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Chapter Eight

"Morningstar and Sarah"


    Seventeen hours and four fill-ups later I drifted off the tollway at Boynton Beach. The latenight air felt wet and waxy as the grumpy Turnpike Hostess examined her coffee-stained wall map and issued approximate directions to my parents' winter place.
    Her voice was very weary. "They say it's South Florida's most secure Snowbird complex - they say."
    I paid my $8.70 toll with a ten dollar bill and told her to keep the change.
    She smiled, slightly sunny. "Well - welcome to the Sunshine State, stranger."
    Even less sunny was a squad of security guards in a brass-and-glass shack at the entrance to Sir Loin Estates. Only after phoning my parents in St. Louis to confirm my identity, did they hoist the iron-and-brass gate, allowing me to pass.

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    Their loudspeaker issued explicit directions. "Follow the pink/gold line past #606 Mignon Manor. Park in underground bunker A-1, just east of the Porter House. Do not deviate."
    Guardedly, I proceeded along the color-coded stripe, followed by two gendarmes in a glass-enclosed golf cart equipped with pulsing pastel lights.
    Wondering whether one of Sir Loin's guards was named Chuck Berger, I guffawed lightly and parked dutifully in the underground garage. With my grocery bag of belongings in one hand, my cane Moses in the other, but no passcard for the elevator, I scaled two flights of steep concrete steps, then made my way over fiberglass cobblestones and between transplanted palm trees to the transmigratory habitat of Ray and Kay Daniels.
    I found three keys in a bucket of plastic plants, pressed father's SIN onto the alarmpad, and marched crookedly across yet another cast iron threshold. The glitzy seasonal residence reeked of standing sauna water and uncured carpet glue and looked like it belonged to some Miami panjandrum, maybe a bigshot druglord.
    My turtlish father always wanted his windows locked and drapes closed; I liked to be able to see outside, to always be able to see that world which more than once had been kept from me. Opening the drapes wide, I took an easy breath, looked around, and tried to relax.
    The walls were coated with pastel latex and decorated with abstractly arcane watercolors framed in anodized aluminum or lightly burnished bronze. Seamless smoked mirrors covered the ceilings; tiny lambskin scatter rugs adorned the polished marble flooring. Countless ivory, gold and other indulgent accessories supposedly accented the reputedly futuristic ceramic furniture.

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    I found a plain powder blue blanket hidden in one of the walk-in closets, draped it over a zebra-skinned sofa, and took a midnight nap amidst the glitz.
    In the morning (9 AM sharp), I arrived at the Palm Beach Airport to pick up my folks. Four hours later, their Summerbird Express finally arrived.
    Deplaning, casual Ray Daniels failed to even say hello to me, behaving as if he'd never left my couchside in the St. Louis family room three days before. Kay did a little better, managing a limp smile and feeble fingershake.
    Following off-loading of their designer luggage, I carried one suitcase in my free hand and another under its arm. A Haitian valet dollied the rest at a buck a bag.
    When I told dad I'd been waiting since 9AM sharp, he said that that was the way it should be. "Better you wait than your poor mother and me, son."
    Kay yawned, the reparteed. "That's right, Ray. David, please don't keep comparing yourself to your parents."
    I asserted myself. "I wasn't comparing or complaining, only commenting."
    Ray plotzed into the passenger seat and snarled. "Don't sas your mother!"
    Carefully, I laid Moses across the dash and slid in. While I drove, mother catnapped across both back buckets. Several times on the way back to Boynton, I took my eyes off the road just long enough to glance at dear old dad, realizing I'd never before really looked at him, at his aryan nose, tiny mouth, flabby jowls, or.....
    "Don't look at me like that!" he barked.
    Could he, too, read my mind? Surely, the egomaniac thought he could read everyones. For a second, I thought maybe I was being too rough on the old joker but quickly concluded I wasn't.

