Read Call Me Joe Online

Authors: Steven J Patrick

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

Call Me Joe (3 page)

 

The sunsets, the air, the way the light filtered through the mammoth pines, the smell of the moist earth…these all produced in Joe a strange feeling of peace. He sensed an order in the seeming chaos. He sometimes wondered if that’s what people meant when they talked about God. Maybe, he reasoned, “God” wasn’t an old man in a toga, bathed in golden light. Maybe people just sensed something…bigger than themselves, didn’t know what to call it, and wound up latching onto “God” as a convenient symbol.

 

Joe had always sensed himself to be the largest, darkest presence wherever he went. His work carried enormous power and he had always handled it well and, he felt, responsibly.

 

But here, in the unharnessed wilderness of the Cascades, Joe felt small and solid and…somehow part of this place. It was a feeling he had come to cherish.

 

Sometimes, he wondered if it was like what people meant when they talked about love.

 


 

"Of course he's right!" Eddie laughed, "You're the only one who's clueless about this, ding-dong."

 

"Don't let the fact that I'm buying you beers curb your tongue at all," I sighed.

 

"Want me to buy?" Eddie snorted. Eddie was legendary for never paying for drinks. He had a simple, elegant philosophy: If no one's buying, he just doesn't drink.

 

"So it would be easier to call me things like ding-dong and clueless?" I grinned. "You seem to be doing just fine, already."

 

"Hey, thanks for the beers," he said perfunctorily. "Now, back to you. It's time, Tru. Hell, it's like five years past time. Dave may swish a bit but he's no idiot. You're like...like some amputee who doesn't realize he's missing a leg."

 

"I mean, pardon me for saying so, but you're one of the most shamelessly romantic people in the freakin' world. You've seen 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' eleven times!"

 

"Twelve," I admitted. "Watched it again last night."

 

"
Twelve
times," he smiled evilly. "Your favorite classical piece is..."

 

"Vaughn-Williams' 'The Lark Ascending'," I murmured.

 

"And your favorite song of all time?"

 

"'He Stopped Loving Her Today'," I sighed, "by George Jones."

 

"Prosecution rests, Bozo," Eddie smiled serenely, hoisting his glass in salute. "You, Monkey Boy, are an incurable romantic."

 

"Is this...uh, like a familiar topic whenever you and Lee and Scott get together without me?" I asked.

 

"Well," Eddie mused, "setting aside for a moment the fact that your question displays a pathetic fixation on your sense of importance vis-a-vis your friends, I will admit that, yes, when we're all in the same place and not burdened by your presence, we sometimes hash out your love life or lack thereof. And the consensus is that you, Cowpoke, need to get back in the saddle, pronto."

 

"God, you make it sound so easy," I muttered.

 

"It is for me," Eddie grinned. "I'm 31 and gorgeous."

 

"And modest," I nodded.

 

"Damn straight," he smiled.

 

Eddie DiPietro is the only son of a black mother and an Italian father. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and sounds like it. He works as a programmer for PegasuSoft and is a minor legend among the computer geek/outlaw cognoscenti. He was a hacker all through high school and college and is rumored to have once run smack into John Law after he hacked the NSA mainframe. He doesn't talk about it but no one puts it past either his skills or his chutzpah.

 

His main claim to fame here in Seattle, though, is his guitar playing and singing with the local power trio, White Trash.

 

"White Trash" plays off the fact that not one of the three is white. Eddie, with his hybrid parentage, mocha complexion, and startling green eyes, compromises the joke a bit but the drummer, Ish Nakata, is Japanese, while the bassist, Mooney Joseph, is pure Native American.

 

All three are what my niece Lindsey would call "delish", and their music betrays so many influences it's almost whiplash-inducing: Merle Haggard, Cream, Django Reinhardt, Doc Watson, Hendrix, The Sex Pistols, Darius Milhaud, Miles, Ornette Coleman, The Police, Terje Rypdal, Focus, The Beatles, and, most of all, Frank Zappa; all coarse-chopped and rearranged around a sort of Marx Brothers aesthetic. And all at teeth-rattling volumes.

 

I met Eddie in the late, lamented Cafe Sabika, shortly after arrival in Sea-Patch, back in the early summer of '92. He was at the next table, eating alone like me, with headphones on, a stack of Zappa CD's on the table. He was making happy noises around a mouthful of Chef Rios' Basque Snapper and occasionally drumming along with his fork. Several of the other patrons were looking annoyed but I smiled and nodded and asked about the Zappa discs. That conversation lasted two and half hours and two bottles of Tinto Pesquera. We've been pals ever since.

 

"This heartbroke, world-weary loner pose is wearing a bit thin," Eddie opined, fingering a moustache so underdeveloped it could have applied for foreign aid.

 

"It's not a pose," I replied, "I really am a heartbroken, world-weary loner."

 

"Like shit," Eddie snorted. "You're one of the most gregarious bastards in this city, once you get going. So, how come you can't just...do that with a woman around? This riff you do all the time about 'understanding' women conveniently ignores the fact that
nobody
understands women - even other women. You don't have to understand them. Just accept them."

 

"Besides," he cackled, "you don't understand anybody. Gender has nothing to do with it."

 

"I understand you," I replied. "You're a putz."

 

"Stipulated," he shrugged. "But I'm not a lonely putz in total denial. That would be you."

 

We sipped meditatively for a moment.

