••• The International Writers Magazine: Life Lessons
Paul Lerner opened his eyes and looked at the bedside clock---8:15. He’d made it through another night, he told himself. Since his last birthday, 87, he’d found himself saying, or thinking, this every morning. He tried to remember the dream he was having just before waking up.
He was still doing stories for the local Sacramento newspaper, something he’d started after retiring from the State, and had gone someplace over in Davis to interview an artist. He’d forgotten the exact address of the artist and was driving aimlessly around. He parked and looked through his wallet for the piece of paper he’d written the address on. The wallet was stuffed with papers and they all fell out. Then he woke up. It was typical of the dreams he had, always ending in futility.
Paul maneuvered himself out of bed. His legs were stiff as boards. He did his bathroom business and found his wife Sally already having her breakfast. As usual, they asked each other how they’d slept. Both of them took sleep aids, as did almost everyone they knew in their retirement community. Sally said she’d slept until around three, then took another pill and had slept until seven. Paul said he’d slept on and off, having what he called little dreamlets. After taking his morning pills --- for blood pressure and acid reflux and a baby aspirin so he wouldn’t have a heart attack that day, Paul had his breakfast, then took the morning paper out to the patio and tackled the crossword puzzle.
The paper had long ago discarded the local sections he’d written for as a free-lancer and was less than half its old size. You never knew where the crossword puzzle was and had to hunt for it every morning. He supposed the time would come when the print newspaper would disappear and all you’d have would be a digital one. He wondered how he’d do the crossword then. Out of habit, he looked at the day’s obituaries. He was sure that everyone in their retirement community did the same. No, nobody he knew this time. Then, possibly because of the dream he’d had, he thought of Art Grossman, who’d written a column for the local section of the Sacramento paper. He’d met Art at the paper’s office one time when delivering a story he’d written, maybe about that Davis artist, whose house he did find. He’d Google Art later on his iPad. You could find almost anyone or anything on Google.
Paul got dressed, something he used to do with no thought, but was now a laborious process. It was May and the weather in the Sacramento Valley was warming up but he thought he could try a morning walk before it became too hot. He told Sally he was going out. She was still finishing her coffee, engrossed in playing word games on her iPad. She looked up and told him to be careful and not to fall. This reminded him to put his cell phone in his pocket.
Paul’s usual walk was to a pond on the community’s golf course, about thirty minutes away. Once, like getting dressed, walking was something he’d done without thought. Now it was a task, something he did as part of trying to do some exercising three days a week, as the experts said oldsters like himself must do or risk disintegrating altogether. Paul thought again of Art Grossman. In that one meeting they’d found out they were fellow New Yorkers. They talked about maybe having lunch but that never happened. A few years later Paul noticed that Art’s columns no longer appeared; Art was a few years older and maybe he’d retired. He’d suggested to the editor that he might do a replacement column but nothing came of that either.
After returning from his walk, his knees aching, Paul sat down in his Lazy-boy recliner and put up his feet, thankful to be sitting. He checked his stocks on his iPad, down; then his e-mails, nothing of import; then the weather, getting warmer. Then he Googled Art Grossman but nothing came up. For no particular reason unless it was by association, Paul remembered another writer he’d known, someone who in fact had played an important part in his life, Ray Foxbury. He’d met Ray while in the Army in Germany; this was when he’d been drafted during Korea. Ray was from San Francisco, a city whose virtues he was always extolling, and when, after a couple of years in New York after returning from the Army, Paul had decided he was getting nowhere, he’d contacted Ray and had gone to San Francisco, the start of his life in California.
Ray Foxbury had become a sports writer for the San Francisco newspaper and then for a national magazine. Paul knew that Ray had passed away a few years ago, he’d seen it in the obituaries, but hadn’t paid too much attention at the time. He was probably too concerned about some health issue of his own. He found a number of items on Ray on Google. Ray had died six years ago. Paul was surprised that it had been that long. Evidently, he was a noted sportswriter, had published half a dozen books and was described as an American humorist. Paul hadn’t realized that Ray had become so well-known. He read that Ray had divorced his first wife, Jane Bronson, and had remarried. That was interesting. He wasn’t surprised that Ray hadn’t stayed with Jane. They’d had a contentious courtship followed by a contentious marriage.
