Friday, October 17, 2014

Fjord the Witness

Wade Thorton ambushed me in the salsa section of Ernies Fine Liquors. You know the type, the spokesperson for All Things Wade. We hadn't seen each other since the time his trophy-wife referred to me as "an off-balanced misfit, lacking any kind of entrepreneurial focus," an intended insult which, really, was kind of accurate, but it was a line in the sand that allowed me to tip-toe away from our relationship. He greeted me with a handshake reminiscent of a political candidate and held onto my hand for a little bit too long, physically pulling me alongside his fervid soapbox. What follows are the highlights without the dramatic undertones, colorful details, and feigned confidence-taking. One thing about potentates: while they're pontificating, there's plenty of time to spend alone with one's thoughts, especially if the listener, like me, has the attention span of a distracted field mouse.

--Wade: I'm the CEO of a company that does 700 million dollars a year in business. My expertise is consulting with financial issues. The shareholders have indicated their confidence in me is unwavering, and...
--My wandering mind: ((I wonder if you could help me sort out last month's cable bill.))

--Wade: I have my own private plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, the finest single-prop airplane money can buy, the Cadillac of the sky. I fly it all over the Midwest to business meetings. Just yesterday I was at 7,000 feet and....
--My wandering mind: ((The thing is, they say I'm getting the premium package, but for the life of me, I can't find the Beverly Hillbillies channel.))

--Wade: I climbed K2 last year. You can have Everest. For my money, K2 is the better climb. I go glacier-hopping and have sampled the ice chips of every major glacier in the world. What's next you're wondering, well...
--My wandering mind: ((I'm beginning to think unicyclists are the show-offs of the bicycle world. I mean, you never see them carrying a sack of groceries...or carrying anything, for that matter.))

--Wade: The wife and I have been to all seven continents. I've discovered that vacations are the true measure of a person. The vacation makes the man. Nothing, and I mean nothing, stands in the way of my vacation. I've got pictures...
--My wandering mind: ((I'm making a list of real snappy case CB radios make a comeback.))

--Wade: Not since her shoe-modeling days at L.L Bean, has my wife had to work. She's ranked eleventh in polo, her beloved pastime. She travels with at least seven pieces of luggage.
--My wandering mind: ((The shoe size of Cinderella with the carbon footprint of Sasquatch.))

--Wade: The wife's hobby is looking at Castles, so we go to Scotland, England, and France every year in search of a new castle experience. Our favorites are in Scotland, though the cuisine can't compare to...
--My wandering mind: ((Oh Auntie Em, I'm here at Ernies! I'm trapped in Wade's virtual castle, and I can't get away, Auntie Em!))

There was lots more, and with each accomplishment I ooh’d and ahh’d as if watching a trapeze act. When Wade's blustering subsided, he obligingly asked what I'd been up to. I stammered for a moment, partly because I'd been imagining Wade being carried off by flying monkeys, and partly because I doubted he'd be interested in my casual, but year-long quest to find a copy of Connie Stevens' 1960 hit, "Sixteen Reasons."

There was nothing I could say that measured up to Wade's narrative, but as the Wicked Witch of the West once said while wringing her boney hands together, "Why, my little party's just beginning." I got real close to him and kind of whispered, "Don't let this go any further. I'm in the Witness Protection Program." He looked genuinely stunned. "Wife, son, the whole family. Changed our names and everything. We are now the Sweedlers. I'm Fjord, like the inlet. The 'J' is silent. Fjord Sweedler is my new name. Do me a big favor and forget you even saw me."
Wade leaned into to me and lowered his voice,  "What was it, some sort of mob thing?"
"Can't talk about it Wade. It's big....big as K2, maybe bigger. Lives are at risk. I gotta go."
"Sure, nice seeing you, Da.."
I discreetly reminded him, "Fjord...with a silent 'J'."

