foil and put it in the refrigerator. ''Right with you, Barbara.'' He rinsed his hands and dried them. Barbara was standing at the open door staring into the hallway. They closed the door softly and both of them had the fidgety feeling they were leaving something or someone behind. <><><> It was quiet after they left and the setting sun, now west of the Hudson burned weakly through the low hanging smog. It extended narrow fingers of golden light diagonally across the living room. Even though Stephen and Barbara were no longer there, the presence of mortality was strong and anyone being in that room would feel they were not alone. Although the presence was invisible it changed the appearance of things it obscured. If you looked at a picture on the wall and it passed through your line of sight, the picture would appear slightly distorted as though seen through water. You might brush your eyes, thinking your vision had grown momentarily blurry. When things cleared up again you would think no more about it. It was a voiceless and weightless ghost. It drifted through the apartment aimlessly, much like a soap bubble or a puff of smoke, seemingly without purpose or direction, and although it may well have been the spirit of Lennie Baker, there was no way of telling. The last thought on Lennie's mind when his breathing stopped and his lungs filled with water, was the heartless Emerald Lamarr, and had he been able to speak, he would have called her name. It was this unuttered cry that wandered about the empty apartment at Lincoln House. It sensed there were two strangers living here now, and they brought a vital change with them – new voices and new vibrations. They could not hear the silent call of Lennie Baker, all they could feel was an uneasiness in the air. His ghost could not intrude in the life of these two people. They would leave ghosts of their own when they were gone. The presence took a final turn around the apartment. The kitchen in which Lennie took so many meals alone. The living room where Emerald entertained her afternoon Johns before they made their slow and steady way to the bedroom. Yes the bedroom! The nightly fights - the empty promises and sullen excuses. Echoes to reverberate forever – or stilled by a living, loving couple. Suddenly the ghost was gone. It's lonely vigil at Lincoln House was over, and it evaporated as gently and as surely as the final echo of a tolling bell. The apartment was now as hollow as a void within a wall of silence. So silent that the jarring noise of Stephen's key in the lock was like the opening of a jail cell door. Barbara and Stephen had entered this room many times before, and there was always the uneasy sensation that someone, or something, was waiting for them. Tonight they stopped in their tracks as they closed the door behind them. ''My God!'' Barbara whispered, ''Do you feel it? It's gone!'' There was an absolute emptiness in the room, a coolness as though someone had opened a window to air it out. ''Let's hope he doesn't come back,'' Stephen said. They walked to the living room window and looked down at Lincoln Center. It was nearly dark now and the floodlights were playing on the fountains and people were gathering for the opera. ''Big crowd at the Metropolitan,'' Barbara said, ''I it's The Marriage of Figaro tonight.'' ©Harry Buschman (4010)
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Outside the Lines (posted on: 30-06-14)
He was destined for great things.

Outside the Lines by Harry Buschman Floyd lay on his back on his narrow bunk staring at the ceiline. He put his hands behind his head and interlaced his fingers. He wanted a cigarette bad but the cook wouldn't let him smoke in their room, not since he burned his blanket. He had a lot to think about, and it was hard to think without a cigarette. It hurt his head to think in the first place, it always did, right from the start. In his small bedroom back home, he'd stare at the ceiling and wag his head from side to side, trying to pull his thoughts together. ''Floyd is not capable of thinking things through. I'm not a psychiatrtist, ma'am but I'm afraid he may need 'special' teaching.'' his teacher told his mother. Floyd knew differently though and so did his mother. ''You're smarter than all those other children,'' she said to him. She told all her friends, ''Floyd's a genius, just like his father. You watch, some day Floyd's going to do great things, just like his father did.'' Floyd couldn't remember his father. His father left home before he ever saw any of the 'great things' his father did, but from what his mother said he must have been special – just like him. Too bad they broke up. ''Your father was a free spirit,'' his mother would cry a bit and say, ''He couldn't stand being tied down.'' His mother told all her friends that Floyd was an officer in the army, ''He's in the Intelligence, you know. He can't talk about it.'' Then she'd go on to say what a true patriot he was. ''Floyd loves his country – I'm so proud when I think of him defending our flag.'' But, for the moment, he was lying on his back in his underwear, wishing the cook would let him light up in the cook's room. There was nothing to do now that he cleaned the latrine and shook down the furnace. Well... he could have scrubbed the porch and raked the leaves out of the scrubby grass between the barracks, but it was too late for that. ''B'' company would be coming back from rifle practice soon and he'd only be in their way – and they'd laugh at him too. ''What'cha doing Floydi-Toidy – why ain't'cha scrubbin' the latrine? Scrub them bowls clean now Floydi-Toidy!'' He didn't like it when they talked like that. He wondered what his mother would say if she heard them. She thought the one stripe on his sleeve meant he was a major. She thought the Good Conduct Medal on his jacket was awarded to him for bravery on the field of battle. All those guys in ''B'' company, they'd move on, they'd be transferred overseas where they'd get extra pay, new uniforms, and the pick of the broads. But Floidi-Toidy would have to stay behind. He was cadre – fit only for limited duty stateside – KP, tending the furnace and cleaning the latrine. When ''B'' company left for rifle practice this morning they left the rifle rack unlocked. They always did that because everybody went and took their rifle with them – but Sergeant Majewski had a week's leave, and one empty rifle, a Garand semi-automatic was left in the rack. It was Floyd's gun now to play with, he was never issued a gun of his own. The cook said they'd never issue a rifle like that to a nut like you, Floyd. He saw it standing in the rack after the company marched off. He walked up to the rack and ran his fingers over the walnut stock – felt the heft of it. He took it out of the rack and brought it up to his shoulder and aimed it down the length of the squad room. It was heavier than it looked, not like the toys he played with when he was a kid. He took it outside and walked around to the rear of the barracks, holding it in front of him at port arms, like a soldier on patrol. He was out of sight here and he suddenly knew exactly what he was going to do. He walked to the eight foot high chain link fence with the razor wire on top that marked the border of the camp and he stood there trembling. He would throw the rifle over the fence. Then he would steal a shipping carton from the supply sergeant, then get himself a weekend pass. Then he'd dress up real sharp-like, as though he was headed into town. Just outside the gate he would double back outside the fence and get the gun. His hands were sweaty and he wiped them on the legs of his fatigue pants. Then, just as he was about to throw it over the fence, he stopped and shook his head, turned around and carried the rifle back to the barracks again. Now he lay here on his bunk refining his plans... he wanted to make sure. Once he got to town he'd head for the post office before it closed and mail the gun back home to his mother. He'd tell her not to open the package – it was a secret. Who said he couldn't make plans? Who said he couldn't do great things! Floyd's hitch was up in three months. He wanted to re-enlist but the cook said they'd never let him. ''You're a fuck-up, Floyd. The army needs brains these days – you ain't got any. Why should they pay you good money when they can get somebody with brains to clean toilets better than you do?'' He'd show the cook who had brains! It was a shame he had to keep this plan a secret. The cook would change his mind about whether he had brains or not. He stretched out flat on his back and grinned smugly. The only thing left to do would be to get the ammo – half a dozen clips or so. He would have to get the supply sergeant drunk to do that. He thought about what he could do with that gun when he got home, An armed man is always in charge. When he says, ''Do this!'' by God you better hop to it. He wanted a cigarette so bad he could taste it – damn cook! Floyd rarely had an idea of his own, and those he did have were aimed at getting even for all the injustices, real and imagined, that life heaped on him. His mother expected great things of him, she was his champion – ''Oh Floyd, look how you've colored in that elephant, and the pretty pink clouds behind him. You're a great little artist, Floyd.'' He soaked up her praise and in time he believed he really was better at coloring elephants than anybody else. But his teacher had different ideas, ''Floyd! Don't you see the lines? You're supposed to stay inside the lines.'' She would hold up David's picture. ''See how nicely David stays inside the lines? Try and do it the way David does.'' Floyd seethed inside and made plans to hurt David – some way of hurting him without being caught. He pushed David downstairs when they were on their way to the cafeteria, and the teacher said she saw him do it. Floyd remembered all of that now, and he remembered the justification he felt in proving to himself that his elephant was better than David's. With this gun in his hands he would show everybody what he could do. He lay on his back with the gun cradled in his arms as though it were a lover. But, now he had second thoughts about mailing the gun home. If he could only think of a way to get it out of here, some way to get it home. Maybe he could hide it in the coal bin until he could think of a better idea. As soon as one idea came to him, a dozen reasons why it wouldn't work followed close behind. In this foggy state of mind he dozed off and dreamed of David and the neat, orderly way he stayed inside the lines when he colored his elephant. When he woke he was aiming the rifle at the ceiling with his finger on the trigger. Suddenly, outside, he heard the trucks coming back from rifle practice and he panicked! He would never have time to get the rifle back in the rack before the company trooped in. All he could think of was hiding it under his mattress. He quickly lifted the foot of the mattress and stuffed the rifle under it. It left a lump but it was between his feet and it didn't bother him. But what else could he do? Why couldn't he think of something he should do? He could hear their voices from the latrine, ''Where's Floydie-Toidy! There's no paper in the john! The soap dispenser's empty! Toidy! Get'cha ass in here Toidy!'' Then the cook barged in. ''C'mon Floyd! Where d'ya think you are – some kinda hotel or sumpthin'? I need'ja over in the kitchen. I gotta crate of carrots need peelin' f'supper! You been smokin' in here, boy? I can smell smoke in here.'' The cook pulled him out of his bunk and Floyd staggered to keep his balance. Something snapped inside Floyd, how could he think about the gun if they wouldn't let him alone? How could he do the great things he knew he could do if they'd only let him alone? He ran to the foot of his bunk, grabbed the mattress with both hands and almost disappeared beneath it. The cook had no idea what he was up to until Floyd emerged from under the mattress with the rifle in his hand. ''Get back Cookie. I swear I'll kill you. I swear I will.'' The cook froze in his tracks, thinking the gun might be loaded. ''Where did you get that, Floyd? You ain't supposed t'have no gun.'' The cook was terrified at the thought of Floyd armed with a loaded weapon. He backed out of the room and slammed the door. ''Everybody outta the barracks! Everybody outside! That nut Floyd's in there with a loaded rifle!'' Floyd could hear them out there – a wild scuffling of feet as everyone made for the door. Then suddenly there was absolute silence. His own breathing and the thudding of his heart pounding in his ears were the only sounds in the room. Just like he always said! The man with the gun calls the shots. Everybody backs off from the man with the gun. He stepped out into the squad room, holding the gun before him protectively and stood between the rows of double decked bunks. There were signs of hasty retreat. A hat. A pair of shoes. A cigarette burning in an ashtray. Scared shitless, all of them, scared of the man with the gun. He opened the front door and walked outside. He knew they were all out there looking at him but hiding well back in the shadows. He felt like a great actor on the stage putting on a show for a spellbound audience. He'd show them! He turned the gun around and put the muzzle in his mouth. He could almost hear a collective intake of breath from his cowardly buddies in Company ''B.'' He took the gun out of his mouth and laughed at them, then he held it high and pulled the trigger. It fired! And as it fired it bucked in his hand like a wild animal. Floyd threw it to the ground and stood looking at it as though it was alive. Faces began to appear in the dark and finally someone rushed in, grabbed the rifle and ran back around the corner of the barracks. Floyd hardly noticed, he stood at the front door wondering how it was possible for an empty gun to do such a thing. His legs gave way and he fell to his knees, his hands still trembled from the recoil. He looked down and saw the empty shell casings in the grass. It was somebody else's fault, not his. How could that happen? He knew he'd get the blame now, just like he always did. How can a man stay inside the lines when somebody pushes him over the edge? © Harry Buschman 2003 (2070)
Archived comments for Outside the Lines
Skytrucker on 30-06-2014
Outside the Lines
Good work! Perhaps there were technical faults but if there were, the purists can deal with them. I thought it was a good story.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 30-06-2014
Outside the Lines
Hello Harry, couldn't help but draw parallels with Full Metal Jacket, same sort of guy I guess. I really enjoyed it mate, I thought the dialogue was handled well; I liked the 'staying between the lines'... a touch of Forest Gump in there as well. 🙂
Mike

Author's Reply:

Rab on 01-07-2014
Outside the Lines
Excellent tale, Harry, and told with some panache. The pacing's excellent, and the tension builds until the sudden climax. As Mike says, a touch of Forrest Gump, but much, much darker than that fairytale.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 01-07-2014
Outside the Lines
Thanks very much for the comments on this piece. Writing from the standpoint of a nut like Floyd came naturally to me.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 01-07-2014
Outside the Lines
I guess it did Harry, seeing as how you replied in the comment box... You nut!! HaHa!

Author's Reply:


View from the Fiction Shelf (posted on: 06-06-14)
Problem for an adult only child

View From the Fiction Shelf Sherman Temple stopped at the library after work again today. It's getting to be a habit with him. He stood quietly at the fiction shelf pretending to read an open book. Instead, his eyes were focussed on the check out desk. He was drawn to the library like a fly to sugar, and all because of a little blonde girl at the check out desk. Sherman discovered if he stood at the fiction shelf he could watch her in secret with no one any the wiser. It was a quiet spot and as long as he held an open book in front of him he could watch her until it was time to go home for supper with his mother. The blonde girl was bird-like, her movements were quick, lighter than air, and she smiled at people with little or no provocation. There were dark streaks in her hair and she parted it loosely in the middle. It fell heavily to both sides of her head, and when she bent over a book her face was nearly covered by it. She would toss her head impatiently to settle it back over her shoulders. Her name was Sharon. All the workers at the library wore little name tags. He wondered about that and decided the reason was so that each of them knew who the other was. He didn't know her work schedule. It was six pm now and getting dark outside and she was still checking out books. His plan was to drop in every day about this time in the hope of striking up a conversation with her as she left for the day. He was unsuccessful so far and he was growing impatient. Today he decided to make a move. He planned to wait until she was free, then he'd go over and ask her a question – a book he couldn't find, or how to use the computer catalog. He reminded himself to keep calm, stick to the subject and above all try not to get tongue-tied as he so often did when talking to a woman. But even if he did make a fool of himself, he had to take the chance. There was something about Sharon that obsessed him. She seemed to have a rare combination of shyness with people and a love of books, and to Sherman the combination was irresistible. This evening he saw her alone and idle at the check-out desk. He put his book back on the shelf and began walking nonchalantly in her direction. Then he stopped short and made a quick about face when she suddenly walked away and an elderly woman wearing thick glasses took her place. When he got to the fiction shelf again he turned back and saw Sharon in a small hallway putting on her coat. She must leave at six, Sherman thought. Maybe if he hurried to the front door she would pass him on her way out. He stopped in the foyer just outside the inner lobby door. What should he say to her when she passed him? He had excuses made up for his initial move at the check-out desk but not out here in the foyer. He shifted from one foot to the other trying to think of something clever to say. He could say ''Hello Sharon'' of course, but it should be something more suave and meaningful than that. He knitted his brow in concentration as he waited. She appeared suddenly at the door to the foyer, walking quickly, her heels clicking across the tile floor. She rummaged through her shoulder bag as she passed him. Sherman stood transfixed. He even forgot the simple, ''Hello Sharon.'' He must have said something because she looked at him quickly, the electric blue of her eyes and her faint scent took the wind out of him. He simply smiled absently as a child might smile at something in a toy store window he hoped to have one day. She lowered her eyes quickly and pulled her car keys out of her bag, then shouldered her way through the lobby doors. ''Damn,'' he thought, ''I never even opened the door for her.'' He stood at the lobby door and watched her walk to her car. It's lights flickered a welcome as she unlocked the doors with her remote. She took off her coat before getting in and there was a brief flash of white thigh just before she pulled the door shut. Sherman shook his head philosophically. It would have to be another day. Maybe tomorrow – and if it was tomorrow he only had a say to plan for it. <><><> Sherman lived with his mother in the house he was born in. His mother was carried over the threshold of the house thirty seven years ago on her wedding night. The strain on her husband proved too much for him, for after the honeymoon he developed a heart murmur. After his death she turned her attention to Sherman with a religious devotion, their only child, who had been fatherless since his tenth year. Sherman had a good job with a computer applications company, a better one by far than his father ever had. He brought his pay check home every week and gave his mother half. She should have been content, but she worried constantly. What would happen to her if he got married or transferred to another city, or if he was run over by a bus downtown. But most of all she worried about what would happen to her if he got married. Would a strange young woman take over this house? Throw out all her lovely things, shunt her off to the spare bedroom, or convince Sherman to sell the house and move somewhere else –maybe even pack her off to a home for the aged? She saw horror stories like that every day on the Judge Judy TV program. She wanted him to marry of course; she felt it was only natural, but she hoped it would be the right kind of girl. Some nice young girl from the church. She wasn't intolerant but there were so many girls on the make for a man these days... foreign girls, Catholics and poor girls looking to marry up and coming young men. Speaking of up and coming, where was he? She waited at the living room window for Sherman every day. He was never late, unless the train was late, at least not until last week and that caused her to worry even more. He must be stopping off somewhere and the thought of him doing something without telling her was disturbing. She saw him finally, and glanced quickly at her watch. Nearly an hour late! What had he been up to? He was walking slowly, as if he had something on his mind. She wondered if his company was in trouble. She saw news programs on CNN every day about CEO's running off with company money. She pulled away from the window and hurried to the kitchen to turn up the heat under the vegetables. ''You're late, Sherman. Trouble with the train?'' ''I stopped off at the library, Mom.'' ''Would you put the plates out, dear. Dinner's almost ready.'' She waited until Sherman made himself a drink. ''The library? Why on earth did you stop at the library?'' Sherman didn't offer an explanation. He stood looking out the dining room window with his drink in his hand. ''You should get out more, Sherman. Home – work – now the library.'' She was primed to bring up her favorite subject. ''There's so much to do at the church, Sherman, so many young people, nice people. People like us. You should...'' ''Don't start, Mom.'' ''I want you to be happy, Sherman.'' ''I'm happy, Mom.'' Dinner was Sunday's roast warmed over. A little past it's prime but the vegetables were fresh. Sherman and his mother ate in silence, neither of them wanting to 'start', as Sherman put it. They cleared the table and his mother picked up TV Guide. ''I have some work to do, Mom. I'll be in my room.'' She looked at him with troubled eyes, he recognized the look as the same sick baby look she used when he was little. As he climbed the stairs to his room he felt a vast relief at being alone, he must think tonight. ''Sharon! There must be a way - how do other men do it, there must be something that makes it happen. A chance encounter? No, it's more than that. It's a technique men use to increase the chances of chance encounters.'' Sherman realized what a disadvantage it was to be an only child and have to figure these things out alone. ''Perhaps,'' he thought, ''I should have a fall-back position. If all else fails, I should have a letter ready... something I can plant somewhere. Maybe in her car, maybe in a book I return to her...'' He sat down to compose a letter. He did it on the computer but he planned to copy it by hand when he had it letter perfect. It was difficult. It didn't come easily. It wasn't like writing a memo in the office. He tried to picture Sharon in front of him... ''Dear Sharon,'' he started. No! That was presumptuous. ''Ms. Sharon." No! That sounded stupid – like something out of ''Gone With the Wind.'' He was trying to write a letter introducing himself to a girl and he couldn't get her name down right! No, this would never do. It would have to be done in person, face to face. He turned off the computer, took a cold shower and went to bed. ''Are you in bed already, Sherman? I thought you had work to do.'' ''Goodnight, Mom.'' It was a restless night for Sherman, he dreamed of a shipwreck and before his unchained mind reached a logical conclusion to that dream, he dreamed of being lost in the city, trying to get to the train and finding himself in strange and troubling places – marvels of convoluted architecture leading to cul-de-sacs from which there was no possible exit. At the breakfast table his mother looked at him anxiously. She asked him if he liked the new cereal, if the coffee was strong enough, and if he needed help opening the jam jar. To all her questions, Sherman answered absently, staring out the kitchen window at the gray morning outside. ''Are you sure you're okay, Sherman? You don't look well. You should take better care of yourself, really Sherman, when was the last time you had a check-up?'' ''Don't start, Mom.'' ''It's the office isn't it? They ask too much of you, you should really get out more.'' ''Mom. For God's sake!'' It was almost more than he could stand, and when he got to the office It was not much better there. The production manager decided Sherman was the most qualified man to handle the inventory, and he spent the entire day testing circuit boards newly arrived by Fed-Ex from Indonesia. But his mind was elsewhere, he was determined to see Sharon that evening after work. He had never been in love before. Was love supposed to be this complicated? It was destroying him! He couldn't live like this! He decided he would just march up to the check-out desk and confront her. He would say... what would he say? One or two circuit boards slipped by without being checked while Sherman tried to figure out what he would say to Sharon when he marched up to the check-out desk. He continued after lunch, one circuit board after another slowly passed by. He was inattentive, miles away. About three in the afternoon he turned off the apparatus, stood up and rolled his sleeves down. ''I'm going home,'' he stated to no one in particular. He shrugged himself stiffly into his jacket and settled his hat firmly on his head. He walked to the employees entrance and passed the time clock without stopping. The watchman looked at him guardedly, and catching the look in his eye, decided not to say goodnight. He caught the 3:15 local and stared out the dirty train window as the familiar stations came and went. The conductor finally announced his stop and he stood up abruptly as if his name had been called in the dentist's waiting room. The first words he would speak to her had suddenly come to him as the stations flashed by. He was going to march in there and say, ''Sharon, I must speak to you alone. Now!'' That was it. The words rang true to him as he walked the few blocks to the library. ''Sharon, I must speak to you... '' Yes that was it, no beating around the bush. He burst through the library doors and stared at the check out desk. The elderly woman in thick glasses was standing there. She looked up quickly, startled at his abrupt entrance and saw his wild eyes. She thought something terrible might have happened out in the street and he had come in to call 911. Although she was checking out gardening books for an elderly gentleman, she gave Sherman her full attention. ''What's wrong young man? What can I do for you?'' ''Where is she? The girl. The girl who usually works here.?'' ''Who? I mean... what girl? We all work here.'' ''The young one. The blonde girl... her name is Sharon.'' He was quickly losing patience and he had the wild urge to reach across the desk, grab the elderly lady's shoulders and shake her. In the meantime the elderly man had backed away from the check-out desk with his library card in one hand and his books in the other. ''Sharon,'' she said with knitted brows? Oh, you must mean Mrs. Burden. Her husband is ill, she's not here today. Is there anything wrong?'' ''Blond hair. Blue eyes. Rather short, not too short, but short. Someone's sick at home?'' Sherman seemed to melt. His tenseness evaporated and his face went slack. ''I'm sorry Ma'am. I had to see her. Now I can't, it was very important? He made an effort to pull himself together. ''Well, tomorrow will do.'' He turned and walked unsteadily to the door. He stood in the lobby a moment looking down at his shoes. ''Imagine,'' he mumbled to himself. ''The woman said Sharon's husband is ill. She didn't mean husband. 'Father' is what she meant to say. Yes, that's it, her father is ill. Those things happen. He'll be better tomorrow, then I'll come in and she'll be there at the desk just like she usually is, and I'll talk to her then... I'll say, Sharon! I've got to talk to you immediately. I was here yesterday but your father was sick and you were…'' He walked to the front doors and held them open for a woman coming in with a armful of books, then he let himself out and stood in late afternoon sun. ''The woman at the desk... she didn't mean husband... 'father'. Yes, that's what she meant. Sharon has a father just as I have a mother and she's taking care of her father because he's ill, Just as a good daughter should. It's a coincidence, isn't it?'' We have so much in common. There was a chill in the air and he was suddenly hungry. He should be getting home for supper. His mother would be waiting.
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Givin' it to Rudy (posted on: 02-06-14)
Desperation in the face of frustration.

Givin' it to Rudy by Harry Buschman One more word out of Rudy Frick, just one, and Frankie was going to give it to him good. Frankie was fed up. Fed up with his crummy job, and fed up with the way his life was going. But most of all he was fed up with Rudy Frick. It didn't matter how hard he worked, Rudy complained right in front of everybody, and when he did, spittle built up in the corners of his mouth and his face would get red. He would wave his arms and shout so everybody could hear. Like tonight ... "I want'cha t'get ahead on them fries, y'hear me Frankie? Them hoods need to be scrubbed and we can't shut down 'ceptin we get ahead on them fries." He stuck his head under the hood and pulled it out again quickly. "Jesus! Y'see that crud up in there, dont'cha ... bust into flames in an L.A. minute." He turned to the two kitchen girls at the fry pans. "Them burgers ... get ahead on them burgers too, get way ahead, I'm turnin' the gas off at 7 sharp." Frankie forgot the promise he made to himself about giving it to Rudy almost as soon as he made it, and he let him get away. In spite of his promise to himself he picked up his pace and hurried to make more fries. He knew what would happen. By the time somebody ate those fries they would be soggy and limp as wet newspaper, Then customers would send them back and he'd get the blame. Same thing with the burgers – they'd be gray, mouse gray, and the bun they soaked in would turn to paste. By that time Rudy would be gone, probably eating with that buck toothed wife of his over at Lillian's across the mall. He wouldn't get the flack, Oh no! Not Rudy! Frankie would ... and so would Cindy. Gee...eez! How that tight blue skirt fit around Cindy's ass! From where he worked at the deep fat fryer he could see her working register three. She'd turn around with her order ... fries always came last. When she came to him she'd bat her eyes and say ... "Two large fries, Frankie," she'd say. She always said his name. She didn't have to do that, she didn't do that when she ordered the burgers or the chicken or the fish. He knew she was soft on him ... ''and who could blame her anyways,'' he thought. He wouldn't be Frankie Jarvis forever. Oh no! That's why he took this crummy job at Macdonald's. Somebody was bound to see him here in the Wondermall. First turnoff west out of Culver City. He even had his new name picked out, if anybody asked him what his name was, he was ready. It was on the tip of his tongue. "I'm Romeo LaBonte!" That's what he'd say! Then he was ready with a phony story about his family in Sicily and his father who was assistant cameraman to Federico Fellini. All he needed was a couple of supporting roles and then the blockbuster would come, just like it always comes ... like lightning. All it takes is that one hit, Frankie told himself, just that one. Look at "Saturday Night Fever" and "Midnight Cowboy." It'll be great? He could just see Rudy Frick with his mouth hanging wide open; and Cindy Havens, filing her nails in the passenger seat next to him in his new Lamborghini. He had plenty of potential ... the teacher at the drama school told him that. "You move well, Frank ... you have what we call 'poise.' Just remember what I told you about your hands. When you're not using your hands, put them in your pockets or let them hang down at your sides, don't fiddle with them." The other thing was his voice, he still needed help with his voice. His voice didn't carry well, and the teacher told him he didn't know how to breathe. "Don't try to read your line in one gulp, Frank. People breathe when they talk ... before you come to the end of your line you're out of breath." He was working on those things all the time. Every night in front of a mirror he'd walk around putting his hands in his pockets and taking them out again. He hadn't quite gotten the hang of letting them hang down naturally, too often they looked like he had just washed them and was looking for a towel to dry them on. Then the voice ... he'd read the newspaper in front of the mirror in his bathroom, "Chrysler, (breath) reported a three percent increase in July vehicle sales, (breath) but that was below May and June sales, (breath) its truck sales rose nine percent, (breath)." If he put his mind to it he could do it, but if his attention was split between his breath and his damn hands, he couldn't do either. His looks were his strong point. His eyebrows were straight and dark, almost meeting in the middle over a slender aquiline nose. His eyes, a dark blue, like his mother's ... and his mouth, that was his mother's too. He had learned to let his lips curl provocatively, slightly parted and sneering, like Frank Sinatra did. Damn it! If it wasn't for the friggin' hands, (they were like his father's) he'd be at the top of the heap in no time. At the bubbling fry tank, Frankie's stubborn dream of Hollywood success kept him alive and helped to keep him sane. Without his fantasy, Frankie Jarvis would have cracked up long ago. He was sure Romeo LaBonte would bring him fame and fortune – and the pick of the broads as well. "Fer Chrissakes, Frankie ... I warned ya din't I? I warned ya! Lookit'cha, you're no further ahead on them fries than y'was before I warned ya, Frankie." He made a slicing motion across his throat with his hand. "That's it, y'through, don't come in tomorra. Y'can pick up yer check on Saturday." It wasn't so bad getting fired. Frankie was used to getting fired. But to get bawled out and fired at the same time, all in front of Cindy Havens. That was too much! He was going to have to let him have it, right here and now in Macdonald's for sure. Instead he turned back to the fry tank and filled more fry bags ... large fries ... medium fries ... small fries. His eyes were blinded with hate, his cheeks were red with shame and he was sure Cindy had seen the whole thing. He was going to have to let him have it. Instead, he took off his white hat, turned around, and walked out the employees entrance. It came to him in a flash ... he knew exactly how he was going to give it to Rudy Frick. <><><> Frankie had little to thank his father for. He was a good soldier but a poor father and an even worse husband. But he passed on a rare inheritance. A Smith & Wesson .38 rolled up in an oily flannel rag and a wooden box of shiny brass cartridges. Frankie found them in a blue barracks bag in the attic the week before he left Des Moines. He guessed his father had stolen them from the National Guard armory and then forgot them. His father forgot a lot of important things, but even if he didn't, he wouldn't have told Frankie or his mother about the Smith & Wesson. His father always kept an ace in the hole. When he got back to his room he pulled his brown valise down from the top shelf of the closet. There it was. Still wrapped in a dirty flannel rag ... Jesus, it felt good to hold in his hand! ... He aimed it at the wall – Pow! Pow! That's the way you let the bastards have it! You don't risk a broken nose and bruises – you just let 'em have it. It was too big to fit in the pocket of his white uniform coat, so he tucked it in the waist of his white pants ... that was uncomfortable. He'd have to change clothes, no other way out of it. Yeah, these baggy old jeans ... there, it fit pretty good in the back pocket. Then the loose jacket, unbuttoned over a clean white T-shirt. He checked himself in the mirror. Not bad, not half bad at all, a lot like the pictures of James Dean. He tried combing his hair with a puff in the front and hanging over his forehead just a bit. That was really good. Now! Was he ready? Wait a minute – something he forgot. What was it? He hadn't loaded the gun yet, that's what! Be pretty stupid tracking Rudy down with an empty gun, wouldn't it? How slick the cartridges slipped into the chambers ... like a key in a lock ... snick ... snick. Like you know what goes into you know what. All set now! He turned out the light in his room and stepped out in the hall. Where would he find Rudy at seven p.m.? Lillian's Restaurant, that's where. Across the mall from MacDonald's. He'd be eating there with his wife. Too good to eat burgers and fries. Oh, no! Not Rudy – he had to have them fancy rock lobsters or lamb chops. He paused at the bus drop off to Wondermall and looked up at the clock in the Princess Tower. Ten after seven. From this moment on he would be Romeo LaBonte, walking with grace and assurance and carrying his hands in a natural unaffected manner. He felt heads and shoulders above the crowd, like a star among the extras. He never fully experienced the feeling of utter invincibility that an accomplished actor enjoys as he steps on stage, but he knew exactly how it would feel. It is as though the play, the author, the director and all the extras revolve about him waiting to pick up their cue from his slightest move. Everything, everything depends on the star! There was a moment of awkwardness as Romeo pushed clumsily on the plate glass doors of Lillian's to open them, forgetting they opened outwards. A few people looked at his scruffy clothes with distress as if to say, "What in the world is Lillian's coming to?" "Do you have a reservation, sir?" The hostess cooed. "No, I ain't." "Well, let me see, will that be one, sir?" She asked with a touch of skepticism. "I'm lookin' f'somebody, (breath) a man wit a woman." The hostess glanced nervously at the cashier who shifted in her seat and touched the mall security button with her elbow. "I see dem, dere – over dere by da, watch'y'call y'salad bar." Damn! he forgot to breathe again and he barely finished the sentence. His voice didn't sound as commanding as he wanted it to be. "Oh, that's Mr. and Mrs. Frick. Why don't you wait here sir I'll see if they wish to see you." "Don't bodder, I just wanna give him somethin'" Romeo brushed past the hostess and tried to walk toward the Frick's table with some of his former aplomb. As he neared them he reached under his coat and pulled out the Smith & Wesson. "Frankie! What the hell's the matter witchoo. Watch'ya doing wit dat gun." "You're gonna get it, Rudy. I'm gonna give it ... to ... ya!" Damn! forgot to breathe again, the last two words were inaudible. Rudy's wife seemed only mildly concerned as she ate, but Rudy stood up and stared down at Frankie, who now showed his first signs of confusion. "You nuts or somethin'? Put that gun down before you hurt yourself!" At that moment, Romeo LaBonte ran off and deserted Frankie forever. He could feel the familiar flush of embarrassment and mortification all over again. "I said GIVE IT TO ME, FRANKIE!!. Meekly, as a child might return something he had stolen, Frankie put the gun on the white tablecloth. "Y'should'na ... Rudy. Y'should'na treated me like that in frunna Cindy. I got feelin's Rudy, just like you do." Rudy gave a short snort of a laugh, "You little shit ... " He would have said more but at that moment two mall security officers burst in. They seized Frankie from behind and roughly mashed his face down on the tile floor. One of them cuffed his hands behind his back and the other picked up the gun on the table. "He come in with this gun?" "Yes, he threatened my wife and me with it." The officer shook out the shells and looked into the chamber. "Couldn't do much with this gun, the pin's filed off, would'na fired anyways. You know him?" "Yeah, he worked for me, name's Frankie somethin'. Speakin' of fired, I fired him just today." "Well, he's one of them nuts I guess." He wrapped the gun in Rudy's napkin and turned to look at Frankie on the floor – "Good lookin' kid. On ya feet Frankie – sorry about yer nose." He turned to the customers slowly gathering about them. "Okay folks ... show's over." ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for Givin' it to Rudy
Pronto on 02-06-2014
Givin it to Rudy
Well told story it held my interest to the end which was, sadly, rather anti-climatic.

Author's Reply:
Sorry for the ending but anything else would have been out of character.


Saint Valentine's Day (posted on: 16-05-14)
The raid on Dresden as seen through a child's eyes.

  Saint Valentine's Day   Every Saturday afternoon Mama took me to the Lutheran Cemetery on Kaiser-Strasse. We went there to visit the grave of my brother.    His name was Max Keppler, and so was mine.    Papa did not go with us. Papa never had time to go. He was a cabinet maker and there was never a day when Papa did not have work to do. He even worked on Sundays. He went to Mass in his Sunday clothes with Mama and me, then when we came home he changed into his overalls and went back to work in his shop. It is not a physically hard job to be a cabinet maker, but the hours are long – and the pay is short.    Papa finally told me that the grave in the cemetery was not mine but my brother's. If he had lived, Max Keppler would have been my older brother but he died in his second year. ''He looked much like you,'' Papa said, ''and maybe that's why Mama named you Max. Ach! Mama – she has never been the same since he died,'' Papa said. ''Something inside her... I don't know.'' He looked at me and shrugged his broad shoulders. ''I thought you would take his place.''   Mama always insisted I go with her to the graveyard. She would dress me in my Sunday clothes and make a bouquet for me to carry. When we got there she would take the bouquet from me and arrange it in a holder and set it in the ground near the headstone. Then she would open her purse and take out a glass she had brought with her. She would give it to me and tell me to get water from the fountain near the gate house. After that there would be nothing more for me to do. She kneeled and prayed for a long time while I stood alone and read the names of the dead on the other head stones. It was as if I was not there. When her prayers were said she stood up and walked away without taking my hand or telling me to come with her. If I wasn't paying attention she would leave and go home without me – leaving me there, with the dead.   Until Papa explained it to me, I was sure I was buried in the Dresden Cemetery. Why would Mama walk away and leave me there? Why would she not let me pray with her? The stone said, ''Max,'' did it not? Children grow used to things as they are and I got used to going to the cemetery with Mama. When Papa told me the name on the stone was my brother's I didn't feel so bad.   Many times I wished I could stay home on Saturday and watch Papa working with his tools and sometimes building things of my own with his left over pieces. It was fun being with Papa, much more fun than going to the cemetery with Mama. Papa sang as he worked; he would talk to himself, muttering measurements. He made little sketches on the wall of his shop. I would wait for his face to light up when he solved a problem in his head. He would say, ''Ah Ja, Ja! That's the way it will go!'' He would smile at me, then spit in the corner for good luck.   Mama walked through our house as though she was waiting for something to happen. She cooked and cleaned, but it often seemed as though she was doing these things without love, the way a servant would do them. She saw to it that I had clean things to wear and I ate what she put in front of me. She even cared for me when I was sick, but she always looked past me, as though I was far away. She never smiled and she took no interest in the news of the war.    Papa talked about the war day and night. He kept a map on the kitchen wall of the three fronts and he told me of the terrible things that would happen if Germany lost. He was a veteran of the first war and wore part of his uniform when he went out at night to be an air raid warden. He told me many times not to worry, that the war would never come to Dresden. He laughed when he said they would never bomb a cabinet maker.    But there were many soldiers in the town. Papa and I stood on the street and watched them march eastward into Russia. How young and straight they were. We cheered and the soldiers waved back at us and whistled at the university girls who were always ready to cheer them on. It was sad to watch them come back again when the war turned bad. Papa could not bear to see them in defeat, they looked like old men... unshaven; older even than Papa. They wore filthy bandages, their uniforms were dirty and torn, some of them had no rifles. They even begged at our door for food.   Papa seemed to be sad all the time. He sat in the parlor instead of working in his shop; he read his afternoon paper and then moved his map pins on the kitchen wall. Mama was the same as always. She took her ration stamps to the food store each morning, stopped at the grave of my brother and then came home. I would spend the day in school and when I came home Papa and Mama would still be sitting in the living room.   ''What's new out there?'' Papa asked me.   ''There are soldiers in the park, Papa.''   ''Soon,'' Papa said, ''soon there will be no one between us and the Russians.'' He looked at Mama and spoke more to himself than her. ''I think we should prepare ourselves, Mama. The war has come to us now.''   Mama sat rocking and looking out the window. She rarely spoke any more.    ''Our history teacher told us there would be bombing, Papa.''   ''What does he know?'' Papa grumbled. ''The war will soon be over... there will be a settlement, you'll see.'' He stood up and stepped between Mama and the living room window. ''It is Saint Valentine's Day tomorrow, remember Mama?'' When Mama found her view of the street obstructed she realized it was time to begin supper. She got up and walked to the kitchen leaving Papa standing by the living room window. He stared out at the empty street and shook his head, ''Ach, that Mama,'' he murmured, ''it is like we are not here, Max.''   It was during the middle of supper that the sirens began. Papa stood and went to the closet for his coat with the yellow stripes, then he put on his helmet and returned to the table. ''Come on you two,'' he shouted. ''Have you forgotten what you must do? The shelter is in the cathedral basement.'' He looked at Mama nervously, then turned to me. ''Max, you must watch over your mother. You know where the cathedral is, take her there, mach schnell! I will come for you when it is over.'' He got a coat for Mama and the three of us left together.    I said goodbye to Papa in the street and Mama and me started for the cathedral. I turned and waved to Papa at the corner just as the first bright bombs fell on the outskirts of the town. I never saw Papa again.   I found a place on the end of a bench for Mama to sit. Next to her was an old blind man who kept shouting, ''What's happening? Please, will somebody tell me what's happening.'' Nobody knew, Dresden was not a target, everybody said. It was probably a mistake.    The bombs kept falling. They fell in great bunches, like coal being unloaded by a chute into a basement. They would stop for a moment, only to fall again. Sometimes closer, sometimes farther off. I wondered what it must be like to be outside and I asked a man who wore a warden's uniform like Papa if it would be over soon. He shook his head as though he didn't understand me.   I think I grew up on that St. Valentine's Eve. I was a little boy until the first bombs fell, but the terrible power of the war – the strength of it was beyond the capacity of a man or a woman to endure. It was a force a simple human could not stand up to, let alone a little boy.   There was no clearing signal. The men in the basement decided for themselves that the bombing was over. They came to Mama and me and told us we should stay there in the basement of the cathedral because there was nothing outside but fire and smoke and a howling wind. But Mama wanted to go home. ''The city is gone,'' one man cried, ''Dresden is burning!'' ... and so it was. Mama and me picked our way through the littered street to find our house had already burned to the ground. It was like being in a strange city. She turned to me and took my hand.    We found our way to the cemetery. The smoke was thick and from time to time there was the crash of a falling wall. Dust and ashes filled the air and it seemed to me the fire would never end. Even the trees had burned, they stood like skeletons at the curbside clutching at the sky. There was the smell of gasoline everywhere.   The stones were toppled in the cemetery. Even the old elaborate monuments and statues had fallen over and it was impossible for Mama to find the grave of my brother. She kneeled to pray where she thought he was, leaving me standing there wondering what happened to Papa. Finally men came and told us to leave the cemetery and go back to a shelter; they looked at mama carefully and then at me. Mama was on her knees rocking, her eyes were shut tight but above the noise of the fire and wind her shrill voice could be heard praying. The men asked me who we were and where we lived. I told them our names and where we lived and asked them if they had seen my father.    Mama died that afternoon on a bench in the basement of the First Lutheran Church of Dresden. A man I did not know asked me if the woman on the bench was my mother. ''I saw you come in together,'' he said. ''Ihre Mutter ist tot." Do you realize what I say to you, young man? I said your mother is dead.''   There were thirty three children who sat together in the basement of the First Lutheran Church on that St. Valentine's Day. We did not know we were orphans and we were too young to cry.    
Archived comments for Saint Valentine's Day
Mikeverdi on 22-05-2014
Saint Valentines Day
That was a hell of a story about a real hell on earth. Thanks for posting it Harry, it should have a Nib and a lot more reads.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. It's frightening to think what people will do to each other in the name of victory.


