Ancient Mariner Tales
No. 2 In The “Self-Delusional Fantasy Romance” Series
May 30, 2015
She’s stunningly beautiful.
She tells me her name is Anastasiya.
I ask her why she’s here.
She smiles seductively but doesn’t answer.
We’re on a dinner cruise out of Southampton, England;
Two hundred fifty ex-submariners from twenty countries,
gathering every year to reminisce and party.
The weather is chilled and windy,
so we’re below decks, swilling down free wine.
The dinner buffet is chicken and chips.
I don’t eat chicken, so it’s a double order on the chips,
washing them down
with the second bottle of wine I’m working on.
I’m feelin’ pretty damned good.
I’m seated with a middle aged Russian couple,
a Turkish national,
a drunken, fat, bald, old Russian,
who looks like he’s always sweating,
a Turkish American friend, ,
and my New York buddy, Michael.
We’re drinking heavily and chatting loudly in fractured English
with lots of broad, wine induced hand gestures.
I find myself stealing glances
at a beautiful blond, blue eyed woman,
probably in her early fifties,
sitting diagonally across from me, at the next table.
Beside her is a mature good looking man.
She’s chatting with an attractive dark haired woman
sitting across from her.
Looking for an excuse to check her out,
I first take pictures of the crew at my table,
then go over to her table,
and gesture for her
to snuggle in close to her husband
for a photograph.
She replies in almost perfect English
that he is not her husband
but rather the husband of the woman
sitting across from her.
I hand her my camera
and ask her to take a picture of me
with the dark haired wife.
Then I take a picture of her,
with the lady’s husband.
The camera loves her face.
I ask her what connection she has with submarines.
She replies that her father was an Admiral in the Russian navy.
(This means a very privileged upbringing,
in the upper echelons of Russian society.)
but that really didn’t answer my question.
I ask again what her connection is with submarines,
and why she’s here with us.
She smiles suggestively and remains silent.
Back at my table,
I continue chatting with my mates,
while frequently glancing over at her.
She avoids eye contact,
but I catch her staring at me on side glances.
The game plan, is to begin a conversation
with the gentleman next to her.
I ask if she’d be kind enough to translate for us.
As fate would have it,
he’s a retired Russian submarine captain,
who was operating in the same patrol areas as my submarine,
in the same time period, during the Cold War.
We both have a good laugh,
when he reminds me how loud his submarine was
compared to our quiet American boats.
We bond our shared memories with a big Russian hug.
The blonde is suddenly very interested in me.
She offers her hand and tells me her name is Anastasiya,
and that she’s a tour guide in St. Petersburg.
Her English is almost flawless,
with just an intriguing hint of an accent.
Dizzy from too much wine,
I feel myself getting sucked into a dark hole.
Why am I obsessed with this woman?
We exchange business cards
and she studies mine carefully,
commenting that she likes the picture
of me on the back, performing on mic.
We take several close photographs together
and I swagger back to my table,
feeling cocky as hell.
My table mates have been eavesdropping.
Through wine thickened lips,
the Turk, the Russian wife, and my American buddy
all slur out that “she is not to be trusted!
If she’s really the daughter of a Russian Admiral,
she would never associate with a tattooed, old, American sailor.”
“Hey, that’s bullshit.
The Russian women all love to have their pictures
taken with me and my tattoos.
Remember in Greece last year,
Yuri asked me to take off my shirt
in that restaurant by the Acropolis,
so he could photograph tattooed me,
with his Barbi-Doll trophy wife?
Fuck yeah! The Ruskies love me!”
They laugh loudly at my bravado, but still insist
that she’s a Russian government agent
and is not to be trusted.
“A fuckin’ spy? KGB? Come on!
What fifty year old secrets could I reveal
that would be relevant today?”
My buddy Michael replies,
“Then she’s probably looking for a Green Card
and a free ticket to the States.”.
I’m a bit more wary now, but still intrigued.
“Hey come on guys, she’s so fuckin’ beautiful!”
Later, I’m shooting videos
of everyone dancing to oldies.
She’s right there in front of the camera
shimmying and shaking her ass to “Hound Dog.”.
She has a great body.
