Thursday, May 28, 2015

New Driver on an Old Route

According to the anchor on the News at Six, Olaf Parker was shot dead at dawn this morning delivering newspapers in his van. His body was found on the front seat, a cigarette burning near his feet, when police responded to a call from a resident who heard his van crash into a utility pole. 

Mr. Parker wasn't robbed. There were a few newspapers on the seat next to his body. These were the last papers he had to deliver on the final block of his route before going home to tend to his dying wife, according to his supervisor. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Mr. Parker had started delivering the route just three weeks ago. Most of his customers had never seen him or the man who had delivered the route before him, Ygor Kazinsky. 

Mr. Kazinsky had delivered the route for 30 years before retiring. Many customers in this quiet neighborhood had been getting the paper for all of those 30 years. Most of them were retirees. 

The neighborhood, like its residents, was old and stable. People seldom moved. They aged--and finally died--in their little bungalows behind perfect lawns. Any weed that sprouted was treated like a terrorist and quickly eliminated. 

One customer explained later to a television reporter that prior to Mr. Parker taking over the route, residents knew, almost to the minute, when their paper would arrive on their lawn, barring bad weather. Snow or sleet could mean the paper would be late by an hour or so, something every customer would understand. What they had trouble understanding, however, is why Mr. Parker did things differently than Mr. Kazinsky. Since Mr. Parker took over, every delivery had been complete chaos from the customers' point of view. 

Mr. Parker had indeed made a very significant change to the way he delivered the route. Much to the distress of many customers, Mr. Parker had started his delivery of the route where Mr. Kazinsky had ended it. He did this because he would finish closer to home and he liked the shorter drive. But this meant folks who used to get the paper at four in the morning now got it at six and those who used to get it at six received it at four.

"Ass backwards," as one irate customer used to scream from his front porch when Mr. Parker would finally throw his paper on the lawn at 6 a.m. 

"Take it back, you doofus," Mr. Carmody would add. "By now, it's yesterday's news." 

The outspoken Mr. Carmody was one of the customers who for years had received his paper at 4 a.m. He wanted to read it then and get on with his day. Retired for years, he liked to hunt and fish. Unlike most in the neighborhood, Mr. Carmody had enough money to take trips abroad. He loved to join an annual safari in Africa in pursuit of wild game. 

"I like shooting leopards in the morning mist," he once told a neighbor. 

It was the early risers like Mr. Carmody, who used to get the paper early, who had trouble adjusting to Mr. Parker's change in deliveryMost of them acquiesced after the first week or so, but a few of them pressed on, calling the delivery service and threatening to cancel the paper if the new driver didn't deliver it by 4 a.m

Those who called to complain were mainly people with few obligations in their day. What little they had to do, however, had become important to them. Their daily routines kept their minds off the aches and pains age had brought and helped them ignore the specter of death which hovered over all of them. They resented the way their lives had been altered by some newcomer.

Some watched the news on television but that wasn't the same as reading the newspaper. Only murders, rapes and other major crimes were reported on television and not, for example, the passing of normal folks like their friends and acquaintances. 

That's one reason why the newspaper was so important to Mr. Parker's customers. Almost to a person, they read the obituaries first. 

Mr. Flynn, almost 80, called the obituaries the Irishman's Racing Form. He said that in front of Mr. Schneider at a neighborhood block party once and that was the only time anyone had ever seen Mr. Schneider smile. 

"That's a good one, Flynn," Mr. Scheider said. Flynn, of course, knew his remark had been used by others many times before him.

The obituaries were important for practical reasons as well. They enabled readers to prepare for wakes and church services and reminded them to send condolence cards. That's why many in the neighborhood still wanted their newspaper at four in the morning. They wanted to be prepared for the inevitable. 

Another reason was the sports scores. Some folks were big fans of their hometown teams, even if they despised the editorials in the middle of the paper that consistently called for changes to the mores of life they had always revered.