The Modification (posted on: 21-04-14)
Trying to get out from under

The Modification by Harry Buschman Her phone buzzed. It was Helen at the switchboard. ''Mildred there's a David James for you, shall I put him through?'' Mildred hesitated a second, more from shock than a lack of decision. ''Yes, Helen. Thanks – I'll talk to him.'' ''Milly, it's Dave.'' Then, in the next breath, he added, ''don't hang up, okay?'' Mildred sighed, stood at her desk, turned, walked to the window and looked out at the late afternoon traffic. She took a deep breath and said, ''what's on your mind, Dave?'' Dave sensed he called at a bad time. He was half tempted to hang up. But he was desperate. If he could talk to her, he knew he could get her to see things his way. ''I thought we could have a drink together, that's all. It's been a while – and I'd like to know how you're getting on, how Carrie is, the new house...'' ''Why this afternoon, Dave. Is it really all that important to you right now?'' She couldn't help herself, it just slipped out – hearing his voice, she supposed. Strange how you can recognize someone's voice even though you haven't heard it in years. All it takes is one word... ''Well, okay then. I just thought maybe you'd like to.'' ''I didn't say I wouldn't. Just make sure you clear it with... what's her name, Sandra?'' That was another dig, Mildred wasn't going to let him forget. Dave got it, she could hear him tighten up. ''I will. Six o'clock at Hurley's, that okay with you?'' ''Yes, but I haven't got much time. I have to get home, Carrie leaves for school this weekend.'' <><><> Mildred stood across the street from Hurley's Bar. From under the awning of The Mandarin Restaurant she could see Hurley's front door. She wasn't going in until she saw Dave go in; make him sit there and sweat it out a little, then go in. It was childish she knew, but she didn't want him to see her waiting. The weather was misty, a cold mist that promised an early fall in New York. It made her feel very alone. The same feeling she got after the divorce, taking care of everything herself. The bills, the house, and Carrie... ...most of all Carrie. Especially in the beginning, when she was little. She loved her father and she couldn't accept any part of the divorce, even blamed Mildred for Dave's infidelity. It was unfair, really unfair. She didn't know half the stunts he pulled. Did he think she was blind? Damn him anyway! Mildred was getting herself worked up again. She took a deep breath and lit a cigarette to ease the tension; that was another thing. The cigarettes. She never smoked until after Dave left. Then suddenly there he was at Hurley's door. She watched him turn around, turn his collar down, shrug and go inside. Had he seen her? She didn't think so, but he was a sharp one. He looked a little thinner, a little down at the heels... and still wearing his old dark brown raincoat, maybe things weren't going too well at home. What was her name again? Sandra!... what could you expect? Mildred finished her cigarette, dropped it in the gutter and crossed the street. He would probably be seated at one of the duet tables in the back of the room. She checked her coat and stopped in the ladies room, she wanted to look poised and self-controlled. God knows she didn't feel that way. If the son of a bitch only knew how she missed him! As she entered the bar they saw each other at the same time and Dave, who already had a drink in front of him rose quickly to his feet and pulled the empty chair back for her. ''Thanks for coming, Milly.'' They looked each other over quickly. ''What'll y'have? I wasn't sure you'd come, y'know.'' The difference between them was striking. Mildred was poised. She had checked her coat, while Dave had thrown his over the back of his chair. He was wearing black slacks and a brown jacket. One of the tabs of his shirt collar was curled up like the ear of a rodent. His smile flickered on and off as though he wasn't sure he should smile or not. The smile was rodent-like too. She sat across the table from him, silently. She took her gloves off and folded them over her purse. ''You're looking great, Milly, aren't you wearing a coat? It was raining when I came in – listen to me, I'm talking a blue streak. Well, after all... three years, you know?'' ''I checked it.'' ''What? Oh, the coat, yes I guess I should have done that too. Did I tell you how nice you look?'' He buttoned his jacket and made a nervous attempt to straighten his tie. ''What would you like, Milly? A little wine – a Manhattan maybe?'' He waved his empty glass at the waitress. ''Daisy... Daisy...'' He shot a guilty glance at Mildred. ''I come in here for a pick-me-up between jobs sometimes.'' ''You working two jobs, Dave? I'll have a glass of white wine, by the way.'' ''I'll have a refill, Daisy, and the lady will have a Chardonnay.'' Dave leaned back in his seat and tried to relax. They looked each other over carefully with the remembered intimacy of a ten year relationship. Like old adversaries they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. Dave sensed he was the weaker of the two now, and like an out of shape boxer, if he was to gain any advantage from this brief encounter he would have to cover up and let Mildred take the offensive, let her make the first mistake. ''You were right all along, Milly – it should never have happened. I was a fool. How could I have been so stupid? ''I asked you if you were working two jobs, Dave.'' He felt pinned down. She was at the top of her form – ''wasn't gonna miss a thing,'' he thought. He took a deep breath and let the words out slowly. ''Yes, I had to. I do telemarketing downtown at night. Sandra, see, she quit working some time back. Her painting, you know? She hasn't sold a thing since her exhibition last year, and she says it's because she can't put her mind to... Oh, thanks Daisy.'' He handed his empty glass to the waitress and she set the drinks in front of them, then placed the bill on the table close to Dave. ''Where was I? Yes Sandra...'' He noticed Milly wince whenever he mentioned Sandra's name. ''Cheers Milly, let's look at the bright side.'' ''I don't think you can support two families, Dave.'' She might have been talking to her gardener. ''You had a devil of a time making ends meet with Carrie and me. Now look at you.'' ''I'm doin' my best, but it's not easy. I've had a run of bad luck Milly, you know that. I seem to get mixed up with companies that are going down hill. That's not my fault is it?'' ''No. Nobody said it was, David. But it's typical of you, isn't it?'' She paused for a moment to let up on him. ''How are you getting on, otherwise?'' ''What do you mean?'' ''You and what's-her-name. Married yet?'' ''Oh, Sandra you mean. We haven't set the date yet, it's the money you know. We're doing okay though, except for the money.'' He leaned forward and lowered his voice a bit. ''I wanted to talk to you about that, Milly.'' Mildred said nothing. Whatever warmth that once existed between them had turned icy cold, she really didn't care how he was getting on. She wished he'd stop calling her 'Milly.' He hadn't once asked about Carrie going away to college or how they were making it on their own. He was fixated on money, his money, it was a sure sign he didn't have any. ''You're doin' pretty good, right Milly? I'm glad to hear it, y'know. Really I am. I used to lay awake at night wonderin' how you were gettin' on. I wished,'' he spread his hands in an expansive gesture. ''...I wished the settlement could'a been more, and it would'a been more if I'da had more to give.'' The thought of him lying awake at night – lying next to Sandra sent chills down her spine. ''We get by, Dave. But there's nothing left at the end of the month, if that's what you mean.'' Dave put both hands palms down on the table. He leaned towards Mildred with a startled expression. ''Milly, what do think I am! I'm shocked, do you think I'd sit here asking you for money?'' Mildred tossed off the last of her wine and looked at her watch. It occurred to her that it was a watch she bought herself before they were married. ''I have to go, David. There's a million things Carrie and I have to do before she leaves.'' Dave took a few sugar packets from the table and fiddled with them. He shifted in his seat a bit, then put them in his pocket. ''I hate to ask you, Milly, but I'm a little short 'til the end of the week. Would you mind...'' ''Paying for the drinks? He smiled sickly and shrugged. ''I feel like a heel.'' ''Do you? Got enough for carfare downtown?'' She picked up the tab and read it, then handed Dave a twenty dollar bill. ''Here, you pay her, you've got to uphold your reputation in front of the bar you know.'' He took the money and put it on the tray with the bill, then he waved at Daisy. ''It's the payments, Milly, the payments are killin' me. I know I gotta go on payin' for three more years. Carrie's gonna be twenty-one then right?'' Mildred sighed and pulled her coat check out of her purse. ''Go on,'' she murmured. ''I was wondering if you'd consider a modification.'' ''What's that?'' Mildred asked as she stood and waited for David to push her chair back to the table. He leaped up quickly, pushed in the chair and took the coat check from her. ''Here let me handle that,'' he said struggling into his coat. She couldn't help noticing it was still wet and wrinkled. How seedy he looked. There was a tear in the pocket of the coat and the cuffs were frayed. He walked behind her to the coat check window. ''Well, a modification is like... er, takin' a second look at the settlement. Y'see if a man can't keep up the payments, the court can reduce them.'' He gave the check to the hat check girl. ''What color is your coat, Milly?'' ''Black. A black sable.'' ''Phyllis, the lady checked a black sable.'' He looked back at Mildred. ''You're doin' all right, Milly. You still into, what'ya call your demographics with CNN?'' He made an awkward attempt to slip his arm around her waist when he helped her on with her coat and she pulled away. She didn't answer. An answer wasn't necessary. Anyone could see the difference between them, although there was a great difference in physical appearance, there was an even greater disparity in their bearing. Mildred was a thoroughbred; no one, other than Dave, would think of calling her ''Milly,'' just as no one would ever bother to call Dave ''David.'' The need to succeed on her own after the divorce had made her confident and supremely independent. Dave, on the other hand looked like someone who had just come in after a bad day at the track. He darted around Mildred and opened the door for her. They stood in the street and Dave lit a cigarette holding the match between his thumb and forefinger and cupping it with the palm of his hand. ''You won't forget, will you Milly? About the modification I mean. Your lawyer can explain it better than I can.'' He hunched his shoulders and turned his collar up. ''I could sure use a break, y'know... the way things are goin.'' His eyes lit up for a moment. ''Hey, I got an idea, maybe we can share a cab downtown.'' They stood almost toe to toe – eye to eye, at the edge of the curb. She was a shade taller than he was. She couldn't remember being taller than him when they were married. She suddenly realized he was a stranger, someone she didn't want to be seen with. What she missed was what he used to be, not what he turned out to be, a panhandler in the rain outside Hurley's Bar. He was dead, truly dead. Could this man actually be Carrie's father? Yet looking at him standing there with his hands shoved deep in his pockets, she was disappointed in herself to discover she still cared for him. She hated herself for it. ''Do you know what Carrie and I went through, Dave? Do you know what it's like for a woman to have to be a father as well as a mother? No. Why should you? You didn't want to be a father in the first place. My mistake, right? Here, go earn yourself a living?'' She reached in her purse and found a subway token. ''Here's a start, I'm riding alone.'' ©Harry Buschman 2001 (2240)
Archived comments for The Modification
expat on 21-04-2014
The Modification
A superb 'slice of life' story! Both characters are 3-dimensional and the dialogue is so natural it's as if the reader is sitting next to Dave and Mildred's table, not a computer screen.
Everything flowed so easily that it only seemed half the word-count.
Compliments on a well-written piece.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 22-04-2014
The Modification
Got to agree Harry, excellent writing. Only a great writer could hold out attention in the telling of such a familier story line. It was an easy read, you wanted to know the outcome. 'Suddenly realised he was a stranger' I've had that conversation, I can remember that feeling; and you told it so well.
Mike

Author's Reply:

Harry on 15-05-2014
The Modification
Thanks very much for those words. Natural and human was the effect I hoped to achieve. I was trying to avoid the dramatic and emotional crutch such stories usually depend on.

Author's Reply:


The Sawmill (posted on: 18-04-14)
Ends on a note - tried it in the Hemingway style. 85% below the surface.

The Sawmill Sheila put the picnic basket down and stretched the blanket neatly in the grass. She sat down and looked up at the moon just rising over the far end of the lake, "There's going to be a full moon tonight," she said. "Gibbous," Richie said. What's gibbous?" "When the moon's past full. There was a full moon last night. You remember that from science class, right?" "Not really. Looks full enough to me." She began emptying the picnic basket. "You hungry?" Richie stood up and faced the lake. "You hardly ever hear the saw-mill any more. It ain't the same without the saw-mill. It's shut down. They stopped night-work – next it'll be weekends." "It'll pick up again. I've got fried chicken – I asked you before. You hungry? I know how much you like chicken." "It's the full grown trees, the old ones are almost gone. They're making particle board out of the sawdust." He sat down on a corner of the blanket. "My father worked at that mill all his life, so did yours, Sheila." "There will always be a sawmill. This is Millville for God's sake. You want a Diet-Coke?" He drew his knees up to his chest and looked at Sheila. "How come you can't see it?" "What Richie! See what? What's wrong with you lately? Ever since the carnival went through here last summer you haven't been the same." "I won the gold engagement ring at the ring toss game, remember?" Sheila held up her left hand. "Still there. The finger's turned green but the ring is still there. I'm waiting for a real one, how long will I wait, Richie? Richie?" "How long does it take for a tree to grow?" ''That's a hell of a thing to say.'' ''This is a one job town, Millville. Like the mining towns in West Virginia – it's mining or it's nothing. In Millville it's the trees for the sawmill. When the trees are gone, the sawmill will go. I'll have a chicken leg. No coke.'' ''Y'never talked this way before the carnival went through.'' ''I know. That's when I realized there is a best time in your life – a one time. I keep it to myself and only let it out when things get tough and I can't stand it no more – when things get so bad I just shut my eyes and wait for that one time to come back and lay its sweet hands on me and give me peace. Then I can see the Ferris wheel and the carrousel and the roller coaster. The music comes back, and the smell of onions and pop corn and mustard and sauerkraut as sweet as the first whiff of a new lit joint. It's sad, Sheila, because it brings the question back to me. Why didn't I go with the carnival, the freaks and the acrobats and leave this dying town behind me?'' Sheila passes him a chicken leg on a paper plate. ''Run off with the carnival? Leave without me?'' ''Would you let me go alone?'' Sheila popped the cap on a Diet-Coke and looked up at the moon again. ''What's out there, Richie? Is there something out there – better than what'cha got here – better'n me?'' ''Y'can't see from here, Sheila.''
Archived comments for The Sawmill
Mikeverdi on 18-04-2014
The Sawmill
Love that Harry, way to go man!
Mike

Author's Reply:

expat on 21-04-2014
The Sawmill
Nicely captured! A Papa ambience, for sure.


Author's Reply:


The Kite (posted on: 04-04-14)
It's worth saving.

The Kite Harry Buschman There is a stand of Lombardy poplars that border a narrow creek and mark our back property line. Beyond that is a neglected apple orchard with high grass that must be sickled down during the summer months. The trees are old, sadly in need of pruning and their branches are festooned with bag worms.   Our son Ben is out there, all eight years of him. He is pulling a wicker wash basket in his old red wagon, going from tree to tree picking the best apples he can find within reach. It's late in the season for apples and the pickings are slim.   Dear Ben. Our son – born when Catherine and I were on loving terms. She's in the work room now marking school papers. She doesn't have to do that now, she's got the whole weekend ahead. She could do it tomorrow. She could be out here with me at the kitchen window – watching Ben.   But if I were to go in and ask her, "How are you getting on?" She would not answer me, she'd get up and come in here and look out the kitchen window at Ben, just as I'm doing. She would leave me standing there with my question unanswered. We're never in the same room at the same time. We're rarely together with Ben any more. I wonder if Catherine told him to go out and pick the apples. If she did, it could mean she's planning to bake a pie. How would I know? I'd have to ask Ben – reach Catherine through Ben.   When he looks at me with his brown eyes, Catherine's eyes... I see a sadness in them and a worry bordering on tears, as if to say, "What will become of us? Why can't I have you both together like I used to?"   What can I say to him?   He's coming back now, picking his way through the tall grass. He's lost weight this summer. He seems a little slimmer too, but then he's growing,.. getting to the age when he'll no longer be a little boy.   "How'd you do, Ben?"   "Oh, not so good, they're pretty wormy. There's paper wasps out there too." He puts the wicker basket on the kitchen stool and turns to me. "Hey Dad, can you and Mommy and me go down to the overlook?"   We live in Guilford, about a mile from the shore of Long Island Sound. There's a high bluff at the edge of the sound from which you can see all the way across to the North Fork of Long Island. A few years ago we'd picnic there, fly our kite and watch the freight boats sail west to the city ports in Queens.   "Sure, Ben. Maybe after lunch, okay? It'll be cold out there this time of year though. Maybe Mommy won't want to go. Why don't you ask her?"   There's a look of doubt and apprehension on his young face. He's afraid Catherine will say no. He wants the three of us to go together... he's trying to keep us together with his young hands. He doesn't want to go with me, he doesn't want to go with Catherine either – he wants the three of us to go. Together. The way we used to.   He pulls over the footstool he uses to stand on and reach the taps in the kitchen sink. He pulls up his sleeves, then reaches over and turns on the tap to wash his hands, then he turns and looks at me. His lower lip is quivering and he hides his head in his outstretched arms.   "Oh Ben, Ben, don't worry... it'll be okay, Ben, I promise you... I swear... I.... " I go to him and hold him awkwardly. He holds his hands under the warm water and turns his head away from me. I can feel his tiny body shaking with sobs. How can we do this to him? How can Catherine and I be so blind... to do such a thing to Ben?   "Are you okay, Ben?" Catherine is standing in the kitchen doorway.   Ben is a brave little boy. His sobbing stops and he turns his head from both of us and rests it against the sink.   "Ask her Daddy."   "Ben wants us to go to the overlook. you know, out on the bluff, where you can see across the sound?"   "I heard the two of you in here... did you find any apples Ben?" She turns her brown eyes on me, the eyes I used to love... they're hidden now, behind her steel rimmed glasses. I look for the warmth and affection that used to be in them, but the light has gone out.   Ben has not fully recovered so I answer for him. "Pretty slim pickings out there, I think the wasps chased him home."   "He can answer for himself, can't you Ben. You don't need Daddy to talk for you, do you?"   "Can we go Mom... please?"   "Mommy's pretty busy, Ben... but we'll see, right after lunch, maybe, okay? What do you want for lunch, Ben, soup?"   The three of us have barley soup for lunch. I can't remember how long it's been since we've eaten at the kitchen table together. Ben sits in the same place he sat as a four year old. He eats on a place mat that covers a multitude of scars, scratches and stains as though some wild animal ate there years ago. That was about the time the night work began. The nights in the city stretching into weekends... I lost track of things in this house. I gradually became a stranger to my own family, and it hurts me to say I missed a lot of Ben's growing up in those four years.   I wasn't here, I must admit I wasn't here when I should have been. Not when the boiler broke down, not when the chrysanthemums needed weeding, and not the week of the ice storm. Where was I? I look across the table at Ben. He is looking at both of us in turn... searching out faces. He is bewildered, he can't understand why he isn't strong enough to hold the three of us together.   I venture a word... "It's nice having lunch together."   As if to answer me, Catherine gets up and gathers our plates and stacks them in the dishwasher. "Well, come on, get your coat on Ben. You'd better bring your boots too, it will probably be muddy out there. I haven't got all day." In spite of her lack of enthusiasm, It sounds like she wants to go.   There will be no epiphanies for us, no sudden revelations. If we are to make it, we will have to make it a step at a time. It took us four years to get ourselves in this mess, and if we are to get out of it, we will get out of it one painful step at a time.   How beautiful it is out here on this lovely afternoon with the deep blue high altitude sky that spans the Sound from the Connecticut shore to Long Island. Maybe we have taken our first timid step. We talk, Catherine and I, for the first time in more than a month. Our voices are not edgy. Not tinged with bitterness.   She has removed her glasses and sits on the cold turf with her knees pulled up to her chin. Ben is running along the bluff with the new kite I flew for him. It needs a longer tail I think. At times it skirts perilously close to the ground... but that's the way it should be, it adds to the thrill of it all.   "Kate?"   "What?"   "We can't do this, Kate. We can't do this to Ben. We can't do it to ourselves either."   "I don't want to do it, John."   I am suddenly filled with an unexplainable anger, a rage I can barely keep inside me. I turn from Catherine to look at Ben. Who the hell do we think we are!? How can we put him through this? I take a long breath... "I want you to know this, Kate... please know this!" I stand looking at Ben but talking to Catherine. My voice is thick with emotion, "I love you... my mind is full of my broken promises. Broken windows I didn't mend, broken furnaces and a lot of things I meant to do and never got around to doing. But know this, please, for God's sake know this... please, before it's too late. I love you!"   I don't hear her get up, but I suddenly feel her arms about me from behind, her body pressed against me. My eyes swim in tears and the image of Ben is blurred, but I can see him running toward me and as he runs the kite soars higher and higher.  
Archived comments for The Kite
Rab on 04-04-2014
The Kite
I didn't expect them to get together at the end. A good take on strong emotions, but I couldn't help feeling the hug at the end was a bit sudden. If the father felt these emotions I would have thought he would have talked to Kate about it before now. Perhaps a more gradual unfreezing of the coldness?

Author's Reply:

QBall on 04-04-2014
The Kite
Sad tale with a good ending. Tugs at the heart strings.
One comment on grammar -

There is a stand of Lombardy poplars that border a narrow creek

'stand' is the subject (singular) so the sentence should be -
There is a stand of Lombardy poplars that borders a narrow creek
Cheers,
Les Q.


Author's Reply:

Jabberwocky on 05-04-2014
The Kite
I really really liked this simple yet not-so-simple piece of writing. The imagery was perfect and one is left with so much to imagine for themselves. At first this made me very sad but the ending picked up the mood. However I think it would be more dynamic if the ending was worse... I don't know but yes I enjoyed it.
Thanks
Jabber

Author's Reply:
Any one of the alternatives would make a more memorable story. The child makes a misstep and the kite swings him to his death on the edge of the bluff ... the woman puts her steel rimmed glasses back on again, gets in the car and leaves the two of them in the muddy field. and so on ... but hell, it's spring, who could do such a thing.

Kipper on 06-04-2014
The Kite
I enjoyed this very much. The tenseness of the loveless situation was well portrayed, as were the characters and the landscape. But I too felt that the reconciliation was a little speedy. Given the constraints of a short story compromise is often necessary, but perhaps there is room for a little stretching.
Good story, well told, Michael.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 07-04-2014
The Kite
Okay ...others have said there comments and critique, I wont dwell on what might have been. I think this is both rhythmic and poignant; I could feel the pain of the relationship flowing onto the page. I tried to mend a broken life once...I failed. I was pleased to see this one get that second chance. I guess it takes one to know one. I truly enjoyed your story.
Mike

Author's Reply:
If the relationship mends, it mends in a flash. Like a "spot-weld." The lady heard the man's words, they resonated.


The Inconstant Muse (posted on: 28-02-14)
Believe in her.

The Inconstant Muse Harry Buschman I was desperate. I needed you last night where were you? I was here with you. You were not! I couldn't write a word – I kept thinking of the old days. That's why you couldn't see me. What do you mean? Your mind wandered. You wouldn't let yourself write. There's really nothing wrong with you you know. You're afraid of failure that's all. You don't know what failure is like. Start in again. It's early, we've got the whole night ahead of us. Sit down. Light the lamp. Turn a fresh page. Now, start the story again. (He sits and lights the lamp, turns over a fresh page and dips his pen in the inkwell.) (He turns to her) Don't leave me. I told you, I won't leave you. Forget yourself. Forget me. Begin. Introduce the characters. Describe the place, the time. Let the narrative begin. It's no good. Nothing's coming. (He stands and turns to her) Stand on the other side of the table, over here where I can see you. Forget me. It's best you can't see me when you write. When you're finished you'll see me in the words you've written. I'll be alone. I'm no good alone – let me see you, please. I'll be right here behind you. You'll see me in the words you write. There's no other way. Can I kiss you first? No. After. (He sits again and stares at the open page in front of him.) "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." There, how's that? Don't stop now.
Archived comments for The Inconstant Muse
Leila on 28-02-2014
The Inconstant Muse
I am sure many will relate to this one Harry, pretty spot on as always...Leila

Author's Reply:

ValDohren on 28-02-2014
The Inconstant Muse
She's always missing just when we need her most - but she needs a break sometimes, so we all need to give her some space. God one Harry.
Val

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Rab on 01-03-2014
The Inconstant Muse
Something all of us can relate to. I particularly liked the idea of seeing 'her' in the words of the story.

Ross

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The Partner (posted on: 21-02-14)
The mid-life crisis

The Partner This is the true story of Herbert Schuster, forty seven years of age and the sole owner of Phoenix Sash and Door Company. Take a look at him critically, you will see he's very close to being invisible. He has a face that is quickly forgotten once he leaves the room. But like an iceberg, the larger and darker part of Herbert Schuster cannot be seen, and therein lies the reason for this little story. The Phoenix Sash and Door company went into Chapter 11 when the building boom tailed off some years ago, and for three years Herbert Schuster was forced to sell his windows and doors himself on foot and by phone. He delivered and installed them, and there were times he even made them. They were lean years, meat loaf and tuna fish casserole years. His wife, Gladys, kept the company books and sent out the bills those days. She was not good at it. Some customers were overcharged and others weren't charged at all. The company was the victim of supply side economics and Herbert looked at the world with mistrust and trepidation. The world also looked bleak to Gladys Schuster during those meat loaf and tuna casserole years, and even now that good times have returned, she wears a fixed expression of impending disaster. When the phone rings she will invariably jump and exclaim, "Oh dear! who can that be?" When she answers the front door of their house in Rye, she will open it just a crack – just enough to see who is outside. When the boom in urban renewal and gentrification resumed, Herbert was up on his feet quickly. The Phoenix Sash and Door Company rose from its own ashes; emerged from Chapter 11, and was now riding the crest of the new wave of construction. Herbert Schuster is now a force to be reckoned with in the building industry – an entrepreneur. At important client conferences his voice can be clearly heard above the others. Like an operatic tenor in a chorus, he sings out buzz words, such as, "zero tolerance stability," and "multi-factorial." He works harder than ever. Success has not dulled his ambition, and with the nagging recollection of bankruptcy an ever present memory, he pours more and more of himself into Phoenix and less and less of himself into Gladys and his family in Rye. On this particular Friday he leaned back confidently in his tailor-made, high backed, executive posture chair, sighed contentedly and laced his fingers across his unbuttoned vest. Another great week! Eighteen contracts signed – not one of them less than $35,000. He could still cut the mustard at 47! There wasn't anyone he knew who could cut it better. As he considered the coming weekend, his satisfaction was tempered somewhat by the thought of Gladys. She was forty-two – an unpredictable age. Multi-factorial in fact. She was on the brink of menopause and things were not going well. Then, there was Penny, their valley girl daughter, sixteen. She was on the brink of something as well. Had her own locked out cell phone and a password protected computer only she could use. She wanted a Trans-am for her birthday. Finally, Albert, fourteen – prince of klutzes; his day was evenly divided between shooting baskets in the driveway, and squeezing his pimples in the bathroom. Herbert often said to himself, "Where did such dysfunctional children come from? How could a man with my exceptional talent father such a brood?" He remembered seeing them as squalling infants behind glass in the maternity ward years ago. Both of them had been surrounded by a dozen or more identical squalling infants. Did the hospital really know which was which, or who was who? Maybe they're not mine. Too late now he thought, had them too long to send them back. I'm stuck with them. Pretty much stuck with Gladys too. He stretched luxuriously and closed the lid on his lap top. He stood up and ran his fingers over the polished emptiness of his blond oak desk and admired his neatness and efficiency. He buttoned his vest and coat and got his black fedora out of the closet. He put it on carefully. If it had not been for the slow advance of male pattern baldness he would not have worn a hat on this pleasant spring day. I will have to look into that, he thought, no reason to give in to baldness at my age. Makes it harder to cut the mustard when you're bald. Phyllis Mussel was sitting outside at her desk, alone. The office was empty, but she wouldn't think of leaving before Herbert did. What a pearl! She knew where everything was, everything! She knew more about the company than Herbert did. "Have a nice weekend, Phyllis." "You too, Herbert – 9:30 Appelbaum." She handed him the Appelbaum folder. A tireless woman, stout of limb and fiercely protective, she was the only employee at Phoenix who knew and used Schuster's first name. He was Mr. Schuster to everyone else. She had a special shorthand speaking technique that kept Herbert on his toes. He had to think about the Appelbaum project over the weekend – 359 hollow core doors – some with two hinges, some with three. Didn't want to let that contract get away. He made his way to the Mercedes in parking space number one and fished in his pocket for the remote door opener. He pushed the trunk lid button instead. "Damn!" he thought, "getting to be more like Albert every day." What I need is an outlet, a bridge – something between the company and the house in Rye. A hobby maybe. But who has time for a hobby. Maybe some kind of involvement in the community. God forbid! The less I have to do with that crowd of deadbeats the better. How about a mistress? He turned the Mercedes' air conditioner up a notch. Now there's an idea. "A liaison! How could I work out a liaison. I don't like the idea of sneaking around – got enough to think about without keeping a list of alibis in my head." In this frame of mind, he pulled into his driveway and almost ran Albert down in front of the basketball hoop. The ball rimmed the basket, bounced out and landed on the hood of the Mercedes, leaving a gentle dent. "Damn it, Albert you'll be the death of me yet!" "Hi, Pop, Rye's playin' Stamford tomorrow." "I'm not driving you, I've got a golf date." "That's okay, Pop. It's an important game, Coach won't let me play anyway." "Why am I not surprised?" Herbert mumbled. He gathered up his briefcase and the Appelbaum folder and went inside. Gladys, as usual, stood in the hall to meet him with a mixed expression of compassion and dread. Herbert always thought of it as the Chapter 11 look. "Everything's fine, Gladys, no problems," he assured her. "Just tired, that's all. Had a very good week actually––think I'll make a martini." "I've got a pitcher all ready for you, it's on the table by the sofa. I've got the news on the television too. bet you're glad the weekend's here." Herbert mumbled an inarticulate thank you and hoped it sounded more sincere to Gladys than it did to him. Gladys didn't know how to make a Martini, used too much vermout – her Martini's always tasted like something pumped out of a flooded basement. The clean fresh slam bang tang of good gin with a twist of lemon was like the bite of the north wind blowing across the steppes of central Russia. Gladys couldn't seem to make them that way. He looked in the kitchen, Penny was in there. "What's gotten into her," he wondered, had a miracle occurred? "She's never in the kitchen." Then he saw a long haired pimply faced boy duck his head inside the open refrigerator door. He was dressed in clothes made for a much larger person – looked more like a clown than a human being, Herbert reflected. "What a waste," he thought, "the kid can't wait for her to get her Trans-am. Putting his bid in early." He drifted into the living room and looked at the pitcher of Martinis. All the ice had melted. "Stretch out and relax, dear. Dinner's not quite ready. I tuned in to the news on CNN, that's what you want, right? Sorry, I didn't have any lemons, or olives, or onions, or whatever you put in those things." He poured an oily looking Martini and stretched out on the sofa. A mistress – hmm, what a fascinating idea. A wide eyed blonde on CNN was shaving her legs on the evening news as he began to weigh the possibilities of a liaison. What a lovely word "liaison." He drifted off to sleep but was rudely awakened as Albert tripped over his feet on the way to the bathroom. "Albert, must you walk across the room like a blind man?" Herbert mopped up the spilled Martini as Gladys called him from the kitchen. "Dinner's ready, dear. Will you open the wine – I seem to have broken the cork." There it was half way down the neck of the bottle. "Where's Penny? She was here just a minute ago." "There's a concert at the mall. She and Lance are going to get something to eat over there. He seems like a nice boy, doesn't he?" "Lance! His mother and father must have had high hopes – pity – concert, humph!" He grumbled. "How can they call them concerts? They're not concerts, they're mating rituals." "Herbert, please, not in front of Albert." "How come you're not playing basketball tomorrow, Albert?" "I need remedial help in math Pop. Coach won't let me play until I get a "C." "Well," he mumbled. "there you have it. Bet Michael Jordan didn't need a "C" to play basketball. Got to be good at something Albert." He sighed. He was playing golf with Ernie Schultz tomorrow. Ernie was the sort of man who would keep his mouth shut. Ernie was a swinger too – probably knew all about liaisons. What a lovely word, "liaison.' Those French! They have a name for everything. <><><> Ernie's lie was right in the middle of the fairway. Herbert was in the fringe of the rough, 100 yards behind him, already ten shots over his handicap with eleven holes to go. He took a drop – no way of getting out of there. Ernie waited for him to catch up. "Let's go hacker," Ernie shouted, "I don't have all day." Herbert waited until he caught up to Ernie, then decided now was as good a time as any. "Er, Ernie, you ever fool around?" he asked. "Not when I'm playing golf." "Well, I mean fool around – you know, like have a liaison – something on the side?" "That can only mean you don't. Come on Herbie get real. Sure, if something comes up, I'm Johnny on the spot." "Well" began Herbert, "I was thinking of something a little more permanent, you know what I mean." Ernie chipped up to the green. "looka that, three feet from the pin, beers are on you, Herbert." He looked sideways at Herbert. "You know, buddy, there's no such thing as a little more permanent. You get into something like that, you're in deep shit. You start lying at both ends. A piece of advice, okay? On again off again, it's the best way." They played in silence for a while, then Ernie drew Herbert aside. "I'm gonna give you a number to call, O.K.? Don't write it down, it's easy to remember. "EROTICA" – got it? Repeat it back to me." "EROTICA," Herbert repeated reluctantly. "Look Ernie, I'm not looking for a brothel, you know." Ernie confidently teed up for the eighteenth hole, waggled his driver and smiled at Herbert. "It's an absolutely discreet and first class company, Herbie. Call them, they'll handle all the details. All you've got to do is lay back and enjoy it." The idea festered in Herbert's mind for more than a week. He was on the point of getting his finger as far as the "O" in EROTICA a couple of times then he'd break out in a cold sweat and put it off until later. At the end of the second week he pulled himself together and decided to do it. He called, not from the office or from home, but from a pay phone more than a mile from either of them. "Thank you for calling EROTICA." It was a recorded message, a throaty androgynous voice of indeterminate age. "If you are calling from a touch-tone phone, please press one now." "If you are calling about our weekender, press two." "If you are calling about our overnighter, press three." "If you are looking for our luncheon special, press four." "If you desire technical assistance, press five." Herbert pressed five. "All our technical staff are busy with other clients at the moment, but your call is very important to us, please stay on the line." Herbert hung up midway through Ravel's "Bolero." This wasn't for him. It was like calling for an airline ticket. He got back in the Mercedes and drove on to the office, almost glad that he hadn't gotten through – damn Ernie anyway, 'Luncheon Special' indeed! Herbert was shrewd enough to realize that a rendezvous, even a 'Luncheon Special' would require deception of a very high order, not only from his wife and family but from Phyllis Mussel and the Phoenix Sash and Door Company. He decided to get back to EROTICA some other time – he had a business to run. <><><> Weeks passed, and the seed of dalliance was sown. It germinated in the muck of Herbert's sub-conscious. It twitched and fidgeted there like a virus waiting to spring. He found himself looking at women in ways he never did before, wondering how they'd look naked. He watched their restless legs crossing and uncrossing in restaurants, marveling at the smooth and seamless expanse of nylon and fascinated by their mysterious disappearance beyond the hemline of their skirts. He even cast penetrating glances at the stocky legs of Phyllis Mussel as she took dictation in his office. An itch of eroticism would surface at the most unexpected times – the cleaning lady bending over her mop pail, for example; or Millie Ferguson, the hardware buyer searching through the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet. He remembered, as a boy, wanting things. A bicycle, an infielder's mitt with Lou Gehrig's autograph. The desire to acquire what he wanted now was even greater. Most important to him was the nagging suspicion that maybe he couldn't cut the mustard any more. He knew it was a feeling all men face in time, but not him, not now. At the age of 47 he was just hitting his stride. He opened the door of his office closet just a little, enough to stand and critically examine his profile in the full length mirror. It wasn't all it could be, there were indications of decline, but if he set his mind to it he could convince himself that a young woman might find him physically attractive. That was the problem with places like EROTICA, he reminded himself. A man could get what he wanted, but he'd have to pay, and when he dragged himself back to the office after a "Luncheon Special" he would never be sure he proved anything. It was a clinical procedure. The truth gradually dawned on Herbert. It was a sobering truth and one he hadn't suspected before but should have. It was a truth that explained his anguish of the past month – he wanted someone to be in love with him! Could it be that simple? "Who loves me?" he said aloud. How did Gladys really feel about him? Was it a drowning woman's frantic clutching at him for security, or was it her wanting him as a man? Did Penny love him? Was she proud to be his daughter, happy to be seen with him? Or was she even aware of him? Suppose he didn't buy her the Trans-Am? How would she feel about him then? And finally Albert. Was Albert capable of loving anyone, or would he be a nestling forever, his mouth forever gaping wide, waiting for a worm or a grub? Anything, so long as it was given to him. Then there was Phoenix. Twenty six men in the shop, seven draftsmen, fourteen people in the office, and then the installers, sometimes as many as thirty installers at a time. How did they feel about him? So long as the well didn't run dry they'd be faithful, and that's about it. He buzzed for Phyllis. Herbert sat with his elbows on his desk and his head in his hands. His eyes were focused somewhere in the middle of the room. As Phyllis passed before him, he sat back in his chair and made an effort to think of why he called her. Phyllis sat in the straight backed chair at the end of his desk and looked at him quizzically. "What's up, Herbert?" "Oh, nothing. Just thinking, that's all." "About what?" "Oh, lots of things. You happy here, Phyllis?" "What do you mean, 'happy'?" "Well, like if there was any place on earth you'd like to be, would it be here, or some place else?" She settled herself more comfortably in the chair, and thought a bit. "What the hell's wrong with you, Herbert?" "I know. It's a funny question isn't it? But I was just thinking there's no place on earth I'd rather be than right here at Phoenix." He smiled wistfully and looked out the window. "That's sad, isn't it? I mean, when you think of all the beautiful places in the world I could be, I'd rather be here." "Why don't you go home Herbert?" "Oh no! I'd rather be here than there." "Can I get you a cup of coffee, Herbert? Or maybe a drink, I could fix you a drink." It flashed through Phyllis' mind that maybe she should call a doctor. "Can you make me a Martini, Phyllis. A nice dry Martini, shaken, not stirred?" Phyllis walked over to the small bar in the corner of the office and began making a pitcher of Martinis. Using the pretext of getting some ice from the outer office she called Mrs. Ferguson over. "Millie, quick, call Mr. Schuster's doctor. The number's in my Rolodex. I think he's taken a spell." She walked quickly back to Herbert's office and finished making the Martinis. Herbert had that half-way look in his eye again, as though he was focussed on something in the middle distance that Phyllis couldn't see. "Here you go, Herbert. Real whizz banger of a Martini, guaranteed to pick you up." Herbert sipped it slowly, let it roll around on his tongue. "Say! That is a good one. Here, let me pour one for you, Phyllis." "Little early for me, Herbert, but, okay. Never too early for a good Martini I guess." They sat looking at each other. Herbert in his custom swivel chair and Phyllis in the straight backed chair at the corner of Herbert's desk. Herbert had recovered the focus of his middle vision. "How would you like to be President of Phoenix Sash and Door, Phyllis?" "Now wait a minute." "No, I'm serious, you're too good to be a secretary, Phyllis. We'd make a great team. I think I'd learn to love Phoenix even more than I do with someone like you as president. I could be CEO." "I don't know anything about storm doors and windows.'' "Neither do I, Phyllis. That's why we have the guys out there in the shop, they know all there is to know. All we have to do is wheel and deal." "Just a minute, Herbert." Phyllis got up and walked outside again. Mrs. Ferguson was on the phone. "Have you reached the doctor yet, Millie?" "No, they've got me on hold." "Forget it, Mr. Schuster's himself again."
Archived comments for The Partner
Mikeverdi on 24-02-2014
The Partner
Its weird, 'WHERE ARE ALL THE READERS'. When I saw you're name I knew it would be worth the effort. I know others read you as well but just lately there seems to be a lack of comments. This is a great read, a simple story well told. I have run a company (or two) in my miss spent youth, so it was easy to identify with this one. Lost the first one through adulatory, so even easier to get it!
Thanks for posting
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike. It's the length I think. Attention span and all that.If I were a better writer things might be different.

Mikeverdi on 24-02-2014
The Partner
Harry ...you seem to be saying that you're a shit writer 'HELLO' you are not! The length may be an issue with some, usually stuff of about 1200 words is better, I found this in the past and was corrected by The Boss and re posted in segments. Many good writers are suffering from the lack of readers and comments, not just you. It will pass. Keep writing and posting.
Mike

Author's Reply:

Leila on 24-02-2014
The Partner
Harry, a pleasure to scroll to one of your stories and find your sense of humour and character studies as wonderful as ever, loved it all and a truly fab ending of course ...superb! Leila

Author's Reply:
Thank you very much Leila

Rab on 01-03-2014
The Partner
A really good story, kind of Runyonesque, if that's a word. One small niggle though, on the golf course there's 11 holes to go and suddenly they're on the 18th tee?
A very small point, and not enough to spoil the story!

