SERENDIPITY IN THE CITY OF FALLING ANGELS, by Ted Wojtasik

Serendipity in the City of Falling Angels
by Ted Wojtasik

This serendipitous incident happened on the island cemetery, Isola di San Michele, in Venice, Italy, with Mary de Rachewiltz, the daughter of Ezra Pound, in front of Pound’s gravesite. November 1st is both Pound’s death date and All Saints’ Day, which is a solemn Roman Catholic celebration to honor all the saints, known and unknown, as well as to visit family gravesites. Each year Mary makes this annual pilgrimage to Pound’s gravesite as well as to Olga Rudge’s gravesite, who is her mother and who is buried next to Pound. She places flowers in front of both gravesites and then reads out loud Pound’s poem “Night Litany” in their honor.

Earlier, in Sienna, in the last week of October 2005, I saw a paperback edition in English of John Berendt’s new book The City of Falling Angels. The title derives from a sign in the 1970s posted outside the Santa Maria della Salute Church before the restoration of its marble ornaments: Beware of Falling Angels. I was surprised to see it because the hardcopy edition had just been released in September in the States. Anyway, I was eager to read this book for one particular chapter called “The Last Canto,” which is about Olga Rudge, Pound’s long-term mistress, and how the Rylands of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum persuaded Rudge in 1986, when she was 91 years old, to establish the Ezra Pound Foundation, a tax-exempt outfit, to promote scholarship on Pound and his works. She sold all her letters, papers, and books to the Ezra Pound Foundation for seven thousand dollars, but Berendt claims that the archive was worth close to one million dollars. She then donated her three-storied house in Venice that her father had bought for her in 1928 to the foundation. A house of that kind in that neighborhood would have sold, probably, for a quarter of a million dollars or more in 1986. The idea was that the house would become an academic center to study Pound.

There were three officers: Olga Rudge as president, Mrs. Jane Rylands as vice president, and an American attorney from Cleveland, Ohio. Berendt writes: “The foundation’s bylaws stated that two of the three could outvote the third.” Rudge, Mary, and her family had to legally challenge this foundation because it had not been Rudge’s intention to do what she did. Her archive was later deposited in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University. There are 208 boxes of the Olga Rudge Papers. As Berendt was doing research he discovered that box 156, which contains the papers of the Ezra Pound Foundation, was “restricted” and sealed until 2016—he speculates that the sale price for her papers are in that box.

In 1988, there were two competing claims against the Olga Rudge Papers: Olga Rudge and the Ezra Pound Foundation. The Beinecke bought out both claims and bought the papers. Mary and her family managed to save the Hidden Nest, Pound’s nickname for the house in Venice, but the basic implication that Berendt argues is that the Rylands took advantage of an elderly woman (as they had taken advantage of Peggy Guggenheim), essentially stole her archive, and sold it to the Beinecke. After the archive was sold, the Ezra Pound Foundation was dissolved.

Olga Rudge herself was a renowned concert violinist. In fact, Pound wrote a music review of one of her performances in 1920. She toured throughout Europe and played before Heads of States. By 1926 she was considered one of the most celebrated solo violinists of her time. She published a catalog of works by Antonio Vivaldi, did a concert tour of his work, and was in large part responsible for the Vivaldi revival.

In addition to Rudge’s story, the book explores the interwoven lives in Venice in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed La Fenice, one of Italy’s most famous opera houses, on January 29, 1996. A court in Venice found two electricians guilty of setting the fire.

I knew about this book and the chapter “The Last Canto” from Mary. Berendt had stayed in the Hidden Nest, at some point, while doing research for the book, and he had visited Mary and her family at Brunnenburg Castle, their main home, in the Tyrolean section of the Italian Alps. Mary was not upset in any manner about what Berendt wrote in “The Last Canto,” but dismissed it as “gossip.” I pointed out that Berendt’s first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, had been a record-breaking book on the New York Times Bestsellers List—his book was on this list for 216 weeks!

In Sienna, I bought the book and started to read it that night. “The Last Canto” is chapter nine in the book, and all the chapters are, as far as I recall, self-contained stories; however, I resisted the urge to read that chapter first. I read more the following day on the Eurostar to Venice. While in Venice, in the Dosoduro neighborhood, near the Hidden Nest, I read “The Last Canto” and finished reading the book that night. I did not think this book was as strong as his first book, but it was a well-written and engaging narrative. I was duly impressed with the various people and stories, and I thought “The Last Canto” was extremely well done. As is mentioned in the chapter, the complicated goings-on between Rudge, the Rylands, and Mary has all the 19th-century shadows and angles of Henry James’s The Aspern Papers.

