Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Florence 2

Homeaway rentals are usually pretty good once you’re settled in. Sometimes settling can be unsettling. We were instructed to call from the train station when we arrived. The damn phone with it’s new Vodaphone SiM card decided to ask for a pass code. Of course, the code was packed away. In the train station, I had to open up my suitcase and rummage through it to find the card and get it operable again. Then, the phone went to an answering machine that no doubt gave a witty reply. I didn’t understand a word, in fact, I thought the disembodied voice was advising that the phone had been disconnected. I left a message after the growly noise. Not a beep, a growly sort of noise. With no other options, we got into a cab and went to the apartment office.

As we expected, on Saturday, the office was closed. I checked the phone, just in case, and found seventeen messages from our greeter. She came from around the corner and brought us into our apartment. Happy ending.

The accommodation is perfectly located and comfortable although chilly. Even though it’s warm outside, these marble and stone buildings trap cold air at night and are hard to warm up. I remembered freezing in October in Italy and we brought thick socks and sweaters to wear inside.
The clothing we had wasn't enough and we ended up going to H&M where I bought heavy sweats and a black knit cap to wear indoors.

This morning we’re having toast. The “Jolly” toast machine looks like a kind of catapult. Sometimes Italian design is clownish. Don’t you think this toaster is a bit much? The blue handles lift the toast in and out of the slots. Form dominates function.

As expected, the streets are mobbed in Florence. Yesterday, a beautiful sunny day, about 75 degrees brought everyone out into the squares, the restaurants, and the shops. We wandered around getting familiar with our location on Belledonna steps away from the Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
For lunch, we ate yet another panini, this time on foccacia. These sandwiches are always good, with salty meat and cheeses - hearty and flavorful. We ate dinner at Osteria Belledonna, right next door to us - a salad, tagliatelle with porcini for me and a pork and white bean dish for Richard. When we ordered Aperol Spritzes, our waiter said, “Why not?” I guess you don’t order these to drink with dinner.

We were surprised to have two plates loaded with crostini topped with tomatoes and chicken livers placed in front of us. The waiter told us, “Yes, your appetizer.” We shrugged and ate a little thinking perhaps it was a free appetizer, offered by some of the tourist joints. Finally, another waiter noticed us looking perplexed. It was someone else’s order.

Two close calls during the day. A motorcycle almost clipped me. A overly vigorous, reckless runner almost topped Richard over. Plowed right on by without so much a glance.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Florence 1


In Milan recovering from jet lag and enjoying glorious warm days. The city is recovering from Fashion Week; the beautiful people linger—people watching scores ten out of ten. The roof of the duomo offers stunning views of the roof itself covered with buttresses, statues, corbels. Breath taking.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Sepia Saturday 388: Snowy Days

The prompt photo was taken in Halifax, a minster town in the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, England. 

I borrowed this photo from the City of Winnipeg photo archive to get a rough match for the prompt...a street scene in winter.

The other photos from my albums depict surprises or unusual items in the snow.

The chairs should have been stored for the winter.  The snow-covered Adirondack Chair is a hackneyed image, but one my father took every year to memorialize the snowfall. The two spruce trees in our neighbor's yard looked beautiful covered in snow. Even though in art, groups of three are aesthetically preferred to pairs, I like the twin chairs, twin lilac bushes, and twin trees, snow obscuring some details but highlighting others.
Skiing on the endless flats. The height of optimism is planning to ski on the prairies. Snowshoeing was more suited to the terrain . . . no pesky inclines to slow you down. My sister was a very flexible child as you can see by the way her torso is contorted to face the camera. The poles are too long for her. Later in life when we all relocated to California and took up serious skiing, she was never very good; nor was I. Her son and husband were excellent. We suffered from hesitation and a fear of speed. Observers used to marvel at how slowly we could glide down the slopes.

A government surplus? In the late summer, in this corner of our yard, we pulled tomatoes off the vines and ate them, soaking up the sun. During the winter, snow drifted into that corner. My sister's face is barely visible above a mountain of snow. My father's white pen tells us it's February 20th, 1949. The province was sitting on a mountain of cash. Right about then, they announced a surplus of funds of $4,425,000. They were doing something right.