Ross

Author's Reply:


Dearest Eliot (posted on: 07-02-14)
A love story

Dearest Eliot Harry Buschman The summer of thirty-nine! I was twenty-one, a senior at Pratt. I'd be a structural engineer next year. Wasn't that enough? No! Not for me. I signed on to the committee to impeach Martin Dies. I marched with the Irish Liberation Army in the spring, and I attended meetings in Lennie's Coffee Shop basement with the Red Guard every Thursday night. That should be enough for a young man of twenty-one... in the summer of thirty-nine. But no! I had to go and fall in love! I first noticed her in Economics II, then in European History. At lunch and dinner I saw her in the cafeteria or walking through the halls surrounded by her friends. She was nested in the center of her friends, like something precious shielded from the outside... from predatory seniors like me. All my political posturing, the clenched fists; all the issues that meant so much to me were suddenly forgotten. sThe plight of the proletariat was no longer important to me. I lived only to see her; to watch her in the circle of her friends. I strained to hear her voice. I listened carefully and with precise tuning, I was able to isolate her voice from the gaggle of the others around her. It was a low voice for a woman, low in volume and pitch. A voice, that like everything else about her, seemed to come from deep inside. When she laughed, her friends would laugh too, and by some mysterious transcendental linkage I would find myself laughing. Then I would catch myself and stop. What would she think of this ragged revolutionary standing alone laughing like an idiot? She was a small and graceful girl, with short dark hair framing a pale face and very large inquiring eyes. Her complexion was flawless. It was obvious she needed no make-up, yet her brows looked freshly penciled in and her mouth, always slightly parted and on the brink of a smile, looked freshly painted. I lost track of my own identity. To hell with Martin Dies and his un-American Activities Committee! To hell with marching for Northern Ireland... to hell with school! I was head over heels in love! My throat was dry, I was parched, my mouth hung open as though I was in the presence of a miracle. I stared at her from behind my beard like a homeless person, unaware that I looked like an unmade bed. Although I had never been closer to her than ten feet, my bloodhound senses had picked up the sight, the sound and even the scent of her. Love had given me a homing device that enabled me to predict where she would be, and I would be there before her, waiting to see, hear... and yes, even smell her. Who was this rare and beautiful creature? Where, within her, was her soul – the magic that made her different from any woman I'd ever seen? I had to have her! I had to have her to myself. Alone! I began nodding to her, pretending we had met before. Ten or more times a day I would be there to nod and smile, hoping she would accept me as someone she knew. She gave me no sign or signal, but that didn't matter. My plan was to familiarize her with the sight of me, someone she might recognize in time. I had adopted the outward appearance of a Parisian poet of the late eighteenth century, it was a very popular masquerade with serious young men in the summer of thirty-nine. Later, I stood in front of my dormitory mirror and looked at the wretched creature I had become. I was filled with doubt. None of her friends looked as disreputable as I. They were clean shaven, wore smarter clothes, and looked, as the saying used to go, "up and coming." There were hollow sockets where my eyes had been, I looked hunted. My clothes hadn't been to the laundry in weeks. I was a disheveled, homeless figure, yet she looked at me without disgust. Perhaps there was hope for me! Love is a devious mistress. It teaches the lover to be crafty and cunning. With no trouble at all I stole "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" from her open locker as we passed from European History to English Lit. As I held her book in my hand, I thought of her holding it in hers. Our hands had held this book! Not at the same time, but almost, and using the book's scale of time, it was as if we had held it together. I opened it and saw her name, "Property of Jennifer Hubble." Her name had a sobering effect on me, and I felt as though I had bullied my way into the sanctity of her family. The book carried a faint scent, something similar to rosemary. My books stank of stale cigarettes, like the rest of me. I felt I might contaminate hers if I kept it too long. She had underlined certain passages with green pencil. Her underlining would venture timidly out into the margin, and once there she would write a note in a controlled and delicate hand. Little circles above the i's, and j's. The belly of the loops under her y's and g's were pregnant with significance. Never had a lover learned so much from a book of history. I burst through her phalanx of admirers. "Jenny! You left your book in history class!" To this day I'm not certain if she believed me, but she accepted the book and smiled. "Thank you..." "Eliot." "Thank you... Eliot." It was a beginning... like the first step in an assault of Mt. Everest. I'm sure there were better ways to begin, but we cannot create beginnings out of thin air, we are forced to use the materials at hand. Romeo found Juliet at a ball. Tristan and Isolde were enemies until they drank a magic potion. As the pace of destiny quickened, and as the clouds of war thickened about us, this young man of twenty-one used his meager store of wit and wisdom to gain the attention of Jennifer Hubble. She had, after all, spoken his name! She hadn't shrunk in revulsion at the sight of him. She simply said, "Thank you... Eliot!" Long after the encounter, I replayed the sound of my name as it came from her parted lips. I took it as a signal to proceed. I checked myself in the dormitory mirror again and wondered where to begin. There was serious work to be done. A haircut. A trimming of the beard, and by all means a general scrubbing down of a body that had been too long in the trenches of left wing commitment – of sitting in damp basement rallies – of passing out manifestos on rainy street corners. After that, a little attention to the ragged clothing. My enthusiasm for the causes of the common man were no longer important. I was walking on air with a song in my heart. I knew at last what made the world go round! I wrote her a note! "Jenny, I must see you. It's very important. At the stone bench, by the lion, after the last lecture. Okay? Eliot." I agonized over that note. I used blank white paper, instead of something torn out of a notebook. I wanted to make it seem imperative, (hence the "must") yet I didn't want to alarm her. Most of all, by the implied 'important' nature of the note, I hoped she would break away from her crowd of attendants and see me alone. I slipped the note through the ventilating slots of her book locker. I sat on the hard cold bench wearing Rudy Westerman's forest green cable knit sweater and Charlie Brooke's new brown corduroy pants. That morning I sprung for my first haircut in more than a month and spent my lunch break trimming my beard. As I sat on the bench by the stone lion under a stormy summer sky, I was aware of a few admiring glances from coed freshmen in their beanies. I had a mental image of myself as Andrea Chenier, in his tumbrel, rattling along the cobbled streets of Paris on his way to the guillotine. I sat there until dark, fresh out of cigarettes and hungry as hell. I was forced to admit that my preparations had failed. What was of utmost importance to me was obviously of no concern to her. I rose stiffly from the cold stone bench, brushed the ashes from Rudy Westerman's sweater, and reluctantly headed for the school cafeteria. What if she were to suddenly appear after I left, like the Governor's pardon arriving after the prisoner had been executed? Wait a minute! Perhaps she had forgotten my name! That was it! She didn't know who 'Eliot' was. How stupid of me! But then again, even if she didn't know, wouldn't she be curious enough to want to know – pass by hurriedly with her ever attendant group to see who was sitting on the stone bench? I had worked myself into a frenzy of doubt, madly infatuated, insanely obsessed with an unresponsive mistress. Yes, mistress! I could only compare myself to a dog who finds his mistress has abandoned him. I sat alone in the cafeteria. Rudy Westerman came over and wanted his sweater back. After checking it for cigarette burns, he asked me how I made out. "I didn't borrow it to make out, Rudy." "Well, why didn't you wear your own then?" "None of your business." "Huh! I guess not... you going to the meeting tonight?" "What meeting?" "The Red Guard, dummy! Lennie's basement. Mantell is speaking tonight, he's just back from Washington." "I don't think so, Rudy. I've got to write a letter tonight." "What's the matter with you. You used to be a real torch bearer. Now look at you, you've got a haircut and a brand new pair of pants, and for a while there you had a new sweater." "The pants aren't mine, they're Charlie Brooke's, have you got any cigarettes?" Rudy shook his head at me and folded his sweater. He fished in his shirt pocket and pulled out a handful of cigarettes he rolled himself on a machine he had brought from home. God knows what was in them, he said it was something that grew wild in a field in back of his father's house. It was pretty obvious to me that I had passed into another dimension. The down-trodden masses would have to find someone else to carry their torch, at least until this situation with Jennifer Hubble was resolved. I was a non-active member of the Red Guard now. I sat there for a time planning my next, and probably most crucial step. It would have to be a letter. It would have to explain in intimate detail the agony I was going through and what she had done to me and what I was prepared to do if she, if she... well, it would all have to get in the letter somehow. The threatening summer sky had turned to rain, a cold rain, and I could almost smell the wet raincoats in the basement meeting room under Lennie's diner in Collegetown. I managed to stay relatively dry on my way back to the dorm by ducking in and out of the buildings on campus. By the time I got back I had worked out the theme of the love letter in my head. I was determined that this, as yet unwritten declaration, would be a beacon to all young men who love in the future. It went surprisingly well. At 11 p.m. I slipped the six pages into a clean white envelope and sealed it. Almost immediately I slit the envelope open and read it again... I added a PS. I got another envelope and told myself that this was the last time, it was going to go like this or not at all. It was nearly midnight. The rain had stopped and I decided to walk the letter over to her dorm. The campus was deserted now, even the security patrol had quit for the night. In the vestibule of every dorm the school provided a large bulletin board which was used as a makeshift mailbox. It's the first thing the students checked going in and the last thing going out. I tacked my letter to the very center of the board, making sure there was space all around it… she couldn't miss it. I had written that I would be at Lennie's Diner every evening from nine to eleven at a table in the back of the room. I assured her that she had nothing to fear from me and it would be much better if she came alone. My anguish throughout the next three days was indescribable. I saw her every day in class I tried to read her expression and imagine what was on her mind. She remained in the center of her friends; her bodyguards, all of them jockeying for position. Our eyes would catch every now and then, but quickly the contact would be broken as though both of us had opened a door to a private room and feared to enter. I drank everything Lennie had for sale, coffee, coke, beer and even tea. Rudy Westerman, fresh from his Red Guard rallies downstairs came up and sat with me. "We missed you last night, Eliot. Mantell was on fire. There's gonna be war, you know that don't you?" "Get away from me, I'm expecting somebody." "I swear, man, you're goin' down the drain. Don't you care any more? Look at you! The world's coming apart and you look like you didn't have a date for the prom." "Got any more of those cigarettes, Rudy?" He gave me another handful and they helped to pass the time. Lennie was closing up, letting down the wooden blinds and staring at me meaningfully. It looked as though my third night of waiting would be fruitless, but suddenly the door opened and there she was. Alone! She wore a woolen hat pulled down low over the tips of her ears and a long matching scarf wound about her throat. She seemed much smaller alone – vulnerable. I stood and we looked at each other across the empty room. "You two kids aren't plannin' to settle down here, are'ya? I'm gettin' ready to shut down for the night." Lennie already had the lights down and the cook was taking out the trash. "No, we're going. That all right with you, Jennifer?" She nodded. I hurried across the room and took her arm, she pulled away. She wasn't ready for that. Two clumsy people in the first stages of a relationship. We found ourselves out in the street in almost total darkness. The click of the lock and the catch of the bolt of the door behind us reminded us we were on our own. We walked together, back to the campus, an inch or two of emptiness carefully maintained between us. Finally, at the stone bench by the lion, I stopped. "You read the letter?" "Of course." "... and still you're here." "Yes." "I thought, maybe it was a little strong. That it might scare you. I'm too frank sometimes." "It was, and you are, but still I'm here." "Would you like to sit here a moment? It's hard to speak to you during the day, you're always... always." "I know, I can't help it, I seem to attract people." I inched closer to her on the bench. "You know, I ask myself every day. 'What is Jennifer?'... Whatever you are, Jennifer, I can't live without you." "You're being silly, I'm nothing... I don't know what you're expecting." There was so much to say! It was so late! The college was sound asleep, and off to the east, Europe was on the brink of war! I wanted to say, "Damn it all to hell Jennifer, hold your hands to your ears. Cup them like shells, can't you hear it? It's the drums. There will be war, Jennifer, WAR! I think I have been born to fight in this war! Let us be together while there's still time." Instead, I made a decision that still mystifies me. "I'm going to quit school, Jennifer. I want to enlist." "You're crazy! What for?" The library clock sounded 11:30. "Oh, my God! Look at the time. I've got to go, Eliot." "There will be war, very soon now. It will change everything." "But graduation is in two months. Don't you want to graduate?" Without waiting for an answer, she ran off down the path to her dormitory. I had managed somehow to bring out the most important things on my mind, love and war, but it accomplished nothing. She was interested in neither. I thought if I told her I was leaving, it might make a difference. It didn't. <><><> We saw a lot of each other that final summer. Most of our daily meetings were in the company of her devoted friends. I had little in common with them, and if I had been more honest with myself, I would have to say I had little in common with Jennifer. But I had already made her larger than life, and she could do no wrong. We were often alone on weekends. She did not shine as brilliantly on her own; she was a focal point and needed to be in a setting. She made no further attempt to keep me from enlisting. I hoped she would. I never would have made the commitment if I thought I had to go through with it. We grew no closer. There was an impenetrable barrier that prohibited physical intimacy beyond what she considered permissible. "We're too young. There's so much ahead of us. Be good Eliot. Can't you be satisfied with what we have?" She would allow me to touch her here and there, but under strict control and with a firm resolve not to venture into the fathomless depths into which I was so eager to plunge. "Do you know what I'm going through, Jenny?" "I guess so." Her noncommittal replies were torture. She wanted to take every step along the way. No short cuts. Every road to be followed to its destination before another road could be considered. Czechoslovakia fell, Austria fell, then the march into Poland. The skies grew darker and the drums grew louder. She was unaware of them, they were too far away for her to hear. <><><> That was three years ago. Three years, going on what seems like thirty-three. It's been almost a year since I've heard from her, and I must admit, almost a year since I've written to her, or anyone else for that matter. I've been so long at this war that I've lost contact with home. My only friends... my family you might say, are the men I've been with from Messina to Anzio. Perhaps I shall write home some day, but for the moment I have no news to share. This tortured country is my home. Jennifer and I made solemn promises to each other when I left, and I believe we meant to keep them, but when two people are young, they don''t keep promises for long... surely not in the face of war. Each day I find it more difficult to remember her. I can't see her face any more. Her photograph in my wallet is the face of a stranger. I am certain it must be the same for her. I expect she has looked at my picture and wondered who this strange young man was and what has become of him. If we were to meet today on that stone bench by the lion, would we recognize each other? Sezze is a quiet little Italian town on the coast road to Rome. Two days ago it was a burning nightmare of tank and artillery fire. I thought there would be nothing left of it. But glory be... the church still stands and just this afternoon Signor Marandella managed to reopen his little taverna in the square. He let down a shredded awning to filter the warm Italian sun and he's selling the local wine, and an unmarked German beer in brown bottles with porcelain stoppers. The beer can be kept no colder than the water in the village pump... but it is beer. How quickly civilization sets in after the battle clears. A field hospital arrived early this morning along with Patton's senior staff, and the mail from home just came in. It looks like we're putting down roots. It was here in Marandella's tavern that a letter came from Jennifer Hubble. Her careful writing in green ink, with the little circles above the "i's" and "j's"... and the pregnant bellies of the "y's" and "g's"... ''Dearest Eliot...'' it began. She never called me that before. ''I really don't know how to tell you this...'' It was skillfully written. My interest should have been been greater than it was. I suppose I should have kept reading, but Signor Marandella sat down at the table with me. He and his wife were overjoyed that the Americans and the British had taken back the town. "It is sad that so many friends have perished, Signor. Both yours and mine you know... Morte. But God shall be with the victims, si? Those who live must go on living, I truly believe that is so. I count myself among the most fortunate of men. Today I can offer you the wine of my village, and the beer of the devil himself, if you prefer. If you will be patient, Signor... my wife is preparing pasta and calamari." The letter went on... "Peter is expecting his CPA license in December... the marriage will be January 14th... the baby is due in early July. I wish it could have been different with you and me, Eliot, but I'm sure you can understand." Of course I do, Jenny. I didn't then, but I do now.
Archived comments for Dearest Eliot
Mikeverdi on 07-02-2014
Dearest Eliot
I truly loved reading that Harry, I thought it was both engrossing and informative; I was at one with you're cast. I cared about them and was afraid when Eliot went to war it would end sadly, but no...you lifted it with the ending, by showing life as it is; as it must have been over and over again in those uncertain times. A wonderful story. I never normally say when I nominate, please accept this one from me.
Mike

Author's Reply:
There are no happy endings are there? Every story, if strung out to the end will leave a bitter taste... thank you for the nomination.


Nude in the Window (posted on: 31-01-14)
I've been trying to iron the bugs out of this piece... it hasn't been easy.

Nude in the Window Harry Buschman Very few visitors in Parkinson's Gallery paid attention to Kate O'Riley that winter afternoon. One or two gave her a passing glance if she stood between their line of sight and the paintings on the gallery walls. When they did, they quickly looked away if she happened to catch their eye. She was shabbily dressed––like a cleaning woman at a dress ball. Really! So out of place in Darien, Connecticut, especially here at a retrospective exhibit of the paintings of the late Simon Hedges. She bought a catalog at the museum desk and she consulted it frequently. She wore a plastic strap on her wrist, showing she had paid the admission fee of ten dollars, and she displayed an eager, almost gluttonous interest in each painting. She was an old woman–quite bent, and she shuffled when she walked. In spite of the bitter cold outside she hadn't worn a winter coat. Instead, she wore a collection of sweaters, one over the other topped with a man's woolen jacket that was closed tightly at the neck with a safety pin. Her wiry gray hair was tucked under a knitted wool cap and she scratched her head thoughtfully whenever she saw something that puzzled her. She muttered under her breath from time to time and referred to her catalog. Settling her glasses on the bridge of her nose, her head bobbed from painting to catalog and back to a painting again. Sometimes she shook her head as though in disagreement with one or the other. At such times she looked about for someone to speak with, but people quickly turned away. Her name was Kate O'Riley, and she was the cleaning woman, cook and lover of Simon Hedges ... in a Brooklyn slum many years ago. Financial success came late in the life of Simon Hedges. He struggled like many artists did in the thirties and didn't reach his potential artistically or financially until late in the last century. Most of his early efforts were discarded or lost, therefore this exhibit revealed a blank spot in time–a situation that retrospective exhibitions always strive to avoid. The appearance of this strange old woman kindled a spark in the curiosity of the curator of Parkinson's gallery. He was acutely aware of her and he decided to question her. She was a potential embarrassment to the gallery on this otherwise successful afternoon ... or, a pot of gold! Mr. Parkinson, the curator of the heavily mortgaged gallery, was a small intense, and financially stressed artistic director. A few sales, an oil or two from the past by Simon Hedges ... they'd be worth a fortune. The gallery might be able to wiggle its way out of chapter eleven. He wore a chaste black tailor made suit–so tight fitting that no man in Darien, Connecticut could squeeze his way into it. It fit Mr. Parkinson like a glove. As if to establish his authority, he approached the old woman ... but somewhat tentatively, from the flank. She was looking at a painting of a woman brushing her hair. As Mr. Parkinson approached her, Kate O'Reily seemed to grow taller and more formidable. ''Lovely exhibit, isn't it Madam. Such a sensitive treatment of the female figure ...'' The old woman was now forced to divide her attention between the painting, her catalog and now this man dressed like a haberdasher. ''Was you a friend of Si's, sonny?'' ''A disciple you might say.'' ''How long ago was that?'' She asked. ''The last five years of his life ... while he lived here in Darien. I had the rare privilege of watching him work.'' ''Was he still a pig? He was a pig back when me and Flo lived with him and that's a fact. Left his dirty underwear in a heap by the side of his bed–never washed a dish in his life.'' ''Really. Well ... artists, you know.'' ''Yeah. Me and Flo, we got to know a lot about artists, lemme tell you. Him and this sculptor friend of his ... '' ''A sculptor? He lived with a sculptor? I wasn't aware...'' ''Lemme sit down fer just a minute, my back is killin' me?'' She let herself down slowly on a leather cushioned bench that stood a discreet viewing distance from the painting of the woman combing her hair. ''I come up here all the way from Brooklyn Heights on the New Haven train. It's a long trip for an old woman, young man. But I seen your ad in Friday's paper fer this exhibit of Simon Hedges!'' She shook her head in disbelief. ''I ain't seen or heard that name in forty years. There was me and Si and Flo and I can't rightly remember the sculptor fella ... Archie somethin'.'' ''Good heavens!'' Mr. Parkinson's eyes lit up hopefully. ''Was it Archipenko?'' ''Beats me, mister, I never paid much attention to him. I had my sights set on Si.'' She narrowed her eyes and studied Mr, Parkinson more carefully and silently asked herself ... ''Why is this man payin' attention to me?'' ''Tell me, madam ... they must have been wonderful days ... did Simon leave any of his pictures with you ... I mean when he moved on. There must have been things he left behind?'' The old woman shifted her position on the bench and looked Mr. Parkinson straight in the eye. ''I bet I know what's on your mind,'' she mumbled to herself. Mr. Parkinson's eyes darted left and right. He reached in his breast pocket and produced a business card. ''If you have anything of Mr. Hedges ... anything at all. You could be a wealthy woman Madam, I promise you. I will pay top dollar, in cash, for anything ... subject to verification of course. Call me collect ... I will handle all the details.'' He forced the card in her hand. She might have been a deranged old woman, but he couldn't be sure. It was best to cover all the bases. Suppose somebody else got to her first ... Christie's or Chelsea's. She looked at the card blankly and put it in the pocket of her jacket. ''No. There wasn't nothin' worth savin'. He just rented a truck one day and drove off in it. 'I'll send you word how I'm doin' Kate' he said ... and I never seen nor heard from him no more–not once.'' She looked around the gallery from her vantage point on the bench and wished she hadn't come after all. These people in their fancy clothes–it looked like a fashion show! What did they know about Si? She smiled a tired smile in Mr. Parkinson's direction ... she knew what he was after. She knew the little bastard thought Si might have left something valuable with her. He wouldn't walk away without leaving something behind him now would he? It's the way an artist works–they can't just pick up and go. Something always stays behind. A little something maybe, but something. She knew exactly what her 'something' was–it was 48 pastels, 10 books of charcoal sketches, half a dozen oils of the old neighborhood in Brooklyn and more pencil sketches than she could count. Everything of the young years of his life–not this candy box stuff he did up here in Connecticut ... and last of all there was one oil, a big one, unframed, it stood in a corner of the old apartment. Too big to be hung on the wall, it was tilted against her stained wall paper across the room from the sofa. Kate looked at that one a lot. It was a painting of her, naked as a whore, sitting on a stool by the front window. She remembered hearing him say, ''God a'mighty, Kate! Look how they stand up tight and proud and free. Have y'seen Flo's? Like milk bags on an old Gurnsey cow. And your blessed rump! Your rump is the rump of all rumps, b'God Kate you're a wonder!'' On the train home to Brooklyn, looking out through the frosted window she remembered those days with a clarity that surprised her. Just seeing his name in the paper and on the walls of the museum made her realize how empty her life had been ever since he drove off in his rented truck. Nobody ever looked at her the way Si did, nobody else ever said she was beautiful. It was dark when she got home and she was worn out. But, still glad she went after all. In a way it was like going to see Si again, to see what became of him. He was far less a man up there in Connecticut than he was with her, here in Brooklyn. She was sure of that ... he left the best of himself behind when he left Brooklyn. She stopped in at Papa Wong's for take out Chinese. It was nearly nine o'clock and only Papa Wong was there, sitting behind the counter reading a Chinese newspaper. He looked up and smiled broadly. ''Miss O'Riley! There, you see I been practicing. I used to say O-LIE-REE ... you're late for dinner. You want take-out? I got take-out. Where you been all day? ''Hi Papa. I'm done in ... I just got back. I been up to Connecticut all day. I'm hungry ... you got shrimp.'' ''I'll stand behind the pork. The shrimp ... I don't know. I fix you something, some moo goo ... very good. Where is Connetiquette?'' ''A half-a-days trip north of here, Papa. An old friend of mine ... he died up there.'' ''So, a funeral. A time for passing. It is a sadder thing here than in the Chinese custom–but then we have less to stay alive for. Although maybe it's different now. Who can say?'' ''No, It was no funeral, Papa. It's hard to explain.'' ''You want some soup ... egg drop? There's some left over. On the house ... or else out he goes with the garbage ... Bon Appetite, Miss O'Riley, may you have good digestion.'' He closed the door after her. Her apartment was dark and cold–the shades had been pulled down all day. She turned up the heat and kicked off her shoes, then set her Chinese food on the coffee table in front of the sofa. She peeled off her woolen jacket and all her sweaters but one, took off her woolen hat and mussed her hair with her fingers. She walked into the kitchen and got herself some chop sticks from the cutlery drawer, then thought better of it, put them back and picked out a fork and spoon ... the clock on the wall said 9:30. ''Pretty late to be eating Chinese food ... but I got a lot to think about.'' Chinese food always made her think of Si. He loved it–nobody else did, but Si loved it, and that's probably why she was sitting on the sofa looking at the picture of the nude sitting on a stool by the living room window ... and eating Chinese food. ''... how terrible it is to see me at my best when I look the way I do now.'' She remembered posing for the picture, hoping she wouldn't be seen sitting at the window by someone walking outside, and all the while Si saying, ''Hold it, Kate. Arm a little higher. Don't slump! Just a minute more.'' And she'd stand there trying not to slump, ignoring the ache in the arch of her back, and all the time knowing full well that there would never be a better time in her life than this. If this picture had been at the art show today it would have been a sensation! It would have outclassed everything she saw there, and maybe it should be there. She thought, maybe it's not fair to let people think Simon Hedges was at his best in Connecticut. Look closely at that painting leaning against the wall ... no frame, just the stretcher, and the pastels stacked behind the sofa... put your nose down to them–you can still smell the fixative. Look at the color, crisp and clean as the day he sketched her bent over the bathtub scrubbing the dirty ring he left behind. She reached in her jacket pocket and found Mr. Parkinson's card. ''Maybe I should call the little bastard,'' she thought. ''Top dollar, he said. I could be a rich woman. Maybe it's not fair to Si, neither ... to keep the best of him for myself.'' ''Too much for me to figure,'' she thought. ''If I don't do anything, nothing will be worse than it is now ... and it'll all be between me and him for the rest of my life ... and nobody else.'' There were two fortune cookies from Papa Wong's on the coffee table in front of the sofa. She broke one open and read the message ... ... ''Let there be magic in your smile and firmness in your handshake.'' Then the second... ... ''Your many hidden talents will become obvious to those around you.'' ''I never did get any help outta Confucius, that's fer sure, he's just as confused as I am,'' She looked at Mr. Parkinson's card again ... ''Parkinson's'' it said ... she didn't trust him any more than she did Confucius, and at the root of it all, she couldn't trust Si either. ''You run off and left me here, you selfish old bastard. You never painted me, did'ja ... you painted my boobs and my butt. But me, I was inside of all that ... you never saw what was in there, did you?'' Wearily she dragged herself across the room and faced the picture of the nude in the window. ''You're all I got left of them days, young lady. Let them think what they wanna think up there in Connecticut, we know how it used to be ... and I ain't lettin' go of you.'' ©Harry Buschman 2009 (2310)
Archived comments for Nude in the Window
Mikeverdi on 04-02-2014
Nude in the Window
Harry, I really liked reading that. I was hooked from the first and disappointed when it finished. I will not try and critique it, sorry if that's what you want. I have read all you have posted since I've on here so I know you can write. Mike

Author's Reply:

franciman on 05-02-2014
Nude in the Window
Hi Harry,
I can see why you want to persist with this. It is a great story with a contemporary feel. I can also see why you are struggling with it, I believe.
I don't know how you feel about the use of adverbs, but opinion is that they rob prose of pace and certitude. There are 21 in your piece.
It's always a fine balance between show and tell, I reckon. There are parts where you are very effective in showing emotion and motivation to the reader. Too often though, you are guilty of telling the reader what he should be able to perceive for himself.
Meticulous description of both character and scene takes my attention from the immediacy of the story and urges me to pay heed to the periphery. e.g. the coffee table in front of the sofa. e.g. on a leather cushioned bench that stood a discreet viewing distance from the painting of the woman combing her hair.
It's geography and it adds nothing to the story. Perhaps if the description had lyric value that the reader might savour.
'Mr. Parkinson, the curator of the heavily mortgaged gallery, was a small intense, and financially stressed artistic director. '
None of this is descriptive; it's author intervention.
Overuse of 'she' was a bit irritating, though it is more difficult to see or say how you would have options!

I know it might seem like I didn't like your story? Not true Harry, I assure you. I read what you said at the start and looked for reasons for it on my second reading. A second reading brought about by the way the story engaged me in the first place!
Anyway; feel free to disregard or even ignore my critique. I'm just saying is all!
cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the attention. I tend to take advantage of of my third person opportunities probably more than I should. But telling is another way of showing if done with knowledge aforethought It tends to thicken the stew of fiction... and a thin stew can be poor cookery.


Jerry's Blues (posted on: 17-01-14)
When you suddenly realize the song is over.

Jerry's Blues Someone was playing the piano in the sitting room. They weren't playing very well, they knew the music but the piano was not their instrument. It didn't matter… no one was listening. Outside on the porch that wrapped around the west side of the house, Jerry was too preoccupied to listen. He kept his knees tight together and he rocked back and forth, his hands gripped the arms of his chair and he fought the urge to struggle to his feet. ''Damn,'' he said… ''ain't that the damndest thing?'' He stared intently into the mulberry trees that separated the lawn of the old house from the highway. then he turned and looked at Rudy in the rocking chair next to him. His roommate Rudy had fallen asleep next to him. Both men chose to avoid the heat of the sitting room this stifling late August day. ''Rudy,'' he asked. ''You awake, Rudy?'' Rudy and Jerry spent a lot of time on the porch together this summer. ''The Musician's Assisted Living Home'' was not air-conditioned and the tall French windows in the sitting room facing south made it unbearably hot in the afternoon. The two men spent their afternoons watching the traffic on the State highway. Rudy couldn't see very well even with the thick glasses he wore and he got bored quickly. He often dropped off to sleep leaving Jerry to watch alone. Rudy was pretty near deaf also. Fifty years ago he was a drummer with the Fats Waller band. Rudy's drum set was always set up next to the trumpets and Rudy took a dim view of most trumpeters and tended to avoid them, even the retired ones in the home, except for Jerry who played trumpet with the Jimmie Lunceford band. Rudy never played with Jimmie Lunceford so he had no reason to blame Jerry for being hard of hearing. The two men rarely had a coherent thought between them, and It was often impossible to tell if they were thinking at all. Jerry and Rudy were not senile, they were artists, retired members of long forgotten bands, but artists none the less. Their memories were mired in the popular songs of the thirties and forties of the last century. They found it difficult to recall the past except through the music and lyrics of the songs they once played. Jerry often thought of the tragedy of World War II in terms of the song... ''The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy from Company ''B.'' Like everyone else in the retired musician's home, Jerry and Rudy thought life was a simple passage of events, and the answer to remembering each of them along the way could be found in the lyrics of the music they once played with Jimmy Lunceford, ''Fats'' Waller or dozens of other bands in a lifetime of dance halls across the country. Even though they played instruments, they remembered the lyrics of the music they played. The words made the music easier to remember and a passing phrase or a headline in the newspaper could trigger a song and rekindle the memory of a moment in their life. The two old band men spend their endless afternoons humming the blues and watching the trucks roar by on the State highway. As old men occasionally do, they relate their past successes to each other. They never talk about their failures. Their failures have been forgotten long ago, and if one of them remembers one by accident, the other doesn't want to hear about it. When one of them drops off to sleep, the other usually has the good sense not to bother him, so when Jerry asked Rudy if he was asleep Rudy knew something was wrong. ''Kinda. Yeah, I think I was... why, what's up Jerry?'' ''The funniest damn thing.'' Rudy shifted his weight on the cane seat of the rocking chair, ''Tell me what's so funny about wakin' me up.'' ''I thought for a minute I was dead.'' ''I don't getch'a.'' ''Just now. Lookin' off into the trees, I lost track of where I was and who I was and it was like walkin' into a movie in the middle.'' He began to feel silly and a little guilty for waking Rudy. ''Ever go to a movie in the middle? I mean, like y'don't know what's happenin' or who the people are?'' ''Yeah.'' ''Well, I think that's the way bein' dead must be.'' Rudy thought for a minute, then shook his head in disagreement. ''I think maybe you dropped off to sleep y'self, Jerry. We went to Fletcher's funeral last week – it was probably on your mind.'' ''No, I had my eyes wide open. Watchin' the traffic comin' and goin'. I was thinkin' all the time how funny it was for us to be livin' in a place where nobody ever stops.'' ''I don't getcha.'' ''They keep passin' by. Nobody ever stops here. Just whiz by... and I figger there must be some place better'n this that they're goin' to. Maybe I got a little look-see at it when I thought I was dead.'' He leaned back in the rocker and shoved his feet straight out in front of him. ''Y'know Rudy – what I'd like t'do sometime?'' ''No, what?'' ''When the weather gets a little cooler I'd like t'get down off the porch of this damn place and walk on over to that highway and hitch me a ride outta here.'' ''Where would'ja go, Jerry?'' ''Don't matter much. Somewhere away from here, wherever the traffic is goin'.'' ''They'll wanna know where y'goin', Jerry. Nobody's gonna pick you up if you don't know where you're goin'.'' Jerry hadn't thought about that. ''I'll tell 'em I'm goin' north. That highway out there runs north and south, see, we're facin' west, so the lane nearest to us is headin' north.'' It was all too much for Rudy. He watched Jerry run his fingers through his slicked down hair and decided that this might be a good time to go back inside and see if it had cooled off any. He got as far as both hands on the arms of the chair and gathered himself together to stand when the screen door banged open and there stood Dixie Robinson. Fifty years ago Dixie sang with Andy Kirk and Chick Webb. Upbeat. Blues, a slip of a girl with a bar room voice and a memory for lyrics like a slip and fall lawyer. Now she was a boneless, inflated woman, unsteady on her spike heels. She walked in a rocking rhythm, pirouetting and dipping at times as though she were dancing with a partner. At times she would spin on one heel and the rug would twist under it, but someone was always there to catch her before she fell. It was almost always an elderly band man, as unsteady on his feet as Dixie was, and the two would struggle to stay upright. She painted her eyelids blue to match her eyes and the effect was to make it appear that her eyes were never shut. Her once brassy hair was pink now, and the consistency of candy floss. Dixie knew the lyrics to every song she ever sang just as Jerry and Rudy did, they ran through her head from morning to night. She would mouth them silently as she walked in a trance-like rhythm from room to room. She never walked into a room without making an entrance, nor would she ever exit one without a bow or a curtsy, therefore her sudden appearance on the porch before Jerry and Rudy, although neither man paid much attention, was noisy, tumultuous and worthy of applause. Before the screen door had fully closed, Dixie passed in front of Jerry and Rudy and pirouetted on her heel. She looked them over carefully and snapped her fingers. ''How come you good lookin' strangers are out here alone? You should be inside with the rest of us talkin' over the old days.'' She began to hum and closed her eyes half-way. The blue of her eyes and the blue of her lids giving the impression she had two eyes in each socket. ''Love was just a glance away, A warm embracing dance away.'' ''Strangers in the night, remember?'' ''Why don't you sit down, Dixie,'' Jerry said. ''You're makin' me dizzy.'' ''I can't sit, I'm too worked up.'' She bent over, snapped her fingers and, stepping up on her toes, she did a shuffle backwards until the porch railing stopped her. ''You will volunteer for the new band, won't you boys?'' Neither Jerry nor Rudy knew what she was talking about, nor did either of them care enough to ask. ''The home's gonna have its own band. You knew that didn't you? Both men looked at her blankly. ''What's the matter with you two?'' ''I haven't blown a horn in twenty-five years, Dixie. It ain't like ridin' a bicycle you know. You lose your lip.'' She was irrepressible, and while she swayed and hummed her way through... "Fill my heart with song, and let me sing forever more'' she went on to explain how they were to be known as 'The Elderly Band'. ''I love the name, don't you? I used to love Bob Eberle.'' ''I sold my drum set when I quit,'' Rudy said. Jerry said he couldn't play the trumpet any more... ''the nerves in my upper lip are all shot,'' he said. Y'can't play a trumpet when your lip is dead.'' Dixie was both unquenchable and adamant. She insisted they go inside and look over the new arrangements that old Sachs had made. ''You can't tell 'em from Glen Miller and Jimmy Dorsey,'' she said. ''C'mon it's gonna be a great band and we're gonna play every Saturday night. The home says they'll arrange to sell tickets... think of that, it'll be like being on the road again!'' Rudy struggled to his feet, but Jerry hung back. ''Let's go check it out,'' Rudy said. ''Can't be any worse than what we're doin' out here on the porch.'' ''You guys go ahead, I'm gonna sit here awhile... watch the sun go down.'' Dixie figured she roused one of them to come along with her and that was a beginning. She took Rudy's arm and steered him to the screen door, her buoyant step was in sharp contrast to Rudy's arthritic tread. Jerry was in no mood for music. He watched the sky turn pink slowly above him. The orange sun was low in the west now but the state highway was still in sunlight and the low hills that formed the horizon in front of him stood out sharply against the sky. He hated the past and thinking back to the band days always made him feel guilty. When he was alone there was nothing he could find in his memory to comfort him, nothing to look forward to in his future, certainly not here in the retired musician's home. He pulled himself out of his rocking chair and stood at the top of the steps that led down to the ragged lawn that stretched all the way to the Mulberry trees lining the State Highway. The grass was dry. There were brown spots and patches of dandelions had taken over. Inside someone started playing the old piano with their foot on the sustaining pedal. Through it all he recognized, ''On the Sunny Side of the Street.'' Dixie's voice was on top of it. ''She's a pro,'' he thought, ''Don't matter how much noise there is, you can always hear a band girl.'' He gripped the handrail tightly and took the steps slowly, one at a time. He stepped out on the dry grass and stood there looking westward, thinking of the lonely towns he played in. ''Empty, more than lonely,'' he corrected himself. ''Unfriendly to people passing through.'' He remembered Natchez, Twin Cities, not actually remembered – no, the names he remembered, but none of the places or the people. ''I never walked a street in a strange town where I heard somebody say, 'Hello Jerry. Good to see you back Jerry', no, not in any town, not ever. I was a stranger wherever I went. No wonder we played the blues.'' ... and still Dixie sang, ''No one here can love or understand me, Oh, what hard luck stories they all hand me, Make my bed light the light, I'll arrive late tonight, blackbird bye, bye.'' As he slowly made his way across the lawn, the music from the home grew fainter. The piano could barely be heard now, but Dixie's voice still hung in the air... She was really reaching back. The mulberry trees were just ahead and the cicadas finally out-sang Dixie Robinson. He thought back to his wife and daughter, Joanna was his daughter's name, ''She'd be in her thirties now.'' His wife? ''Well, as old as me, if she's still liven,'' he guessed. ''I just walked off. That's what I did. Never looked back. Never wrote. Never sent any money home. I left her sitting there feeding the baby. Packed my precious horn and a two-suiter and off I went with Lunceford, never looked back. It was the Goddam music... plain and simple. Playin' music was all that ever mattered.'' He reached the line of mulberry trees. They were higher than they looked back on the porch. The traffic noise from the highway was louder and the cars and trucks traveled faster than he realized. Back on the porch they took forever to pass his field of view as he sat in the rocking chair. It was more leisurely back there. Here it was noisy and frightening, they passed him by with a roar, like projectiles, and after they'd gone by they set up a gust of polluted air that almost swept him off his feet. He realized what a crazy idea it was to think somebody would stop here to pick him up. Cars and trucks were passing him at breakneck speed, far in excess of the limit. No one would ever stop to give an old man a ride. The sun dipped below the rim of the western hills now and it began to grow dark under the mulberry trees. Most of the cars and trucks had turned their headlights on, the glare and noise was more than Jerry could take. He backed under the trees for protection, tangling his feet in the leathery vines that grew at their bases. He felt he had made a terrible mistake by coming here, and turned back to see if the home was still there. The lights were on now and he wanted above all to be back there with his friends again, singing the old songs and telling his stories of life on the road. He stumbled across the field in the darkness until he could hear the music again. The traffic noise faded and as it did he heard the voice of Dixie Robinson again... ''No one ever tells you how it feels to walk alone, Listening for those footsteps through the echo of your own. Suddenly it hits you all those dreams weren't worth a dime, But no one ever tells you in time.'' ''They'll be glad to see me again, I know they will. It'll be like old times again.''
Archived comments for Jerry's Blues
Rab on 17-01-2014
Jerrys Blues
A lovely story, and well told. I got a real sense of the experience the two old chaps were going through.

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Rupe on 17-01-2014
Jerrys Blues
Your stories are always worth reading, Harry, and this is no exception. It's great. Extremely readable and gripping on a first read through, but on stepping back from it I can see there are different layers and conflicts running through it - the inside world of the mind and the outside world of cars rushing by, the romance of jazz lyrics and the reality of the jazz musician's life. Masterly. I'll be coming back to this one.

Rupe

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Mikeverdi on 19-01-2014
Jerrys Blues
So much in this story, I agree with Rupe about the layers. This site has some fine writers on it; you're one of them. Thanks for the read, I loved it.
Mike

Author's Reply:

Harry on 20-01-2014
Jerrys Blues
Thanks all of you for the enthusiasm shown to this piece, and for the nomination as well. It'll be a big boost to see it in print.

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With Apologies to W. C. Fields (posted on: 16-12-13)
About fifty years ago W.C.Fields sent a Christman card to John Barrtmore. It was found many years later in Barrymore's desk. It was a little stronger in language than this, but I thought it would be appropriate for us this time of year.

With Apologies to W. C. Fields by Harry Buschman About this time of year I get sentimental about my friends sitting around the old UK campfire and I feel compelled to start up the word processor and write a friendly note to all these good people with whom I've shared so many stimulating hours. So here I am in my comfortable den with a Martini at my elbow. The wind is blowing and It's cold outside but I've got a roaring fire going in the fireplace in the next room. What could be cozier? So here I go... except that the old Martini seems to be gone and it might be a good idea if I made another...... Sorry for the delay but I'm back with a pitcher of Martinis. I thought rather than getting up every now and then, I would save time and make a pitcher full. So, here I go... ah! the radio's on and they're playing Mantovani and there's nothing like a good Matavini I always say. They are the perfect drimk. They don't affec me thinking at all. I can drink them al lday and still keep a clear haed. So let me blend an ebowl to you all for the comign year. Hear I go. I want to thamk those off you who parised my work so higghly... it was a rea llift to my eggo and an exasperation to continual wryting. I wannalso congraduate my fellow waiters on they're effrots as well. I am hummable in there company. Damn!... tye Mantovani pitcher's eems tbe empty... must be al eak in it someweir. Well, ... I'm back aggain, had to fill it and puke up the fyre, it was gettin ga littl elow. So, heer I go agein. Of coarse, all of yu sured be remindeded 2 occlude yourselfless name on everthing youw rote... putt it right undre the tittle... that way we kno wwho is you, Okaye? Im aching a New years resovolution to do the same. But write now t hepitchs seems toby empty a gain, an dif i'm not mistooking It hink I here the fire siren outside. A peasant hoylday season toall. Harry
Archived comments for With Apologies to W. C. Fields
Weefatfella on 16-12-2013
With Apologies to W. C. Fields
 photo 9ad6ff1f-0d9b-467e-b5d6-2d3f72a688a0_zps705a5781.jpg
HA! Excellent Harry.
I can't really say well written here, but the condiments of the seasoning to you and yours.
Weefatfella.

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Mikeverdi on 16-12-2013
With Apologies to W. C. Fields
My morning laugh taken care of, thanks Harry. Mike

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barenib on 16-12-2013
With Apologies to W. C. Fields
Dicely none! John.

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Harry on 16-12-2013
With Apologies to W. C. Fields
What weird twist of fate ever brought John Barrymore and W. C. Fields together.

Author's Reply:

Ionicus on 17-12-2013
With Apologies to W. C. Fields
Here's to a pitcher of Mantovani. Nice read, Harry.

Author's Reply:
Strong resemblance I'll admit.

deadpoet on 18-12-2013
With Apologies to W. C. Fields
I get the crooked pitcher..it's full..Merry Chistmas Harry- thanks for a good laugh..

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bo_duke99 on 18-12-2013
With Apologies to W. C. Fields
really smart, made me laugh - Greg

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Plaza de Toros (posted on: 08-11-13)
A short story written in the style of Hemingway.

Plaza de Toros Harry Buschman By our count Manero had been gored eight times and we brought him into the dark infirmary under the stands. He lay on the narrow cot staring straight up at the ceiling. We could hear the crowd cheering in unison above us and we wished we could be up there with them. When he heard the noise Manero asked us what was happening. Who was fighting? We thought it might be Luis finishing off Manero's bull, but we didn't want to tell him that. Then he asked us if he was badly hurt, and we told him yes. We described the major wound to his thigh. The bull had gored completely through, the horn had dug deeply into the sand. We told him he would bleed to death from this wound if the doctor did not come quickly. He asked us why he could not see. "My eyes," he said. "Why is it I cannot see?" We told him it was not unusual. That he was in shock, and it's normal in that condition. The priest came in then and told us the doctor would be down shortly. "At the moment he is tending the horses. Three horses were gored! Imagine – the same bull that got Manero." Then he went over to Manero. "It does not look good for you, my friend." Manero looked in his direction and tried to speak. "Do you have to make a confession, Manero?" There was no sign of understanding so the Priest hurried into the Sacrament, touching Manero's head with the oil... "Through this holy unction and His own most tender mercy may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast committed... ." Just then there was a cheer from the crowd above us and the Priest's voice was lost in the sound. I thought it was disgraceful that the doctor would tend to the horses before he saw to Manero, but the Priest told me they were short of horses. "Too many Toreros, too few horses." he said, shaking his head. "Besides Manero is done for." Then he stood up and whispered to us that Manero was a clumsy bullfighter and everybody said it was only a matter of time before he got it. We heard a cheer from the stands above us, and the Priest said, "You hear that? Cordobes has just entered the Plaza." The Priest did not want to miss El Cordobes. I walked to the cot where Manero lay. "Can I get you something before we go Jose?" He tried to focus on me in the dark room and shook his head. He was too weak to talk now and both of us knew he would not live to see the doctor. The priest said we could go, that he would stay with Manero until the end. He would not of course, he would stay a moment or two, then follow us up the stairs.
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The Rainbow Diner   Part 3 - Dinner (posted on: 11-10-13)
Gordon Sharkey finds the answer.

