Damon Hotchkiss slipped into our lives practically unnoticed. A real Will o' the Wisp—all at once, he was just there!
At the time, I was living in a place called the Post Residence Club. The fact that the Club was co-ed made it perfect for guys who just wanted to have fun—adventurous gals who were newly divorced—singles—or people who were at loose ends with their lives. However, for most of us who lived there—we just wanted to have a good time.
Christmas looked to be a bleak, lonely time not only for me, but also for many of my fellow lodgers. The one bright spot in my life—my little daughter Lynn would be coming to spend the weekend before the Christmas holiday with me.
Feeling just a tad down, I meandered into the TV Room where a group of people, boys and girls, were sitting around listening to some new guy who had just recently moved in. He was busy holding forth, entertaining them with his dubious exploits.
He must be pretty good, I thought. They've even turned the Television off. This was something that had never before happened in that busy place.
"Yeah, I used to wire those Bookie Joints back in St. Louis for the Good Fellows," he was saying, "Every time one of the Joints got raided, I would just move on to where ever they sent me and start wiring another place."
This guy is really full of it, I thought, but I found myself laughing right along with all the others. I finally had to admit, the guy turned out to be just naturally funny.
Taking a seat right next to my friend Oscar, who was no slouch at setting up electronic systems himself, I ask him.
"Oscar, what do you make of this guy? Do you think he's for real?"
"I know it's hard to believe—but yes, I think he is. By the way he describes the wiring, and the way he says he'd set up the bank of phones is exactly how I would go about it if I were doing that sort of hook up," he said, laughing right along with the others.
"Of course, if it were me, I would have had someone keeping an eye out for the cops while I was setting it up," he said, with a little sideway grin in my direction. "To say the least, that sort of thing is highly illegal."
For the next half hour or so, we were entertained much better than if they had left the TV on.
He's just one of those mysterious shadowy types that come through this place now and then. This town is full of guys like him and they all think they're mighty wise, I thought. A couple of days, or a week at the most—he'll be moving on.
Well... , turned out he and I had something in common. Like me, this guy was crazy about the old pop ballads from the '30's and 40's. A couple days later, he dropped by my room, a little cubby hole on the second floor.
"They tell me downstairs that you play Jazz Guitar?" he said, coming right to the point.
"Yeah. I play a little, but I don't know too many Pop Tunes. I just recently started trying to learn some stuff off of a Glenn Miller record. About all I know how to really play is Country Music."
"Don't you have any other records?" he asks me.
"Yeah, but my darned Stereo is broken and I haven't been able to figure out how to fix it."
"I could fix that for you," he assured me. "I can fix anything electronic."
About this time, alarm bells started going off in my head. Who is this guy? I don't know anything about him.
Trying to dissuade him I said, "I'll have to wait until I have a little more money." Then trying to put the icing on my little lie, I said, "I just hate that it's broken. My little daughter, Lynn is coming to spend the weekend before Christmas with me. She really loves to sing Christmas Carols."
"I'll tell you what," he said, smiling at me, "If you felt you could trust me with the key to your room—while you're at work tomorrow—I could get the part and have your stereo player repaired in time for this weekend."
Trapped! How the hell can I say no to this guy? I thought. If I say no, now... , he is going to know, it's because I don't trust him.
As a last resort, I decided to pretend that I was worried about how much he might charge me.
"You know, Damon, I might not be able to afford to pay you the amount you would want to charge," I said. "Maybe we'd better wait awhile."
"Trust me, I won't charge you very much. I promise you that you'll have no problem meeting my price," he said, with such a degree of sincerity it made me ashamed of myself for doubting him.
"Okay," I finally agreed. "Let me give you my spare key. But, don't go out of your way, if it's too much of a job. It's an old Stereo anyway," I assured him.
Next day at the office, I could hardly do my work for worrying. Had I been too naïve and simple minded? After all, I thought, this guy used to wire Bookie Joints back in St Louis. Who knows what he may be up to at this very moment?
That evening I left work in a hurry and rushed home. As I came into the Post Club lobby, there sat Damon, on the lobby steps grinning up at me.
"Okay, I got your Stereo fixed." He said, "Wasn't much too it, really."
Once up in my room, holding my breath, I quickly checked things over and found everything still intact. (Don't you know, I heaved a big sigh of relief.) Now feeling guilty that I hadn't trusted Damon, I muttered something to myself about needing to learn to trust people.
Well... , around six o'clock that evening I heard a knock on my door. When I opened the door, there stood Damon.
"I really appreciate your fixing my Stereo. How much do I owe you?" I said, thinking he had come to collect his money.
"Well... , let's see-," he said, appearing to think about it for a moment. "Do you know that old pop song, "As Time Goes By..." the one they played in Casablanca—you know, the movie with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman?"
"Damon, I'm sorry... , I don't." I said. I really was genuinely sorry not to be able to oblige him in the one thing he was asking of me.
"Anyway, let me pay you, what I owe you for fixing the Stereo," I said, trying to put the best possible light on the situation.
"Okay... , what I would like as payment for fixing your Stereo is, I want you to learn "As Time Goes By..." and play it for me sometime when you get a chance. That'll take care of what I was planning to charge you."
Well, what could I say? The next day was Saturday. I went down to the big Music Store downtown and bought a record that contained the tune, "As Time Goes By..."