Jack & Lucky Chapter 13
Well, I’ve been transferred to Brindisi…bought a Time Magazine and read en route, although the splendid scenery was a serious distraction.
Jack had studied the tourist literature about Rome more carefully since his last visit. He had organized an itinerary to include those spots of interest he had missed on previous trips.
I arrived later to Roma than hoped, 12:00, I had a tour all planned out, but missed part of it. First I went to the Borghese Gardens and saw the art gallery in Villa Borghese, real nice stuff. Then I walked down Via Veneto, the snob area.
Jack included some important fine art locations in his tour. The artistic setting of the Borghese Gardens was a priority once he learned about the charm and fantasy it represented. It was certainly a jewel in the amalgamated setting of Roma. The experience of human diversity on Via Veneto was astonishing. The elegant and eclectic atmosphere was a magnet for all kinds of tolerant people who shared a respect for style and grace. It was a comprehensive spice shelf of human nature. He assumed the attitude of a rich American tourist, although it was a very thin and transparent disguise.
When it came time to eat his tastes turned to the proletarian.
Then down to eat at Picadilly, the A&W equivalent in Roma. I saw Trevi fountain and then to the river. Next, the ruins and had a pizza at nearby cafeteria. Then took a bus to the station. I saw the beginnings of a Communist riot.
Missionaries had been instructed to avoid political rallies and particularly those which involved Communists because there was always the chance for violence. Such was the case on this day, but Jack avoided the action even though he was tempted to be a spectator. This riot was significant enough to make the international wire service the next day.
Then took the train to Brindisi. I had to stand up or sit down on my bag almost all the way, it was very crowded. A real terrible experience lasting all night.
This is what is affectionately known as the red-eye train. It was the price he had to pay for taking time to be a tourist. He tried to sleep, but not being a horse, he couldn’t sleep standing.
I arrived at 8:00 or so in the morning and made it to the house.
Jack purchased a map and once again walked briefly through the sleepy town, alone. He knocked carefully on the door not wishing to disturb the entire building: no answer, so he knocked harder. Finally a sleepy, half dressed missionary opened the door and looked out without speaking. His distinctive underwear, garments, exposed above his pants, betrayed his religious persuasion.
“Hi, I’m Jack Lincoln, looking for the Mormon missionaries. You almost look like one, who are you?”
“Go away, we don’t want any. We gave at the office.” He laughed at his own trite attempt at humor, then proceeded: “You found the right place. Come on in, I’m Jim Woods.” His blond hair and pimpled face were clear evidence that he spoke the truth the second time.
“I’m looking for Elder Springer, is he around?” Jack entered, surveying the facility. It was a nice second story house that had been partitioned. The large living room constituted the meeting room and there were two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. It was a relatively new building with the ground floor being a warehouse. Jack would later learn by close observation that the warehouse was a grape crushing facility during the brief harvest season and gave off a potent smell.
“Probably. I don’t think anybody else is up but me.” He opened the meeting room door and looked inside and yelled. “Hey Springer your companion is here.” He turned to Jack and shrugged his shoulders. “See ya later.” He drifted away around the hall to finish his morning routine.
Jack went into the meeting room and saw his new companion just getting out of a makeshift bed. His unruly black hair was sticking up and out all over. His garments were stretched out of shape and sagging askew nearly to his ankles. Jack opened the window blind to let in the new day and fresh air.
“Don’t get up on my account. Hi, I’m Jack Lincoln.”
“I figured that much. Sorry I wasn’t up, but we went to a movie late last night and stayed later to see it twice.”
“No problem. It can happen to the best of us. Take your time; we got all day.”
“You eat yet?”
“I’ll get ready and we can go out and get a bite to eat. I don’t live here; we have to find an apartment. So I don’t have anything in the kitchen to offer you. Everybody here has their own food. They can’t even share with each other.”
We began by getting our luggage from the train station. Then set out looking for an apartment. We can’t stay in the church because there are already four guys there and we don’t like them much either, so we want to get as far away as possible. We saw a few places but nothing special.
Jack had learned a few secrets about looking for apartments. There is usually an old lady or man who augment their retirement by being the local, unofficial rental agent. So once they were in the area where they thought they would like to live, they made a few discrete inquires at a coffee shop and were directed to the home of an old lady who lived near a fish store.
She didn’t present a very imposing figure and she only had about two teeth. She did have this sly intelligence etched on her face that literally shined through her narrow, hard eyes.
“We’re looking for an apartment. Can you help us?”