 

"I don't know if I'm ready," I mused.

 

"What the hell does that mean, exactly?" Eddie groaned. "'Oh, I'm not ready'...like romance is the SATs or something.
Nobody's
ready, okay? Your life experience is your preparation. You offer a bit of yourself to the other person - generic info, at first - and they do the same. You both digest these and offer more. If you both like the flava, you keep going."

 

"Uh-huh," I nodded, "And you give yourself away and then it all falls apart with no warning."

 

"But the stuff you give,
you
still
got
!" Eddie sputtered. "Jesus, that's like a woman saying she 'gave herself away' when she sleeps with some guy. Like a vagina is a potted plant he gets to keep on an end table. Like your heart wound up under Carolyn's bed in a box. Here's what I say to both of you: Check your pants, honey, and you check your pulse. You still got it."

 

"Gee, thanks, Mr. Romance," I chuckled, "I feel all better now."

 

"I'm as romantic as the next guy," Eddie shot back. "I'm just not wearing blinders."

 

He leaned forward and turned palms up, just the way I had seen his father do a dozen times.

 

"Look," he continued. "Love...love is a freakin' crapshoot, anyway. Finding 'Ms. Right'? Total chance. Impossible to engineer it. I know if I'm going to meet the one woman who's perfect for me, that the logical - hell, the
only
- way to do it is to meet women. Maybe a lot of women. I'm enough of a die-hard romantic to believe that it'll happen. If I don't cave in every time one doesn't work out. The perfect woman could have stood eyeing you at a crosswalk, anytime during the past eight+ years. And you ignored her."

 

"I've always believed that if it's meant to happen, it'll happen no matter what I do," I replied.

 

"Man, how old
are
you?" Eddie fumed. "You get that one out of a Hallmark card? Your mommy tell you that?"

 

"As a matter of fact," I smiled, "she did."

 

Eddie squirmed a little and sighed noisily.

 

"Jesus, don't tell her I said that, okay?" he muttered. "I'm still in the crapper for the Thanksgiving sausage fiasco."

 

"You couldn't have known," I shrugged, "my family is Southern. When we ask for sausage, we mean pork breakfast sausage - patties, not links - and definitely not Italian sausage."

 

"So I heard," Eddie winced, "I figure she can be forgiven a few misconceptions in the romance department, seeing as she carries the immense burden of being related to you."

 

"But," he continued, "that doesn't change the fact that - forgive me, Peggy - the 'No Matter What I Do' strategy is a load of crap. You think
you're
shy and clueless? Think how intimidated a woman would be, faced with a 6'4", 240 pound, dark'n'scruffy stranger wearing a reflexive scowl. Would you strike up a conversation with you?"

 

"No," I admitted, "but she could. I'm not gonna bite her. Not at first."

 

"She doesn't know that!" Eddie yelped. "Dude, you look how you look. Nothin' you can do about that. But you can change your manner. I know - and people who already know you know - that you're a good guy and, in fact, the biggest marshmallow on the planet. But she doesn't. Tell me this: Why are we friends at all?"

 

"Umm...because we have a lot of stuff in common?" I ventured.

 

"That's part of why we remain friends," he shot back. "We
became
friends because you started a conversation with me."

 

"Well," I shrugged, "you were six feet away and had a bunch of Zappa CDs."

 

"Yeah, but I wasn't about to start a conversation with you," he grinned.

 

"Why the hell not?" I asked indignantly.

 

"Because you're this big spooky white m'fucker!" Eddie laughed. "Ain't no brotha chattin' you up, fool!"

 

Eddie chuckled and leaned back in his chair.

 

"Now,
I
feel that way," he smiled, "Just think how a woman's gonna feel."

 

"Yikes," I sighed.

 


 

I was walking along the waterfront, later that evening, trying to assimilate what Eddie and Dave had said.

 

The sunset was another of those splashy extravaganzas for which Seattle is famous. Peaches and pale lemons, just above the Olympic Mountains, grudgingly surrendered to dusty reds, hot pinks, and purple the color of a fresh bruise. All around downtown, the fading sky wore a deep satiny shade of lavender.

 

I never watched sunsets before I came to Seattle. In North Carolina, Scrotes and I used to sit in rocking chairs of an evening and talk, over a few fingers of bourbon. Gorgeous as the sunsets were, it was mostly about the conversation and genteel company, not the lovely skies. Hell, we were young. What did we know?

 

"Little" stuff like sunsets take on a poignancy as you get older, I've noticed. Maybe it's the days, the strong suspicion that they're numbered...and the certainty that we don't know the number. In any case, my days tend to power down about the time the western sky lights up. It's the time when I do some of my best thinking.

 

Then, and when I'm in the can, of course.

 

I was pondering the subject of solitary middle-aged males, an old puzzle, and its effect on those closest to me, a brand new topic.

 

It never occurred to me that bachelorhood - a condition I've wallowed in since my tempestuous divorce at age 29 - might be anything other than a source of mild amusement to my family and friends. Well, check that. My Mom and Dad were concerned and said so in practically every conversation, but I had always written that off as parental reflex. The realization that it may be prompted by real distress was chilling. If true, I'm a bad son and nobody who has good parents likes to think that.

 

More shocking was the idea that my friends might be genuinely...worried.

 

Was I, in fact, a self-involved, oblivious jerk whose bitterness and fear slopped over onto everyone he cared about?

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