I ‘m suddenly aware that my Cialis is working.
I receive a Facebook friend request,
She messages me,
asking if I remember her from the dinner cruise.
How could I ever forget you?” I reply.
She asks if I would send her copies
of the “excellent pictures,” she knows I took of her.
I do, including the one of us
with my arm around her
in a really nice “couples” shot.
I also send along that video
of her dancing and shaking her ass.
She replies that, “The pictures are of great quality.”
Thank you. I hope to hear again from you, very soon.”
“Hope to hear from me again very soon?”
I’m sure she’s just fuckin’ with me now.
She’s gotta’ be a Pisces;
They love to mess with Leo’s heads.
I check her Facebook page.
There’s more than a few of my fellow submariners,
from the convention,
trying to hook up with her,
showering her page,
with romantically embellished words,
in mostly bad English.
I’m definitely not that guy.
I know she’s toying with me in these emails,
It’s a cat and mouse game.
I reply, “I’m very much looking forward
to seeing you again
at the St. Petersburg convention.
Perhaps you could arrange a private tour?”
The ball is in her court now.
Spy or not, she’s good,
But this ain’t my first rodeo either.
Rosie's Wool Knickers
(A love story gone terribly wrong!)
It’s the early 1960’s, I’m in the Navy, assigned to a nuclear missile submarine, regularly deployed off the coast of Russia…. just in case they decide to start World War III. We’re the “Strategic Deterrent Force” whose purpose is, in the event of a missile attack by Russia, to respond with “Mutually Assured Destruction”. It’s called M.A.D. Well, the fact that we’re all here now, is testament, to what a great job we did out there!
When not waiting for orders to “end the world as we know it”, I’m usually hangin’ out at the bar of the Crown Hotel, in Dunoon....a resort town on the banks of Holy Loch, in Scotland. It’s known mainly for building the world’s fastest racing yachts, and for the annual Highland Games, where tall muscular Scotsmen, wearing traditional kilts, gather to hurl telephone pole sized logs great distances. Needless to say, lots of single Scottish school teachers traditionally spend their summers here looking for husbands, a summer fling, or maybe just a peek under those manly kilts.
Bartenders in Dunoon understand the phrase “on the rocks” to mean; “Your yacht ran aground.”, so I’m forced to endure the hardship of warm scotch and coke at the Crown……. Anyway, it’s the only bar in town. Being the first American servicemen stationed in Scotland since WWII, we’re greeted and treated like Royalty by everybody; especially young women. I’m in daily competition with my shipmates for both the attention of young ladies and the unofficial title of “Town Drunk,” for which I seem to possess an uncanny natural aptitude.
Across the Loch from Dunoon lies the sleepy town of Greenock. As a heartfelt demonstration of their high regard for the returning “Americans”, the kind folk of Greenock, in a ceremony at Town Hall, graciously decide to formally adopt our entire crew! A chamber music group provides entertainment, and the mayor dresses up in top hat and tails for the presentation. We sit at ornately decorated banquet tables, and feast on prime Angus steaks and champagne. Our Captain is presented with an original Tartan designed specifically to honor the “Polaris Missile Program” and our crew in particular. A magnificent event, marred only by loudness and excessive drinking, by myself, and more than a few of my shipmates. Afterwards, stumbling down the street, I realize that have to take a leak that won’t wait. I stagger into a doorway, desperately trying to unbutton all thirteen buttons of my uniform pants, and just as I begin to relieve myself, I look up and see that the door has a full length glass center, and everyone in a tea shop, is grimly staring at me. This is not one of my prouder moments.
One night I decide to expand my “Town Drunk” territory and take the ferry to Gourick, about an hour across the Loch from Dunoon. I’m working on a good drunk at the first bar I find, and somehow, I hook up with Rosie. Rosie’s twenty-seven, good looking, in a hard kinda’ way that I like, and looks like she’s “been around the block” a few times...She’s very petite, with sharp penetrating eyes. She laughs easily and really loud, and has the same sick, cynical sense of humor as me…..This is gotta’ be a match made in hell. We have everything in common, and become “the drinking, partying, always too-loud attraction,” wherever we go. Everybody seems to know and like Rosie, but we’re not allowed in lots of places. For what I assume is because of my Neanderthal behavior, we’re excluded from most social functions in town...with the exception of bars, so mostly we hang out, drink with Rosie’s friends, and make fun of the other drunks……all losers, who obviously aren’t as smart or as funny as we are. I have no idea where Rosie lives and never think to ask.