Should a kid be put outdoors to play in snow piles over his head?My sister's son is dwarfed by the snow piles in this photo. Like all little kids in that era, he's so wrapped up in heavy winter gear, he can barely move. I doubt if he could use his little arms to save himself. Or run onto those little sausage legs.

Pitching a tent in the snow? Poor Canadians. We didn't get much opportunity to pitch a tent without mosquitos—perhaps this was a last-ditch attempt.  The tent was in our neighbor's yard. Winnie, the lady of the house, may have thrown Harry out for the hundredth time and perhaps this was a temporary solution for their marital anguish. As kids, we preferred to build igloos in the snow; I'm sure we sneered at this tent.

And to end on a high note . . . this is me, perched up on a snowbank with my shovel. As a kid, I loved the snow. My father never missed a teaching moment and he must have thought I was ready to learn how to deal with winter's most onerous task—cleaning the sidewalks. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Sepia Saturday #435: Seeing Things

"Wedding on the Steps," from Alan's collection
This photo from my family album was taken in June 1959. My mother holds a beautiful bouquet of lilacs in our backyard. This blossom bounty was probably divided into a couple of smaller bouquets for my grandmothers.
Everyone cherished these flowers because they were so fragrant and so fleeting. As a grade schooler, I took the flowers to my teachers. By 1959 I'd given up the notion of buttering-up the teachers and instead, like most teens, preferred to bug them. None of my gang would have been caught dead, kissing up like that. No, we preferred to slouch around in the local hangout, "Welcome Inn," where we crammed eight kids in a booth, sharing one cigarette and one coke and pumping the jukebox with quarters(?) to play our favorite songs. Below is the big hit list from 1959. Why can I still recall most, well— some of these lyrics (never heard of number 100, "Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat") but can't remember where my car keys are? 

Curiosity got the better of me. Here's a music video of #100, Seven Little Girls. The video is fun and brings back memories. Is Fred in a lab coat in the back seat? I can almost smell Paul Evan's Brylcreem. My own hair in those years was shellacked into place with AquaNet hairspray. This would make a fabulous retro PSA for distracted driving. 