“Why should I?” She was suspicious and a bit of a tease.
“Well, the man at the fish store said you knew everything about everybody.”
“He’s crazy. What kind of an apartment do you need?”
“Just a room for us two. Just a large bedroom with two beds.”
“How much will you pay?”
“We don’t know what it should cost. Maybe 3,000 lira a month?” Jack deliberately quoted too low.
“Go to the devil. That’s much too cheap. At least 5,000 lira, maybe 7,000.”
“It would have to be real nice. Do you know anyplace?”
“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.”
“If you can help us we would appreciate it.”
“It will cost you 2,000.”
“Sure, that sounds reasonable.”
She didn’t take too long to think. She went through her entire inventory in just a few seconds. “Go up that street and turn left on Corso Roma. Then go to number 41. Signora Ballarin is my old friend, she had a room, maybe she still does.”
“Okay, we’ll go check it out. Thanks.”
“You come back if you take it, and then you can take me dancing.” The old lady broke out laughing and turned into her doorway. She still had a keen eye for human flesh.
The two went to the address and rang the bell that had the correct name. A minute later there was a pleasant, overweight lady looking down from the balcony. “Chi e`?”
Jack looked up and squinted against the bright blue sky background. He proceeded to explained their situation. She left the balcony and let the two in with a buzz of the electric gate latch. They followed her into a hallway and then up a narrow set of stairs to her home. She showed them a small room behind the kitchen with no window. She said they could use the kitchen and the bath, but hot water would be extra.
Jack was fascinated by her pleasant nature because she reminded him of his own mother.
“`This is the place.’ As they say.” Jack was making a well know reference to the quote attributed to Brigham Young when he first entered the Salt Lake City Valley in 1847.
“No it’s too stuffy. God, we’ll suffocate in that closet of a room.”
“You can use the balcony whenever you want. Two bits says we won’t find anything better. And the lady is obviously cooperative. Besides it’s cheap and we can use the kitchen.”
“This is my last stop and I want a place that’s half-way nice, because I intend to spend a lot of time there.”
“When you buy your coffin look for decoration and comfort, but when you rent a temporary dwelling, look for cost and convenience. That’s my motto.”
“Hey, fine, we’ll keep looking. We got nothing better to do. The fact there are no windows is certainly a drawback.”
They looked around the rest of the day and got acquainted with the city. In the evening Jack joined Elder Springer sleeping on the floor of the church meeting room. They each had a thin sheet of foam borrowed from the neighbors to protect their hard bones from the tile floor. They were so exhausted after walking around town and Jack’s overnight train ride that they feel asleep as soon as they hit the comfort of a horizontal position.
Sunday. Up and dressed for church. We had Priesthood meeting, real poor. After, I finished reading the science fiction book I had started last Thursday. Then Sunday School, equally as poor.
There were several Elders in the city with whom Jack was acquainted. Elder Cox, the “weasel” he had enjoyed in Brescia. An Elder Smith, with whom Jack had worked a few days in Firenze. He was learning fast. Elder Smith led the Priesthood meeting and was District Leader. There was an Elder Woods who was coasting and an Elder Kerr, reasonably new.
During Priesthood meeting Elder Smith began the discussion: “We need someone to take my place and lead the music. Do either of you guys know how to play the piano or lead?”
“No, not me.” Elder Springer shook his head resolutely. He couldn’t even ride a bike safely.
Jacked echoed: “No, I’m all thumbs. It’s up to you Elder Smith.” Jack could of course, but didn’t want to admit it because he was resisting the leadership of the presumptuous Elder Smith.
Elder Cox gave him a curious look, but didn’t betray his secret, if he remembered. Jack had led the music in Brescia but was done with all that. He didn’t care if they sang or not.
Ten days have passed since I last wrote in this diary. I will account briefly for these days presently. Monday was of little consequence to our house finding efforts. We checked on a few places but mostly we got soaking wet, it rained hard. I read some. I am still forced to sleep on a foam mat, and since my coat was wet I had to go to bed in clothes wearing only an extra shirt and pants.
Jack had been sleeping in his coat, learning what it was like to live as a homeless person might. He didn’t like it. The only consolation was that the weather was reasonably mild.
The next day we went back to the old lady agent to ask for help again. We went to one place, a main room with an old guy and cooking privileges. It seemed good so we came back with our luggage. When we arrived we were put off with some excuse and were taken to another place that was totally unsuitable. We had been tricked. So we forgot about the whole mess and I convinced my comp to settle for the room we had found on Saturday. The first place we looked at. So here we are.