"Why all the changes," Mr. Flynn once asked of no one in particular. "Life is tough enough as it is."  

As reported on the News at Six, Mr. Parker was shot and killed on the last block of his route around 6 a.m. The news anchor did not mention that for 30 years this block had been the first block on the route to receive papers before Mr. Parker had succeeded Mr. Kazinsky. 

Nor did the anchor mention that customers on that block had grown to expect their papers delivered no later than 4 a.m. 

Apparently no one had interviewed Mr. Carmody, who would have been happy to bellow about the inconvenience the deceased Mr. Parker had brought into the lives of Carmody and his neighbors. 

According to the news report, however, there was no cause for alarm. The killing of Mr. Parker, the police said, appeared to be a random act. As Mr. Flynn would say later, that might indeed be the case

"Maybe so, but I don't know," is the poetic way Mr. Flynn put it to the ever silent Mr. Schneider. "I wonder what Mr. Carmody thinks. It would be good to get his opinion. He's not shy." 

The police investigating the case were a much younger group than the people in that neighborhood. They seldom read a newspaper and had little use for obituaries. They caught their news on television or from the wife when they got home. 

It took almost two months for everything in the neighborhood to settle down. An interim driver took over the route for several weeks. More chaos ensued and more people threatened to cancel delivery of the paper. 

Then Mr. Kazinsky's oldest son lost his job as a swimming pool salesman and offered to take over the route. In a matter of days he was hired. His father accompanied him the first day on the route and told him everything he needed to know. He showed his son precisely when and where the route should begin and where it should end. 

"These are the keys to your success," his father said.

In short order, people who once received their papers at four in the morning found them on the lawn at that time once again. Except for Mr. Carmody who was in Africa that week seeking leopards in the mist. 

"Mr. Carmody will be pleased to learn things are back to normal," Mr. Flynn said, "once he gets back." 

For the second time Mr. Schneider smiled at a remark made by Mr. Flynn.

Donal Mahoney 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What If Mary Had Chosen Otherwise

You see the oddest things at Christmastime in America. The bigger the city, the stranger the sights.

I was driving downtown to buy gifts for the family and enjoying bouquets of beautiful people bundled in big coats and colorful scarves. They were clustered on corners and shopping in good cheer amid petals of snow dancing in the sun. 

One of the people was a beautiful young lady who had stopped to take issue with an old woman in a shawl picketing Planned Parenthood. The old woman was picketing on a motor scooter designed for the elderlyShe held a sign bigger than she was and kept motoring back and forth. She was as resolute and granite-faced as my Aunt Polly who had been renowned for protesting any injustice she had perceived

Saving the seals wherever human beings might be clubbing them to death had been very important to Aunt Polly. She left all of her money to an organization devoted to saving the seals.

On this day, however, the beautiful young lady who had taken issue with the old woman on the motor scooter was livid. She marched behind the scooter and yelled at the old woman, pounding her fist into her palm and screaming things I could not hear. The old woman appeared oblivious to the chaos in her wakeMaybe she was deaf, I thought, like my aunt. That can be an advantage when loud people disagree with you.

The letters on the sign were huge but I couldn't read them so I drove around the block and found a spot at the curb. It was then that I realized that the sign said, "What might have happened if Mary of Nazareth had been pro-choice?"

Now I understood why the young lady was ranting and raving and why the old woman kept motoring to and fro. At Christmastime in America people get excited, more so than usual.

When I got home I hid my packages and told my wife at supper what I had seen. I also told her that if Mary had chosen otherwise, I wouldn't have had to go shopping today.