1"The Battle of New Orleans"Johnny Horton
2"Mack the Knife"Bobby Darin
3"Personality"Lloyd Price
4"Venus"Frankie Avalon
5"Lonely Boy"Paul Anka
6"Dream Lover"Bobby Darin
7"The Three Bells"The Browns
8"Come Softly to Me"The Fleetwoods
9"Kansas City"Wilbert Harrison
10"Mr. Blue"The Fleetwoods
11"Sleep Walk"Santo & Johnny
12"Put Your Head on My Shoulder"Paul Anka
13"Stagger Lee"Lloyd Price
14"Donna"Ritchie Valens
15"Pink Shoe Laces"Dodie Stevens
16"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"The Platters
17"Charlie Brown"The Coasters
18"Quiet Village"Martin Denny
19"My Heart Is an Open Book"Carl Dobkins Jr.
20"(Till) I Kissed You"The Everly Brothers
21"Sea of Love"Phil Phillips
22"The Happy Organ"Dave "Baby" Cortez
23"I'm Gonna Get Married"Lloyd Price
24"Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)"The Impalas
25"A Teenager in Love"Dion and the Belmonts
26"16 Candles"The Crests
27"It's Just a Matter of Time"Brook Benton
28"Lipstick on Your Collar"Connie Francis
29"There Goes My Baby"The Drifters
30"A Big Hunk o' Love"Elvis Presley
31"Red River Rock"Johnny and the Hurricanes
32"Waterloo"Stonewall Jackson
33"Lavender Blue"Sammy Turner
34"(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I"Elvis Presley
35"Guitar Boogie Shuffle"The Virtues
36"Teen Beat"Sandy Nelson
37"Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)"Edd Byrnes & Connie Stevens
38"Tragedy"Thomas Wayne
39"My Happiness"Connie Francis
40"Tallahassee Lassie"Freddy Cannon
42"Never Be Anyone Else But You"Ricky Nelson
43"Don't You Know?"Della Reese
44"I Need Your Love Tonight"Elvis Presley
45"What a Diff'rence a Day Makes"Dinah Washington
46"The All American Boy"Bill Parsons
47"Primrose Lane"Jerry Wallace
48"Alvin's Harmonica"The Chipmunks
49"Lonely Street"Andy Williams
50"What'd I Say"Ray Charles
51"Broken Hearted Melody"Sarah Vaughan
52"Only You (And You Alone)"Franck Pourcel
53"Gotta Travel On"Billy Grammer
54"Poison Ivy"The Coasters
55"Turn Me Loose"Fabian
56"Lonely Teardrops"Jackie Wilson
57"Hawaiian Wedding Song"Andy Williams
58"Forty Miles of Bad Road"Duane Eddy
59"Just Ask Your Heart"Frankie Avalon
60"Tell Him No"Travis and Bob
61"Frankie"Connie Francis
62"I've Had It"The Bell Notes
63"I Cried a Tear"LaVern Baker
64"Enchanted"The Platters
65"Since I Don't Have You"The Skyliners
66"Peter Gunn Theme"Ray Anthony
67"The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)"The Chipmunks
68"I Want to Walk You Home"Fats Domino
69"So Fine"The Fiestas
70"Bobby Sox to Stockings"Frankie Avalon
71"The Deck of Cards"Wink Martindale
72"A Lover's Question"Clyde McPhatter
73"I Only Have Eyes for You"The Flamingos
74"It's Late"Ricky Nelson
75"Petite Fleur"Chris Barber's Jazz Band
76"Tall Paul"Annette Funicello
77"The Tijuana Jail"The Kingston Trio
78"Just a Little Too Much"Ricky Nelson
79"Goodbye Baby"Jack Scott
80"Along Came Jones"The Coasters
81"Three Stars"Tommy Dee & Carol Kay
82"A Boy Without a Girl"Frankie Avalon
83"Sweeter Than You"Ricky Nelson
84"It Was I"Skip & Flip
85"Goodbye Jimmy, Goodbye"Kathy Linden
86"Manhattan Spiritual"Reg Owen Orchestra
87"Endlessly"Brook Benton
88"Heartaches by the Number"Guy Mitchell
89"Sea Cruise"Frankie Ford
90"That's Why (I Love You So)"Jackie Wilson
91"You're So Fine"The Falcons
92"Kissin' Time"Bobby Rydell
93"My Wish Came True"Elvis Presley
94"Morgen"Ivo Robić
95"Baby Talk"Jan and Dean
96"Take a Message to Mary"The Everly Brothers
97"The Battle Hymn of the Republic"Mormon Tabernacle Choir
98"Bongo Rock"Preston Epps
99"In the Mood"Ernie Fields
100"Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat"Paul Evans

Studying my photo as we do for Sepia Saturday, I was surprised at what I saw that I overlooked for years. Like this man's face nestled/hidden in the bouquet.

Okay, when you get closer up you really have to use your imagination.

I'm currently writing, er....trying to write fiction. I should clarify and say I'm learning about writing fiction. Every second week, I swear to quit because it takes so much time. But then I get an idea and start all over again. I feel a scary story coming on— "The Devil in the Bouquet." Or maybe a tale about those Seven Little Girls or Fred. Or a story about having a song rise to #100 and then stall there?

I think the reason I saw the image stems back to my days growing up in Canada. In 1954, the Canadian one dollar bill was issued. Here's the picture of the Queen on the bill:

And here's a close-up of her image:

As you can see (or not) there seems to be a devil's image in the Queen's curls. A huge controversy ensued over the bill; nut cases came out of the woodwork with bizarre conspiracy theories and the mint had to reissue the bill with the curls altered and the so-called image obliterated. 

Googling the matter, I found mention of a memoir of the Royal photographer who took this picture during that time period. It turns out he was gay and involved with the Queen's male hairdresser. Maybe there was some sort of covert statement being made after all? Here's the reference if anyone is interested.