The Rainbow Diner   Part 3 - Dinner   by Harry Buschman       It was quiet in the factory now. Lunch hour. The overhead belts were still and the dust from the buffing machine hung motionless in the stale air. There was a picturesque quality about the place that reminded him of photographs of old water power factories that lined the river banks of New England a century ago. In those days the rivers didn't stop for lunch, they rolled on, and in the summer the men would sit along the riverside in the shade playing cribbage and trading lunches with one another. Through the open windows the wheels could be heard turning inside powered by the tireless river. But nowadays, the foreman pulled the switches and the power was shut off. Everything was still.   He liked it better the other way. It was like life. Life didn't stop for lunch. There was always something to look forward to. Someone to come home to – that was a big part of it, the biggest part. There was always something to do later, something going on – the next three-day weekend – the next election. There was no purpose in it now. No prospects. It was day by day.   He punched in again and walked to the window. The grimy glass made the sky seem darker than it actually was, and the room was gloomy. He opened the window and leaned far out. He bent his head back, and the snow, gentler than it had been earlier, caressed his face like cold fingers. He blinked hard and searched for a face in the sky – someone he could talk to. Maybe God, if Jossie wasn't around.   "Does anybody hear me up there?" There was no answer, no one heard him. "It ain't all peaches and cream down here y'know." He felt another surge of anger rise within him. "You ain't all that omnipotent y'know. If you was, you would'a known things like this would happen. You could'a warned me, I would'a been ready. I would'a known what to expect."   He pulled his head back into the workroom and closed the window gently. Looking around the shop he saw old man Cripps sitting at his workbench eating his lunch. He knew Cripps wouldn't speak to him unless he spoke first and he wondered if it might not be just as well to ignore him and get back to work. But the sight of Cripps sitting there chewing like a mechanical doll and staring at him was too much. We must talk to each other, he thought. We are men after all. We must communicate.   "How ya doin, Cripps, eatin' in?"   "Yeah, I'm eatin'. You et?"   "I skipped it. I went over to the Rainbow... but it was too crowded."   "I don't like crowds. That's why I bring my lunch. My wife makes me lunch. Why'nt you bring lunch?"   That's one of the reasons Gordon didn't want to get started with Cripps. He was sick of telling Cripps his wife was dead, ten minutes after he told him he'd forget it. What was he supposed to do, hang a Goddam sign around his neck?   That seemed to end the conversation, yet Cripps continued his doll-like chewing, until suddenly, remembering his manners, he reached into his lunch box and pulled out another sandwich. "Wanna sandwich?" He waved a waxed paper wrapped sandwich at Gordon. "Wife always makes me two."   "What kind is it?"   "What kind?" He partially opened the wrapping and looked inside. "I dunno. brown meat with mustard on it, like this one." He held up the one he was eating. "It don't matter much to me."   "Do you remember my name, Cripps?"   "Your name? 'Course I remember y'name ... we been workin' together here fer twenny years ain't we?" He took another bite of his sandwich. "Gotta be twenny years. Ain't it twenny? Funny damn question to ask. What was it you asked me?"   "Forget it. Sure I'll have one of your sandwiches. Nice of you to share, Cripps." Gordon got up and went over to him.   "Y'gotta go easy with me," Cripps reminded him, "I had a stroke a little while back y'know. It ain't so easy rememberin' things the way I use'ta."   "I know Cripps, I know. You're a good man. Thanks for the sandwich."                              <><><>       He stood at the bus stop. There was still a bit of light in the sky, a bright band of yellow gold lay stretched out low on the western horizon. He could see the blinking lights of planes heading into Logan – people coming home from somewhere. The air was brisk now and the weather had turned sharply colder, Clouds moved quickly overhead and it looked as though the weather might change for the better. He wondered where he should go next. The only other place he knew was the flat. The place he lived in, he never thought of it as home.   He felt invisible standing here at the bus stop – as though the driver might pass him by without stopping. "Is this the way it is when you're dead and gone? It must be like looking in on a movie you've seen a hundred times before and having no memory of it. You'd lose interest after a while, the people in it would be strangers. You wouldn't care if they lived or died."   "Does anyone but me remember Jossie? Maybe Howie does. He's got lots of time to remember now – all the time in the world. No matter, Jossie. So long as I live someone's gonna remember you."   The people on the bus were livelier in the evening. He looked around to see if he could see a familiar face. He'd been riding this same bus for three years now, and never – never once had he seen a face he had seen before. "What happens to them when they get to where they're going? Maybe they stay there and never come back. Maybe I'm the only one who travels both ways." Like a prisoner serving time in two places, he thought. He sat down next to a man who carried what appeared to be all his life in two paper sacks, Gordon could see a toaster sticking out the top of one of them. Wherever the man was going he could have toast in the morning, if he had bread and a place to plug in the toaster.   Maybe that was his problem! He came and he went, like a Gypsy, never getting anywhere, never leaving anywhere! "No!" He said aloud. "This can't be all there is!" The man next to him hitched himself away, looking at him as though expecting something terrible to happen.   He tried to explain, "Excuse me, I just thought of something I forgot to bring with me." The man shrugged and raised his eyebrows a bit as if to say, "Don't blame me."   "I'll have to go back for it," he explained weakly. He reached over the man and pulled the cord. The man continued to watch him warily as the bus pulled to the curb. Gordon leaned over to him and said, "I hope things go well with you."   The man clamped his mouth shut and took a firmer grip on his bags as Gordon staggered his way to the exit doors. The bus, although fully stopped, rocked like a fretful horse at the curbside. The doors remained closed, and turning to the left, Gordon saw the driver, a huge red-faced man, stand up and face the passengers.   "I don't feel good folks. I ain't takin' this bus no further." He walked unsteadily to the center of the bus and wrapped his two beefy hands around a pole in front of a young woman wearing earphones. Her eyes were closed and she wagged her head from side to side in a slow mechanical rhythm, oblivious to the driver and everything else but the music in her ears. "I ain't kiddin' folks. It's been a bad day f'me. Both my kids got the flu and my wife's gotta do another week in re-hab." He turned back to the driver's seat and pulled the lever to open the front door. "I'm outta here," He said. "Get'cha self to where y'goin'' the best way y'can."   He was gone, leaving his bewildered passengers looking at each other. Gradually they began to stir and talk to each other; they all had places to go. The bus always took them there, there was no other way to get from where they came from to where they wanted to go. No one ever thought of the bus driver as anything more than a part of the bus. He couldn't walk out on them! It was not supposed to work that way!   No one was going to leave the bus. No way! This bus was supposed to take them somewhere, the place they had to go to. They had no interest in where they were, the important thing was where they wanted to go. There would be another bus, another driver. Someone would come along. They would just sit here and wait. Somebody would come for them.   Gordon didn't feel that way. He didn't want to go back to the flat. He had no interest in the shoe factory either, after his day was done he realized the only other thing in his life was The Rainbow Diner.   Gordon walked to the front of the bus, and using the same door the driver did, stepped out into the night. He was calmer now out on the street, the air was fresher and there wasn't a soul around. He could think at his own pace now and he was sure of one thing. He wasn't going back to the flat. Not right now. There was nothing there to make him want to be there. Another night listening to Mady and her friends play bridge, listening to their voices coming up through the opening around the waste pipe in the bathroom. He didn't want any part of sitting there alone, listening to them, and trying not to hear.   Now he couldn't remember why he got off the bus. Something about Mady's bridge club ladies and not getting anywhere. Yes, it was both of these things. Both together, and the obvious answer was not to go back to the flat. That was one of the anchors of his discontent – there was no pot of gold there. Neither was the shoe factory. It was someplace in between. The Rainbow Diner must the place! The sky was dark now. A few very fast moving clouds and a sky riddled with stars. "Could there be a rainbow at night?" Of course there could.   Gordon turned around and began walking back to the diner. There was a spring in his step again, he was going to give it another try. This morning was great, maybe this evening would be good too. Something went wrong at lunch time, but it had to be a freak. Yes, tonight would be fine. Lois would be there; what would she say? "What can I get'cha hon?" That's what she'd say. Then she'd remember his name, and say, "Gordon, honey. You're back, did'ya have a good day?"   He tried to remember the menu, but he hadn't seen the specials of the evening. They were probably different from those at breakfast and lunch, but it didn't matter! You could order anything you wanted at The Rainbow Diner. Just around the corner now. Looking up he could see the dark windows of the shoe factory, staring down at him, dead-eyed and opaque.   But across the street; in all its splendor, like a cruise ship at night, riding at anchor in some glamorous port-of-call lay The Rainbow Diner! How warm and inviting it looked, Gordon could almost smell the onions.   He pulled the stainless steel door wide and stepped inside. Yes, there she was. Lois! Her hair was the color of a polished copper pot. She was filling the coffee urn with utmost care, her brows were knitted in intense concentration and she didn't look up until she had measured out the last drop of water from the carafe. When she did, her eyes lit up with surprise. "Gordon! Come back f'supper did'ja? Sit y'self down. Take a table by the winda, nobody comes into The Rainbow this time of night."   The warmth of the diner and the smells from the kitchen were overwhelming.   Gordon stumbled as the heavy front door swung shut and nudged him inside. For the first time today he knew he was where he wanted to be – not at the end – not at the beginning, but on the arch of the bow itself. He sat at a table by the window, took off his cap, put it on the seat next to him and folded both hands in his lap like a penitent in a church pew. He was contrite, at peace and waiting. Not for dinner. Not for Lois. He didn't know what he was waiting for, but he knew it would be something wonderful when it came. All his questions would be answered then, one by one, right here in the Rainbow diner. ©Harry Buschman            
Archived comments for The Rainbow Diner   Part 3 - Dinner
Weefatfella on 11-10-2013
The Rainbow Diner   Part 3 - Dinner
 photo 89f4a5d0-5f15-4509-881e-443a08debcc5_zps272a8411.jpg
Absolutely Brilliant Harry. I hope he finds happiness with Lois.
Weefatfella.

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Harry on 11-10-2013
The Rainbow Diner   Part 3 - Dinner
In the end you settle. Second best is better than no best at all - best only happens once.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 12-10-2013
The Rainbow Diner   Part 3 - Dinner
Harry that was a terrific read, I truly enjoyed it. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mile. Always afraid of being a little obscure, but I guess the message comes through.

JackCrowe on 13-10-2013
The Rainbow Diner   Part 3 - Dinner
Lovely writing Harry. Such believable characters too. I particularly enjoyed the way that you described his world, 'the anchor of his discontent' of his home life and the 'dead eyed and opaque' windows of the shoe factory, and then the 'rainbow in the night', Lois and the smell of onions. Wonderful.

Ian.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for responding Ian. It's a very bitter piece I suppose, the neither here nor there curse of nowhere to go..


The Rainbow Diner   Part 2, Lunch (posted on: 23-09-13)
The second part pf a three part tragedy.

The Rainbow Diner   Part 2, Lunch   by Harry Buschman     Gordon turned up the collar of his coat, hunched his shoulders against the wet driving snow and hurried into Cooper's Orthopedic Shoe factory.   He knew every nook and cranny of the old mill building, his father worked here years ago, back in the golden age of shoes in New England. That golden age was gone now, today's shoes were made by the million on a machine in Malaysia. In the old days the factory filled this four story mill running on two shifts. Now it shared space with a dental appliance repair shop on the second floor.   Old man Cooper threw in the towel, quit the ready-made shoe business and turned to making orthopedic shoes for people with unnatural feet. Row on row of aluminum lasts stood on shelves along one wall, the lasts bore the names of people who bought their shoes by special order from Cooper's. No ready mades for them –– not these people. The shoes made by machines in Malaysia could never fit feet such as these. Some were wider than they were long, some didn't match left to right, and some even lacked a mate. Shoes for these unfortunate people were made slowly, one shoe at a time –– and cost $850 a pair.   Gordon punched in. He turned the order page to today's date and ran his finger down to his name. Just to the right of his name was the penciled note ''Brown WT/O. 57986.'' It meant Brown Wing Tip Oxford with the 'last' number 57986. On the shelf he found the correct last number. ''Hmm, extra boxy toe. No arch at all. Poor man,'' he thought. ''His toes must overlap like a bunch of baby carrots.'' Gordon looked at shoes differently than most people did. He looked at them the way ordinary people look at feet. He could see the tortured feet inside.   Gordon learned long ago that from the day a child takes a first halting step, his two feet will bear the weight of his body all his walking days. They will not rest until he takes to his bed for the last time –– uncomplaining –– trudging up and down the rocky path of life.   But 57986 was not so fortunate. His feet failed him and, if he walked at all, he walked with extreme difficulty –– and like all people with bad feet he would have a nasty disposition. Gordon's working day was filled with such idle thoughts. He talked to the shoes he made, as though their future owner sat there with him, watching him work, waiting for him to finish. In the case of 57986, Gordon took special care with the arch of the toe. There lay the seat of the man's discontent, inside, his cramped and overlapping toes fought for ascendancy –– each one sending a personal stab of pain upwards through the legs and the torso past the heart and settled in his brain.   Gordon's mind drifted back to the remembered joy of walking with Jossie when they were courting –– the fun of walking together in spring in Harvard Square. Of weekends spent at Revere Beach in the summer, strolling the boardwalk, eating fish and chips. Those were the days. ''What was the name of the roller coaster? Must be getting senile,'' he thought. ''Hurricane, that was it!'' After a summer of coaxing Jossie finally gave in. ''All right! All right I'll go,'' she said. ''Oh, it was a wild ride, wasn't it, Jossie –– I was every bit as scared as you.'' Then, all too soon, it was over and she wanted to go around again. He told her, ''No, you can't go around again.'' It was like life, wonderful the first time ––  but you can't go around again, and the trip was so short. Why did she have to finish before he did?   His breakfast was sitting comfortably in his stomach and he was getting drowsy. It didn't matter. He could be half asleep and work on shoes all the same. He'd been a shoemaker thirty years at least–he could make shoes in his sleep.   Nobody cared if you smoked at Cooper's. The smell of leather, glue and polish smothered everything. Gordon reached in his shirt pocket for the fat cigar he bought at the Rainbow Diner and removed the wrapper. He cut the end off carefully with his curved leather knife, not trusting his rocky lower dentures. He lit the fat end, rotating the cigar slowly until it was evenly lit, he puffed twice, then he turned back and slowly fitted the leather around the 'last' of 57986.   About the time his cigar had burned down halfway, he looked over at old man Cripps. He was working on a pair of women's shoes–alligator. ''My God!'' Gordon shook his head, ''Why would a woman with feet like that want to draw attention to them? She must have bunions like billiard balls.''   ''Pretty fancy, Cripps–alligator huh?''   ''Yeah, fancy.'' Since Cripps' stroke last year he suffered from echolalia, he found it difficult to answer a question until he repeated it to himself. It gave him a running start.   ''I mean with feet like hers–they gonna be brown or black?   ''Brown or black, yeah. I don't know, I'll have to check.'' He turned his order sheet over, ''Red... know what her name is?''   Gordon put his cigar down and stared at Cripps. ''You're kidding–can't be red. What's her name?''   ''Her name, yeah. Her name's Jocelyn.''   Gordon turned back to his last quickly. Jocelyn was his wife's name and it always hurt when he heard someone else speak her name. "Jossie, it takes forever to get used to living without someone you lived with so long. Shame about our son Howie. How did he manage to get in so much trouble without us knowing? He grew up so fast. From a toddler to a drug dealer overnight. Tough on you, Jossie–didn't do your heart any good. Damn kid! Twenty years to life–due out when he's forty. I won't be around to see him when they let him out. Damn kid!'' Gordon stubbed out the cigar and looked at the wall clock. 11:30. Another half hour he'd be back in the Rainbow Diner and maybe everything would be like it was before.   He put the finishing touches on the shoes for 57986, then laced them carefully making sure the laces were not twisted as they traced their way through the grommets. He wrapped them in the black tissue that was the Cooper hallmark and put them heel to toe in the gold pasteboard box along with the order. His mind slipped back to Jocelyn again.   Gordon put the box on the finished goods shelf and picked up another order. This one read Black HT/CS 39505. Black high top with cleated soles–last number 39505. One look at the last and he knew this would be an all afternoon job. Too late to start it now. ''Poor bastard,'' he mumbled. Anyone could see the deformity. No toes at all, bulging instep, more hoof than foot. The vision of the wolf man flashed before him. It would be a long afternoon.   ''I'm going to lunch,'' he called over to old man Cripps.   ''Yeah, you goin'? Go ahead, I'm gonna finish these slippers.''   Gordon washed his hands quickly and punched out. He took his old leather coat from the hook on the wall and shrugged himself into it. He could see the neon sign ''Rainbow Diner'' glowing like a beacon in the blowing snow. He hurried across the street and as he neared the entrance the weight of the morning lifted from his shoulders. The windows were steamy, brightly lit and the welcome aroma of frying hamburgers drifted out to meet him. He couldn't wait. "What would it be? No problem." He already decided back at breakfast what he'd have for lunch. The Turkey Bacon croissant would be just fine. Then maybe a slice of coconut custard pie and a cup of tea. That would take the curse off 'last' 39505.   Lois was not there. A different girl, thinner, wearing a visored cap with the word ''Rainbow'' in block letters on the front. Her hair was as artificially blond as Lois's was artificially orange. He wondered if Lois alerted her to the generous old man in the black leather jacket. She smiled a poster smile that flashed on and off as abruptly as a man might turn up a playing card. Gordon sat on the same stool he sat on earlier that morning and looked around him. A man in white overalls from a television cable company. Another man in a brown uniform from UPS and a third man in jeans and a checkered shirt. The third man was telling a joke to the other two and waiting for the waitress to come close enough to hear the punch line.   ''Git this, Clara–'he has to try it on before he buys it'–ain't that a howl?'' He rocked to and fro with a strangulated laugh that sounded more like a rooting pig. The two men in uniform laughed without enthusiasm.   Clara looked blankly at the three of them and shrugged her shoulders. ''You want a refill on that coffee, Earl?'' She refilled Earl's cup, put the carafe back and walked down to Gordon.   ''Wanna menu, hon?''   Ah, it was obvious she hadn't spoken to Lois. ''Yes, thank you Clara. My name is Gordon, by the way, Gordon Sharkey.''   She looked at him blankly and handed him a menu from under the counter. ''The chili's good. Cook just made it.''   ''I work in Cooper's Shoes across the street. I had breakfast here this morning–you weren't here this morning.''   ''I work lunch and afternoons. Lois works all night. You want the chili?''   He wanted to know her better, not for any particular reason, but to find a place for her in his vision of life in the Rainbow Diner. He knew Lois was mercenary and as long as her tip equaled the tab she would remember Gordon Sharkey to her dying day, and in the end that was the important thing... to be remembered.   ''What's a Turkey Bacon Croissant? it sounds good?   Clara looked grim. ''You never had one?''   ''No. All I've ever had were two eggs over easy and...''   ''Well he fries up two strips of bacon–bacon made outta turkey meat. Then he crumbles it up with shredded lettuce and sliced cucumber, then he drops the whole thing in a pan of scrambled eggs, then he folds it over inside a hot cross-ant.'' She took a deep breath and shifted her gum to the other side of her mouth.   ''You make it sound better than it probably is, Clara. You ever had one?''   ''Uh-uh,'' she shook her head.   ''Gordon will have one, Clara–and a cup of tea with two tea bags.''   ''Who's Gordon?''   ''I'm Gordon... Gordon Sharkey, and I know about charging me for two teas.''   She looked up quickly, again her poster smile flashed on and off so quickly that Gordon almost missed it. The two uniformed diners pushed themselves backward off their stools and stood up, they waved goodbye to Clara and walked to the register. The man in the checkered shirt sat silently staring at his bill and sipping his coffee. The ambiance was different than it was this morning, the crowd was different, Clara was different than Lois. By craning his neck a bit to the left he could see into the kitchen, the cook was still the same. He was in there this morning. He wore a visor like Clara's and he seemed to be doing three or four things at the same time.   Once more Gordon looked around the Rainbow Diner. Couples sat in booths lined along the window and the stools at the counter were almost full, but there was a chill in the place he didn't notice this morning. He couldn't put it into words, but he had a feeling of being alone–not being remembered. Everybody knew each other by their first name. Clara, Earl. The two men in uniform had their names embroidered on the left pocket flap of their jackets, but nobody knew Gordon Sharkey. He was out of the loop.   Suddenly he was furious...   He slid off the stool and stood between the counter and the tables at the windows. ''I want you all to know me,'' he shouted. ''My name is Gordon. Gordon fucking Sharkey... does that name ring a bell with anybody!'' Clara, just emerging from the kitchen with his turkey-bacon croissant, turned around and walked back into the kitchen again. People at the tables looked up briefly then looked down again without making eye contact. Those at the counter, pricked up their ears but didn't turn around.   ''I guess nobody wants to say hello to Gordon.'' He said this more to himself than the others. He felt giddy. Like a child who knows he's done something naughty. ''I'm a widower. You all know what a widower is don't you? A widow man. No more lonely person in the Goddam world than a widow man.'' He staggered a bit and sat down abruptly at a table occupied by two women.   ''Everything ends in death ladies. You know that don't you? The more two people love each other the sadder the story is. My wife went and took me with her.'' He began to cry and reached for a napkin to wipe his eyes. ''The man who outlives a good woman–is the saddest man of all... I read that somewhere's. There can be no happy endings.'' He lay his head on the table and shut his eyes.   The cook came out of the kitchen wiping his hands. Clara stood behind him and pointed to Gordon at the table with the two women. One of the women stood up with her hands to her face, staring at Gordon but the other could not get out, she was trapped between him and the window.   The cook looked down at him, then squatted so their heads were at the same level. He was about to speak when Gordon suddenly sat up again and looked around him confused. ''Wha ... wh... where am I, what am I doing here?''   ''You're in the Rainbow, old πam–the Rainbow Diner.''   ''Yes, I know. But I was sitting on a stool over there. How did I get here?'' He looked at the frightened woman next to him. ''Do I know you, madam?''   ''No!'' She turned to the cook, ''Please get him out of here.''   Gordon stood up. ''I'm all right,'' he said as the cook took his arm. ''I''m myself now. I'm me again. Gordon Sharkey. I make shoes across the street–Cooper's Shoes. They know me over there.''   They made their way to the counter only to find someone sitting on his stool, stool number 4. "A good excuse to leave," he thought. He was too embarrassed to eat lunch now. ''What on earth got into me–sitting with those women–they must think I'm crazy!''   He buttoned his coat, pulled up his collar and left without a backward glance. It was high noon but the day was as gray as it was this morning. The skinny urban trees lining the curb clutched at the sky with naked branches. No one would ever think spring was just around the corner.   It is the lowest time of the year, he thought. It was about this time of the year that Jossie died and he remembered the trees at the cemetery looked like these. It was hard to put her down in the cold ground with nothing but those trees for shelter. He came back every week or so, sometimes he would bring flowers and put them in a tin container near the small brass marker that bore her number. 2140 it was–''Hell of a thing, not to be able to wear your name on your own grave.''   ''We will notify you immediately if the cemetery decides to permit headstones,'' they said. Until then the gardeners had full access to the lawn–it looked like a fairway and it was strange to see people bearing bouquets, searching in the grass for the brass markers, looking at the ground as though they had lost something.   He stood outside the door to The Rainbow Diner and tried to rationalize his actions of the last few minutes. He wasn't hungry and he wasn't eager to go back to work. Why couldn't 39505 and his bulging insteps wait until Monday for his shoes.   If he could find a place that was warm; where people called you by your name and shook your hand and said they were glad to see you–like the travel ads in the Sunday paper. But no, he was stuck in the south side of Boston in the cruelest month of the year.   ''The thing to do,'' he thought. ''Don't think too far ahead. Don't think too far back either. Take it one minute at a time. There are shoes to be made this afternoon. Just think about the shoes.'' ©Harry Buschman    
Archived comments for The Rainbow Diner   Part 2, Lunch
Weefatfella on 25-09-2013
The Rainbow Diner   Part 2, Lunch
 photo 89f4a5d0-5f15-4509-881e-443a08debcc5_zps272a8411.jpg Enjoyed this Harry. The analogies are first class. {She smiled a poster smile that flashed on and off as abruptly as a man might turn up a playing card.}
The piece reads smoothly and interestingly. Looking forward to the final part.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for responding Weefatfella. To tell the truth I only have a vague idea where Part 3 will lead me. Maybe that's a good sign.


Leaving Wichita (posted on: 09-08-13)
Maybe things'll be different there ...

Leaving Wichita by Harry Buschman Captain Noah leaned over the sink and looked out the trailer window. The workmen were stacking sections of the tent frame on the flat bed. It was too early to see what the state of the weather was. He hoped it wouldn't be any worse than yesterday – an onshore wind perhaps, gray, cold and threatening – without ever getting to be fair or foul. A day to hoist anchor and get the hell out of Wichita. Anything to get out of Wichita! They would be traveling Northeast, heading for Topeka. Maybe things would take a turn for the better there. He hoped so. For Captain Noah there would always be a fresh rainbow around the bend in the road, and If he could only get to a new place, a place where no one knew him, he was sure his luck would change and life would be worth living again. ''Too late to come about now,'' he mumbled and switched the light on over the tiny sink in the trailer and looked down at his elaborately illustrated body and wondered what in God's name ever possessed him to take up life as a tattooed man. His body was nearly hairless but he had to shave parts of it every day. Underarms. Genitalia – and every other day his beard. No hair grew on his head and as he shaved his chest the single light bulb in the ceiling illuminated a three-masted schooner with all sails set on the top of his head, with a sun sinking on the western horizon just above his ear. The ship was the Annette. It was a fishing schooner he sailed on as a boy out of New Bedford. When he closed his eyes he could see the old ship in his mind and he remembered his dream of sailing somewhere he had never been before. That was when the dream began – when he was a boy and wanted to see the world. He lathered his underarms and put a new blade in his razor. He wanted to get the shaving out of the way before the men hitched up the trailer and the circus shoved off for Topeka. He was fifty seven years old now, and a freak traveling with Braddock's Circus. But he took consolation in the knowledge that he was not a natural born freak. Zippo, the black skinned boy with his tiny doll-sized head, and Ajax the Legless Wonder. Magli and her troupe of midgets, some less than three feet tall – the Ubangi girls with lips two feet in diameter – Phyllis, the bear girl; they were the real freaks. He was nothing like that. He was a man, a Goddamned normal man at that, and if it wasn't for the tattoos that covered his body from head to foot he could walk away from this freak show and start a new life somewhere in another town. A place where nobody knew him. Captain Noah, the tattooed man, shared the trailer with Zippo and Ajax the Legless Wonder. Zippo was 6' 6'', weighed 230 pounds, and although he was almost as old as Captain Noah, he had the intelligence of an infant. His head came to a point just above his eyes and on that point grew a tuft of dyed red hair. He was a problem when he smoked his pipe, Ajax and Captain Noah had to watch him as if he were a child with a box of matches. He could not make the simplest decision for himself, and while Captain Noah was normally gentle with him, Ajax treated him like an animal. With a free hand he would swat him with a rolled up magazine for no other reason than to show him who was boss. That's exactly what Ajax did when the trailer suddenly jolted as the hitching crew connected it to the rear end of the tent truck. ''Sit down, you big oaf. We're movin' out. You're gonna fall down and break somethin'.'' Captain Noah quickly finished shaving and turned out the light over the sink. ''I'll be glad to get out of this town,'' he thought as he turned to Ajax, ''Take it easy on him Ajax, he don't know what he's doin'.'' ''Zippo hungry.'' He pointed to his mouth and rubbed his stomach. Ajax propped himself up on his bed between two pillows. ''Y'can't eat now – we're movin' out. You'll spill food all over the trailer.'' As if to punctuate his point, he threw a magazine at Zippo catching him behind the ear. There was no love lost between Zippo and Ajax. Braddock's Circus had a bad reputation. ''Too many freaks,'' circus people said, ''not enough acrobats.'' Acrobats are kinder to each other than freaks are. The freaks bore a simmering dislike for so-called normal people and it spilled over into their feelings toward each other. Even Captain Noah, who considered himself to be an normal man, one you might bump into on any street in America, had grown to dislike his fellow workers, the sawdust, the lights, and even the audience that came to stare at them. They performed under the big tent as clowns but they were on display before the main show began. They sat and wandered about in a circular enclosure inside a small tent next to the big top, (the freaks called it the ''pit'') and for a dollar a head, people came to stare at them. The freaks hated it. Insulting questions were thrown at them from the men in the crowd – the kind of questions that can't be answered civilly. ''Kin y'go to the toilet widdout no legs?'' ''How d'ya get up and down the stairs?'' ''Kin y'fuck?'' ''Kin y'shit?'' ''That's all you think of, you people, fucking and shitting,'' Ajax would boil over with rage and shout back at them. He would reach a point where he could take it no longer. When he did, Zippo would pick him up and carry him back to the trailer. Ajax would cool down in time and come back to the ''Pit'' under his own power, walking on his hands and misshapen feet that sprouted just below his hips. But the resentment remained. The freaks were never happy. Even Zippo, who didn't know any better, had moments of melancholy. ''Zippo never grow up – poor Zippo.'' Neither of them shared Captain Noah's dream of finding success in another town. For them the next town would be no better or worse than the town they left, they had seen town after town come and go. There was no reason to think that Topeka would be any better than Wichita. The trailer lurched, heaved and gained speed as Braddock's Circus moved out of Wichita. The three men wedged themselves into their own personal corners, Ajax in his tiny bed, Zippo wedged between the sink and the small refrigerator, (just out of Ajax's reach) and Captain Noah in the bolted down chair by the window. They would stay in those positions until the caravan made its first rest stop. They learned from experience that walking in the trailer as it bounced along behind the tent truck was dangerous. It was difficult to be heard inside the trailer. Every sound was amplified and echoed, and it sounded to the Captain as though he was inside a kettledrum rolling downhill. He looked at his roommates in turn, Zippo seemed to have shut himself down to a semi-conscious state. At the first rest stop he would become animated and hungry. He would walk up and down the caravan looking for something to eat. Ajax was slumped down in his wrinkled bed, only his head could be seen above the tangled blanket. But his eyes were alive, they darted from Zippo to the Captain and back again as though looking for reassurance that all would be well. In spite of the noise, Captain Noah drifted off to sleep. He found himself dreaming of Topeka, a city he had never seen. The buildings were white and tall, the streets were wide and all the traffic lights were green. The sky was a watery blue and dusted with feathery clouds so thin the sun shone through. It seemed for a moment to Captain Noah that he had found his El Dorado at last. Then the trailer lurched to the side of the road and stopped. Zippo was on his feet in a flash. He ran to the door, and his heavy footsteps made the trailer tremble. ''Time for break. Take walk now.'' He had one hand on the knob when Ajax threw his pillow at him. ''Just a Goddamn minute Zippo! You gonna leave me in here? Come over here! Come over here right now, you hear me?'' Zippo caught in the act of trying to get away by himself, hung his head and lumbered over to Ajax. Ajax raised his hands like a small child and Zippo lifted him out of bed and carried him to the door. As they stood in the open door, Ajax turned to the Captain. ''C'mon Captain ... rest stop,'' he said. The Captain had no idea of the time, and when he looked outside it still seemed just as dark as when they started. But he was grateful for the rest stop anyway, confined with Zippo and Ajax, and listening to their bickering made every minute seem longer than it was. They were like two children and it was always a relief to talk to some other freaks for a while. They stood by the side of their trailer and waited for the others. Usually the freaks would pile out noisily, they would share food they had brought with them or play cards for a few minutes. Rumor was on everyone's lips ... who was getting it ... who wasn't ... who owed who ... and so on. Captain Noah, Ajax and Zippo had no way of knowing the caravan had stopped for a grade crossing somewhere a few miles outside Wichita, where strings of freight cars may number a hundred or more. The caravan waited for the caboose to rumble by, ready to start their engines again, waiting for the crossing gates to swing open. They were ready to streak across the tracks bent on making up the lost time. The line of circus trucks and trailers suddenly pulled rapidly away from Captain Noah and Ajax, cradled in the brawny arms of the brainless Zippo. They stood and watched their trailer bounce over the tracks, its open back door swinging wildly. For a moment it looked as though the driver would stop, but as soon as it reached the other side of the tracks it speeded up again and disappeared into the darkness. ''Come back!'' Zippo's plaintive comment was the only response. The Captain and Ajax were too shocked to respond. Finally, Ajax reached up and slapped Zippo in the face. ''Well, y'dummy! See wat'cha got me into. I didn't wanna leave the trailer. Did you Captain?'' ''Well, we stopped. We all thought it was a rest stop. We always get out at a rest stop ...'' ''Bullshit! You're always on his side.'' He looked up accusingly at Zippo. ''Hold me straight, Goddamn it, y'got me tilted over to the side.'' ''Look Ajax, he's an idiot. He's your pair of legs. Nobody's against you. We're in this together.'' Zippo tried to smile, first at Ajax, then at the Captain. ''Be okay, Cap'n?'' He asked. ''Be okay, Zippo.'' The Captain tried to put a positive spin on the situation but he knew that freaks in the circus are one thing, but freaks on the loose in a small midwest town are another. He had no idea where they were. He tried to recall the towns on the map he looked at last night when he was trying to find out how far it was to Topeka. There were some small towns just outside Wichita and they must be near one of them. He could see a few buildings up the road and he started walking in that general direction. ''Let's go, men – we're not gettin' any closer to where we're goin' by standin' by the side of the road.'' He recognized one of the buildings up ahead as a train station. There were a few lights burning along the covered platform, one of them illuminated a faded wooden sign saying ''Nectar.'' The Captain turned to Ajax, nestled in Zippo's arms. ''At least we know where we are,'' he smiled. ''We're in Nectar.'' Ajax wore an expression that flitted between irritation and anxiety; Zippo's face wore no expression at all. Ajax and the Captain were well aware that if they were seen in a public place, normal people would be frightened out of their wits. They were freaks – fish out of water, and were something to be seen and gaped at in a circus side show, not on a public street in a one horse town like Nectar. Zippo didn't care. He would be at home wherever he was – flood or fire, it was all the same to Zippo. He only knew he was hungry. ''They'll kill us if they see us,'' Ajax said, ''you know how people are.'' ''Do you think Braddock will come back for us?'' ''He won't miss us 'till tonight, not before they get to Topeka. He'll start back maybe tomorrow. Maybe not. He might think we quit and walked off.'' ''Well, we're done for then,'' the Captain said. ''If we are, I wanna face it quiet like,'' Ajax said. ''It's somethin' I always hoped for. Somethin' normal.'' Ajax looked up at Zippo. ''You still hungry, Zippo?'' Zippo nodded his head, ''Yeah, Yeah! Zippo hungry!'' ''Tell y'what, Captain. Take us over to the train station. Leave us there in the waitin' room. Somebody's bound t'come in and see us there. Maybe they won't panic. Maybe they'll go for the police and ... and ... maybe it won't be too bad for us. Maybe it'll all be for the best anyways.'' He looked up at Zippo with a rare touch of affection. ''Hold me straight Zippo, don't drop me. I'll tell you where to go and what to do.'' The Captain shook his head, ''I'll stay with you two.'' ''No y'won't. You're in a new town, Captain. You're always lookin' for a new start in a new town, aint'cha? If I could make it don'tcha think I would?'' They started walking toward the railroad station, and in the growing light the lights above the covered platform suddenly went out. ''Y'better pull yer watch cap down, Captain. Pull it down low over yer ears. Roll y'sleeves down too.'' ''I'll be on my own? Alone in this town?'' ''On y'Goddamn own, Captain. Without nobody but y'self to hold y'back. Go on! Go on! Y'may never get the chance again.'' He looked up again at Zippo, this time like a child in its mother's arms. ''I'm hungry too, Zippo.'' ©Harry Buschman
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In Eulalia (posted on: 22-07-13)
A place I remember

In Eulalia Harry Buschman If I shut my eyes I can still visit Eulalia in my mind. It's all jumbled together and I see only what I want to see ... but that's the way small towns are. The picture changes in my mind as I watch. The arch that opened out on the pasture where the olive trees grew, and the lake where I fished for perch in the spring. Then there was the courtyard where the oil lantern was lighted every afternoon at five ... whether it was dark or not, it was simply a signal that the taverna had opened its doors and it was time for the old folks to play backgammon. There was the well by the intersection of the only two streets in town. The streets had no names, but one led off to de Santos and he other to Mallorca where they made terrible wine for the tourists. At the well the women gathered in the lazy afternoons and gossiped about this and that. They never failed to bring up the subject of Rosalita who hung her wash across the street in front of the taverna. She never hung her underwear inside her sheets, but left them out for all to see. She didn't go to mass either and everyone said she had good reason to avoid the church. Still, without Rosalita, there would be little to gossip about, for in Eulalia nothing ever happened. Rosalita was the only young person left in Eulalia. To make a living in this world the young people moved on, the women to marry and the men, (like me) to find work elsewhere. The old town will stay in our hearts and minds for a life time. Sentiment, however, does not pay the rent nor does it put a down payment on the new Mercedes. I thought, when I grew older and moved away, I would forget Eulalia. But I have not. There was certainly little of consequence there to remember. Nothing ever happened there. No great battles were fought. People from far away never came to visit ... there is not even an hotel there today. Imagine that! If you come to Eulalia there would be no place for you to stay. Unless, perhaps you would care to stay with Rosalita.
Archived comments for In Eulalia
Mikeverdi on 22-07-2013
In Eulalia
I like this Harry, I like things that paint a picture that you can see, and this does that for me. I also like the memory thing, I have a place that I go to every years or so, it's where my first memories are; I'm sixty six and I still shed a tear every time. Mike

Author's Reply:

Weefatfella on 23-07-2013
In Eulalia
 photo 915e0b75-fce7-4fc2-9921-556099197c13_zps1f6b3c50.jpg
Ha! I'd give her a go Harry.
A really nice feel to this Harry and a lovely write.
Thank you for sharing.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 26-07-2013
In Eulalia
A wonderful piece of description, full of atmosphere.

Tiny nit-picks (often the result of differences between American and English English): 'life time' feels like it ought to be one word, and 'an hotel' sounds a bit archaic, although I think it may be grammatically correct. We don't normally say 'an herb' in Britain either, although I think it's standard pronounciation across the pond.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 26-07-2013
In Eulalia
I'm glad you liked Eulalia. It's on the island of Ibiza, I fell in love with the name, then the town. a member of my extended family lives there and I can well see why. I thought it best to inject a little touch of old-fashioned language syntax into the piece.

Author's Reply:

mageorge on 26-07-2013
In Eulalia
Great piece, Harry. Such a simple concept, to write a memory as it where, but done well it can be explosive as is this write.

Regards,

Mark

Author's Reply:


The Fading of the Light (posted on: 12-07-13)
Not going without a fight.

The Fading of the Light Harry Buschman He didn't walk with a firm footstep any more, instead he lurched a bit from side to side in a stiff legged strut like a man on stilts, bumping into things along the way. He looked about him curiously, as though he wondered why he was where he was. He didn't see as well as he used to. Things in the center of his vision were curiously out-of-focus, and in the night, bright pin-points of light sparkled like miniature explosions in his eyes. He looked in vain for things he misplaced only to have them turn up in unfamiliar places. He'd wonder how they got there - he didn't put them there. He knew he was getting old, short-tempered and cranky. His friends were fewer, and those he bumped into in the old neighborhood seemed worse off than he. Some times he would help them cross the street only to find they had reached the other side in better shape than he was. He raged against the fading of the light. He wouldn't accept it. Why should he? There were thoughts bottled up inside him – ideas unspoken – anxious to be let out. Furious that no one paused to listen to him, he'd find a quiet place to sit and try to understand what had happened to him and wonder what would happen to the great ideas that still flooded his brain. He was growing very old. He could hold his hands up to the light and see through them ... his mortality was a constant companion. But, there were times a burning spark of pure inspiration seared his breast ... it smoldered there ... sputtered like a dying candle. He couldn't watch it gutter out and die. He wanted the world to see what an old man could do. ... and they found him that way, his right hand clenched and raised to the sky.
Archived comments for The Fading of the Light
Nomenklatura on 12-07-2013
The Fading of the Light
If we stare at the candle long enough, when it flickers out we will still see it in the blackness. Long may your flame burn.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 12-07-2013
The Fading of the Light
And I second Ewan's comment.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 12-07-2013
The Fading of the Light
That was fucking brilliant. mike

Author's Reply:

Weefatfella on 12-07-2013
The Fading of the Light
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Aye never give in.
Die with your leg sticking up.
The bastards will have to work to get the lid on.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 13-07-2013
The Fading of the Light
Thanks for the advice friends. Trying to go with my pecker up.

Author's Reply:


The Dickcissel (posted on: 21-06-13)
Another chapter in the unending story of Westlake Village

The Dickcissel By Harry Buschman Anyone can be a bird watcher. There are bird watching clubs every where you go, even a suburb like Westlake Village where it is rare to find a respectable bird. Bird watching is a poor man's hobby, all you need is a bird book, a note pad, a pencil, and a cheap pair of binoculars. On the other hand, I know people who have spent fortunes on photographic equipment or golf clubs with nothing to show for it. So if you are looking for a healthy outdoor hobby involving a minimum of equipment but a fair degree of excitement, you won't find one more rewarding than bird watching. Bird watchers are called "Birders," much as people with a bag of golf clubs are called "Golfers." Those new at the birding game are called "fledglings," whereas new golfers are called "duffers." Not having a great deal of money to spend I decided to join the Westlake Village Bird Watching Society. Westlake Village, I soon learned, was a town that first rate birds had no time for. They did not nest here nor did they stop by for a day or two on their migratory pilgrimages in spring and fall. You really can't blame them. There is little in Westlake Village to attract them or hold their attention. The same might be said for the people who live here ... but as you all know, people will live anywhere. Angela Wunderbar was the president of our local Bird Watching Society. She was stout of limb, strong of wind and keen of sight. Moreover she was an expert, and she made every fledgling feel vulnerable and insecure. From long experience I've learned that's the way experts are in any field, therefore none of us in our bird club resented her obvious patronization. Ms. Wunderbar, like cream, would always rise to the top in any competitive endeavor. She lead a group of us gasping and puffing fledglings into the woods every Saturday morning, our binoculars at the ready and our note pads poised. "Mind the barbed wire, Mrs. Sims ... I believe you've caught the tail of your coat ... and Mr. Pomeroy, please try to keep up. The birds won't wait for you." Like a short tempered shepherdess, her constant prodding drove us onward and we labored through underbrush and thicket, unaware of the hip deep poison ivy. Each of us was afraid to be left behind or accused of straggling. Although a ponderous woman, Ms. Wunderbar was amazingly cat-like in the field. She never crashed through the brambles and briars as we did – never cracked a dry branch underfoot. She would push on indefatigably, pointing out in a breathless contralto, the rare ornithological specimens that always seemed to vanish just before we got there. "Oh! What a treat for the eyes," she would exclaim, "a Bar-Tailed Godwit, the last known sighting was in Moriches Bay in 1937!" I dutifully opened my note pad, "Is that with two "t"s, Ms. Wunderbar?" "Oh no you don't, Mr. "B" (to my growing annoyance she insisted on calling me Mr. "B") if you didn't see it, you don't write it down. It goes in MY book!" That's how it is with experts. As a fledgling I had to be content with the sparrows and grackles under my feet while Angela Wunderbar – ALONE, was privileged to spot the rarest species of the bird world. Let me back up a bit ... bird watching is a scouts honor endeavor. By that I mean that the head honchos in the bird world will take you at your word – if, (and only if) you're the president of a bird club. If you are a member they will ask you some pointed questions designed to trip you up. If you're a fledgling like me, they probably won't believe anything you say. They may even heap ridicule upon you much as the doubting Thomases of the world show contempt for the poor but honest souls who have seen strange lights in the sky over Lubbock, Texas or the elusive Sasquatch haunting Muir Woods.. I have been both blessed and damned with a doubting disposition, one that has rarely led me astray, but on more than one occasion has led to the loss of a tooth or two. I cannot abide people who claim to have abilities I suspect they don't have. Here in this run down town of Westlake Village, where no self-respecting bird with his picture in a book has ever stopped to nest or feed, I had grave doubts about Angela Wunderbar's Bar-Tailed Godwit. So I studied up on Dickcissels. Dickcissels have rarely been seen by anyone ... anywhere. A few have have been spotted in southern Ontario in the summer but the pitiful few that still exist spend the greater part of their bird year in Mexico. Westlake Village would be the last place on earth an honest-to-goodness Dickcissel would touch down. I will not bore you with its physical appearance, but it is sufficiently unique to distinguish it from those a bird watcher in this part of the country normally encounters in the field. It was a fine spring afternoon. There were abundant robins and more grackles underfoot than we could shake a stick at when I informed Ms. Wunderbar I just spotted a Dickcissel. "Ridiculous!" she exclaimed, "there's never been a Dickcissel in Westlake Village ... don't write it down ... it was a robin, just a robin ... nothing more." I could see the panic in her eyes ... had I seen something she missed? She was edgy. "Do you know what a Dickcissel looks like?" She asked me sharply. I was ready for that, and I explained in great detail its multi-colored appearance, its aggressive behavior and its bewilderment when it suddenly discovered it was in Westlake Village. "It's gone now," I gloated, "Too bad you missed it Ms. "W". There is a cold pitiless light in the eyes of the great white shark as it opens its jaws for the kill. The expression reveals its utter disdain for its victim. A protective membrane closes over its eyes as though they were no longer needed to kill with. A chill ran down my spine as I recognized that same shark-like look in the eyes of Angela Wunderbar. I had delivered what I thought was a retaliatory blow to an expert bird woman, and it appeared I might be eviscerated for my audacity. Although she recovered quickly and turned away, I knew there would be retaliation. As I expected, my name was not included on the membership list of next year's Westlake Village Bird Watching Society. It could have been far worse, and in retrospect I considered myself lucky. So I turned to another absorbing and frugal pastime: Creative Writing! As in bird-watching, pencil and paper are required, but binoculars are rarely necessary. Be careful however, hovering over your shoulder will be Erato, that golden Greek Goddess of the written word. Angela Wunderbar was a pretty intimidating woman – but she can't hold a candle to Erato! ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for The Dickcissel
Weefatfella on 23-06-2013
The Dickcissel
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You got me there Harry. I didn't believe a Dickcissel existed, how wrong was I.
A great read and a gripping yarn, with some enjoyable humour woven through the piece.
I really enjoyed reading this.
As usual you never let us down Harry, thank you and I hope you don't mind me slipping in the photo.  photo dick_zpsd7666025.jpg
Incidentally, Birdwatchers are called Twitchers in Britain. Thank you for sharing this Harry. Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 23-06-2013
The Dickcissel
Twitchers you say! Very picturesque.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 23-06-2013
The Dickcissel
Fabulous, Harry! I'm a bit of a twitcher meself, if the truth be known. The neighbours think I'm clocking them when I sit in me garden with my binoculars, but of course I'm watch the birdies...