That's obvious, she said. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Strangers in Peoria

I met a proper woman in a proper pub on a Monday in Peoria. It was noon, time for lunch, and we were sitting stool to stool over very large burgers at a long mahogany bar. It curved in and out as if wind-swept and featured high stools with padded seats and backrests, all in a rich faux maroon that complemented the authentic mahogany. The waiter had put us at the bar together, on the last two empty stools, thinking we had arrived there as a couple. Apologizing with his head bowed, he said no tables were available. 
The place was awash in men who had obviously spent a lot of time in the sun. They were talking agri-business very loud. Plaid shirts and John Deere caps were everywhere. Apparently, the price of pork that day had hit new highs and that event seemed to delight the majority of diners. It was obvious these men knew their pork and probably their corn as well. The odd thing was, not one of them seemed to notice the lady sitting next to me. The price of pork notwithstanding, she deserved a second glance if not a whole lot more. She was certainly no farmer's daughter. Probably never baked an apple pie.
It was easy to see why the waiter thought we were a couple. I was in a Brooks Brothers suit, button-down shirt and a serious rep tie, and the lady was attired in the feminine business equivalent, a conservative suit, albeit in tasteful lavender, and a string of pearls. An hour earlier, we had both landed in Peoria on different planes and found our separate ways to the same restaurant. I was taken by how much she looked like Jackie Kennedy after Dallas but without the pillbox hat. 
Eventually she spoke. It turned out she was from New York and I was from Chicago and that we were in Peoria for final interviews for jobs we thought we'd get. But living in Peoria, we thought, might not be a fit. We didn't doubt that Peoria was a nice city, a good place to raise a family even though neither of us was married. But we agreed that adjusting to Peoria might be difficult for urbanites like us, especially at the start, since we wouldn't be taken with the price of pork, whether it went up or down.
The lady was a surgeon recruited by a hospital. It took a little prompting but finally she said: "I repair pelvic floors in women.” 
Not too worry, I thought. She is still a very nice looking woman.
She paused to see if I'd react to her announcement of her vocation and when I didn't, she continued.  
"If a bladder drops, or a rectum tumbles or if a womb is full of fibroids, I'm the surgeon that lady needs to see. These are ailments most men wouldn't understand unless they've had a wife who's had them." 
I told her I did not have a wife, nor any candidates lined up in Chicago waiting for my hand.   
She took a dainty bite of her burger that was still too big, despite being cut in quarters. She sipped her Coke and then informed me, "When I get done, the lady's free of all protrusions. She can urinate, defecate and have sex again, all without discomfort."
I had met my share of women but I had never met a woman, drunk or sober, who had ever said anything as startling as that even when in the throes of breaking up. I had no idea what to say and so I sat and listened as she continued with my education. 
"Actually, my patients have a choice," she said. "They can let me do the surgery or they can buy a pessary, a device few women know anything about until I pull a sample from the cabinet and explain its ins and outs. The pessary makes surgery seem simple. All we have to do then is pick a day for me to tuck the lady’s organs back where they belong."
I said a procedure like that sounded painful, even allowing for an anesthetic. It sounded much worse, I said, than a colonoscopy, a procedure I’d become acquainted with early in life due to family history.
She nodded slightly and continued, "Now, if the lady's womb is full of fibroids, I'll suggest we take the uterus out as well. I’ll tell her we'll remove the crib and leave her playpen intact. Often that's the best solution."
She sipped her Coke again and said, "Somewhere in Peoria, as we speak, a bladder's dropping, a rectum's quivering and a fibroid's growing. Believe me, if the salary is right, I'll take this job because a fibroid in Peoria is no different than a fibroid in New York."
Then she looked me in the eye and said, "Well, that's my story. Now tell me, what do you do for a living?"
I finally had the floor and so I took a breath and said: "I repair sentences in documents written by intelligent people expert in arcane fields. Some of them can't spell or punctuate. Or if they can, they dangle participles, split infinitives or run their sentences together like mountain rams in rutting season."  
I knew I could not trump her pessary, but I added, "I put muscle in their verbs, amputate their adjectives, assassinate their adverbs. I give my clients final copy they can claim is theirs. The reader never knows that a ferret like me has crept between their lines, nibbling at this and chomping on that." 
At the end, I added a remark I hoped might prompt a get-together later, perhaps for dinner and drinks, another chat, a little laughter, and who knows what else. If our spirits meshed, a coupling was something we could accomplish before we'd have to take different planes back home.
"I believe our professions are similar," I told her, sipping the last of my Coke. "I too put things back where they belong and I cut away anything protruding."
About an hour later, we had paid our tabs, said long good-byes, shaken hands with considerable warmth and headed off in different directions for our interviews. 
By day's end, we'd both be flying home to different cities. And although we'd still be strangers, we'd be strangers who had had an interesting conversation. 
Not interesting enough, however, for either of us to ask the other for a name or number.