The old lady had possibly conspired to give them the run around until they took the first place and she earned her 2,000 lira.
We carried some of our luggage to our new house. It was kinda hot and I was sweaty when we got finished so I took a cold bath…on Saturday the Zone Leaders came by for a few minutes and coaxed us to do some work. In spite of our mutual indifference we agreed and suggested we would start the first thing next week.
After the traveling elders left, Elder Springer discussed their parentage: “Those sanctimonious bastards. I don’t have any interest in teaching. Nobody around here wants to listen anyway.” Elder Springer had a real case of the bad attitude, the worst Jack had ever encountered, other than himself.
“I think we should at least go through the motions. I’ve always found some nice people. I’d just like to make some friends and enjoy the local community since we have to be here for a while, we might as well enjoy ourselves.”
“I’m not interested in any of that. I just want to wait until I can leave. I’ve been working on a new theory about how to make a lot of money out of nothing. I just want to study and relax.”
“What’s your theory?”
“I can’t tell you yet. I haven’t got it all worked out. I’m still thinking about it.”
“Does it have to do with something in physics or chemistry?”
“No, it’s totally different, but I’m still working on it.” His mind was already off into another atmosphere and most of the time he just walked around quietly in an apparent daze. Elder Springer was an eccentric sort. He was extremely intelligent, but on a vary narrow track. He could discuss nuclear physics, relativity and mathematics, but beyond that he was hopeless. His language skills were horrible considering he had been in Italy nearly as long as anyone else, longer than Jack. And his teaching skills were even worse. These unique limitations and talents made him all the more interesting to Jack and most of the time he enjoyed their discussions. They were about the same height and Elder Springer was reasonably well built. He had the coordination of a drunk canary and lacked any kind of athletic ability.
I gave the Priesthood lesson Sunday morning and nothing during Sunday School, then home, lunch and read. We went back to church for a short meeting, then home for dinner and read until 2:00 AM. Monday is diversion day. It is hard to divert when one has done nothing that needs to be diverted from…I began reading a book of my comp’s on marriage. It is just about intercourse. Interesting How-To book. It inspired me to write to Julie. We began work on Tuesday, we did some tracting in the morning. We didn’t last long.
Jack and Elder Springer had no difficulty finding other things to do.
There were three really good book stores in town, so they made the circuit several times. Jack added to his collection of the monthly art book series and was now completely up to date. He looked around for some of the earlier editions so he could have a complete collection. He purchased several rare books and an authoritative school text book, “Storia della Literatura Italiana,” by F. De Sanctis. He had borrowed the same book from a church member in Pisa. During this period he read that thoroughly and completed the list of classic books he wished to purchase. He began seriously looking for these on bargain shelves.
That’s all we did during the week.
Monday we went to get our mail and found out the President was here. So we went over to his hotel to see him but he wasn’t there. We went home to eat and the President stopped in to see us. We made an appointment and after lunch we met him at the church with the other missionaries.
Now Jack had to talk to the President again, but this time he was less vulnerable.
“What’s going on here. You Elders aren’t doing much missionary work.”
“That’s about right. Of course we just got to town. We started working last week but didn’t do much. My companion just wants to go home and doesn’t want to work. I have to admit that I don’t push too hard, but I would work if he would go along with me without an argument.”
“How are we going to change this situation.”
“I’m willing to work. You know my situation. My testimony is still weak, but I’ve always been willing to work. If you put me as Senior or assign me to a new companion, we can get started.”
“I don’t know what to do. Springer has had the same problem everywhere he’s been.”
“Maybe you need someone to help you in the Mission Office. I could be useful as Mission treasurer or something. If you need any help there let me know. I’d like to get back to Firenze.” Jack hadn’t forgotten the convenience of the American Library and had a renewed interest in the art museums.
“If you work for a month then we can make some changes. You have a lot of talent; just put it to good use.”
“Well, I’m in a difficult situation, but I’ll do what I can.”
“You just have to work your way out of this and help your companion too. If you do, you will make it back to where you were. But you have to work to gain the faith you need.”
“I don’t know what I can do. I don’t like to make promises that I can’t keep.”
“Set a goal of at least 40 hours of tracting and teaching each week. Let me know how it goes.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to Elder Springer. I can work, I know I can if I just get a little cooperation.”
Jack was willing to work but had also been willing to accept any excuse to be distracted.
I came home and decided to do it. I wrote to Julie and told her I would. I named the next month “Julie” for her, to show my sincerity.
