It is a cold and blustery morning in early March as I sit at the kitchen table reading the help wanted ads in the local week end paper. Wrapped in my warmest pajamas, slippers and bathrobe I am still chilled to the very center of my bones. The furnace is out, again. Thank God the girls are away for the weekend, one at an all weekend sleep over, and the other on a school-debating trip, at least they are warm.
Another bill to face, but it can't be avoided. The Service Company has been called and they assure me that, while the regular staff is off for the weekend, they have a part time person on call that they will dispatch as soon as they can reach him. As I look out the kitchen window at the frozen landscape I marvel at how closely it matches my feelings deep in my soul. Barren, lonely and desolate just about covers it.
Sitting back down at the kitchen table and idly reaching for another Marlboro, I begin to again look through the columns of ads for semi skilled and unskilled workers. There has to be sometime, anything that could help augment my income and make ends meet. In many ways I am lucky, two good kids, (about the only good thing that bastard left me) a home, a car, and a job that at least let's me keep close to even. A few extra dollars each month would help though, even if it were just to pay my internet service provider for the cost of connection to my only real world in cyber space.
As I muse, I hear the doorbell of the service entrance off the kitchen. Padding to the door, I find the service technician patiently waiting there with his billed hat in one hand and his toolbox in the other. His clean pressed twill uniform had his company's name neatly embroidered over the left-hand pocket and his name stitched under it, "Donald."
"Is this the residence of a Ms. Denise Maori," he politely asks.
I nod and stand aside so that he can step in out of the cold. As I close the door behind him I hear him say, "I understand that you are having some kind of problem with your central heating unit."
"Yes," I answer, "but I have no idea what the problem is. All I know is that I am frozen."
He reaches down to his feet and takes off his oily boots and stands them neatly by the door in the boot tray and says, "well then, Let's take a look at it, shall we?"
I take him through the kitchen and down the stairs to where the unit is located.
He puts his toolbox on the floor and neatly lays out what he needs and goes to work. I stand in the background and silently fret, wondering how much this is going to cost, and how the Service Company is going to react, in light of the fact that I am already 1 month behind in my account.
After a few minutes he looks up and says, "Ah! Here is the problem, the rheostat is bad."
"How much do they cost?" I blurt out without thinking, the anxiety evident in my voice.
"About $380.00 plus tax and installation, he responds, but before we do that let's see what I can do"? "I just happen to have a broken one in my tool box and I have yours which is not functioning.
I watch as his hands fly. Units are disassembled in a matter of minutes, parts are interchanged, put back together, and a gizmo, is stuck back in the furnace. He presses a button and the furnace starts to hum smoothly.
I have never seen anything like that before. Wait, yes I did, once I was lonely and bored one night and I was flipping through the channels on the cable and I caught a demonstration of soldiers disassembling and assembling their guns blindfolded, in a contest of speed. That is the only comparison I can make.
"Good as new he says" as he puts the furnace back together and his tools back in the box.
I lead him back up the stairs to the kitchen and goe to the counter to get my purse and checkbook.
"How much do I owe you?" I ask with a heavy heart.
"No Charge" is his cherry response.
I am dumbfounded and he immediately sees it in my face.
"Really, no charge. The service call is covered under your basic policy and I was able to make one good part out of two broken parts. I can't charge you for that. Let's call it my own little re-cycling program."
As he begins to put his boots back on at the door she, in a rush of gratitude, blurts out "I don't suppose you would like a cup of coffee, would you?"
He turns to look at me and I sense that he is going to refuse but I blunder on, "Really, it is no problem I'm just going to make my self another cup of instant."
He agrees saying "that is indeed very kind of you, I left home to do this service call with out eating my breakfast and a cup of coffee would be very nice."
As I prepare the coffee he sits at the table letting his eyes wander the room taking everything in.