Devils Face in Queens hair

Almost every day, there's some article in "News of the Weird" about a holy image in a fallen ice cream cone or on a stained wall or a baby's diaper. The most bizarre ghostly and holy image I can remember hearing about was the Virgin Mary's image on toast. The holy toast was a decade old when it was auctioned on ebay in 2004 for $28,000. Personally ,I think the image looks more like Marlene Dietrich than I imagined the Virgin Mary might look.

Check out Sepia Saturday for stories from saner people with more organized minds. 

Pastor's Viewpoint

My cousin Maurice is a Monseigneur at a Catholic church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Even though I fell away from the church decades ago, I still enjoy his viewpoint column in the parish bulletin every month.

Cousins: Helen and Maurice

I sit looking at the computer screen and wonder. The sun is preparing its descent in the far West. Reminds me of a slow baseball curve, just hanging in there till it suddenly drops out of sight. My memory tricks me back to my pitching days. The only lefty on the team. That trademark caused to be identified as a ‘pitcher’. As I remember it, I was not even able to throw the ball. The team believed in me, so pitch I did. 

Now that my pitching days are over, I can think about my best curveball. It seems much better the way I remember it than the day I managed to twist my wrist quick enough to have an effect of some kind. The motion was always professional, the delivery unexpected and the result a mystery. Now that I am a priest and have toiled in the vineyard many a season I remember another pitcher who’s pitching days are not near ending and the curves, plenty of them, are superb and yet meant to be caught rather than to be slammed over the left field. 

I am pleasantly reflecting on how God chooses to drop in my existence on a daily basis. Every day seemed like it could never be repeated, and it never has been. I wake up in the wee morning hour and sure enough, it is a new day. I can expect another curve, different than yesterday. How fascinating to have an ‘aha’ moment when God whispers love, friendship and just is there, whether you walk, skip and hop or just listen to another story. I am sure every day must have brought its nasty moments. Mostly my fault. But somehow, the setting sun seems to carry them over the edge and my memory fades, just letting the good surface, with a few regrets and those mostly residues of misguided selfishness. 

God forgives for the asking; seventy-seven times is but a number. The joy of being aware of God’s love and conscious of His presence surpasses the delight of having managed a curveball. It replaces, or maybe just adds on to it, another memory that turns out in gratitude for another day taken as a gift and ready to see and experience what a restful night might create. 

Sometimes I wonder what good I could have accomplished with God at my side, if only I had given Him my time and space to be the God He wanted to be with me at His side. When I dare consult the child within this aging body, I try not to spend too much time on yesterday, yesteryears but concentrate on the wonderment of the moment of what has been a new day. Love, that is God’s love for us, has to be the best way to experience this moment that does not seem to end, but disappears in the West to show up leisurely at will, the same time I do on any given day. What a life! — Msgr. Maurice Comeault—

Wednesday, September 05, 2018


Kenneth is another character in my coming-of-age story about Chad, a precocious eleven-year-old boy and the people in the fictional town of Big Fish, Montana. The story is based on reminiscences from our friend Tom about his formative years in the real town of Whitefish, Montana.

Background: Chad's father died when Chad was eight. He and his mother Emily live alone a few miles outside of town. Emily is bitter and unhappy. Chad is bursting with curiosity and most everyone takes an interest in him including the gay jeweler Kenneth. But it's not what you think! Kenneth's a good guy and he and Chad have a genuine friendship.  Most of the parents of young boys in town have warned them away from Kenneth including Emily. However, Chad ignores her and sees Kenneth often. Kenneth teaches Chad magic tricks, card tricks, bird watching, model making, and about watches. This story is told in Chad's voice. An eleven-year voice.  

A real Whitefish Town Council meeting inspired this story. 


Whitefish Town Council Meeting. This meeting was called by Mayor Carpenter at 7:30 PM for the purpose of considering the purchase and installation of parking meters for the city. All members of the council were present at the meeting. Mr. O' Brien of Seattle representing the Duncan Parking Meter Co. was present at the meeting to outline a plan for the purchase and installation of meters. Quite a large delegation from the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce was present who expressed a unanimous disapproval of installing parking meters in the city. After a general discussion was had, LaBrie moved and Duff seconded that the matter be tabled for future consideration. All voted Aye.