That referred to the 18th of June through the 20th of July. Jack had to infuse even this commitment with his own unique sense of irony.
Tuesday. Up this morning late at 7:00. We went to the house of the others, the church. My comp didn’t want to work at all so I worked with Elder Cox. We tracted for eight hours, how about that! I wrote a letter to the President and Julie and committed myself to 40 hours/week. So now I have to produce, some how. It is difficult. Harder than pushing wet spaghetti up a hill. Elder Cox is a lot apathetic too, much like myself. The people are certainly poor in our area. One house has this nice horse living in its court in a stall. Interesting.
Jack had to not only pump himself up, he had to pump up the other guys who were even more reluctant participants. The next day:
Things are much the same. Springer and I tracted all day. I spent a few minutes in a museum which was in our area. It deals with the archeology of Brindisi, Greek and Roman. Nothing exciting today, just door after cruddy door. We had a couple of interesting meetings in the afternoon. We cook our own meals at our apartment and consider ourselves fortunate.
The time in the museum was more like two hours than a few minutes.
The huge Mack truck and trailers full of small logs eased to a stop at the four way intersection. Stopping with such a load had to be premeditated and Lucky used all the gears on the way down to save on the brakes. There were three cars ahead of him by the time he eased behind and crawled toward the stop. The traffic moved efficiently, each successive wave taking its turn as if directed by some intelligent computer.
When the Mack took its turn Lucky steered left onto State Highway 117 toward home and ran through the gears pulling the set of doubles behind easily around the corner. The truck carried poles destined for the paper mill. Lucky would be up early in the morning to deliver the load at the first possible moment so he could make two full cycles tomorrow.
He had been driving for nearly two weeks. Before that he had set chokers and done other clean up work. He substituted as cat-skinner and oiler on the loader a few times. He had been working for a small logging crew contracted to Louisiana-Pacific. Their bid was about to expire and Lucky wasn’t certain if he would have work much longer.
He had gone to work immediately after leaving the Army. He worked for Mary Jane’s Uncle and hoped to find some other work, but times were tough in the mills and in lumber towns. Prices were low and Louisiana-Pacific was likely to slow down on their cuts, and the independents would loose out first. The Company would always keep their own crews busy and let the contractors fall off until the next time the demand picked up.
He was headed home to the small one bedroom house they called home, just out of Natchitoches, Louisiana. It wasn’t much, but it was all they could afford. They hadn’t finished paying the doctor bills for the new baby and they had car payments and furniture payments. “I work my butt raw but can’t get ahead. Mary Jane spends whatever he didn’t before the ink was dry on the checks,” he thought to himself as he turned the big steering wheel.
Lucky had left the Army as soon as he could. If he had re-enlisted he would have had to accept the possibility of an assignment to Vietnam. He didn’t want that. Not that he was afraid of being in a combat zone, he just didn’t want to be in this war. He was confused by the issues and doubted the correctness of US policy. Too many people objected to what was being done. His roommate, Dan, had read all the negative shit about the so called `Undeclared War’ and convinced Lucky to stay out of it. Otherwise he probably would have gone except for one complication, the baby.
It wasn’t more than two months after he had been busted for that bike accident that Mary Jane had come to him with her “problem.” She had gotten pregnant. “She was like a cat in heat and was so fertile all he had to do was wag his dick at her and she was knocked up,” he thought as he slowed for the reduced speed zone.
Mary Jane was a hot number anyway. Lucky figured he couldn’t do any better so he asked her to marry him and keep the child. They had great sex and she was kind when she wasn’t upset about something. Then she could be a tiger. They got married two days before Thanksgiving. By that time Mary Jane was already looking her condition. Dan was the best man and Margaret was a bride’s maid. The wedding was in the Post Chapel with the Chaplin presiding. Mary Jane’s folks weren’t too happy and tried to convince her to do something about it and leave Lucky. But she, to her credit, was ready to have a baby and ready to live with Lucky “for better or worse.”
After they were married Lucky applied for off-Post housing but it would have taken three months for that to come through. He would have had to wait for his old rank to be reinstated. He began to complain and asked for a discharge, and with his record and attitude, he was granted an administrative discharge.
The baby was a girl, Ellen Mary, combining some family names with the mother’s name. A beautiful, plump, healthy girl. Lucky was a decent father when he wasn’t drunk; then he was confused and distant not knowing how to act. He usually acted like a lion caught in a trap because he had never been shown how to enjoy fatherhood.