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    As we pulled up to the condo, he posed the same question for the twelfth time. "David, isn't it really nice down here?" His head bobbed like a castrated turkey and he repeated himself for the thirteenth time.
    His self-serving reiteration never bothered me before, but I found it hard to take now. After my third single-handed trip into the condo, pop directed me to put down my cane and use both hands. I explained I'd hurt my leg and the cane helped my balance.
    He spoke with disgust. "Whatever you say, son." Then he asked me to get the car washed. When I told him I'd heard about a special place in Boca Raton, he re-iterated himself. "Whatever you want, son. I suppose now I'll have to loan you some money."
    I told him not to worry about it.
    While he personally handled his and mom's medicine/makeup case, I opened the Caddie's rear door, trying to wake mother. "Wake up. Wake up."
    Her lids peeled open. "Huh?? What?? You disturbed my..."
    I told her she was home. "Dad's inside. We already took the luggage in."
    "Ohhh, all riiight."
    She sat up to check her makeup in the rear vanity mirror and staggered out, leaving her door wide open. As she ambled toward the Porter House, I started the motor and shouted out the window that her condo was the one on the corner.
    She swiveled slowly and starting across the street. "Ohhh, I know, hon."
    "No, mother. The other corner." I pointed the way. "Over there."

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    In between yawns, she insisted she knew all along, waved shallowly and finally ambled in the right direction. Dropping the canoe into gear, I took off for Morningstar's car wash. Rounding the turn onto Tenderloin Terrace, I hit passing gear and the back door slammed shut.
    Twenty minutes away, I found the small enterprise exactly as Ména specified, a cozy little aquamarine work trailer beside a giant gas station at the south end of Alaska Boulevard - the Valdez Exxon Station.
    After rolling across yet another oil-slicked lot of hot asphalt, I bumped onto a patch of dry gravel before stopping. In the shade of an aquamarine awning enhanced with bright yellow sunflowers, I climbed out with Moses. Scores of wax, soap, leather cleaner and tar remover cans were lined up like so many play soldiers, their drippings running down onto the blacktop in front of an aquamarine chaise lounge.
    On that magnifcient blue-green throne lay Menachem's well-tanned carwash cohort. Her hair was long and racing black; face round and happy; full-bodied tan traced with red. With her large eyes still closed, her full mouth smiled.
    As I opened my own mouth to announce my presence, her lids suddenly pulled open and I lost my breath into the vast darkness of the ocular orbs. Her eyes seemed to be filled with the bottomless passion of a sleeping volcano.
    She yawned lightly and they glistened all the more. "Hi, how ya' doin'?" She meant what she said.
    Retrieving my breath, I pretended not to know she was Judy's friend. "Is the guy who washes the cars here?"
    She giggled lightly and smiled ear to ear. "I'm the guy who washes the cars. Is that your Caddie?"
    I told her it belonged to some older friends of mine up in Boynton Beach. I didn't want to take responsibilty for such an indulgent gas guzzler and surely didn't want to be type-cast as the family gofer.

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    Asking if she could wash my friends' car for them, I pompously explained that they were wealthy. "Price is no object."
    Standing tall, she slipped out of her jean shorts and t-shirt. A tasteful aquamarine tank suit clung to her full, athletic form. She asked if I wanted her to wax the car too.
    I told her to go ahead and give it a real good wax job. "Take your time. I'm in no hurry."
    She shaded her eyes with her hand and smiled wide. "I'll fetch us some lemonade, in case you'd like to stick around while I work."
    I smiled too. "Sure. That sounds real good. I am quite thirsty, now that you mention it."
    She jogged into the trailer and returned in a flash with a frosty pitcher that looked like someone peeled it right off the face of a Kool-Aid package. The 12 oz. glasses were part of a Hollywood collector series from McDonald's.
    She filled both glasses to the brim. "I hope you don't mind lemon-flavored Kool-Aid, in lieu of lemonade."
I told her Kool-Aid was just fine and took several deep swallows.     When my glass was empty, I held it up to the sun and examined its RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK motif. Then I asked Morningstar whether she thought there ever really was an Ark with the inside that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai.
    She said that she knew there was and turned on the waterhose. "I saw the Ark. It was 48' X 27' X 27', overlaid with pure gold inside and out. The priests carried It to the sanctuary between two poles under a purple canopy." She dumped a paper packet of azure soap in her wash bucket.