Lots of nights I miss the last ferry back to Dunoon and Rosie proves to be very resourceful. At the rail yards, she has a friend who let us sleep on parked trains for the night. She also has a night watchman friend at the local YMCA. He lets us sleep on the floor in the men’s room, where we’re regularly awakened by guests who come to relieve themselves during the night. They always politely nod a greeting, step carefully over us, and go about their business, while trying hard not to laugh.
On summer nights, another friend of Rosie let us stay in the cemetery, where we make love and sleep on cool marble grave covers. One time, a Bobby rides by on his bicycle while Rosie is riding me. He just says, “Hi Rosie!”, smiles, and drives on. She yells back... “Hey Fergus. How’s the baby?”,...waves, looks down at me, and we continue on. At the time, I’m more concerned with her wool underpants rubbing hard against my inner thighs and burning like hell. A lot of working class women and “factory girls” in Scotland can only afford wool underwear, and Rosie wears wool knickers even in summer. I’m still carrying a few burn scars from those damned knickers.
We’re strollin’ through town holding hands on a beautiful sunny morning. Rosie’s hair is up in a “bee hive” and she’s wearin’ my favorite white polka dot mini dress and high platforms…..WHAT LEGS! The heather’s shooting purple glimmering starbursts through the mist on the side of the mountain, and we’re laughin’, and kissin’, and pullin’ long swallows from my hip flask. Life is good, and we’re gettlin’ good. We stop at one of these photo booths, in the arcade, where you put in a shilling, pull the curtain, and pose for four pictures? Well, we finish off the flask and put a coin in the machine. We’re feeling kinda’ frisky and we sneak in a couple of pretty intimate poses,. Anyhow, while we’re waiting for the pictures to come out of the machine, we both nod off. When we finally wake up, God knows how much later, we’re half undressed, feelin’ pretty grungy, and Rosie’s Bee Hive is lookin’ like “The Leaning Tower of Pisa.”. We grab the pictures from the wire rack and just stare at them, for a long time. In the first picture we’re huggin’ and smiling and look really happy, but by the last picture,…. “How the hell did we get in that position in this tiny booth?” What the fuck. ….. Rosie, she looks really old and saggy…….and me, I look really drunk and stupid, and covered with zits. “Jeeesus, get me another drink.”
Once a month, Rosie goes up to “the big city,” Glasgow, to visit her grandmother for a long weekend. I stay on my side of the Loch, drinking at the Crown and entertain myself watching drunken schoolteachers competing for any available man in kilts.
Speaking of Glasgow, on my second Cold War Patrol, I complete my Submarine Qualification training. When we get back to Holy Loch, my buddies take me up to the Beresford Lounge in Glasgow to be initiated into a very elite brotherhood of sailors entitled to wear the Submariners “Dolphins” insignia………still one of the proudest moments of my life.
Out of respect for those of you with weak stomachs, I won’t go into the details of the “initiation” ceremony, but I leave the Beresford, totally shitfaced, with my friend Gary, and two equally drunken hookers. Enroute to their “hotel”, the girls recognize the cab driver and convince him to stop and have a few drinks with us. The cabbie gets very drunk and Gary is elected to drive the remaining couple of blocks to the whorehouse...I mean “hotel”. Having had way too much to drink, and never having driven on the wrong side of the street, he side-swipes about six cars as we bounce our way down to the whorehouse. We leave the cabbie laid out in the back seat of the cab, head into the hotel, and proceed to “get it on”.
Later, I’m layin’ in bed, while the “lady of the night” is getting us more drinks, I decide to take a stroll downstairs through the lobby. No one seems to notice or care that I’m very drunk and very naked. Across the lobby, I spot a close friend of Rosie’s pouring a glass of wine for some guy. I remember her from a nasty incident in Gourick. I stagger toward her yelling, ”Hey…..you stole Mike Green’s radio.” She sees me, turns fast, breaks the wine bottle on the edge of a table, and charges, aiming the broken bottle directly at my face. She’s laughing like hell and cursing at me, as she chases me over the broken glass, until I’m out of the lobby, and making a mad dash for the stairs.