Donal Mahoney
Looking Out for Mrs. Ruff

Opal Ruff, at the age of 83, had been sitting in the same corner of the red vinyl couch in the tiny lobby of the New Morse Hotel almost every day for the last three years. Her eldest son, Herman, a bachelor in his sixties, had brought her to the hotel shortly after her husband, Noah, had died of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 1969. 

"I don't want to go there," Mrs. Ruff protested at the time, but Herman had responsibilities of his own and insisted that she pack up and move into the hotel. 

The New Morse was more of a warehouse for the aged than a hotel. It was not the kind of place Mrs. Ruff would have selected for herself had she been able to get around without a walker. Old folks signed in and many of them never signed out. Funeral home attendants would carry them out. Relatives of the deceased would come by and carry out their belongings in brown paper bags. 

It's not that Mrs. Ruff thought she was too good for the New Morse Hotel. It took a couple of months but eventually she adjusted to her new environment. Now she lived with ash trays in the lobby rather than doilies in her living room. It took a while to get used to a major change like that. 

The other residents, most of them elderly males, had gotten used to seeing her on the couch two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. She would sit in her corner of the couch saying the rosary in silence, lips moving, her hair in a tidy bun, her long dress down to her ankles. She could easily have passed for the mother or grandmother of the woman in the famous painting, "American Gothic." 

While Mrs. Ruff said her rosary, the male residents would take turns sitting in the uncomfortable easy chairs, reminiscing and trading tales about when they were young and randy and not limited to the lobby of the New Morse Hotel.

Considering the nature of the men's conversation, it was fortunate Mrs. Ruff was stone deaf and never wore her hearing aids in the lobby. She had worn them in her first few months but now she left them in her tiny room so she could pray and not have to hear the men discuss their lives in pursuit of women. Mrs. Ruff had nothing against sex. In fact, she had presented Mr. Ruff with eight children, four boys and four girls. All of them lived in other states now, except for Herman, who was busy rearing six children of his own without the help of his wife who, for some reason Mrs. Ruff didn't understand, had unexpectedly committed suicide. 

"Noah and I had a good marriage," Mrs. Ruff would occasionally say if someone inquired politely about her life before moving into the New Morse Hotel. "He was very healthy for his age and no one expected him to have a heart attack. But he hit the floor with a thump and never moved. I knew he was gone when his water broke and it soaked the living room rug." 

Poverty was the one thing most of the men who lived in the hotel had in common. But there were also a few retired gentlemen who had small pensions as well as Social Security checks they could count on. They chose to live in the New Morse because they appreciated the Ashkenaz Restaurant, which was located on the floor beneath the hotel and was known throughout Chicago for its Jewish cuisine. Most of the dishes were favorites of the Ashenazi and Sephardic Jews who lived in the neighborhood, some of them survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald as tattooed numbers on their forearms would always attest. 

Harris Cohen didn't have a tattoo. He had been born eight decades ago in America. He liked the matzoh ball soup and the knishes and kishke that he could order at Ashkenaz. Every month, on the day he received his retirement check, he would celebrate with a pastrami sandwich on rye, loaded with mustard. 

"I have never eaten better pastrami," Harris would often say, "not even in New York."

