Read Call Me Joe Online

Authors: Steven J Patrick

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller

Call Me Joe (2 page)

 

After Carolyn, it dawned on me that the only common factor in every debacle...was me. Ergo, maybe it was
me
who couldn't do a proper relationship. I hadn't actually lived unpartnered for more than a two-month stretch, anytime during that 25 years, so I thought some time alone, with no object for my rampaging affections, might bring some clarity and insight. I remember thinking what an elegant concept it was—no romance, no dating, no casual companionship, even. Just me, free to examine the contents of my head and heart at leisure, with no social or romantic consequences. I even had a name for it: My Six-Month Plan.

 

Eight years and seven months later, there I sat, ignoring my business, still celibate as the Dalai Lama.

 

I had no plan, by that point. The childishly simple revelations about successful relationships (be patient, if you expect patience; learn to Accept, since you cannot change another person; above all, be kind to get kindness and be loving to receive love) had come and settled in at least five years before. Instead of a plan, I now had habits: not making eye contact, being unresponsive when spoken to, answering in monosyllables. These were now automatic, avoidance raised to a fine art.

 

But, after years of self-satisfied complacency and the genuine enjoyment of having no one to whom to answer but me, something was out of whack. I couldn't put a name to it, at first, but I had just grown impatient. A lot. For what, I couldn't say. My old haunts lost their appeal. I felt stagnant. My head had been blessedly Carolyn-free for a couple of years but now she was back. Conflict scenarios filled my dreams. Parts of Seattle we had shared now showed the taint of ghosts. Movies in my DVD rack - movies we first saw together - leered malevolently at me.

 

I was snappish and had begun forgetting to return calls from clients. I had trouble focusing on the jobs I had open. Worst of all, I forgot to turn on the Mariners game one afternoon, while they were on a road-trip to Toronto. I didn't think of it once, until the bottom of the eighth. I wasn't doing anything important; just staring out the window. Staring out the window and ignoring my phone.

 

Well, like I always say, Do What You're Good At.

 

But it brought me up short: I never miss the Mariners, if it's humanly possible to get the game. If they're in town, I go. If they're out on the road, I watch TV. If I'm away from a TV, I'll listen to the radio. It's my main joy in life, even if they're not winning. I once cancelled a meeting with a new client - potentially my largest - to make a 3:30 Thursday start. When they asked why I cancelled, I told them. Turns out, the company's CEO was livid with his secretary because she scheduled me opposite the M's game. My version of a triple play, right there: She got off the hook, the boss got to go to the game, I got the game
and
brownie points.

 

I would have guessed, that day the game slid by, that I'd been sitting there, zoned out, for maybe twenty minutes. Actually, it was almost four hours. And, for the life of me, I can't remember what I might have been thinking.

 

I decided to seek professional help...

 


 

"Jesus, North, you really are a pathetic little weasel, aren't you?"

 

It wasn't quite the professional help I was looking for but Dave was nothing if not professional.

 

"I've known you...how long, now?" he mused.

 

"Tad past ten years," I chuckled, "Seems like a lot longer, huh?"

 

"Well, I would have said since the War of 1812, but okay," Dave sighed, "Ten years. For exactly sixteen months of that time, you had Carolyn and you were, at least for you, a pretty normal human being."

 

"Then," he continued, pacing around my chair, "Ka-Blooey: Carolyn goes the way of disco, your business picks up, and you sink into this decade-long pout."

 

"Eight years and seven months," I replied, "Not a decade. And I was not pouting."

 

"Fine," he shrugged, "It’s not a complete decade; just 90% of one. And, 'not pouting'? Who are we kidding, here?"

 

He shook his head, snapping his scissors softly and thoughtfully.

 

"Okay, let's reduce this to the essentials: Why do kids pout?"

 

"Because," I yawned, "they didn't get what they wanted?"

 

"Excellent," Dave smiled. "Now, what did you want from Carolyn?"

 

"Huh?" I sputtered. "I didn't want anything from her."

 

"Of course you did," he sighed.

 

"Okay, what did I want from Carolyn?" I snorted.

 

"You wanted to be with her."

 

"Yeah, well, ya got me there, Mr. Wizard," I laughed. "I wanted to be with her."

 

"And what, then, did Carolyn want?" he asked softly.

 

Jesus....

 

"Uh...
not
to be with me, I guess,"

 

"Isn't that what she said?" Dave asked.

 

"Well, in so many words, I suppose," I shrugged.

 

"Tru," he said sadly, "you told me that's what she said."

 

"Okay," I groaned. "That
was
what she said, but..."

 

"But?"

 

"Look," I said, exasperated, "I get the analogy, okay? I didn't get what I want, so I pouted for nine years. I get it. But that's not the same thing."

 

"It's not?" Dave chuckled. "So, after the pout is over, what happens to the kid?"

 

"He's a kid," I replied. "They pout and then they're off to something else."

 

"That's right," he nodded. "They move on. The next bike, the new baseball mitt...hell, the latest friggin' laptop, I dunno. Whatever kids are into, these days."

 

"Still got it," I smiled. "But it's still not the same."

 

"No," Dave sputtered, "it's not the same. It's worse! A kid will operate out of his own self-interest. 'Oh, I can't have that? Okay, now I want
this
!' An endless succession of thises. You've pouted for almost a decade and you're surprised that your heart - mind, body, gonads, whatever - is starting to rebel?"