When I saw Mary the next day, I told her that I had found a copy of the Berendt book in Sienna and had finished reading it last night. I praised “The Last Canto” and had not known the entire story behind the Olga Rudge Papers. Mary expressed surprise that I thought well of the book saying, once again, that it was just “gossip.” I explained again how very popular his first book had been and that it put Savannah, Georgia, on the map with bus tours of sites mentioned in its pages and that the city of Savannah presented John Berendt with a key to the city. I said that it was possible that this book might prompt more interest in her father’s work. Not that Venice needed any more tourists, but I said more people might seek out the Hidden Nest. Mary did not think so. As it turned out, his second book did not do at all as well as his first book.

I teach at St. Andrews Presbyterian College, which has a fall semester-abroad program in Italy at the Brunnenburg Castle, where our students have the opportunity to study The Cantos, by Ezra Pound, with Mary and two courses with Siegfried (Sizzo), Pound’s grandson. At this point during the semester, on Pound’s death date and All Saints’ Day, Mary gives a walking tour for our students of Pound’s Venice. This walking tour always ends at the Isola di San Michele cemetery, which is a small island outside the mainland of Venice. It is primarily a cemetery, but the island also has the first Renaissance church in Venice and a monastery. It’s an extraordinary place. Named after Saint Michael, who holds the scales on the day of judgment, it has been nicknamed “The Island of the Dead.” That sounds gloomy, but the place is really a grand tribute to dead family members and ancestors with walls of marble crypts and pots of hanging flowers and burning ruby red sanctuary lamps.

I have been with Mary twice before to visit Pound’s gravesite, which is really a small garden with shrubbery, palm-like plants, and a bed of variegated ivy. It is a rectangular plot with the front part extending into a half circle. One time there was a cremation urn tossed in the ivy, so someone asked that his or her ashes be strewn on Pound’s grave, and this time there was a prayer candle burning—it was a pillar candle and had a lid with air holes. Mary placed the flowers down before Olga Rudge’s grave and then before Ezra Pound’s grave. She then asked me to read “Night Litany,” and I was deeply moved and honored to read it. After that, some of the students wandered over to look at Joseph Brodsky’s gravesite (which is near Pound’s) and also to Sergei Diaghilev’s and Igor Stravinsky’s gravesites in another section.

After the reading of the poem, the walking tour is officially over, and the students take the vaparetto (water bus) back to the mainland or go on to Murano to see the glassmakers. I was walking back with Mary when she said, “I think my mother deserves a candle as well.” I nodded.
She went into a small shop and returned with a prayer candle.

As we were walking back, I said, “How are we going to light this candle?”

“That is a very good question.”

When we returned to the gravesite, I found a twig and pushed it through an air hole of the burning prayer candle and got the end aflame. Mary leaned over and I used the burning twig to light the wick of her prayer candle. I blew out the twig. Mary stood back up straight and the flame immediately went out. All this while, I was aware of a woman moving slowly along one path near us—there was no one else in this section. I got the twig aflame again and we lit the wick and this time when Mary stood back up straight the flame did not go out.

At that moment, with Mary holding the lit prayer candle, this middle-aged woman, dressed in a long beige overcoat, stepped over and said, “Excuse me, but I’m trying to find a gravesite.” She was an American.

“Yes,” I said. “Which one?”

“Ezra Pound’s.”

I glanced at Mary and said, “This is his gravesite.”

“Oh,” she said, “it is?”

“This is it,” I said and extended my hand to indicate the marble headstone.

She stepped over and looked down at his etched name. “Oh, my, this is so moving. I read that new Berendt book about Venice and what that poor daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, had to go through with that couple at the Guggenheim.”

I saw Mary straighten her back a little more and lift her chin slightly.

“Have you read that book?” she asked. “It’s called The City of Falling Angels. My husband and I are from Boston, and I wanted to pay tribute to Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge after reading about the ordeal she and her daughter had to go through.”

I knew Mary would not say a word, and I thought that I would create a memory for this woman that she would never ever forget for the rest of her life.

“Actually,” I said, “this is Mary de Rachewiltz.”

“Oh, Ted,” Mary murmured.

