Saturday, May 19, 2012


A Short Story

My old friend Drew, a one-time pro tennis player and later a club pro at posh resorts in the Caribbean, showed up every once in a while to catch up on what was new with me, and to play a little tennis and golf a few rounds. Through the years, we played tennis on a lot of courts, both clay and composite, and golfed mostly average but occasionally championship courses around the country. With a little planning, we could cross paths on our travels. We often played gratis because many courses gave a courtesy pass to Drew, who never failed to inform everyone in the clubhouse that he was a Tennis Pro and could reciprocate for the greens fees with free tickets for local sporting events.

Of course, being a Pro, Drew could blow me off the court even when he backed off from the full power of his huge serve, one of the fastest recorded in the history of tennis, somewhere over 150 miles per hour. It was rare that I ever got to add-in, meaning my advantage, needing only one point to win a game. When the score reached "deuce" (tied, in tennis parlance) and Drew needed a couple of big serves to put me away, called "aces" as they skipped by, I didn't see much of them and was just glad they didn't hit me. Then I felt more like a light-weight sparring partner in the ring with a heavy-weight champion trying to duck late round KO punches. Sometimes I could win a game or two in a set, but truth be told, Drew easily, spectacularly outplayed me, and scores of every set and match were dismal.

On the other hand, I had read Mickey Wright and some of the books of a few other golf greats to learn how to hit the ball straight and had taken lessons on the intricacies of the short game, so I could nearly always beat Drew on the golf course. With his big drives, Drew rarely hit the ball into the fairway and usually found every water hazard and sand trap on the course. He got to know how I felt when on the tennis court nearly every volley ended with my eventual return long, wide, or into the net.

Dinner and drinks always followed our outings wherever we were, at a local steakhouse or sports bar. Score cards, brilliant shots, lucky shots would be hashed over, always with a lot of kidding and laughs. We were always out to have good fun times, to not really compete seriously, except perhaps in good-natured gamesmanship. We played well because there was no tension or pressure to beat the other guy. As most golfers know, your game improves when you have a relaxed, easy swing, and are able to forget the previous bad hole or other problems.

Things were about to change.

Our first competition was at hand, though it would still be with a lot of kidding and laughs. It took place in our favorite venue at what was then the old Lake Geneva Playboy Club Resort (I guess we were sort of small time amateur playboys) that had two of the most enjoyable golf courses we played. Lake Geneva had been the flagship Playboy Club Golf Resort in the country and had attracted all the major entertainers when Hugh Hefner wore something other than bathrobes and slippers. The resort hotel had been closed for several years and was in disrepair, quite run-down. The place was kept open summers because its two golf courses were popular and always had their tee times fully booked.

After the golf round we of course went into the clubhouse for the usual customary drinks, as golfers always do, traditionally called the 19th hole. At the clubhouse though, we were told that the bar was in the otherwise shuttered hotel, the only room still open and used, that we should just keep walking down the long darkened corridor and we would be sure to find it all the way in the back, turn right and you'll see it, the room with the large windows giving a panoramic view overlooking both courses. So in we went.

Walking into that empty, barely lit bar it was game on. Our first competition began, winner take all, no second place - for we were stunned by the apparition standing behind the bar, knowingly smiling at us as we approached. Lisa, deeply tanned, elegant, was the dark-haired bartender, who would have shamed any of those Playboy Bunnies for sheer beauty (to our eyes) and as we were to see, for her wit, charm, guile, intelligence, what have you. She and the barmaid, Cheryl, were law students at UW and were working summers at the club probably as much to make blustering fools of golfers who thought they could make the slightest impression on them, as well as for the tips, which increased exponentially when Drew and I were around. 

I'm not the ugliest guy around, and Drew isn't exactly the best looking guy in the world, but he is big, over six feet tall, blond, and a Tennis Pro, which  he likes to point out. And he always has this grin on his face to match his sunny personality. All right, I'm none of those things, haven't got a big sunny grin, so he has me at a disadvantage, or as he likes to say, add-out. Being familiar with the worldly Emily Hahn's Seductio ad Absurdum, at least I knew even under the circumstances that tossing pick-up lines to waitresses, barmaids, and bartenders is juvenile and banal, but golfers have been known to get that way, - so Drew's lead-off was his ever present boyish grin which slightly disarmed Lisa, who was, sad to say, also impressed that he was a Tennis Pro, - naturally, the first thing that got brought up.

