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Thursday, August 15, 2013

(“hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…”)...Simon & Garfunkel

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Nine

Boston, Mass. May, 1968…Holy Cross University

Thud, thud, thud, the sound of a baseball bouncing off of a wall could be heard resonating down the hall of the dorm. A half naked student leaning against the wall, a bath towel wrapped around his waist maintaining his modesty was sweet-talking someone over the community telephone.

“Hey man, knock off the noise will ya!” he hollered at the unknown antagonist.

Thud, thud, thud, THUD, “UP YOURS!” Thud, thud, thud, thud, came the reply.
I recognized the mystery voice as my roommate Sean, and I knew the hallway ‘Romeo’ as well, one Wilson Walter Woodbury. A real piece of work, chock full of money, opportunities he didn’t have to earn, and himself! I smiled to myself, watching this familiar scene unfold, as I made my way toward our room.

“HEY ANDREWS, I said knock it OFF!”

Thud, thud, thud, CRASH, the sound of shattering glass startled both Wilson and myself. That wasn’t a good sign, because I knew it meant that my short fused friend would be coming after young Wilson like a screaming banshee. Deducing that there would be only a small window of opportunity to defuse this situation, I formulated a plan of action quickly. Taking off on a dead run I flew passed Wilson, grabbing his towel in the process.

“KELLY, you asshole!” screeched Mr. Woodbury, frantically trying to cover himself with the telephone handset.

I made a mental note to only use the phone in the Library from now on! Reaching the door to my room a millisecond later, I was just in time to intercept Sean exiting in the opposite direction. He had the great equalizer in hand, a Louisville Slugger, the one with Pete Rose’s autograph burned into the wood, his favorite piece of ash as he referred to it.

“Outta my way roomie, it’s a rude bashing that wanker's asking for,” Sean said through clenched teeth, trying to get passed me dressed in only his BVD’s and a ginney tee. I stood my ground and used my height and weight advantage to block my friend’s way.

“Move it Ethan, or you’ll be getting a wood shampoo as well!”

“Take it easy ya eejit, calm down, I handled it for ya already,” I said showing him the wet towel.

Sean settled down a second and peeked around me, just in time to catch a glimpse of Wilson’s skinny backside disappearing into his dorm room three doors down. Sean howled with laughter, doubling over, resting the bat across his knees then straightened up and put his arm around my shoulder leading the way back into our room. I looked back down the hall as I closed the door, checking for any sign of a counter attack. Sean and Wilson had been feuding since day one, so you could never be too careful. I turned in time to see Sean walk over to the busted out window and stick his fool head through empty space he created. That baseball must have been tied to a brick given the severity of the damage. Of course he paid no attention to the jagged pieces of glass hanging all around his noggin, typical!

“YO, Weezer, toss up me ball over dere,” he said in his mild Irish brogue, pointing toward the commons. A big, bushy haired freshman, who we all called Weezer (he suffered from asthma), waived up to him and trotted off to fetch the baseball from the bright green lawn.

“That’s a good lad Weez, chuck it on up here!” The big freshman picked up the ball, and did his best to imitate Koufax’s wind up, then threw the ball to Sean with surprising accuracy and velocity.

“How was that Sean,” he said, huffing and puffing after his ten-yard jog from the commons back to the stoop?

Chester Oliver Williams, Weezer’s given name, was sort of a local celebrity around here. To say that there was a LOT of him to love would be an understatement of colossal proportions. But where the Lord gives us certain challenges in life, he also gives us certain gifts to balance things out. All you just had to do was figure out what they were, sort of like a twisted egg hunt. Our buddy Weezer must have been peeking while the bunny was hiding the eggs, because he was blessed with many more gifts than challenges. First of all he had a heart and a spirit that matched his amazing girth, and if there were a picture here you’d be saying WOW right about now! And, he was an uncommon genius with regard to anything mathematical, which made him a popular addition to most of the campus cliques, especially around mid terms and finals.

Let’s face it, EVERYONE struggles with math. Only those gifted enough to speak it like a foreign language faired well, at least from my limited experience. It’s funny how petty idiosyncrasies can be happily overlooked in exchange for free tutoring, if not for outright ghost written homework, at a modest price of course. If those weren’t blessings enough, he also had the voice of an angel, one that rivaled any Irish tenor my parents ever dragged me to hear. Have you ever listened to a sound so incredibly sweet that it actually brought tears to your eyes?

