Character Sketches from the Road.
Moreover, I haven't done a crossword since I was married. It lead to haunting flashbacks. I've done 5 or 6 this week already. I enjoy them actually. It is especially fun to put one down, 2/3 full and I'm stumped, only to pick it up the next day and burn through it with a fresh mind.
My married crossword experience is hilarious and should have been in "The Honeymooners" or "Roseanne" or something. She always had the puzzle and the pen. I was reading something else. And it goes:
Her: "What's a ten letter word for rules of thumb?"
Me: "How many letters do you already have?"
[ At least 180 seconds go by ]
Me: "How many letter have you got?"
[ maybe 90 more seconds ]
Her: "Oh, I'm on the next one already."
Me: "Grrrrr" [in my head]
subtitle: can I get a witness?
So, I'm sitting there in Nashville. A guy is walking around the lot handing out pamphlets. I'm not sure what denomination. And his wife isn't with him, so I don't know if she is flat chested or not [See, he did it again]. He is harmlessly, almost painfully, wholesome looking. Flannel shirt, windbreaker, blue jeans, comfortable shoes. Those shoes that look like they're from KMart, but are actually $200 mail order orthopedic appliances. He is in his late 50's, maybe a youthful 60. His hair is grey and combed over. He could disappear into almost any crowd. Or he could be the BTK killer. As he approaches my door, I feign to not see him, but he knocks. "Here, its free," he says with a pause and thrusts a couple pamplets up to me. When my arm doesn't reach for the ephemera, he adds cheerfully, "Doesn't cost a thing." and flashes a $200 mail order smile.
"Oh, it costs more than you think," I respond wryly.
For a nanosecond, his features begin to change like he will chuckle. Some internal filter clicks on and his smile fades. He doesn't frown, his face doesn't goes that way. He just looks at me, like a webpage with "Loading . . ." hanging across the middle. For just a moment, he got my meaning, but the system rejected it; saving him. The wind pushes at his combover as he turns to go. He jerks away like a robot running Windows 95.
Two doors down, another driver sits in his cab. Familiar territory again. All gauges are returning to normal. Crisis averted. He darn near shared a chuckle with me.
"And I'll have the pastrami," Tom Swifty adds wryly. [do you remember Tom Swifty?]
I stopped on the Penn Turnpike to use the facilities and maintain my sobriety. There's a Starbucks here! Woo Hoo! I haven't had green tea in weeks. At the counter is the cutest girl this year. My goodness! She is subtle gorgeous. Her features are not fine, but just slightly rounded in that Mixed Breed Middle American way. She has the rich wholesome beauty that the tortured starlet always begins with; fresh off the bus in L.A. Joy bubbles over in her work, her voice, her demeanor, and especially her eyes. She has my tea seeping in a flash. Her auburn hair is pulled back under a scarf. The voluptuous natural curves of her lips are like the shoulders of a black cherry. When she asks "Is that everything?" "That's a loaded question," I smile. Just a little flirt. Those eyes sparkle a bit more. I thought they would burst. She giggles with depth; hidden knowledge expressed in a smile. "Have a nice day, sir."
That last word. . . now I'm the herky jerky robot. I stagger back to the truck, wounded. I knew she was too young. I really wasn't on the make; just practicing. Honest. But, Sir!? How could she hurt me that way?!?!? SIR is an acronym for "you're such a nice old man."
I take heart in knowing she will always be happy. She will work hard, play hard and live well. She'll always have a smile for some old man. I have a friend, became a teacher, who could be her older sister. Starbucks Chic will go to college somewhere like Ball State.
Gypsies in the Palace
I pulled into a Love's Truckstop in Jeffersonville, OH. I'm two hours away from my delivery, four hours early. Love's is surrounded by farmland out in Southwest Ohio. There is a Crisp Fall Wind coming across the open fields like a Dentist Drill. I run inside and zip my jacket to the cold. Almost the same feeling as being called 'Sir.'