My situation was rapidly deteriorating and I sought something to get to add-in, or just to even the score at deuce if I wanted to stay in the game. Drew had racked up several points with some well practiced lines to my nil, when to my relief Lisa mentioned her pride in being part American Indian, one-quarter, because her mother was half Indian, of the Wisconsin Oneida tribe. A break, because I happen to be part Indian from my mother's side, descending from a northern plains tribe. That got her attention, so taking full advantage (add-in), I asked Lisa for her Indian name.

Such luck, she didn't have one. Very seriously, because it is, I said we might perform the naming ritual, if she liked, according to tribal conventions, to give her one if I could summon it.  The name would have to intimate and merit her physical and spiritual traits, be nature based, and fitting for her. She agreed, so I reached back for things my mother long ago told me about old handed-down tribal tales, the sagas and songs, some which were heroic, of triumph, of successful buffalo hunts, or when the aftermath of a battle with a cavalry company was described as a hill with seeds of scattered white corn. Many more though were poignant, that memorialized long trails and scenes of defeat - and the relentless loss of the vast expanses of  buffalo country between the Ponderosa pines in the Black Hills, past the Powder, Tongue, and Yellowstone rivers, to the Wolf, Rosebud, and Bighorn mountains. I thought of the old Indian names of the High Plains Cheyenne: of Two Moons, Black Kettle, and Wolf-on-the-Hill, and of the Teton and Lakota Sioux: Spotted Elk, Red Cloud, and Yellow Bird. And I remembered the ceremony when I had received Standing Water, my Indian name. I recalled that a name would come only after deep reflection, falling into a kind of reverie or mystic dream of then and now, while conjuring images of Indian lore and ways of life, of reading imaginary smoke signals, as best as I can explain it. After several minutes of concentration, it should arrive. The rite involved gripping hands and passing things back and forth, - for instance, leather and wooden objects, tobacco pouches and flints, (we substituted things at hand, wooden spoons from behind the bar, pipe tobacco and lighters). Trying to add a little pressure, Drew started for the door (gamesmanship) while I ceremoniously, carefully performed the ritual to beckon the proper Indian name for her.

Two Moons
Spotted Elk
Fifteen minutes later it came. She liked it. From then on Lisa became better known as Summer Wind.

And before every time Drew and I entered the bar we had someone in advance put a quarter in the jukebox to play Frank's song upon our entrance - we loved the way, upon hearing it, she spun around to look for us:

Add-in was pleasant - while it lasted. Poor Drew was left feeling like a lone survivor at the Little Big Horn while I was like a new brave with a painted pony. Summer Wind - the name was perfect for her. Then the Tennis Pro offered personal tennis lessons, something she always wanted. Suddenly, I was Salieri, Mozart's second.

Time for a new ploy, a fresh gambit - a longer club or tighter racquet. But what? I know. Yes, that's it. I'll write some poetry for her. Never mind I haven't done much of that before, but Summer Wind is a perfect muse. Let's see, I'll write one about the three major players, maybe even one to Cheryl, and anything else that brings inspiration. I might soon have permanent add-in.

First, Drew.  This painting was in the bar. The Tennis Pro:

                      THE TENNIS PRO                                  

Like the Leroy Neiman behind him hanging on the wall
With hazel gaze the tennis pro sets the figure before him 
Herself a study in pretty proficiency, bidding his subtle call

The picture paints a player frozen in a blur
Dazzled now, he searches for a clever winning serve
His mind a perfect blank, his tongue covered with fur

His seeded game was regarded with renown - picture perfect
All plot and stratagem, thrust and parry - drop and lob
Then another cross-court victory - poetry with no defect

With flashing fore and backhand, with stunning, numbing play
Against the ilk of Nastase, Connors, and Borg
They all proclaimed him a laureate of the court of clay

Though thoroughly beguiled, his serve shouldn't fail again
But when a withering return flashes from those evoking eyes
He forgoes the match and simply mutters, another tonic and gin.

A time might come when he may know all he needs to know
When vistas open, and she, like the painted frozen player, thaws
And she joins him in the picture, frozen by winter winds that blow.