I find Gary’s room, knock hard, and I’m yellin’ at the door: “Gary….I’m in trouble. We gotta’ get outta’ here, now, … the Shore Patrol will be here any minute.” He answers the door buck naked with an enormous erection staring up at me, and the hooker’s standin’ behind him smiling, wearing his open peacoat…..”Nice boobs!” He slurs out, “I ain’t leavin’ ‘til I get laid again!” “Well, it’s her or me, Gary.” The door slams shut.
I stagger back to my room, fumble into my uniform, and run barefoot down to the train station, carrying my shoes, my coat, and my hat. The last train to Dunoon already left and the station is closed for the night. After some negotiation, the night watchman lets me sleep on the empty morning train for the remainder of the night.
A sudden jerking movement by the train wakes me up, and for a minute, I almost think I’m sober. I look down. My feet are cut up, covered with dried blood, and burnin’ like hell. My mouth tastes like ass, my head’s exploding, and I can’t find my socks. In spite of all this, I stare down at the shiny new “Dolphins” pinned to my uniform and paste on a wide, proud, “shit eatin’ grin.” “Hot damn, I’m a submariner.”
On the train ride back to Dunoon, a revelation seeps slowly through this dense hangover that’s crushin’ my head like a vise; ……….”ROSIE’S A HOOKER! …..……. Of course! How could I not have seen it.…..That’s why we’re not allowed in dances and the shops in town……it not me or the drinking; It’s Rosie… she’s a whore! Everybody knew it but me? ……JEEEESUS!
The Russian fishing fleet anchors near Glasgow every a month to resupply. The sailors aren’t allowed ashore, so hookers are brought out to the ships to service the crews and keep morale up. Rosie can make enough money in one weekend “visiting her grandmother” to live on the rest of the month. FUCK!”
I never go back to Gourick and never see Rosie again. She searches desperately for me in all the bars around Dunoon, Greenock, and Gourick, but always gets the same line that sailors use to end a shore fling: “He’s confined to the ship for disciplinary reasons.” She’s very persistent and actually calls the ship multiple times to speak to the Duty Officer, pleading with him to let me off the boat. The Executive Officer finally calls me to his cabin and tells me I’d better get my shit straightened out before we go on patrol. I don’t……I rely on the only option I know when things go wrong…………keep on drinkin’.
Well, that’s not quite the end. My friend Steven tells me that I’m actually the whore in this story. Rosie’s just doing what she has to do, to make a living in hard times. She loves me the best way she knows, and I’m the one “using” her. He says, “Who the fuck are you, thinking you’re better than her? You’re a twenty-one year old punk with a face full of zits, a bad attitude, and a drinking problem…………what a self righteous asshole you are.”
He’s right. Demons of a youth misspent; they haunt me still! I wish now, that I’d kept that picture we took hugging in the booth at the arcade, instead of tearing them all up, like an eight year old in a tantrum.
My Wild and Wonderful Weekend With Weegee
It’s the summer of 1963, I’m returning to the states from my fourth and last “Cold War” submarine patrol. No more war games, spy games, or waitin’ to “nuke” Russia. In two months, I’m out…. I’m gone. I’ve got a plan: quit drinking . . . the GI Bill. .. back to school. .. start writing again .. and try to get a real life.
At the duty free shop in Prestwick, Scotland, I’m allowed to purchase, and take back, four Imperial quarts of whiskey; that’s a lot more than a gallon of booze. Okay, “The Plan” is on temporary hold. I hit the states and I’m ready to party my ass off. Doc and I leave New London, Connecticut by train, headed for a weekend in Philly, our hometown. Doc’s a “lifer” in the navy, and about ten years older than me. He’s from North Philly; I’m from South Philly. He’s black; I’m not. We’re not close friends, but we’ve pulled four long patrols together. We’ve got each other’s back. We know we can handle anything that can happen to two horny sailors, carrying two and a half gallons of Scotch, on a five hour train ride.