The woman did not speak for a moment, her eyes wide. “Oh, my, I can’t believe this, I am so honored to meet you.” She introduced herself and we shook hands and talked some. Mary put the lit prayer candle in front of her mother’s grave. This woman from Boston took a picture of Mary and me. I took a picture of Mary and her.

Horace Walpole coined the word “serendipity” after the Persian fairytale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” because the princes were always making desirable discoveries through accident and sagacity. (Serendip today is Sri Lanka.) The basic definition of serendipity is the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. That woman from Boston truly had a serendipitous moment.

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Befriending the Friendless, by Jordan Moses

Befriending the Friendless
by Jordan Moses

Sitting with my friends at a crowded table in the middle of the high school cafeteria, I feel the blanket of acceptance shroud over me, bringing with it a certain latitude of safety. We take turns making witty comments, indulging in the gossip of our lives, and debating current school affairs. Every once in a while I’ll pop in to give my perspective. It assures them that I’m listening instead of staring vacantly at the nearest wall. We are at ease with the conversation knowing every comment made, regardless of content, will be met with smiles and laughter. From the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a lonely-looking kid bearing a colossal bag on his back. He looks down at the ground as he carries his tray, afraid to catch anyone’s eye. As my friends notice my distraction, they too turn to stare in his direction. All around the cafeteria, students’ heads perk up upon his approach, their uniform staring only furthering his isolation. The ostracized youth knows there are no openings. Silently, he sits alone at an empty table. My friends turn once more, comfortable to carry on their previous conversation, but I do not join. I begin to contemplate the fear of losing acceptance versus human kindness. The longer I think on the issue, the more convinced I become. Students should strive to accept others instead of trying so hard to be accepted. Boldly, I stand and carry my tray to join the solitary boy.

Various reasons exist as to why certain students are not accepted. Usually, those reasons boil down to clothing, physical attributes, or financial status. Name brands shine out as beacons, quickly lighting the way to those students who will be accepted. If a student is found lacking, chances at finding high school popularity quickly turn dismal. Comments such as, “Oh look, there goes a Sears’ special…” or “Wow, how many generations has that shirt been through?” plague the halls of every high school quickly shutting down any spurts of individualism. It is through a wall of closed mindedness that students must break if they are to stand out on their own and follow their own fashion taste. For those who are more provincial, like myself, it would simply be having no fashion sense at all and considering the concept of matching overrated. Physical attributes characterize popularity as well. Having neon-colored hair or being unevenly proportioned automatically kicks a student out into a category of their own causing those in the “in-crowd” to take the avoidance tactic. Sadly, not having the right body type can be the cause of isolation. Students also find themselves facing resistance from their peers if their family is financially struggling. Being poor is associated with low hygienic standards, no intelligence, and lack of means to acquire the “right” clothing in the minds of students. Because of stereotypes and false standards, kids who are too poor, fat, skinny, tall, or short are spurned.

Students often turn others into outcasts because they are simply afraid of becoming unpopular themselves. When they reach out to someone who is lonely, and see the group they are a part of does not approve, they routinely go back to ignoring the outsider. I knew a girl once whose sole purpose in life was to gain the approval of the high school cheerleading squad. When she tried to befriend a new exchange student, however, the girls quickly began to ignore her. The girl was so unnerved by their abrupt change in behavior that she completely stopped talking to the exchange student. Instantaneously, she won back her “friends.” Like horses with blinders, students have a narrow line of sight and do not realize until much later in life, if at all, that if everyone practiced acceptance despite differences, then no one would be rejected.

I noticed the lonely boy’s expression as he saw me approaching. Surprise, embarrassment, and joy passed over his face in a matter of seconds. As soon as the emotions broke through, the boy carefully composed his face into the empty mask he was so used to wearing. I sat across from him and introduced myself. As I tried to converse, I noticed our conversation was strained. It was obvious that he was not used to interacting with others. I paused to glance back and see what my friends were thinking and saw them staring back at me with mixed expressions. Some were angry, others were thoughtful, but mostly they were shocked. Thankfully, the bell rang, bringing our conversation to an end.

