Copyright © Nyle Frank

CHOOSING A CAREER

This story, told by a talented local songwriter, deals with how he decided to dedicate his life to music.

 

After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1976, I worked a year for the town newspaper. I was at a dead end with my music, wondering if pursuing it was worthwhile. One of the songwriters I most admired was John Lennon. I told myself I’d head north, and if I met Lennon face to face, I’d take it for a sign that I should stick with music.

With fifty cents, I hitch-hiked to Boston. I stayed there a couple of weeks, looking for Lennon on streets and in cafes. Having no success, I despondently began thumbing my way home. The couple that picked me up had their radio tuned to a station playing Beatle songs. We were already into New Jersey, having a good time singing, when I knew I HAD to go into New York City. I told the couple of the deal concerning myself and Lennon, and about an excellent Japanese restaurant called the Su-En on 90th Street. They were perplexed, but I talked them into turning around.

As soon as we were seated at the Su-En, the couple left for the restroom. While they were away, an Oriental woman walked in, sitting next to me. Yoko Ono! Seconds later, in came John Lennon! He looked terrible — big circles under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept or exercised in years. I talked to Yoko for awhile, mostly of how glad I was they had been allowed to stay in the U.S. Lennon just looked up and grunted. When my couple finally returned, they were in shock!

After dinner, I went outside for air. I stood against the front of the restaurant, facing the street. Soon Lennon came up and stood there also, taking my exact stance — as if mimicking me. He put on his glasses and, at once, everyone knew who he was. A group of Puerto Ricans passed by — slapping his hand, yelling, “Far out, John Lennon!” This was a bit much, so I headed inside.

Back in the car, the wife said she had Hodgkin’s disease, and asked if I could cure her.

ATTACHMENT

This past summer, sitting in a cafe in Winston-Salem eating pastries, I was chatting with the owner (a kindly man, near sixty, named Pete), when in walked an elderly man wearing a white and blue striped blazer.

“Enjoyed those Esquires you gave me the other day,” he said. “They got some pretty good stories in ’em. Don’t go in for the cheesecake stuff as much as they used to.”

“Don’t talk to me of cheesecake,” Pete replied.“I’ve just been slicing some myself.”

The man picked up a few items to-go and left.

“Now there’s a man who fell in love with his mother,” said Pete. “He never married and has lived in the same house all his life. She died twenty-five years ago but, when he speaks of her, it’s as if it was last year. He and his father both worked for the railroad. His father died about forty years ago, and he became a surrogate husband. One day the girls who work here went to clean his house. They said it seemed as if some of the rooms hadn’t been entered in twenty years.”

“We once took him to the University in Chapel Hill. He wouldn’t get out of the car. It wasn’t the Chapel Hill he knew in the Thirties, and the roads had four lanes. He hasn’t left town since. I really feel sorry for that man.”

THE MAN FROM THE ACLU

Waiting for a westbound bus last winter, I found myself with a layover in Jackson, Tennessee. I stopped an older man and asked directions to the public library. He was unshaven, with long scraggly hair. He wore a dirty “Memphis State U” sweatshirt, to which was fastened a “Gray Panthers: Youth and Age in Action” button. His faded blue pants were baggy, with crumpled handkerchiefs and newspaper stuffed into the pockets. His white, slip-on shoes had the letters “ACLU” painted on the toes in red and blue.

He said he was head of the Western Tennessee Patients Rights Organization and a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He talked at length of how important the ACLU was in curbing the powers of the police — reading extensively from a paperback he pulled from his back pocket. As he was with an attractive young woman at the time, I asked her if our conversation was delaying them. “Oh no,” she said. “He’s my boyfriend, and you better listen to him because he is W-I-S-E!”

Upon leaving, I wished him a nice day. “A nice day, my friend, is not being harassed by the police,” he grumbled.

Approaching the library, I noticed all the telephone poles in the area had “ACLU” painted on them in white.

TWO WOMEN IN FLORIDA

Finding myself with a few hours to spare in Florida this past spring, I sat on a downtown park bench to pass the afternoon. Nearby, two women were conversing. One was about fifty — rather overweight, with vividly-dyed red hair. Her left foot, in a cast, rested on a crutch. The other, perhaps seventy, had curly dark hair and a thick Yiddish accent. Her right arm lay over her cane.

“I’m waiting for my boyfriend,” said the woman with the red hair.” He’s young, but he says I’m his as long as he’s in town. Of course, I don’t know how long that will be. I just met him two weeks ago, but I’m gonna get him. Hook, line, and sinker; one way or the other. If I can’t win him, maybe I’ll buy him. He thinks I’m pretty.”

“Oh, you ARE pretty,” said the Jewish lady.

“Do you really think I’m pretty?” she responded. “Do you really think I’ll get him?”

“How do I know?” she replied. “I don’t know YOU, I don’t know HIM! But you’re a pretty woman. I’m just an old woman.”