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    When I told her I didn't know the Ark had been found and put in a museum, she said It hadn't and dunked her sponge. "Not yet, anyway. But It won't be in a museum; It'll be at the center of our new temple-state."
    So I asked where she saw the Ark; she said it was a long story, slapping soapy sponge onto dry hood.
    While I watched and listened, Morningwash worked away, efficiently, not a wasted motion. Her speech was easy and fluent, not a lost word, or a harsh one. Easy to talk to, she was even easier to listen to. In minutes, I felt like I'd known her for years. Her low, animated voice reminded me of heavenly Sidra. And when she talked of Arizona, her eyes glazed over, lost in age-old dreams.
    Proudly, she told me she was part Navajo, as Menachem had mentioned, and which might or might not explain her wide, square shoulders. Her form was rugged, her movements independent, her mien fully feminine.
    But she began to have a terrible time with her hair. The changing wind kept blowing it into the waterstream and I told her that maybe she should put a rubberband in it.
    "No, I never put anything in my hair." She winked teasingly and tossed the long black mane over her broad back. "I like it to fall free. Don't you?"
    Immediately, I conjured up a vivid image of her riding bareback and nude across a vast prairie with hair streaming like the tail of Halley's comet.
    I told her to polish the chrome when she was finished waxing. "If you have enough time, that is."
    She talked quickly, without missing a semi-circular swipe. "You're the guy with the big-buck friends."
    After working almost two hours in the semi-shaded blacktopped heat, there appeared not a single bead of sweat on her smooth golden skin, only a fine emulsion of natural oil. Her legs were well-muscled, I couldn't help but notice, and they flexed whenever she moved, or talked.

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    At long last, she formally introduced herself. "I'm Margot Morningstar of Hope, Arizona." Uncapping a fresh can of vinegar-based chrome polish, she told me she was born in Arizona, but actually grew up in Missouri. "My genes are one quarter Navajo, but my heart is three quarters."
    Then I told her I was David, and she stopped working, staring at me, as if someone had told her to expect me.
    Using my middle name for my last, I stretched the truth. "I'm David Richards from Lenexa, Kansas. I grew up in Missouri, too, outside St. Louis." I didn't want her to know Menachem had sent me, hoping to earn her favor on my own merit.
    She said she thought I was a special person she once knew, that I looked sort of like him, but more mature. Relaxing, her eyes glistened and seemed to lighten. She said even if I wasn't that person, it was certainly a small world. "I grew up outside St. Louis too, Mr. Richards. But why the cane, citizen?"
    I told her I'd lost my balance and banged my leg up the night before and she went back to work. I figured she probably graduated high school ten or fifteen years after me, so I didn't bother asking which St. Louis school she'd gone to.
    Dumping the clay bucket of soapwater into an aquamarine oil drum, she glanced at my bum leg. "Would you like me to heal your hip?"
    I reflexed like pop did when asked for a low-interest loan. "What??"
    Her face hidden behind a web of shimmering hair, in a bashful, teasing way so I could barely see her wet mouth move, Morningstar told me about her grandfather. "Lone Eagle taught me how to heal just last spring."

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    "It'll be okay on its own." I changed the subject and told her I'd noticed an outdoor seafood buffet along the beach and asked if she'd like to have dinner with me.
    Without answering, she finished her buffing. When I asked how much my wealthy friends owed, she said that ten dollars was plenty.
    I offered her a thirty dollar tip. "My friends are extremely well-off and you've more than earned it, Miss Morningstar." I enjoyed saying her name.
    Reluctantly, she tucked the pair of twenties under the tight hip of her tank suit, and I asked if she'd like to play keno that night.
    She stared at the blacktop. "But maybe I'm not still a virgin."
    She dashed away, disappearing into the trailer, before I could ask what virginity had to do with keno, or seafood. So I got in the car with Moses, figuring I'd somehow offended young Margot.
    Just as I was shifting into gear, though, a tapping came to the back glass and I glanced into the mirror. It was my Morningstar. She came around and I saw a wad of white paper wedged into her bulging cleavage. Putting one hand over my mouth, she transferred the folded paper into my shirt pocket with the other, then jogged back into the trailer.
    For some reason, I decided to wait until I got back to the condo to read the note. Driving toward the palm-treed and cobble-stoned condominium complex, I wondered whether the note had something to do with me being too old. But she'd acted so friendly, almost seductive.
    Caning my way quietly into the guest bedroom, I dropped onto the overstuffed mattress and optimistically decided that maybe it was a love note afterall. So I pulled it from my pocket - just as my mother drifted in. Mom asked what was on the piece of paper and I said it was just something I'd been thinking about.

