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Three delicious short stories
by Martin Green

At the Buena Vista, SF!

Appointment in Samarra 2020: a riff on John O'Hara

My Day in Lockdown

 


 


At the Buena Vista with Margo and Marilyn  

     Last night I dreamt that I was with my old girl friend Margo. I don’t know what we were doing or talking about but we were in New York City and I’d come there, not to meet Margo, but to ask another old girl friend, Marilyn, to marry me.

     In real life I’d met Margo first (which is why I’ve put her name first in the title), shortly after coming out to San Francisco from New York City. I’d gone to have dinner with a friend at a guest house, the fancy name San Francisco had for boarding houses, and afterward a bunch of us had gone to a nearby bar, the kind that had sawdust on the floor, peanuts on the tables and served beer in steins. Margo was by far the most attractive girl there and I contrived to sit next to her.

      She was also an Easterner, not from New York but from Boston, so we had something in common right off. I’d been stationed in Germany while in the Army during Korea and she’d toured Europe as a graduation present so we had that in common, too, sort of. Most importantly, I’d gotten a job with an advertising agency on Montgomery Street and she worked for a bank nearby. We made a date to go out for lunch the next week. That was the start.

     For a while we had a good time. We met for lunch two or three times a week. We called each other on the phone once a day. I’d gotten into a group of young people I thought of as the Berkeley gang, since most of them had graduated from UC Berkeley, and on Friday nights we met at a downtown bar and from there usually went to a party someone knew of. On weekends we’d meet at the Buena Vista, a San Francisco institution where Irish coffee, it was claimed, had been invented and maybe go over to Sam’s in Tiburon to sit in the sun, have Samburgers and beer and look at the great view of The City (San Francisco) across the Bay. Most of the gang were couples and until now I’d been the odd man out but now I too had a girl friend. I remember it as a really good time.

     Good as it was, I think that I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t going to last. As I’ve said, Margo was a very attractive girl, I suppose I should say young woman. She was tall, as tall as I was when she wore flats, taller in heels, a brunette with dark eyes and she had an amazing figure. She was also ambitious and she soon had a promotion doing whatever she did at the bank and began talking about the guy who who the bank manager. After a while, she started saying she couldn’t make it for lunch that day and she was busy over the weekend. I was a pretty naïve young man at that time, but even I suspected that something was going on.  Eventually, at what turned out to be our last lunch, she told me she was seeing somebody else, whether it was the bank manager I didn’t know. We parted more or less amicably and at least she didn’t say she hoped we could still be friends. Whatever you might call it, I was dumped.

     I took it all gracefully. No, are you kidding, for a time I was miserable. However, I was young and when you’re young you’re resilient. Six months later I met Marilyn, at one of those parties I still went to with the Berkeley gang, although now I was once again the odd man out. Marilyn also was attractive, although not in the same class with Margo. She was also tall but blonde with green eyes and a sweet smile. She wasn’t a college grad like Margo but had gone to a community college in the small California town she was from. She worked in an insurance office, not downtown. She thought San Francisco was a great city, full of wonders.     

     I was happy to show Marilyn all of those wonders, pretty much a repetition of what I’d done with Margo. Also, I introduced Marilyn into the Berkeley gang and, although she was not as sophisticated as the other girls she fit in pretty well. By this time a few of the couples in the group had bitten the bullet and had gotten married. The weddings were big affairs with everyone, Marilyn and I included, attending.    Somehow, it seemed to be taken for granted that eventually we’d also go that route.   

     I woke up one morning and asked myself the question: did I want to get married to Marilyn? Did I want to get married, period? By this time I’d left the ad agency, where I’d grown to dislike my job, and had become Sales Research Manager for a local brewery, a title much more impressive than my salary. I liked my job, but there’d recently been rumors that the brewery might be bought out by one of the national companies or that it might just close down. Was it a good time to consider taking on the responsibility of a wife and all that it entailed. It wouldn’t seem so.  

 Then there was the matter of getting married at all. The truth was that no, I wasn’t really ready for that. The next few months were painful ones as I tried to gently distance myself from Marilyn. The other members of the Berkeley gang could see what was happening and the girls looked upon me with disapproval. Then something else happened. Marilyn told me she’d gotten back in touch with her old high school boy friend and he wanted to marry her. So she’d realized what was going on. Marilyn went back to her home town in the Valley and I was relieved. At about the same time my brewery did close down and I was unemployed and so had other things to think about.