 

"So," I smiled, "I just get my ashes hauled and everything is nifty, right?"

 

“This is
not
about sex, Dimbulb," Dave sighed. "If it were just sex, maybe - in a weak moment - I might have been able to convince you that the garden gate does, indeed, swing both ways. Not too late, by the way. I know a tall, blonde physical therapist who would be perfect for you...well, give or take a penis, of course."

 

"You were the one selling the 'moving on' scenario, I believe," I smiled.

 

"Peasant," Dave shrugged. "Anyway, this is not about sex."

 

Dave came out from behind the chair and stood in front of me.

 

"Everybody says the platypus is proof that God has a sense of humor," Dave said gently. "Well, look at me, Truman. I'm 51 years old, black, gay, a former interior lineman, and a fucking hairdresser, for God's sake! I'm every synonym for 'loser', all rolled into one. I'm losing my hair, my knees are out of warranty, and I have so much hardware in me I set off the airport metal detectors from the parking garage. As if that weren't enough, you can count the number of available black, financially-stable, 50-year-old gay men around Seattle on one hand and none of them is the least bit interested in me. I have a choice to make here, shortly: Keep my business, my clients, my friends, my house, and my hideaway in the San Juans - and accept being alone - or resign myself to the cliche. I move to San Francisco, buy some tiny little apartment in the Castro for $9 million, and settle into my people's version of old New York Jews retiring to Miami Beach."

 

"You, on the other hand, are white, healthy, well-off, somewhat sane, and still marginally attractive to just the right deeply-disturbed woman. Your only problem is that you refuse to do what any six-year-old kid would do instinctively: find some new thing to be interested in."

 

"Jesus, David," I groaned. "Okay, let's say you're right - which I'm
not
admitting. The reality is, I'm just too long out of service to suddenly become a bar-hoppin' playboy. I never liked the bar scene, anyway, and, frankly, men my age who hang out in bars, hitting on twenty-something women, embarrass me so badly my prostate clenches up like a busted pocket watch. It's just pathetic. And women my age don't hang out in bars, anyway. I have no idea where, or even if, they 'hang out' at all."

 

"God Almighty," Dave grinned, "You have been living in a jar all these years, haven't you?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Truman," he sputtered, "Even I know where all the 50-ish single foxes 'hang out' these days."

 

"Where?" I asked, thoroughly perplexed.

 

"My dear boy," Dave laughed, "on the internet, of course."

 

Two

 

Joe loved to climb the crest of the ridge at sunset. Seated squarely in a large gap in the trees was a flat rock, facing due west, that had a perfect, shallow, bowl-like depression. It fit his backside as though carved out just for him.

 

He’d bring a thermos of red zinger iced tea and his best binoculars and revel in the experience. In Washington, sunset can last 90 minutes or more and Joe drank in every last second.

 

Lately, on the road, he found himself only marginally concerned with the money – which was always substantial – and preoccupied, instead, with the idea that wrapping up the job quickly would get him back to the woods, the cabin, and the spine-tingling, soul-healing twilights that much faster.

 

More and more, at 54, Joe felt that his soul was in need of healing.

 

Though he had never been concerned with such things, he now found himself spending a lot of time thinking of his life and the possible implications. He wasn’t a religious man; the whole subject of God, in fact, left him feeling mildly puzzled. It was like sitting next to a group of bird-watchers, listening to their animated conversation and insider lingo, and feeling excluded, even though you have no interest in watching birds.

 

He did believe, though, in karma, something he had absorbed during his two tours in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia. He had seen karma in action too many times to simply dismiss it; had, indeed – at least in the minds of his Asian comrades – been the instrument of much karmic readjustment. Though he’d never been much on the concept, Joe knew he had done things most people would see as “bad”. He didn’t worry about those people but he wondered about the universe. Would it find him bad, wrong, in need of karmic "readjustment"?

 

The thoughts in his head felt like rocks in his shoes. Unlike a lot of guys in his line of work, Joe was neither world-weary nor filled with abiding self-loathing. He wouldn’t even have understood the concept of “joie de vivre” but he made a point of packaging each assignment with a side-trip to someplace he had never been, dressing like the natives, drinking their wines, eating the local foods. He loved to eat in small, nondescript cafes in which the only words of English were in his own head. He rented small rooms, like monk’s cells, in pensiones and rooming houses. He always learned basic phrases in the local language before going and shunned Americans at all costs.

 

He got a lot of looks askance, naturally, especially in the darker countries. In Sweden, for example, he could pass for a local and frequently did, since his father had been from Finland. In Lahore, it was a different story.

 

Even so, no one had ever taken him for the wealthy man he surely was, or for the habitual recluse he had surely become. In these foreign settings, he felt he could let his guard down a bit; drink, dance, sing and even, on a couple of occasions, renew his acquaintance with a certain woman. For a guy in his mid-fifties, Joe had a very boyish curiosity about the world and reveled in every new experience.

 

The novelty of his house, the ridge, the trees, though, never wore thin. There, the questioning voices in his head, too, seemed placated by the serenity of the wilderness. There, Joe could be someone as close to the real Joe as was possible for a man who had deliberately transformed his entire life so many times, so completely. He was never restless; a condition which could have been called his normal state of being for most of his 50+ years.

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