He had eaten these specialties all his life and that is why, after retiring from the railroad where he had worked 40 years as a conductor, he chose the New Morse Hotel as his residence. Every morning, unlike most of the other men, he would shave, put on his short-sleeved white shirt, a nice tie, and the navy blue pants he saved from his days on the Century Limited, where he had patrolled the aisles making certain the needs of the passengers were met in a timely fashion. He usually worked the trips from Chicago to New York and back again, which took 16 hours each way and involved sleeping berths for some and at least two meals per trip for everyone on the train. Passengers expected good service for their money and Harris provided it, not because of the occasional tip he would receive but because he liked to do a good job.  

"No one ever had a complaint in one of my cars," Harris would announce in the lobby at least once a week. And no one ever bothered to argue with him. 

Harris Cohen treated Mrs. Ruff with great respect. Although he was unfamiliar with the rosary, he knew from his own religion, Judaism, that prayer beads, as he called them, were important. That is why he would never interrupt Mrs. Ruff while she was praying. But as soon as he saw her make the final Sign of the Cross, he would ask after her well-being. She would always assure him that she was fine and then inquire about him. Harris and Mrs. Ruff had mastered the art of pleasantries and each was very polite in dealing with the other. 

In fact, Harris often sat at one end of the couch and Mrs. Ruff at the other. After he had paid his respects to Mrs. Ruff, he was free to read his newspaper and strike up conversations with the other men who took a seat in the lobby while waiting for the clerk of the day to materialize behind the desk and give them their mail. Sometimes they had to wait until the ancient switchboard lit up with a call. If no clerk was available, Ralph Doogan, the manager, would come roaring out of his office behind the board to find out what had interrupted his day. Often he had the remains of a gigantic ham sandwich in his hand. Every once in awhile, Doogan would offer Harris Cohen a bite of his ham sandwich and Cohen would always decline. He was not a religious man, but he had been bar mitzvahed as a young man and he did not want to give Doogan the satisfaction of getting him to eat something forbidden to the Jewish people. 

"Doogan can keep his ham, " Harris was known to say. "I like my pastrami." 

The hotel had only one maid, Rozelle Johnson, who took care of 16 rooms on the second floor and another 16 on the third floor. Her rounds took all day. A good Baptist, and a lovely woman in her early forties, Rozelle had long ago put the lechers in the lobby firmly in their place. They knew she was not available at any price. 

"Leave that woman alone," long-term residents would advise any new man who checked in, and they levied that warning with good reason. One of their own a few years back, big Bruno, had paid a great price for grabbing Rozelle's buttocks as she wheeled her cart down the narrow hall. She hit him with her dustpan on the top of his bald head and then whacked him across the face, breaking his nose. There was blood everywhere. None of the men of the New Morse Hotel tried to get next to Rozelle after that.

As a result of this incident, Rozelle talked regularly with only two residents among those she encountered on her daily rounds. She spoke with Mrs. Ruff when she was in her room and had her hearing aids in place. She admired the spirituality of Mrs. Ruff even if she wasn't a Baptist like Rozelle. She knew that Mrs. Ruff had accepted Jesus the way Catholics do and if that was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for her.

She also liked to talk with Harris Cohen, not because he tipped her a dollar a week but because the man was always clean and well-shaven and wore a tie. In the lobby, Harris had the good sense to modify his language when Rozelle was passing through. When she wasn't there, however, he would advise the other men who sat down what it was like during the Depression. According to Harris, the going price for the company of a woman as fetching as Rozelle was $2.00, not a penny more. 

"The ladies were happy to get the money," Harris would say, "and I was happy to help out. Times were tough." 

Not knowing Harris and his attitude toward women, Rozelle always thought she might be able to fix him up with Mrs. Ruff despite their religious differences. She thought the two of them might be able to keep each other company. And if they eventually got married, the hotel did have a few apartment suites that Rozelle thought would suit them as a couple. Whenever one of these little suites, as the hotel called them, became available, Rozelle would amplify her praise of Harris while cleaning Mrs. Ruff's room. For months, Mrs. Ruff listened politely and agreed that Harris seemed to be a gentleman. After all, she had never heard his tales of feminine conquests in the lobby because she sat there without her hearing aids, quietly saying her rosary. 