We take seats in the last row, of the last car, backs against the bathroom wall, by the water fountain. The two seats facing us are the only empty seats in the car when the train leaves. Apparently, nobody wants to sit facing two sailors filling paper cups from very large bottles of Scotch. Our “Welcome Home” party is underway.
At the stop in New Haven, two very attractive ladies, who look to be in their mid-twenties, board our car. They’re standing in the aisle alongside us, arms folded, staring, and finally ask, “Would you please move your feet off the seats so we can sit?” We mumble a lame apology, and they take the seats opposite us. We try to act nonchalant and paste on fake smiles but we continue pouring Scotch and bangin’ ‘em down.
Meanwhile, across the aisle from us, a loud group of college kids has been watching us pour and consume a lot of whiskey. They finally ask if we’d mind sharing some. We say, “Sure!” They grab a bunch of cups from the water fountain, we fill them, and in short order, the ladies sitting across from us ask, if they too might have a drink. We grab a few more cups, and thus begins our Mission of Mercy: getting everybody on the rear half of our train car, totally smashed, by the time we make Newark; including the conductor.
We hit New Brunswick and the ladies are way past tipsy. Doc asks one of them to switch seats with him, and she does. Now we’re sitting alongside two very nice looking babes. I ask the lady seated next to me what her name is and she giggles out, “Gwennie, but everybody calls me Weegee.” She giggles again. This is gonna’ be good. I’m feeling pretty high, but can’t help noticing that she’s really sexy. She’s wearing tight fitting dungarees, a way too small tee-shirt, and her breasts look like bumper guards on a ’58 Caddy El Dorado. She’s got one of those trendy “beehive” hairdos, ya’ know, like The Supremes? She has velvet smooth purple-black skin, and a beautiful face. I’m falling in love.
By the time we reach North Philly station, we’ve killed three bottles of Scotch, sharing with our neighbors on the train. Doc suddenly jumps up and yells, “Hey, this is my stop! I gotta’ go!” A drunken chorus of our new friends starts chanting, “Stay on the train. ….Don’t leave the train,” stomping their feet, and clapping in rhythm. The ladies chime in and invite us to Chester to continue the party with them. I give Doc a pleading look and he finally says, “Well, okay. I guess I’m in!” He sits back down and the kids pour another round of drinks for everybody.
At 30th Street Station, we give a quart of Scotch to the college kids to share with the other passengers, and we leave the train with the ladies, to loud cheers and applause. We board a train for Chester and dazzle the girls with tall tales of life at sea. I mean, we’re a couple of smooth silver tongued devils here. In the cab heading for Weegee’s apartment, I ask her what she does for a living. She says she and Wanda are dancers (I’m thinkin’ like, Go-Go Dancers, in a cage, wearing white vinyl knee boots, and miniskirts… like on that TV Show Shindig!) Wow! How cool is that?
Weegee and I are snuggled in tight, making out in the back seat. I overhear Wanda whispering to Doc, “What’s up with this white boy? What’s he doin’ hangin’ with us?” Doc says, “Don’t worry. He’s alright.” “Are you sure?” “I said he’s cool. Drop it.” She does and it never comes up again.
In Weegee’s living room, we get ice cubes with our Scotch and the ladies switch to rum and coke. Wanda puts “Dedicated To The One I Love” on the record player. Weegee and I are dancing slow and tight, grinding hips. We’re “swappin’ spit” with lots of tongue goin’ on. When the song ends, Wanda leans in to Weegee and says, “Let’s show ‘em?” Weegee looks up at me and whispers, “You’re gonna’ love this.” and they leave for the bedroom. Doc and I bang down a couple more scotches and when the girls finally come out, they’re wearing tasseled pasties, tiny sequined G-strings, and platform stilettos. “Holy shit; they’re strippers!” Doc and I look at each other, dazed, like two weary prospectors who just hit “the mother lode.”
Well, Doc and I are sitting on the couch now, and there’s a raunchy sax wailin’ out Night Train on the record player. The girls are bumpin’ and grindin’ through their routines, boobs bouncing, tassels whirling like carnival pinwheels, and hips thrusting just inches away from our faces. This has to be as close to heaven as this submarine sailor’s ever gonna’ get.