     I eventually got a job with the State, which seemed more secure than my previous jobs. I was older.I was ready for marriage. I met Beverly, who was not as tall as I was, and after a few months we were married. We moved to Sacramento so I could get a promotion, bought a house, had three sons, time flew by and now I’m retired. So why, after all this time, did I have that dream about Margo and Marilyn? I read somewhere that in this era of lockdown because of the of the coronavirus people are are not getting enough stimulus from their present lives and so their dreams tend to be about things past. Maybe I had some residual guilt over Marilyn and so in my dream I was going to marry her. Why was I with Margo? Maybe I wanted to let her know that my infatuation with her was over. Who knows? I wonder what other things in the past I’ll dream of.

 

Appointment in Samarra 2020

     Henderson, a con man and career criminal, who’d been released early from prison because of the coronavirus pandemic, was at a supermarket in Sacramento.  Holed up in a small apartment while he considered schemes to take advantage of the pandemic, he now scooped up all the toilet paper he could. Feeling that someone was looking at him, he glanced up and saw Death in the next aisle. Their eyes met and Death made what he thought was a threatening gesture. Henderson immediately abandoned his shopping cart, ran out of the store, jumped into his stolen car and drove as fast as he could to San Francisco.

     Once in San Francisco, Henderson stopped his car and asked a homeless person where he could find an out-of-the-way hotel. The homeless person pointed and held out his hand but Henderson ignored the plea, drove to the hotel, which looked like an abandoned building. An all but illegible sign over the entrance seemed to start with the letter S. Henderson went in and walked to the counter. The hotel clerk, who, although he didn’t know it, had the virus, gave Henderson the pen he’d sneezed on earlier that day to sign in.    

     Back in Sacramento, the checkout clerk asked Death why he’d made a threatening gesture to that other customer. Death said that it wasn’t a threatening gesture, it was a gesture of surprise. He’d been surprised to see Henderson in Sacramento because he had an appointment with him that night in San Francisco, at the Hotel Samarra.

My Day in Lockdown

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Joseph Epstein, a writer I’ve cited in the “Observations” column I write for a monthly senior paper, in which he describes his typical day in the Covid-19 age and I thought I might try to describe mine.

At the end of his article Epstein writes: "I believe I have established that I lead a quiet, even an impressively dull life, dull but mine own.”

I believe I lead an even duller life, and have been doing so even before being locked down, primarily as I’m now 90 years old and my wife Beverly is 85. When we moved into our Northern California retirement community some 25 years ago I was playing tennis three times a week, I formed and was first president of the New Yorkers Club, I joined the Scribes, Investment and Table Tennis Clubs, I was on the Community Relations Committee, and I was doing free-lance articles for the Neighbors section of the Sacramento Bee.

I had to stop playing tennis ten years ago; I don’t belong to any clubs or committees any more; and I am down to writing two columns a month for a senior paper, one at present, as one of the columns was on “Favorite Restaurants” and it’s difficult to write about restaurants when they’re all closed. I also contribute short stories to a couple of online magazines, but that’s about it.

So what’s a typical day in lockdown? It’s not much different than a typical day before. Beverly and I usually get up around eight. Like many senior citizens we suffer from insomnia so we both take sleep aids. When we’re up we ask each other how our nights went. We then go through our morning regimen of pill-taking. We have our breakfasts, usually cold cereal with plenty of fruit as fruit is supposed to be good for old people. I then take my coffee and newspaper out to our enclosed patio and do, or try to do, the crossword puzzle, easy on Monday and Tuesday, then getting harder as the week goes on. After this, which is usually the best part of the day (and sometimes the only good part), it’s the bathroom business and getting dressed.

Once dressed, it’s on to my morning routine. I look at my iPad to see if among all the e-mails arriving overnight there might be one or two that aren’t spam and that I might I want to read or that call for a reply. I also read the online versions of Fox News, the NY Times and our local paper, the Bee. I check the latest Dow Jones and interest rates. Beverly and I have been playing scrabble with each other for a long time and recently our grandson, 12, and granddaughter, 10, in Ireland have started playing with us so I look to see if they’ve sent any words overnight.