One day, however, Rozelle's lobbying in behalf of Harris got to be too much for Mrs. Ruff. After making the bed, her final duty in the room, Rozelle was preparing to leave when she decided to take a chance and tell Mrs. Ruff that she thought Harris might like to take her to lunch in the restaurant downstairs. Rozelle didn't know that Harris Cohen, despite being the same age as Mrs. Ruff, had always liked younger women and had savored enough of them over the years, especially when times were tough. Mrs. Ruff, on the other hand, had loved her husband throughout her marriage and had no interest in any other man. But Rozelle had a point to make.

"Mrs. Ruff," she said, "I wouldn't suggest your having lunch with Harris if I didn't think he was a gentleman. He might even ask you to marry him at some point."

Tired of Rozelle's efforts in behalf in Harris, Mrs. Ruff moved a little in her chair, put her rosary down, looked Rozelle in the eye, and said, 

"And if I married him, what would I do--lift him on and lift him off?"

Rozelle never mentioned Harris Cohen to Mrs. Ruff again. Six months later, she had found another job in a much better hotel.

Donal Mahoney

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Teacher’s Pet

Many decades ago, Tim had spent eight years staring at the back of Edmund’s head. He had no choice because their surnames began with the same letter and they had been seated alphabetically by the nuns who taught them in grammar school. It was the Fifties, and their neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago was home to immigrant families from all over Europe. 

Many of the children had parents who struggled to speak English. Not so with Tim. His parents had come to America from Ireland speaking fluent English delivered in a musical brogue. Edmund’s parents, however, had come to the United States from what was then known as Bohemia and is today Czechoslovakia. They spoke what was called “broken” English but had no trouble adjusting to life in America. They worked hard, as did most of the immigrants in that neighborhood, to realize their American dream.

Both Tim and Edmund were very intelligent but beyond that, it seemed they had only one thing in common. They were invariably the last boys standing at the end of the monthly spelling bees held in every grade for all eight years. Girls did very well in these contests. On occasion, however, Tim or Edmund would win but neither one ever congratulated the other. In fact, as far as Tim can remember, he and Edmund had never spoken to each other all through grammar school although they had had no disagreements. But Edmund was a teacher’s pet and Tim, if anything, was a teacher’s headache. 

Tim understood why Edmund was popular with the nuns. He was quiet, studious, always came to school with his homework done. Plus, he had good handwriting. Tim usually had all his homework done, and he was studious enough to pull good grades in everything except conduct and handwriting. But he was always involved, it seemed, in creating commotion in the classroom or out on the playground at recess. He also played all sports with his fellow classmates while Edmund, despite being big for his age, played neither football or baseball. It must have been a solitary life for Edmund, having no obvious friends and never getting into trouble with the nuns. 

In the classroom, Tim was known for his accuracy with spitballs and at recess his snowballs were accurate and rock hard, according to any girl struck in the backside by one of them. Deeds like these often led to extra homework for Tim. In the case of an especially egregious offense, the nun involved would call his father at night, and he and Tim would then walk the six blocks to the convent with his father bellowing all the way there, cataloguing a variety of possible punishments that awaited Tim depending on the nature of this particular offense.

Now many decades later, with the lives of the two boys almost lived out, Tim began to wonder whatever happened to Edmund so he decided to Google him one day when he had access to a computer. Tim was computer literate but his current circumstances made access to a computer limited compared to what it had been when he was working. This was not a problem for Tim but whenever he did have access to a computer, he would Google the names of old classmates just to see how they had turned out. Some had done very well in life, but many of them, thanks to age and illness, were now dead. But Edmund, according to Google, was alive and living in rural Wisconsin, with a post office box for an address.

According to Google, Edmund had succeeded in life professionally, the holder of several patents and many good jobs, all in ascending order, prior to his retirement and life in Wisconsin. Maritally, however, Edmund had not done so well. 