Little by little, over the next few weeks I was able to know the boy better. Underneath his shyness and tattered clothing, he was quite intriguing and would save me in many math classes to come. In the back of Biology classes, we would doodle on the edges of paper discussing anything from bands to Darwin’s much debated theory. He would teach me in the years to come how to snowboard, play chess, and properly wield a calligraphy pen while slowly, but surely, I introduced him to my friends and showed him how to meet other people. Senior year, I leaned against the brick wall of our high school watching him interacting with the friends that had stood by me for four years. His face was aglow and he held himself with a newfound confidence. Gone was his embarrassment and look of forlornness. In mid-conversation, he caught my eye and a fluid smile lit his face. His look of complete happiness, of a boy caught up in a pique moment, spread warmth in my heart. Slinging his arm around my shoulders, he quickly brought me back into the conversation, always wanting me to be a part of the group, never alone. Daily he repaid my favor of reaching out to him by making sure I was included. He was my buckler, my shield from high school drama. It was only after high school, as we were kicking our feet in the cold water of a park lake, that he told me how much he appreciated my kindness. With a clouded face he told me I had saved him, that he had been a broken person until I had helped him pick up the pieces. He continued to attribute his paradoxical outgoing personality and group of friends to that first day. As I listened, I was astonished. Here I was talking to what I knew was a lifelong friend all because of a choice to speak to one lonely boy. It was then that I realized how much we as students, and as people, impact one other with our actions and words.

I learned an essential lesson in life when I chose to think beyond being accepted. Every person is unique, and it is not just for people to judge others based on small discrepancies in behavior. Making a stand and choosing to be different led to acquiring the closest friend I have today. If all students banded together and decided to be open-minded instead of immediately discarding a person because of their clothing, then students’ lives would be less complicated and high schools would be much more pleasant places.

All Squared Up, by Jessie Carty

All Squared Up
by Jessie Carty

You may not believe it from looking at all 4 foot 10 inches of me, but I’m a fighter. No, I don’t mean that in the “I’ve fought and survived cancer or child abuse etc etc” kind of fighter, although I’m not denying the possibility of those battles. I’m talking about physical fists out fighting.

It started early. My brother and I would wrestle when we were supposed to be sleeping. I tended to befriend boys more than girls. Maybe because, while I liked stuffed animals, I wasn’t much of a doll carrying, dress wearing kind of girl. I wanted to climb trees and dig holes in the yard. I hate to use the word tomboy because I am terrible at sports, but tomboy is still a pretty apt description of me.

There was a little boy named John on my bus whom I spent most of my time fighting with in grammar school. He lived down the street from me, and I suppose we liked each other on some 3rd grader level although I never took him up on the offer he gave all the girls—a chance to see his penis.

John and I took the fights seriously in regards to technique (John was a Hulk Hogan fan). We weren’t trying to actually hurt each other. It was a show of physicality, a way to touch without the edges of sex that we almost understood. Our school bus transported kids from ages 5 to 18; therefore, we had seen quite a few make out sessions, and we’d heard detailed dirty jokes before we could even write in cursive.

Besides my brother and John, I never really got into “starting trouble” kind of fights. Fighting was just for fun, not for anger. That is until 5th grade and a boy named Jeremy.

I don’t remember Jeremy’s last name. We rode the same bus to school. He was older than I. I’m not sure how much older, perhaps 6th grade, but I think he may have been held back at least once. Not withstanding age, he was definitely much bigger than I and not just because of his gender, but think about it: I never made it over 4 foot 10 as an adult, so how tall could I have been in 5th grade?

As we were offloading the bus for school one morning, Jeremy pushed me from behind. He was trying to start a fight. I didn’t bite. I told him to stop, but I didn’t report him; I simply got off the bus and went to class before he could try anything else.

It wasn’t the same day- I don’t think- but near enough for both of the events to stand out in my memory, that Jeremy and I finally had it out during recess.

I was playing four-square with mostly girls when one of the few boys playing declared I was out. Most of the boys were at the far end of the recess yard near the sandy lines that we called a baseball diamond. The four-square ball had been out of bounds, which is why I didn’t hit it, but this boy, who was serving, swore the ball had been in. I was forced to leave my square. The girls all backed me up. I should have just left the game, found something else to do, but I got back into line. Jeremy cut in front of me. I don’t know what he said to me. I don’t know what I said to him, but I do know he swung first.