I then go to my computer and delete all of the spam e-mails, it’s easier to do on the computer than on the Pad. If it’s the beginning of the month I go to the websites of the magazines, both based in Britain, I contribute to see if any of my stories are in them. If so, I e-mail the editors and ask how things are going over there. My one remaining column, “Observations,” is due on the 15th of the month so if it’s a few days before I write it and e-mail it in. My last column I called “Observations on You-Know-What,” and yes, it was the coronavirus. Is there anything else?

I may have some other things to do in the morning, like emptying the dishwasher, re-filling the fountain in the backyard or straightening out what we call my computer room, an endless task. Lunch time comes fairly quickly and usually I fix myself a sandwich. Epstein writes that for him the problem “begins at lunch.” Before, he’d have lunch with friends once, twice or three times a week. “I miss those lunches sorely. … My friends … and I are in self-imposed quarantine and social life, like the world itself, on hold.”

I know what he means as Beverly and I had a monthly lunch group, LEO (for Let’s Eat Out), a monthly lunch and Mexican Train date with another couple and she also had an Octo (ladies 80 and over) and a neighbors lunch group. I also had an occasional lunch with friends. This isn’t exactly a hectic social schedule but it was something and, like Epstein, we miss it.

After lunch, I go to my computer and try to write something. Of late, it’s either a story or some other kind of piece involving the coronavirus. It’s hard to get away from it. I’m also keeping a journal, something I started doing a long time ago, but now instead of something like “Hot today; stayed indoors. Spoke to son D--- on phone; he’s OK” it’s much more detailed. Five years ago I wrote a “fictional memoir”, The View From 85” and at the end of this year, relying on my journal notes, I’ll try to write a much more factual memoir, “The View From 90.” The pandemic will be an important character in the memoir.

It’s hard for me to say exactly what I do the rest of the afternoon. I collect the mail, most of it requests for donations, the same as before but some donations now have something to do with the coronavirus. Otherwise there’s some reading, some listening to music, maybe some sketching (which, after many years, I’ve taken up again). Epstein says he relies on British detective stories and as it happens I’m reading one now. I like the leisurely pace of British detecting, with plenty of time spent in pubs for meals and pints which also leaves enough time for additional murders.

At three I watch the TV news, mainly to keep informed of what the latest horrible things the virus is doing, like millions of people, besides getting infected and dying, being unemployed while the government is spending trillions trying to keep the economy from completely crashing. Of late there’s also been the daily White House briefing on the state of the virus with the President saying how great things are going and the press, most of whom despise him, try to trip him up with their questions, not an edifying spectacle. Occasionally, very occasionally, when the doctors speak, there’s some item of interest. Around four I start to fade and by five I’m ready for my afternoon nap, or what our Irish daughter-in-law would call a liedown.

In the evening, after supper, Beverly and I settle in our lazy-boy chairs in the living room for a couple of hours of TV watching. She’s a former occupational therapist who used to work in hospitals and she likes any and all hospital shows. I’m not sure this is the best watching at this particular time and when the fall TV season comes on, if it does, I’m sure all the hospital shows, in between scenes of doctors and/or nurses having sex in the supply cabinet, will be full of coronavirus cases.

The other TV staple is of course the crime show and in contrast to the leisurely British detective books the action is fast and furious: body found, first suspect grilled (he or she is innocent because it’s too early), another suspect, the obligatory chase, maybe a little sex thrown in, the takedown, case solved and closed. I’m not sure how the crime show writers will work in the coronavirus but I’m sure they will. Since the onset of the pandemic we usually end the night by watching some of the local news to see if anything really bad, that hasn’t been reported in the afternoon, has taken place in our area. And so another day in lockdown has passed.

Epstein concludes his article by writing that although his life might be dull it’s his own and “I eagerly await the departure of this blasted virus so that I might have it back.” I might add that at the age of 90 if I shouldn’t wake up tomorrow, well, okay, I’ve had a good run. But I don’t want my life to be ended by that blasted virus and yes, I’d like to go out to lunch again without fear of that happening.



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