By A.H. Watson
Henny's father had been sitting in the partial shade of a pool umbrella. The yard-arm a little past 5 p.m., he had started to take a sip from his scotch & soda when he noticed his son was still bobbing up and down next to the pool ladder.
"Son, come here for a minute, if you would."
Dripping with water and his arms tightly crossed at his chest, Henny arrived ? "Yes Sir?"
"You are being awfully polite to those women letting them go up the ladder before you, young man."
"YES SIR! You taught me to let women go first and stand when they entered a room."
"Well Son, I counted 14 of them while I took the first sip of this fine scotch. Hell, boy, you are downright blue from standing by that ladder in the cold water for the last thirty minutes."
"Dad, I wasn't counting. I jus?.."
Smiling: " No Hen, you weren't counting ? you were checking the undercarriage."
"DADDY! I don't understand what you mean?"
"Grab your tee shirt Henry. Let's take a walk."
They ambled around the lake that was so punishing to the golfers of the club. Finally they sat on a bench over looking one of the finely cut fairways.
Henny's father smiled at his son and said.
"Young man, I am not going to start telling you about sex or men and women today, but I do have a story I want you to listen to, and a book that you should read first. The story won't mean much to you today. When it does, or when you have a question - talk to me ? not some other boy that will know even less that you about the subject. Is that a promise?"
Then, with the smell of fresh cut grass and the damp smell of a summer storm about to kick up, without preamble, Henny's dad began the story to his young son.
"Henny, when I was about five years older than you, I started my first year of college. So you see the next few years will be a vast learning experience. Those that are supposed to know say that much of what a man will become inside himself is pretty well settled by the time he reaches college. They say that much of a man's social graces, and ability to move and be comfortable in society, are polished and rubbed smooth during the college years. Thus the continual description of a college graduate as a 'completed or finished man.'"
"Son, you should have seen me - blue and white checkered sport coat ? hell, I had never heard of a pair of britches with little useless belts in the back. Had never listened to a opera much less a symphony or held a door open for a girl. I wasn't stupid just didn't know how the upper middle classes acted in their own little world. But my Roomie knew son, and from him I learned how to manage in the world that existed beyond our own little pond.
Now my roommate Paul ?well, he went on to become quite wealthy. His daddy had plenty of money, but nothing like Paul was able to corral over the next few years. Toward the end of one raiding spell, Paul inherited a small company. As this company came with another purchase, he didn't even know a thing about it; so he asked for the particulars. It was a small Record Company in Nashville, Tennessee.
Paul, so he told me, went down to close or sell the "damn thing" - as he put it. While there he met the few singers signed with the label.
One was striking in looks, but sounded like Daisy Mae - even when singing. Paul was clueless to the fact that the more mush-mouthed, the more country fans fainted on sight.
Well, to get where the short hairs live. Paul upped and married her while down in Tennessee. He put additional capital into the company and within the year his wife was a star with her own set of buses spending most weekends on tour. The one thing required to succeed in country music is to travel and allow your fans up close. It is the strangest thing, Southerners, if they like you want to adopt you and take you home. Country singers just have to tour. There is no getting around that fact.
"Gee Dad that is quite a sto??"
"Haven't started the story Henry? unless you might see that it is better to think before marrying."
"You mean he don't love her?"
"Doesn't love her, Henry?.doesn't love her!"
"Henry I meant - SPEAK PROPER ENGLISH. The greatest flag of ignorance is the lack of the proper tense. If Einstein had talked such as that - the world would have laughed at his theories. You know better and I expect it of you."
Where was I ? Oh?. When Paul's wife would get a free week she would come to New York to be with Paul. Their home was on Park Avenue which was much as you see it in the movies - big green canopy, red rug and a doorman dressed like a South American general. Their apartment was some 7000 sq. feet with a outdoor garden overlooking the Hudson Parkway, and a couple of bridges to the real world. Wall street on the opposite side of the garden and lights burning the midnight oil reassured Paul that his people were busy raping and pillaging for all their worth.
For a girl that had spent her entire life in a trailer, then the last year in a traveling bus, it was overwhelming. It wasn't until her third trip that she understood that the man and woman always in and out of the apartment, worked for HER. Not just hotel employees that were just overly nosy!
Her second trip, their first night out in New York, Paul faced a realization that both shocked and saddened him. They had dinner at the Plaza; attended a reprisal of Albee's play, "Who is afraid of Virginia Wolf;" then on to Delane's bar for drinks and see his friends.
"No Henry, Yankees do that a lot. They flit from one place to another like a bee that can't find the pollen. But you are right son, seems like a waste to me as well."