Yes, the kid who was at least a year older than me and definitely had 20 or more pounds on me, who was also a boy, took the first swing. I had always been told to defend myself, even by my former Mennonite mother; therefore, I hit back. It wasn’t a long fight. There was no slow motion. We ended up on the ground until a teacher broke up the fight. We were sent to the principal’s office where we each went in individually to tell our side of the story. There were boys, many who were not even at the four-square game, who claimed I started the fight, but all the girls sided with me, even the ones I didn’t know well. It was amazing how quickly it came down to boys versus girls.

I knew the principal well. I had been in the same school since kindergarten. Mr. Tice, the principal, had even given me a ride home from school once when I was very young and my mother didn’t have a car. I think I threw up in his VW. I told him about the bus and the fight on the playground. I was usually a good kid who didn’t fight in school; I had good grades, unlike Jeremy.

Jeremy had to sit in the cafeteria during recess for two weeks. I sat in the principal’s office with the secretary and sometimes helped her file things.

Jeremy and I both came away from the fight with black eyes which I took a bit of pride in. I loved watching mine change colors as it healed, and every time I saw Jeremy’s black rimmed eye, I thought, “I did that.” It wasn’t hurting someone that felt like a triumph, but rather the fact that I had found some way to stand up for myself despite being a girl, despite my size. I don’t advocate fighting, but I can say Jeremy never taunted me again. I never threw a punch again.

I like to picture our black eyes as a matching set. Mine is on the right, his is on the left. The two bruises become a circle, like a yin/yang symbol, putting everything back into balance.

Hollow, by Jodi Barnes

Hollow
by Jodi Barnes

Sitting in this pew in a makeshift nave at a funeral home five blocks from my house feels abstract. But I know, like concrete, that I am here with the smell and shade of a funeral parlor, the uncomfortable bench, and eggshell walls blending into pallid faces. The more I try to leave this cruel puzzle of why alone, the more I obsess about one piece: last Thursday morning, the last time I saw him, his last day of school, Jonah had a secret.

As he rang our doorbell, stepped into the house and smiled, when I asked him what was on the docket and he answered a world history test first period, that ROTC was going great, thanks, just great, and while he waited for my daughter Claire to finish straightening her hair so they could walk to school together, Jonah knew something the rest of us didn’t.

I don’t know if Jonah has any more secrets. He no longer has a body. I don’t know if a person needs a body in order to have a secret. I want to believe that some part of him didn’t die, but I no longer believe in a god who grants life everlasting or eternal damnation. So this question about whether the secret exists now bothers me.

Jonah’s mother and father, his sister and his grandparents sit a few feet away from me in the funeral home. I saw his parents two days ago when Claire and Jonah’s best friend Aaron and I brought them food. Jonah’s father had looked confused when he opened the door. He didn’t take the food so I told him I could put it in the kitchen for him. He didn’t respond. We stood there until his wife walked toward us from next door. He then seemed to remember to take the box of sandwiches from me and walked back inside.

I stepped off the porch to greet Jonah’s mother, not expecting her softness. For the last two days I’ve wondered why I was surprised. How could I know what a parent’s face looks like after their child kills himself? Her vacancy made sense. But not the beauty inside of it, a tender kindness around her bloodshot eyes. When I hugged her she half asked in a whisper, “We just want to know why.”

I don’t like the priest. He is telling us that it was the wrong time for Jonah to return to God and then he is telling us that Jonah will be welcomed into the Kingdom. He is saying that if not for being Christians, we wouldn’t be here. No one would love and support this broken family unless we were good Christians. He stumbles over Jonah’s parents’ names.

The photos spanning Jonah’s brief life run on a huge plasma screen on our side of the aisle. I am grateful to watch them over and over because I’ve decided to hate the priest. I hate that none of Jonah’s friends are able to stand up and tell their stories. That a standing room only full of young people are forced to hear that there is a way they can see Jonah again, and this idiot can hook them up.

Even if the Christians could see Jonah again, I wonder if he’d have his strong and beautiful 14-year-old body. Because of the way Jonah executed his secret, his body has been incinerated. A coroner decided that Jonah died on Friday, March 4, a date that is also an imperative sentence. I wonder how many of us are thinking about Jonah’s secret and why it was imperative and what to do with our wondering about it.

I look down the pew at my daughter, three of her friends the buffer between us, her face twisted into an older version since she learned the secret. Since Jonah’s body, his bike and the gun were found, I’ve felt something shift about her, within me and between us. I want to comfort her, but she hasn’t let me. One of her teachers emailed me three days ago. Claire made one of her friends cry in class. When I asked her what happened, she said that she was sick of how people who didn’t even know Jonah were carrying on, being dramatic. But on Tuesday I’d called her a mean girl for refusing to offer that same friend a ride to the memorial service. And I’d yelled at her today when she changed clothes twice and asked too cheerfully, “How do I look?” before we left.

