Archive for January, 2014

What of Whom Do We Love?

©2011 By Bob Litton

“….Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”
                                             — from “Birches” by Robert Frost

I know Valentine’s Day is still nearly two weeks away, but I want to talk about Love.  Besides, my ol’ flame’s birthday is February 9th, so I’m not getting all that much ahead of myself.

You might legitimately question, “What does a taciturn old bachelor know about Love?”

Lots.

Just as much anyway as a person stranded in the desert can better describe the cause and effects of shade or the consistency and taste of water than someone for whom those elements are so common as to be contemptible.  The blind man, we all should know by now, both appreciates the advantages of vision more and develops other senses to a more heightened state than the man who sees.

I’ll never forget the simple talk on Love given at the 1980 Grandfalls-Royalty Chamber banquet by some preacher from Abilene, I believe.  Don’t misunderstand: It wasn’t a sermon, nor was it one of those joke-a-thon talks common to chamber of commerce banquets.  It was just a simple little essay on how the modern world militates against Love—and thereby against lovers.  Oh, there was some humor, of course, but it was no more and no less than the humor natural to life itself.  It was part of the substance, not the form.

He pointed out that homes no longer have parlors, those little rooms across the hall from the livingroom proper, rooms too small for anything but tête-à-têtes.  Many car designers, likewise, have sabotaged Love by substituting bucket seats for the old full-length seats.  And then there’s modern popular music—music too loud for softly murmured words and too spasmodic for close dancing.  It’s enough to make Cupid dump his quiver.

That Chamber talk was the only one the sense of which I’ve retained.

You know, I’m all the time noting these silver and golden wedding anniversaries in the daily papers.  Every once in a while, there will be a special write-up about a couple who are unusual in some way.  A few months ago, for instance, I saw a photo in the paper of an elderly black couple.  They looked elderly, all right, but they didn’t look 92 and 95, which is what the article said they were.  They said they had been married 70 odd years and never had a quarrel.  I wondered if they had ever spoken to each other.

My ol’ flame and I never quarreled either; we just called it quits.  Several times.  But we were only 18, 19 and then 20 years old, too.  As I grew older and reflected on the experience, I thought many a time that maybe we would have made it if we had been mature enough for what I call creative quarreling.  The first step is to recognize that one or both of you are emotionally upset about something the other has or has not done.  The second step is to declare from the start that neither of you is going to walk away in a pout and not speak to the other.  Anger okay, pouting no.  And the third step, probably the hardest, is to talk it out, realizing that you might come out of the discussion looking selfish or childish, but not nearly so selfish or childish as you will if you just pout.

Ol’ flame and I couldn’t do that.

I think the most important nutrient of Love is the desire to see one’s loved one fulfill their potential to the utmost, to be all they can be and want to be in their better self.  That seems easy on the surface, but often—if not in fact most of the time—our loved ones don’t know themselves what their better selves are or what they want to do.  Conversely, we sometimes impose our own expectations of what a person should aspire to upon them.  And worse yet, many a person is willing to sacrifice their own self-image to be whatever their loved one desires them to be.  As Elvis Presley’s old song put it, “Any way you want me, that’s how I will be.”  The number of stories and plays based upon the theme of the transmuting of the loved one into something not necessarily bad but against their nature is legion.  G.B. Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, rendered musically as “My Fair Lady”, is a good example.

It does in fact take a lot of patience to wait for a person to find themselves, to be constantly encouraging them to find themselves on their own.  “I’ll encourage you to be the best artist you can be, the best CPA you can be, the best athlete you can be, but I’m not going to tell you which to be!  Only you can decide that.”  (A career, by the way, is only one form of self-fulfillment; there are others, the most difficult perhaps simply being the best person one can be.)

That was another problem for ol’ flame and me.  It was one, however, for which we did not blame each other.  She put it most succinctly: “We met too soon.”

The Monahans News
    February 3, 1983

Finis

Medical Care Mayhem: A Personal Account

By Bob Litton

If you were concerned that this might be an essay full of statistics, don’t be. I never had a good relationship with numbers. No, this will be mostly first-hand experience and concrete observation.

Is there anyone is this nation (the U.S.A.) who is unaware that medical costs have gotten out of control and that other problems related to medical care (e.g., unnecessary exams and treatments) besiege us? Very few if any, I would assert.

From personal experience, I confidently declare that spiraling medical costs began in the mid-1970s. It was in 1977 that I bought my first and only health insurance policy. Up until that time, I was either in the service or attending a university where clinics were available to me at no cost, or I was working for a governmental agency which covered me through group insurance. In 1977, however, I was working at a small newspaper in West Texas, and my medical care was totally up to me. So, I bought into a fairly inexpensive policy with what turned out to be a most reliable company, as I discovered shortly thereafter when I slipped on some ice and broke an ankle.

Not many months after that, I received notification from the insurance company that they had sold their hospitalization coverage to another company. The next premium notice I received, from the new company, was the same as what the first company had charged. However, the next premium notice was half again as much higher. I could not afford that premium, so I dropped the policy.

Subsequently, I had a few minor physical problems for which the doctors’ bills were tolerable enough for me to pay them out of my pocket. A couple of major dental problems were more expensive, but the good doctors let me pay them in a few installments.

Later, I learned that, since I had a ten percent service disability, I was entitled not only to VA treatment for my disability but also other medical services the VA provided. As long as I lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, I was fully covered medically. However, when I moved out into the remoteness of the Big Bend country, I noted that the nearest VA clinic was sixty-six miles away and the nearest VA hospital (with limited services) was two hundred and five miles away. That was a risky situation, yet I vowed to live with it and hope for the best, for the madness of Dallas had grown intolerable. (Even just between Dallas and Weatherford, sixty-one miles to the west, the highway activity was crazy.)

In this huge county where I reside now, with a small population of only about 9,300 folks, there nonetheless is a hospital. Originally operated by the county, it has been leased since October 1999 to a private management company for a twenty-year term with two options to renew for ten-year stretches. I was somewhat acquainted with hospital affairs from 2003 until 2011 because, as a reporter for the local radio station, I covered the hospital district. However, there is a great difference between the hospital itself and the hospital district. As I said, the hospital is operated by a private management firm, with its own board of directors, and its business is treatment of illnesses and injuries affecting everybody in the area; while the Hospital District is a board of five elected citizens and a three-person staff whose primary concern is supposed to be certification of indigent patients only and covering their medical bills. Other duties for the district are recruitment of doctors and maintenance of outlying medical clinics. There is, naturally, frequent interaction between the two.

My personal encounters with the hospital itself started one afternoon in 2008 when I felt a rhythmic pattern of constrictions just beneath the rib cage. Also, about every fifteen minutes I had to go to the bathroom and try to throw up, but succeeded only in dry-heaving. Finally, about 9 p.m., I called a VA nurse who said I could be having a heart attack and should go immediately to the nearest emergency room. She told me the VA would cover the expense, even though it was not a VA hospital, as long as I and the hospital abided by the VA regulations: I could stay in the hospital overnight if that was needed to stabilize me, but as soon as my condition was stabilized I was to be transported to a VA hospital.

I went to the emergency room, where the nurse checked my vitals and had me lie down on a stainless steel examination table. From this point, I cannot provide an exact chronology of treatments, but soon in the process I was given what the nurse called some kind of “cocktail”; no, that was not some alcoholic drink, it was just some other liquid mixture. Within fifteen minutes I felt much better and wanted to go home but did not know whether that was allowed. I called the VA nurse, and she told me I should simply follow the doctor’s orders.

Well, the doctor kept me on that table all night long, except for excursions to another room where I was run through a CAT scan and to another room where a technician x-rayed me. They also took a urine sample and a blood sample. And they examined me with EKGs at least twice. At one point the doctor made a lame apology for not attending to me personally often enough, saying it was a very busy night for the ER. Near dawn, he announced he was going to admit me to the hospital “for observation”. I should have jumped up right then and run home, but I was trying to abide by regulations, and I had told the doctor that I could be admitted for only one day: a comment intended as a warning but which he jumped on as an opportunity.

In a patient room later, I was examined by another doctor, who ordered yet another EKG. A half hour later, this new doctor returned, smiling, and said I had suffered an attack of acid reflux.

“That shouldn’t be, doctor,” I said, “because all I had for lunch was Chinese food.”

“Chinese food is one of the spiciest foods there is,” he said.

I had neglected to specify that it was moo goo gai pan, which, while very sauce-dunked, is not spicy, not at least at our local Chinese restaurant. Besides, I had begun feeling slightly uncomfortable before lunch. That doctor released me.