When I place it in front of him in a chipped mug he is grateful and cradles it in both hands. I notice that they are slim, soft and very, very clean. The nails are manicured and have been buffed. They are not the hands of a burner technician, they are of the hands of, I simply don't know.
"Sugar... Cream?" I ask.
"A little artificial sweetener if you have it, just this way if you don't."
"Sorry," I answer my head dropping a little in embarrassment.
"It's alright," he smiles at my forehead.
For the first time I examine this technician in front of me at the table. He is tall, close to 6 feet, soft gray brush cut hair, gold spectacles, fairly slim build, definitely not skinny, but no extra fat. A wedding ring and an expensive Seiko Gold watch are the only jewelry.
As I sit and casually chat I am amazed at his command of the English language and his knowledge of any and all things. We talk of the weather, sports, local, regional and national, and the local school system. The current job market is covered when he notices to where the paper is opened. We even talk about state politics, of which he seems to have a very strong grasp. They talk of the upcoming election campaign and the chance that the current governor, who has raised many contentious issues, can get reelected. Two hours pass and neither of us has even noticed a minute of it. He has not moved a muscle sitting there with his hands folded, his knees crossed, and looking into her face talking to her.
Finally, he looks at the clock on the wall and says, "This has been very pleasant but I have an important 3 P.M. commitment that I must keep."
I blush and apologize for delaying him and escort him once again to the door, and, as he puts on his boots, he looks up and says, "I couldn't help but notice the fridge, I see that you have children."
"Yes, two girls who are away for the week end." I respond with the pride evident in my tone.
"You're not wearing a wedding ring?" He responds, "but I suppose a lot of ladies don't wear them today."
"No, I am a divorced woman, just trying to make it on my own." I answer with no infliction whatsoever in my voice.
"Ah, I know this will seem out of place but I have enjoyed our conversation and I think you have too. I was wondering, would you consider joining me on an excursion I have planned this afternoon"
I stutter and stammer and immediately he senses that he has made a misstep.
"I am sorry, I really shouldn't have asked, it was very forward of me."
Jesus Christ, my mind screams at mer, where did this guy come from. No man today talks like that. 'Very forward, Good God'. The standard retort to-day is, 'to bad baby don't know what you're missing, more fish in the sea, see ya.'
In a flash of daring that I didn't know I had, I blurts out, "I would love to. When should I be ready and what should I wear."
"Two O'clock would be fine and warm casual clothes would be most appropriate." He waves timidly as he proceeds to his service truck.
As I close the door the misgivings and doubts begin to set in. 'Most appropriate', Jesus Christ, who talks like that to day? I realize that all I know is his first name.
In a brief burst of insight I call the Service Company and ask them if the service man had been dispatched and, when they confirm it, I ask for a brief description. They give it and there is no doubt that it is the same man who just left the house. By this time the company is concerned and adds that he is their most reliable casual worker and they are sure that I will be more than satisfied with him when he arrives.
Well, I think, in for a penny in for a pound, I don't know his last name so I can't even call him to cancel.
As it is already after twelve I tidy the house, have a shower, do my hair and nails and dress. Hiking boots, warm socks, heavy jeans, light blouse and heavy winter sweater go on and 'completing the laying out' I line up Columbia jacket and a matching tam and scarf.
It is the best I can do given the circumstances. At precisely two P.M. the doorbell rings and I answer. There stands Donald or, at least, it should be Donald.
The gentleman is immaculately groomed. Like me, hiking boots, expensive corduroy trousers, a soft green winter sweater over a white turtleneck, a Columbia Jacket that matches the sweater and pants, an a jaunty LL. Bean gentleman's walking hat. No Service uniform is evident.
I smile and turn and lock the door and he gently escorts me down the walk and assists me into the passenger side of an older model expensive luxury sedan. As he proceeds to get in I notice that, while old, it is immaculate and in excellent repair. He starts the car and carefully proceeds down the street and on to the interstate.
The stereo is softly playing classical music and, while my taste runs more to Reba McIntire, there is sometime serene, and settling about it that adds to the mood of well being and contentment that I am beginning to feel.