There is a big wooden cross on the wall we all face. Instead of an altar, a sofa table stands with a big block of marble on it. Jonah’s full name, his birth and death dates are engraved there. On top of the smooth block of rock is his hat and beside them is what look like pajama bottoms with smiley faces, grimaces, sardonic grins, and pirate eye patches. On the floor beside the table are huge flower arrangements. One is a yellow daisy smiley face, a four-foot round grave blanket. I think back to when I was 14 in the ‘70s. Have a Nice Day.

After scripture readings and the final prayer, the priest walks over to Jonah’s parents. Punk-like music replaces his monotone through the speakers. A young male voice sing-shouts one day too late! over and over again. I wonder if Jonah’s mom and dad hear this and whether they’ve chosen to block it out or if they are upset by what is probably their daughter’s selection. I worry they may get more depressed over these lyrics, which I then reconsider is not likely.

Now the screen shows Jonah at about age three building a tower with nested bright plastic cubes. People start lining up to offer condolences. The tower is almost as tall as he is. I imagine watching him turn the cubes upside down more than a decade ago, his brain figuring out that this is the only way they can support each other. His eyes and mouth widening. I feel almost happy.

Everyone here, I think, even the priest, learned the upside down notion of stacking hollow shapes. And that when they are right side up they are something entirely different. Perfectly compact – no bigger than the largest cube when placed in the right order.

I wonder how many secrets Jonah had fit inside the one we now knew. How many decisions he’d packed, one inside the other. How long had he worked to figure them just so, assuming a right order, until pulling a trigger was the only thing left to do.

As I near the receiving line, I am within touching distance of the stone, the hat, the laughing pajama bottoms. He was a good six feet tall. I try not to think about his body being fed into the crematory. Are his ashes inside the granite rock? What will happen to his fedora? The grave blanket smiles at me. The cross, I now realize, is plastic. No bigger than a toddler’s tower.

I’m next in line to offer nothing Joshua’s father can carry to the kitchen. Next to feel his wife’s unbearable softness. The young man’s voice dissolves into whispered gravel: nothing fits.

Bio: Jodi Barnes is a poet and writer in Cary, North Carolina. She has a PhD from The University of Georgia and has taught graduate and undergraduate students all facets of human resource management, ethics, leadership and change management at the university level. She has also been a journalist, an HR manager and a consultant. Her first collection of poetry is Unsettled from Main Street Rag, and she blogs at http://workerwrites.com.

The Road from Wagram to Raleigh Is Filled with Unpredictable Surprises, by Jerry Sain

The Road from Wagram to Raleigh Is Filled with Unpredictable Surprises
by Jerry Sain

“I can’t believe I’m going to the Dixie Classic basketball tournament with you guys,” said Ted. Driving my light blue ’53 Pontiac Chieftain with a crew of three sportsmen buddies aboard, I wheeled into the best road house east of the capital city for a sumptuous pre-game meal. The gravel crunched beneath the white-walled tires as the car pulled into the steakhouse parking lot off Highway 1 entering Sanford.

The bell on the door jingled as the four of us entered the well-worn entrance. The waitress behind the counter, a redhead with lipstick a shade brighter than her hair, took a final drag from an unfiltered cigarette and crushed the butt in the ashtray. Her locks were knotted behind her head, and she kept her pencil poised there as if to secure the tie. Three of us wore hats, overcoats, and ties; Ted was bareheaded and dressed in khaki pants and a collared blue denim shirt buttoned to the chin. The fan above the counter turned slowly overhead despite the fact that it was the week after Christmas.

“I’m going to the bathroom, said Ted. “Just order me my usual steak.”

We grabbed a booth under a pinup calendar of a beautiful blonde holding a soft drink on this Saturday, December 29, 1956. The song Heartbreak Hotel was thumping on the jukebox.

“Where are you fellows headed?” the waitress asked the three of us.

I began, “Oh, we’re headed to the Dix…”

“Excuse me, Bill,” interrupted the man wearing the red tie. I think that we should tell this young lady a thing or two.

“Oh, what’s that?” the waitress said curiously.