The relationship with Mary Jane had deteriorated after the baby came. She felt trapped too. She had gained about 50 lbs. and couldn’t understand why Lucky didn’t pay any attention to her except in bed when the lights were off. He frequently got violent when he was drunk but usually just hurt himself, hitting his fist against the wall and acting out his aggressions on her brother or Dan or whoever was around. It was difficult for both the new father and the new mother. These kids were trying to make the adjustment into adulthood without knowing that there was any adjustment required.
Lucky turned right onto Highway 6 and pushed the peddle hard to the floor to merge into the more rapid traffic heading toward town. He turned right on the second intersection into the older housing district where his rented house was. He turned around and parked two blocks away heading down the incline. Just in case the battery didn’t want to start the diesel engine he could start it by compression. He shut it down, locking the brakes and angled the front tire into the curb.
After he locked the doors and the tool box, he walked up the low hill. There was just enough glow from the solitary street light to compensate for the setting sun. He shuffled his heavy black boots against the gravel and uneven rocks on the edge of the dirt driveway. At least it had been dry for a few days and it wasn’t as muddy as usual. He wore his black work dungarees cut short with frayed bottoms. He had red suspenders and a gray striped shirt under his dirty denim work coat.
He slumped as he walked the two blocks that seemed like a mile. “How could anybody be so tired,” he thought. He had been working for more than twelve hours, but some of that was down time so he only got paid for eight. “Those bastards used every trick to cheat him out of wages. That’s what you get for working for gyppo loggers especially when they were half-assed family. All you got was shit and more of it,” he scowled as he shuffled.
Finally he reached the porch and took the three steps like he had a hundred pound weight on his shoulders. One step cracked under his weight; it needed replacing. “Damned if I’m going to fix that step for that fuckin` landlord who thinks he is the best humanitarian since Arthur Godfrey. That red-haired bastard is always making eyes at Mary Jane and is probably ballin’ her in the day behind my back. Shit, I work like a slave and all I get is shit.” It was with this mind set he entered home.
The lights were on in the house and he could hear the TV. He kicked the ripped screen door out of the way with his right foot and it slammed into the wall. “Now she knows I’m home,” he thought. He reached for the handle and turned, lifted and jerked to pry the door open all in a single motion. It didn’t come on the first push so he kicked it once and pushed harder. Finally it came open with a vengeance and nearly threw him off balance.
“Fuckin’ door. Can’t you get that fuckin’ door fixed?” He yelled and pulled the door shut hard and the window shade banged behind him as he made his way to the kitchen.
Now he could hear the commotion in the back bedroom. The baby was crying because Mary Jane had been cleaning it and changing a diaper. It was hungry and ready to be fed besides.
Lucky reached the door handle on the refrigerator and pulled too hard nearly dropping the containers from the flimsy shelves. He reached in and took the last beer. “Shit is that all we got left, just one beer? There was four in there last night.” Now he was hollering loud enough to be heard by the neighbors as well as by Mary Jane in the other room. He pulled on the tab and sucked the foam as it fizzed out over his grimy hand, careful not to loose a single drop.
Mary Jane came into the room carrying the baby more in self defense than out of any need. “Hi Lucky. Shit, you look beat. Sit down and I’ll fix us all something to eat.”
“Damn it woman why don’t you have dinner ready already. I come home late enough, you should have time to fix dinner. Shit what else do you have to do? God I’m starvin’ and all I want is some consideration here. I’ve told you a thousand times if I’ve told you once to have dinner ready.” He was the rooster of the family with only two tones; one a cackle, the other a crow. Nothing in between.
“Don’t get all bent out of shape. I’m gonna warm the meat loaf and fry some potatoes. It only takes about ten minutes. Why don’t you feed little Ellen? Her food is ready.”
“No! I can’t do that, I’m too tired. It’s all I can do to make it to the couch to watch the news and weather.”
“Change your clothes first. I don’t want all that grease on the sofa cover. Please! God you’re such a slob.”
“Fuck you. I bust my butt all day and all I get from you is a raft of shit.” He walked away toward the bedroom. “Change your clothes! Stay off the couch! Take off your boots! Feed the kid! Don’t spill your beer on the rug!…Geese you’re a fuckin’ broken record.” He made it to the bedroom and slammed the door shut.
Mary Jane just shook her head, put Ellen into the high-chair and strapped her in. She started crying again, half frightened from her father’s noise and half from hunger. Ellen had a healthy, demanding appetite. Mary Jane gave her some crackers to keep her occupied as she moved around hurriedly in the kitchen to make up for lost time.
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