Paul was a little startled when Sally came in and told him not to forget they were having their LEO lunch and should be leaving in half an hour. LEO stood for Let’s Eat Out, the name Paul had given to a lunch group he and Sally were in; they went out once every month. Paul shook off remembrances of Ray Foxworth and Jane Bronson and got ready to leave. The restaurant wasn’t too far away, which was good as Paul had come to dislike driving. He figured he’d keep driving until his present license expired, about when he’d be 90, then he’d turn over the driving to Sally, or, if not, then they’d rely on Uber. Driving down, Paul remembered the time when he’d drive all over interviewing for stories. That was a long time ago.
There were ten of them at the restaurant, only three men. Over the years half a dozen or so husbands had passed away. As was customary the three men sat at one end of the table so they could talk about sports or politics and their latest ailments while the women talked about whatever women talked about. They exchanged views on how the San Francisco Giants were doing, not too good; the prospects for the Sacramento Kings, not good at all; and the current state of affairs in the country, terrible. While the other two talked about the recent follies of Trump, Paul slipped into a reverie of the last party he’d gone to in San Francisco with Ray and Jane, who’d been married then for about six months. It had been a crowded affair at someone’s Pacific Heights apartment. Paul had gone by himself. As usual, at the end of the party there was the scramble to pair off. He’d talked to a few girls but nothing had come of it., which usually happened to him at these parties. Paul suddenly realized that someone was calling his name and asking him what he’d write about the restaurant. With an effort, he snapped back to the present.
Paul and Sally decided that, having a big lunch, they’d just have soup for supper. After, Paul took up his iPad and once again Googled Ray Foxworth. He read over a few more items on Ray’s writing and his death. He decided to Google Jane Bronson. He didn’t expect anything but a few items came up. It appeared she’d became an artist and had exhibited in a couple of San Francisco galleries. Paul was surprised. He didn’t remember Jane having any artistic inclinations. He wondered if she’d taken up painting after being divorced. One of the items showed that Jane was on Linkedin. He’d gotten on Linkedin himself a few years ago. He went to Linkedin but saw that he had to put in his e-mail and a password to get on. He had no idea what his password was.
In the evening, Paul and Sally settled in as usual to watch television. Both of them had their iPads with them. The first show they watched was about one of those groups of a half dozen or so who battled evil throughout the world. As was standard, one member of the group was a techie who was able to hack into any enemy computer with ease. So he was a good hacker, thought Paul. But what about all of those bad hackers who seemed able to hack into any website, like the Social Security agency or Yahoo? Nobody who used a computer was safe. The show was standard but kept you awake as you waited for the bad guys to be gotten. The next show was one that Sally liked, on Hallmark, about a small town whose teacher (female) and doctor (male) had been seeing each other for three seasons and never seemed to be able to get together, whereas on a cable channel they’d be tearing off each other’s clothes in the first episode.
Paul got on his iPad and again tried to access linkedin. He tried a few old passwords he’d used but all were declared invalid. He tapped on the line asking if he’d forgotten his password. He almost immediately got an e-mail giving him a link to obtain a new password. All right, that should do it. Sally made some comment on the show and Paul said, “Uh, huh.” At that last party in San Francisco, as Paul was about to leave, by himself, Jane Bronson had come up to him and asked if he’d drive her home. Ray had gotten drunk and passed out. She was obviously mad at him. Paul could hardly say No. She gave him directions to where she and Ray lived, in a condo on the outer edges of San Francisco. They drove in silence. A fog had descended and Paul had to drive carefully. Finally, they reached the condo. “Here we are,” said Paul. He was about to get out so he could go around and open the door for Jane when she lunged at him and kissed him. He was shocked. He wondered if she might be drunk, too. He could taste the liquor on her mouth.
The show came to an end. “They’re making some progress,” said Sally.
“Something will come up,” said Paul.
They went to bed.
Paul had taken his sleeping aid and fell asleep. He woke up suddenly and, for a moment, wasn’t sure where he was. No, he wasn’t in San Francisco. He was in his retirement community. He wasn’t a young man. He was 87 years old. His wife Sally was beside him. He had aches and pains. He’d made it through another day and in the morning he’d tell himself he’d made it through another night. That was his routine. He knew it was boring but in a way it was comforting,
Paul closed his eyes again. He didn’t know if he’d be able to go back to sleep. He’d try. He wouldn’t Google anyone from his past anymore. It brought back too many memories, remembrances of things past best forgotten.
© Martin Green August 2017
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