“Ma’am, my name is Deputy George Wright, and we’re taking our friend for a little trip to the Dorothea Dix hospital. Just humor him and let him have anything he wants except for a dangerous weapon. “

“Yes, we’re saying that he is having a good day today, but he really shouldn’t have anything sharp in his possession” said Sam without emotion.

“Do you mean he’s mental?” asked the waitress.
The three of us looked at one another with a poorly concealed smile. “We mean crazy,” said Sam.

Before her reply, the bathroom door swung open and Ted came walking out toward the table, elbows extended and rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the food and fun of the day. The waitress looked wide-eyed at Ted. Benjamin Franklin’s aphorisms claim that the list of life’s certainties has only two items, death and taxes. Today that list had one item added—that man was not going to get a steak knife.

“Okay fellows, do you have my steak on the way?”

“Large t-bone, medium rare with a hot pink center, Ted—just the way you like it,” said Sam.

“I can’t believe I let you drag me along on this trip,” said Ted as a joke.

“Oh, we wouldn’t let you miss this trip for the world,” said George.

I noted the waitress was staring holes through the back of Ted’s head and was hanging on every word. She pretended to be busy folding napkins and wrapping silverware. The sizzle of the steaks on the grill muted the conversation at the table and the low hum of the florescent light above the grill made her lean toward the counter to catch a snatch of conversation.

“You think you’re going to whip me this time, don’t you? Well, you are wrong,” with the zeal of a true country-bred sports fan.

The waitress looked nervously at the table after this apparent outburst.

Of course Ted was referring to how the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest were slated to perform against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in the basketball tournament.

“Keep your shirt on,” I said.

“I’m starved. How about a salad with some French dressing, waitress?”

The waitress almost dropped her tray of napkins and silverware in her rush. The three of us looked at one another without expression. “Yes sir, coming right up.”

Dripping fat hit the hot charcoal, sputtered and blazed, sending out an enticing aroma that was mouth watering. The waitress disappeared into the kitchen and returned moments later with the salads. The cook peered out the door at the tables, sizing up the four from the kitchen door.

“Your steaks are almost up,” she said cheerily, all the while avoiding eye contact with Ted. The napkins containing the silverware were distributed and the salad bowls were presented. Before the salads had been finished, the hot plates with the steaks clicked against the hard surface of the table accompanied by the aluminum-wrapped baked potatoes.

“Oh Miss! I’m going to need a knife,” said Ted in the direction of the waitress.

The eyes of the three of us exchanged pregnant glances. We began to attack our steaks with the gusto of a carnivore. Ted finished his salad and looked around to see the waitress. Her red hair was nowhere to be seen. As we carved our meal, Ted sat waiting impatiently for his knife with a slow simmer.

“Here Ted, use my knife,” said George.

“No, she’s bringing me a knife,” said Ted.

“This sure is good steak,” I opined with a wink to my compatriots.

“I’d enjoy some of it too if I only had a KNIFE,” said Ted with the emphasis on the word knife a little louder than necessary for anyone to hear in the restaurant. The waitress appeared with a pitcher of sweet tea and began to fill the glasses of the other customers, seemingly oblivious to this hint.

“Best I can figure is that she is hard of hearing,” said Ted. “If I could just get my hands on a knife…” Ted had elevated his voice to the point that the cook again appeared at the kitchen door.

“What’s your problem, Bub?” he asked wiping his hands on a greasy towel. “Are you saying that my steak is too tough to eat?”

“I just need a knife for a few minutes, and I’ll be sure to take care of your waitress with the hearing problem.”

The waitress ran toward the kitchen door wailing, “Oooooohhhhhhhh. He is threatening me, Harry. Do something!” She removed her apron and threw it on the counter saying, “I don’t have to take this anymore.” The cook shifted his hands to his hips and leaned forward.

“What’s wrong with that girl?” asked Ted.

All four of us looked at one another incredulously.

“What’s going on here?” yelled the manager emerging from the back.

“That crazy man is threatening to kill me,” said the waitress, pointing at Ted.

“What is she talking about crazy? All I want is to get my hands on a knife.”

As if on a signal, my two confederates and I dropped our knives and forks onto our empty plates simultaneously. “Don’t worry, ma’am; we’ll be on our way,” said George.

“Wrap the steak in a napkin, Sam; Bill, help me assist Ted to the car.”

Ted protested as we ushered him to the door, “But all I wanted was a steak knife.”