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    As usual, she yawned. "You think too much, hon. But do you want to watch us play keno tonight, or not?"
    I declined. "Oh, I think I'll just stay here and read tonight. I saw a streamlined bookmobile outside the main gate."
    "Watching television is alot easier, though; don't you think, hon?"
    I didn't answer, but when she told me she and dad were too old to stand in the long refreshment line, I conceded. "Sure, I'll go to help you and dad out."
    She yawned some more. "Then instead of thinking, why don't you polish my imported professional golf clubs while I nap? Be careful, though; they're real teakwood. Okay, hon?"
    After I nodded, she left the room and I refolded the unread square of paper. Dropping it into my shaving bag, I thought it most likely some simple explanation of a prior romantic commitment.
    Mother's heavy-mirrored door thumped as it wedged into its bronze frame. Nondescript electronic chamber music emanated from the crack between mother's door and marble frame, and I decided that thinking and emoting which she disapproved of were synonymous with the living she knew nothing about.
    At any rate, I retrieved Margot's note from my bag and unfolded it. The faded purple paper was from a telephone message pad and one of the $20 bills I'd paid her was wrapped in it. Additionally, one whole side of the phone memo was covered with scribbled black lead.

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    Fashioning a makeshift eraser from excess window caulking, I rubbed off the graphite, exposing a typed message someone tried to cover up:

    Very slowly, I refolded the memo, wondering how old it was. And why did Morningstar scratch it out before giving it to me? I checked that my zipper was secure (from castration) and moseyed out onto the enclosed porch (with my cane). Maybe she had used the covert communiqué by mistake, just to wrap the money in. I hosed down mom's teakwood clubs more than once, wondering what it was all about.
    At 7PM sharp, we embarked for keno with my father at the wheel, so he could check whether I'd abused the Caddie on the way down, so he said. Lucky for me, I would say, neither of my parents noticed the missing wheelcovers. To stimulate conversation, I happened to mention that I thought gambling was only allowed on ships at sea.
    Ray's head jerking about like a turkey that swallowed a fruit fly. "What??"
    Mom suddenly stirred. "There's our temple, I think."
    Uttering assorted blasphemes and squealing hard left, dad brought us to a crooked halt, right on the center hump, activating the left musical directional light only after the concrete dust settled. An anemic horn sounded from our backside and I glanced in the vanity mirror. An old beatup VW came sliding to a sloppy stop, lightly thumping our rear bumper in the process.
    Dad cursed the bastards as we finally rolled lackadaisically across several lanes of oncoming traffic, uncountable cars swerving and skidding to avoid a head-on collision with us.
    Steering into a quartz-lit parking lot, dad made a curt observation. "It's all them ignorant goyim and dumb Russian immigrants that drive with their heads up their ass!"

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    I made my own. "You know, mother's parents were Russian immigrants."
    Mom sighed. "Were they??"
    Politely, I told dad that his driving was going to kill someone someday. But I didn't tell him I thought the car that rear-ended us looked like the same mud-caked ragtop I'd seen around the side of Moammar's place (right before the big blast). As we came to rest in a handicapped parking spot, I objected.
    Pop's mischevious eyes constricted. "Son, you have a handicap cane, don't you?"
    I said that I did but someone might come who really needed the spot.
    He rationalized. "It'll teach 'em to get here earlier."
    The argument lost, I agreed to repark the car after they got out.
    Mom cautioned me. "Not too far away though, in case something happens to you, hon, and we have to walk to the car."
    After relocating the car to the farside of the lot, Moses and I followed the color-coordinated twosome into an ultræformed temple resembling a suburban American bank, creatively called AMBREWS FROM HEAVEN.
    Inside the avant-garde synagogue I picked up their reserved refreshments of chilled pickle borscht and warm skim milk, bought a bag of 'DAVID' brand barbecued sunflower seeds for myself, then returned to the suburban outdoors.
    Breathing the relatively free Florida air, I laid on the Seville's hood, admiring the early evening stars - until the double blast of a nearby horn nearly blew me right off my slick bed.
    There was no mistaking the dreamy Morningvoice. "Hey hot rod, what's up?"