"Yeah, probably did bore Paul's wife as well, son. You got that right"
Paul had seen his friends smile to themselves when they met his wife. Hell, earlier the waiter even seemed to talk to her as though she didn't have good sense. Explaining what every dish she pointed at consisted - in the way of ingredients!
Paul was ready for their normal fake superiority - the catty nature of their conversation when speaking to those not from the northeast. He had seen it often. It was the way they treated any of the so-called "native class" from "across the river."
But the obvious "countryness" ? far distant from a Madison Avenue courtier or bespoke suit from some famous London address - of an off the rack outfit from Sears Women's Department was a gap too wide. A looming void far too distant for the likes of the New York swells to bridge with polite conversations.
And indeed, his wife's conversations, while adequate for normal humans, caused overt giggles in many of the less polite that joined them at Delanes. It led to later remarks when alone such as, "Paul, Where DID you find her." "How quaint" or "you so suave."
"What does suave and overt mean Dad?" Henny asked looking quite confused.
"That is part of what you need to learn, Son. Why don't you move my big dictionary into your room. Here, I'll write the words down for you." He continued speaking:
The next day Paul's wife flew to St. Louis to meet her tour bus. Paul spent most of the morning wondering just how he could help his wife through this period.
Finally, after hours of thought, he considered speech classes and getting a friend to shop with her for more presentable attire for the city ? but after more thought settled on another way; a way that would allow her to continue to be herself. A necessity, if she were to continue her professional access and acceptability in Nashville. It would also, if handled properly, ease her way into northern social groups - without the hurt and pain groups so much enjoyed inflicting on those outside the group.
Two weeks later his wife returned to the City. They attended a cocktail party at the Waldorf and later a formal dance at the Plaza. His wife's dress had looked fine until played against the apparel of the other women. She wore a black, scooped front, cocktail dress that she had purchased for $109 (on sale for $89 dollars) at Sears.
It failed in the two ways women always first notice. The black color was somehow off - neither black nor dark blue. Even more noticeable was the number of short strings that stuck out from most buttonholes. But the worst was something Paul had never noticed in New York. His wife's bottom seam, several strings showing, was not turned evenly. From behind she looked as though she was walking off to the left with every step.
Paul's great gift had been that nobody in the crowd noticed his wife's attire, but rather stared at Paul's with their communal thought on him.
In a room full of men's evening dress - from tails to dinner jackets ? from $20,000 dollar watches to $2,000 dollar slippers worn only on such occasions - stood Paul in Texas boots, off the rack thirty-dollar gray slacks, and rust colored sport coat that seemed to change color in the light. That ugly piece of work had evidently been on the back of the rack so long that it even had that square hump in the middle of the shoulders behind the neck. It was all offset by one of those damn lariat type ties with a brass hula girl as the slipknot.
"A spot of the west, eh? ol' boy?" One in the Princeton group offered. "Right Beanie," Paul responded with a tight smile. "I thought you feather merchants might favor a new direction in your dress. I assume you do know there is a big land out there beyond the Jersey cliffs."
Paul had not known when it would come, or how he would handle it. But come it would ? he did know that, if only because the Northerners hid their fear of failure behind a dense wall of snide asides and a contrived patina of superiority.
A Yankee, a displaced student from Boston, forced to the edge of the kingdom because of poor tests, once ranted to me. He was drunk at a bar in Durham. He attended Duke, the Yankee outpost in Indian land. While in his cups, he came as close as any to the reason Yankees are so mean, so snide ? even to each other.
"Henny, my man, from the day we are birthed, our family tells everyone that we have been accepted at one of the Ivy's. Shit, goddamn, they call every month to tell the all the family and friends ? "The grades Junior made this month." Bubba, they tell them even if the mother had to plead with the teacher ? pay the teacher - or throw in a BJ or two."
"Nah, I'm not?. Bet the teachers in chemistry or physics go home with a sore pecker after every grading period - looking like the Road Runner after a dust up with Wile E. Coyote."
It's fear, Henny; old time deep fear - knowledge that we are not the best. Most of what we have is a sham. We pay $50,000 a year to be guaranteed a Diploma. We go to work in a 'made up' job for a friend of Dad. Hell, we even talk down to our friends just to keep them from doing it first. We have done all of this so long that we even think, act and dress alike because we must swim with the multitude ? or be eaten alive."
When the nastiness did come at Paul - it came from a man he considered a friend. A man Paul had placed in charge of a major company he owned. It came from deep in a soul that Paul had never seen or ever imagined.