Author's Reply:
Would reputation have anything to do with that?

Nomenklatura on 23-06-2013
The Dickcissel
Harry, your work never ceases to provoke a wry smile in me. Gently humorous and simple-seeming pieces which always have something to think about, even so. Twitching is 'for the boids.'

Author's Reply:


The Devil You Know (posted on: 14-06-13)
chapter from the book ""Westlake Village."

The Devil You Know by Harry Buschman The Mets were in the middle of a late afternoon ball game -- one run ahead, and still three games out of first place. The next inning or two could be critical -- the pennant race was in the balance. With my hand wrapped in a dish towel, I was about to pull a TV dinner out of the microwave, and I was not in the mood for distractions. Out in the street there was the sound of canned marching music and an arrogant knocking at my front door -- Damn! Front doors are not used in Westlake Village, we are back door people. Our back doors lead directly to our pantries and our kitchens ... that's where the action is. Front doors are knocked on by groups of wandering evangelists with brochures, Girl Scouts with order pads -- people you really don't want to see. The knocker at my front door was a man in a blue serge suit. He wore a blazingly white shirt and a bright red tie with embroidered white elephants. He was obviously a point man for Frank Vendetta. He didn't look at me, he looked over my shoulder and seemed disappointed to see no one behind me. "Come out and meet Frank Vendetta, your candidate for Town Supervisor!" With a month to go before election day, Frank's tenacious grip on the Supervisor's office was weakening and he was running scared. In the fading light of an early autumn day, Frank was on foot, out there in the middle of the street, walking the boulevard like a hooker. "I'm busy at the moment," I replied. "It's a pity he had to show up at supper time." Ignoring my lack of enthusiasm, the man in the blue serge suit handed me a sheaf of slippery brochures celebrating the accomplishments of Frank Vendetta, and Frank, himself, waved at me from the middle of the road. He was trailed by a black sedan with "Official" license plates driven by a uniformed chauffeur - my tax dollars at work. I am not an excessively observant man, but I could see Frank was not used to walking. His upper torso seemed to be working its way down into his pelvis, and his hips pendulated like those of a hippopotamus. In spite of the warm afternoon light, his complexion was liverish – the face of a boozer. His hair, it seemed, had been painted on his head with black enamel, and he smiled at me from ear to ear through a mouthful of Chiclet-like teeth. As he walked, his feet, in patent leather shoes, plodded paddle-like, pointing northwest and northeast. What was the motivation that forced this politician to humble himself in this manner? Was the job of Town Supervisor so important that he would humiliate himself on this humble street in Westlake Village? The Morgan's dog next door barked at him tentatively, but kept a safe distance. Barney has seen many strange people walking our street in his twelve years, but this misshapen politician was new to him. I had the impression that if Frank's front men disappeared, and if the black sedan behind him was to turn around and drive away, he would have no idea where he was. It was the beginning of the off-year campaign for the office of Town Supervisor. We have learned to simplify things here in Westlake Village. Mixing Presidential elections with those of Town Supervisors can have confusing results, and it's often difficult to predict who will ride in on the other's coattails. One thing I was sure of; it would be a time for decision down at the newsroom of the Village "Guardian." Lucas Crosby, our 'publisher' is a devious man, and he tends to go with the flow. Our 'paper' is 85 percent advertising, and 'hits,' (although 'finds its way' is more accurate) the street every two weeks. It is the people's only source of inside information, and it is supported entirely by the status quo. It is a mortal blow to us if a local retailer pulls an ad. I am the solitary newsman. Stacey does the make-out page and answers the phone. For those of you not familiar with such high-tech newspaper terms as "make-out page," a peek over Stacey's shoulder would reveal such truncated prose as, "SWCM with great build seeks hugs and kisses from similar type SWCF." Doesn't sound like much of a newspaper, does it? To stimulate interest therefore, we have added a "Golden Years" page for the elderly (who seem to hang on like sucker fish), high school sports results – a dining out page called "High On the Hog," and "Police Blotter," which reveals the most interesting break-ins of the past two weeks. What news we have is limited to the issues that concern the NIMBY-minded Westlake Villager. We are not interested in what happens elsewhere, so long as it doesn't happen to us. Lucas was endorsing checks again, and as he would sign one he would cross off a name in his ledger. This quaint procedure, Crachitt-like in its numbing simplicity, gives Lucas more joy than anything I can think of. "Guess who knocked at my door yesterday, Lucas." He looked at me as though from a great distance. "Who knocked on your what?" "My door, my door! Who knocked at my door?" "How do I know? Who cares anyway?" He was mumbling to himself, "Shangri-la Restaurant, two-fifty. Habib's Dry Cleaning, one-seventy-five." "Frank Vendetta, that's who!" He sat up straight. "Oh! Why didn't you say so .... that's more like it." His eyes narrowed. "What do you and Frank Vendetta have goin' anyway?" "I don't have to tell you that he's running against Tom Sweeny for Town Supervisor, do I?" "That friggin' liberal! We sure don't want none of them in the supervisor's office." "I'm thinking of voting for him." He pushed his eyeshade up, shook his head slowly from side to side, and looked at me as a doctor might look at a terminally ill patient. "You can't be serious," he said. "Lucas, the sooner you know how the people in this town feel about Frank Vendetta, the better off you'll be. Remember when the streets didn't get plowed after the last snowstorm? Remember that traffic light at the school he promised us ... where is it? How about the fact that we're 119 million dollars in debt, huh? How about that, Lucas?" I rarely get that voluble with Lucas, but local elections bring out the wind bag in me. Lucas closed his ledger book with a sigh. "You're really worked up over this ain't you? You're too old to get involved in politics. Just remember this"... He turned to Stacey, who was filing her nails and holding the phone in the crook of her shoulder. " ... and you too, Stacey – this here paper is solid behind whoever's got the ball. Possession is ten-tenths – y'know what I mean?" "So if Tom Sweeny was sitting in Vendetta's seat, you'd be for him, right?" "Bet yer ass," he growled. In my hey-day, the press was the people's advocate. It was a not-so-gentle reminder to those in power that they must answer to the folks who elected them. We tripped them up in lies and broken promises, looked in their closets, and even pawed through their garbage cans if we had to. We were the politician's beté-noire; we did our best to keep them honest, even though the methods we used were often more squalid than theirs. Lucas ended the discussion with the the terse, "Get this straight, both of you. We ain't printin' nothin' derogatorious about Frank Vendetta. We take his advertising and nobody else's. That's as far as we go – period, see? Sweeny can suck wind." It didn't sound like a ringing endorsement to the incumbent, rather Lucas appeared to have one foot in each of the bandwagons, with the bulk of his weight tending to favor the pushcart of Frank Vendetta. I had accumulated a lot of dirt on Frank Vendetta and I nursed it in the corner of my mind, like an ape with a apple in his cheek. I recalled trying to reach him for an interview during that last snowstorm. The side streets were untouched and if it hadn't been for Windy Mullins and his ancient snow plow, grades K-8 would have been canceled for a week. Frank, his wife, and their seven children were in Aruba – his deputy was snowed in and could not get to the office. Then there was the garbage contract. Only Harris Carting bid for the town's garbage collection contract. Harris, in turn, would not bid for contracts in any other town. How about that? Why should Harris Carting be so concerned with the litter we leave at our curbs – and care nothing for the litter of others? The subject was on the agenda of a town meeting last spring, but after Frank and his family got back from Aruba, other, more important issues, took precedence. The word going around the Village was that Tom Sweeny was closing fast. He had an honest, open face – an Irish face – a beer drinker's face. He smiled a careful smile, optimistic and hopeful, but not euphoric. His face was a healthier pink than Frank Vendetta's liverish Nixon look, Tom looked as though he never used a razor in his life. But, as if to strike a note of dissonance, his wife displayed a wild, almost maniacal grin. She stared out of the family portrait that had been stapled to every telephone pole along Westwood Avenue like a hunted woman. Her face appeared frozen in rictus, as though she had held the grin too long. The placards proclaimed "Tom Sweeny – Honesty in Government." Tom was a lawyer with a workplace injury practice on Atlantic Avenue, an advocate and a champion of worker's rights. On the whole it looked good. Every chance I got, I spread the Gospel According to Tom Sweeny. Lucas was disgusted with me, but so long as I kept my opinions out of the Guardian, there wasn't much he could do. True, there was more hemming and hawing from Tom at rallies and town meetings than I liked, and Mrs. Sweeny's smile remained cast in stone. He did hint at a new traffic light at the school, however, and perhaps a sizable downgrading of our indebtedness to the township. The gist of his campaign, as articulated by his manager was, "You want good gummint? Put'cha trust in Tom!" On election day I cast my vote at 6:01 a.m., that's about as early as it's possible to be, the equipment was barely up and running. Then I kept my ear to the ground the rest of the day. Around nine I asked Stacey if she had voted. "No!" She said harshly, and looked at me as if she didn't want me to continue. It's not like her to be short with me, we're usually a team of two in opposition to Lucas. "Sorry, I thought with so much at stake you'd be .... " She cut me off again. "I'd rather not, okay? I don't really give a damn who's gonna be Town Supervisor." She bit her lip and looked up at me. I was shocked to see tears in her eyes. I went back to my desk and started on next week's Golden Years column. Every once in a while I'd look over at her. It wasn't just the election, it was something else. Maybe she and Murray, the china buyer, broke up again – their stormy relationship was, by my count, now in its third year. No, that couldn't be it – whenever something goes wrong with Murray she's on the phone with her girl friends all day. Lunchtime came, and to my great surprise and delight, Stacey came over and said she wanted to have lunch with me. That hadn't happened since Christmas a year ago. I offered to treat, but she wanted to go Dutch – "You're too old to be buyin' me lunch." "In that case, let's go to Max's – we can sit in the back and hold hands." All through lunch she had a distracted look in her eye – as though there was something on her mind and she couldn't quite put it in words. She let me buy her a Chardonnay, or whatever passes for Chardonnay at Max's. She got through half of it and pushed her glass over to me. "Here, you finish it – wine gives me gas." "What the hell's wrong with you, Stacey. Look, I'm nobody. You can tell me anything. I'm not family, I'm not Murray, I'm not even Lucas. I'm just an old friend. I've seen a lot in my eighty-odd years, little girl. You can't tell me anything I haven't heard before." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It's about votin' – well not really, it's about Mr. Sweeny. There, I got that out. Mr. Sweeny – Sweeny – Sweeny. It's been eight years, since I said that name." I took a deep breath myself. "Why should it be so hard to say Sweeny?" "Promise me you'll never, okay? I mean, I wanna hear you promise me." "I promise you Stacey – whatever it is, it'll never leave this room." "He has a son, Todd, you know?" "Yes, I know. Blond kid about twelve I guess. I always thought it was a kick in the ass to name a kid Todd – I mean if his last name is Sweeny." "My girl friend Barbara, you know Barbara?" "No, I don't. Don't hold back Stacey – get on with it." "I'll get it out – just give me time, okay? Well, Barbara, she used to baby sit for them when he was little ... Todd, I mean. She couldn't do it this one time, and she asked me if I would – you know, baby sit I mean. It was an easy gig. I mean, you could sit Todd in front of the TV and he'd go into a sort'a trance like and stay there 'til it was time to stuff him in bed ... y'know?" I could sense she was trying to hold back so I primed her. "... and then they came home, the Sweeny's I mean." "Yeah, that's right. They came home, and Mrs. Sweeny says for Mr. Sweeny to drive me home and pay me the eight dollars." She pulled her half empty wine glass back over to her side of the table and took a healthy sip of it. "Gee! This is tough – but I come this far already." "How old were you, fifteen?" " About fourteen and a half – but, promise me again, Mr. "B", I never told Murray even." "I promised you before, Stacey. It stays here in Max's lunchroom." "We get to my house. It's, I dunno – 1:30 or so. He shuts off the engine and turns out the lights. I'm waiting for my money see ... he takes out his wallet and he ... he unzips himself." She looked away, swallowed hard and shuddered. "He says – 'how'd y'like to make an extra twenty five bucks, Stacey?" She stood up and put her napkin on the table. "There," she said. "That's all – that's why I didn't vote today." We paid up, and I insisted on doing the tip. It was early November, still warm, and we took our time walking back to the Guardian. Stacey is a knock-out blond and a pretty savvy piece of work, and I couldn't see how an event like this, however sordid, could still effect her so intensely. I'm not very bright I guess. "I was fourteen, Mr. "B". I couldn't tell anybody. He told me not to tell anybody – that nobody would believe me – and if I did, he'd ... " "My God, he didn't threaten you, did he?" "He said he'd see to it that I'd get a bad name in the Village, and my parents would be ashamed of me." She picked up the pace a bit. "Let's leave it there, okay? Enough's enough. It took me a long time to get over it, and you brought it all back again with this Town Supervisor crap ... and don't forget ... forget it!" Lucas was all smiles when we got back. He looked at us triumphantly – "Where the hell have you two been, we got a paper to run y'know. By the way, Mr. know-it-all, my man Frank's sixty-five votes in the lead with eighty-five percent counted – and I ain't even voted yet!" I smiled back at him, then Stacey and I smiled at each other. "Like I always say, Lucas; the devil you know is a better choice than the pne you don't." ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for The Devil You Know
Weefatfella on 15-06-2013
The Devil You Know
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Aye Harry.
A slice of small town life the world over.
Some things never change.
Thank you for this ,I enjoyed it.
The description of Vendetta's gait was brilliant.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:


Round Trip (posted on: 31-05-13)
The second mistake is always easier to make than the first.

Round Trip Harry Buschman Barney left the office early that afternoon. It wasn't quite 4:30. He didn't know why, he just felt like it, and he stood in the parking lot with his keys in his hand wondering what to do next. The old wanderlust was back again. If he went home now the house would be empty, Barbara didn't leave her real estate office 'til six––sometimes later. He opened the door of the Toyota and thought to himself ... I could be in Allentown by six. He got in and switched on the ignition then gunned the motor. "Well, why not?" he asked himself. "By morning I could be in Cleveland––who'd give a shit one way or the other?" He wondered if Barbara would miss him tonight. Probably not. Not right away. As they grew older their need for each other had dwindled little by little, and now that their son, Peter, was married and gone there wasn't a lot to hold them together. Barney was 55 last week––got jogging shoes from Barbara and what was supposed to be a humorous birthday card from Peter ... it wasn't––not very. He drove out the gate and headed west. "A toothbrush and a razor." He'd need them by morning ... "that's all I need ... and a credit card ... how about it, Barney? Let's go somewhere. What's out there?" He asked himself the same question thirty five years ago alone on a sunny, breezy afternoon off the coast of Ogunquit, Maine in a Sunfish sailboat. He was twenty years old that afternoon. He'd be a senior at Tufts next year and he'd done nothing exciting in his life so far. He thought of keeping the sun in back of him, heading east until he ran ashore––who knew where. But then a hundred reasons told him not to do it. What would happen when the sun went down. When he lost sight of land. If it was a cloudy night and he couldn't find a star to steer by. If the weather changed. The ''ifs'' outweighed the ''why nots,'' It seemed insurmountable. But the idea of it stuck with him all these years, and lately he began to think he made a mistake by not going. If he made it he would be a different man today, he would have lived a different life. He wouldn't be driving west in a six year old Toyota wondering if his wife would miss him. With the sun in his eyes he found himself on Rte. 22 in the middle of New Jersey. The rhythmical beat of the Toyota's tires on the joints in the road were a constant reminder that he was approaching a point of no return. Even if he turned around now and headed back home he would be late enough to need an excuse when Barbara looked at the kitchen clock and said. 'Well, where have you been?'' Maybe it was the sun in his eyes, maybe not, but as the miles passed he began to worry a little. Income taxes were due next month ... his credit card was due to expire ... and his heart pills––he could see his heart pillls sitting on the bedside table. The practical side of life! It was Johnny-on-the-spot to thwart him thirty-five years ago and it was here with him this afternoon. ''Well,'' he said to himself, ''how you gonna face up to that, Barney old boy?'' The fuel gauge read zero and he figured this would be as good a time as any to take stock. ''Check yer oil?'' the attendant asked. ''Good idea,'' Barney answered. ''How far is Allentown?'' he added. ''Half hour, bout thirty miles I guess. You're from New York, right?'' ''That's right, why?'' ''Over the radio. The big explosion, I thought maybe you seen it.'' ''No. I guess I left before it happened. Where was it?'' ''Out in Long Island. I never heard of it––something like Siasset,'' He shrugged his shoulders. ''Sounded like that anyway.'' ''Syosset. I live there. Damn! That all you know?'' ''Gee, Sorry––yeah, that's all I know. Gas explosion. I think they said 22 dead.'' Barney paid off the attendant, then sat in the car looking at the road ahead. Chances are the explosion was nowhere near his neighborhood––probably at some fast food joint in town. He should go on, the way he planned. For once in his life he should follow through. He turned on the radio––all he heard was commercials. The attendant was looking at him. He had to do something.He rolled the window down ... ''Is there a turn-around up ahead?'' ''Coupla miles ahead, Big jug handle takes you over a bridge and back on route twenny-two goin' east.'' The same feeling of indecision came back to him thirty-five years ago. He hadn't planned ahead, and he knew he'd regret whatever he did. He had two miles to make up his mind. That was where the turnaround was––after that it might be too late. He could see it up ahead. A sign flashed by ''Rte. 22 Eastbound––Next Right.'' He took the east bound turnaround. ''How could I wake up tomorrow morning in some flea bag hotel and not know? Maybe it's fate. Who knows what it is? Maybe I was never meant for running away. That's what it would be ... running away?''
Archived comments for Round Trip
OldPeculier on 31-05-2013
Round Trip
I really enjoyed this. An easy to read well written tale.

Thank you.

Author's Reply:

admin on 31-05-2013
Round Trip
Harry, I wish you'd publish.

Author's Reply:
Well, I'd like to, but when you're 95 and living in an assisted living home somehow the urge is not as great as it used to be. Not only that ... ehrn you've read the best, yours doesn't seem so top drawer any more.

ValDohren on 31-05-2013
Round Trip
Some things just aren't meant to be. Very good read, enjoyed.

Val

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 01-06-2013
Round Trip
This was excellent, and it's never too late. I agree with the boss 'publish and be dammed'. Mike

Author's Reply:
Exactly ... glad the story pleased you all.


The Zookeepe (posted on: 10-05-13)
How like us we are.

The Zookeeper Harry Buschman Every morning, weather permitting, the old man pedaled his bicycle down Maple Street to the coffee shop on Cherry Lane. It was a lovely old English bicycle. One he bought for his daughter when she was a little girl. A lady's bicycle, a black Raleigh with lever brakes and a chain drive encased in a black metal cover on which was an enameled portrait of the Queen. His daughter was in her fifties now, twice divorced and with children as old as she was when she first rode the old bicycle. Bicycle riding was part of the old man's exercise regimen now, and after stopping at the coffee shop in the morning he would pedaling continue through the park and if the weather permitted he'd eat his breakfast on a bench in the company of pigeons and squirrels who would wait for him patiently rain or shine. It was not readily apparent, (and he would never admit it for a moment) but he was a very lonely man. He was a widower and his name was Earnest Bookbinder. To all outward appearances he had adjusted well to his single life. Since the death of his wife he turned into a creature of rigid habits. His thinning hair was a steel gray, uncut, but kept in place by an old black beret pulled down to his ears. He rode his bicycle in an erect fashion, as though driving an automobile. While navigating the rutted streets, his glasses occasionally rode down his nose and he would push them back in place again with one hand while holding on tightly to the handlebar with the other. When he reached the coffee shop this morning Earnest Bookbinder stopped his bicycle and walked it up the path to the take-out counter. He carefully pushed it between the tables and chairs set outside and told Helen at the counter he wanted a container of black Colombian and a croissant. Helen, a friend of both he and his wife for forty years put the coffee and the roll in a paper sack which he stored in the leather pannier that hung over the rear fender of his bicycle. Helen could be a problem in the morning. If it promised good weather, she would remark to Earnest that ... ''Louise always loved a morning like this, didn't she Earnest?'' Or if she was wearing a new article of clothing, she might say ... ''I got this new sweater at Maglie's yesterday, Earnest. Louise and I used to love to shop there, remember?'' Yes, Earnest remembered, and he hated to be reminded to remember. Today, however, Helen was busy and Earnest was free to remember Louise wherever and whenever he wanted. The people who knew Louise were growing fewer every day, and he reminded himself that before long he and his daughter would be the only ones in town to remember her name. Earnest could see the entrance to the park just ahead, and at that early hour of the morning he knew he'd be the only one there. He liked to sit by the lake and think back to the old days while he ate ... and he'd have plenty of company. By the time he finished, he knew he would be surrounded, like St. Francis of Assisi, by a gaggle of squirrels and pigeons. Their eager beady eyes would follow his every move. He would stare back at them and there would be a bond; an unspoken understanding of sorts bridging the gap between animal and man – for a few moments they would be bound together as friends by as simple a thing as a crumb of stale bread. They would be closer to him than he was to his daughter and a universe closer than he was to his wife. On the other side of his saddle-bag pannier, Earnest had stashed a half a loaf of stale bread from the Italian baker on Fleet Street. He left the other half on the bottom shelf of his refrigerator back home, his animal friends would have that tomorrow. He had to put a limit on their appetites, they'd eat the whole loaf today if he let them. They would eat 'til they burst. ''Like some people,'' he reminded himself, ''With human appetites. Competition. Sex. The drive for money.'' Riding a bicycle stimulated Earnest's thinking processes. He thought a great deal these days; there wasn't much else to do. The route to the lake skirted the zoo, and since Earnest knew it would be deserted at this hour, he took a detour to see how things were over at the animal pens. But he suddenly remembered it was too early in the day, the outdoor cages would be empty and the animals would still be asleep inside. Realizing this, he was about ready to wheel around and come out again when he noticed a Barbary ape in a cage sitting in the sun. Earnest braked to a stop in front of the cage and stared at the animal. He looked at the tablet fastened to the bars and read the Latin name Macaca sylvanus, it was a native of Morocco and Gibraltar. It's fur was a silverish brown, and in its sitting position on the concrete cage floor he gaged it was about eighteen inches tall – it would then be, Earnest thought, about two and a half feet tall when it stood. The animal yawned mightily, it's eyes moving from Earnest to the bicycle and back again. ''Mornin','' the ape said. A strange voice – like none other he'd ever heard – the voice of a dwarf perhaps? Something not quite human, rather expressionless, but not entirely inhuman either. It startled Earnest and he stopped abruptly and looked around thinking someone else was there. They were alone. He dismounted carefully and stood the bicycle on its kick stand, all the while watching the Barbary ape. ''Impossible!'' He thought. ''Perhaps at one time it was a pet and, like an organ grinder's monkey, learned a trick or two.'' ''Mornin' yourself, brother,'' he answered. The animal wedged itself comfortably in the corner of its cage and stared up the path Earnest had come from. It interlaced its fingers over its stomach and breathed deeply. The old man decided to speak up... ''What's your name?'' The ape ignored him. ''Go way,'' it said. Again, the old man tried to place the voice. The words were slurred – it was the lips, he thought. Like a ventriloquist, the ape didn't move its lips when it spoke. ''You're waiting for something, right?'' ''Char-ree.'' A strange sensation trickled its way down the old man's spine. Was this animal making sense or was he hearing something that wasn't there? Suddenly the ape stood up, (it was nearly three feet tall) it looked past the old man and pointed down the path. ''Char-ree! Char-ree!,'' it shouted excitedly. The old man looked behind him and saw a man in a green uniform wheeling a cart up the path in their direction. The ape turned and shouted through the open door to the inside, ''Char-ree! Char-ree!'' Four younger editions of Barbary apes burst through the door followed by a larger one, an adult. They all rushed to the bars of the cage and began shouting in unison, ''Char-ree, Char-ree,'' like fans at a football game. Earnest stepped back – not in fear, but in astonishment. He looked in wonder at the approaching man. ''Hold your horses, hold your horses,'' the man said. ''I'll be there in a jiffy. How are you guys this morning?'' He turned and smiled at Earnest who kept his bicycle between him and the cage of monkeys. The man in the green uniform said, ''This is the Barbary family, sir. Have you been properly introduced?'' ''I don't know. I think the big one told me to go away.'' ''Don't take it personally. He hasn't learned his manners yet. His name is Bobby, by the way. Bobby the Barbary ape. He has trouble with his 'R's' – his 'B's' too, when you get right down to it. And the 'S's' come out 'ssh'. It's all in the lips and the tongue, you see.'' He stuck out his hand to Earnest, ''I'm Char-ree by the way. It's as close as he can come to Charlie.'' ''Please to meet you, Charlie. My name is Earnest Bookbinder. You mean these animals can talk?'' ''Yes, in a way.'' The younger apes were growing impatient. Two of them were hanging upside down from the roof of the cage. ''It's like going to a foreign country and trying to understand the natives, you know. But the thought is there – the meeting of the minds.'' He began handing out fruits and vegetables – eager almost human hands reached out from behind the bars to take them. ''They're a monogamous family you know – a solid father-mother-children family. There's a strain of infidelity in almost every species, even these here particular Barbary apes. But we've mated these for life! Take one out of the cage and the others grieve for it just the way we would. Ain't that a hoot?'' ''You know a lot about them.'' ''Well, they've taken a shine to me. I was surprised like you when I first heard them use my name... I don't know how they got it... must have heard somebody call me Charlie. But I ''give eat'' – that's what they call it. That makes me very important to them.'' Earnest couldn't get the monogamy part of it out of his head. Fidelity! ... in animals! It rarely existed in the rest of the animal kingdom. Certainly not in mankind. He remembered from long ago, a poem called Paumanok by Whitman – about sea birds – he couldn't recall the species. But they mated for life too. If one died, the other grieved until it died alone, ignoring the chicks in its brood and winging its lonely days over the dark green sea that circled Long Island – a life not too different from his own. ''I notice you keep them separate from the other apes.'' It's an experiment,'' Charlie said. ''A college in Pennsylvania... they want to see if they can be made – well, more like us I guess.'' ''You go along with that?'' Earnest asked him. ''No! Course not! They're apes. They're happy bein' apes. Doesn't make a difference what I think though,'' he shrugged. ''I'm a zookeeper not a zoologist.'' He closed the door of his cart. ''Science, you know – pish posh.'' ''What do you mean?'' ''Science doesn't care about these animals. Not really, not the way I do. There's a woman professor comes in here once or twice a week, puts on a white coat and sits out here on a stool with her notebook... 'Charles,' she says to me, 'I do believe we'll keep them on a high fiber diet, she says. How dumb is that?'' ''What would happen if one of them died?'' ''This woman would still come with her... '' ''No, Earnest interrupted. ''I mean what would happen to Bobby and the rest of his family if the mother died?'' Charlie shrugged his shoulders, ''I dunno. They're apes y'know, they'd get over it I guess – one way or another. Have to see. Probably the professor would bring in a replacement, another mother, I guess. What made you ask a question like that?'' Earnest looked back along the path that led to the lake. ''I don't know. Just seems cruel to me I guess ... hard to replace a mother with another.'' ''The woman, this professor ... she seems to have an answer for everything. I'll ask her next time she's here.'' ''I'm sure she'll have an answer. That's the way we are ... except for ourselves we know everything.'' Earnest got back on his bicycle and kicked the stand up. He looked back at the apes again, they were eating silently, paying no attention to the two men or each other. They were eating – each one for himself, just as families do. He waved and started rolling down the hill to the lake...the pigeons and the squirrels were waiting. ''Keep 'em fed. Charlie ... We'll make men of them yet ... Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage. ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for The Zookeepe
ruadh on 11-05-2013
The Zookeepe
A good read Harry, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

Weefatfella on 13-05-2013
The Zookeepe
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Absolutely charming Harry.
I loved it.
The reflection on the old guy's situation was excellently done.
I thoroughly enjoyed this.
I smiled all the way through.
This cheered me.
Thank you very much indeed for this marvellous piece. Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
I appreciate your glowing remarks, Wee ... I'm afraid I may have let myself off at the deep end a little.


Going First Class (posted on: 26-04-13)
Life in the Westlake Village Post Office.

Going First Class by Harry Buschman Whatever the qualifications may be for the position of Postmaster, I'm sure they are higher today than they used to be. The present Postmaster of Westlake Village drives a BMW and can only be seen by appointment. We have twelve mail carriers and six mail trucks. An eighteen wheeler, jammed with junk mail, backs into the truck dock of the Westlake Village Post Office every morning at seven. Emblazoned on the side of our town water tower we display our very own zip code number. We are, in short, a first class neighborhood with a first class post office. This does not mean that our mail service has improved since the old days. On the contrary! The only noticeable improvement is our mail is delivered to our door. When the first Westlake Villagers straggled into town at the close of the war, mail gathered dust in the post office until somebody walked down and picked it up. The post office was little more than a steel barred window at the back of Ernie's Hardware store and was presided over by our Postmistress, Helen Grogan. Helen was the Postmistress through the war years. She and her husband, Andy, handled the entire postal burden in that critical cross-over period between the hayseed years of Toad Hollow and its slow but steady transformation into a structured community of strangers. Every morning at dawn a brown van would dump a canvas sack of mail at the front door of Ernie's Hardware store and pick up a smaller one that had been waiting all night in the mailbox outside. Helen and Andy took their sweet time sorting the daily mail and stuffing it in the worn wooden slots set in the wall behind the barred window. To the accompaniment of grunts and body language only they could understand, the sorting process would grind on until noon. In their closeness, Helen and Andy had developed a communication of their own; a series of growls, mumbles and nudges were all Helen needed to tell Andy what she wanted him to do with the mail. It was not critical for us to get mail every day. Once a week was enough, and when a Westlake Villager went to get his mail he was coerced into picking up the mail for his friends and neighbors. Helen would insist on it, and it was not unusual to come home with an armload of mail for your neighbors and none for yourself. Helen would shout at you from behind her barred window while you were looking for washers and nuts in Ernie's plumbing supplies. With her head cocked to the side, she would call . . . "Hey you! – Appledore Drive, pick it up! You got mail here!" "Appledore Drive" and 'you' were all the same to her. She would strong arm you into accepting mail for 28 through 47, even though you lived at 36, and you'd spend the better part of a Saturday afternoon delivering letters and postcards to your neighbors when you should have been working on the leaky sink. If you had the nerve to ignore her, she would shout at you and fling your mail and that of your neighbors through the slot and at your feet. Fortunately, fourth class mail in the early fifties had not yet overwhelmed us. It was obvious to postal patrons that Helen was in charge. After all, Andy was not the Postmaster, Helen was the "Postmistress," and therefore called the shots in the confined space of the Post Office back of Ernie's store. Everyone got the impression that Helen ruled the roost in their apartment across the street as well. She was a double barrel chested woman while Andy was not much bigger than a ventriloquist's dummy. She wore flowered house dresses over which she strapped a floor length apron such as bakers wear. She wore her hair in a net and her feet were flattened to support her bulk. She wore lavender woolen carpet slippers on her feet over gray cotton stockings. The gray stockings and her flat shuffling feet encased in carpet slippers brought to mind a caged elephant on its hind legs. The store floor would tremble gently on its foundations as she plodded from the barred window to the worn wooden slots where she retrieved the mail from the lower shelves – she left the top three rows of slots to Andy who would scramble to reach them from the top of a shaky step stool. Helen and Andy lived together, worked together and presumably slept together in their apartment across the street. They were never out of sight of each other. It is said that two people so inseparable begin to look like each other and maybe even think the way the other does. But as the years passed Helen and Andy looked less and less like each other and more and more like themselves. No one knew them as well as Ernie. Helen and Andy were on the job before Ernie opened the hardware store in the morning, and they stayed back there for lunch. They would sit behind the iron bars, in the middle of their unsorted mail and grunt to each other as they ate whatever they may have eaten the night before. Ernie often mentioned it was like watching animals feeding in a zoo. The Post Office rented the space from Ernie, and it was good for his business too; people would walk in for their mail and buy something on impulse from him as well. As the town matured, and grew from rural to suburban, Helen and Andy tried to keep up appearances, but it was clear they would have to expand. The Post Office decided to build a First Class Post Office building with a First Class Post-person in charge. It would have been hard to imagine Helen Grogan being in charge. It meant Post Office boxes, packaging sales, IRS forms and overseas mail. It meant Post Office vehicles and delivery men. It meant issuing passports and money orders .... and it certainly meant NOT eating your lunch with the first class mail as your tablecloth. It was good news for most of us in Westlake Village. Ernie, in his hardware store, rationalized the decision by saying he could use the extra space as a "Home Decorating Center" .... after all, the town was growing up and gentrification was stealing up on us. "Lose money offa the rent?" Well, maybe; but a brand new Pizzeria was moving in next door, hardware and Italian food go down well together. In short then, the only rumblings of dissent came from Helen Grogan, and as the new Post Office took shape on Westwood Avenue, she became increasingly bellicose. I avoided picking up my mail, hoping that someone else might do it for me. Perhaps my wife might be curious enough to go down there to see if there was news from her father back home. Helen, in her Darth Vader voice would bellow, "Hey you! .... pick it up!" and then fling the mail through the barred window and glare at you while you stooped to pick it up. It couldn't have been pleasant for Andy, either. Ernie often told me later that he could hear yelps of pain from Andy back there in the corner. "I dunno, I guess he got in her way, or sumpin' .... but two, three times a day, she'd give it to him good. Y'dint dast stand up to her – she'd bust yer hump." Her behavior should have warned us but it didn't. Andy was one of the first postal workers to find himself a victim of P.O.V. (Post Office Violence). He was within reach whenever the madness overtook Helen .... and she'd give him a good one. I suppose Andy figured that once it was out of her system she'd leave him alone for a while, and maybe when this was all over they could open that little dry goods store he always wanted. But something simmered in her, she'd take a swipe at him with the mail bag, or kick him off the step stool when he was working on the top slots. Andy would pick himself and scuttle out of her way for a few minutes until it blew over. Then the unthinkable happened! It was a week before the opening of the new "First Class" Post Office on Westwood Avenue, and already they were phasing out the old one. About 4:30 pm Helen decided to close the "Second Class" Post Office in the hardware store early in the day. "Night, Ernie," said Andy. "Yeah, humph," said Helen They stood in front of the store and it looked to Ernie as though Andy wanted to go one way and Helen wanted to go another. Suddenly, Helen reached down and grabbed Andy by the throat, picked him up off his feet and began shaking him as a dog might shake his master's slipper. Ernie was reluctant to step outside and interfere, so he looked the other way for a moment or two. When he looked outside again, Helen was still shaking Andy, and as Ernie later told the police .... "Poor little bastard, looked kinda limp to me, so I sez to myself I better step out there and stop it." "Well," he went on, "I goes out there and I sez, 'Now Helen, take it easy – put 'im down before you hurts 'im. She don't put him down, no .... she takes 'im in one hand, like you woulda bag of flour in the store, y'know .... then she throws him at me!" Ernie wasn't expecting that, but he did catch Andy and reeled backwards into the store. There didn't appear to be much life left in him so Ernie laid him on the counter. Helen followed him back inside the store and stood at the counter looking at his limp form and said: "Sumbitch assole, drygutsore! .... Bullshit!!". At least that's what it sounded like to Ernie. Ernie was a hardware man and had no knowledge of dry goods. Almost unobserved by both of them, Andy stirred a bit and seemed to be on the verge of coming out of it. His eyes were still bugged out to the extent that Ernie honestly felt they would pop out of his head. His nose and mouth were bleeding, too, from the cuffing and all. Ernie tried standing him up in front of the counter but he went spindly all over and collapsed like an unstrung marionette. That's when he called 911. Andy went to the hospital of course, and Helen was charged with assault. Ernie tried to keep out of it, but like many innocent bystanders, he was the only reliable witness. Old timers here in Westlake Village often recall that event. It's hard to believe it was more than 35 years ago. Now our new First Class Post Office is beginning to show its dark sides also. There have been bizarre events there as well. Two of the clerks have pulled revolvers on each other. One actually shot out an overhead fluorescent light above the counter. One of the delivery men ran off with a sorter in a mail delivery vehicle and was later found in a motel in New Dorp, Pennsylvania. There seems to be something that triggers madness in postal workers and drives them to do things other people only think of doing. But back there in the old Post Office, behind the bars of the Post Office cage, Helen was a simmering volcano and Andy's innocent dreams of a dry goods store must have brought her simmering to a boil. "It could'a been me," Ernie remarked later, "could'a been anybody -- just happened she got her hands on Andy first." ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for Going First Class
Weefatfella on 26-04-2013
Going First Class
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Madness in the post office. Good tale of suburban life and well told Harry. I Liked > Ernie tried standing him up in front of the counter but he went spindly all over and collapsed like an unstrung marionette. < Great analogy. Thank you for this.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Always had unpleasant things happen in the PO ... wonder what happens to people when they work there.

rcc on 26-04-2013
Going First Class
I lived in Avon Lake, OH and for the longest time, until the strip mall with the Giant supermarket holding down center came and they used a small space at one end for the Post Office.....and I'm not sure, but I thnk Helen's sister worked there....

great write, I love to read and this was a treat....peace-r


Author's Reply:
I think there's a Helen in every post office.

Witchysmyth on 29-04-2013
Going First Class
This was a clever and free flowing read, in which I lost no interest. It has a hint of James Thurber about it. A really fine piece and a favourite read. I will definitely read more of your work.

Author's Reply:
Well, that's very nice of you. It isn't every day someone mentions James Thurber and me in the same sentence ... with a straight face, that is.


Another Spring (posted on: 15-04-13)
Falling in and out of love with a poet

Another Spring by Harry Buschman I figured if push came to shove I could always call in sick. God knows, I used up my entire inventory of sure fire excuses – sickness was my last hope. I didn't care what they thought; I wasn't going to waste my Sunday afternoon with Althea Dryden. It wasn't that I had a special distaste for poets, or poetry for that matter, it's just that ... well, in most cases I'd rather read poetry than listen to someone read it to me. I knew why the library wanted me there; it's because I was a part-time news hound for the Westlake Village Guardian. They were playing suck-up to the newspaper. Everybody's got their own agenda; everybody's in it for themselves in this town. Although when you consider the Guardian and its standing in the newspaper world, you've got to wonder just how low poets will stoop to peddle their jingles. Then, to spread the icing on the cake, the Westlake Village Library had the unmitigated gall to schedule the reading for a Sunday afternoon. Yes! The very same Sunday afternoon the Jets were playing the Buffalo Bills! Althea Dryden, indeed! Who the hell does she think she is? I can see her in her low-heeled shoes and her strawberry hair in a bun tapping the microphone with her fingernail to make sure it's turned on ... probably carrying an emaciated volume of verse with tabs of yellow paper sticking out to mark her place. I remember seeing Dylan Thomas at the 92nd Street "Y" long ago. That was different. Dylan's manager finally dug him out of a bar downtown. He was an hour late and listing ten degrees to port. He stepped up to the podium, leaned upon it heavily and smiled at us like a tipsy angel. He hadn't brought his book with him, and someone from backstage came out and handed it to him. Then he dropped it. He looked at it lying at his feet, and you could see he was willing it to rise from the floor. It did not, and being in no condition to bend over and pick it up, he turned to us again and started without it ... the words came out ... the words were tattooed into his brain. He poured them out into the stuffy air of the old auditorium and it was like opening the door to the heart of Wales. His whiskey-tenor voice turned mellow and deepened, the Welsh lilt of it turned the words to gold, and all I read about him and failed to understand suddenly made sense. A great poet and a drinker of extraordinary capacity. I read Althea Dryden's "What Matter Storms," and it was no "Under Milk Wood." Her poems had no sense of time or place. She lived in the ether, and the ether is an equal opportunity landlord; anyone can live there, but no one will think of calling it home. She had no voice; "It is a place," she wrote, ".... where fragile dreams fray out in worthless naught." I ask you, would you want to spend a fall afternoon in a place like that while the Jets are locked in mortal combat with the Buffalo Bills? So I called in to the paper and the phone rang three times ... once more and I'd get the answering machine. In that case I'd hang up. But Stacey picked it up in the pause between three and four; she had probably been in the middle of a record-breaking bubble gum bubble and never heard the phone. "Good afternoon, this is the Guardian, Assistant Editor Pomerance speaking, how may I help you?" Lucas Crosby and I had spent long hours rehearsing her, and after a year, she had it down pat. I hand-lettered a sign with those words in bold magic-marker and pasted it on the wall over her desk, she rarely had to look at it now. "Hi, Stace, it's Edward R. Murrow, how y'doin?" "Hi, Mr. "B" .... how come you ain't here?" She could ask questions that would cross a Rabbi's eyes. "I am ill with the flu, my dear. Sick unto death. I will not be able to see you today or attend the poetry reading at the Library on Sunday. Would you please convey that information along to Mr. Crosby?" Lucas had been listening in as usual. "Flu, my ass!" he thundered, "I know what you're up to .... what about that oath of goddam allegiance to the fourth estate you're always mouthin' off about?" "Oh, Lucas, fancy you eavesdropping on the phone. I have 103 degrees, rectally speaking that is. I'm afraid Sunday's out of the question. You can't imagine how disappointed I am; I really wanted to hear Althea Dryden." "Look partner," (I had 10 percent of the Guardian now) "It's important to Muriel, see?" (Muriel, you may remember, is Lucas' bird-watching wife) "She's paid $500 to get this yo-yo to read her crap at the library. If I don't run a review, my ass'll be in a sling." "Why don't you go, Lucas? It might be good for you." "You outta your friggin mind! – 'scuse me, Stace .... the Jets are playin Buffalo! Look, partner, if you can't make it Sunday, don't make it Monday ... you know the rule." "You can't fire me," I reminded him, "I'm your partner." "I'll make you wish you wasn't," he shot back. "I already wish I wasn't." It was not exactly a snappy comeback, so I added, "Nice talking to you, Stacey; keep bubbling." Well, it was only Friday, I knew the flu would be gone by Sunday. "What am I thinking of," I reminded myself, "I don't have the flu in the first place." Such is the blind gullibility of the press! Even when you lie to yourself you believe it. Sunday came and I still had no flu. For the hell of it I took my temperature in the morning and I couldn't get the damn thing above 96.5. Didn't I once read that draft dodgers in WWII held banana skins in their armpits to drive their temperatures upwards? (How did they hide them from the doctor?) I had a banana with Special K this morning so I fished the skin out of the trash and tried it ... 96.5! Well, at least I could exhibit my rebellious nature by being late. That would give me some small measure of satisfaction. I'd wait 'til half-time. Althea might be almost done by then, and I'd sit through a couplet or two and make it back by the fourth quarter. By half-time the Jets were down 14 points; the quarterback had been sacked four times and was finally carried off the field with a concussion. It looked bleak for the boys in green. I was in a mood equally bleak as I pushed my way noisily into the library meeting hall. Muriel Crosby was on the stage introducing the most beautiful, heart-stopping, ash blonde poet I had ever seen. I was her adoring slave from the moment I saw her. Could this possibly be Althea Dryden? Where was the brown tweed suit, the stainless steel bifocals, and the flat heeled shoes? One look at her and the Jets/Buffalo game was forgotten. Althea was late too. Great! I hadn't missed anything. She wore a black vinyl mini-skirt, and her ash blonde hair hung just below her shoulders. A tight white blouse, low cut, was partially covered by a black vinyl jacket. Her spike heels were fully four inches high and forced the calves of her legs to reveal a tantalizing musculature. She was not wearing a wedding ring. Never .... never had I seen such a poet! It seemed, as she read from her book, that our eyes caught and locked at key moments, particularly in passages of purple poetic passion. In retrospect I must admit that the reading was sparsely attended, (there were only six of us, and I was the only male) so she had to look at me from time to time. Yet I will staunchly maintain that a laser-like electrical bond flashed between us when, in her throaty seductive voice she read: "How well I know the feel of your strong hands, grown gentle as they steal across my breast." I was putty in her hands when she read of her lover's "swollen turgidities" and "sheathing my length with your chiseled hardness." Old valves and switches, long rusted shut, were suddenly flung open. Bats flew out and blind beetles skittered about in panic. The word without the person was not much, and perhaps the person without the word wasn't much either – but together they were dynamite. I fingered her book, "What Matter Storms," as she read her poems to us. I held it close to my breast so she could see I was a devoted admirer of hers. She seemed to recognize its purple and lavender cover, identical to hers. I fervently hoped it would cement our relationship, or at least give promise of one. As she read she seemed to gain in confidence and animation. I thought I could detect a slight glow of moisture on her upper lip, and did I detect the spicy scent of an expensive perfume? Perhaps it was one of the other ladies, but I preferred to think it was Althea. Time flew and her final poem was finished all too soon. Its closing lines were: "Clasped tightly in your arms, my body fain would sway with yours." I could not have said it better myself! I rose to my feet and applauded loudly and I could barely restrain a two-fingered whistle. My enthusiasm, however, was not matched by the five ladies who stared at me in disgust. Muriel asked if any of us had any questions, and a rather nervous silence followed with some of the ladies looking at each other and shaking their heads. I think Althea's "burgeoning tumescences" and "swollen turgidities" might have put the ladies off their feed. Their husbands were at home overdosing on Cheese Doodles – burgeoning and swelling as they watched the Jets/Buffalo game. It was hard to say goodbye to Althea Dryden. Fifty years ago it would have been impossible. It was a restless night, and I tossed sleeplessly. She had been kind enough to autograph my copy of "What Matter Storms," I turned on the light and studied her flowing signature. It looked as though it had been an exercise in creative calligraphy. I finally rose around four and took the cover off the old L.C. Smith to write my review for the Guardian. I look at it now in print a week later and wonder if I went too far in my praise. I was writing in response to the woman, not her work. It's been two weeks now, and the woman and the work are fading from my memory, just as stars invariably fade with the coming of the dawn. Her words remain, but without her to read them, they are as empty and idiotic as they ever were .... maybe even more so. Such was never the case with Dylan. ©Harry Buschman
Archived comments for Another Spring
Weefatfella on 15-04-2013
Another Spring
 photo UKABueeyedhush.gif Aye Harry, loved it mate. Absolutely, especially...."Old valves and switches, long rusted shut, were suddenly flung open. Bats flew out and blind beetles skittered about in panic." Fantastic imagery. Really Loved it Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:

Rupe on 15-04-2013
Another Spring
This is superb, Harry. There can be few things worse than being dragged away from an absorbing game to listen to a poetry reading - although, as you note, there may be certain compensations.