I was very angry as I left the hospital. It mattered not who paid for the exams and treatment; I imagined, probably correctly, that the doctors had managed to run up quite a sizable medical bill for the VA to pay. The next evening I went to the ER room to complain to that ER doctor, but a nurse intervened. I told her I should have been released much sooner than I had been and that they should not have extended those examinations so much after I recuperated following the ingestion of that “cocktail”. Oh, she was feisty! She said that if I had taken off without formal release, nobody would have paid the bill – “not the VA, not any insurance company, not anybody!”.

My second experience with our hospital occurred when I fell down one night while covering a City council meeting for the radio station. I wanted to follow a CPA who was leaving after submitting his audit and ask him some questions. Unfortunately, one leg had “fallen asleep” and when I tried to stand I crumpled to the floor, breaking my right hip and shoulder. I did not actually fall, just crumpled, which indicated to me that I have brittle bones. My shoulder break was clean and did not require an operation; the broken hip, however, did require an operation.

The EMT’s toted me out of the City council chamber on a stretcher to an ambulance and in it to the hospital, where, at the receiving foyer, I was photographed and obliged to sign (with a scribbled signature since my shoulder had handicapped me) several documents, the most conspicuous one being acknowledgment that I would be personally responsible for all procedural and care expenses, regardless of who else might be billed. I told the nurse and the clerk and the doctor that I had medical coverage through the VA and they should not bill anybody else. Moreover, several concerned friends who had also been at the City council meeting were present: I asked one of them to use my cell phone and call the VA’s hotline nurse, which he did. The clerk photocopied my VA card, all right, but along with it, she also photocopied my Medicare Part A card (I had not opted for Part B).

In response (really non-response) to my statements, the hospital personnel said something like, “Oh, we are only concerned with making you well again! We can’t waste this time talking about whom to bill.” The greedy and blind (or indifferent) nincompoops did not bother to pay attention to two important facts: (1) I had only Part A Medicare coverage and (2) I was completely reliant on my VA coverage, which would have been mostly adequate if they had bothered to bill the VA. Thus I have to assume that either they blindly assumed Medicare would cover more than they did; or they believed, on what basis I cannot gauge, that the VA is either slow or recalcitrant when it comes to reimbursing private medical facilities. Anyway, Medicare did pay for the partial hip replacement operation at least.

The air ambulance service is the only entity that bothered to bill the VA, probably because Medicare refused payment; it took the ambulance people nearly a year to collect their fee (which starts at $40,000 and rises according to the amount of medical attention the patient requires during transport). Ladies at the ambulance service headquarters phoned me every three or four months, starting when I was still in the hospital recuperating. In their always cheerful voices they asked me how I was doing and informed me they were still communicating with the VA, which they claimed was having difficulty obtaining information from the hospital(s). Finally, about a year later I received a joyful call from one of the ladies informing me that the VA had paid them.

About two years after that I had another experience with the hospital, one about which I cannot say much because I was completely out of it: I had had a viral encephalitis attack. Since this essay is already overly lengthy, I will refrain from giving the entire narrative of events: I have not much personal recollection of them anyway. I will start with a friend coming to my apartment to check on me at the request of a couple of other friends who had told him I was speaking bizarrely. He found me lying on the kitchen floor and called yet another friend who came over and helped him lift my heavy body onto my bed. Then he called for an ambulance. I was unaware of all of this. I do not know what they did at the local hospital, but my friend told me that after some preliminary examination I was carried by air ambulance to an Odessa hospital. My friend told me I was in intensive care for about three days and then was sent to the Alpine nursing home where, after a couple of weeks, I awoke aware of my surroundings. During the time I was “out of it” I apparently was able to walk and attend to my bodily functions normally, although I reportedly fell one day and broke a clavicle which engendered yet another trip to the hospital’s emergency room.

Of course, during all of the above activity the medical expense meter was running full tilt. After it was all over and I was home again, I got bills from individual doctors and notifications from Medicare concerning what claims they had paid and what they had denied. The doctors’ bills were particularly harsh, prominently showing as they did a sentence or two declaring that if I did not pay on time they would sic a collection agency on me. What happened to all those smiling faces uttering their assurances that all they cared about was making me hale and hearty? Thanks to a small inheritance from a maternal aunt, I was able to pay most of the individual doctors and labs either entirely or in monthly increments. However, by this time I had four accounts at the local hospital totaling slightly more than $31,500. I reached an agreement with the hospital to pay $25 once a month on each account: $100 total. After a few months of that, they suggested I apply for a “charity forgiveness” of my total debt, for they knew — at age 69 — I was unlikely to live long enough to pay off the entire debt, and they could write off my bill on their tax statement. I felt, as I wrote the request for debt forgiveness, that I was asking a robber to forgive me for not having enough money in my wallet.

I was irritated mostly by the itemized list of services showing charges for fresh medicines that the VA doctors had prescribed. I already had an adequate supply, which my friend had turned over to the hospital staff. Of course, the hospital’s charges for those same medicines were a good deal higher than what the VA had charged me. To give you some idea of the range of difference, the hospital charged me $25.20 for one 150mg Wellbutrin SR and $46.20 for two 20mg Prozac caps I was given. (I could have received a full month’s supply of either of those medicines from the VA for no more than an $8 copay.) Also, at each hospital to which I taken, my broken shoulder was given a new sling ($241.50 for one sling at our local hospital).

The reason for these fresh medicine supplies and repeated replacements of slings, I believe, is that a regulation or a rule among hospitals is that every need must be freshly supplied upon the patient’s entering. Part of this reasoning doubtlessly is that the hospitals and clinics do not want to be held legally responsible for a medicine or a device provided at another medical site. This is part of the overall policy of – to put it crudely – covering their asses. But another reason for it – one difficult to distinguish from the other – is that the policy also helps them make more money.

That is my tale of woe. Now comes the time to analyze its elements toward understanding why medical expenses have outpaced people’s ability to pay for them. Everybody – including the doctors, the lawyers, the insurance companies…and, yes, even the patients – has created this mess.

The doctors have contributed to the problem by making continual mistakes – the most infamous types being treating the wrong patient for a disease afflicting someone else or amputating the wrong limb or leaving a surgical sponge in someone’s abdomen. But I hold them also culpable for their arrogance and distance from their patients; how often have you seen your doctor in a local restaurant? But more pertinently, how often has your doctor allowed you to quiz him or her about their procedures or prescriptions? And did he or she listen to you when you tried to discuss who should be billed for your treatment?

Of course, a doctor’s own expenses are high because he or she has to pay nurses’ salaries, maintain high-dollar equipment and especially pay very large malpractice insurance premiums. Also, he/she has to make his/her own salary commensurate with his/her professional image: at least $100,000 a year. And then there are those patients who have not the wherewithal to pay him/her, and the law says he/she and the hospital have to treat them anyway. But often enough there is a small sign at the registration window saying something to the effect that payment is due the day of treatment. So, the doctor is trying to cover his or her own ass while also accumulating wealth.

The lawyers are at fault for all their commercials appealing to people’s greed. In their ads they claim that people who even suspect they might have suffered some debilitating effect from a particular medicine or who might have been physically harmed by poorly conducted medical treatment could possibly receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation by joining in a class action lawsuit. The ambulance chasers must find such ads a lucrative way of building their business, because the ads are numerous and enduring…as well as nauseating.

The insurance companies are at fault, I believe, for having high premiums, high deductibles, and in some cases making it an arduous and perhaps a fruitless task for the doctor or the hospital to collect. I also believe they are at least partly responsible for the excessive use of CAT scans, x-rays and EKG’s as well as the redundant supplying of patients’ ordinary medicines and of arm slings. If any one item is not new and spotless, if every examination technique is not employed, they seem to feel, then they are open to potential lawsuits. And, sad to say, they are probably right.

Now, finally, for the patients – among whom, of course, I am one. Many, perhaps most, of us do not look at the list of medical charges, especially if we are largely covered by health insurance. And, as for high deductibles, they actually can have a positive as well as a negative impact: on the one hand they cause the patients to have a more sensitive role to play in their medical care, while on the other hand they can be so steep as to drive patients away from needed treatments.  I believe that, if patients would look at those charges and note how minor medicines such as aspirin is billed for as much as $15, they would wake up to how ridiculous our health care system is. I should not ignore the greed of many patients either. Obviously many folks are responding to those ambulance chasers’ ads. Anything for a quick, easy buck!

We really do need to revamp our health care system, but there seem to be multiple blocks hindering any true reform: ignorance of the admittedly gigantic medical industry and lack of political will on the part of the politicians, disincentive from potential reduction of a lucrative field for lawyers, and lassitude on the part of patients who are too much comforted by those unreadable insurance policies and undecipherable hospital bills.