Before I went into the jewelry store to collect the paper money, I looked through the window to see what watches Kenneth had on display. The big sign outside the store said Jameson’s Jewelers in script and even though Kenneth’s name was Clemens, he left it alone.

                    Jameson’s Jewelers
Jameson is a better name for a jewelry store,” he told me when I asked. Kenneth explained about alliteration and how it sounded good to people’s ears. We thought of a few allits for my name: Cheerful Chad, which I liked. Chubby Chad which I didn’t like. But I got the point.
On the street in front of the shop, a red cone marked where a parking meter was to be installed. Kenneth and most people in town were against the meters saying they were “bad for business.” Kenneth told me he’d moved to Big Fish from Seattle to get away from that kind of thing.
The display window shelf was lined with a white satin cloth swirled into shiny nests where black velvet and navy-blue satin watch cases sat open for view. Kenneth showed me how he used empty tin cans under the satin to make the bumps and hills and valleys. I could see a Hamilton, Waltham Ball and two Elgins, all well-known brands in our town.
“In the old days, train engineers and conductors needed accurate timepieces,” Kenneth told me.  Although their most important job was to keep time, some of them had complications—specific extra functions beyond keeping time: a moon-phase, calendar or date window. I loved looking at the faces of the watches with the roman numerals and dials and sometimes into the insides if Kenneth had one on the workbench.
People sold their deceased father’s and grandfather’s pocket watches to Jameson’s. Kenneth gave them a fair price and took them to Portland, Oregon twice a year for the big fair where he’d make a profit from the resale.

I was excited to tell Kenneth about the early falcon I’d seen on the ride into town. He had an Audubon book in the office and kept a chart where he noted every bird he saw and when. If I saw something new or early and told him, he wrote it down with a “C” next to it.

              When I opened the door, Kenneth’s big Maine Coone cat, Gio, ran from behind the building to get inside. Kenneth named him after a friend of his, Giovanni, who’d died in the war. The biggest cat in town, Gio was an imposing beast with a thick tabby coat and muscular shoulders. Because of their ringed tails and large size, Kenneth told me that people thought Coone cats happened after a cat and a raccoon mated. “It’s biologically impossible,” Kenneth said adding “but that’s how they got the name.” Proud of Gio’s size, Kenneth mentioned he’d been putting on weight since he was fixed last year. “He weighs twenty-one pounds—can you believe it? I’ll have to change his name to Godzilla!” Good at his job, no rodent for blocks around was safe when Gio was on duty. I laughed at the wet cat prints he left behind as he padded along the wooden floor. The hairy tufts on his feet were like snowshoes; when he dug in the melting drifts to do his business, slush caked in a little pad on each paw.  As soon as I looked at him, he trotted over and rubbed against my legs. He reared up under my hand, pressed against my fingers, asking in his body language for an ear scratch. I kneaded his ruff and stroked underneath his chin. He rolled over for a tummy rub making little chirping meows, purring and snorting.