That surprisingly, seemed to work. Everyone had a good laugh and I was add-in.
Until Drew took the T-tops off the Firebird and offered her a ride - sorry, only room for two. Time for another poem. Framed it - hoped she might weep when I gave it to her: The Bartender.


                 THE BARTENDER

The hospice had come to a baneful day
Once like a Pantheon on the great Appian Way
Its glories, like Rome, are of yesteryear
When legions gathered for wine and good cheer.
Its rooms and halls are quietly vacant now
Grandeur long gone, time would fain not allow
The grounds are barren where blossoms once reigned
Humbled, they dreamily brood of old splendors again.

Snugged in the back, an anomaly remains
A vestige of glory, of paradise regained
Shaped like a cirque, a circular space
The barrel house is now a time out of place.
Vesta herself, in sartorial rendition
Is keeping the hearth in age-old tradition
Like pouring a libation to honor a deity
She serves to strangers draughts with her fealty.

In grand proportions of varied elements
She plies her craft with refined sentiments.
With an artist’s devise and innocent guile
To concupiscent remarks she renders a smile.

Barmecide of Arabian nights deferring to his wishes
Gave a beggar a sumptuous feast served on empty dishes.
Our bartender now, with ample and graceful geniality
Can succor the soul with her chalice of generosity.

Don Quixote charged the windmills of La Mancha
Richard Wagner rode the Valkyries to Valhalla.
In Camelot, old King Arthur had his tiny spot
But it was here Alexander cut the Gordian Knot.

Against a backdrop of brandy and blend
Against a backdrop of view without end
This maestro with baton, nay - this melodic symphony
Restores to this world things – called peace and harmony.

Against the works of Poe, Shelly, or Michelangelo
Or Longfellow, Leonardo, or even Vincent Van Gogh
These lines when compared pale like miracle to sin
But not the lovely Lisa, better known as Summer Wind.

To my delight, she did cry when I presented it to her, of course to the strains of Frank singing her song.  She said she hung it her bedroom (gasp) and read it every night. Now for the coup de grĂ¢ce, going for game, set, match - the final player, The Poet:

                                              THE POET 

To say a poet seeks Truth and Beauty deigns a brief reply
He marks in murky metaphor while he really wonders why
Fair Ganymede and Io spinning in their awesome plane
Shouldn't somehow signal to our world-
As they whirl by again

It's there Beauty's lofty lesson might then best be taught
They are only part of a whole - alone, they come to naught
The moons of Jupiter seem far removed from such a lofty yield
But Truth is men are brethren-
Their welded lot is sealed

While sifting the progression of Nature's perfect contest
And seeing things true and beautiful in her majestic manifest
He writes his letter to the world with metaphor as means to end
With finite eye, his solemn soul peers into infinity-
With Truth and Beauty his only friend

With his words he paints the dawn when the sun touches morning,
He counts the fragrances of spring, Nature’s breath adorning
He points with pleasure to which he seeks at an ever-even pace
And touches, then, the breast of Truth and Beauty-
With tears upon his face

If he justly honors this, his sacred chosen task
And pours his winsome words as from an aurum cask
When he enrolls in the poets' confraternity named so odd
Come Judgement, he can humbly stand erect-
Before the Throne of God

Things were going well - oh, the oddly named fraternity just above is The Dead Poet's Society - and it was at this point that Cheryl was starting to feel left out, so I wrote one to her called To Cheryl, The Law Student:


               In Hoc Signo Vinces

Their dour faces echo ironic mockeries of birth
They are the meek who never inherited the earth
The newborn's tears impeach the day's divinity
The disinherited inveigh the earth's serenity

Menageries of militant madmen vie for the others' mud
Then loose the ugly mongrels on our children's blood
Quarrels of ancient wars erupt in insidious incident
Revenging omissions that cannot be considered accident

Chattering blindly, in doomed attempt to resolve a past
Factions, races kill, objecting to the system of caste
That preordains at birth, and inhumes the natural right
To stem the loss of humanity, within a child's sight

The iniquities of this world we love, wretchedly abound
The disjointed and disabled are buried, without a sound
Fleeing fathers sit snug in the trees
Forgotten mothers lie dead in the seas