Dylan Thomas is one of the few poets I really wish I'd been alive to have seen in action - he was quite something by all accounts - and I like you way you contrast his inextinguishable verse with Ms Dryden's more immediate appeal.

There are some very witty lines here: 'I have 103 degrees, rectally speaking' is particularly memorable!

Rupe

Author's Reply:

Harry on 15-04-2013
Another Spring
I was privileged to be present at a Dylan Thomas reafing. He was a rare bird and the best reader of his own work, Although A;ec Guiness ran him a close second in the play "Dylan."

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 17-04-2013
Another Spring
I really enjoyed reading this story, thanks for posting it. So many brilliant lines 'Even when you lie to yourself you believe it' just one of many. There is a casual elegance in your style that makes it all seem so easy. Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much Mike. No one has ever accused me of being "Casually Elegant!" Made my head swim it did.


The Piano (posted on: 25-02-13)
A look back at living in a tenement in the last century

The Piano Harry Buschman We lived in a "middle class" tenement. It was a term we used to distinguish the almost invisible difference between ourselves and the poor unfortunates living in "lower class" tenements. If you lived in a middle class tenement you were racially segregated but ethnically mixed. Therefore, we lived in an ethnic stew made up of the same colored ingredients. People who lived in middle class tenements had one thing in common, they felt superior to their neighbors living in other middle class tenements. If a family had the misfortune to live in a lower class tenement they didn't feel superior to anybody or anything and their landlord collected his rent in the company of two armed guards. There were no "upper class" tenements. Our tenement was a five story building with a cellar. The word 'basement' was not yet a part of our middle class vocabulary. Each floor housed a family with its roots in a different part of Europe. The tenement was the spawning ground of the children of the twentieth century, the melting pot they boiled and bubbled in. The roots of their homeland survived only in the memory of the old folks. The roots of the families in our middle class tenement were as diverse as an Irish 'grass' widow on the top floor, my family, comprised of Germans and English on the fourth, a large Jewish refugee family from Poland on the third, and so on down the stairs to the Savino's on the first floor, whose three sons went to work in the uniforms of the sanitation, police and fire departments. When we climbed the cracked linoleum stairs at dinner time, the smells from the kitchens would clash and reveal ethnic tastes in cooking – from oregano, blending to onions, and then garlic. The heated voices we heard from the floor below us and the ceiling above us were in languages we didn't understand, but from the temper of them we knew these people had problems just like ours. The elders in these families were content to live here, but they would never make a commitment to citizenship. They would always be foreigners in a foreign land, and America would always be a foreign country. We got along with very little. We would have been shocked to see the frills and extravagances that most people consider necessities today. None of us had electric light. None of us had central heating. None of us had a telephone, a television set or a radio. They were things we read about in the science section of the Sunday newspaper. But strangely, many of us had a piano. In modern America today few families can boast of owning a piano, but they were common in the twenties. You could have your very own piano for the cost of moving it. No one bought a piano at a piano store. Like the kitchen sink, they were left behind when tenants moved away. Moving companies would ask you if you had a piano and their prices would double if you wanted to take it with you. It was a very large and heavy piece of furniture and difficult to winch out the window and lower to the street. Today you leave your refrigerator and your wall to wall carpeting, but in the twenties you left your piano. Few families knew what to do with the pianos they inherited. Few people could play one, and almost no one could play one well. There were eighty eight keys to play with only ten fingers, and the fingers of men were blunt and broken from manual labor. Those of women were wrinkled, cracked and raw from the scrub pail. The piano was not a 'native' instrument – it was international, and the tunes of the homeland didn't sound the way they should on a piano. Balalaikas, banjos and concertinas sounded better to European ears, and fit the ethnic conception of a national musical heritage far better than a piano. Our personal piano was a jet black Kranich & Bach upright. A poor man's piano. It was there to greet us when we moved in and became ours by default. It sounded more like a toy xylophone when I punched its crooked yellow keys, some of them refused to respond at all. Its black finish was interwoven with a fine network of surface cracks as though it had been through fire and flood. Nevertheless, my mother was overjoyed, she took piano lessons when she was little and she couldn't wait to have it overhauled. She promised she would play it every day for us – as soon as her moving chores were done. It was an empty promise. Caring for us was a full time job and almost more than she could handle alone. But while she waited for the floor to dry or the bread to rise, she would often sit at it and do her chords in all the seven keys. Her playing was ponderous and stately, regardless of the composer's tempo. It was tentative and uneven – like the stuttering steps the bride takes on her walk down the aisle. She slowed Handel's "Largo" down to a turtle's crawl. "The Dark Town Strutter's Ball" and Chopin's "Minute Waltz" were hurdles she waded into bravely with tight lips and clamped jaws. If she played in the evening we were trapped and mesmerized by her stubborn water torture rhythm. With all due respect, I have to say that my dislike for piano music today stems from the memory of my mother dragging out Chopin's "Minute Waltz" to the better part of an hour. I have heard many great pianists since then. From Rachmaninoff, to Horowitz, from Harold Bauer to Emil Gilels, and none of them have been able to erase the mental picture of my mother's head bobbing up and down from the music to the keys in a frantic effort to include every note, regardless of the composer's tempo. Marching music for turtles and snails. I slept in the parlor on a fold-out sofa with the Kranich & Bach by my side. In the dim light of the kerosene stove it became a mythical dragon exposing a lower jaw of frighteningly wicked yellow teeth. In the middle of the night during changes of humidity and temperature the taut strings would relax or tighten and release discordant gong like sounds as though a family of unmusical goblins were living inside. All our bedrooms were occupied by adults. Parlors were rarely used (a good reason for not calling them "living rooms"). They faced the street and the lady of the house would fling open the window and shout her orders down to the ice man or the vegetable vendor in the street below. But during family reunions, holidays and funeral get-togethers, the parlor was the entertainment center for corseted aunts and cigar smoking uncles from near and far. Mother would sit down to play her piano on these occasions and those that could, would stand up to sing the old songs with her – each of them in his or her most comfortable key. The piano kept us more or less in tune (if not in time), until the guests grew weary of her implacable rhythm and found conversation more rewarding. Sensing the loss of her audience, my mother would begin to sing in a voice a full octave above her normal speaking range and loud enough to to make normal conversation impossible. I learned from experience that when she did this the party was on the wane and the parlor would soon be mine to sleep in. Few people, kith or kin, could stand my mother's singing, and compounded by her plodding tempos they would soon get their hats and coats and say goodnight. The piano and I could then call it a day. My mother, frustrated once more, would reluctantly close the lid over the keys, and my father with a few deft strokes would magically convert the davenport into a bed for me. Later, in the darkness I would look over at the old black Kranich & Bach standing quietly against the wall and marvel at its ability to be an instrument of wonder in the hands of a gifted pianist, but to others, (like my mother) it could empty a parlor in fifteen minutes. Our piano was a living thing. It had a soul that resonated with the slam of a door, a shout from an angry neighbor, the summer thunder and the bells of St. Theresa's. Certain of its strings would respond to the noises in a sustained and dissonant chord that would linger after the original sound died away. A sepulchral accompaniment to the music of life. With help from no one it played for me all night long. It played as well or better by itself than it ever did for my mother. We left the piano behind when we moved. It would be nice to think that its new owners could make it play as it was meant to be played. It only sang for me in the dead of night. In the daylight hours it served as a place to stand our faded family snapshots and the bell jar with my dead Grandfather's watch inside. It accomplished all these things with grace and patience, but when mother sat down to play it was an instrument of torture.
Archived comments for The Piano
Weefatfella on 25-02-2013
The Piano
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Aye, my Father was very like your Mother Harry,he played only on the black keys, but strangely, we all enjoyed his efforts.
A lovely and enjoyable read Harry.
Thank you for sharing this.
Weefatfella

Author's Reply:
They could have played duets ... my mother on the white, your father on the black.


A Winter's Tale (posted on: 01-02-13)
A fanciful tale for twisted adults.

A Winter's Tale Harry Buschman Caldwell figured he wasn't due to poke his nose out of his cave for another two months by his own bear's winter schedule. It wasn't a very accurate schedule. A week or so one way or the other was about the best he could hope for. With a contented smile he remembered finishing up the last of Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins turkey the week after Thanksgiving. There were creamed turnips too – and some sweet potato pie left over from dinner. He ate all that and just about everything else they left in the garbage can on their back porch. When Caldwell got back to his cave later that night, he stretched and yawned luxuriously, and turned three pages of his calendar all the way ahead to February 25th. Then he shut down his vital systems one by one just as he had every November for as long as he could remember. He fluffed up his pillow and settled down for a long winter's nap. He was surprised when he opened one eye a little later. He saw ice framing the door of his cave. There was snow outside too, and sheets of ice coating the cave wall just above his bed. It didn't seem right to him. He never woke up in the middle of the night to pee or get a drink of water ... ''I must be getting old,'' he thought, ''it's not time to get up. It's still the beginning of winter.'' He grunted and grumbled a bit ... he got up and took a turn or two about his cave and stared outside at the dark wintry landscape. Then, with a resigned sigh he crawled back in bed again to finish the rest of his interrupted winter's hibernation. But he was restless. Try as Caldwell might he couldn't find a comfortable position in his bed of dried moss and straw, nor could he empty his mind of the things that happened to him the previous year. He had traveled more than a hundred miles during the summer searching for food and a mate – he had meager success with the former and none at all with the latter. It was a stroke of good fortune that he found Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins in November. They had recently retired and had no friends and best of all Mrs. Wiggins thought Caldwell was the cutest black bear she had ever seen. He was all of that and more ... even he knew that. He often looked at his reflection in the trout lake he fished in, and sure enough he'd never seen such soulful brown eyes and such a long lustrous coat of black fur. All of which brought up the question of why he hadn't found a mate during last summer. Lots of crusty, battle-scarred old veterans of the forest had a mate and a playful family of cubs for entertainment. He'd seen them every day, but every time he got close they'd rear up on their hind legs and send him on his way. Those were the sobering facts of life that kept a bear awake when he should be hibernating. Caldwell rolled over and punched his pillow petulantly. No wonder he couldn't get to sleep – frustration and rejection. Those were the things that would keep any bear awake. He looked up at the thermometer on the wall of the cave and in the dim light it registered 28 degrees Fahrenheit. What was he doing awake! Damn! His feet were getting cold too. It occurred to him it might be a good idea to go over and visit the Wigginses again. He knew for a fact they kept their cabin warm as toast, and if he put on a sad hang-dog, or even a hang-bear expression they would probably welcome him inside with open arms. They'd have something cooking on their kitchen stove too, he knew for a fact the Wigginses ate three meals a day, Every one of them was a fresh cooked meal – they ate nothing raw. Just the thought of cooked food made his mouth water. Caldwell was provoked ... He couldn't get to sleep and he was hungry and there was nothing to eat in the forest until the sap began to run in February. That settled it! He was going over and call on Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins. He kicked the covers aside and got up. Caldwell took a good look outside before he leaving his cave. It seemed safe enough, but he'd never been out at night in the middle of winter before. The moon made things bright as day and the silence was deafening ... only the sighing of the tall pines in the cold winter wind. Although he had no idea of the time, he knew it was late and he didn't really know how humans spent their time in the middle of the night. Did they hibernate at night the way he did in the winter, or did they cook food all night long? He hoped they did. Caldwell saw the lights of their house in the distance. Good! That meant they were still up and awake – he was sure no one, animal or man, would go to bed with their lights on – if they had lights. He approached the house with caution, put his front paws on the windowsill and peered inside. Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins were sitting on a sofa in the living room. Mr. Wiggins had his eyes glued to a little box standing on the floor in the corner that showed flickering pictures of men in strange uniforms and Mrs. Wiggins was sewing. It didn't escape Caldwell's notice that there was a plate of honey buns and two bottles of beer on the coffee table in front of them. Caldwell tapped gently on the windowpane with his front paw and Mrs. Wiggins looked up ... he could hear her exclaim, ''Oh Look! It's Caldwell! Isn't he cute? Look at those darling eyes ... why don't we let him in? It must be dreadfully cold out there.'' Mr. Wiggins was involved watching the flickering pictures in the box in the corner, but Mrs. Wiggins put her sewing aside and opened the front door for Caldwell. He ran across the room and curled up on the sofa between them and stared hungrily at the honey buns. ''Are you hungry, dear?'' Mrs Wiggins asked. Caldwell nodded his head and turned his soft brown eyes on the honey buns. To answer her, he stretched his neck, opened his mouth wide and devoured the entire dish of honey buns, then he cast his soft brown eyes on Mr. Wiggins' bottle of beer. Mr. Wiggins suddenly came to life. ''Now hold on, Blackie! That's my beer yer lookin' at! I know a lush when I see one, and boy ... one thing I can't abide is a bear who comes in yer house in the middle of the night while y'watchin' a football game, eats yer honey buns and casts a covetous eye on yer beer!'' Caldwell thought it over. He was reminded of the receptions he got from bear families during the summer. The old grizzlys would rear up on their hind legs and roar whenever he tried to attach himself to their family unit. In those cases, however, it seemed prudent to back off and slink away. But Mr. Wiggins didn't look all that fearsome to Caldwell. "A little soft in the paunch," he said to himself. "I'll be patient and deal with him later, maybe when he's outside chopping wood or shoveling snow and Mrs. Wiggins is cooking something delicious in the kitchen ..." Mrs. Wiggins would make a perfect mate.
Archived comments for A Winter's Tale
Weefatfella on 01-02-2013
A Winter’s Tale
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Ha! poor Mr and Mrs Wiggins.
Great story, well told.
I loved the twist.
The way to a bear's and a man's heart is through the stomach after all.
Thank you for sharing.
Weefatfella

Author's Reply:
Natural selection after all ... just like the man said.

KristerJones on 04-02-2013
A Winter’s Tale
I must be a twisted adult because this made me chuckle! I can't help feeling that Caldwell is in for a shock when he tries to deal with Mr Wiggins though - I'm betting he's pretty good with an axe!

Kris

Author's Reply:
You may be right. All we can do us hope for the best.


The Parallel Dimension (posted on: 04-01-13)
The alternate universe in the mirror.

The Parallel Dimension Harry Buschman We named her "Putz." It was the closest our two-year old ever came to calling her Puss. The name seemed to fit the cat. She answered to it when we called her, and if any of you ever had a cat, I'm sure you'll agree that getting a cat to come when you call is no easy matter. The only time she wouldn't come was when she was looking at herself in the bedroom mirror. It fascinated her, and I often wondered what she thought of that image of herself. Did she recognize it as her own image or ... maybe another cat, one that lived in a parallel dimension. I know she accepted the fact that the glass of the mirror was a transparent barrier that denied her access to that dimension ... and also kept the cat in the mirror from getting into hers. It was a puzzlement to me, and I couldn't help comparing it to the life of the two goldfish in our living room fish tank. They stared through a glass barrier into another dimension too. One they could not enter. They saw living creatures out there ... but they were strange creatures, aliens in an alternate existence. There were no fish out there. Putz, on the other hand ... saw another cat behind the glass, and if that cat could live there, why couldn't she? There were times our two-year old stood behind Putz, and the two of them were reflected in the same mirror ... both of them could see the other. The two-year old figured it out eventually, but I'm not sure the cat did. I thought about it from time to time. In my idle moments ... waiting for a train ... in the dentist's waiting room ... Putz's fascination with the mirror. Would she ever figure it out? Most cats, as they grew older, found better things to do. A mirror, like a television set, a computer or a telephone were things humans fiddled with, when their time might better be spent playing with them. But a day finally came when our two-year old, (now three) came to me and asked, "Where Putz?" Together, we looked in all the familiar places. Food dish, litter box, even the little stool by the kitchen window she used as a perch to look at the birds in the back yard. Then I got the strangest feeling ... Yes, I went to the bedroom mirror ... and yes! There she was ... on the other side. How can I explain that to a three-year old?
Archived comments for The Parallel Dimension
Andrea on 04-01-2013
The Parallel Dimension
Blimey, what a twist! And what a cat! She'd give Alice a run for her money 🙂

Brilliant little flash...

Author's Reply:

Harry on 04-01-2013
The Parallel Dimension
blimey indeed ... it kept me awake all night. Must be those pain killers.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 04-01-2013
The Parallel Dimension
Loved it! Mike

Author's Reply:

sirat on 05-01-2013
The Parallel Dimension
I liked this one a lot. It reminded me of one I wrote myself a long time ago called Flat Mate. Re the ending, it occurred to me that a three-year-old would have no problem whatever with what had happened, the real question would be how to explain it to everyone else.

I know this isn't the most serious piece you've ever written but it certainly is entertaining, and that's what matters.

Author's Reply:
I'd assume the three-year old, instead of explaining, would adapt. The mirror would be placed within sight of the window looking out over the garden and within easy reach of the dinner dish and the litter box.

Texasgreg on 06-01-2013
The Parallel Dimension
Was she looking back out at ya, or had she moved on by then?

Lol, good 'un!

Greg 🙂

Author's Reply:

Buschell on 14-10-2013
The Parallel Dimension
I like a bit of quirk...alternate universes...alternate histories...the big what ifs...this little number is a good example...really enjoyed it. Buschell.

Author's Reply:


The Twelve Cylinder Packard (posted on: 09-07-12)
Part of my family life in the tenements of Brooklyn.

The Twelve Cylinder Packard by Harry Buschman Uncle Fred moved in with us when I was very young, and until I was old enough to know better I thought I was the only kid on the block with two fathers. His estranged wife, Margie, put up with him for five years and finally threw in the towel. He was my father's brother, "but no more like my father than I to Hercules," as one melancholy Dane said to himself. Fred slept in the bedroom that otherwise would have been mine, and when I was old enough to sleep in a bed, I found myself on a fold-out davenport in the parlor with a Kranach & Bach upright piano for company. Fred rented the room from my mother and father, and with money as tight as it always was with us, I was sacrificed on the altar of necessity. If Uncle Fred had redeeming qualities I could have forgiven him, but he enjoyed every temptation along the primrose path. During the Great War, (I think we called it that to differentiate it from the Spanish American War) uncle Fred was a steam fitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, thus he avoided the draft and made a lot of money. He never had money before the war, and the only thing he could think of to do with money was spend it. The only way he could spend it as fast as he made it was by living the 'good' life as it existed in those days. He gambled, drank and chased women with the enthusiasm of a Diamond Jim Brady ... in overalls. His devotion to the good life was how he met Margie in the first place, but after their son was born she found it impossible to keep up with him, so she walked out. ''He came to us,'' my mother said, "with nothing but the clothes on his back." That may have been theoretically true, but my mother knew very well that uncle Fred was pulling down $150 a week at the shipyard, and in those days that was a fortune. Free of Margie, it wasn't long before Fred added scarlet women to his drinking and gambling habits and there were periods when he'd be away for a while. When he dragged himself back he would be stretched out pretty thin, and in dire need of a home cooked meal and regular hours. He would lick his wounds for a week or so. Then, when the bell for the next round sounded again, he'd pull up his shorts and get back in the ring. For someone devoted to gambling he was a surprisingly bad card player––my father beat him regularly at pinochle, and by the time I was ten, I could beat him at cribbage. He bet on fights, baseball games ... and to prove his complete lack of critical judgment, he even bet on wrestling matches. There were times he didn't collect on the bets he won. He'd either lose the ticket or forget the bet, but the scars and bruises he bore were evidence of the ones he lost or forgot to pay. The bedroom mirror above his dressing table had an oval mahogany frame in which he wedged hundreds of stubs of past raffles he found in his pocket. When my mother cleaned his room she threw away the dead stubs, and as luck would have it one day, one stub in particular caught her eye. It was a book of chances on a 1920 Packard touring limousine he bought at a VFW dinner a month ago, and for some reason the raffle rang a bell with her. There was an item in the morning paper concerning a raffle, and it pointed out that the winner still hadn't claimed the prize. I was doing my homework on the dining room table and my blood froze when I heard my mother shout. She stood in the middle of the kitchen with the book of chances in one hand and the morning paper in the other. "Look," she gasped, "the number's the same––uncle Fred's won a Packard!" Nobody had an automobile in those days, certainly not a Packard automobile, and for an instant my mother's face turned sharp and calculating. "You know," she said, "your father and me could go down to the VFW and claim it. Fred doesn't even know he's got the winning ticket." Then her face softened as she thought it through. "What would we do with it?" She was a practical woman and automobiles were not very practical in those days. If the prize had been a fur coat, it would have been a different story. When uncle Fred finally rolled in for supper that night she broke the news to him. He had not only forgotten the book of chances but he couldn't remember having been at the VFW dinner. He and my father decided they would go down to the VFW right after supper, claim the prize and drive it home. Neither of them knew how to drive. You didn't need a license to drive in those days. If you owned a motor vehicle it was assumed you could drive it or you wouldn't have bought it in the first place, unless you were Cornelius Vanderbilt and had a chauffeur.. We sat on the front stoop waiting for them to return and it was nearly dark when a long black behemoth of a machine with my uncle at the wheel cruised up to our front door––and then passed by. "It won't stop, dammit," my uncle shouted at us. They continued down the street and made a sharp left turn at the corner. "They'll probably go around again and give it another try," my mother observed. They were more successful on the second pass, the car shuddered to a stop with two wheels up on the sidewalk. The 12 cylinder Packard was every inch a behemoth. It had to be housed in a public garage down the street and it demanded constant and loving attention. These were not qualities uncle Fred possessed. To be accurate, the vehicle was not quite new, it had been used as a general staff car in France during the war and bought for a song as surplus war material. A coat of black paint had been hastily brushed over the original olive drab and if you looked underneath you could still see the muddy fields of France stuck to its underbelly. We had our first and last ride in it that evening––from then on it was a love machine for uncle Fred. In spite of its war record and Packard's reputation for rock solid dependability, it didn't last out the year. No one is crueler to a finely tuned machine than the man who gets one for nothing. It soon became dented and dusty. Within a month it had gone through more abuse than it had in its eighteen months at war. Fred was forced to abandon it in the parking lot of a hotel in Patchogue, Long Island ... where he'd gone for the weekend. He had to take the Long Island Railroad train back to Brooklyn. As far as I know the twelve cylinder Packard may still be gathering dust in the parking lot of a hotel in Patchogue waiting for uncle Fred to come back and repossess it.
Archived comments for The Twelve Cylinder Packard
Texasgreg on 09-07-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
That was a wonderful story, Harry. My only regret is that you didn't detail your ride in it, even if you had to make it up due to failing memory. I recall my mother telling me of a new Studebaker she had, (her first and last new car), that got stolen twice. With my brother and myself in the car, (I was an infant), she picked up a couple hitch-hiking with two children of their own. She dug deep into her pocket and bought 'em lunch at a truck stop. They repaid her generosity by stealing her car, leaving us stranded. She got a call sixteen years later from a police impound lot saying they had a stolen Studebaker that belonged to her. Ecstatically, she drove over two-hundred miles to claim it. When she got there, they informed her that it had been stolen from the impound lot. Sorry to write a response as long as your story, but thought you might enjoy.
Photobucket.
Good stuff!

Greg 🙂

Author's Reply:

amman on 09-07-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
I have to agree with the man from Texas, this is a wonderful piece of storytelling. I'm sure we've all got an Uncle Fred in the family background. Really enjoyed. Thanks for sharing.
Regards.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 09-07-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
Couldn't help warming to Uncle Fred, Harry - what a card!

Did it look anything like this, Harry? --> 12-cylinder Packard

Brilliant stuff - loved it!

Author's Reply:
I'll take your word for it, Andrea ... I got the message "access forbidden." Come to think of it, that was Fred's decision too.

That was a model from the thirties i think. Fred's was definitely older. From vintage 15 or 16. It was am open touring car ... three or four spare tires hanging off the back ... large tool box on the driver's side running board and spare gas cans on the opposite side.

cooky on 09-07-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
Excellent story.It is true whenyou get something for nothing you tend to abse it. I like this

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 09-07-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
Did you? That's odd! Anyway, it was this pic...

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Author's Reply:

Andrea on 09-07-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
Yes, 1938 that one - fine looking vehicle!

Author's Reply:

madmary on 09-07-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
Great story. I really enjoyed it. Could have been expanded into a longer piece.

Mary

Author's Reply:

ChairmanWow on 13-07-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
A great story. Finally had the chance to read it. Should be part of book.

Ralph

Author's Reply:

TexasLady on 01-10-2012
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
Great writing Harry!

Author's Reply:

Weefatfella on 29-01-2013
The Twelve Cylinder Packard
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Great story Harry.
Reminded me of my Uncle Tam. Ex RAF rear gunner, told amazing stories.
Kept his handle-bar moustache till he died.
I must knuckle down and reveal him to UKA one day.
Enjoyed your tale. thanks again for sharing.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Thank you very much, glad to see the old story visited again.


The Whistler (posted on: 11-06-12)
When is a Whistler not a Whistler?

The Whistler Harry Buschman I have a few questions to ask Mr. Livingston ... five, as a matter of fact. Each one, separate and distinct from the other. He can answer them one at a time, or all together ... doesn't matter to me how he might want to answer them. But he better answer them - otherwise he'll find himself doing time! I had a dingy old painting hanging on my living room wall. It wasn't much to look at. It was in a dark corner. Nobody ever asked me why it was hanging there, or who painted it ... it was a family thing, handed down. Nobody ever really wanted it. My grandfather painted it the summer he worked in Marseilles, a rather dark scene of sailors walking the quay, old sailing ships tied up to the dock, seedy taverns, a woman in the shadows standing in a doorway. Dark blues and browns and a dull gray sky. Mr. Livingston was over one evening and asked me if I'd like him to sell it for me in his Village gallery. He's supposed to be an authority on things like that. He said the technique reminded him of an early Whistler. He knew it wasn't a real Whistler and he said he'd never stoop so low that he'd sell it as a Whistler, but sometimes people can talk themselves into something -- with no help from anybody else. He said it wouldn't surprise him if he was offered a hundred bucks for it. Sixty for me forty for him. About a week later he mailed me a check for sixty dolars. I pocketed the money. About a year later I went to a Whistler exhibition uptown at the Frick Gallery on Fifth Avenue and there was Grandpa's picture on the wall. A card under it said it was "graciously" loaned by someone named Mark Berlin, the owner. Well, a hundred bucks is pretty damn cheap for a Whistler, but it's just about right for Grandpa's old painting ... and that set me to thinking. Mr. Berlin and I have a few questions to ask Mr. Livingston.
Archived comments for The Whistler
amman on 12-06-2012
The Whistler
Nice one Harry, very droll. The Livingstone fella could have named the loan person as Irvin Berlin to further enhance the illusion of authenticity.
Regards.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 12-06-2012
The Whistler
Haha, lovely, Harry, as usual. I've spent a few weeks in Marseilles, and it is exactly as described here, except worse 🙂

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 12-06-2012
The Whistler
Well, you could get even by contacting the new owner with the truth, let him go round and punch Livingston's lights out, then offer him ten dollars for the thing - everybody loses but you! Then, what IF your grandpa was telling whoppers and it WAS a genuine Whistler? Was his mother on the quayside somewhere doing favours for sailors? Mmm...so many possibilities!

Author's Reply:

Harry on 12-06-2012
The Whistler
Thanks for the enthusiastic, (and erudite) comments on this piece. My only solution for its continuation is that it might have been painted by Whistler's mother. The old lady was very versatile I hear.

Author's Reply:


On the Other Hand (posted on: 07-05-12)
Unless you're all thumbs, of course.

On the Other Hand Harry Buschman I am a right-handed person. I consider myself fortunate to be right-handed because I live in a right-handed world. My camera is made for a right-handed person; so is my meat grinder and my scissors. My 5-speed stick shift lies comfortably within reach of my right hand – unless I'm driving a British motorcar. Right-handedness, (in my opinion) is an acquired condition of relatively recent origin. It is one we copied from the lower animals, whom, as everyone I'm sure will agree, are right-footed – or winged – or finned – or whatever. I say this because in biblical days all of us were left-handed, and I think it's a problem we inherited from Adam. Oh yes! Adam was left-handed; didn't you know that? God, on the other hand was right-handed. Proof? of course there's proof! Stand in the Sistine Chapel and look up at the Creation on the ceiling. God extends his right hand and Adam reaches for it with his left. Even if it's not proof for everyone, it's proof enough for me! It was probably the first mistake Adam made. He made others to be sure, but I suspect they stem from his left-handedness. On that indelible sixth workday God said to himself, "Well that ought to do it – the rest is up to them." Had He taken a closer look, He would have noticed Adam was a left-hander and headed for trouble down the primrose path. I never noticed it myself until that afternoon in the nave of the Sistine Chapel. As my wife and I stood looking up at the ceiling we had an epiphany. It was one of many epiphanies we had together in Italy. This one was memorable because it occurred as my pocket was being picked in the Roman custom. At that precise moment, we both noticed Adam was left-handed. We checked out Moses back at St. Peter's. He holds the tablets in his right hand; he was obviously left-handed. You see, if he was right-handed he would have held them in his left hand to leave his right hand free to write the Commandments. Meanwhile, David, in Florence holds the stone in his right hand and the sling in his left ... obviously a left-hander. I mean ... like, don't you see what's going on here?
Archived comments for On the Other Hand
amman on 09-05-2012
On the Other Hand
Hello Harry.
An interesting and subtly humorous take on things. The pickpocket was probably left handed too. Could any of them been ambidextrous? Enjoyed.
Regards

Author's Reply:
I suppose if you really look into it ... everyone is ambidextrous.

Bradene on 09-05-2012
On the Other Hand
Humerous story Harry I'd never given much thought to the reasons why we are left or right handed, but I've often thought I was meant to be left handed because there are so many things I do with my left hand. Writing seems to be the only one I do with my right. I've wondered if in the long and distant past I wrote with my left too and maybe forced to use my right as often that used to happen back then, it's the sort of thing my old gran would have done as she was very superstitious. My youngest daughter is left handed and she was one of identical twins but her twin died after three days, I often wonder if she would have been right handed. Anyhow enough of me. Lovely story much enjoyed. Hope you are well. Has Spring arrived yet in NY it's awful here still cold and forever raining yet they say we are short of water and have imposed a hosepipe ban. (-; Take care Valx

Author's Reply:
We've had spring all winter long in the northeast. Europe has experienced its bitterest winter in years ... that's the way weather goes. It's capricious, maybe it's left-handed. Most of our presidents have been left-handed too, so it's not a sign of intelligence.

Andrea on 09-05-2012
On the Other Hand
Yes, it wasn't that long ago that left-handed kids in the UK had their left hand toed behind their back, thus forcing them to write with the right. Must have been some ridiculous religious thing - left-handed is a sign of the devil or something. Happily we're somewhat more enlightened now (well some of us are).

Good one, Harry.

Author's Reply:
I had a left-handed neighbor, and before he moved, he and his wife ran a garage sale to sell all the junk they didn't want to bring with them. He palmed off his golf clubs to some unsuspecting townsman, whose game suddenly went downhill.


Westward Ho! (posted on: 13-04-12)
The oft laid plans of mice and men.

Westward Ho! Harry Buschman There was me and Walter, Ernie, Harpo and Bunco and we all made a pact twixt the five of us. We decided we'd all run away from home. Don't laugh. It was a major decision for five nine year old kids from Brooklyn. Each of us pricked the end of his thumb with a burnt needle and each of us grabbed the wrist of the other. So the pact was sealed in blood and nobody could go back on it. Each of us would pack a bag and instead of going to school tomorrow morning we would meet on the corner, ditch our books and head west to Montana where men were men and there was no women around. Well, we counted all our money up and we had about fourteen dollars between us and we wondered if that was enough to get us out of Brooklyn let alone out to purple sage country in Montana. Even Bunco, the brains of the group, began to wonder if we had given enough thought to the financial aspect of our plan. We stood on the corner of Ryerson Street and McKibben watching the vegetable trucks from New Jersey roll by. "There's our ace in the hole," Bunco said. "There's the answer ... we hitch a ride with them going back to Jersey. They go back empty, see ... They'll be glad to give us a lift." It sounded good to us. All we had to do was wait for them to dump their load at the vegetable market in Brooklyn and we could be in New Jersey by early afternoon ... half way to Montana! The trouble was we had to wait ... and when you wait, you reconsider things ... It began with Walter. Walter was the least adventurous of us and along about ten-thirty he began complaining of a toothache ... "What'll I do if it gets worse in Montana? " he asked. "You can't welch on your pledge," we reminded him. "I'll catch up to you ... I'll just go home, get it fixed ... and ..." "Your family will notify the police. They'll catch up to us, and there goes our plan," Bunco said. "Suck it up Walter. A pledge is a pledge." A little bit later Ernie wanted to go back and get his autographed baseball. "I didn't think I'd need it," he said. "But it's a real Joe Dimaggio from the '29 series ... you never know, you know." Then Harpo wanted to get his sneakers. "They're in my locker at school," he said. "I'll just run back and get them, okay?" Bunco put his foot down. "What's the matter with you guys ... you gettin' cold feet? What happened to that pledge ... the blood oath?" He looked at me and said, "You wanna run home to Mommy too?" "Well, no ... but ... " "But what?" "Tomorrow's as good as today, Walter can go to the dentist, Ernie can bring his baseball next time and Harpo can get his sneakers. Maybe we can get a little more money together .... maybe we can be a little more prepared. Cut us a little slack, Bunco." ... and so began a lifetime of procrastination for four of the five boys from Brooklyn. None of us ever went west ... out there where men are men. We stayed friends 'til the war broke us up ... after all a pledge is a pledge, right?
Archived comments for Westward Ho!
Bradene on 15-04-2012
Westward Ho!
A nice little tale, is it true? is it a memory? a little fade perhaps but still precious and as you say a pledge is a pledge. smashing Harry. Valx

Author's Reply:
It's something we always said we would do, and then we didn't do it .. and even today if what's left of these 5 old men found themselves on that corner in Brooklyn we would find and excuse not to do it.

Andrea on 15-04-2012
Westward Ho!
Hahaha, lovely Harry. I ran away too, when I was about 10, bullied my brother into going with me (he was 7). We slept on a slide all night in a park, then got so cold and scared, we went home again. Got a good whupping, I can tell you!

Author's Reply:
Well, that's more like it! I'm sure if we had a girl like you with us, all 6 of us would be in Montana today.

ChairmanWow on 15-04-2012
Westward Ho!
Sometimes the talk of escape is something better than really escaping. Enjoyed the piece.

Ralph

Author's Reply:
Thanks Ralph ... sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what life would be like if I did all the things I said I was going to do.

sirat on 16-04-2012
Westward Ho!
Great little story. Just one question. Why do you say it was only four of the five who began 'a lifetime of procrastination'?

Author's Reply:
Well, Bunco never procrastinated. It was all or nothing with Bunco. Thanks sirat.


The Blue Green Carpet (posted on: 23-03-12)
A casual glance at the other rooms, (even mine) in the Eltinge would make a man think he was in a poorhouse.

The Blue Green Carpet Harry Buschman Until this week I had a pretty good job. I had two free rooms on the ground floor of a mid-town Manhattan rooming house all to myself. How many successful people can boast of that? I collected rents from thirty-two men and I made a little beer money by letting the street angels in from outside. I was the super at the Eltinge Hotel, an 8-story red brick apartment house between 35th and 36th Street just west of Eighth Avenue. The Shamrock Bar was across the street, along with an OTB parlor and a pawnshop. It was a community of beaten up men who couldn't help drinking and gambling, and to pay for their habits they pawned what little was left of their past life. Life ain't worth a damn if you have to give up your bad habits – losers think that way. If you walked by the Eltinge after dark and looked up at the pulled down shades of the lighted windows you'd notice the similarity of the lonely silhouettes. They rarely had visitors, and if they did, they wouldn't want you to see or hear what was going on up in their room. It was a hotel for men only. Most of them had done time – some were on parole or out on bail. They shared the ex-con's mentality. Things would get better. Something good would happen – a miracle maybe, a fire or an earthquake. They felt that way as their lives went downhill and picked up speed the way a car does when there's no driver behind the wheel. Their mood picked up when they got an offer to help pull another job, a heist, a shakedown ... whatever. They'd try to get in shape before the date. That's why I thought Tacoma was about to go bad again. He was jogging! I looked out my first floor sitting room window before the sun was up, and in the half light I saw him jogging by – head tilted back – showing the whites of his eyes, gasping for breath and with no one chasing him and no goal in view that I could see, except maybe making it to the corner. It wasn't too easy to get to know Tacoma. He was afflicted with some kind of nervous disorder and I never knew if I was getting through to him, and God knows what the hell he was trying to tell me. Whatever it was, it was accompanied by groans and twitches of his body. At the same time his eyes would bug out as if he couldn't breathe. I'd try to help him along by shaking my head or making revolving motions with my hands in a hopeless attempt to smooth the turbulence that boiled inside him. My afternoons were quiet along 35th Street, Ira the pawn shopkeeper and I occasionally sat in the Shamrock Bar and talked baseball. When it was real quiet, Ernie, the bartender would come over and sit down with us. After baseball the talk invariably turned to women. Ernie, being a barman from the day he got out of Erasmus High, had women on his mind all day. Pawnbrokers know very little about women and supers in men's rooming houses only know how to keep the hookers out of the building. But bartenders know all there is to know about women ... bar women that is ... particularly the effect they have on male drinkers. ''When a hooker and her John settle on a price, off they go – the two of them. That's it for the night – the John ain't spendin' any more of his money on booze.'' That's how Ernie felt about women. Ira looked at women from another angle, ''A watch they'll bring in. It don't work. They'll bring in a setting for a stone – no stone. They'll want top dollar. For what, I'll ask. They'll look at me like I am Shylock Holmes. Women I have no need for.'' That's how Ira felt about women in his pawnshop. So it was with somewhat mixed feelings when the one-armed swarthy man who sells newspapers in the kiosk on 35th Street, whom everyone called Captain Hook, brought the news that Tacoma was engaged. ''Engaged to what,'' Ernie asked. ''No shit,'' I said. Ira, more practical than either of us, wondered why he hadn't come to the pawnshop for a ring. Hook, hardly a romantic, said ... ''It's like a disease, you think they'd have shots for something like that.'' Ernie, the bartender told Captain Hook to sit down, he wanted to hear more ''She's a looker, she is. Blind black lady,'' Captain Hook said. He pulled up a chair and sat down with us. ''The two of them work the bus terminal together in the morning. Then they come back late afternoon and catch the commuters goin' home.'' ''I can't believe it,'' Ernie said. ''How can two people like that get married. It ain't right –– I mean, the city'll never give them a license.'' I knew Tacoma better than any one there and I couldn't understand it either. ''I doubt he can hold still long enough to write his name, if he can write. What's the woman like?'' I asked him. ''A looker, like I said. But she doesn't know it ... ain't that somethin'? I swear it makes you stop and think, don't it? ''So think,'' Ira said. ''The world's not to think ... it's to live in. Let them get married ... let them live a little.'' But Tacoma had a room in my hotel, a back room in the basement I'll admit ... with a window high up. He could see out of it only by standing on a chair and since his nervous condition prevented him from doing that, he had covered the window with burlap sacks for curtains. Would I make an exception in his case and let them stay there? I was inclined to do so for Tacoma's sake ... ''What's the woman's name?'' I asked Captain Hook. ''Ebony, like the black keys on a piano. Yesterday afternoon they came by the newsstand, and he told me. 'This here's Ebony', he says. He's a lot less jittery when he's with her. Well, she pointed a smile in my general direction and held up her hand to show me her engagement ring.'' That brought Ira to his feet. ''What ring! Where did a ring come from? If a ring he had, he would have pawned it ... everything else he pawned. Why not the ring?'' ''It could have been hers,'' I said. ''Or her mother's ... women do things like that.'' ''Nothing good will come of it,'' Ira insisted. ''You watch ... he will want to move her into the hotel. The only woman in there with 30 men ... you watch, you will have trouble.'' I am not a stranger to trouble. I don't think a day goes by at Eltinge House that some one doesn't exit horizontally. Police cars, ambulances and fire engines seem to make the front door a regular stop. It seemed to me that Tacoma and Ebony might improve the environment. I underestimated the effect a woman has on a lost male soul. Ira's prediction didn't have long to fester. Within a week I discovered Ebony had taken up residence in Tacoma's back room flat ... quite without benefit of clergy – or my permission. This was a strictly forbidden arrangement at the chez Eltinge. No women allowed ... unless I arrange it ... the place would be a madhouse if women ran around loose in it. But to throw a blind woman out in the street after she's gone to the trouble of hanging curtains and laid out a 9x12 blue and green carpet on the floor – that was my problem. It was a Monday morning. I waited for them to leave for Grand Central. They had staked out a spot on the east side in the corridor leading to the Lexington Avenue subway. They paid rent to the panhandler's syndicate for that spot. It was a good one – a lot of Park Avenue execs used it as a short-cut from Tudor City. They were doing well and by Eltinge House standards, (as well as my own) they were our most well-to-do tenants. After watching them go, I got out my master key and let myself into their apartment. It didn't look much like Tacoma. There was the touch of a woman. The rug. The curtains. The dishes were done and the bed was made. A casual glance at the other rooms, (even mine) in the Eltinge would make a man think he was in a poorhouse. It wasn't Tacoma ... couldn't be. It had to be Ebony; she must be a fraud. She wasn't blind, she couldn't choose a rug or curtains or a bedspread if she was blind. Like every other panhandler in the bus and train stations in Manhattan, she must be a fraud. So I told myself, That's it – they're not going to pull the wool over my eyes – living two for one!'' I kicked up the corner of the blue rug and left the room. I locked the door again behind me and went across the street to the Shamrock to talk to Ernie. ''She's as blind as I am,'' I told him. ''I don't mind her using a gimmick like that to panhandle in Grand Central, but she doesn't have any right to pull the wool over my eyes.'' '' Cheap trick,'' Ernie agreed. ''Wanna beer? You're all worked up.'' I took my beer to a corner table and sat down. Ernie finished up behind the bar, then he came over and wiped off the table with his bar rag. ''You gonna kick them out?'' ''I think so. First I'm gonna give them a piece of my mind, then I'll kick them out.'' ''Do it on a full stomach,'' he said. I looked up at him blankly. ''It gives the acid somethin' to eat at ... always have somethin' in your stomach.'' I got myself a cup of coffee and a pastrami on rye at the Jewish deli on the corner. I took them back to the Eltinge and sat in the lobby waiting for Tacoma and Ebony to get back from Grand Central. They blew in about 7:30. A cab pulled up outside and the two of them, in a laughing mood walked in talking together as though they were entering the Park Sheraton. I put my pastrami down and held up my left hand ''Tacoma,'' I said firmly. ''This is a rooming house for men. You know what'll happen to a woman in here ... especially a blind woman.'' I took a deep breath. ''If you love this lady, Tacoma, get her the hell out of here.'' Tacoma stepped in front of Ebony and said, ''It's the super, Sweetie.'' I couldn't get over the change in Tacoma. He was in charge of himself, not the shivering wreck of a man I was accustomed to. But, as if to confirm my suspicions about Ebony, she was fully aware of my presence before Tacoma stepped between us. ''No need to hurry us along,'' Ebony said. ''Tac and I are plannin' to cut loose in a week or so.'' ''The neighborhood's gone t'hell,'' Tacoma said. ''It was never any good to begin with,'' Ebony reminded him. Then she turned to me and said. ''You can have our two rooms, just as they are ... no charge. How'd'ja like the new decorations ... you've been in there to check it out, right?'' ''Pretty slick,'' I smiled. ''You've got nice taste fpr someone who can't see.'' ''My left eye does. I'm blind as a bat in my right.'' Holy smoke! Who'da thought it? She was on the up and up after all. True to her word, they were gone the last Friday of the month. I found a note on their kitchen table signed by the two of them ... ''The place is yours,'' it said. ''... hope you like the place as much as we did. I know you'll like the carpet, it's from Bloomingdales.'' '' It was signed, ''Eb and Tac''
Archived comments for The Blue Green Carpet
ruadh on 23-03-2012
The Blue Green Carpet
Great read Harry, really enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:
Many thanks ... lapsed into my west side dialect.