As for the insurance companies, I am not sure where they stand on reform. I tend to believe that they favor it, but they are under pressure from lawsuits to put pressure on doctors and hospitals, who in turn put pressure on patients. In other words, we are all guilty of contributing to this mess. But what can we do about it?

My modest proposal is frankly quite bizarre: I acknowledge that no one will ever adopt it. I would suggest that we set the president of the American Bar Association, the president of the American Medical Association, and the president of American Health Insurance Plans, as well as the smartest insured citizen in the country in a large room and lock the door. They may be accompanied by two assistants each. All of the room’s occupants are to be dressed only in their pajamas. The temperature of the room is to be set at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A couple of other side rooms should be provided with cots (no blankets) so the conferees can take occasional naps, and there should be an attached bathroom with shower. Also, they should be fed regular, healthy meals. They are not to be allowed to exit until they develop a sensible health care plan for the entire population of the United States. The reason these folks have to do the job of reforming the health care system is because they are the only ones who understand all its facets. Congress is too ignorant, lazy and motivated by political considerations to take the task on handily.

Finis

   

 

Surviving the Survivalists

©2011 By Bob Litton

One October night in Big Bend National Park I attended a slide show at the amphitheater.  The title of the lecture was “Surviving the Chihuahuan Sun”.

I sat there with an army surplus fatigue shirt on, hugging myself against the night’s chilly air, and watched in awe as a lovely, blond-haired park ranger in a short-sleeved shirt explained how one could eat just about every plant in the desert.  She also showed us why there wasn’t any reason to die of thirst.

One of the slides showed somebody cooking a cactus plant, which our lecturer asserted had a taste much like a potato.  Other slides showed the varieties of cacti which served as reservoirs for water and how the water could be extracted from them.  These examples are just the ones I remember; there were many more I can’t remember.

I was impressed.  The year was 1974, at the end of the Arab fuel embargo; and I, like many Americans, had had the facts of economic life brought vividly home to me by the energy crisis.   I was in a mood to consider alternative life-styles, even some that might appear bizarre, retrogressive, primitive.  I had about decided it was time to go learn from Mother Nature.  In spirit, I became a survivalist.

Then the sense of crisis—the first one—ebbed away, and civilization once again looked attractive to me.  I gave over the desire to learn how to cook cactus potatoes.  Still, I never forgot the park and the lesson that for those who have the courage and stamina and wits to enter Nature, She has a place for them.

Frankly, that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to move to Monahans.  It’s the threshold between civilization and the wilderness of Big Bend.

Now, however, I read in a series of articles in the Odessa American that a bunch of other so-called “survivalists” have similar ideas.  Only, these people are taking guns—big guns—with them to their wilderness refuges.  The radical survivalists suffer the monomania of wanting to survive regardless of what they have to do to others to achieve that end.

I recently finished reading William Golding’s Lord of The Flies in which a bunch of English schoolboys find themselves stranded on an uninhabited island.  At first they try to organize themselves with a chief, a type of parliament, and a division of responsibilities.

In a few weeks, major responsibilities are neglected, quarrels develop, and the organization—never too sturdy to begin with—deteriorates.  Most of the boys succumb to their savage instincts and, before rescue arrives, kill three of their own.

There are several interesting themes in the novel, but the one most relevant here is the idea that civilization and law are fragile.  Conscience and respect for any type of moral order disappear in some people sooner than they do in others, and they can disappear in all eventually.

The survivalists with the guns fear the collapse of society is imminent.  In their efforts to guarantee their own survival they are contributing to the disaster they so greatly fear.  They want to make of Nature a bastion for murderers.

They will pollute Nature.

The Monahans News, March 3, 1981

Finis

A Valentine for Quasimodo

©2011 By Bob Litton

Dear Readers: I am in a rut again, what with ordinary daily chores and involvement in community affairs. That is my excuse for this blog post, which is not fresh but rather a rerun of a column I wrote back in February 1982 and published in The Monahans News. I am reprinting it here partly as a stop-gap measure, to give me time to finish work on a very complicated post, and partly because, despite its original date, it is still timely. It is about Love — or the various emotions we call “love” — as depicted and contrasted in Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Since Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us, this essay is, I think, timely and always will be timely. I might publish yet another old Valentine’s Day column soon, for we still have nearly a month left before that fateful day. I have nothing fresh to say about “love”; I have already written all that I have known, thought or felt about the subject. I hope you will find the reading of the essay below beneficial in some way.
— BL

If there is anything people talk more about while they know less about it than Love, I don’t know what it would be.  A topic of such universal and timeless interest is certain to serve as matter for authors who want to fill up books.  And sure enough, Love has been the subject of many a volume as varying in seriousness and quality as the Bible and gothic romances.

One aspect of the subject that makes it never-ending is that most people cannot come to any definite agreement on what Love is.  The New Testament distinguishes between three types of Love: Agape (spiritual Love), Philia (brotherly Love), and Eros (erotic Love).*

Most romances, I believe, never really involve any of these, except maybe a few dashes of the last.  What they exploit is a vestigial adolescent Love—that period of our late childhood when we had few responsibilities, a lot of confused emotions, and a notion that anything involving ourselves is urgent.  Moreover, since during that time we are trying to establish an identity for ourselves, we sometimes grow so desperate in the search that we express a willingness to “be” whatever the object of our affection wants us to be if he or she will just love us.  Under the influence of fairy tales and romance novels, we get the idea that there is only one person on the planet for whom we are “meant”.  That’s the kind of Love we generally associate with St. Valentine’s Day.

Despite the absurdity of most romantic novels, however, one of the best analyses of Love, I believe, is to be found in Victor Hugo’s gothic tale of Love in all its forms—pure and perverted—The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  A new filming of Hugo’s classic especially for television was shown last week, and in at least two senses it was timely: Hunchback is an essay on Love in its most variable aspects, and one of its main characters is Quasimodo the hunchback, which is appropriate in this, the International Year of the Disabled.

Abandoned in infancy on the doorstep of  Notre Dame cathedral because of his deformity, Quasimodo is adopted by a young priest who, in his youth at least, idealistically follows Christ’s precept: “Even as you do unto the least of these, you have done unto me.”  The priest keeps Quasimodo fed and clothed and housed in the cathedral, and when the hunchback is old enough the priest gives him the task of ringing the cathedral bells.  Quasimodo grows to “love” the bells even though they eventually destroy his hearing.

The heroine of the tale is a gypsy girl, Esmeralda.  She becomes the “object of love” not only for Quasimodo and the priest but for a poet of the streets and a captain of the royal guard as well.  The priest is filled with uncontrollable lust for her, the captain rather off-handedly attempts to seduce her, and the hunchback—pet-like—adores her after she alone gives him a drink of water during an episode in which he is flogged before an unfeeling crowd.

The poet comes closest to treating her with moderation as simply a fellow human being.  Even he, however, when they first meet, assumes he is entitled to conjugal rights just because they are married.  (She married him in a pagan ceremony only to save him from being executed by the King of Thieves.)  She subdues her “husband’s” ardor by threatening him with a dagger, and from then on their relationship is of the brother-and-sister type.

Esmeralda, too, is afflicted with a false vision of Love, her idea in the beginning being something like the adolescent Love I mentioned earlier. She “falls in love” with the captain of the guard after he and his men save her from Quasimodo.  (The hunchback had been sent by the priest—by this time archdeacon of the cathedral—to abduct the girl.)  Esmeralda loves the captain because he is handsome, dashing, rides a white horse, and saves her.  (He is also an egocentric cad, but she doesn’t see that in him until it is too late.)

As for the priest, I think he probably would have been all right if he hadn’t become a churchman before he became a man.  In those days, though, the only choices for later sons of the gentry were to join the army or the church.  Anyway, he apparently took his studies quite seriously and became more a scholar than a human.  We might say his agape is misinformed, his philia is cut short in life, and his eros never had a chance.  By the time Esmeralda comes on the scene the archdeacon is so naïve about sexual Love that for him it can be nothing but lust.  He grows to hate the gypsy girl and to be jealous of her fancied lover, the captain.

It is Quasimodo who has the last say in Love, however.  Contrary to the film version, it is not Quasimodo who is thrown off the roof of the cathedral, but the archdeacon.  The hunchback pushes the priest while the latter is absorbed in watching the public hanging of Esmeralda.  As Quasimodo looks down on the mangled body of the archdeacon and the limp body of the hanged gypsy, he heaves a deep sigh and mutters, “There is all I ever loved!”