The other day I opportuned to meet a cool jeweled mind
That just might offer hope to a world in such a bind
She's preparing to answer that stirring clarion call
To law, to serve the needy, the disenfranchised, all

Now if healing can come from planted words that grow
And the adage holds true, you reap that which you sow
If she stands the bar for those with no reward to offer
She won't be looking for that which has already found her

It has been said, for as early though the laurel grows
It withers far quicker than the lovely crimson rose
Her deeds, reposing with renown, will musk her amber wine
And shed the light in which a far better world will shine

An early evening, while we were listening to the strains of Sinatra crooning his song on the jukebox, Summer Wind proposed a little mock contest, to see which of us could pick the best place to take her for a romantic trip on holiday.  We were to write our answers on a bar napkin and turn them over, one at a time.  Drew and I of course strained our grey cells mightily to imagine where in the world would win the day. Lord, Drew turned up Hawaii, the island paradise of James Michener, From the Sun Swept Lagoon, and all that rot. I meekly, fearfully turned over my napkin and incredulously saw a provocative smile and watched her elegant finger point to... Alaska.  A Room With a View: 

                   A ROOM WITH A VIEW

Have you ever had the keys to the kingdom, ever been truly free
Have you seen the exquisite ice castle, the one they call Denali
Then come to the primordial Rim of Fire, restore in resignation
Ride your own Iditarod, lift your spirit to glacial revelation

Shake dreams from your midnight hair, my new and gentle friend
And go on a voyage of discovery, just beyond Vancouver's bend
To a place where, still, the grey timber wolf and caribou run
To a land called Alaska, of northern lights, and midnight sun

The Aleutians, lying like diamonds in the windswept Bering Sea
Point like your slender finger, from Asia to high Mt McKinley
From the empire of Mother Russia, besieged in Crimean volley
He garnered with love, this robust land, known as Seward's Folly

There is gold, they say, in the Yukon River, the beaches of Nome
There are no strangers at her gate, her warm valleys provide home
Now those who missed her Golden Age, of prospecting and violence
Pause at Prince William Sound, for Alaska, in a moment of silence

They say the Aleut and the Eskimo are of hunter, warrior class
Who forage for salmon and seal on treacherous glacier, like glass
In eloquent erudition, they slay the grey whales when they blow
Yet they revere the elegant tundra where the belly flowers grow

The Bear will glide white through a blue, phosphorescent sea
As two figures stand mute, awed by the green Earth's majesty
Her plunging bow will point north, guided by the star Polaris
As she sails to Alaska, a pristine land of the aurora borealis

Jack London, out from Seattle, wrote it was The Call of the Wild
I like to call it a provocative smile, of North America's child
Now there is a myriad of seas and isles everywhere under our sun
But dreams of Alaska come true when summer winds have just begun

When dreams become your walking stick, your life is forever new
As far as when vistas open, you can call this a room with a view
Come to think of it, on a voyage with you beyond Vancouver's bend
The discovery would be Alaska and you, - two views, without end

Summer Wind asked if I would like to borrow a music cassette she always listened to. Of course I would. That day, a warm sunny Sunday afternoon found us at a banquet for staff and guests of the defunct Playboy Resort, a shadow now of its former self.  But near the verdant golf course and away from the hotel, the gloom was nowhere to be found, and Drew and I enjoyed very much the banquet, especially watching Summer Wind gliding around, serving her brandies and blends behind the outdoor bar, under an enormous oak tree:  A Borrowed Cassette:


Sounds so stark, like a winter tree in a park
Recalling greener days, just now gone dark
An empty park, with only chill hurrying past
Sadly saying, autumn's fire does not last

Filling a void amid desire and fulfillment
Lamenting exclusion from contentment
Notes that misrepresented her air we knew
And denied as petitioner that special view

The sad tableau of sound recalled a place
Of a garden faded, and that certain space
When witnessed, the clearest light since birth
Seen firsthand, the most living thing on earth

The losses of this world music can explain
Better still it unveils things that remain
Listen to the desultory sound on your cassette
But hear the fanfare as you dance your minuet

While a tranquil winter is for a little while
The tree reminisces a not forgotten style
This time of respite is like an old dog's dream
When it shaded a girl under a branch so green

 The winds of winter bend our friend, the tree
 But bends his ear for an aria to set him free
 He listens for the lyrical, warm song of spring
 The promise of life and love it will always bring