Although I patted my chest and gestured for him to jump up, he threw me a dismissive look and swaggered over to his chair,  the yellow wing chair, by Kenneth’s desk. He executed a perfect, graceful cat jump-up, with a silent touchdown. To show us how blase he was about his athletic feat, he yawned, made two perfunctory licks at his tail, nestled into the chair and fell asleep. Kenneth smiled and said, “Cats work hard and sleep hard—about eighteen hours a day.” Gio was another reason I liked to visit Kenneth.
Even though Kenneth lived alone, he never seemed lonely with Gio there and he was always in a happy mood. Emily and I seemed a lot lonelier and sadder even though three years have passed since Dad died. I wanted a dog but would have been happy to have a cat–especially one like Gio, who always made me feel good, but we couldn’t have house pets because of Emily’s allergies.
The model of Big Ben Kenneth was working on had gotten larger since my last visit. He bought the plans from Scientific American and let me look them over when he got started.
“Sit down, Chad,” he said. “How are you, boy?” He removed his jeweler’s loupe and switched off the strong magnifying light he used when he repaired the clasps on necklaces and bracelets. Gesturing to the Big Ben model, he rolled his eyes. “No place for that turret. Made a big mistake. Always read the instructions through completely before you start anything, Chad.”
He stood up. “Hey, I have a new illusion for you. Be right back.” As he left the room, his boots clicked on the wooden floor.
I could still smell the fresh paint Kenneth used when he’d painted the store last month—some kind of yellow color that made the place seem sunny all the time. He’d rehung his three certificates of Gemology in new black frames and arranged them on the wall with photos of himself when he was a magician in Seattle.  
The store was so tidy it was surprising that his green wool jacket was draped on the back of the chair. He kept it there on purpose. ”Keeps the shape of the shoulders. On a wire hanger, at the end of the day, there are pointy places near the shoulders. Looks funny.” He always wore a vest over his shirts. “I’m a fuddy-duddy, Chad. My dad always wore a vest, so I do too.” Some of the vests were plaid, some solid colors. Every time he came back from the big show in Portland he’d have a new one. Outdoors, like most of the men in Whitefish, he wore a cowboy hat to protect his almost bald head.
I wondered if that necklace he was repairing came from the house of ill repute. Ricky told me he’d overheard his dad talking about those ladies and all the jewelry they bought.
“They signed up for life insurance policies with us. Judy must be the richest woman in town,” said Earl.
We didn’t see Judy, the Madam, or her girls often around town. Roger, the taxi driver, did their errands. Supposedly, once a month Judy drove the girls over to Missoula for beauty salon visits, to buy clothes and to eat rare steaks at Sal’s, the famous steakhouse. Kenneth ordered jewelry for them through a catalog and when it arrived, Roger delivered the packages.
Although I tossed the newspaper on the whorehouse porch every morning, I collected from Fred, the only black man in town, for the subscription. He shined shoes in front of the barbershop for six months of the year. During the cold winter months, he moved his gear indoors. In a town full of boot wearers, there was plenty of shining work. Kenneth said Fred made most of his money as the security man for the House, where he had a room in the basement. After he paid me, he’d pull out a small spiral bound notebook and a pencil from his back pocket and make tiny notes, so small he squeezed two lines in the space for one. Fred never said much to me but he and Kenneth were friends.
I looked up at the blank trophies on the high shelf behind the work table. Fake silver and gold, they were arranged in order of size. Kenneth supplied engraved prizes for the bowling leagues in town, the little league teams, and the lodge events. He told me that someone always needed a trophy or plaque in a small town. “Competing for awards and awarding awards keeps us busy, doesn’t it Chad?” He engraved them too–did it himself with a complicated engraving machine he bought from the former shop owner.
I had two of the small silver cups, both for winning cribbage tournaments. The trophies lived on a shelf in my room along with discarded books from the library I’d repaired with electrician’s tape from Dad’s toolbox. Last month Miss Calloway, the librarian, gave me two damaged books she saved — Reader’s Digest Condensed Book from 1950—the one with Will Rogers’s autobiography and The Swiss Family Robinson. Miss Calloway didn’t call them damaged; she said they’d been over-loved. The pages with the good jokes were loose and falling out of the Will Roger’s book, but I got them all pasted back. Someone must have dropped The Swiss Family Robinson in the bathtub because the pages were all wavy and wrinkled.
"I don't think you'll be able to do much with The Swiss book, Chad. We might have to give up on this one," said Miss Calloway.
When I took it back in, all flattened out, she was surprised.
"How did you do that, Chad?" she asked.
"I used Emily’s iron and a damp towel to flatten it out, page by page," I said.