The conversation is pointless and rambles about this and that and nothing. Finally, he says, "I enjoy following the sports teams at Ohio State and the Hockey team is playing at 3 P.M. It is a critical game if they want to advance in the NCAA championships. That is where we are going."
I have never gone to a hockey game in my life, but somehow that seems like a particularly appropriate think to be doing with this man this afternoon.
As he pulls into the sports complex he drives to the reserve parking area and the young student police instantly lifts the barrier and he passes through with a friendly wave to the boy who smiles back. He drives to the further restricted parking by the door of the complex and another student police, spotting him, removes another barrier from the last remaining parking spot by the door.
As he gets out and comes around to get me he opens the door and I catch part of a conversation. "... Worried that you were not going to make it to-day. Glad you did professor."
"Thanks Jimmy, I was pleasantly, if unavoidably, delayed."
"How's the studies going?"
"About as good as can be expected, SOS" is the response.
As I get out of the car I sense that the boy looks me a little strangely but immediately dismiss it. We enter the rink and are immediately escorted through the turnstiles and are surrounded by thousands and thousands of screaming students.
Donald knows everybody. They smile and grin at him, a kind look here, a quick word there, as we proceed slowly to the seating area behind the home team bench.
As we move through the crowds they seem to magically part, there is not jostling, it is not planned, it is just as if, at the very last nano second, the next person senses he is there and moves ever so slightly. As we reach the seating section that he seems to be heading for A stunningly beautiful co-ed leaps to her feet and shouts to him, "over here Doctor, we have saved your seat."
As we proceed down the isle to the third row behind the boards I perceive the consternation of the co-ed. Indeed, they have saved his seat, one seat, but ever so quietly I see her equally attractive companion, quickly get up and leave by the other end of the row and now magically there are two seats where before there was only one in this screaming mass of fans.
As I take my seat Donald casually says to the co-ed, "Jan, this is my new friend Denise," she is my guest this afternoon. She smiles warmly at me but I sense that she is immediately on her guard assessing me, wondering, and sniffing.
She is the epitome of politeness but the fangs are not far from the surface, if I am a threat, but to what, I wonder.
The game begins and the arena turns into a screaming mass of 20, 000 drunken college students enjoying a brutal sport. Donald screams and yells with the best of them. Soon I am drawn into the frenzy and enjoying it as much as him, but he is just as quick to cheer for a good play from the opposing team as he is for the home team even thought it is evident that all know where his true loyalties lay.
At the end of the first period the bedlam dies down and he turns to ask me if I am enjoying myself. I simply smile, as conversation is difficult in the noise. I have never experienced anything like this. I never had the opportunity to go to University, God, what an experience I must have missed.
As I come out of this momentary revere another pretty co-ed hands Donald a simple tray with a banana, half a tuna fish sandwich, a cup of black coffee with sweeter on the side and simply says "here is you snack. Bon Appetite."
She looks at me and says, "could I bring you something?" For the first time I realize that in my busy day with the furnace, cleaning the house, and getting ready that I have not eaten breakfast or lunch, I are famished.
I reach down for my purse but gently feel Donald's hand lightly on the back of my wrist. It is so subtly done that I know nobody noticed but the message was conveyed to me.
"A hamburger and a beer would be lovely."
Donald eats his snack and magically the tray disappears into the hands of another co-ed that seems to be constantly standing in the background sensing his every need.
As my eyes wander around the arena taking it all in, I am drawn back to reality by another co-ed who hands me a hamburger on a paper plate with some potato chips, a napkin, and a cold mug of beer, not a plastic cup.
As I bite into the burger I realize that it has been freshly made and put together by hand. This didn't come from any steam table. Someone, for some reason, went to some trouble. Again my instincts are aroused.
Donald is known and respected and even loved here, but I am an intruder. They weren't expecting me and they don't know what to think but I am obviously his guest so they are giving me the benefit of the doubt.