The combination of Scotch, the music, the erotic dancing, and the heavy scent of perfume, is way too much stimulation. I’ve just spent sixty days under water in the North Atlantic, smelling nothing but diesel fumes and ball sweat.
Within milliseconds of the music ending, Weegee and I are both naked on her bed, trying to fill our hands, eyes, mouth, and any other available body parts, with each other. To this day I have never encountered a woman with such a perfect body ….. WOW! ..... We’re talkin’ Playboy quality here! Yeah, I know, Hugh Hefner can never have a “colored” girl for a centerfold………. but she’s hot, she’s sweet, she’s funny, and I am totally lost in her for the weekend. We kiss, cuddle, and make love, through an incredible three days and nights, pausing only for food, a quick nap, a smoke, or another drink. It’s mostly she and I, discovering how incredible two bodies can make each other feel.
I can’t say for sure what caused that magic; it may have been my forced abstinence, her magnetism, or just a strong mutual attraction spiked with lots of booze. Whatever chemistry happened, resulted in a physical stamina that I had never experienced before, and have never again, since. I was pretty fuckin’ amazing and Weegee seemed to agree, judging by the loud screams and moans she’s offering well into day two. From the sounds in the adjoining bedroom, Doc seems to be on his best game too … pretty amazing for an old desperado like him.
Comes Sunday morning, the girls accompany us back to the train station. I do not want to leave…. ever. I give Weegee my address and ask her to write me. We cling to each other in an embrace that neither of us wants to end. Doc finally grabs me by the collar and drags me to the train. We’re both stone silent as the train pulls out of the station. We take a long last look at the ladies waving us off. Doc shakes his head and says, “Ain’t we just the fuckin’ badest?” We don’t say another word ‘til we change trains in Philly.
For the next two weeks, all I’m thinking about is Weegee. I’m replaying the weekend, over and over, in my head. Doc says I’m acting like a lovesick puppy and reminds me that “It was just a weekend, thing … We had some fun. That’s it! End of story!”
I have a knot in my stomach until a letter finally arrives. I’m surprised at how excited I am opening it. Weegee says she can’t stop thinking about me and wants to move to New London to be with me. Uh..Oh! That’s not what I’m expecting. The fantasy suddenly takes a hard left, into reality. There’s a bright red neon “NO” flashing in my brain now. Do I really have the guts to stand up to my family, my friends, and all the shit that’s gonna’ come down on both of us if we’re a couple?
While pondering this heavy moral and ethical question, my little “Man Voice” starts gnawing at me with a more personal dilemma: “Do you really think you can live up to Weegee’s expectations after that weekend? Come on….you’re an average guy with average parts, and not a helluva lot of experience. Do you want to end up a “one hit wonder” or would you rather she remember you as “White Lightnin’?” Ya’ see what’s happening here? In my mind, I’m already planting the seeds for failure….. which, will definitely happen, now that I’m worried about it. Shit! Suddenly, taking a stand for what’s right and what I believe in, takes a back seat to my little “Man Voice” telling me, “Quit while you’re ahead. Don’t be a fucking loser! Remember High School?”
Well, I “punk out” and never answer the letter, or the next two. My fragile ego remains intact, but my moral compass takes a big hit; So much for the idealistic, philosophic, seeker of truth. When push comes to shove, I’m a real man; I think with my dick.
We buy a little house in the Catskills in 1982 during the Iran Hostage Crisis. There are long lines at gas stations and mortgage rates are 18%. This area is so poor and run down that its “red lined” by the banks and you can’t get a mortgage, even if you’re dumb enough to want to pay the going rate. The owner finances this beat up old bungalow on ¾ acres for 10%, just so he can get out from under it. My wife and I have zero credit, and borrow the cheap down payment from both our parents, with the stipulation that we repay them within two years, at market rate interest. Nothing like family love, huh?
What sells us on this place is the spectacular view from the front porch; a large mowed field across the road with a pond and a beautiful mountain view behind. The sun comes up on the porch each morning and makes the house glow. But ... it’s painted pink.