They chatted amiably until the Jewish lady picked up her afternoon paper and slowly made her way out the park and down the street.

STAR TREK SAINT VICKI

On a recent visit to Los Angeles, I was walking back from the beach one evening when I sat down on the steps of an office building to have a bite to eat. A tall, thin blond girl of about twenty came skating down the sidewalk and sat beside me. She was accompanied by a large, brown dog.

I offered her some beans and franks. “I’ll take the beans for Sweet Pea (her dog) — he’s a vegetarian,” she said. She told me she was from a California desert town and had formerly worked as a bank teller. “I always had the longest lines.”

She had two children — one out of wedlock. Two years ago they were taken by the courts and given to the father. “He’s no good,” she said. “He smashes all their toys, and believes in sex before marraige.” She asked me to her hearing to regain them, but I told her I would be back East. She handed me three one-page newsletters:

I am the author of all the types of Star Trek Saints Letters. I typed them and passed thousands to the world for free. For four years I Holy Bibled everyone verbally, and they called me crazy so I passed them out without putting my name on it. If you like this letter, print it and pass it on to the world, to make it a beautiful planet, and maybe we will all win our eternal life that our almighty god took from us, when adam and eve were naughty in the garden. Shewing mercy means like, shew fly shew on the day we win alien beings from outer space. Maybe you will get shewed underneath the refrigerator instead of getting squished like a bug, when we leave this planet in a huge lord’s ark space ship. It will be big enough to last a crew of people three lifetimes, three hundred and sixty years. My space ship is for singles with children: wheel chair and invalids. Can you think of exciting pictures to put on our world’s space ship to attract alien beings, to win their thinking in case we pass the open firmament, where Annie Oakley, George Washington Carver, Jesus, and all the angels are? We are going to bring them washing machines and electric, battery, or solar-powered cars.

It is a different firmament than ours, where the animals and people are physical and ride on cattle that are warm and furry and have flapping, feathery angel wings . . . with different wooden badges having names telling what occupation you do, also with guns that shoot rubber ducks that put you to sleep for awhile if you be wicked. Man will till the ground and we will have delicious pear trees and all kinds of good fruits growing on street corners and near the places where we drive in to recharge our cars. We will teach our animals to be vegetarians. Bible says, “Every green herb for meat.” We will get to raise wild animals. Baby bear cubs, bare back riding: no saddle; on grizzly bears and no bit on bridle, no bite. But first we must leave our world pure and pious. Then we can leave.

I would like my daughter who is 6 yrs. now and my son who is 3 returned to me. The court date for my hearing is August 8 at 2:00. Say yes, return children to Saint Vicki.

 

As we were both headed the same direction, I accompanied her for a few blocks. “This is where I turn,” she said. She flipped on her transistor radio and skated away.

BETRAYAL AND ANGER

This past June, I boarded the bus from Raleigh to Chapel Hill. A man of about fifty-five sat next to me. He was of small stature, with slicked-back hair. He smoked incessantly; his breath exuded alcohol. Immersed in the afternoon paper, I was annoyed when he spoke.

He said he had just been released from Dorothea Dix mental hospital with only four dollars. He had twice attempted suicide, and was contemplating it again. “I’ve been through every drug and alcoholic rehabilation program, and I’m worse off than ever,” he said.

“It all began eleven years ago. I’d been happily married for nineteen years. Even though I drank and did some drugs, I could handle it. One day, picking my wife up from work, she said, ‘I’ve just been fired for screwing my foreman in the boss’s office.’ I went into shock, and told her to pack her bags.”

“Several days later she apologized, begging to return — it was only a passing thing. But one of my kids said it had been going on for years — at home, after I left for work. When I questioned my neighbors, they said she’d tried to seduce them as well! They’d wanted to tell me, but didn’t want to break up our family. I lived in a small town, and it seemed as if everyone knew except me.”

“All I’ve felt since is anger. Unless relieved by alcohol or drugs, the knot in my stomach is unbearable. Even though my kids hate their mother for what she did, they don’t want me around either. I’m just an incredible mess.”

Upon leaving, he asked me to spare him change for food. I only had twenty cents, but he grinned, shook my hand, and thanked me profusely.

COMMENTARY

From an Old and Crippled Lady
On a Bus Up From Florida

Did you know that first there was dogs
             And they created man?
If you go to Boston Court House
You can see buildings with murals
Of how the State of Massachusetts
Was once ruled by dogs

From a Man in the Back of the Bus
From New Jersey

You can’t believe the movies they put out nowadays
Last night I went to a movie where a girl goes to the beach,
             Takes off her clothes, jumps in the ocean,
             And sharks eat her up.
Now what-the-hell kind of story is that?

From a Lady in a Greek Restaurant
In Greensboro

He’s a great guy, but you should see who he goes out with
But that’s the way it is
             When the man is good, the woman is crazy
             When the woman is good, the man is crazy