"I didn't know it was a costume party Paul ? you going as white trash? I figured you and the little lady?."
Paul had told her later at home, all he remembered was reaching for a hand hold on the black hole in which he was falling. He asked his wife why his friend Todd was standing holding a bloodied nose, pants around his knees, starched shirt rolled up, much as a window blind, tight under his neck? Why were others holding him?
Paul's wife told him exactly what had happened. Before Todd had finished his sentence, Paul had grabbed his cummerbund and pulled him close yelling, "Close your mouth you little pansy."
"When he pulled back - it ripped his bund and pants suspenders clean off! While Todd was reaching for his pants, you, my hero, screamed so loud that the band put down their instruments to watch. As I remember your words were, "You little prick hugger I will make you a real eunuch if you don't get out of here ? NOW!"
"Then that skinny poofer knocked me on the ground?" Paul, looking both puzzled and chagrined?. shook his head.
"No Silly! His lovely wife, long legged 'Lucy the Lezzy,' grabbed one of the Waldorf's trademark 10 pound ashtrays, and whacked you on your least vulnerable spot."
"So, I can show my face this morning." Paul smiled and winked at his bride.
"Well, not at the Waldorf for a while. Donnie (the manager) said the band planned on playing the theme from "Requiem for a Heavyweight" every time you come in.
"Why was Todd's nose bleeding?"
"Because you knocked him into the Sunday after Lent - just before his wife whacked you good with the ash tray ? That's why, you fool."
It is funny, as I told little Henry later, "just how fast life changes. How your friends move on; how you even change those things you hold most valuable?most dear. Many of those people he thought close; He never saw again."
"Yet, the next week we were invited to a cocktail party, Son. When we arrived in the living room there were some 40 friends standing and drinking away. Each of them was wearing blue bib overalls with a piece of hay sticking out between their ultra-white $20,000 teeth. All had at least one tooth blacked out and many were wearing yellow "Cat Caps" or those advertising other farm implements."
Paul came in behind us and was weak at the knees. When he moved to sit down there were no chairs - nothing but bales of hay?. and food in picnic baskets! The drink of choice was home made white lightening cut with ginger ale.
"Son, I almost cried."
"But, they were making fun of Paul and ?."
"That is what I mean by thinking, boy. Everyone in that room was dressed as though they were attending a BBQ in Alabama. Young man do you have any IDEA how hard it would be to buy bib overalls in Manhattan? Or straw hats? Or two-pound belt buckles? Try that at Brook's Brothers and damn if they wouldn't try to have you certified!
"Henry son, those in that room were there to show support for Paul and his wife, not to make fun of him."
"Remember this Henry - some things are difficult to put in word ? only an act, or some permanent change, can show your wish to be forgiven.
And son, a real man would never fail to act ? even if it is necessary to act alone."
"Dad, I don't understand how dressing up at a private party is showing any support?"
"Well Henry, were that the case, you would be absolutely correct. Clear thinking my young man!"
"But this group of about forty friends of Paul downed a couple of drinks at the party and all adjourned to Delane's carrying a tape player chock full of Hank Williams, George Jones, Conway Twitty and the unforgettable Patsy."
"You don't know, there is no reason for you to, son?. but 'Delane's' owner is a force unto herself. I honestly believe people go to the place to have her insult them ? even throw them out from time to time ? regardless of their fame or money! She is a typical classless Yankee broad."
"All the little 'Has Beens' or 'Never Was' wish to get in a fight with Delane - just hoping that some gossip column will pick it up. With luck their name could make the paper."
"I have never heard of any woman named "Delane"
"Nor will you my boy, so typical of her. She made it up out of whole cloth. She claims it is French. Says her family came on the boat after the Mayflower?more likely the bus from Trenton most of us figured."
"Remember this Henry. There are all sorts of bullies in the world. Delane was good at badgering some poor soul, or even a celebrity that felt compelled to endure it. Because she had the backing of all the suck-ups in the restaurant/bar - the poor smuck never had a chance."
But that night one part of New York changed forever. Every dark, musky crevasse in the city knows what went down that night.
Paul, his wife, and forty of his friends, with much deliberation, intentionally showed up at Delane's place that night. They felt smooth and Happy ? moonshine will do that; Just before you start seeing spotted Lions in the shrubbery and little green worms on your nose - arm in arm singing "Roll your Leg Over."
I'll give Delane this: She headed immediately to the breach.
She started one of her standard volleys of Jewish high dudgeon not realizing that the three "southern hicks" standing there in bib overalls were just the skirmish line of a much larger force.