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    As she rolled to a stop, I slid off the well-waxed hood and told her I was playing keno with my older friends. I sauntered towards her rusting, but immaculately clean, '67 Camaro, and she said she'd been waiting for me all evening.
    I massaged Moses' hook. "What do you mean waiting ?"
    She looked puzzled. "Didn't you read the note I gave you?"
    "About castrating dictators?"
    "No, the other side."
    I told her I hadn't, leaned against the door, and peered inside at the voluptuous Miss Morningstar. Her well-oiled, barely clad form sat on a cream-colored beach blanket adorned with real red roses.
    Propping my elbow on the dented roof, I thought for a second, then told her the truth. "I'm not David Richards; I'm David Daniels."
    Her eyes dazed, sadly. "You lied to me."
    I explained that Richard was my middle name and I didn't want her to know yet that I was P. M. Menachem's friend. I told her that he wanted her to call Kingdom City. She remained somber so I tried the password. "Ha-Tikvah."
    "Hon! Hon, who are you talking to?" It was the squeak of mom's nosey voice from somewhere.
    Again, I used the password, but Morning's dark eyes were startled. Putting hand to breast, she revved her Z-28 motor. Slamming the small block's 4-speed into gear, she popped the clutch and I stepped back. Both rear slicks began to spin and squeal wildly, spewing burnt rubber smoke into the humid air. Then the squeal became a sickening hum as her four-barrel carburetor sucked frantically and the battered skyblue hotrod finally began to move, first sideways, then finally forward, engulfed in yellow smoke.

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    Her positraction Body by Fisher cut catawampus towards the street, its magnesium wheels impacting the curb, the driver's door flying open and exposing Morningstar's sensuous silhouette to all passerbys. As she bounced across the median, the door slammed shut and I gave chase. But it was no use; I couldn't speed-limp as fast as the car, Moses or no Moses. Helpless, I saw the too-familiar VW hum away from an adult bookstore across the boulevard, in obvious pursuit of Morningstar.
    Father cackled from back in the lot. "Who was that shikseh? Tell me who she is, son."
    I caught my breath and walked back to the Caddie.
    When I asked dad why they were finished so soon, he said mom had hit the Premature Jackpot. "Now son, I don't mind if you teenagers act crazy with each other, but not around senior citizens like your mother and myself."
    As his chubby legs hefted his swollen torso into the car and behind the wheel, I slid into the backseat, explaining that I hadn't been a teenager for a long time. "So don't take your frustrations out on me."
    Dad balked. "Get in, Kay. I think I'm having one of my heart palpitations; God forbid. Maybe if they'd kept David at Farmingtown he'd show me some respect by now."
    I took exception. "That's pure bullshit. I never belonged there in the first place."
    Dad was ready. "Son, you're the one that went off the deep end."
    Fortunately for his healthy heart, mother interceded. "Since I won the Premature Jackpot, I'll buy you each a jumbo ice cream pancake at Sylvia's; if you want them."
    I said dad could have mine, that I needed to get back to the condo and rest my leg.

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    Then, for the first time, my mother asked what I was doing with the cane, but answered herself. "I don't want to know. I have enough problems of my own just now, getting the condo organized and all."
    I acquiesced. "That's right."
    Dad snarled anyway. "Son, do I detect sarcasm in that response? I hope not. Your mother and me have been too generous with you to be sassed."
    Considering the absurdity of his statement, it took all the will power I could muster not to blatantly violate the Fifth Commandment.
    On the return road to Sir Loin, Ray ranted how unappreciative his children were, so Kay gave him a swallow of her latest nerve medication, pre-dissolved in a convenient designer decanter.
    Pop wheezed and the car squealed to a spastic halt on the wide sidewalk of Mignon Manor. As I climbed out beside a lightning-gouged palm, mom said I'd better not scratch the furniture or I'd have to sleep in the gardener's cottage with Manny.
    Dad hiccuped. "Close the door quick, so I can get to Sylia's Ice Cream Palace before she runs out of my Goosebury Ripple."
    I shut the car door carefully, watched as they crept out of sight, then limped briskly into the condo and retrieved Morningstar's note from my shaving bag. Sure enough, I'd overlooked a small handwritten message on the flip side:



    Though the possibility of a future rendezvous enthralled and relaxed me, I slept only in my usual two hour installments. The refrigerated, recirculated, and refiltered air was so dry that when I stirred the first time, I had to unlock and pry open a storm window.