Andrea on 23-03-2012
The Blue Green Carpet
Dunno why, but I always think of Steinbeck when I read your stuff, Harry 🙂

I was reading an article a few weeks ago about an artist who rented 90 square feet in Manhattan (she could hardly move anywhere except upwards!) and paid 900 bucks a week for the privilege. Bloody hell!

Anyway, I digress - fab piece as always, Harry.

Author's Reply:
Thanks Andrea ... I love to be compared to famous people. It's the nearest I can get to fame.

orangedream on 23-03-2012
The Blue Green Carpet
Harry...your writing gets better and better...if that is possible. Wonderful stuff and greatly enjoyed.

Tina

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 25-03-2012
The Blue Green Carpet
Well, as you know, I'm with Andrea on the comparison: I must've read pretty much all of Steinbeck's stuff when I was much younger, though I was SUPPOSED to be enjoying "Catcher in the Rye" and "Catch 22", neither of which I could ever finish. They were THE US novels back in the 60s, but my opinion differed. Talking of Steinbeck, I read "Grapes of Wrath" after I saw the film, which was good, because I would've forever been wondering how Ford ended it - not the way the book ended, that's for certain!
I digress - this has great characters and the authentic feel of real life in the city - vintage Harry, eh?

Author's Reply:
Thank you, Roy. Vintage? I've been re-working the piece for longer than I'd care to admit – it's been through a few vintages.

TheBigBadG on 27-03-2012
The Blue Green Carpet
At the risk of diluting the comparisons, I normally get a sense of Eisner when reading your stuff. It's all the tenements, lodgers and supers, I think. Again, this is only a good thing.

Lovely as always though, the toying with preconceptions is gently done. Best of luck to Ed and Tac.

Author's Reply:
There is a resemblance, isn't there? He was one month my senior.


Compulsion (posted on: 02-03-12)
4th draft of this attempt at humor – hope it can be the last.

Compulsion By Harry Buschman Florence Hasselbone rarely paid attention to her husband's behavior any more. She no longer felt embarrassed walking with him on the sidewalk, watching him avoid the cracks in the concrete. His stride was herky-jerky. He dodged around manhole covers, avoided subway gratings and never, ever lingered under awnings ... even in the rain. He accomplished all these things to an accompaniment of barely audible grunts to passers-by who stood in his way. His compulsive affliction started after he began working for the IRS. Florence suspected it was the frustration and the daily verbal abuse from taxpayers who wanted to change their returns after being notified of an audit. Furthermore, the mind-numbing ritual of schoolhouse arithmetic and the convoluted syntax of the Internal Revenue System language seemed to have driven him over the edge. But, who can tell, perhaps it wasn't that at all – they lived in the East Village, and life in a big city like New York can make anyone jittery, more so for some than others. Florence thrived on it because her work at the Cartridge Gallery on Madison Avenue stimulated her. She met beautiful people and there were beautiful things hanging on the walls. All that hung on the wall of John Hasselbone's downtown office at IRS was a bare bones calendar marked with the names of the auditees he was scheduled to meet with. John developed a deep hatred for tax dodgers. They covered their tracks too elaborately for one thing. Looking at their returns through half closed eyes it often appeared as if they were riddled with shrapnel. Ellipses. Dashes. Underlining. References to court decisions. Their returns were reminiscent of his own hesitant progress along the cracked and rotted downtown streets of Greenwich Village. Florence, on the other hand invariably came home with an angelic smile on her face – having been exposed to Vermeer, Constable and Whistler all day. John envied Florence. He often wished he had a job like that – to hover just outside the creativity of the painter's world. On the dealer's side, where hands never get dirty and where you didn't have to contend with anguish and angst. In the gallery the music was turned down low and the lighting was warm and subdued and a little bottle of rosč was always on a table nearby. Furthermore, the suggested price on the pictures was so inflated they didn't bother to charge sales tax. No wonder Florence came home every night with a smug expression on her face – looking like she just had sex, for God's sake! John was especially irritated when she was late. He hated cooking and he swore their kitchen was booby trapped. Tonight he got as far as the rice in a pot of boiling water when she burst in ... ''Oh John, you'll never guess.'' He made no attempt to guess, instead he untied his apron, hung it up neatly and walked into the living room. Florence followed him and sat in the very chair he planned to sit in. ''Guess, John.'' ''What's the sense in guessing, you said I'd never guess?'' ''Archipenko.'' ''Archie who?'' ''Not Archie. Boris ... Boris Archipenko. The gallery is giving him a retrospective. His work is worth millions. Oh, John,'' she gushed. ''It's going to be wonderful. I met him today.'' ''I hope you washed your hands.'' ''Really, John ... he's a beautiful man. So deep ... every time he says something you wonder what it means.'' ''I meet people like that every day.'' Florence stood up – they were the same height and when she stood straight she could look down at him. ''Furthermore,'' she said. ''Furthermore?'' ''I'm in charge of the reception. It's next Saturday. Everybody who is anybody will be there, all the critics, all the dealers – big names. I want you to be there, John. It'll be good for you.'' ''Florence, be reasonable. You know I hate crowds ... the thought of mingling with that artsy-fartsy flock of sheep at your gallery makes my skin crawl ... I promise I'll embarrass you.'' ''No you won't.'' ''I will. I'll do something ... outrageous.'' It was three days until Saturday, and John did everything he could to avoid the reception. He even faked a behavioral attack of major proportions over a leaky faucet in the bathroom. He finally showed up without an appointment at his psychiatrist and would not budge from his waiting room until the doctor made room for him on his schedule. He wanted the doctor to call Florence, and as he lay on the doctor's well worn leather couch he asked him to tell her that he would do something terrible at the reception. ''John, you won't, you know you won't. You may even have a good time. Have you ever seen an Archipenko?'' the doctor asked. ''What is there to see? With a name like Archipenko! Boris yet! He'll be like ''Bigfoot.'' You're a doctor, you know the things that nest in a Russian's beard – I don't want any part of it. I'll probably break something.'' ''John,'' the doctor reasoned. ''You're a compulsive. You're looking at things the wrong way. How many times have I told you you're a chicken-little compulsive. You think the sky will fall. It won't John ...'' he looked at his chart a moment. ''You're forty-seven years of age and life has never laid a finger on you.'' John doubled his dosage Saturday morning just to be on the safe side. He ate constantly and compulsively, peering into the refrigerator and pulling things out that Florence had saved from previous meals – he had no idea what they were. ''You'll be all right for an hour or so, John, won't you? I have to skip over to the gallery to see how things are going.'' She looked at him nervously ... ''You'll be all right, won't you?'' ''Of course I'll be all right. Think I can't take care of myself?'' I'll be back in an hour ...'' She came back flushed with excitement and laid out her new black cocktail dress. ''Wow! When did you get that?'' John asked. ''I've always wanted one. Every woman should have at least one. John, the gallery looks splendid. Archipenko will be so pleased.'' ''Be hard to tell through all that hair.'' ''I'm going to take a quick shower. Have you had your lunch? You'd better get ready by the way, you know how long it takes you.'' John was determined not to have a good time. He knew exactly what he thought of an Archipenko painting, even though he'd never seen one, and while Florence was singing in the shower he rehearsed exactly what he was going to say about an Archipenko – even if no one asked him. But for the moment his suit, shirt and tie ensemble required his undivided attention. If the phone rang or someone knocked at the door, John would not have heard it. The gray suit, blue shirt and red regimental tie were, in his opinion, the proper way to go, and he said to himself, ''You're going to look great, John, you'll be the best dressed man in the gallery. The others will all be wearing turtlenecks and brown loafers.'' They joined the late Saturday afternoon crowd of Madison Avenue walkers. Florence believed walking the streets of New York kept them both in trim and built up their resistance to the germ laden city air. John always seemed lighter on his feet during their Saturday afternoon walks, and this evening was no exception. He skipped from crack to crack, avoiding the ever threatening restaurant awnings like a fancy Dan boxer avoiding the thrusts of a clumsy heavyweight. For Florence, however, it was more like walking with an unruly dog. ''Did you remember to turn off the gas, Florence.'' ''We don't have gas.'' ''Everybody has gas.'' He looked at Florence pointedly. ''How about the front door?'' ''How about it?'' ''Did we lock it?'' ''John, you always lock the front door. You know that. You lock it, then you unlock it just so you can lock it again. You wouldn't trust anyone else to lock it.'' She breathed deeply. ''Why do you ask me if we locked it?'' ''You know how New York is, if you don't lock your door you don't know who'll be waiting for you when you get home.'' They approached the softly lit entrance to the Cartridge Gallery and Florence didn't want to argue any more. She assured John that she had locked the door to the apartment and that seemed to satisfy him. The gallery looked splendid from the outside, but it did have an awning stretching from the front of the building to the street ... John hesitated and shifted his feet nervously. ''Would you hold the door open, Florence? I'll need a running start.'' ''Yes dear, I understand.'' She opened the tall bronze doors and stood aside as John scuttled in. He stood in the lobby looking left and right. Although he'd been there before, it was always a little different. This evening there was a twittering of conversation and a background of recorded music – he recognized Chopin. He wondered why they would choose to play Chopin. Chopin was Polish, and the Poles lived under the Soviet heel for nearly fifty years. Besides, Archipenko was a Russian, they should be playing Tchaikovsky. Minor departures from logic and reason were always major threats to John Hasselbone's well being, and he imagined the devil in every corner checking his watch. ''John, I'll be busy at the reception table for a while. Why don't you look around ... you know, the paintings? They're really special. Mingle, John. Mingle.'' She looked at him nervously as he moved off guardedly, avoiding the scatter rugs. She hoped he would have a good time and meet some people with taste and vision. He was getting worse, no doubt about it. The IRS had strung him out tight – it taught him to mistrust everybody. He crept up to each painting as though it were alive, an animal in a cage – untrustworthy and capable of sudden unpredictable behavior. He looked at each one carefully, noticing what seemed to him only minor differences between them. They were abstract, with bits and pieces that seemed recognizable. He saw a mustard jar in one of them, an xylophone in another – but on the whole he saw no reason why anyone would have bothered to paint them. ''Such a feeling for form,'' a woman said to a man standing next to her. John looked at the painting carefully, trying to see ''the feeling for form.'' Not finding any to his satisfaction, he considered how much it cost and how the price was determined. He knew there was a vast unbridgeable gap between art and the IRS, yet both dealt in intangible things you really couldn't put a finger on. Money seemed to be the thread that bound them together – a measurement for both. But they existed on different principles he thought. How can they establish a price for form? How can form be quantified? It's there or it isn't – like God. It doesn't have any monetary value. But, on the other hand, if someone wrote out a check for a six-figure amount and handed it to Florence, would she wrap the painting up, like a leg of lamb? Would Mr. Archipenko smile and say thank you, come again, then cash the check and record it as income on his 1040A? He would not! He would find a way to report it as a loss. He would say it was worth far more than that – he would say that he could have put it up for auction at Christie's and gotten much more. He would say the buyer of this painting, some sad eyed art lover, wanted the picture so badly, (said it had such a feeling for form) that he couldn't refuse him. He followed the man and the woman as they walked from picture to picture. The man had little to say, but the woman seemed to know everything. Finally, in the middle of one of her detailed explanations of approaching and receding planes, John raised his hand and she paused in mid sentence ... ''Pardon me, may I ask you a question?'' Without waiting for her answer he asked, ''How much does it cost to paint a picture like this?'' ''I don't understand your question ... how much does it cost ...?'' Her voice trailed off. ''That's right. There's the materials, the paint, the canvas and whatever. He has fixed costs, his rent and light and heat. I mean ... put it all together ... what did this painting set him back, twenty bucks maybe, twenty five?'' The woman turned to the man next to her ... ''Do you know what he's talking about, Alfred?'' Alfred shrugged and seemed anxious to get away. ''Do you know Mr. Archipenko, sir ... my name is Margaret White, by the way ... art critic for Times Arts and Leisure.'' ''I'm John Hasselbone, ma'am. No I've never met Mr. Archipenko.'' ''Oh, she interrupted. You must be Florence's husband ... she's done a marvelous job with the exhibit hasn't she?'' She desperately looked toward the reception table hoping to catch Florence's eye. ''I really don't know how to answer your question, Mr. Hasselbone – the price of art is difficult to put a figure on, it's very intangibility makes it impossible to establish a price.'' ''Well, that's interesting Ms. White, but I noticed there is a price on every one of them and I just wondered how Mr. Archipenko came up with the figure. Big ones seem to cost more than the small ones – that makes sense I guess.'' Across the room, Florence, seeing the expression on Margaret White's face hurried over to join the conversation. ''Is John annoying you, Margaret. He loves to tease, don't you John?'' John knew the tone of her voice meant to 'knock it off' it was a familiar tone, one he had heard often. Florence held the arm of a tall man in a black suit who walked with a slow flamingo stride. He carried his other arm extended, as though offering it to any one who wanted to examine it. He was not hairy as John expected, but clean shaven to the extent that his face reflected the ceiling lights above him. His teeth were bad so his smile was crooked and disappeared almost the minute it began. He extended his hand to John in a groping manner as though he were reaching out to feel him. John backed away, and Florence spoke up quickly ... ''John is highly allergic to just about everything, Boris – even to people. I'm sure nothing would give him greater pleasure than shaking your hand.'' She tried to think of a subject that might interest both men equally – ''John, did you know Mr. Archipenko brought these paintings into the country rolled up in his brother's rugs – his brother is a rug importer – isn't that exciting John?'' ''We call it smuggling, Florence, avoidance of Russian export and U.S. import duties,'' John replied quickly. ''Clever of you Mr. Archpenko.'' Florence realized her mistake. ''Oh, they didn't care. His pictures had no value in Russia.'' As if to corroborate her remark, Archipenko shrugged and rolled his eyes. John scratched his head and looked from his wife to Archipenko and back again. ''You'll have to excuse me, Mr. Archipenko – you too, Florence – I'm a simple man. I can't understand how a painting worth nothing in Russia can be worth thousands of dollars in the United States.'' Mr. Archipenko removed his handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his brow. ''I mean ... is the feeling for form different here than it is in Russia ... and the intersecting planes, what about them? Do they intersect here, but not there ... and then, last of all ... if all this,'' he waved his arm to include the entire exhibit, ''was worth nothing in mother Russia, why did you go to the trouble of smuggling it out of the country in your brother's rugs, Mr. Archipenko?'' Archipenko shifted nervously from one foot to the other, then he looked Heavenward, hoping perhaps to find the answer written up there. Then he looked down again at the stuffed mushrooms on his plastic plate. ''I think maybe I should be sick if you don't mind.'' Florence sprung into action. She cast a withering glance at John and took Boris Archipenko by the arm. ''We'll find a quiet spot, Boris – I'll get someone to take you to the men's room ... not you, John!'' They found a chair just under one of Mr. Archipenko's paintings, (John noticed the price was $176,000 and probably very close to the size of one of his brother's rugs). As the afternoon wore on, things went from bad to worse. Boris Archipenko did indeed throw up and spent the rest of the day in the men's room. He spoke very little, but when he did he complained in broken English of the tyranny of governments and the perilous pursuit of art in a hostile world. Florence made apologies to everyone who would listen. To those who wouldn't, she simply smiled apologetically. The curator was very upset with her for bringing John ... ''You know he's a menace, you should have chained him up in the apartment.'' Florence was inclined to agree. John, however, continued his quest ... ''how on earth can a painting be worth a fortune in America and nothing in Russia?'' He reached the conclusion that it was a sham – a con game, no different than the magic elixir of a traveling medicine man. John looked about him – as the afternoon progressed, the room vibrations changed. He sensed it. There was a feeling of imminent danger – like a Hitchcock movie when the heroine walks through the old house and the eyes of the people in the portraits on the wall follow her as she moves. The pictures on the wall. Yes, that was it. Something about the pictures on the wall. They hadn't changed, yet there was something different about them. For one thing, Florence and the curator had taken all the prices off the paintings. Now, that was strange – he had just about settled in his own mind why some were more costly than others. It had nothing to do with the feeling for form or the intersecting planes where three-dimensional forms passed through each other – no! It was size. Big ones cost more than little ones. It took a little figuring, but in the end the more paint an artist used – the bigger the canvas – the bigger the frame – the more the painting cost. To complicate matters still further a representative from the Russian Embassy appeared late in the afternoon and had a long talk with Boris, making notes as he did so. Not to be outdone, a plain clothes agent from the United States Customs Office, slightly out of breath, was hot on his heels. The two men were in complete agreement, and in a rare display of international cooperation, they shared their notes. John looked at his watch and was surprised to see it was almost 9:00 p.m.. He had to admit to himself that he had a stimulating afternoon but he was getting hungry. He noticed he was standing on a scatter rug, and he didn't give a damn.
Archived comments for Compulsion
RoyBateman on 04-03-2012
Compulsion
Well, our hero may be a bit weird...well, to everyone else, anyway, but I reckon he got that art con tied up neatly. And I hope the customs managed to squeeze every bit of profit out of their unsuspecting victim, too. Frankly, there are paintings I love and others - mainly modern stuff, I admit, but I'll mention no names (Yes I will, Damien Hirst and his ilk are unadulterated crap) - I'd simply fling into a skip. I can see no artistic value of any sort in anything some overblown "artists" produce. If they even do it themselves, as so many don't. I'm on John's side here, and it was good to read his slightly offbeat adventures. As always, it left me wanting more!

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Timber! (posted on: 27-02-12)
Why didn't they think of that!

Timber! Harry Buschman There was a man at my door in a hard hat today ... "Sorry," he said, "but that oak in your back yard ..." there was a pause. Then he shook his head, "There's a crotch about half way up ... it's right under our junction box on the 220 line." I could sense what was coming. I knew that particular crotch was going to give me trouble some day. He was a mean looking critter, hard bitten type, but he looked like he needed a little help, so I prodded him along ... "Has to come out ... is that what you mean to say?" "'Fraid so." He shook his head. "It's on our right-of-way, you know. Never shoulda been planted there is the first place." Well, I could have told him a lot about that oak tree. It was planted there by a gray squirrel one sharp November day about seventy five years ago. I saw him do it. He ran past my back door with an acorn in his mouth and dug a hole with his front feet, dropped the acorn in, covered it up and, as most squirrels do, forgot all about it. The power line wasn't there then. It was out front in the street where there are no trees. It wasn't strung along the back property lines of our houses until years later. By that time the oak tree had taken root and was already taller tham me. At the time that didn't seem to bother the power company, they went right ahead and strung their 220 line as if it wasn't there. That tree is also the grave marker for two canaries, a cat and countless goldfish and when it goes, I will check to see if there are seventy-five rings around the radius of its main trunk ... I know there are at least that many around me.
Archived comments for Timber!
Bradene on 27-02-2012
Timber!
That is so sad, I love trees and it would have broken my heart to lose it. Well told Harry. Valx

Author's Reply:
... and a special prayer for all the critters buried beneath it.

TheBigBadG on 27-02-2012
Timber!
Sad indeed - progress is inconsiderate, at best. One question though, from England: what is a 'crotch'? It doesn't mean anything to do with trees as far as I know.

Author's Reply:
Well, let's see .... when one branch takes off from another, the joint between them is a crotch. Similar to the two legs of a human being.

RoyBateman on 01-03-2012
Timber!
I was a bit confused about your crotch, too, Harry...seemed a mite public to me. I know, the case somes up next week... But, I see exactly what you mean - a bifurcation of branches, if you will.
I'd feel just the same way about losing a tree - they can divert the power lines, can't they? They certainly can't wipe out 75 years of history, surely. Oddly, the boss and I were planting a new sapling only yesterday - the world needs more trees, not fewer. And, it seems most of us seem sad at the prospect of losing one - I reckon we we're all sympathising with you!

Author's Reply:
I suppose I'll get over it, even if the tree won't.

Andrea on 02-03-2012
Timber!
Too many trees cut down, Harry - they do it all the time here (Amsterdam), and there weren't that many to start with after the Hunger Winter of '44 - soon there'll be none left. Soon there won't be a bit of green left. Tragic. I have two cats buried under the tree at the end of my garden, third one coming up shortly,I reckon (he's 17) 🙂

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 01-10-2012
Timber!
An excellent read, I loved it. Mike

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The Rainbow Diner Part I, Breakfast (posted on: 27-01-12)
A picture of life, (or what's left of it) inside the head of a widower. This is part one of three. It's a downer I'm afraid ... but it's the way it is.

The Rainbow Diner Part I, Breakfast by Harry Buschman With no expectation that this day would be any better than yesterday he reluctantly threw the tangled bedcovers aside and sat up. He could see his breath before him In the gray dawn light and he judged the temperature in his bedroom to be just above freezing. His feet, as if they had eyes of their own, groped on the floor for his slippers. He was gratified to find his lumbago was no worse this morning than it was yesterday, but he stood up tentatively in a semi-crouch just to make sure, then made his way stiffly to the window. There was a dull yellowish brown light in the east giving the promise of snow later in the day. He shivered, scratched and yawned. The yawn almost consumed him. He blew on his hands to warm them and shuffled an erratic path to the kitchen. His teapot had been sitting on the back burner of the coal stove all night. He poured a cup of it –– thick and viscous, black as iodine. He put two heaping teaspoons of sugar in it and began drinking as he made his way to the bathroom. He stared critically at his face in the cloudy mirror and decided he could make it through the day without shaving. He worked out his lower plate and rinsed it in the icy water from the tap. Before replacing it, he looked at his upper teeth in the mirror and decided to brush them, then remembered he had thrown the toothbrush away after using it to clean the bottom of the teapot. He squirted a dab of toothpaste on his index finger and rubbed it briskly across his few remaining upper teeth. There ... that would have to do. He set the lower plate back in place and bared his teeth in the mirror –– ''That you Gordon Sharkey? Why the hell did you get out of bed this morning?'' He would have washed up, but to do that he needed hot water and he didn't have any. If he put a pot of water on the stove last night, as he should have, he would have hot water this morning. He consoled himself by saying, ''Dammit Jossie! I can't think of everything! Where the hell are you?'' Gordon was 63 years old, and for the past three years he was a widower. His wife never taught him to cook or wash or mop a floor, and even now his tiny apartment on the third deck of a big old rooming house would have been too much for him if it wasn't for Mady Christian. Mady was his landlady and for five dollars more she did his laundry. He didn't have much in the way of clothes –– a pair of drop seats, two pairs of socks, a shirt, a towel and a sheet. ''He must be pretty ripe by the end of the week,'' she often said to herself as she gingerly dropped his dirty clothes in her washing machine. She came up to his apartment while he was at work to dust –– sometimes she'd mop his kitchen floor if he had been messy. She would also check his refrigerator... well, her refrigerator actually... it came with the apartment. It was usually empty, or at the most she would find one or two peculiar looking take-outs from a diner. She would sniff at them warily and, often as not, throw them in the trash. Mady was a widow. Her husband died six years ago in a train accident at the freight yards a month before his retirement. A lot of people say it was carelessness on the railroad's part. But there had always been a lot of drinking down at the marshaling yards, and like most railroad wives, she took the tragedy in stride and found comfort in the remembrance of nearly thirty years of a tolerably happy married life and a paid up mortgage. She was in fact, a contented widow with a rosy sunset ahead of her due to a generous settlement from the railroad union. She could look back on a childless marriage with no regrets. She was in good health, nursed a crush on the church organist, and attended a never ending round of afternoon teas and evening bridge games with her girl friends where she was known to play with the shrewdness of a Mississippi riverboat gambler. A lot of her girl friends thought Gordon Sharkey would make a nice match, but of course they didn't know Gordon Sharkey like Mady did. Besides, Mady was a born widow. Gordon finished his morning wash-up. He looked at the kitchen clock and decided he would have enough time to make himself something to eat before starting off to the shoe factory. Mornings always seemed to go better after a hot breakfast. He checked the refrigerator and found two strips of fat Canadian bacon which he spread neatly in an old black frying pan. He shook down the ashes in the stove and added some coal, then hunted through the top of the refrigerator for two brown eggs he remembered putting there last week. He cut off a stale slice of bread and laid it on the stove top next to the frying pan. Before long the bacon was reduced to a bubbling puddle of fat, and into this he broke his two eggs and turned the slice of bread. By this time the under side of the bread had burned black and the top was hard and dry. No sense toasting that side, he thought. He looked into the pan of eggs and smoking fat and his stomach churned. After three years he hadn't mastered the basics of cooking. Swearing under his breath he slid the contents of the frying pan into a brown paper bag that stood in a corner of the kitchen and decided to get something to eat downtown. He shook himself into his old leather coat and swigged down the lukewarm dregs of the tea. He fished the stub of last night's cigar out of the ash tray on the windowsill, lit it and walked into the bedroom. He pulled the sheet off his bed and stuffed it into a laundry bag along with his dirty long johns, shirt, socks, pants and towel. He slung the bag over his shoulder, looked around the shabby apartment, shook his head sadly and let himself out the kitchen door. ''What a hell of a way for a man to live,'' he thought. He walked down the stairs and left his bundle of dirty laundry at Mady Christian's door. Before leaving, he momentarily considered the possibility of returning to his apartment and going back to bed. He did not however, instead, he stared at his reflection in the polished glass of Mady Christian's front door. He saw a man utterly incapable of caring for himself –– an elderly child. ''The widow Christian is getting along fine,'' he grumbled, ''how does she do it? Why can't I do it?'' He could hear her radio playing downstairs every night –– and her damn bridge club! He watched her bridge ladies arrive in the evening –– laughter and loud talk until all hours. ''All of them widows,'' he reminded himself. ''Not something a man would do. A man will sit home pitying himself and wondering what the hell happened to him.'' Convinced that widowers were not meant to be, he buttoned his old leather jacket and headed off to work. <><><> He stood at the bus stop shifting his weight from foot to foot. As the cold sidewalk worked its way through the thin sole of his left shoe he would put the right foot down and lift the left one. After two or three shifts, both feet were cold as ice, and he felt as if he had no feet at all. The bus appeared in the distance –– a speck of light on the horizon and seemingly in no hurry to get to him at the bus stop. When it finally arrived it slowed down rather than stopped and he was forced to jump in and grab the rail for support. He glared at the bus driver, who glared back belligerently. ''Pick 'em up old timer –– tryin' t'keep on a schedule here.'' He was too tired and chilled to argue, operating on an empty stomach too. Gordon paid his fare and found a seat next to a fat woman with chin whiskers wearing a Boston Red Sox baseball cap and balancing two shopping bags on her lap. She stared at him with barely concealed hostility, as though she, too, was trying to keep on a schedule and slowing down to pick him up was an intrusion on her schedule. They rode, swaying in unison from side to side in the wildly careening bus until suddenly the woman put one of her bags in Gordon's lap and pulled the signal cord with her free hand. She made two or three preparatory lunges, then staggered to her feet. When the bus swung to the curb and stopped, Gordon got up and handed the woman her shopping bag. She snatched it from him as though he had attempted to steal it from her, then bulled her way to the exit. ''You getting' out or what, lady?'' The bus driver growled from up front. ''Hold yer Goddamn horses! Can't'cha see I'm loaded?'' It was plain to see the day had started badly for everybody, and here he was almost at the shoe factory, looking vainly for a sign of improvement –– a patch of blue sky. The ''Rainbow Diner'' stood just across the street from the employees entrance to the shoe factory, and with fifteen minutes before punch-in Gordon decided to put something in his stomach. Maybe things would look a little brighter, maybe the world would take a turn for the better. It was lovely and warm in the diner; just about body temperature he thought, and the sweet smell of onions, ketchup, coffee and bacon fat made him think of Jossie again. How nice it would be to stay here in the Rainbow Diner all day thinking of her. Why couldn't his kitchen feel this way? Why was his so cold and why did the faint aroma of mice and rotting vegetables always greet him when he got home? ''What can I gitcha, Hon?'' Such beautiful, warm, and friendly words, he thought. Before answering, Gordon played them back in his haunted mind. ''What kin y'git me,'' he said aloud. ''Let me see, two eggs over easy with bacon –– the thick Canadian kind. Two slices of white toast and tea... with two tea bags, okay? I like strong tea.'' The woman pulled a pencil out of her orange hair, licked the end of it and began to write. ''No juice?'' ''What's your name?'' ''Lois, why?'' ''I don't know,'' Gordon shrugged. ''It's just that nobody uses names any more. They say 'hey you' or 'hon,' or even 'pick 'em up old timer, I'm tryin' t'keep on a schedule here.'' ''You want juice or not?'' ''My name is Gordon, Gordon Sharkey.'' ''You don't mind me sayin' so, Mister, you're only an old guy in a black leather coat and a wool cap sittin' on stool number 4. It's easier that way.'' ''Gordon Sharkey would like orange juice.'' Lois added the orange juice to the order and shaking her head slowly, walked back to the kitchen. Gordon watched her carefully, she swung as she walked –– lazily, without haste –– as though she were a customer. 'Lois' was not a name that fitted her. He remembered reading years ago that waitresses never gave their right names. Why was that, he wondered? She came back from the kitchen and walked up to the other end of the counter adding up checks. She put them in front of three other diners. She looked at Gordon, turned quickly and walked back into the kitchen and brought his juice. ''Eggs are comin', want'cha tea now, Hon?'' ''Yes, Lois. Gordon would like his tea.'' The waitress looked at him critically, as though he might have been a visitor from another country. ''Here y'go, Hon. Two bags y'said, right? Gotta charge y'for two cups'a tea, but'cha kin have all the water y'want.'' ''Imagine,'' Gordon thought. ''All the water I want.'' He drank his orange juice, savoring the puckering tang of it and as he tilted his head back he looked at the pastry display on the back counter, cheese and prune Danishes, snowy white sugar doughnuts. His eyes lingered lovingly on the specials of the day, the BBQ Meatball Platters, the Corn dog Nuggets, the Turkey Bacon Croissant. A man could live like a king in the Rainbow Diner forever, he thought. Orange haired women like Lois would smile and ask, ''What kin I git'cha. hon?'' There would never be a discouraging word, he could sit on this stool all day and eat at his own pace –– whatever he wanted would be brought to him with a smile, a clean knife, a fork, and a spoon. ''Yes,'' he decided! ''This is Paradise –– the Rainbow Diner is the place for me. I shall never leave here.'' He finished his breakfast and sat back with a sigh. The waitress cleared away his dishes, wiped the counter vigorously and placed the check in front of him. ''I shall tip Lois 100 percent,'' he decided. ''Maybe even more. I want her to like me, I want everyone at the Rainbow Diner to like me.'' He left the tip, and thinking he was paying the bill, Lois told him to pay at the register. ''I will, Lois. I will. That's for you.'' ''Thanks –– Gordon.'' ''Yes,'' he thought, ''the route to a man's heart is by way of his stomach, and now I know the route to the heart of a waitress.'' He tipped his wool cap to Lois, bought the largest cigar on display at the check-out counter, paid the girl at the register and stepped outside. The first flakes of the early spring snow had just begun to fall from a sodden sky, but looking back he could see the Rainbow Diner over his shoulder. (To be continued)
Archived comments for The Rainbow Diner Part I, Breakfast
orangedream on 28-01-2012
The Rainbow Diner Part I, Breakfast
I enjoyed this, very much, Harry. Hope you are well, by the way;-) Shall look forward to the next part.

Tina;-)

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 28-01-2012
The Rainbow Diner Part I, Breakfast
Very much enjoyed harry - your usual excellence, although longer than is normally your wont.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 28-01-2012
The Rainbow Diner Part I, Breakfast
It's a dark subject ... one I know something about. I've thrown away every start I ever attempted and maybe this one will get pitched too, but it came closer than the others. Loss of identity is at the root, I think.

Author's Reply:

Bradene on 26-02-2012
The Rainbow Diner Part I, Breakfast
I've missed you Harry. Just beginning your story top marks so far. Love Valx
ps How are you keeping, not long before spring now, thank goodness xx

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Never Too Old to Remember (posted on: 20-01-12)
Some things are hard to forget.

Never Too Old to Remember Harry Buschman I looked up to see the special features editor staring at me from across the room. It was unnerving and I knew he was looking for something, anything to spark up the paper on this long, late Indian summer weekend. ''We need something special for Armistice Day. It's coming up Friday you know. Something like ... heart-warming, you know ... inspiring ... you get what I mean. If we could only get that old bastard Whitney to open up we'd have some great copy.'' He smiled at me ... almost lasciviously. ''He was in the big one you know. Number one.'' That's the last thing the special features editor said to me just as he handed me the address. ''Take it easy on the old bird, it's a little hard to get through to him, he's 104.'' Mr. Whitney was sitting at his living room window. It faced the busy city street, and at this time of day it was crowded with people walking briskly in the bright November sunshine. Mr. Whitney no longer ate at meal times. He was fed. He slept and relieved himself whenever his family felt it was time he should. He was apprehensive at the approach of night. He could not see well in the dark, and even though he couldn't hear well, the noises he remembered from his youth kept him awake most of the night. He didn't need his eyes and ears any longer but the memory of what he'd been through kept him from sleeping. A great grandson slept in the bedroom with him. Not for protection or emergencies, but because the younger man's youthful physical presence was a stimulus to the old man's failing heart. If he were not there his family felt the old man's heart might cease to function. His 104th birthday last week was noted by his family but not celebrated. No mention of his advanced age was discussed in the house. Nothing was said about the future or the past––time was never mentioned. The present was limited to the brief span of a moment or two, it was as though a moment was all there was left. He was one of the few living men that had fought in the first World War, wounded in the Battle of the Somme only three weeks before the armistice. I looked at him sitting at his living room window, staring out with half closed eyes and I wondered why they chose to put him there. He didn't seem aware of what or who was passing by. It was hard to think of him as a living human being. Asleep? Perhaps, but more likely dead or in some kind of unresponsive, catatonic state which rendered him unaware of anything outside himself. I wondered why a man would tolerate such a poor quality of life ... could it be better than the hereafter ... or maybe he was too far gone to make a decision of his own one way or the other. A woman leaning on a cane stood next to him. I was told she was his his unmarried daughter Samantha. A woman in her eighties. She wiped his mouth with a silk handkerchief from time to time, and when she did so, the old man would seem to waken––his eyes would flutter a bit and he'd try to turn his head to look at her. "There, there," she'd say, then he'd drift away again to wherever he had been a moment before. I told his elderly daughter I came from the paper to interview her father for Sunday's magazine section. "They were obviously not aware of his delicate health," I said. "Perhaps I should tell them it's out of the question ..." "He's perfectly capable of answering any question you might have," the old lady looked sternly at me. "He remembers everything––but you have to bend your head over and listen carefully, young man. His breath is short and you may not understand him." "Does he really remember the events of World War I?" "Of course he does. Ask him. You do remember the old days, don't you, father?" "Do you remember the beginning of the first world war Mr. Whitney?" As far as I could tell there was no reaction to our questions so I asked it again slowly and distinctly, moving my lips as though I were talking to a deaf man. His daughter lost patience with me ... "He's already answered your silly question young man. Aren't you paying attention? Why did they send you? Goodness, you're really not cut out for this kind of work, are you?" "I didn't hear him ... I don't think he heard me ... maybe I should ask him again.'' She answered abruptly, "The war began with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the Habsburg throne ... everybody knows that." "Yes, I knew that." "Then why did you ask him? For Heaven's sake. he can't waste his time sitting here answering a question you know the answer to.'' She turned to him and wiped the corners of his mouth again, ''can you dear?" ... and again he looked up as though he had been awakened from a deep sleep. I looked at my notes again and noticed there was one question the editor told me to be sure and get an answer to. It was about the details of the battle in which Mr. Whitney was wounded just three weeks before the armistice. "May I ask one more question?" "If you must," she answered coldly. "But be brief, he needs his rest, poor dear." I brought my face close to his and mouthed the words slowly and distinctly, ''Do you remember the battle of the Somme, Mr. Whitney?'' The old woman thumped the floor loudly with her cane. "That's enough," she cried. "How would you expect the poor man to answer a stupid question like that? Out of the corner of my eye I saw the old man's eyes flutter and he turned his head towards his daughter. He stiffened violently in his chair. His legs shot out before him violently, jointless from hip to ankle. His daughter held his shoulders back in his chair, otherwise it appeared likely he may get to his feet. It would be unthinkable to see the old man stand. All the while his lips moved spasmodically and he began mumbling in an incoherent and violent manner. It was apparent ... to me at least ... that if left alone a moment he might actually say something. Perhaps there was something in that question ––something that triggered him. Was it possible there was anything he could add to the mountain of literature already written about the first world war and its final battles and its effect on the lives of the survivors of that long dead generation? The old woman glared at me as though I had somehow been the cause of it all. ''You ... you ...'' she tried to think of something dreadful to call me and then both of us noticed the old man had raised his arm and pointed at me with an accusing finger. It was the first time I heard his voice and I dare say his daughter hadn't heard it for a long time either. I expected it to be papery and thin but it was surprisingly robust coming from a man his age. His eyes grew wide and seemed to stare at something that was happening far off and long ago, and while his daughter restrained him he said quite clearly ... ''Mouquet Farm finally fell to the 11th Division, and we went on to Courcelette. It had rained during the night and the weather was warm for late October, there was the smell of the dead and the scent of phosgene and cordite in the air.'' He shook himself free of his daughter's restraint and stared at me ... his eyes were in focus now, ''I was with the British then. A corporal. The first day we gained a total of two miles and left a trail of 420,000 dead men in the mud behind us. You know what that figures out to be young man ... no of course you don't. Well tell this to your newspaper ... for every inch we gained we left a dead man.'' I took his words down in Gregg, and I reminded him that the Somme offensive had been a great victory ... ''It brought the war to a close Mr. Whitney ... the Germans surrendered shortly after.'' ''The men behind us ... the men in the mud ... ask them about the victory, not me!'' He was looking into space again. Something behind me. Something I couldn't see. His daughter wiped his mouth again while looking at me anxiously. ''What have you done to him? He never talks ... look at the poor soul! There will be no further questions, do you understand?'' I had no further questions. The answer he gave to the one I asked shocked me into silence. It was an experience that must have festered in him a lifetime. ''I'll let myself out, Ma'am,'' I muttered as I backed away from the old man. ''I'm really very sorry to have been so much trouble,'' I added, ''but the paper ... you see ... they were hoping for something uplifting ... patriotic, you know. Something for Armistice Day. It's this Friday you know.'' She didn't answer me. Her attention was focussed on her father. She wiped the corners of his mouth with her handkerchief and smoothed a few filaments of gray hair that had become mussed during his outburst. <><><> ''How'ja make out with old man Whitney?'' I read him my notes ... ''It's nothing we can use, boss ... he remembers what it was like all right, but it's not the kind of thing people want to read on Armistice Day.'' He leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. ''We'll have to make something up I guess. Stubborn old bastard, I'd think he'd be anxious to see his name in the paper.''
Archived comments for Never Too Old to Remember
TheBigBadG on 20-01-2012
Never Too Old to Remember
I think I'm beginning to work out what it is I enjoy so much about your pieces. It's not just the characters, rounded and genuine as they are; it's the combinations of them that let you lift out the details. The way Mr Whitney, his daughter and the reporter act in relation to each-other tells three stories simultaneously, all of them worth telling on their own. And you make it look so effortless!

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 20-01-2012
Never Too Old to Remember
Multi-dimension and smooth as usual, Harry - wonderful stuff. I can't believe how prolific you are!

Author's Reply:

Harry on 20-01-2012
Never Too Old to Remember
I'm glad you liked the little study of the relationships of three generations ... thank you both very much.

Author's Reply:

Leila on 21-01-2012
Never Too Old to Remember
Accomplished as ever Harry you draw the reader in and never a wasted word, the best of story telling...Leila

Author's Reply:
Glad you liked it Leila ... thank you very much


Goofy, Ernie and Me (posted on: 21-11-11)
At least one of us got to be somebody.