Nobody ever sees Quasimodo again, but a few centuries later two skeletons, one of a woman in the shreds of a white dress and the other of a deformed man, are found entwined together in a burial vault reserved for malefactors.  The man had evidently not been hanged but had come there to die.

If you haven’t read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, try it.  And if you do so, please note the ways in which violent acts done by any one character are caused by a confusion of the idea of Love.  Also, of course, you will see acts of kindness and courage as expressions of ideal Love.

                                                     – – The Monahans News, February 11, 1982

*AUTHOR’S NOTE:  In the second paragraph of this column I wrote that the New Testament, using the Greek terms, distinguishes between three kinds of Love: agape (spiritual love), philia (brotherly love) and eros (sexual love).  I don’t know where I obtained that information, but it’s wrong — at least to a large degree.  (That was in the days before the Internet and Wikipedia).  In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous chapter on Love, the only term used is agape.  In John 21:15-17, where Jesus asks Simon Peter if he loves him, Jesus twice uses the verb form of agape, and Simon uses the verb form of philia to affirmatively answer him.  The third time Jesus asks the question he uses the philia form.  This is a very interesting distinction that I doubt many ministers are even aware of, much less present to their congregations.
   The British novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, in 1960, published a book titled The Four Loves in where he expatiates in great detail on agape, which he defines as “charity”; phileo, “friendship”; eros “romance”; and storge, “affection”.
   
An anonymous Internet fancier with the “handle” of  “Lone Dissenter” with more time on his/her hands than I have, reported on Yahoo! Answers that agape is used in the Bible 250 times, philia appears 83 times, storge is used 3 times…and eros never appears!
— BL

Finis

Judges

©1995 By Bob Litton; ©2012 By Bob Litton

Sympathy is a heavy, heavy mask to wear. This weighty metaphor was the burden of Archie Deveraux’s silent musing the first time he walked Kathy Boorstin home from a movie twenty-one years ago.  Yes, he thought, sympathy is a heavy mask, especially when the one you’re supposed to be sympa­thizing with is also the one you want to seduce.

It was a midsummer’s night in Tyler, and the hum of the cicadas in the towering pecan trees provided a chorus for Kathy’s plaint.  “What am I gonna do, Archie?  Daddy can’t work anymore since he got that bad heart, and they just don’t pay Mom and me enough at the library to take care of the whole family.”  (She had two younger sisters, both still in public school.)

Archie, a Chicago plumber’s only son, had a difficult time of it trying to be patient with Kathy’s way of using her East Texas drawl to accent her family’s problems.  Ever since he moved to Tyler two months earlier, in May, he had been attracted to Kathy’s short but well-proportioned body; he deemed it one of the best in town and figured he had seen them all in two months.  But her tendency to prolong vowel sounds, especially on certain ominous words, exasperated him.  He wanted sometimes to grab a pair of pliars and twist her jaw in such a way that it couldn’t stay open more than a fraction of a second without hurting, as anyone’s jaw hurts when he laughs too long and hard.  That solution being at present but a fantasy, however, his only options were to drop her or to sublimate the irritation, just as he and Kathy were now tuning out the cicadas’ monotonous dronings.

As Kathy continued her own droning, Archie’s comments were simple variations on a theme of “huh-uh”, “hmmm”, and “uh-huh”.  His mind was more consciously occupied with the logistics of his right hand as it inched up Kathy’s waist in search of her breast’s undercurve.  The sidewalk they were traversing was cracked and uneven, occasionally disappearing altogether and becoming a path; so it took some concentra­tion, indeed, on Archie’s part to work his hand slowly up Kathy’s rib cage.  Suddenly Kathy realized what he was doing and interjected an elbow between his wrist and her bosom.  Then Archie’s hand darted around her arm and attacked from above.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that!” Kathy whispered irritat­edly.  She had heard a porch swing creak and glanced through a rose-covered trellis to see a fat man in his undershirt sitting alone on a veranda, waiting for a breeze.  “I was trying to talk to you about something serious, and all you can do…can do…” (It was difficult to complain without being too graphic.) “…is…is…paw my mammary glands!”

She gasped.  Was that vulgar? she wondered, peering under her false eyelashes at Archie’s pimpled face.  She didn’t want him to think her bad.

“Aw right.  Go ’head,” said Archie, retreating back to her rib cage.  A satisfied smile rippled along his thin lips.  He wanted Kathy to believe she had won the skirmish; he felt certain he had taken his first step toward conquest.  He had caused her to recognize his goal, his initial goal anyway, having forced “mammary glands” upon her conscious­ness.

Kathy sensed his retreat and accepted it as a signal to continue her own campaign.  “What do you want to do, Archie?  I mean do eventually…?  You don’t expect to service juke boxes the rest of your life, do you?”

“What’s wrong with it?” Archie muttered.  She had caught him off guard.  Only twenty-five years of age, he had not given much consideration to “eventually”—it being so far away—and now he almost panicked at the thought that perhaps he should have higher expectations.

Kathy folded her freckled arms under her bosom, allow­ing the street lamp’s light to reflect becomingly over her curves, and gave Archie a motherly look.  “Oh, but Archie, you need some direction in life.  Isn’t there something you’d rather do than anything else, something nobody else but you could do…to fulfill your being?”

“Yeah!” piped Archie, suddenly inspired. “Own the juke boxes!”

Kathy chose to ignore his answer.  “Daddy was chief dispatcher of buses…for the whole city…before he got sick.  Poor Daddy!  He was so good to my mom, a real man.  You know what?  They got married when they were only seven­teen!  They had been in love since childhood, and Mom was his guide and stay while he struggled to make something of himself…for her.  That’s true love!  But now he’s sick, and Mom and I have to type catalog cards at the library to supplement his pension.  I just wish there was someone to help.”

Archie’s jaw dropped; the boldness of Kathy’s hint had dumbfounded him.  By this time they were at Kathy’s front door.  The amber light above the screen was on, and scores of junebugs were dashing into the screen in mad, suicidal swoops.  It obviously wouldn’t do to stand there long, but again Kathy was quicker than Archie.

“Oh Archie, I had such a grand time.  Call me again soon.  Good night.”  She kissed him on the lips briefly.

“Can’t I come in?” Archie asked, his voice pitch rising to almost a whine.

“Oh no, not tonight!”  She puckered and kissed him again, a consolation.

“Why not?”

“Well, the light’s on in the living room.  Mom’s bound to be awake…she always is…and, well, she’d better not see you just yet.”

Again Archie was dumbfounded.  “What does that mean?”

“Don’t get upset, Archie.  Mom hardly ever likes any of the boys I date.  She thinks they’re all common.  Her stan­dards are awfully high, I fear, but I’ll tell her only the good things about you.  Don’t worry. Good Night.”

Her face was now framed by the oaken door and its jamb.  Another peck and she shut the door quickly, before the big tan-and-black Siamese cat could slip out or Archie slip in.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” said Archie under his breath as he stomped away weavingly, his fists clenched deep in his pants pockets.  “I’ll show’em!  I’m gonna screw her but good!”

Kathy did succeed a month later in persuading her mother to allow Archie to enter the house.  The tall, thin, haughty lady made a condition, though: he should come to dinner on Sunday.  She wanted to see “how he runs in proper traces”, that is, at a formal table with four females, and a frail man, prematurely aged due to a faulty heart.

A couple of weeks later, Kathy wondered why she continued trying to convince her mother that Archie was a “nice boy”, since she no longer thought so herself.  It also began to appear peculiar to her that her mother should believe her virtue safer outside the house than within it; maybe she had some weird idea that, since all beds are inside houses, no hankypanky could occur elsewhere.  There just was no accounting for what her mother might imagine.  At any rate, for various reasons—not all of them clear even to Kathy herself—she continued to date Archie.  He had been increasingly persis­tent in his advances; and Kathy had surrendered some privi­leges she never had imagined she would.  He now freely fondled the soft globes inside her blouse and was on the march toward the hemline of her skirt.  But she excused his aggressive intimacies as being “the way all men are”.  He rather fascinated her, too, in much the same way a cobra might hypnotize a small rodent just before gobbling it up.  She could not entirely deny, either, that petting was some ­times pleasant to her, so pleasant that it was becoming more and more an urgent matter for her to get him to the altar so that she might “save” him…and herself.