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    In spite of the hot humidity outside, the open lot, slated to soon become a giant kidney-shaped Jacuzzi, still appeared inviting and peaceful. Where would the rabbits and birds go when jaded greed finished mutilating their future under the twisted guise of development and progress? With the grave matter unresolved, I drifted off and awoke, three more times, until dawn brought a blazing sun and a lunatic raving.
    Ray directulated. "Get up. Don't be so lazy. Your mother wants you to pick up an African ashtray in Boca Raton. So get up."
    Following a speedy shave and shower, I left on my mission of accessory acquisition. Along the way, I stopped to say hi to Morningstar, but her small enterprise was gone. Even the bottles and cans had vanished, leaving only their lonely stains behind. The manager of the Valdez truckstop was little help; he was drunk. I bought a bag of gourmet potato buds from his hi-tech vending machine and headed for the interior decorator's shop.
    THE CARAVAN CONNECTION was wedged between a money-laundering bank on one side and a self-service Thrift on the other. As I swiped mother's gold charge card under the scanner, a pristine door swished open. Holding Moses tight to my side, I wove through a tight menagerie of glass, chrome, brass, and ivory.
    Approaching the spotlighted chrome cash register, I told the anemic clerk I was checking on an ashtray for Kay Daniels. The hyperactive preppie's oversized safari sweater looked like a potato sack hung on a pool cue. Poking nervously at a laptop computer, he informed me his name was Earnest Hemmingbird III, second son of the establishment's founder. "The item for your family only recently arrived on African AirFreight. There is a balance due of $900. Will you be using a family charge card, my friend?"

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    Withholding the card, I asked what the ashtray was made of.
    He sighed snobbily. "Oh, my sad friend - are you not aware this ashtray represents the last available ivory anywhere?" Jutting his retrograde chin upward to expose the grizzly underbelly of an acne-laced goatee, the secondsonofabitch sneered at me like he was going to beat his callow chest.
    Mixing no words, I told him that my parents would just have to pick it up themselves. "Furthermore, Master Hemmingturd III, you'd best be careful who you call 'my friend.' You're lucky I have a good sense of humor, hombre."
    Slipping the card back into my pocket, I marched out of the clip joint with a sick feeling in my gut. Angry for a change, I headed back to Sir Loin, still nibbling salted potato buds, thinking Ray could have rented a car with the money he was willing to spend on Kay's ivory ashtray. I could have stayed home in Kansas and the elephant could still be sauntering around Mt. Kilimanjaro. The real kicker was that my parents didn't even allow smoking in their precious house.
    On the way back, I rolled past several revitalized S&L's and hoped the financial bastards who swindled all the billions of bucks would get what they deserved, big time.
    So I remained frustrated and the week passed slowly; my daytime activities limited to lugging furniture from room to room. Evenings, I visited D. Martin's ICBM (InterContinental BookMobile) - a fertile environment for literary intercourse (in lieu of the borscht and bullshit that permeated the Rump Room inside Sir Loin's Porter House).
    When Kay coyly told Ray to cancel our gambling trip to the Bahamas so she could spend more on tabletop accessories, I realized I'd been taken on a one-way joy ride, literally and figuratively. Obviously, dad wasn't about to loan me any money to get my video business going again, so I decided to seek legal counsel as soon I got back to Kansas. I'd done video depositions for Leo Leonard, a Lenexa lawyer, and was pretty sure he'd take a medical malpractice case on contingency. Lump and Capol had waltzed long enough without paying the harpist a single penny.

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    As I said, the week went slow, but on the following Tuesday, I commandeered the family canoe and headed for Vero Beach. Per Morningstar's written invitation, we would share the evening, I hoped, in her express office.
    Stopping for ethnic nourishment beforehand, I found only five of the kosher delicatessen's twenty-odd parking spaces non-handicapped. After parking in one of those five, I strolled with Moses toward the front door and examined the intricate, pink-and-grey neo-neon window sign:

    As I approached the mercantile glass door, a teenage busboy pulled open the heavy portal to culinary pleasure, from the inside. I thanked him and entered, immediately embraced by the combined aroma of corned beef, smoked salmon, onion, and garlic.
    The busboy bowed graciously. "My good sir, welcome to Shloymans Sons Beverly Hills Deli." The pubescent teen turned around and threaded me through a maze of congested tables and loud-talking patrons, toward a small booth in a secluded back corner.
    A black-and-white portable televison above the front counter was squealing so loudly I could barely hear myself think. So I asked if it was all right if I sat in a small booth up by the front window.
    The likeable lad smiled. "Certainly, sir." And he followed me over to the monopod table for two. As I sat down, he removed the extra place-setting. "Have an enjoyable dinner, sir. I'll turn the TV down for you."