Inside, there’s tacky flowered contact paper for wallpaper. It looks like some weed smokin’ hippie romantic lived here for a bit. “I love you” is painted on the bedroom closet door with lipstick, and all of the baseboards and window woodwork have been painted pink. The place has been rented out off and on for over twenty years. We’re told that the longest renter lived there for fifteen years and raised three kids in this small two bedroom house. He was a guard over at the prison in town, until he decides to end it all, and shoots himself in the head. In the unfinished basement we find a punching bag and a setup to reload bullet casings.
We have no money, so we spend the first year cleaning up mattress springs, rusted old beer cans, and 38 bullet casings from the lawn. We also cut down more than 200 junk sumac trees that have overtaken the property. The place has gone unrented for several years.
I spend a part of the second summer putting two coats of light yellow paint with white trim, over the fading pink outside. My friend Sean, a hungry artist from the city does most of the hard cleaning and prep work. We knock out the dark decaying old porch screens to let the sun in, and at days end, we sit on the porch drinkin’ beer and smoking weed. We take turns calling our wives and telling them how beautiful the sunsets are.
My wife and I collect old junk furniture and household goods from the trash, our friends, and family and decide that this will be our retirement home down the road sometime.
The kitchen consists mostly of an $89 imitation Formica counter/cabinet combination from Rickles Discount store. The bathroom walls are covered in oilcloth and imitation maroon tiles made of plastic.
We put in a flower bed alongside the house by the kitchen door and dig up a small place off from the house, to plant some Jersey tomatoes from seeds my uncle gave us. We have our first home. We’re happy and very in love.
We wake up one Saturday morning to find a dirty piece of notepaper taped to our kitchen screen door. In badly scribbled writing I can make out, “Best stop stealing stone from my property wall.” and is signed, “Your neighbor.”
Well, if you know anything at all about Sullivan County, you surely know that you can’t dig an inch of dirt without hitting rock. That’s why most old properties are bordered by stone walls; to clear the ground. My surveyor has placed my property line smack in the middle of the stone walls surrounding my property, so legally the stone fences belong to both sides. Having already retrieved too much stone from digging the flower garden and the tomato patch, I certainly have no good need to be stealing stones from anyone.
I did some research on my property and the surrounding lands, and learned that the hundred acres adjoining the stone fence at the far end of my property is known locally as the Gillette Estate. In the early 1900s the Gillette family of razor blades and razor wealth had purchased the land for hunting. They built an enormous beautiful lodge on the edge of a man-made lake they had dredged out of the marshes, planted apple orchards alongside my land to attract game, and spent many years hunting in luxury on the estate. At some point there was a great fire that destroyed the hunting lodge and a good bit of the forested land around it. It apparently lay in ruin for many years overgrown with new forest growth and wetland.
I decide to pay a visit to my new neighbor. Since I’ve already learned that the locals don’t much like city folks, particularly Italians and Jews, I’m expecting the worst. I carefully pack my .22 magnum High Standard chrome two shot derringer in the back pocket of my jeans, cross over the stone fence, and head up the hill looking for a house.
I hike past the old apple orchard, up a long hill, through acres of freshly timbered land, until I reach a beautiful lake, with a small very rustic shack by the side of it. I slosh through the mud up to the front of the shack and knock on a crudely made wooden door. I knock several times with no response. Finally the door slowly creaks open a few inches, and someone growls out, “What?” I reply, “I’m your neighbor” as I slip the note from my door through the small opening. It’s taken by an unseen hand. Silence. After about two minutes, the door slowly swings partially open to reveal my new neighbor. He looks old, is unshaven, wearing a dirty V neck T-shirt and dirty coveralls. His hair is sparse, grey, and looks to have been unwashed for some time. When he finally speaks, it’s apparent that most of his teeth are gone and he kind of blubbers his words out through sunken lips. “Come in, boy.”
The door swings open and I step into a small dark room that’s piled from floor to ceiling with newspapers and magazines, except for a small path to walk through. He leads me through the path of newspapers into a second larger room that is very sparsely furnished with a sink, a small bed, a wood stove in the center, and a large curio cabinet filled with tiny figurines. There are two small chairs by the stove. He invites me to have a seat.