               

Sunday dinner was a very important event in the Boors­tin home.  A family long accustomed to the easy life-style of the Southern middle-class, the Boorstins had suf­fered a sudden drop in income with the onset of Mr. Boors­tin’s heart attack two years earlier.  They had had to adapt to an existence without luxuries and with only the cheaper sorts of entertainment, such as badminton games in the backyard and dollar matinees at a nearby movie house.  When the car’s brakes started slipping, Kathy and her mother took to riding the bus rather than paying for auto repairs.  For the first time in his marriage, Mr. Boorstin felt something of an ironical relief that he had engendered only daughters, since the custom was that boys spend all the money on dates.  Although there was still sufficient to provide the necessi­ties—particularly a healthful diet—since Mrs. Boorstin and Kathy had started working, the portions now had to be mea­sured, while before, something had always remained in the serving dishes after everyone had reached satiety.  Mrs. Boorstin, in a kind of bitter rebellion against Fate, had refused to allow the newly enforced frugality to dictate her Sunday dinner.  The fare might be simple, but she generally prepared more than enough of it; what must be called “plen­ty” on Sunday could be called “leftovers” come Monday, but not until then.  Therefore, when Archie arrived at the Boorstin home dressed in the best—the only—suit he had, he found the mahogany table covered with a crocheted white table cloth (a family heirloom) and laden with a typical Southern dinner: roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, fried okra, and blueberry pie.

Archie, for the moment disoriented by the blur of his unfamiliar environment, docilely let Kathy’s chubby 15-year-old sister, Amanda, pull him by the sleeve to a high-backed colonial chair at one end of the table.  Mrs. Boorstin, seated opposite him at the other end, tried to appear digni­fied and gracious, but to Archie she looked merely menacing.  Kathy sat to her mother’s right; and Mr. Boorstin, looking ghostly and worried, accepted his place at the old lady’s left, seating himself slowly as though he were used to encountering tacks on the chair.  Winging Archie in the two remaining chairs were the younger Boorstin daughters—Amanda and the petite, darkly shy Rosalind, age twelve.

“Your silverware is inside the napkin, Mr. Devereaux,” said Amanda, shaking out her own napkin over her lap and smiling reassuringly at Archie, who she decided had lin­gered long enough in his state of wondering stupefaction.

“Is there any gravy?” Mr. Boorstin asked his wife in a hushed voice, bending slightly toward her.

“Oh, I forgot!” yelped Rosalind, placing her palms to her ears as though trying to knock out the noise of a pneu­matic drill hammer.  Hopping up and running into the kitch­en, she hurriedly stirred flour into the grease before it cooled down into a gel, then relit the fire and kept on stirring.

Mrs. Boorstin suffered a brief moment of embarrassment for her household, but quickly regained her composure and gazed challengingly at Archie.  “Kathy tells me that you manufacture juke boxes, Mr. Devereaux,” she said, an eerie, doubtful calm in her voice.

“That’s not exactly it,” said Archie. “I service juke boxes.”

“Oh, I see!” Mrs. Boorstin said in a rising tone which seemed to indicate she expected more comment, more complica­tion.  Archie wondered what she could “see” in his reply.

“Well, please tell me…uh, tell us…how one services a juke box.  It must be extraordinarily complicated.  Do they break down frequently?”

“Not very often, no.  But what I do mostly is replace old records with new ones and collect the take.  It’s very simple, really.  Just like stuffing envelopes with letters.”

“Ohhh?  I had thought it must require a great deal of technical proficiency.  I’m so pleased to hear…for your sake…that it is not overly demanding.  Do you like music yourself, Mr. Deveraux?”

“Only country-and-western.”

“Oh, then you must listen to Kathy play the piano after dinner.  She plays ‘Clair de Lune’ so well.  Don’t you, darling?”

Kathy looked up worriedly at her mother, her mouth full of okra.  “DeBussy isn’t country-and-western, Momma!” she finally managed to garble out.

Mrs. Boorstin smiled.  “I know, dear, but I’m sure that with a little exposure Mr. Devereaux can’t help but like good music.”

Rosalind returned carrying the gravy dish.  After setting it down near her father’s left hand, she bent over quickly and kissed him on the ear.  A pleased, almost embar­rassed smile broke out on Mr. Boorstin’s face.  One reason Rosalind was his favorite daughter was that she was still young enough to make him believe he wasn’t as old as he felt.

The table talk, meanwhile, drifted away from the ad­versarial dialogue between Archie and Mrs. Boorstin to discussion of the piano recently bought by Mrs. Tanqueray, the Boorstin’s widowed neighbor next door.  What could it mean, since she had no musical talent at all that any of the Boorstins were aware of?  And had anyone heard anything of the status of Jimmy Porterfield, one of Amanda’s classmates, who had disappeared after one of the sheriff’s deputies came looking for him at his folks’ house one night last week?  The rumor was he had been involved in drugs some way, Amanda reported.  “Probably selling them,” Mrs. Boorstin said with a “humph” in her voice.

After the meal, Archie had to listen to Kathy play “Clair de Lune”, but he did not mind the music as much as he had anticipated disliking it.  He thought he remembered hearing the piece some time back on one of the juke boxes, either at the country club or at the Foxglove Tavern.  It was truly “music to soothe the savage breast”, he adjudged, and not too extended.  Moreover, the recital gave him an opportunity to observe Kathy from the rear, to watch her back and shoulders working together in a coordinated, rhyth­mical way, and the doe-like graceful curve of her neck.

Perhaps Archie’s positive response to her daughter’s playing was what motivated Mrs. Boorstin to invite him to call again; that invitation, of course, amounted to a tacit approval of his courting Kathy.  Later, over dishes in the sink, Mrs. Boorstin gazed musingly out the kitchen window at two squirrels scampering over a tree limb and then told Kathy her opinion there was a good chance of improving Archie’s social graces through his association with the family.

               

Seven weeks later Kathy discovered she was pregnant.  Over and over again she had struggled with the insistent Archie and, as far as being a technical virgin is being successful, she had succeeded; but after each struggle Archie had been irritable.  She had tried to convince him that sex was more enjoyable after marriage than before.  “How would you know?” he had huffily replied.  Frequently, when Archie would bring her home from a date she wasn’t sure whether she would ever hear from him again, and she was losing weight from the emotional strain of having to combat him and her own growing passion.  He played upon her so, as though she were some intractable violin.

But then, she had done her share of insisting, too, never failing to slow him down in front of a jewelry store to examine the ring sets in the window.  Finally, he had surprised her one evening—as they sat on the bank of a local creek feeding the ducks—by conjuring a ring out of his pocket.  It was on that night, on that very creek bank, that Archie had attained his ultimate goal—the first time.  Kathy couldn’t help it, she decided afterwards: She was engaged, and it had been such a beautiful evening—so Clair de Lunish—and she hadn’t wanted to spoil it all with anoth­er of those horrid quarrels.  After that, there was no reason to stop…until she was pregnant.  And really, he was the one who wanted to stop then.  It’s an old story.  Arch­ie’s ardor had gradually dwindled over the weeks since his triumph, and when Kathy informed him of her pregnancy, he lost interest entirely.

“Archie, it’s getting late,” she said one day as they were sitting on a park bench eating hamburgers.

Archie glanced toward the noonday sun.

“No, no!  I mean my tummy’s going to start showing the baby soon.  For heaven sakes, let’s get married now!”

“Now just hold your horses!” said Archie.  “I’m not so sure you are pregnant.  And, even if you are, how do I know it ain’t some other guy’s kid?”  He had practiced this line for a week to drum up enough callousness to deliver it.

Kathy’s heart beat heavily with anxiety and pain.  How could he say such a thing? He, he to whom she had given her very heart and soul, to whom she had sacrificed her faith, her honor…her, her everything?  “Archie, you can’t mean it!  You know you’re the only one I’ve ever gone to bed with!  You know it just couldn’t be!” she cried.

“No I don’t.  In fact I know five other guys who’ll swear just the opposite.”

And that was a fact.  He did know “five other guys” who would swear they had screwed Kathy Boorstin; in fact, there were others he could have counted on, only he hadn’t consid­ered it necessary to recruit more than five false witnesses, real buddies, guys who’d do anything for a pal in a jam.

At home in bed that night Kathy sobbed.  Now, having seen the real Archie Devereaux—the snake in the tree, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the cad—Kathy writhed in an agony of guilt, an ecstasy of self-pity.  Turning her head sleep­lessly on the pillow, she pondered what to do: slay herself like Lucrece? no, that would harm the baby; run away, become a vagabond like Hagar? no, she must stay and help support dear Daddy; confess all to Momma amid tears of repentance? yes, that was it, the only course!

The next day she was still crying, and her tears helped her enlist her mother’s sympathy; but her tears, though true tears they were, were ambiguous as to cause.  Had she been seduced or raped?  Any disinterested, objective, yet sympa­thetic listener would certainly have inquired.  Mrs. Boors­tin, however, was neither disinterested nor objective, and the foundation upon which her sympathy was based was too deep for even Freud to plumb.  Of course she chose, initial­ly at least, to perceive it as a clear case of rape.