“Nice throw Weezer, you holding out on the team big man?” Sean said laughing. Chet laughed as well and waived him off, settling back onto the stoop and his pile of books and papers. Sean stepped over me as he moved from the window, I was busy picking up the larger pieces of glass from the floor. He walked over to his un-made bed and flopped down into the molded center, tossing the baseball up in the air and catching it as he landed onto the old mattress with a squeaky thud.

“Just leave it Ethan, what it’s to you anyway, you’re otta here today aren’t ya,” Sean said nastily. I sighed, so, the crummy mood continued. He'd been pouting ever since he found out about the draft notice, and he grew more sullen with each passing day.

“Gimme a break Sean, its not like I enlisted ya know!”

“Yeah, well maybe if you had swallowed your pigheaded Kelly pride and let Weezer take your trig and physics mid-terms you wouldn’t have lost your deferment now would ya knucklehead!”

He got me with that one, it was true, I could have skated on Weezer’s good nature and kept my grade point average out of the red zone, but it just didn’t seem right. Who knew that the Feds were watching so closely anyway? Mother and Uncle Liam had argued and pleaded my case with some world class whining all the way to our State Senator, striking out on three pitches. At least they swung for the fence each time, I was so proud of them.

Worse still, it turned out that tapping Paulie’s ‘Navy connections’ was a real bad idea, earning me a fast track to the Marine Corps instead of a chance at stateside duty with the National Guard. At least my family was able to arrange through the same State Senator for me to enter the service as a conscientious objector, where I would be trained as a medical corpsman with the Navy. I had hoped that I might serve as a chaplain, but not being ordained seemed to be a deal killer. So, here I was, two days away from reporting to Buffalo for induction and then taking a bus ride to North Carolina and Camp Lejeune.

“Let’s call a truce OK Sean, I don’t want to leave on a sour note buddy,” I pleaded with my friend.

“I’ll be back to school before you know it, a year or so tops,” I said, failing to convince even myself.

“Yeah, whatever Ethan, you know how that goes, once things change they’re rarely the same!”

“Not fair Sean, you know me better than that,” I replied with a little attitude of my own.

“Ahhhhhh!” was all the response he could manage, resuming his solo game of catch.

I had a notion that he actually felt left out somehow, that he maybe even toyed with the idea of following along, maybe even enlisting. Sean Andrews was a scrapper that was for true, but to his credit, he was more of a realist and playground philosopher of sorts. While he didn’t run with the radical crowd, he did pay attention to their words and attended some of their protest rallies. And although he was raised as I was, in a strict Irish Catholic environment, taught from birth to respect honor, duty, family, God and Country. He was at just the right age to be led in whatever direction that caught the beat of his heart. Like most of us, he was just one inspiration or kiss away from jumping into a cause with both feet. I walked over and sat at the foot of his bed, catching the ball on its way down with my right hand. Sean folded his arms and just stared at the ceiling defiantly.

“I thought we talked this all out at the boozer last night?”

“We did, but yesterday it was only talk, and today is today. You know, for real,” he replied pouting. I couldn't think of anything comforting to say and just tossed the ball back up in the air for him to catch.

“I need to get my stuff together. My Uncle will be here any time to drive me to Albany.”

“Why don’t you come and spend a couple of days with us Sean, I’ll show you around, maybe run over to the Hall, you’ve never been right?”

“Nah Ethan, that’s time for your family and friends, they don’t need a stranger in the house.”

“Don’t be such a knob Sean, your one in the same and you know it!”

“You’ve talked to my Mom and sister on the phone more than I have, so it’s time they have a face to put with the voice.”

“Yeah, ya think so?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I said throwing some balled up socks at him, disrupting his concentration, causing the ball to hit him right between the eyes.

“Ahhh, DAMN IT, Ethan ya eejit!” he said jumping up from his bed, starting to take a run at me.

“THE GLASS, watch out for the broken glass!” I shouted warning him about the hazard before he ran through it in his stocking feet.

“You’re a lucky man Ethan Kelly, I was gonna brain ya!”

Weezer knocked loudly and stuck his head in the door at just the right moment. “Hey Kelly, your Dad’s outside, said to tell you to shake a leg.”

“That’s my uncle, Weez, tell him I’ll be right down.”

“OK, hey Andrews, better watch your step, Wilson’s in the hall with a couple of balloons that I’m pretty sure aren't filled with water,” Weezer added, giggling as he exited.