“Cup of tea?”
He walks to the small sink and pulls out two china cups. He takes a grayed handkerchief from his back pocket and carefully wipes them, after running a bit of water on them. He turns to the stove and pours two cups of tea from a kettle that’ sitting atop the stove. He hands me a cup and takes a seat.
“Well?” he says.
I reply, “I’ve got my own good supply of Sullivan County flowers (that’s what they call rocks up here) so I certainly have no good reason to be stealing any from the fence. And for your information, my property line runs through the center of that stone fence so I’m technically half owner of those stones.”
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Phillip Giambri. What’s yours?” I reply.
“Riley,” he says.
Silence for a bit. “Looks to me like some of them stones on my wall are missing. Know anything about that if it’s not you?”
“Looks to me like the wall has been falling apart for a very long time and hasn’t been mended or cared for by anyone. Why be concerned now? Is it because I moved in next door?”
Long silence. “Nope, just figured you come up from the city and think everything is yours for the taking.”
“Well you best be doing some rethinking on that, ‘cause the last thing I need is more stone.”
We sat for a bit silently drinking our tea. I finally stand and walk over to the curio cabinet and am looking at the figurines when he says, “Ever been to Japan?”
“Well those are porcelain figurines from 17th century Japan. Collected them for years when I was overseas.”
“And how did you come to be spending so much time “overseas?”
“Did some time in the Navy.”
“Really? Me too.”
“Submarines. North Atlantic mostly. Off the coast of Russia during the cold war.”
His demeanor suddenly softens and he breaks a slight smile through those caved in lips.
“What’d you do?” I asked.
“(MACV-SOG) Pause ….. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group.”
“What’s the hell does that mean?”
“Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force. We did strategic reconnaissance, covert operations, psychological warfare .... a little bit of a lot of shit.”
“Mostly Laos and some others, before it all got big and bad.”
He stands up and says, “Let’s go outside and get some air.”
We make our way through the newspaper tunnel and out on to the front of the cabin. He starts walking toward the lake and I notice he kinda’ drags his right leg some.
“Arthritis got you?”
“Naah. Got in some shit up in the mountains with the Mong. We were tryin’ to shut down the Ho Chi Minn Trail and cut the supply line into Nam. Didn’t go too well. Took a round in the hip, but one of ‘em threw me down and covered me with his body. He took the rest of it. Good fighters, them Mong.”
“So how’s a guy like you who collects antique Japanese porcelain figurines end up in this shit hole Sullivan County?”
“Don’t much like bein’ around people anymore, and this is as good a place as any to be alone.”
He asks, “Do you hunt?”
“No. I’m not much for eating meat and don’t’ see any point in killing for no good reason.”
“Well somebody’s been up here trophy hunting, leaving bodies with no heads. I catch ‘em and there’s gonna’ be some hell to pay. This land’s all posted. I don’t like trespassers with no respect for wildlife on my land.”
“You up here by yourself?”
“Got a boy. Does maintenance over at Kingston mall. He visits once in while.”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
“Well, I teach proper English to Hispanics kids from the city over at the Prison, to get out a bit. Bring some food over to folks over the mountain who’re pretty needy. You know there’s a lot of really bad off folks up here who’s kids don’t eat regular. That bothers me some. I try to help a little. I get good money from the government. ……..
I’m thinking I’ve already run off my mouth too much. It’s time you be goin’.”
“Well Reily, it’s been nice finally getting to meet you and I hope you see that I mean no harm and look to being a good neighbor.”
“Eyetalian, that name?”
“I’m askin’ if you’re Eyetalian.”
“Not too many around here. Best watch your back with the Woodchucks.”
“Yeah, the locals. They don’t take much to your kind.”
“Do they every bother you?”
“Nope. We keep our distance now. They’ve learned better from me.”
On that mysterious reply, I shake his hand and head off around the lake back toward my house.
“Take care, Riley!”
“See ya’, kid!”
I never do see Riley again. Over the next year, there’s a lot of good oak and maple taken out of there by lumber haulers; must have been worth thousands. Next I hear, he’s sold off the place to a family in Long Island and is gone.