“Why that vile bastard!” ranted Mrs. Boorstin upon hearing her daughter’s incomplete, incoherent version of the affair.

“Momma!  Your language!” cried Kathy, now very sensi­tive to the word “bastard”.

“I don’t care!  That’s what he is!  I’ll get him …we’ll get him, my dear.  I just wish he had a hundred million balls so I could castrate him forever.”

“Mom-ma!”  Kathy had not suspected her mother was capable of such street language; the woman standing before her, pressing white knuckles against the top of the dining room table, was a stranger, someone who possessed only the form of her mother, but actually a Fury erupting full-length out of a page of Aeschylus.  Already aghast at her mother’s behavior and exhausted from her sleepless night, Kathy swooned and collapsed on the floor, when her father and sisters appeared in the doorway that connected dining room to hall to see what Mrs. Boorstin was screaming about.

In a calmer mood next day, Mrs. Boorstin came to accept the probability that Archie Devereaux did not have a hundred million testicles to relinquish to her scizzors.  Only one proper mode of obtaining redress in a civilized society was open to Mrs. Boorstin; and, since she still, after all, believed in a civilized society, she decided to go to court, as expensive and scandalous as a trial might be.  No expense was too great, she felt, to bring this Lothario to his just punishment.  And as for scandal, good Lord, would not the whole sorry episode soon be broadcast by Kathy’s waistline anyway?  So, the breach of promise suit was filed in Judge Alvin Putnam’s court.

              

Judge Putnam was built like the trunk of a pecan tree—a hundred-year-old pecan tree—tall, and thick in the torso.  His ruddy, multi-chinned face seemed to sprout rather than hold the bulbous cigar that habitually traveled from one end of his mouth to the other.  Local attorneys, discussing him in the hallways of the courthouse, had noted long ago that his early morning routine was to read the daily paper at his regular table in the cafe and then to spend the rest of the day, except when in the courtroom, pontificating to anyone who would listen—in the cafe, the barber shop, the five-and-dime, wherever—about how “creeping socialism with its insidious welfare system is bound to be the ruination of this country”.  It little mattered that he wasn’t convincing anybody of the legitimacy of his views; everybody he talked to already harbored the same attitudes.  Indeed, he was indirectly only talking to himself; he couldn’t bear conver­sation with anyone who disagreed with him.  He was not noted for his patience; rather, he was noted for his impatience.  And one afternoon his cigar flounced rapidly back and forth across his mouth as he read the hand-written petition filed by Mrs. Boorstin.  Not only did the situation related there­in arouse his basic prejudices, but he was again an­noyed by a layperson trying the do-it-yourself approach to law.

Mrs. Boorstin had been advised by a neighbor that retaining a lawyer was not essential, that she herself could adequately represent Kathy because the case was so “open-and-shut”.  The anxious grand-mother-to-be glanced at her checkbook balance and stifled a sigh of relief.  During the three weeks prior to trial, she took up the habit of gar­gling with mouthwash twice a day, scanned a couple of books on legal procedure, and, whenever she could find time, watched Perry Mason on television.  On the day of the trial, she appeared in court in an uncustomary plain, flower-print dress, square-toed shoes, and granny glasses—all intended to make her look prim and scholarly.  The show wasn’t en­tirely show; after reading two law books, she felt something like a legal expert.  Judge Putnam, however, was at once amused and irritated by what he perceived to be an imitation of Eleanor Roosevelt.  He didn’t like Eleanor Roosevelt.

Judge Putnam read the breach of promise suit aloud in a deep, sonorous voice he himself enjoyed hearing.  Then he took off his glasses and asked what response the opposing side would like to make.

Archie’s attorney, Harvey Block, a sometime drinking buddy with beer belly and saucercup ears, replied, “We deny the allegations as set forth in the petition, your honor, and state as grounds for our denial that the plaintiff, unbeknownst to the defendant at the time of their betrothal, was at that time of a previously unchaste character.”

Mrs. Boorstin wrinkled her nose and looked quizzically at Judge Putnam.  “What does he mean?”

The judge coughed.  “He’s implying that your daughter had carnal knowledge of other men before she became engaged to Mr. Devereaux.”

Mrs. Boorstin’s skin began to tingle unbearably and became striated in red and white rage.  “Why you lying seducer!” she screamed at Archie across the room.  “You scandal-mongering whore’s son!”

“Silence in the court!” commanded Judge Putnam in his strongest bass.  “Mrs. Boorstin, you do not seem to realize you could be sued for defamation of character for saying such things and, at the very least, fined for contempt of court for your unbridled behavior.  I shall not warn you again.  You must maintain self-control if you will insist on representing your daughter yourself.”

Kathy, seated beside her mother at the plaintiff’s table, fainted and slipped out of her chair to the floor.  She had neglected to tell her mother she knew what Archie’s defense would be.  Indeed, she had forgotten about it, it being too unthinkable to remember.

The judge directed the bailiff to carry Kathy to an adjoining room.  “I can’t see how it’s necessary for her to be here,” he said, smiling commiseratingly at Mrs. Boorstin.  Then he looked toward lawyer Block, his eyes narrowing.  “Have you any witness…or witnesses…to what you charge, Mr. Block?”

“Yes, your honor, we have.  I would like to introduce to the court Messers Outley, Runk, Everts, Marshall and Ed­wards.”  At a signal from Block, the rear door to the court­room was opened and in marched the five worthies, smiling like athletic champions at an awards banquet.

“Humph!” grunted the judge, pushing his heavy black spectacles back on his sizeable nose.  “One would have been sufficient, Mr. Block.”  Then, seeing the bailiff re-enter the courtroom, he said to him, “Guess you better bring her back in here.  Bring some smelling salts, too, if you can find any.  Women!

“Mr. Block, can you summarize what these, uh, gentlemen have to say?  Do you have their affidavits?  Or is it neces­sary that they all testify individually?”  He made it obvi­ous by his intonation and demeanor that he already suspected a conspiracy in the works, but for some indeterminate reason both parties to this litigation seemed immune to the obvi­ous.

“I can summarize, your honor,” said Harvey.  “These gentlemen have sworn to affidavits…here, your honor, let me present them to you…affidavits that they each and severally had sexual relations with Kathy Boorst…”

Raaa..pe!”  cried out Mrs. Boorstin, unable to control herself any longer.  Really, she was unable to do anything any longer; a sudden fever arose within her, her eyeballs rolled upward like lemons in a slot machine, and her hands felt clammy and heavy as whole hams.  The judge ordered that she be carried out of the courtroom by a clerk just as Kathy was re-entering, supported by the bailiff.  Archie Devereaux and his friends all looked pleased, assuming that, since the plaintiffs were down for the count, Judge Putnam would dismiss the case.

“Keep your seat, Mr. Block,” said the judge. “I suspect I know what your motion will be, but I have other plans.  This court has obligations to the state which override the deserts of individuals.  Miss Boorstin, we have to assume, will bear a child within the next few months, a child which, unless a father can be found to provide for it, will be another charge of the state—another mouth to be fed by the taxpayers of this state, most of whom had not the pleasure of generating it.

“It is for the state’s benefit, therefore, as much as out of a sense of equity, that this court chooses to inter­pret the petition by its substance rather than by its form—that is, as a paternity suit instead of a breach of promise suit.  Since you all have signed and sworn to these affida­vits and since it is impossible at this point to discover the real father, I will hold all of you responsible for child support, the sum of five hundred dollars a month to be provided by the six of you on a pro rata basis retroactive to the month of conception as determinable by a physician. Each payment will be due on the first of each month, with the first month’s payment due next Tuesday, which is Novem­ber 1, according to my calendar.”

The six young men and their attorney were silent and gloomy for several long seconds.  Finally, Harvey remembered the job he was supposed to be performing.  “Your honor, if it please the court, my clients and I would like until tomorrow morning to respond to this unlooked-for develop­ment….You must admit, Judge Putnam, that this is an ex­traordinary decision.”

“Until tomorrow then.  Nine o’clock.  Court adjourned.”

The six buddies gathered early that evening around the small table in Archie’s two-room apartment.  Harvey showed up thirty minutes later; he had had to cancel or rearrange some appointments made when he was confident of victory in Archie’s legal contest.  Archie had two cases of the best imported beer, which he had bought that morning before going to the courthouse.  Initially intended to celebrate with, the beer was now used to mollify his friends.  They gulped it down, swigging on the bottles held like clarion trumpets in the air, without taking grateful note of the expense.  And they remained angry.