“Oh man, I’ll run interference and stall Uncle Liam while you get dressed and pack a bag, and be quick about it or we’ll hear all about it all the way to Albany,” I said to Sean, tossing his empty duffel bag to him and throwing my own over my shoulder. He shot me a quick okey-doke sign and rolled back onto his bed, feet in the air, pulling on his trousers with both legs at once. I slammed the door behind me hoping to startle Wilson into dropping at least one of his tainted missiles. I spotted him just outside of the lavatory, one balloon visible, and the other one presumably behind his back.

“Where’s that weasel roommate of yours Kelly?” he asked sneering. I walked slowly toward Wilson to give Sean time to get ready and figure out his escape route. I nodded at Wilson. “He’ll be along any minute.”

“Well, he’ll be spending the rest of the day bathing in tomato juice when I finish with him,” Wilson said, gently massaging the visible green balloon in his throwing hand.

“Don’t bet your life on it Willie boy, don’t bet your life,” I teased. He hated when we called him that. Wilson sneered at me when all of the sudden there was a loud crash, more breaking glass! Weezer shouted from down the hall, “There he goes, that crazy son of a bitch jumped out the window!”

“Oh SHIT!” yelled Wilson as he took off on a dash down the hall heading for the front door dropping the balloon he was holding behind him. WHEW, that was rank, he must have drank a whole six pack to come up with that much piss, yuck!

“Which way did he go Weez?” Wilson screamed at Chester.

“Around the corner and over toward the Library I think,” Chet replied, trying to keep a straight face. Wilson lit out like his pants were on fire and disappeared around the corner. About that time the door to our dorm room opened and out strolled young Master Sean Andrews, his duffel over his shoulder and a warm bottle of Dr. Pepper in his hand.

“Shall we go Mr. Kelly?” he asked nonchalantly.

“Indeed,” I said coolly. And we walked over to meet Uncle Liam by his big Cadillac. Sean stopped over to high-five Weezer on the way, and they congratulated each other on a fine piece of deception.

“Later big man,” Sean said saluting his co-conspirator.

“Pleasure working with ya, Andrews, you’re a natural,” Weezer said, returning the gesture.

“Come on boys, get your things in the trunk and let's go,” Uncle Liam said, in a hurry as usual.

We threw in our duffels and hopped in the car, Sean in back and me at shotgun. I settled into the seat and looked around the campus as we drove towards the exit onto the main thoroughfare. This place was not home, but I already missed it like it was. The reality of my situation had not fully set in yet, but I knew it was coming, maybe when I hugged my family goodbye in Buffalo, maybe when I arrived at boot camp, or maybe when the plane landed in Viet Nam, sooner or later it was coming.

“Who’s the wee chiseller in the back of me automobile Ethan?” my uncle asked.

“That’s the famous Sean Andrews Uncle Liam, of the Long Island Andrews, wealthy merchants so I’m told,” I said laying it on thick.

Uncle Liam glanced at Sean in the rear view mirror and studied him for a moment. The truth was that the Andrews family actually was a very large and successful shipping family, with a dozen merchant vessels sailing back and forth between New York and Portsmouth, England. Sean was the only child of Patrick Michael Andrews IV, a fourth generation merchant seaman who made his bones during the Second World War freighting everything from food and medical supplies to ammunition and equipment for the Allied forces in Europe. His shipping line was one of the few if not the only company to suffer zero losses during that period. Patrick Andrews took that reputation and built a small empire through the fifties and sixties, and Sean was the unenthusiastic heir apparent.

“Ach, he doesn’t look too bright now does he?” Uncle Liam commented snickering.

“He’ll surprise you Uncle, he’ll surprise you,” I said, knowing that Sean was undoubtedly flipping my uncle off from behind his seat.

“Pleasure to meet you too Mr. Kelly, a real pleasure it is sir,” Sean said far too politely.

I sensed that this might be a long trip, so I scooted down in my seat and rested my noggin against the soft head rest. Closing my eyes, I suddenly wished I had taken the train. I programmed myself to dream of my last trip home. I wanted to dream about that girl who had tugged at my heartstrings without even knowing it. I couldn’t remember her name to save my life, but I would never forget her face! Those eyes, that soft sweet voice, the giggle that made me sigh out loud, and the smell of lilac. I took that vision into a deep sleep, knowing that my Uncle must have been looking at me and wondering if I had gone completely daft, he may be right.

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