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cracker Jack

We didn't know his real name, so Mahmood and I referred to him as Cracker Jack. A box of Cracker Jack and an Orange Crush: that’s what he got every day for lunch at Jiffy Nifty. Between noon and 1:00 pm, Cracker Jack sauntered into Jiffy Nifty and, with barely a word, put his money on the counter (exact change) and headed off on foot. I spoke to him several times and, once, offered some culinary advice regarding the mixing of Cracker Jack and Hot Nuts, a celebrated recipe popular with Spanish merchant seamen. But, as he did to Mahmood, the clerk and proprietor of Jiffy Nifty, he merely nodded a polite recognition and walked out the door, never speaking a word.

Mahmood and I discussed Cracker Jack in great length and were vexed as to the mystery surrounding his presence. He wore the same outfit every day: a white sailors cap and a dark blue P-coat buttoned up to the top, a timeless wrap that spoke to the under-appreciated sailors who've kept ships traversing the seas for hundreds of years. And given his advanced years and scraggly greyish beard, he could have been an aged-advanced image of the young sailor on the box of Cracker Jack.

While sharing some of Jiffy Nifty's best turkey-jerky, Mahmood and I mulled over the possibility that Cracker Jack might not be a real sailor, seeing as how the nearest naval base was 30 miles from the gas station.  Among the things we considered: he never used the word "ahoy" or any other nautical terms as in, "Ahoy, mates, I'll be droppin' anchor at Jiffy Nifty."

It was a mystery, and though some might say it was none of our business, Mahmood and I consider ourselves to be curious types, inquisitive minds who seek answers, not only to the authenticity of Cracker Jack, the person, but to other cultural mysteries, like, for instance, why aren't nut-flavored drinks more popular with the risk-taking, pierced and tattooed crowd. So we hatched a plan to engage Cracker Jack in an extended conversation, and like most plans fueled by gas station snack food, it had all the moxie of Lewis and Clark prior to embarking on their quest for the Northwest Passage.

The setup unfolded with the precision of a Swiss watch as Cracker Jack was paying for his signature lunch. Mahmood told him it was taken care of by me, the guy standing to his starboard, a concept that caused a considerable amount of discussion and practice and, honestly, confused the both of us, especially when stage-starboard and stage-port were thrown into the mix. When Cracker Jack began speaking, phase two of the plan, which involved a complimentary giant pretzel, fumbled its way towards implementation. "Thanks for the lunch. I suppose that makes us even."
"Even?" I replied, hoping to steer the nautical junket away from a sandbar.
"Yes, even. In the third grade, I was the new kid and the first day, you sat with me at lunch and I gave you my box of Cracker Jack." As he reached for the door, he said matter-of-factually, "Now we're square," and the door closed behind him.

I reflected on his lunchtime manifesto while watching him depart across the parking lot, not looking back, a ship embarking on schedule with a curious wake. Mahmood shrugged his shoulders, "What was that about? Could it be, my friend, that once upon a time the two of you crossed paths?"

Like a long dormant volcano with decades full of lava rising to the surface, the third grade connection nudged my otherwise peeve-laden memory and in a flash, flew out in an uncontrolled screech, "It's Futterman!" In my ebullience, I turned to Mahmood, "It's Dukie Futterman from the third grade. We were in Mrs. Stansfield's class together. He used to eat Cracker Jack every day for lunch. His collection of Cracker Jack prizes was the talk of the school; they were lined up on shelves in his parent's rumpus room!" I paused to catch my breath, "Mahmood, this case is closed. He's not Cracker Jack, not a landlocked sailor lost among landlubbers; he's the grownup Dukie." 

Mahmood, always the one to see the larger picture, pondered the air above his cash register, "Imagine, after all these years, the size of his Cracker Jack prize collection. One prize per day for so many years." He closed his eyes for a moment while conjuring up an image. "Think of it, if displayed properly, with tastefully placed accent lighting, the collection could eclipse the grandeur of the PEZ museum. It might be a modern-day marvel, the likes of which we have never seen." Mahmood waved his hands back and forth, punctuating his proclamation. "No, my friend, this case is not closed, not by any means." And he offered some courtesy turkey-jerky while we began hashing through a concoction of schemes to somehow gather a peek at Dukie Futterman's rumpus room.