Google indicated Edmund had been divorced three times in Texas. The state apparently has a policy to publish divorce documentation online. Decrees from Edmund's three divorces all appeared in Tim’s Google search as well as information on several lawsuits by former wives seeking more child support from Edmund.  

Edmund’s domestic difficulties surprised Tim because he didn’t recall Edmund ever throwing snow balls at girls in grammar school or dancing up a storm to Chuck Berry’s music at basement parties in eighth grade. Tim discovered early on that if a boy knew how to dance—the jitterbug as it was called in the Fifties—he would be invited by girls to their parties. There was always great food and plenty of soda pop, as soft drinks were called at that time. For good food and soda pop, Tim would dance with any girl all night. He didn’t care if the music was fast or slow and he would stay at the party till the food or soda pop ran out. 

Tim was just getting interested in his Google discoveries on the life of Edmund after grammar school when his time on the computer was interrupted. It always happened this way but Tim was surprised by the interruption on this occasion because he had become immersed in memories of a life as a youngster so long ago. Nevertheless, he stopped typing and stood up when the guard tapped him on the shoulder and told him it was time to go back to his cell. Tim had done very well in life as a financial officer and he hadn’t really needed the money he had been convicted of embezzling. Unlike Edmund, however, Tim took some solace in having been married only once. And his wife was waiting for him to be paroled in perhaps five years.

Donal Mahoney

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Buford Went to China

Buford was a big man, at least 300 pounds, with a heart of silver if not of gold. No one messed with Buford. He had a limp and for years he had used a cane too short. Neighbors feared some day he might fall and sure enough one day he did fall in his backyard. He was going out to his dump truck. The only good thing that came out of that fall is that I got a chance to talk to an ambulance driver in Beijing, China. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

When Buford fell, he disappeared and left a massive hole in his wake. Dirt rose like a volcano eruption for minutes after he was gone. I lived across the street from Buford so I climbed over his fence to see if I could help in any way. I knew I would not be able to pull him out of the hole by myself. It would take a crane, I figured, to get him back on solid ground. 

But when I looked down the hole, I could see nothing but darkness so I went home and got a flashlight and then went back. Now I was able to see far down, apparently miles and miles away, and I saw a group of Chinese emergency medical technicians working feverishly to revive Buford. But he didn’t move. He was lying on his stomach and looked a little like a whale (of the beached variety).

The EMTs were short in stature but obviously industrious, caring people who may never have seen anyone as big as Buford, never mind trying to revive or treat someone that size. They looked like ants trying to get an angle on a giant carcass. They kept prodding and moving around him in a circle but he still didn’t move. They took turns yelling to him in Chinese but even if he could have heard them, Buford didn’t speak a word of Chinese. He was a deaf mute and used only American Sign Language, which only one of his neighbors understood. She was deaf too but spoke very well.

Finally I yelled to the workers and asked if Buford was alive. One of the EMTs looked up and said something in Chinese but I don’t speak Chinese and I don’t know American Sign Language either. I could see they had brought a crane to the scene and were using it to attach leather straps all over Buford’s body. It appeared they were planning to drag him away since they may not have had an ambulance big enough to accommodate him. 

The last thing I saw down the hole was the disappearance of Buford’s feet. The rest of him had been dragged out of the frame, so to speak. He had one shoe on and the other was gone. No socks. Buford only wore socks in the winter and this was fall, not cold enough for socks in our country. 

I hollered down the hole one more time, and the last EMT visible to me hollered something back but again it was in Chinese. After that I saw nothing except what looked like a crater dent in a paved parking lot where Buford had apparently landed. Even with all that momentum behind him, Buford had not crashed through the pavement. Going back home I realized that if he had fallen through the parking lot, and then through the Chinese ground beneath it, he would probably be floating like a zeppelin somewhere in space. If he were still alive, I figured he was much better off having to learn Chinese Sign Language than knocking over stars and planets.

Donal Mahoney