The game ends with the home team winning by one goal scored in the last minute of the game. The atmosphere is indescribable. I can't help but get caught up in the moment. Nothing is as I have ever experienced in my life.
It is half an hour before we can even speak to each other. As we slowly begin to make our way to the exit there are more smiles and greetings for Donald and inquisitive stares for me, on Donald's arm. Somehow, they don't feel threatening.
As we approach the car my mouth falls open. Approaching Donald is the Governor of the State, and his entourage of eager assistants. The governor says, " Nice to see you Donald, I'm looking forward to reading your report when it is finished." Looking at me he says "nice to see you young lady." He then quickly moves off to do more glad-handing.
Donald opens the door and helps me in and assists me to fasten the seat belt saying "be careful my dear, you know how it sticks." He goes around the car and gets in and proceeds to make his way out of the parking lot and onto the interstate, back the way we came. He is quiet and withdrawn.
Finally, he says "I am sorry if I appeared rude to you back there and didn't introduce you to the governor, who is, by the way, an alumnus of the university. I have always believed that if you have nothing kind to say it is best to say nothing at all. You life would not be enriched by having made his acquaintance." Donald's mood then brightens.
"Don't suppose I could invite you to be my guest at supper. I know a rather pleasant place on the way that serves delicious B.B.Q. "
"Why not" I respond totally lost in the strange experiences that I have enjoyed today. After all, how much more bizarre could my day get, I think.
Donald pulls into the parking lot of a huge roadside joint. As we enter the foyer it is packed with students and alumni coming from the game. As we approach the reservations desk I realize that there is more of a chance of a snowball freezing in hell than there is of us getting fed in this dining room to-night.
Donald is oblivious. As the deskman raises his head to snarl an obscenity at Donald about the foolish request that he is about to make, his face breaks into an infectious grin and says, "what an unexpected but pleasant surprise to see you Doctor... and your companion."
The deskman is flustered by my presence. A moron could see that. I am not supposed to be here, period. Any moron could figure that out.
"Pat will be thrilled to see you" he continues, and just as he says this the biggest man I have ever seem in my life comes into view. He grabs Donald and hugs him and twirls him in the air. This man is a monster. At least 6 foot 10 inches, 340 pounds and arms and legs like tree trunks. He turns to me and I see suspicion momentarily fleet through his eyes before he says, "nice to see you young lady." He takes my hand gently in his to shake it. It feels like I have just shaken hands with King Kong.
"How about supper, professor"?
"Lovely Pat, if it is no problem."
Pat leads the two of us across the room to a table for eight, which is marked reserved. The sign disappears and the 6 extra place settings are quickly removed.
Quickly, a heaping plate of ribs is placed before me accompanied by a frosty mug of cold beer. It is not fancy but, beyond any doubt, they are the best ribs I have ever had. Donald, on the other hand, has a small steak and salad and a glass of milk. He eats fastidiously, but slowly, enjoying every mouth full.
Talk is of inconsequential things but always pleasant and stimulating.
He tells me Pat's story, which is rather intriguing. The story of a college athlete who made it as an All-American and signed a monstrous pro contract with the old Cleveland Browns. Of the first pro game he played and destroying his left knee. Of coming to him 6 months later, after major surgery on his knee, asking for advice. He had 6 million dollars in his bank account and no future at 21.
Donald explains that had looked around and noticed this roadhouse, ideally located, and up for sale. It seem ideal, close to the university, his university background in sports, his pro fame, the ingredients were all there. He made a few contacts among the alumni and suddenly the 12 million-dollar asking price was met. Pat became the major owner but the other owners give him the advice so that he doesn't make any major mistakes.
As I look around I conclude, correctly, it is a gold mine. As the meal and the conversation wind to a close, I see the Governor and his party of eight arrive and see that there is a disagreement and angry words exchanged, but the Governor, after glaring in our direction, leaves in a huff.