Goofy, Ernie and Me by Harry Buschman There were three of us. My best friend Ernie, "Goofy" Margolis, and me. Ernie and I were the same age and Goofy was a year older. Ernie and I lived in the same tenement, and Goofy lived over his family's candy store on the corner. The three of us were in the same class at school. Goofy had been "left back" in school at least once and still had trouble keeping up with the class. The three of us were close friends ... as close as kids got to be in those days. Why? we didn't know why, that's the way it went with kids back then. Looking back on it now, I'm sure one of the reasons was a lack of envy ... none of us had anything the other wanted. Goofy Margolis' real name was Stanley. Other than his mother and father and Mrs. Martel at PS 9, I never heard anyone call him Stanley. Everyone called him Goofy. We even called him Goofy in front of his mother and father and they didn't mind. I guess they were glad somebody his own age cared about him. My mother once told me that something went wrong when Goofy was born – she never explained exactly what because matters of that sort were not discussed between parents and children, and it's likely she didn't know what went wrong either. He was unable to make simple decisions and he took a lot of abuse. Other kids in school gave him a hard time – they pulled his pants down in front of everybody in home room. Sometimes they tied his shoes together. If it wasn't for Ernie and me, Goofy would have found it hard getting through a day at school. After school Goofy worked in his father's candy store. He would see to it that there were straws and napkins in the dispensers and he'd dry mop around the stools. His father wouldn't trust him to do much more than that. After nine innings of stick ball in the street outside and just before we went home for supper, Ernie and I would usually stop in at the candy store to see if Goofy needed help with his homework. His father would usually make us a lemon phosphate while we sat at one of his rickety tables in the back and helped Goofy with his lessons. Most times we'd do them for him – it was easier than telling him how to do it. He was slow. Yet there was something in him that you couldn't put your finger on. He knew when it was going to rain; he knew exactly when the IRT was pulling into the DeKalb Avenue Station two blocks away. But he couldn't get halfway through the times table. Ernie and I often said that if we found ourselves washed ashore on a desert island we would want Goofy with us, but if we had to parse a sentence in Mrs. Martel's English class, Goofy would be the last person on earth we wanted to help us. Ernie and me met in the vestibule of our tenement every morning before school and walked down to the candy store. Goofy would be standing there, just inside his father's store waiting for us, afraid to come out on his own. Our route to school went past the Prospect Park Zoo, and at that hour the animals were just beginning to stretch and yawn. If you stood on tip toe you could see over the brick wall and watch them pulling themselves together – getting ready for another day with nothing to do. That's how we got our first inkling that Goofy was special. We always knew Goofy could bark like a dog and whinny like a horse; so much like them, in fact, that the animals would turn and stare at him in disbelief. But until we watched Goofy in action at the zoo we never realized how special he was. You couldn't tell the difference – he could chatter like a monkey and growl like a lion. They would talk back to him and he would answer – we'd have to drag him away. No wonder he didn't fit in at school. In the best sense of the word he was an animal at heart. With the zoo so close to us, we spent a lot of time there, and on weekends our mothers would pack a lunch for us to get us out of their hair for an hour or two. Goofy would be in seventh heaven at the zoo. He had names for each and every one of the animals, not names like you and I would use for a pet dog or cat, but names in their own language - names they would answer to. One Saturday afternoon we were eating our lunch in front of a cage full of macaque monkeys who were having their lunch too. Goofy as always was as close to the cage as he could get – just Goofy and the macaques, eating and chattering. Suddenly Goofy reached out and offered his apple to one of them who reached out, took it, and looked at it carefully. Then the monkey passed a banana back to Goofy. We were stunned, along with some other people standing nearby as the exchange took place. Goofy told us that the macaque wanted to check out the apple before he traded it for a banana. Ernie and me made the mistake of telling this strange story to our parents that afternoon and along with Goofy's previous reputation for barking at dogs and whinnying at horses, they thought it might be good for us if we steered clear of him for a while. Kids are resilient. They make friends quickly and drop them for new friends with no regrets. Ernie and me found other friends and eventually we forgot Goofy. When time came around for promotion, we moved up and Goofy got left back again. The school board decided it was time to consider alternate avenues of education for Goofy and he was sent to a school for special children. Goofy was special all right, me and Ernie could have told them that. As we grew older we all drifted apart, even Ernie and me. It wasn't until I was grown and married that I read the piece about Dr. Stanley Margolis in Scientific American. I would have passed it by except the name Margolis is not a common name, and certainly not one usually encountered in the field of scientific research. Professor Margolis was making progress bridging the communication gap that exists between animals and man. He had developed the theory of "Talking Turkey," as it became popularly known. Rather than persuading animals to speak as we do, he attacked the problem by teaching humans to speak as they do. That sounded like Goofy to me. It brought back that memorable Saturday afternoon in front of the cage of macaques and how monkey and man had met and traded a banana for an apple. Goofy hadn't changed in all these years except that now he chaired Princeton's Department for Advanced Studies of Animal Behaviorism. I considered writing a letter to Professor Margolis, or trying to contact him by phone – but then, indecision, (a primary element of my adult life) took over and it seemed to me indiscreet to bring up our formative years which he might well want to keep under his hat. When I finished the article, all I could say was – "Way to go Goofy!"
Archived comments for Goofy, Ernie and Me
Nomenklatura on 21-11-2011
Goofy, Ernie and Me
Another lovely slice of bygone Americana, Harry. As always particularly strong on atmosphere and with a wistful tone that I enjoyed particularly in the childhood section. The only thing which jarred was the reference to Margolis being unlikely to be encountered in scientific research. If you are trying to show something about the narrator's prejudices, then that's different, of course.

Author's Reply:
In our day, Margolis was a common gypsy name. They were dark, secretive people who owned ethnic food stores. They played funny-shaped string instruments, smoked water-pipes and wore embroidered vests. Those values are not easily forgotten.

TheBigBadG on 26-11-2011
Goofy, Ernie and Me
Wistful is the right word for this. It's nostalgic and kind, even if there's a wry sense of surprise underpinning it all. The gentle tone of magic in there is just right as well - not in your face, but teasing you with wondrous things seen and experienced in youth. I wonder if there's a children's story in there about Goofy navigating the zoo, perhaps?

Author's Reply:
Thank you ... I'm sure Goofy could write that story. With a little coaxing.

Weefatfella on 29-01-2013
Goofy, Ernie and Me
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I really enjoyed this tale.
The characters ring true and the tale is underpinned with compassion and respect for Goofy even before his special talent appeared. I also agree with George on the kids story aspect. TheBigBadG put me onto you and I thank him for that. Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Brooklyn was a magic place to live in those days.


Complementarianism (posted on: 04-11-11)
My husband is my master.

Complementarianism Harry Buschman I read in my husband's Qur'an that if I am to be considered a chaste woman, one worthy of her husband my person must be fully covered. How then is he, (or anyone else for that matter) to see how worthy I might be? Would it not be my word against his? Is it not also said that in some parts of the world that what one gets what one sees? Besides ... I have been walking all day and my feet are tired; taking off my shoes and washing my feet before entering our humble abode is a luxury I shall not deny myself today, You see, I must walk wherever I go. I do not have the privilege of driving a car, even though gasoline is ten cents a gallon in my country. Women, to remain chaste and worthy of men, must not drive an automobile––they can, however, ride on the back of a donkey. Furthermore, a wife cannot leave her husband's house unless she has his permission. That is not much of a problem for me in our household because I am the only wage owner. My husband prefers to remain in bed and read his Qur'an. My husband is my master. I know little about him––in fact I never met him until we married ... I was seventeen at the time and our families made all the arrangements. ''Muslim wives are to be totally dependent and obedient to their husbands.'' It says that on the very first page of the Qur'an ... but if I know what's good for me I will obey the second part while disobeying the first ... if I obeyed them both we would starve to death. The Qur'an says that it is okay for a man to divorce his wife and remarry her if his second choice doesn't work out. I suspect this is to protect him if his first wife should suddenly inherit wealth or property. His wife has no vote in the matter––she must accept it as a fact of being born female. The children remain the property of their master also. I have a good paying job at the American Embassy so it is not likely that my master would consider divorce. Though there are times I wish he would. Last week for instance ... Because of a bombing in the street in front of the Embassy I didn't return from work until nearly 6 PM. My master was furious that his supper was not ready and he would be late for his Mancala game with his friends at the Taverna. So when it says in the Qur'an 24:31... ''And say to the believing women that they lower their gaze and restrain their sexual passions.'' You can bet your bottom dollar my gaze was lowered and my sexual passions were put on the back burner for a full week.
Archived comments for Complementarianism
RoyBateman on 08-11-2011
Complementarianism
This deserves a much wider audience. (I've just returned from Portugal, hence the delay in reading...) Short, but hardly sweet. In writing it from such a reasonable-sounding viewpoint, you've made this all the more chilling: for, chilling it is to think that the female half of the population should live under such subjection. I don't know, we thought back in the sixties that love, peace and equality would soon conquer all. What fools we were...

Author's Reply:
The subject is a hot potato, Roy ... for both the writer and the reader. But sometimes it's best to take a stand.

Romany on 13-11-2011
Complementarianism
Excellent. This subject fills me with such anger and sadness. Why oh why do they persist in these medieval views, so afraid and resentful of their own women? A huge topic of course, and one many would prefer not to engage in, for fear of being labelled.

Anyway, you touched a nerve with me.

Romany.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 14-11-2011
Complementarianism
Excellent piece Harry. Much enjoyed

(small observation: Two my's in the third para)

Author's Reply:

Harry on 14-11-2011
Complementarianism
Thanks for the kind reception for this piece. It's a cry in the dark for the little that's left of this civilization.

Author's Reply:


Paradise Lost (posted on: 21-10-11)
To Paradise by way of Schenectady.

Paradise Lost Harry Buschman I had a box of hymnals in the trunk of my car to deliver to Pastor Gregory James Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle, a church in Paradise. Paradise New York, that is. Paradise is a small town just north of Schenectady. I always disliked Schenectady ... mainly because it's hard to spell and it's off in a place you don't want to be in winter. Not that you'd enjoy being there in the summer either, but you do have to go there if you're on your way to Paradise. I sell bibles and hymnals to churches, and while I admit it's not much of a job, it's the only thing like a job I could find with the economy in the shape it is. You run out of super highways when you get north of Schenectady. The roads get narrower and twistier and the paving goes downhill from concrete, to macadam, to dirt with oil spread on it to keep the dust down. I figured I must be getting close so I began looking for the sign to Paradise. In the gathering dusk I came upon a crossroads, (maybe that's a little too poetic ... but that's how it seemed to me at the time). I had to make a decision. There were three choices for Paradise, straight ahead, to the right, or to the left. There should have been a sign. They told me back in Schenectady there would be a sign. "Just follow the sign," they said. But there wasn't any sign ... and I hate when that happens. I rolled my window down and stuck my head out. Sure enough, there was a sign, but it was face down by the side of the road. I got out and turned it over and there in the dim light I read the oil stained message, "TO PARADISE, Population 176." Some damn fool had knocked it down and driven over it, and now I didn't know which way Paradise was. I had three choices, two of them were wrong and somehow the odds were against me. I only knew that Schenectady was behind me. Much as I disliked Schenectady, it seemed a better choice than Paradise, wherever the hell it was. It's tough if you don't know where Paradise is, so I turned the car around and started back to Schenectady, rationalizing my decision every mile of the way. There wasn't much going on in Schenectady by the time I got back. The only two things open that I could see was the hotel and the bar next to it. I parked in the deserted street in front of the bar and went inside ... the bartender was sitting on a stool watching a basketball game from the west coast. "Double Beefeater Martini on the rocks with a twist," I said. Without taking his eyes off the basketball game he made the Martini and put it on the bar in front of me. "You know how I can get to Paradise?" I asked. "Sometimes you'll find a sign," he answered. "Otherwise it's pretty much up to you."
Archived comments for Paradise Lost
RoyBateman on 24-10-2011
Paradise Lost
Very clever, Harry - it actually works on the literal level as the sort of homely yarn you spin so well: but clearly, it IS up to us to make something more of it...not that I claim to have any answers that'd put you on the right road!

Author's Reply:


The Road to Manhood (posted on: 22-08-11)
The Alexanders used to leave young Tommy with me without a word of warning

The Road to Manhood by Harry Buschman Tommy became a baritone today. I ask myself how can such things be? It was only yesterday he was an alto, and the day before that Tommy Alexander shat in my lap while his parents did their weekly shopping at Waldbaum's. "It's okay, it's okay, Mrs. Alexander," I said, " ... please don't fuss, it'll wash out. We were watching Hawaii 5-0 and Dan-O's car went into the bay––pretty exciting." The Alexanders used to leave young Tommy with me without a word of warning. Lacking the benefits of a personal live in grandfather, the next best thing was the old widower living next door. We accepted each other, Tommy and me. I wouldn't say we were buddies, we were friends at arms length. There was no blood relationship, and he often eyed me just as warily as my cat Mehitabel eyed him. People of kin can turn their backs on each other in relative security. They can be separated by fifty or sixty years and still know what to expect from each other, but there is always a break-in period for strangers. I know this argument doesn't hold water when you look at Cain and Abel and the English history plays of William Shakespeare, but those cases are rare, so rare that they've found their way into religion and literature. As far as you and I are concerned, if we have a brother, we can pick up the soap in the shower with reasonable safety. So Tommy and I had to go through our break-in period. We had to get used to each other. That took a while. I would read him stories of pirates and Huckleberry Finn rafting down the river––he, in turn, would look at me dubiously and occasionally pull my eyeglasses off my nose. Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain joined me in the humanization of Tommy Alexander, I could not have done it alone. His mother and father would probably have preferred Dr. Seuss or Disney, but if that's what they wanted they should have left him with somebody else. I never condescended to my own children, or kootchie-kooed them either, and I certainly wasn't going to pull any punches with Tommy. Tommy had a real grandfather, but he lived in Midville, Iowa. I had a real grandson, but he lived in Montreal. So on holidays, Tommy and I wouldn't see much of each other. We were more than casual acquaintances however––somewhere between the man who comes to read the water meter and the man who reads you asleep at bedtime. The Alexander's were young. They were in that consumer phase of life and their nest was sparsely feathered. They bought things every week, furniture, lawn mowers, washing machines––you name it, they bought it. Children can be a burden when you're shopping for major household items and they severely limit the cargo capacity of the average American automobile. When you consider the car seat, the stroller, the toys, the food and the changes of clothes, a tot like Tommy can be an albatross around the neck of the dedicated shopper. It was easy in the beginning. Phyllis would appear at my door with Tommy in a basket. He would be sound asleep and looking like something out of Norman Rockwell. "Would you mind keeping your eye on Tommy? We'll only be an hour or so, we need a new mattress." In the basket with Tommy would be two bottles of formula and an assortment of playthings .... enough to keep him busy for four or five days. I would watch them drive off, then turn and look at Tommy. He would grow restive and wake in a foul mood almost immediately. He would begin with a tentative whimper, hardly louder than the squeak of new shoes. Finding himself in unfamiliar surroundings, the whimper would blossom into a whine, then to a sob. Seeing me, he would commence to gather breath in preparation for an all out trumpet blast of protest. This was my moment for the first bottle. As his chest expanded for his first salvo of grievance, I would insert the nipple and put him and the basket on my back porch. Because I am on the La Guardia approach pattern, I have installed triple glazed windows back there and very little noise can get through. I would go about my work inside, glancing at him from time to time. I would see little more than a gaping toothless mouth surrounded by a crimson face of fury. When he exhausted himself and became passive, I would go out and have a chat with him. He quickly learned that in order to get any attention out of me he must be calm and above all, quiet. Then, and only then could we discuss Huckleberry Finn and Long John Silver. He grew to toddling age, and as neighbors will, he would wander in to visit Mehitabel and me. On his own, he learned to steer clear of the rose bushes and Mehitabel's summer outdoor sanitary facilities. I would simply tell him, "Stay out of there, Tommy, Mehitabel shits in there." I am subject to my cat's preferences. People living alone are easy marks for domestic animals. Lacking human companionship, they must obey the whims of animals or suffer even greater loneliness. Tommy would approach Mehitabel's sandbox, turn to me and say "Hnits." Therefore, after Daddy and Mommy, his third word was "shit." I considered that a sign of great promise, he was beginning to put things in their proper perspective. When he toddled off to school with his mother, I was as buoyant as she. She, because he was out from under foot part of the day––me, because I could renew acquaintances with people my own age, and Mehitabel, who could now stalk sparrows and use his sandbox without fear of interruption. Sad to say, from that day forward, a curtain of estrangement descended between Tommy and me. A new and exciting world had opened up to Tommy Alexander. A search for self, for recognition and praise from students and teachers alike. He drifted away. I have always noticed that neighbor's children grow in spurts. My own children, though well past middle age, seem to be mired in infancy. It was only yesterday I held them at the Baptismal Font; it cannot be possible they are now planning for retirement. I would turn my back on Tommy, however, and when I looked again he was on a bicycle or in a baseball uniform. His alto voice could be heard from time to time in anger and ecstasy with friends and family ... and just today he appeared as a baritone at my front door wanting to know if I would consider him as my 'lawn mower'. It will require thorough consideration. I am sure he is a terrible lawn mower, and if such is the case, it could strain our relationship even further. On the other hand, it could rekindle old ties. I wish life would work these things out for itself instead of involving me.
Archived comments for The Road to Manhood
niece on 23-08-2011
The Road to Manhood
Enjoyed reading this...

Regd,
niece

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 26-08-2011
The Road to Manhood
Well, those neighbours certainly had you for a mug, Harry - but, clearly, you got as much out of it as they did, if in a different way. And, yes, doesn't time fly... Some wonderfully funny lines sneaked in here, especially that bit about the third word learned...but that's just my alleged "sense of humour" coming through. A great read - where's the nib?

Author's Reply:
A cheery note from Roy Bateman is all the nib I need!

Ionicus on 26-08-2011
The Road to Manhood
I have to thank Roy for directing my attention to this brilliant piece.
You are a master storyteller, Harry, and I am surprised that no more readers have shown their appreciation.
A thoroughly enjoyable story that deserves the 'great read' accolade.
Thanks for the read.

Author's Reply:
It was a period of my life that I had to endure .. I think they make the best stories. Thank you, Ionicus.

CVaughan on 26-08-2011
The Road to Manhood
The value of life experiences presumably drawn on as this is classified as faction. I haven't read a lot here outside poetry, led by the rating I tipped a toe. Really glad to have read this today.

Author's Reply:
Glad you dropped in, thanks for responding.


Breakfast in Milan (posted on: 01-08-11)
Hadley was looking for a quiet place to sit with his coffee and his brioche.

Breakfast in Milan by Harry Buschman Of all the coffee houses along the Corso Magenta, Gobbo's was the noisiest in the morning, filled with animated men who seemed to know each other. They all smoked and talked as they ate. The air was filled with a babel of French and Italian, punctuated with wild hand gestures. At the same time, tight vested and sober German business types wagged their heads from side to side in disagreement. You could tell no one paid retail. Hadley was looking for a quiet place to sit with his coffee and his brioche. He had a folded Herald under one arm and his brief case under the other. It was his first morning in Milan. He saw a woman sitting alone at a table for two near the glass pastry display window. She was looking out the window at the morning crowd passing in the street outside––not waiting for anyone, just looking. He could sit with her if she didn't mind, it would be quieter there. She was neither young nor old. In that magic age of thirty-five to fifty-five he guessed. Dark, heavy hair hanging loosely. From experience, Hadley knew she must have brushed it at least fifty times this morning. ''You don't roll out of bed with hair like that.'' She was drinking black coffee and holding the cup with two hands like a chalice. It made him think of magic and potions and fantasy stories he read as a child. Was she Italian? If he spoke to her, what language should he use? If she was Italian he knew he would make a fool of himself; instead, he raised his eyebrows and nodded in the direction of the empty seat at her table. In turn, she looked at him and shrugged. ''So far,'' he thought, ''we understand each other perfectly.'' Hadley pushed the chair back with his foot and put his breakfast on the small table. He sat and looked at the woman with an apologetic smile. He dislodged his briefcase and the morning paper from under his arms, but finding no space on the table, put them on his lap. He did all this with the peculiar lack of grace Americans seem to fall back on when they are acutely embarrassed. Now, sitting across from her, he was struck by her elegance and his own lack of it. Hers was a comfortable fitness of herself in a place she knew well, while he felt like a man wearing brown shoes with a tuxedo. Looking past her, with his vision sightly averted, he checked out her earrings––small pearls. Her suit––tailored and flared at the hip. He couldn't see her legs, but he knew she'd be wearing black patent leather shoes. If he didn't have an appointment at the Building Commission at nine ... but he did ... and this would probably be the first and last time he would ever see her. ''Besides,'' he thought. ''I must look like the tourist who missed the bus, sitting in Gobbo's at 8:30 in the morning.'' <><><> The moment he came in, Carlotta knew he was American. She knew he would sit with her. ''Although,'' she reminded herself, ''how can you say someone is an American? There are no Americans in America. There is no such thing as an American. Some even come from here––but they are changed in America. Arrested Development, that's it. It must be their water––or their women. One or the other.'' ''He's bothered by the noise. The smoke––and the languages. He couldn't make up his mind at the pastry counter, and he couldn't understand the chef. I'll bet he wants to know the ingredients in every bun.'' ''Well put together, though,'' she thought. ''Must spend time at the spa.'' Then he straightened and looked around for a place to sit, holding his tray out as if it were an offering to the gods. The arguments at the other tables grew louder––one of the Frenchmen was shouting, his voice rising like a tenor above the chorus, it was something about the price of silk, and wouldn't shantung do just as well. If it hadn't been for that she thought he might still choose to sit anywhere. But the Frenchman sealed the deal. His eyes shifted to her and the empty chair at her quiet table. ''Well,'' she thought. ''I'm almost through––what harm can it do?'' The body language took over and Hadley sat down. She sat there watching the Frenchman's performance. It was only a degree or two to the left of Hadley, so nothing he did escaped her. She noticed his coffee was black and he had chosen a small brioche. He buttered it like a Frenchman does––adding a dab after every bite. <><><> Two degrees to the left of Carlotta's left ear, Hadley could see people walking on the Corso Magenta. His attention, however, was concentrated on Carlotta. He was close enough now to catch her scent; a bouquet––it reminded him of Fichter's Flower Shop back home––or walking through the perfume department of Bloomingdale's. He noticed her lipstick. ''How do they do that?'' It looked as though it had been painted on with a fine brush; it left no mark on the rim of her coffee cup. Her hands were older than her face and the index finger of her left hand tapped out a rhythm that was beating inside her. Her almond colored face turned whiter at the neck-line of her blouse. Her eyes were a work of art, they looked impossibly far apart, impossibly deep and improbably green. She opened her purse, fished out a few lira, then snapped it closed securely. For a split second she looked directly at Hadley and smiled. Then she stood. Hadley, still chewing on his last bite of brioche, stood as well, and his forgotten briefcase and Tribune fell to the floor. They both smiled––she, at him. He, at himself. ''Arrivaderci, madame,'' he said. ''Have a nice day,'' she replied. He watched her as she walked away. Yes, the shoes were black patent leather, and of course he noticed the legs, the legs! Ah, yes, the legs ...
Archived comments for Breakfast in Milan
sirat on 01-08-2011
Breakfast in Milan
I think this is really a little essay on the differences between Americans and Europeans. It's gentle and subtle, and I don't feel that I know enough about either of these groups to comment intelligently.

The main thing that struck me was your use of quotation marks for people's thoughts. This isn't standard layout, quotation marks normally indicate that the words are spoken – if they are merely thought they shouldn't have quotation marks. Of course you may have had some special intent in using them here – if so, I didn't understand what it was.

I hope this is helpful.

Author's Reply:
It really is a clash of cultures, and Milan is certainly the place to do that ... the world's centerpiece for style, the metaphor for the woman, (the real woman was revealed just below the neckline of her blouse). The lack of style was characterized in the man and his awkwardness. The quotation marks? It seemed fun at the time ... as though they really were speaking their thoughts aloud as people do on the stage.

franciman on 01-08-2011
Breakfast in Milan
Hi Harry,

I liked this encounter. I thought the writing was atmospheric, though my only quibble would be that the writing was too fat in places and needed thinned out. At times there were too many qualifiers when describing the scene.
I loved Hadley's affirmation in the last sentence. Well Done.

Cheers,
Jim

Author's Reply:
Thanks Jim. I tend to be thin in place description, atmosphere and such ... but in this piece it is the dominant element, so I guess it seems a little fat.

Bikerman on 01-08-2011
Breakfast in Milan
I really enjoyed this, but I (sort of) agree with sirat about the quotation marks. And I don't think you need 'He did all this with the peculiar lack of grace etc' because it's implicit in the next para. The only problem with the middle section (her point of view),is that she begins using his name, which obviously she wouldn't know. Even so, a very enjoyable read.

Author's Reply:
Glad you enjoyed it ... I must confess, however, that I can't find any instance where Carlotta uses Hadley's name.

Bikerman on 01-08-2011
Breakfast in Milan
No, she doesn't actually 'use' his name, but (unless I'm misreading it) the middle section is seen from her point of view, isn't it? 'The moment he came in, Carlotta knew he was American' etc. But then, later in that section, you write 'and Hadley sat down', which to me sounded wrong, as though she knew his name. But, as I said, I could be misreading it.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 03-08-2011
Breakfast in Milan
Funnily enough, I'm just editing a book about an english divorcee in Milan, with all the fashion, eyeing up and coffee shops, and this rings a bell. We (me and the author) are having great fun with it. 🙂

It's a convention (as David says) that thoughts are not quoted. But here, even if you allow for that, I think some of the 'thoughts' don't actually connect grammatically.

this bit puzzled me: If it hadn’t been for that she thought he might still choose to sit anywhere. But the Frenchman sealed the deal. His eyes shifted to her and the empty chair at her quiet table. “Well,” she thought. “I’m almost through––what harm can it do?” The body language took over and Hadley sat down.

after several readings, i guess maybe it means Hadley mistook her interest in the Frenchman for interest in him - is that so? (But she knew Hadley would sit with her? So?) If so, it really is a bit confused and not clear at all.

Unusually, given the string of highly professional writing you show us, I think this one still needs some attention, or having its throat cut 🙂

best regards, JohnG

Author's Reply:

Harry on 03-08-2011
Breakfast in Milan
It's written in third person and the way the piece developed I found it difficult to get into the heads and speak the thoughts of the two people, while at the same time describing the action and the scene around them. If the reader gets into the spirit of the piece, some of the difficulties iron themselves out.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 03-08-2011
Breakfast in Milan
sorry mate, I don't think the onus is on readers to 'get in the spirit' ... it's for the author to capture their attention and be clear.

I say this because in the majority of your stories, you do just that very well. JohnG

Author's Reply:
I knew you'd say that, but a part of me believes there is a creative part for the reader to play if the writer will let him.

Bridgid Brophy

The difficulty of reading Joyce is a difficulty in our notion of reading. Reading for us is passive consumption; with Joyce it becomes an active metamorphosis.

RoyBateman on 04-08-2011
Breakfast in Milan
Well, this flowed perfectly for me, but then your pieces always do: a wry, well-observed culture clash that's fair - unlike many - to both sides. I don't mind letting my imagination get to work, Harry, it's always worth it. I thought the little exchange of goodbyes at the end, both in the other's language, summed it all up perfectly.

Author's Reply:
We are kindred spirits, Roy.


Perillo Tours (posted on: 25-07-11)
Mr. Lombardo will be a better man for it.

Perillo Tours Harry Buschman Mr. Lombardo took a Perillo tour to Italy this spring. He's not going again for a while––not with gas prices as high they are in Italy. Most tour companies have put their plush air-conditioned buses in moth balls and are issuing bicycles to their customers at the airport. Mr. Lombardo hadn't been on a bicycle in forty years, yet by the time the tour was over and he left his bicycle at customs in Rome, he had pedaled more than 350 miles through Rome's historic countryside. Mrs. Lombardo chose not to accompany him, but instead stayed at the airport and shopped in the duty free store for the entire two weeks of the tour. As everyone knows Rome is built on seven hills ... some of them quite steep. The tops of each of them are prime tourist attractions and climbing them on a three speed Schwinn can be an invitation to a coronary either going up or coming down. Even if the climb is successful, the descent can be suicide. Fortunately, Mr. Lombardo accomplished all seven of the hills, spurred on by frequent shouts of encouragement from the tour guide leading the way on his motor bike. One of the tourists, Mrs. Meltzinger by name, won the Perillo prize for quickest trip down each of the seven hills––she will be released from Ospitale Romano as soon as the bill for her hip replacement surgery is approved by Health Care Italiano. We asked Mr. Lombardo if he enjoyed his seven hills tour of Rome. "I really didn't see much," he said. "A person must keep his wits about him while pedaling a bicycle in Rome," he observed, "I used to think Italians were the craziest drivers in the world when they got behind the wheel of a Fiat or a Lamborghini, but put them on a Schwinn with a load of wet wash on the handle bars and you'd best give them the right-of-way." Mr. Lombardo has lost thirty pounds in the last two weeks, while Mrs. Lombardo has gained twenty. He stays he is "rump sprung," (a common ailment of bicyclists) and plans to stand in the aisle rather than sit in his tourist class seat on the 8 hour flight back to New York.
Archived comments for Perillo Tours
RoyBateman on 25-07-2011
Perillo Tours
I'm not surprised he's standing - his chalfonts must be giving him jip. Mind you, I wouldn't like to do a cycling tour in that heat, never mind up and down those hills: the man's a hero. Or a masochist. Maybe his missus actually had more sense, eh?

Author's Reply:

Romany on 03-08-2011
Perillo Tours
Made me laugh out loud! Very proficiently written too. I thought it was tough enough walking those old hills - cycling seems like an act of utter madness, never mind dealing with crazy Italian driving into the bargain. Thoroughly enjoyed this.

Romany.

Author's Reply:


Friday Night (posted on: 24-06-11)
A peek through the Dennehy's open window.

Friday Night Harry Buschman Every Friday night Patrick Dennehy comes home from work in a foul mood. It's pay day of course and he's had one too many at the corner bar. He is not unsteady mind you, but in a testy Irish mood – anxious to impose his point of view on friend or foe – and his wife Faye in particular. He will stand in the hallway outside the kitchen door of the three story tenement in South Boston fumbling for his key and not finding it in the side pocket of his heavy woolen coat. He will hammer loudly on the kitchen door. His dear wife, Faye, will sigh resignedly and turn up the gas under the supper pot. She will open the door and stand aside, giving Patrick a wide berth as he stumbles in. ''Nobody can say I married you for your looks, me dear,'' he remarks. Then he casts an eye at the pot on the kitchen stove. ''No and not for your talents as a cook neither, me love.'' Then Patrick Dennehy will reach into the hind pocket of his overalls and draw forth his well worn wallet. He will withdraw a ten dollar note and hand it to Faye. She will remark in a plaintive voice that ten dollars will hardly carry them through the weekend let alone 'til next Friday. ''But woman, ye have all day to shop ... to look for the bargains, don'tcha know. To play one shopkeeper against the other. These are hard times m'dear, we must learn to make do with what we are given.'' Faye is quick to remind him of his backgammon games at the corner bar, his insatiable thirst and his Saturdays at the $2 ticket window at Epsom Downs. Patrick counters with the gruff reminder that a man must exhibit his confidence and his status in the world of affairs, and in turn Faye asks him how can that be possible when that same man is dressed in oil stained overalls and workman's boots? So it goes on Friday nights at the Dennehy's humble household. At about this time the pot on the stove is removed from the flame and Faye serves their humble fare. ... and Patrick is moved again to say ... ''As I said before, my love. No one will ever say Patrick Dennehy married Faye O'Reilly for her culinary talent.''
Archived comments for Friday Night
sunken on 26-06-2011
Friday Night
I like this, Harry. Knowing me though, I have it all wrong. I'm assuming he married her for one simple reason - He loves her. I've a habit of getting things wrong so apologies if I have. I still enjoyed it. Deserves more comment.

s
u
n
k
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n

riddle me kiss

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 26-06-2011
Friday Night
My word, poor faye DID get a bargain in the marriage lottery, didn't she? I suppose Patrick must have some good point, but it'd take more than 400 words to discover it! As always, this sounds truly authentic - but what a sad existence.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 26-06-2011
Friday Night
Damned if I know what makes a happy marriage. There's often a lot going on below the visible surface -- like an iceberg, so to speak -- maybe they're both good dancers.

Author's Reply:

admin on 26-06-2011
Friday Night
If that'd been me, he'd have been wearing that pot.

Author's Reply:
Pat and Faye ... or Faye and Pat, if you prefer, have reached that stage of their wedded bliss where nothing they can say to each other is taken with umbrage. They are bullet proof.


Diary of a Soldier (posted on: 03-06-11)
Before and after his operation.

Diary of a Soldier Harry Buschman "Who knows what was on his mind. It said etude, that's all I know. That's a study, right. Well, what's that got to do with anything? I mean, you play it. You try to get the notes right ... you're not studying anything, you're just trying to get the notes right. Then there's Papa Hemingway and his 85% crap below the surface ... I mean, it's all bull shit when you get right down to it. You do the best you can." "Did I tell you about the time we got quartered up in Portland, Maine. There's nothing up there, man, nothing. You know what kind of USO shows get sent to Portland? You might as well stay in your quarters and play cards or maybe knock off a fifth or two in the day room. I got started reading that year in Portland when Anita O'Day came to sing at the USO. I read guys like Joyce and Conrad and whatever and I kept the corners of my bunk sharp and square." "Tell me how much it's going to hurt before you do it, would you please, I want to be ready for the pain. I can stand a lot of pain when I'm ready for it, but when you get hit you before you hear the shot it hurts like hell. The hand will be all right won't it doc. I play piano y'know." "There was this American Lieutenant named Pinkerton, he was stationed on a cruiser in Nagasaki harbor. He doesn't know a word of Japanese, you dig, and he falls for a geisha girl who doesn't know a word of English, but they get along fine in Italian. Will you tell me how people can sit still for that? Two fingers you say? I'll have to get along with two fingers on the right hand?" "What kind of glove? Soft kid with three artificial fingers. I'll have to get used to the idea of it y'know, Y'can't just walk up to a man and tell him he's going to live the rest of his life with two fingers on his right hand. Did you know Maurice Ravel wrote a piano concerto for a man with no right arm? Had it shot off during WW1. Pretty nice gesture I thought ... I'm rambling I guess ... How long does it take for the gas to take hold? I've been talking here y'know. Rambling like. You haven't given it yet? ... Oh they're not ready inside ... how long does it take? The operation I mean ... after that I'll be layin' out in recovery, right." Warren was quiet after that. He might have run out of things to say, or maybe he was so full of personal thoughts he was unaware of the anesthesiologist standing at his side. Whatever the reason, nothing was heard from him until he awoke in his bed with his hand in a cast. He felt no pain, there was a throbbing in the hand but no pain. It would have been nice, he thought, if somebody were there with him ... somebody who could have told him how the operation went. What came next? He had no idea, but he felt entirely unprepared for it – as unprepared as the day it happened. When it happened there was a commotion at the corner. They pulled over and stopped diagonally at the curb so they could turn around fast if they had to. They stormed out of the hum-vee and stood on the lee side of it during the firing. Somebody said he saw a rocket grenade being fired – somebody down on one knee. That was about the time he was hit. He tfelt as though someone had brushed his hand aside – nothing more. Then he saw the bloody stump of his right hand and he got all loose in his bowels. They helped him back in the vehicle and the driver got them out of there. He had his eyes shut tight all the way back – didn't even know somebody had tied his bloody arm up to stop the bleeding – his eyes were shut all the way. From that afternoon to this he lost all track of time. It seemed like everything happened in one continuous day. The medics were stringing him along, he was sure they were holding the bad news back ... "What did you do before the war?" they all asked him that to start off with. When he said he played piano they reassured him that he'd play it better once he got out of hospital. "They do re-construction miracles," they said – "you'll play better than ever," they said. He didn't believe it for a minute. It didn't matter to him anymore. He was finished with the piano anyway. That was why he signed up with the Guard in the first place. His trio was dead in the water. Never made it out of the East Side – not with that dumb blonde soloist – took them on one at a time. Changed her tune every time. Blues with him. R & B with Ernie on the alto and finally took off with a guitar player she met in the Village. He was never happier than he was with the Guard, until he got to Iraq ... then it got dirty. He found himself firing blind sometimes, not giving a damn what he hit or if he hit anything at all. The people wore rags, head to foot, shifty eyed, mumbling together ... you couldn't turn your back, and in spite of the organization and the superior equipment during his tour in Iraq he always felt vulnerable.
Archived comments for Diary of a Soldier
ruadh on 03-06-2011
Diary of a Soldier
I don't know if this was based on fact but I found it to be a believable insight into what goes on during war. Good read Harry.

ailsa

Author's Reply:
It's based somewhat on experiences in WWII ... the stream of consciousness and the racing mind of a man who realizes that from that moment on his life will never be the same. Thank you, ailsa

RoyBateman on 05-06-2011
Diary of a Soldier
I'm sure it's based on WW2, but it's every bit as relevant to today, to any conflict. Universal. Some things, like terror and disfigurement, never change - maybe the treatment does, and more survive these days, but to some survival is never going to be the same again. A gripping, all too true piece, Harry, written by someone who clearly knows what he's talking about.

Author's Reply:

Harry on 05-06-2011
Diary of a Soldier
Soldiers are not supermen and they're never as frightened as they are when they look at their own mortality. Scared shitless in fact.

Author's Reply:


Rocket to the Moon (posted on: 20-05-11)
I bought her an orchid the morning;

Rocket to the Moon Harry Buschman On nights like this I think back to the night Molly kissed me. It was a lifetime ago at the senior prom, and it was like a rocket to the moon ... for me anyway. Molly was seventeen with hair black as night and feet as light as a feather on the dance floor. There was nobody's name on the dance card but mine––Bossert Hotel––Larry Clinton's orchestra and my father's Dodge "Charger' in the Hotel's parking garage to drive her home in style. I never thought she'd go with me. She was the smartest girl in the senior class––and the youngest––and the most beautiful. I was a utility defense-man on a team with a two and twelve record ... "Do y'think Pop will let me have the car, Mom?" "Well I don't know, son ... you know how he feels about the car." Then she turned around to look at me, "Molly Gilbert you say ... huh, what does she see in you?" I wondered about that myself, an academic misfit and a social flop facing three years in Community College. Molly was headed for Harcum College in Bryn Mawr. Just to think of walking into the Grand Ballroom of the Bossert Hotel with Molly Gilbert on my arm was definitely a rocket to the moon. I bought her an orchid the morning of the prom and kept it in the bottom of the refrigerator all day. I rented a white tuxedo and Mom said I looked something like a chorus boy in the Ziegfield Follies. And when it was over I drove Molly through the park on the way home. We stopped at the duck pond and sat there awhile ... and that's where she kissed me. We never saw each other after that––she went to Harcum and I went to Community. She got to be a writer for a women's magazine in Seattle and I'm still a dispatcher for a truck company right here in Bayonne, New Jersey––with a wife and three kids. But every so often, on nights like these, it comes back to me. Everybody's got something they carry with them a lifetime. For me it's the senior prom and Molly and the rocket to the moon.
Archived comments for Rocket to the Moon
sirat on 20-05-2011
Rocket to the Moon
I can identify with a great deal of what the narrator says. I'm sure everyone has some little golden incident like that in their past that never leaves them. In fact it can probably be a much smaller event. There's a line in Citizen Kane that I love, where Bernstein, the old millionaire who is being interviewed, says: "A fellow will remember things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on a ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in – and on it, there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on - and she was carrying a white pastrol - and I only saw her for one second and she didn't see me at all - but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl". I think that speech is the key to "Rosebud" and the whole film.

Nice piece, Harry. Well written.

Author's Reply:
It probably could have been longer, but a memory is just a memory and sometimes that's all that's necessary to start someone else's memory going ... and before you know it, well ... they write their own story. I remember that scene in Kane ... Joseph Cotten.


Gettysburg (posted on: 16-05-11)
Thoughts on standing before a national monument.

Gettysburg Harry Buschman Late in the afternoon he walked out to the site of Little Round Top. He went alone. It is a bleak Sunday afternoon in late November and Dave Scanlon has to go back to Allentown for his final training in survival fighting tomorrow morning. He's standing there now, at the edge of a bleak brown field in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The grass is brown now, but in summertime it's a lush green––blue grass they call it. The sheep and the dairy cows keep it trimmed close and neat. One would think they worked for the National Park Service. He's thinking of three days ... 145 years ago in late June when nearly fifty thousand Americans were killed and wounded here. Dave's great grandfather was one of the wounded. He was a Union soldier with a mustache and an ill-fitting uniform. He carried a rifle nearly as tall as he was––taller even, when the bayonet was fitted. Every time Dave comes home for a weekend he finds the time to come out here to this field. Little Round Top Is an inconspicuous mound of earth, it probably didn't have a name then, but it has always been customary for men in battle to put a name and a date to places where their people were killed. When Dave was little, his grandfather told him all about the Civil War and how strange it was that men who looked alike, spoke the same language and prayed in the same churches killed each other––cursing each other as they fell. War is like that, he said. ''It turns men into animals. It's much easier to do that than turn animals into men.'' Dave is older now, he's a civil engineering junior at Lehigh University. He'll finish his final year when he comes home from his tour in Afghanistan with the Pennsylvania National Guard. He's wondering about war and why it comes again and again to visit each generation; each time more deadly ... as if it must practice to be perfect.
Archived comments for Gettysburg
RoyBateman on 18-05-2011
Gettysburg
That's one of the many unanswerable questions, Harry... And why there are places such as this worldwide, though admittedly Gettysburg has particular resonance for its casualty list, for its hopeless courage - particularly in Pickett's case - and the ensuing declaration. But, that never seems to deter the following generation: as long as men disagree about anything, and they always will, conflict will continue. It's built into us - folks don't even have to follow different religions to be at each other's throats, just variants of the same one: viz Ireland. And geneticists inform us that arabs and jews are virtually identical in their genes, but that's not in their heads... Well worth the nib, Harry - it was good to see it.

Author's Reply:
As deadly as it must have been then, it is as quiet and peaceful a place as you'll find on the east coast today. Military graveyards are like that world-wide ... hasn't seemed to make any difference though.

ruadh on 18-05-2011
Gettysburg
I enjoyed this piece as a whole Harry, but I have to say the last line made it for me.

ailsa

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading it, ailsa. I have to admit I had that line in my head from the start.

Romany on 22-05-2011
Gettysburg
I agree with Ailsa. I enjoyed this too and the last line is very thought provoking. I was going to answer by saying that that is the really important part of history - to record the wars and where and how they started, in order for future generations to avoid making the same mistake again - but we don't do we? We just continue to find ways to kill each other on a mass scale. Who knows, maybe one day we'll learn...

Romany.

Author's Reply:
On the "down" side there is the possibility that war is inevitable. Maybe it is in our genes and we can't help ourselves. Blessed are the peacemakers––there are so few of them ...


Treasure Island (posted on: 06-05-11)
... you will look back to the west and see the entire island of Jamaica change from green to gray, to blue and then disappear into nothing at all.

Treasure Island by Harry Buschman The Blue Mountain range runs like the vertebrae of a starving animal down the center of the island of Jamaica. As it runs eastward its peaks grow higher until they reach Kingston and then drop off abruptly to the sea. The mountains appear blue from the sea, but from the island itself they are a dusty green thinning on top to a sterile gray. The eastern peaks of the mountains are shrouded in mist and fog while the rest of the island bakes in tropical heat. The summit of the Blue Mountain range is as cold and damp as the Scottish hills of Cromarty. A rutted dirt road winds its tortuous way to the summit, and though the summit can be seen from Kingston you will spend a good two hours getting up there. From there you will look back to the west and see the entire island of Jamaica change from green to gray, to blue and then disappear into nothing at all. To the north, only 90 miles aw