Using her best Southern speak, Delane turned to her clientele, and in the nastiest nasal voice she could manage spoke.
"Well golly me, just you look at this passel of piss-ant hind-landers that done hove up on 'I'ze' shore. You done got anything but Confederate money? Hit don't buy much hereabouts."
Before she could foul the air again, Delane was wearing a yellow Caterpillar cap with a corn cob pipe shoved in her bright read lips. Another of the troop was trying to get his bib overalls on her, while coming from the rear of the group was - the line of the night. A line repeated for weeks in every rag and at every water cooler in New York. Repeated because they knew not only was it true?but also had that special magic ? He WOULD!
"You said you don't want us in this 'fine establishment?' Well, by God, how much do you want for this dump? I will give you cash ? tonight! Hell, I can throw out all of these inbred hemophiliac friends of yours and start a club for decent, straight, humanity."
"Son, that woman headed for the kitchen dragging a pair of overalls caught in one of her 4" bright red stilettos. The friend that had generously donated them to her was standing in the middle of the room in a ever so proper vee neck undershirt. Below, however, he was adorned with boxer shorts imprinted with ruby red lipstick marks that said, "Y'all do come back, you hear," and "Was it good fer' you?"
"We were there two hours and nobody even noticed. We had seized the night."
"Every time the owner tried to retake the high ground we would burst into a round of 'On Top of Old Smoky' and much later when the cup truly runneth over, that old camp ballad, 'Rang Dang Do.'"
"There were a few Southerners being held captive in NY that immediately defected to our side, casting away ties and other Yankee accoutrements. Within a few minutes all but a few of the truly repugnant had joined the south, if not in fact, at least in spirit."
"Much of the bar bill had been paid by the insistent demand for our southern wear by those of more northern orientation."
"Nothing would ever be the same at Delane's or in the city for that matter."
"Several months ago I passed the line at the Metropolitan. Among the assorted evening clothes and dark suits was ample display of country wear. The best dressed by far was a man and his date. She with a simple black cocktail length dress; he with a pair of Tony Lama snake skin boots (about $2400); straight legged Wrangler blue jeans ($32), white shirt, white scarf and a drop dead light tan cashmere jacket ($1200) all set off by a leather Australian Army hat. That outfit would get him on stage at any country concert?it is what one man would say to another? 'that mother is cool, that is flat shit kicker good."'
I had the briefest of feelings that should someone yell fire in the theatre everyone would line up behind this well appointed man - and follow him out of the building.
Leigh looked at her husband with both concern and understanding?. "Did you finally get to the part about us ? about Paul and?.and ?. and all of us? Answer me Henry. Did you?"
"I tried Leigh. I honestly tried but couldn't. You should have seen him, honey. He is so confused about sex at the moment he can't think rationally about other major issues. I am not sure he will be able to handle this. Hell, I am not sure I can. But I do know - today was not the day."
Paul and Henry had been friends since childhood. That day, fifteen years ago, the day Paul's light plane had dropped from the sky on one of his many business trips out west; Leigh had been on her tour bus on the way to Orlando.
Henry had tried to reach her before the news broke and would have except for that one rare event. She was looking at the television when they started one of their incessant broadcasts about a plane missing in Idaho.
Upon reaching the stadium, Henry had asked a band member where he could find Leigh and if she had heard the horrible news. He told Henry that she had heard the news over television and she had been locked in her motor home for over an hour.
With the door locked and Leigh not answering, Henry had torn the door from the hinge and found her bleeding into a plastic bucket ? because she didn't want to leave a mess for others to clean up! Four hours later, two bags of whole blood, one of plasma and a pocket full of happy pills - Henry helped Leigh up the steps to the fishing cabin on Lake George. There they remained for two months.
Two months in which Leigh slowly improved and found, in the new life growing in her body, sufficient happiness to drag her back from the land of the hopeless.
"So you didn't tell our son about Paul? You just plan on letting it go on until it is too late to tell him?until someone tells him or he works it out his self?"
"Leigh I tried, but he is not ready for the heavy stuff, honey. If I told him that satisfaction in love came from a myriad of small things smell, touch, understanding, and not just the act - in his present state all he would say is?Huh?"
"If I told him that his mother had been married to Paul first?before me, how long do you think it would take him to start counting months and coming back with the big question? Jesus, Leigh, he is not ready for that! We could lose him forever."
"I understand that my love, but some day he will have to know."
"Well, let it be some day?some day when he hopefully understands love and how the heart moves to heal and save itself."
"And when he knows - I hope he takes the damn time to explain it all to me."
©2008 A.H. Watson, all rights reserved.