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    He walked away and I noticed not everyone in the establishment was quite so well-mannered. It was awfully crowded for a late summer afternoon. Everyone was interrupting everyone else as these well-scrubbed senior citizens zealously filled their silver years with the latest reports and rumors of wealth, health, and death. Against an adjacent wall, a cloud of cigar smoke hung over an array of four phone booths, collectively cluttered with crumpled racing forms, old obituary columns, faded medical bulletins, and tattered travel brochures. At least that's what the litter looked like.
    There appeared to be only one waitress in the busy establishment and she approached gracefully then introduced herself pleasantly. "I'm Sarah, your waitress. What can I get you for dinner, sir?"
    As she handed me a multi-sheet bill of fare, I told her that I still had some traveling to do before the day was done, so I'd better have something light.
    I returned the stapled and mimeographed menu. "What do you recommend, Sarah?"
    "Our matzo ball soup is excellent. I fix it myself, sir."
    I told her that it sounded good. "It doesn't have too much onion and garlic, does it?" (I didn't want my breath to smell too bad for Morningstar.)
    "Sir, it won't have any onion and garlic if you don't want it to." And Sarah smiled for the first time.
    I told her I'd take the soup. "A large bowl with extra matzo balls, please, but no onion or garlic."
    "Anything to drink, sir?"
    I said she didn't need to call me sir, that my name was David.
    "My son, the busboy, his middle name's David also." She had a strong Polish accent.

end page 141

    I said her son seemed like a real nice boy, one to be proud of. Before she could even respond, an overweight merchant behind the counter, wearing a too-tight three-piece suit, shouted out. "Hey Sarah sweetheart, where's that bootleg Henny Youngman video that Irving sent from the Catskills? I need to show it to Tennessee and the boys in the back room."
    With a saccharine smile, Sarah told me that it was Irving's twin brother Leroy Shloyman calling. "I'd better go take care of him. If you like, I'll have my son Steven bring you some Georgian iced tea with creamed honey."
    I nodded and she hustled over to the counter, to take the brunt of her ungrateful boss's milarky; or so I judged the case to be from my padded bench. Sarah's son, the busboy, brought over a tall glass of what he called Tarkina sweet-tea, on the rocks. While he went for my soup, I watched a couple kids try to start an antediluvian motorscooter in a vacant lot across the street.
    Quickly returning, Steven served my soup. When I mentioned that his mother was quite proud of him, he pretended not to hear, asking if there was anything else he could get me. "If there is, just yell. Everybody else does."
    I asked if the Shloymans gave his mother a pretty rough time and he said she was used to it, but he wasn't. "Someday, I'm going to buy a place better than this for Mom. She deserves it."
    As if he'd never had the chance to boast about his brave father before, young Steven told me how his father froze to death in Korea, when he returned to the 38th Parallel after Vietnam, as part of the final U.S. peace-keeping force. Steven said that, as a result, his mother had worked in one Shloyman establishment or another for most of her life, first for Malcolm, now for his twin sons, Leroy and Irving.
    Steven's brow wrinkled. "In America, to study Torah and Talmud is not free."

end page 142

    When I asked whether his parents were from the old country, he said his mother grew up in Warsaw, that his deceased father, Solomon, was born in Cleveland and met her in Poland on his first tour with the Army. "Dad married Mom and brought her back here after he helped to liberate Europe."
    I told the lad that I was sure things would work out for both him and his mother, to work hard for the right reasons and enjoy creative leisure. "That's all any of us can do. Someone else will take care of the rest, in one way or another."
    Steven adjusted a royal blue, velvet skullcap (which I noticed for the first time) and spoke with enthusiasm. "You mean God will take care of the rest?"
    Smiling easily, I nodded.
    Steven explained he was studying to be a Rabbi and I praised his chosen calling, then steered our casual exchange to a secular venue (in between slurps of slightly salty soup and swallows of semi-sweet tea).
    I saw the youth was self-conscious of his acne, so I gave him some free nutritional advice on how to keep it from getting too bad. I told him that if he still had a few zits not to let it bother him, not even if his buddies teased him, because it only showed their ignorance. "Your face will clear up; their ignorance might not."
    After he told me his full name was Steven David Wiesenthal, he brought another iced tea. We were just beginning to discuss recent historic developments in Eastern Europe when Sarah returned and told her son to tend the front counter. "I need to take care of David real quick, so he can get on with his trip."
    Steven winked at me and walked away. I was about to tell Sarah that I was in no hurry, just as I saw it - a nasty signpost from out of the past.

end chap 8


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