Heading back to the cab, there is a guy talking to the driver next to where I parked. As I approach, he breaks off and comes to me. "Did you hear about the flat bed and the tanker?" he asks, "D'ja have your ears on." I indicate I hadn't. "Come here, this is hilarious." We walk across the lot. I see a flatbed but no tanker. Hmmm.
The guy has a walrus mustache and perpetual stubble. Even clean shaven, the line of his chin would be indistinct. Jowls curve south, rounded by cheap beer and fried food. Flannel shirt over a tshirt and jeans; midwest trucker uniform.
As we approach the flatbed, three more guys converge. There is a lanky goofball waving a wad of cash. He has no front teeth. People with thin lips should floss. His upper lip sags across the gap except when he smiles. He wears the ill fitting clothes of garage sale chic. You don't buy for fit, you buy for utility. There is another midwest trucker; dressed a little better. Company jacket over a henley. His wife must work in an office. Her style, and expectations, stain him. There is another tall, thin, older farmer-looking guy. Toothless Jones keeps flashing his wad of cash. I begin to understand that he really wants me to know he is loaded. He is probably the long lost Uncle of a guy we used to call Gums and Roses. Another bystander walks up.
It is an elaborate scam. I'm sure of that much. I really think the whole thing was orchestrated by Toothless Jones, the farmer and the two Midwest truckers. The wad is probably $40 in ones with 5 or 6 twenties on top. It is Three Card Monte with a twist. Toothless is supposed to be an idiot who doesn't know the game. There's money to be had here, man. An Exquisite Grifter change up.
Farmer makes a bet and loses. On the second bet, he picks a card and holds it behind Toothless' head. Toothless makes dramatic twists like he is looking for the card. Meantime, farmer flips the card behind Toothless and turns up the other two cards and bends a corner of the Ace. Two Jacks and an Ace are at play. Farmer flips the Ace back over. He's lost again.
Now the fun begins. Supposedly, Toothless can't see that 3/8" of his Ace is bent up on a terrible angle. Farmer wins! Twice, even! Now, the better dressed trucker jumps in. He wins twice picking the marked Ace. Shocking! A new rule emerge. Toothless can't tell his Ace is marked but now you can only bet twice and then its someone else's turn. Midwest tries to hand me a twenty. "He won't let me bet again," he winks "you do it." I point to the other bystander "He should."
"It's easy money, man. Go ahead. Just bet for me." He taps me on the arm with the back of the hand holding the twenty.
"I'm don't want to join in. I'm not buying it," I finally say. Immediately, Toothless jumps up and walks off. "I'm tired of this," he says to the wind.
When I turn back to my truck, another driver approaches. He has an enormously, and perfectly round, beer belly with a leather jacket 2 sizes too small. His trucker hat stands straight up off his forehead. He strains to put as little weight as possible on his left leg. A trucker malady. 50 yards across the lot might as well be the Appalachian Trail. "What's going on?" he snorts between gimps.
"Three Card Monte," I say.
"The Shell Game with cards," I explain.
"Oh, $%^&* I thought you guys were talking about something juicy!" he smiles.
"I just got here, but I didn't fall off any truck," I say. "I didn't buy it; can't afford it anyway."
"I've been out here to long for that $%^&*()," he says and stumbles back with me.
Then I started to think: I've inadvertently gone into business with a drug dealer and got out; spent four hours on the side of the road with the Lee County Sheriff Narcotics Squad for his guilt not mine; went into business for myself two and a half times before I was 35; had two groups try to hoodwink me out of a business [one an SBA scam, the other a reverse acquisition worthless stock scam]; I broke into a building and stole a bunch of stuff, that a judge later ruled was actually mine, and used it to start the business over with 2 out of 3 original partners; was once sued for $600,000, settled out of court for $40,000; and once closed on a house the same day my checking account was fifty dollars in the hole. These guys were going to take me?!?!?! I have a finely tuned radar. I might have to tell some of those stories.