Finished our meal we leave the restaurant, get into the car, and quietly proceed back to my home.
As we get out of the car he comes around and, placing his hand near my elbow walks with me up the icy walk, not touching me, but there just in case I might slip. When we reach the door I fumble with my keys and when I get it open I turn to face the inevitable, only to find, his hand outstretched to shake mine.
"Thank you for a wonderful day. It has been a very enjoyable day for me. I can't tell you when I have enjoyed myself more. I am indeed fortunate that your furnace went out. Fate was kind to me today."
Finally, I mentally explode. As I take his hand to shake it I say silently to myself 'what in the fuck is going on with this guy, I don't even know WHO he is, and, now, after a wonderful day, all he wants to do is shake my hand! This is fucking unbelievable. Why is he not at least trying to cop a feel or get in for a quick lay'.
As he turns to walk back done to the car I ask him if he would like a cup of coffee to finish off the evening. He hesitates before he says, "are you concerned about what your neighbors might say?"
I am dumb- struck. I don't know what to say. All I can think is 'Where the fuck is this guy from, another universe or time zone?'
All I can think to say is "no."
"Alright," he responds I would love a cup of coffee and follows you into the house closing the door behind quietly.
I take his coat, hang it in the closet, and when he is sitting on the couch in the living room with remote TV clicker flipping through the channels, I go to the kitchen to make coffee.
It takes longer than I had planned. It doesn't seem appropriate that that I do instant so the perk comes out. The mugs are left in the cupboard and two china cups and sauces come out with the matching cream and sugar dispenser. Some napkins and teaspoons and I'm ready. As I walk back into the living room I are thunderstruck.
There he is, sitting on the chesterfield watching a re-run of the American President, with Annette Benning and Michael Douglas, and crying like a baby.
I set the tray down on the coffee table, take the clicker turn the TV off, and hurl the clicker at the wall, smashing it into a thousand pieces.
My rage has no bounds. I don't care what I say. I am beyond reason. I look at him and, with all the fury I can muster, I scream, "I've had enough. Who, the fuck, are you? I want some answers and I want them now. Why are you sitting in front of my TV crying like a baby? Why do these people call you Doctor and Professor? Why do they fawn all over you as if you represent the next coming of Jesus Christ? Why does the goddamn Governor call you by name? You're just a fucking Burner Service Technician, for Christ sakes? Where are the answers and I want them now."
I stand there fuming. The steam is rising from my ears. If I had High blood pressure I would have just had a stroke. I am ready to hit him and it is almost as if he hasn't heard me. Slowly he reaches for a napkin and wipes his eyes and starts to talk and talk and talk. He can't shut up and I listen in amazement.
You know, he starts, that Movie, American President, is a great movie. Hollywood intended it, as a piece of romantic comedy and they don't even know what they were writing about. The truth that they told escaped them.
The President, the most powerful man in the world, is also the loneliest. He lost his wife to cancer and there he, is running the world, and trying to raise a 12 year old. She is smarter than he is. All he wants to do is think about his dead wife and the twelve-year old has already figured that life goes on, amazing.
Remember the scene when he meets Annette and she is mean mouthing him to Martin Sheen. He was captivated, but he didn't know why. That was the beginning of when he started to finally let go of his dead wife. Remember all his staff around him. All they wanted to do was protect him, like my friends today. Remember when he tried to talk to his daughter about inviting his lady friend to supper and he stumbled and stuttered and finally she took the bull by the horns and said "Dad, it's alright." Imagine out of the mouths of babes. She was smarter than the most important, powerful man in the world. Remember when he was shooting pool in the White House at night with Martin Sheen and he was trying to find out if she liked him. I thought that was priceless. Then him trying for the first time in 40 years to ask her for a date and the phones not working and she didn't believe that it was he on the phone."
I say nothing, I just listen.
"Best movie I have ever seen, and it is just cheap popular trash. Very meaningful to me."