“How could you do this to us?” whined the short, gap-toothed mechanic, Dexter Runk, his palm against his fore­head.  “I got fired the other day, and it’ll be four weeks before my unemploy­ment checks start coming in.  I can’t afford to play daddy.”

Archie bit his tongue.  He didn’t like Dexter.  Dexter was such a wimp!  A hanger-on, he had been easiest to re­cruit—in fact, he had volunteered.  He just wanted to be one of the guys.  Now Archie had to repress the urge to jump down Dexter’s throat; anything he might say against Dexter, at this point, could just as aptly be said of the other fellows.  Dexter wasn’t the only one whining.

“Yeah, and my girlfriend’s already heard about the case,” moaned Jeffrey Outley. “Some court clerk babbled it all over town.  We’re laughingstocks, and she won’t answer my phone calls.”

Archie gripped his hair in his fingers and stared down at the golden liquid in his bottle.  “Listen, fellas, lis­ten, will ya!  I’m gonna get ya outta this.  Just gimme a chance.  Everything will be copacetic tomorrow morning.  Just wait and see.”

            

Next morning in court, Harvey stood up shaking his hands as though he were trying to air-dry them or to dis­gorge his words through them instead of through his  mouth.  “Your honor, my principal client, Mr. Devereaux, has some­thing he would like to say.”

Archie stood up slowly and looked toward Judge Putnam with contrite eyes, truly contrite eyes.  “Your honor, I accept full and sole responsibility for Kathy’s pregnancy.  I am the father of her child.  I will pay the child support­…all of it.  Please release my friends from their obliga­tion under your ruling of yesterday.”

Judge Putnam leaned forward over his bench and pushed his spectacles against his forehead as though he were point­ing an imaginary pistol between his eyes.  “Let me make certain I understand clearly what you are saying,” he said.  “Are you acceding to all the points made in the petition, which are that you courted Kathy Boorstin over a period of approximately half a year, that you gave her an engagement ring as a token of betrothal, that you fathered the child she is now carrying, and then reneged on your promise to marry her only after and because she became pregnant?”

“Yes, your honor.”

Now it was Harvey Block’s turn to feel faint and slide forward in his chair.  He was beginning to foresee where Judge Putnam was heading.  He also foresaw his law practice going to hell.

“Humph!” said the judge.  Pausing, he leaned back in his chair, took off his spectacles, and wiped them with a white handkerchief as he gazed thoughtfully at one corner of the ceiling.  Finally, he returned the spectacles to the bridge of his nose and leaned forward, supporting his chin with his right hand as though bemused.  “Well, Mr. Dever­eaux, I guess I was wrong.  It really was a breach of prom­ise suit.  I suggest that you marry the young lady and try to make a good husband and father of yourself or face a very onerous settlement and maybe even some jail time.

“As far as releasing your friends from their responsi­bilities in this…this affair…I’m afraid I can’t do that just yet.  In order for my original decision to be changed, they will have to admit to committing perjury, the penalty for which in this state is a minimum two thousand dollar fine and one year in jail.  If they wish to do that, then such will be their sentence.  Otherwise, they can go ahead and pay their shares of the child support until the babe is born—some six to seven months hence if all goes according to Nature’s timetable—and a doctor can determine the actual paternity through blood tests.”

Archie sat down and cried quietly.  Harvey Block, sitting next to him, put his left arm over Archie’s shoulder and patted him gently.  Archie, without raising his head, pushed Harvey’s hand away.

                

Miracles still happen.  After a night’s sleep—the first really restful one he had had in months, Archie sud­denly realized—he awoke to a world not as calamitous as the one he had gone to bed viewing.  His buddies were shunning him; that was still a rough spot.  But they’d  get over their anger and disgust once he paid them back the money they would have to remit to the court registry until pater­nity could be proved. He would repay every cent, he re­solved, even if he had to take on a second job to do it.

And then there was Kathy.  Given the villainy of his previous conduct and the enmity fostered by the legal mess they had just passed through, how could he get her to marry him, even if he wanted to marry her?  He called Judge Putnam that morning to ask him: How…how?

“You’re still the father of the child, you say?” the judge asked him.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, it seems to me only a matter of common sense that Miss Boorstin needs a husband pretty damn quick.  Do you know anybody else that wants the part?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, there you are.  I tell you what, though.  I understand the problem, the real problem, you have in renew­ing your contact with her.  Maybe I can help.  I have a woman friend who’s a therapist…a counselor…whatever they call themselves…here in town.  What say I call her and see if she can meet with you and Kathy and me in my chambers sometime during the next day or two?”

“Okay.”  Archie’s blood rushed with a new feeling of hope.

“And I’ll try to talk Mrs. Boorstin into staying home during this round,” the judge added.  “I think she probably feels her cause vindicated by what’s happened thus far and I can probably persuade her not to push the matter.  You two need a chance to talk things over without other interested parties interfering.”

The rest of the story is too tedious to relate, not very exciting either.  Happy events are usually tedious in the making and seldom exciting in the culmination.  Archie and Kathy did get married and are still married.  Their daughter, Cassandra, is now twenty years old, works as a typesetter at a country weekly not far from Tyler, and is taking night courses at a community college.  She says she wants to be a nurse. She has a couple of boyfriends but isn’t very serious about either one.  Let’s hope any man she does get really fond of turns out to be no worse than her father.

Finis

 

Faith

©1995 By Bob Litton; ©2012 By Bob Litton

Mr. Fortuna’s house was in that sociological limbo between city and country where the inhabitants were too urbane to plant acres of land in cotton or corn for profit and too rural to support a shopping center.  All the homes were set back from the road nearly an acre, and the asphalt road that led up to the bridge over his creek was lined with mail boxes, their small red pennants angled acutely.  Off to the northeast one could dimly see through the morning’s haze the city’s rectangular peaks; and to the southwest, where the foothills steepened, the real country of sprouting fields and oases of barns.

The people who lived around Mr. Fortuna’s “house-on-the-creek” took what they thought was the best from both worlds.  They commuted to the city and got good pay (they said) for whatever they did there.  When they came home in the evening, they milked their cows or rode their ponies or plucked eggs from their hens’ nests or tended to their little patches of wired-in gardens.  To the pale-skinned, weekend visitors from the city of Cibola they exhibited their rosy, plump progeny.  In front of the occasional farmer from the steep hills, come to trade his produce off at their open-air market next to the community center, they assumed their most preoccupied air, became citified, and spoke diffidently to him of the fortunes they were slowly amassing from their occupations in Cibola.

Mr. Fortuna did none of these things.  He had no fami­ly, no chickens, no ponies, no cows, no visitors from Cibola or from the steep hill country.  One shouldn’t suppose, though, that he was a recluse or even that he was eccentric.  Many of his neighbors, however, regularly described him as such in order to enhance the romantic aura of their little community at the same time they exhibited their own psycho­logical acuity.

Mr. Fortuna seldom ventured any further away from his home than the front porch.  And even when he did, it was usually only to pump water from the well that stood in all its radiant rustiness a few yards to the morning side of the house.  He had had polio in his youth and, though it had not completely disabled him, it had made any such activity as strolling up to the road a tiresome chore even to contem­plate.  He sat, most of the time, in a cushioned wicker chair on his front porch and waved at passersby in the road.  Sometimes a neighbor would pause a few moments and yell a few words of local news or pure time-o’-day.  If what the person had to say intrigued Mr. Fortuna and if the stroller had time to spare from his perambulations, Mr. Fortuna would invite him up to the porch for details.

Nor was Mr. Fortuna indifferent to animals.  Though he kept no farm animals such as his neighbors all sported, he did have a dog—an old pit bull terrier with a homely, humorless face.  The dog would lie on the porch beside the wicker chair and gaze morosely toward the road, its wrin­kled, brown lips fanning out on the hardwood boards between two forepaws.  Frequently the dog would fall over onto its side, stretch out all four legs, and yawn.  No one in the community knew the dog’s name, if it even had a name, for they never heard Mr. Fortuna call it.  Whenever anyone had occasion to refer to it, he or she did so by calling it “that ol’ dog” or “Ol’ Fortuna’s dog”.

This pit bull was the only one of its kind in the neighborhood and had, by its innate apathy, aroused little curiosity among the neighbors.  It didn’t appear to be capable of learning tricks or in­clined to run rabbits.  Like the rest of its breed, it was surpassingly muscular, but how it maintained its sturdy condition in light of its habitual laziness was a paradox.  Mr. Fortuna fed it half a pound of ground meat and one egg per day.  Consequently, even in its old age it had a glossy brown coat.  Its remaining physical peculiarity was one rear leg which was white from hock to paw.