Emily called the shelf in my bedroom my book hospital.
I dreaded the awards banquets although we enjoyed the food. Everyone brought their family’s favorite dishes: fried chicken and biscuits, macaroni and cheese, jello desserts, beef brisket and that special chili from the family that moved here from Texas. Kenneth didn’t attend all the banquets—he never came to Boy Scout events or any of the ceremonies for us kids. When he did attend the civics event, he brought Coq au Vin, a chicken dish everyone liked despite the Frenchie name. He sat with Miss Calloway the librarian and Mr. Weber, the accountant. I never told Kenneth that Emily didn’t like him but he seemed to know she wouldn’t want him at our table.
We always brought banana bread, the one thing Emily could bake. Someone sang Day-O Si-da-ay-yay-O when she put it on the banquet table. Emily embarrassed me when she called me her date and used the events to drill me on manners: how to pull out a lady’s chair, unfold a napkin on my lap and use a toothpick while covering my mouth with my hand. “Just because we live in the country doesn’t mean we’re uncivilized,” Emily said. She insisted on practicing our table manners at home too, even when it was just us and our spaghetti and ketchup dinners. “Sit up straight, Chad," she said. "Elbows off the table. Don’t eat with your mouth full.”
My eyes wandered back to Kenneth’s workbench. A glow came from the back of his Motorola. I reached over and turned it around so I could see the tubes and other guts better. Kenneth had the latest model with the station stabilizer and built-in antenna. He told me his friend Jack, a colleague, had sent it to him from Portland, Oregon. I didn’t know what a colleague was, and I didn’t want to ask Kenneth—afraid it meant Jack was his boyfriend or something. When I stopped by the library to get the money from Miss Callaway, I looked it up in the big OED that sat open on the stand. Ah, a colleague was a business associate. Right away, I asked Miss Calloway, to try out the word, “How are you and your colleagues today?”
She smiled and said “Just fine, Chad. And how are you and your mater doing?” Miss Calloway was the person who first taught me about Latin. “Knowing Latin is like having the key to a puzzle,” she said. “You can figure out what any word means by knowing the roots.”
When Ricky got the first octopus, and I asked her if there were any books I could read about them she said, "Do you know the Latin root word for octopus, Chad?”
Octo means eight and pus means foot. So octopus means eight feet or arms.” She told me aqua meant water and whenever I saw it in a word, it would be about water, like aquarium and aqueduct and Aqualung. She taught me a new word almost every time I went in. When she told me homo meant man, I understood better what homosexual meant.   
Were Kenneth and Jack homosexuals together? A thought flashed through my mind about men kissing each other on the mouth. Sex was still a mystery to me at eleven-years-old. I knew about the mechanics of “doing it” and I’d seen farm animal sex, but although I’d spent plenty of time imagining the sight, I’d never laid eyes on a live naked woman. At home, Emily zipped herself up to the throat in her blue-quilted housecoat after her baths. I’d looked down into the dark vee of Ricky’s mom’s cleavage once when she bent over to see Nova in the aquarium with us. Another time when I was in Ricky’s room she ran past the doorway wrapped in a towel. One breast had slipped out of cover and I got a glimpse. Lined with purple veins, the breast bobbled as she ran. Both repelled and fascinated I’d done a lot of thinking about that breast. I divorced it in my imagination from Ricky’s mom and transplanted it onto one of Judy’s ladies where it jiggled and bounced through my almost-adolescent brain and joined the image of the teasing Catholic girl’s foofie wahwahs.
I turned the radio back around. A kid at school had something called the Tijuana Bible he’d stolen from his dad’s garage which showed Olive Oyl and Popeye doing it together in lurid cartoon drawings. Ricky and I Iiked the sound of Olive Oyl’s poem and would say it to each other, loud and fast when we rode our bikes. That was before Ricky got polio.
“Lay me down in a bed of spinach
And don’t you stop until you’re finished!
Oh! Popeeeeeeeye!
I knew what being queer was, but I’d never thought of Kenneth’s life aside from his business and the magic, except that he was different. He wasn’t married and didn’t have children. I couldn’t imagine him doing something like Sick Dick Tracy and Popeye did together in that dirty bible book. Although he was queer, he was a magician—the only one I knew. I liked him and that counted for more than anything else.
My thoughts about Jack and Kenneth together, in that way, made me uncomfortable. Usually, I hung around at Kenneth’s, but today I wanted to get out of there. Maybe Emily was right.
He returned to the room with my newspaper money and a thick envelope. “Here’s the Missing Thumb illusion for you Chad. Study the instructions and work out the theory yourself. Drop by after you get the hang of it and we can polish it together.”
“Thanks, Kenneth,” I said and stood up heading for the door. “Bye Gio. See you soon.” One of his ears twitched.
I tucked the Missing Thumb envelope in my bike bag. I couldn’t wait to try it.