Trouble on the horizon. Tired, heading for home late at night from some engagement, I  stopped for gas, about half way between The Resort and home.  It came to light that Summer Wind sometimes dated the Resort's red-headed Golf Pro, a fact not known to me nor Drew.  The Way Station:


               THE WAY STATION

Home bound was the knight from a long rigorous battle
It was only with effort he stayed in Rosinante's saddle
Winged dragons and windmills were filling his sore head
His thoughts turned then to home and his rickety bed

It was well the worn black nag knew the way to her stable
For the wizened old warrior was lost in some courtly fable
Where Dulcinea, his true ladylove, had at last come to know
For whom it was he dreamed, and fought the unbeatable foe

With visage drawn by battle and his thoughts all asundered
Just off the darkened road into a way station he blundered
Whether by chance or the hand of a supernatural vision
He stopped, and assumed the guise of a lost apparition

Templar and noble with armorial bearing, with visor full down
He dismounted, and off he strode with an awful clanking sound
With nerve and lance at the ready, he quickly drew his sword
For suddenly something had struck a somewhat distant chord

Now off in the misty shadows appeared a strange red-headed knight
Charming his own fair ladylove there, with all of his might
He could see no need for challenge, for the arms bore the crest
Of Frederick Barbarossa - alas, he had forgotten the rest

It was well that in the law of heraldic chivalry our hero resided
He could not look once at the maiden over whom that sire presided
For if he had seen it was Dulcinea, mayhem would have engendered
And not only the earth, but his poor heart would have been rendered

Back then to his waiting trusting steed he went, never the wiser
Back to his world of battle and fable, as seen through his visor
Back to his impossible dream, and the quest he would always pursue
And though she would always keep it to herself, now Rosinante knew

The summer came to a close, golfing season ended, things tug at you as time passes. 
Aside from a few phone calls, I heard from neither Drew nor Summer Wind until about six months later when Drew called to tell me he had just got married - that's right: Summer Wind. Game, Set, Match. I can genuinely say I was happy for them, though I would have liked to have been there even if it was only a Justice of the Peace affair. 

After about a month I got out to see them where they were staying. It was an early evening and Drew, surprising to me, was passed out in a chair by the fire. For a smoke, Lisa said she had to go out to the patio because one of the things Drew did not allow was smoking in the house. That was only one of so many prohibitions that Summer Wind said they were hard to remember them all. On the darkened patio she told me the marriage had been a mistake, that she was afraid of him because Drew was an alcoholic and violent, that she had bruises to prove it. She wanted to know why I hadn't told her about him because I must have known. The truth is, I hadn't known, didn't think I'd ever seen him drink excessively, and had never seen him drunk. It seems some people can hold liquor well and others hide alcoholism well, maybe the same people. And then I wasn't looking, or worse, had I been in a haze myself to not be able to notice. I told her she had to get out, leave him, to leave at once. 

A few weeks later, Drew's brother called to say Drew was in jail and Lisa was in hospital - domestic violence, with a broken arm and battered face. The worst thing I have ever had to do was stand by a bedside and visualize the arm of that huge serve and see what it had done. She said that if they could put her back together, she wanted a clean start, to get away, from everything. The marriage had lasted seven weeks.

Leaving the hospital, I thought of the appallingly bitter waste and loss, of a collection of tennis trophies from a long career... how friendships can turn, can end badly.

Back in the car, on the seat was the book I happened to be reading, one by LeCarre, about George Smiley. I was at the part when, after a loss, Smiley said he would return to his island of half-people, where no one ever knew or had forgotten how people can love each other, that his books and music would sustain him - but that he would always carry a light. Corny perhaps, though I think the three of us could relate to some of that allegory.

It was seven or eight months later Drew's brother called again to say he had just heard from Summer Wind. He told me that she was living in northern California, near the Oregon state line and that he was a new uncle. He said Lisa's pregnancy had survived the beating and that she had a new daughter, Katherine Rose - that both were doing well.

He almost forgot he was to tell me that Katie's Indian name is Summer Song, named after all those little songs, little poems written to her mother that summer, one of which might be hanging on a bedroom wall out there somewhere in California, near the Oregon border.

That sustains me. Forget Smiley's books and music. But he was right about the light.

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