One spring morning when Mr. Fortuna was sitting in his wicker chair with his dog lying on the porch by his side, old Liz Hubing came walking up the gravel driveway. She didn’t yell “hello” first as custom required or wait for him to invite her, a sure sign she was in an irritable mood.  She strode up, carrying her eighty-pound frame as though she were a lance tipped forward in attack position.

“Hello, Liz,” said Mr. Fortuna in a low conciliatory tone, for, though a large man, he was really as meek as Moses.  “What you so fired-up-looking about this morning?”

“That durn dog of yours, that’s what!” she said, her brow dipping in the middle like a waning moon.  “That dog killed two of my chickens last night.”

“Oh come now!  You know it couldn’t have been my dog.  I’ve had him for years and he ain’t ever done such a thing as that.”

“I don’t care what he ain’t done before.  Last night he bit the necks of two of my Rhode Island hens plumb in two.  I heard’em squawking clear from inside my kitchen and I went out to the hen house and I saw that durn dog of yours skit­tering under the fence wire.  He’s a mad dog, I tell you, and he ought to be done away with.”

“Since it was night, how do you know it wasn’t some other dog?”

“Cause your dog’s the biggest around here, and I saw that other one was big, too, even if I couldn’t see much else about him.  And I seen that one white foot, too, while he was skedaddling.”

Mr. Fortuna looked inquiringly down at his pit bull, which lay quite still with its nose between his forepaws.  It was still, but not asleep.  It watched the angry ejacula­tions of Liz Hubing with its dark, wet eyes as though it were observing the gradually depleting energy of a wound-up doll.

“Well, old fella, what do you say to that?  You been messing around with Liz’s hens?”

The dog raised its eyes, but not its head, to meet Mr. Fortuna’s distressed gaze.  Then it returned its attention to Liz Hubing.

“Whach’a asking that dog for?  He can’t talk, and I told you already I seen it.  Don’t you believe me?”

Mr. Fortuna reached inside his baggy cotton suit coat that belonged to another pair of pants and withdrew his checkbook.

“How much will you settle for, Mrs. Hubing?” he asked.

Liz Hubing had not anticipated this outcome.  She didn’t really know how much her hens were worth.  Her single objective had been revenge on the dog, not remuneration for her murdered fowl.  She considered the question in a discon­certed way.

After a lengthy pause, Mr. Fortuna asked, “How about twenty dollars for both?”  He filled out a check as he spoke.

After he gave her the check, she looked at it, folded it in half, and put it curtly into her apron pocket.  Then she glared again at the dog.  “But I still think that mad beast ought to be done away with!” she exclaimed, turning away.

That was the beginning. From that day, Mr. Fortuna was the recipient of complaints, charges that his old, lazy dog was terrorizing the neighborhood’s animal population in the deep hours of the night.  Some people came in person, but most phoned him and in angry terms demanded recompense or revenge.  Some threatened to kill the dog themselves.

Mr. Fortuna couldn’t believe that his dog would do such things as were reported to him, and he refused to pen the creature in or chain him to a stake.  “My dog has always been free,” he told Bill Sackley, the sheriff’s deputy, who came to suggest—and finally to demand—that Mr. Fortuna do just that.

“No sir!” Mr. Fortuna told him emphatically.  “It would destroy him to tie him up or confine him.  It would be a breach of faith.  Besides that, it would be absurd—that dog, who’s on his feet hardly an hour in the day, locked up or chained.  Can’t you see how peaceful he is?”

“I’ll concede he don’t look like no Jack the Ripper,” replied Bill, shaking his head in perplexity.  “Still, he’s the only dog around here that’s even potentially capable of the damage that’s been done.  I’ll have to ask you to find some manner of confining him.”

In spite of the fact that Mr. Fortuna never called his dog any particular name or showed outwardly any degree of affection, it was nevertheless true that the dog held a claim on a good part of the old man’s soul.  Lying on the porch beside him as it did day after day, the dog had become an extension of himself.  Although he had not given much thought to this affinity before (since it had not been threatened before), now he found that any complaint or threat against the dog was indissolubly and completely a complaint or threat against himself.  He shuddered every time he looked the dog’s way.

For several weeks there was a lull in reports of any dog attacking his neighbors’ animals.  Mr. Fortuna began to believe that the epidemic must be over and things would be normal again and he would still have his dog.  It was true that the neighbors did not wave as they passed along the road and across the bridge that extended over his portion of the creek, but that was all right.  They were just people, and people took a longer time forgetting an injury than did animals.  They would eventually cool down and stop to utter some brief, quiet greeting again.  And then one day they would even come up to the porch and exchange a joke or two.

Then, just when Mr. Fortuna had begun to think that the nightmare was all over, Mrs. Montrose, who lived two blocks up the road, came stumbling into his yard carrying her daughter’s pet lamb in her arms.  Its bloody head drooped to one side.  Behind her, red-faced and in tears, came her ten-year-old daughter, Ruth.

“Look, Mister Fortuna!” screamed Mrs. Montrose.  “Look what your dog’s done now!  See this dead lamb, Mister Fortuna?  See its bleeding neck?  It’s dead!  Your dog done it.  Your dog killed Ruth’s lamb!”

Mr. Fortuna’s throat felt as though he had swallowed a cup of stale coffee in one gulp.  All the other victims of the mysterious attacks had been invisible creatures to him—reports of invisible creatures—but here was one in the flesh complete with white wool clotted with dark red blood.  He did not reach into his pocket for the checkbook this time.  Nor did he look at the dog.

“I’ll take care of it,” Mr. Fortuna whispered, realiz­ing immediately how irrelevant and absurd his comment must seem to Mrs. Montrose and her daughter.

    “You’ll take care of it?  How? Mister Fortuna, this lamb is dead!  There ain’t nothing anyone can do for it now. Your dog is a good hunter, Mister Fortuna, a good hunter.  You should enjoy the kill.  Here.”  She laid the lamb on the porch step.

“What do you want from me, Missus Montrose?”

“Nothing,” she murmured, as she turned and walked away, with her daughter under her arm, crying. “Nothing, nothing.”

Mr. Fortuna sat gazing at the dead lamb on the porch step.  When the flies began to buzz around its head, he stood up.  Taking up his cane, he hobbled out to the tool shed at the side of the house.  He went into the open shed and pulled down a shovel that hung against a wall.  Near the steps of the porch he began to dig in the soft earth. After several hours of what for him was painful labor he had a hole deep enough for the lamb.  He wrapped it up in a potato sack and lowered it into the hole and then slowly covered it with earth.  He left the shovel by the grave and hobbled back onto the porch, mopping his brow with his white hand­kerchief.

The dog still lay on the porch. Its eyes, turned up to Mr. Fortuna, expressed an indecipherable question.  Mr. Fortuna looked gloomily at him.  “There are others,” he said.

Mr. Fortuna went into the house and came back a minute later carrying a .22 rifle, a weapon he had not fired since he was a much younger man and he was not sure it would fire on this occasion.  The dog was sitting up on its haunches, moving its soporific head in whatever direction Mr. Fortuna moved.

The old man, after walking out upon the lawn, aimed his rifle at the pit bull terrier’s head and fired.  He hobbled back to the porch, grabbed hold of the two rear legs of the bloody hairy mass that used to be his dog and dragged it out to the middle of the drive.  He left it there and returned to the porch.

A young couple passing by that afternoon on their exercise walk saw the dog lying in the driveway.  And they saw Mr. Fortuna sitting on the porch with the .22 rifle supporting his head.

Nobody reported any strange attacks on their animals after that.  About three weeks later, however, a propane truck driver stopped by the local service station and told about how he had seen a hybrid red wolf-coyote hanging from a fence gate post beside a seldom used county road.  “Looked as though it might have been killed in a fight with another animal,” the truck driver said.

Next day, at the local coffee shop, Liz Hubing came up to where Bill Sackley was sitting with some of her neigh­bors.  She was twisting a small white handkerchief.  “Bill,” she said.  “I feel awful upset.  Time has passed and with it my certainty about what I saw.  You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about,” Bill replied.

“Do you think it mighta been that wolf-coyote all the time?”

“Don’t know.  I never saw anything but the after-ef­fects.  Maybe it was whatever killed the wolf-coyote.  They’re kind of rare but they obviously ain’t extinct around here yet.”

“Guess we’ll never know for sure, will we?”

“Nope.  We’ll never know for sure.”

Finis

NOTE TO READERS: If you want to comment on this blog post, click on the phrase “Leave a comment” (in bold print) at the top of this post, and a box will appear at the bottom of the post to receive your comment entry.

%d bloggers like this: