Question. Can you have a lost weekend in the middle of the week? Sure you can. If you’re an over-achiever. Like me. So maybe you’re not trying hard enough.
It was Friday already and I had been in and out of a haze for three days. Sorta like a very slow flight in a very small plane, in and out of various types of clouds and low-hanging fogs and the smoke from leaf and brush fires set by idiot neighbors who shouldn’t be burning fires in the middle of summer anyway. For some of these maneuvers you don’t even need alcohol. You just pitch and roll and yaw.
Flack had given me Wednesday off. Not sure if he did it because I hadn’t had a day off for a month, or that he was worried about how I would react to the ruling, or he knew that THE WEDDING was going to be a major ordeal and I would probably be pulling an all-nighter on Friday. Either way, I was off on Wednesday. And all of these emphatic events (either italicized or in ALL CAPS and ones that hadn’t even gotten typographical marks yet) were just wearisome for lack of a better word. Tell the truth, I wanted to wool-gather about Tone’s sister, the yet-unseen Saint Theresa, but that just seemed inappropriate and out of cadence given the circumstances.
So, given all that, let’s talk about something else. It’s about time you met my trailer, anyway. It was that space, after all, that had shaped me over the last five years into the neat and lean little canned ham that I am I am.
Flack’s trailer was a circa 1974 Road Runner, I think. It has two trailer-long light blue arrows, pointers, carets, chevrons not sure what the word is. Anyway, just in case you didn’t know which way to haul this thing, there were pointers painted on either side, pointing from the license plate end toward the hitch end. Otherwise the trailer was white - and the paint was chaulky and would come off on your hands if you touched it. Kinda like a butterfly inside your palms leaves a dusting of colour. That is, if you had really really big, you know, trailer-sized hands.
It has an ЯR emblem over the window on the back. It wasn’t stock. It was a Flack creation. Not sure if he was going for an allusion to the Elizabeth I royal seal, or some faint homage to mother Russia, or a wink toward Toys "Я" Us. Admit it, you’ve never seen a kid write a backwards capital R in English. Either way, it was a nice touch, I thought. So, that’s the outside of the trailer, pretty much.
It has three-sectioned jalousie windows except for the one on the hitch end which was taken out to accommodate the a.c. window unit when the trailer got nailed down at the trailer park – hooked up to electric, water, and sewer. You know, when it got put up on cinder blocks, the tires removed from the wheels, and its traveling days ended – like a rather large ICU patient.
“Just take it out when it gets cold in the fall,” Flack had said, handing me the board he had created to close the opening after the air-conditioning unit was removed. It was a three-layered creation: aluminum (exterior-facing I supposed), black foam in the middle, and then a nice piece of wood to match the interior. The black foam was a little larger in dimensions all around, kind of like a hamburger patty bigger than its buns, to make a nice weather seal. “It makes a nice weather seal,” said my new boss and landlord.
“Thanks,” I said, taking hold of my new shield as vassal to my new fiefdom. I forgot to tell you that it had this handy handle on the wood side, which Flack had graciously extended toward me. Now that his hands were free of the insulator hatch, he fished into his pocket for a key. He spiraled a key off for me, and I noticed that he kept 2 other identical ones for himself. So, that’s how Flack turned over his beloved trailer to me.
The trailer was, for all its modest size and shape and shame even, a brilliant place. It was spaceship. And diner. And caboose. A section of plane. And being locked in a refrigerator and living to tell the tale. That really isn't a noun and it isn't parallel, but you get the idea. For Flack, it represented a free past, a roaming in the west, a hard tan, and a reprieve from the world. Courtesy of daddy-in-law.
The walls were wooden, the colour of honey. Dark honey. The ceiling, too. There was a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. A grand total of approximately 120 square feet, give or take. Two doors. Inside-outside and the bathroom door, just in case you had a visitor. I never had visitors. Except for Flack making an inspection, and I don’t think that counts.
I sat in the diner most of the time. It was your basic 1950s diner booth, except it was smaller. It could seat 2 people fairly comfortably. Or 4 very skinny Cub Scouts or Brownies. There was a dried up steer skull on the wall overhead that the Flacks had picked up somewhere in Idaho or Wyoming. It was their 3-D monochromatic version of O’Keeffe’s Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue. Which was one way of hanging up an American flag and a crucifix without hanging up either one. Go figure. So it was still there, since I was only the live-in curator and guard of the Flack Trailer Museum.
It was great on rainy days. Light to moderate rain. There was a slight leak near the kitchen window in real downpours. It rained most of the morning on Wednesday. So I just stayed tucked in under the waterfall and faded in and out of sleep in the living room on the couch/bunk. No bedroom per se, just a sleeper car.
Molly loved trains. When she was 6 years old.
I had walked Molly down to the train station to see the 7:40 leave. We sipped on our orange drinks and waited. The commuters loaded on to head back to the suburbs and Molly waved at everybody. The passengers looked at her like they thought she was crazy - I looked at her like I thought she was the greatest. The conductor, bless his heart, waved back. She said, "Let's write him a letter."
"But we don't know the conductor's name, darling."
"Yeah we do. Dear Mr. Conductor. Thank you for waving at me when the train went the other way. Love, Molly."
When we got back to the house, I said, "Thanks for going out with me tonight, darling."
Molly said, "Your pleasure."
That was twelve years ago. I worked really hard the rest of the day keeping other Molly memories at bay. I just ruminated on that one, and that was excruciating enough.
Tone was sitting on the front steps of my mansion when I drove up Wednesday evening - his legs stretched out across all three steps from the top, like he was poised on a sliding board, but not sliding. All I could think was how did this kid find out where I live? Not really, that was too easy for genius here. It was really why was he here?
I rolled down the passenger-side window, “You run away from home or something?”
“Nice place, M.C. Sort of reminds me of Tara.”
I slid the van in beside the woodpile (Flack’s) and approached my front porch, which was basically a pre-molded set of three concrete steps. By the time I had gotten out of the van, Tone had transformed from kid on sliding board to chief executive: he had clutched his hands behind his head like he was sunbathing or some senior VP looking out of a corner office window. Couldn’t have been comfortable, but I think he was going for nonchalant.
“Your bed of nails out for repairs or something?”
“Naw. I do like your circular driveway, though. At least you don’t have to hassle with those troublesome garage door openers.”
“You come by here just to spritz on the place or is there something I can do for you?”
Affecting a British accent, Tone said, “I just find it so very cliché that you live in a trailer, my good man.” Don’t ever ask somebody if they’re ashamed of their little shabby house in the woods. You’re liable to get hammered, especially if you live in a Kenmore dryer.
I dropped the bag of groceries toward his knees and Tone caught them without even batting an eye. I don’t even think he sat up very much. He just quickly released his hands from behind his head and caught the heavy brown bag. Cool and collect.
“Nice catch. Finally get kicked out of the house?”
Tone didn’t bother to go with my smart aleck question. He just rattled off a series of his own. That was what I loved about this kid: you could never phase him. And I was a sea anemone – twice his age and half his maturity - reacting and over-reacting to every piece of plankton in the water. “This is really heavy - what’s in here? A gallon of beer? Or, did you know I was coming? Is it a watermelon for me?”
And there it was again. That little small-wattage channel that would interrupt this program every now and then. You’ve probably noticed. Tone would sporadically slip in these little jabs and jokes and allusions (choose your word) about race. I figured I’d just let them go by for now. Wasn’t quite sure what the gambit was anyway. Maybe it was how he got by at Princeton among the hoity-toity-of-course-we-don’t-have-a-racist-bone-in-our-bodies-since-we-were-born-and-bred-in-the-north-how’d-you-even-get-accepted-with-that-crazy-boonies-accent-did-you-even-have-a-one-on-one-interview-anyway-crowd. (CliffsNotes version: How he needled the F. Scott Fitzgerald crowd.) But that was just conjecture on my part, you understand.
So, Tone gathers himself, and the bag, and follows me into the trailer. I didn’t really hold the door for him I have to admit – wasn’t quite prepared to play docent. He was the first non-Flack visitor, ever. And there he was with my bag of groceries in his arms like he was carrying a small, paper-covered, child to safety from some type of disaster: a collapsed house or a hostage situation.
I moved out of his way and slid into the diner booth so he could get to the “kitchen” - and he sat the bag on the counter, pushing aside the can of Zinsser Bull’s-Eye shellac Flack had dropped off last week for the yearly interior application.
“Rufina needs help.”
“Yeah. She needs a new husband.”
“Besides that, she needs a hand at the wedding site. She’s meeting with the bride and the wedding planner. Something about the layout of the room.”
“Flack can’t go? And why does she need us?”
“Not really sure about Flack. He can’t drive at night, can he? Anyway, I think she can probably use the moral support maybe. And there was something about 300 chairs we need to move. And we’ve been helping out all along anyway.”
Yeah, it didn’t really matter, that was the thing. On the one hand, the Flackette asked for us, and we’d oblige. On the other hand, Flack was a weasel. And weasels weasel out of doing things they don’t want to do. And Tone was right about the “all along” aspect of all this.
All along, we had been privy to various sneak previews of the final versions of the corsages, the boutonnieres, the infamous piano display, the table settings, the maids of honour bouquets, and the ultimate bridal bouquet. “What do you think?” she’d ask as we breezed through to pick up delivery supplies. I’m sure it irked Flack, but at least we would actually give her a thoughtful opinion. He was just constantly asking about money and schedules. He apparently had come down with targeted amnesia regarding the literal blank check that Rotero had left with the Flackette over three months ago. “Make it spectacular” was the note he had paper-clipped to the check, totally empty of any handwriting except for his signature. Rufina proudly showed it to all of her friends when they dropped by. It was quite a specimen of something strange and wonderful and rare. I’m sure even my jaded jaw dropped a little when I first saw it.
By this time, and it was a tiny space, Tone had stumbled – literally - across the books. How could he miss them? They were everywhere – overhead and under foot - like the cats of those eccentric women you read about. Mostly poetry with some history of flowers thrown in. Couldn't afford most of those books. But the poetry was easy to buy though, and it came in handy for the delivery cards. Some of it, anyway.
Tone was pulling off one and then another of the Norton Anthologies stashed in the kitchen cabinet. Fanning through the nice thin paper.
"Lot's of poetry, man."
"You read all these books?"
"Most of them. In parts, anyway."
"So, does that make you a poet?"
"Makes me a mannequin."
Tone was moving back toward the door and pulling down various volumes on the shelves flanking either side. I had my first tourist. He was mumbling the names to himself. Working on a puzzle. Chatterton, Sexton, Celan, Nerval, Plath.
"This your suicide section?"
"Yes, you’re brilliant. I don't have a prize for you, though."
"Chatterton is doubtful. He may have been taking the arsenic for syphilis."
With that, I headed out the door, and Tone read aloud from Sylvie as I walked down the steps: “In the vacation of the following year, I learned that this lovely girl, who had but flitted past me, was destined by her family to a religious life.”
“Shut the door when you finish with your dramatic reading there, Toneo.”
Tone returned the book to its place on suicide shelf #2, shut the narrow silver door (not sure if he locked it or not, probably did), and jogged toward the van.
So Tone and I met Rufina at the shop at 7 o’clock like she requested. I’d like to tell you about the red foreign convertible and how the Flackette held a Siamese cat on her lap in the back seat and how she pretended to smoke a Gauloise in an opera length cigarette holder, but I don’t really think you’d believe it. And it wasn’t really like that anyway. But she did sit in the back seat. “Y’all be my chauffeurs!” she exclaimed as she handed me the key fob and folded the passenger seat to let herself into the back. And we were in a convertible. An old grey Mustang. And she did have orange hair like the girl on the bicycle poster.
“I need to get this straightened out tonight since they have a wedding rehearsal tomorrow.” She was clearly on a mission, and with a driving vision. This was her greatest stage ever. Her very own Super Bowl and Carnegie Hall debut all rolled into one. And she wasn’t going to blow it. In spite of the weasel husband, she was determined to make it spectacular.
It had stopped raining in the late afternoon, and the trees were still glistening with wet. The moisture was evaporating in patches of wispy fog hanging about the tiny valleys and swells like cobwebs and the tires made a wonderful crisp sound on the wet-in-streaks pavement.
The convertible top was already down when we had arrived at the shop and Rufina was well hunkered down for the long ride to the Rotero estate tucked into the foothills to the west, even beyond Brookline. You remember. Mr. J and the flurry of red roses. Tone turned up the volume of her beloved Verdi and we headed off to settle the “aisle issue.”
The Flackette finally stirred herself in the back when she sensed we were close. “Look up to the right. You’ll see the room.”
She was talking about the building where the wedding would take place, specifically the grand western-facing glass she had described to us. And sure enough we caught our first glimpse, filtered through the trees. A glorious beacon of gold and orange and peach. Like an old coal furnace door, with the coal glowing behind the thick smudged glass.
We turned off the highway and made our way up the twisty-turny road to the estate. The Rotero daughter was at the guard booth when we arrived. Yes, they actually had a guard booth and a guard. Old school. Big money. Tone and I were in a foreign land. For Flackette, though, it was not so strange.
We met first up at the house. In a small sitting room they called it. It was bigger than three of my trailers. The wedding planner was there when we arrived. Her name was Madge. Tone and I nibbled on the cookies and drifted away from the centre of the room where the three ladies held their pow-wow. Rufina had the diagram of the room laid out on the coffee table and was showing them (Madge for the first time) her plans.
The wedding planner scowled and tried to make her case. It was sad really. Rufina had already done all the pre-work with the bride, and the die was cast. They were informing the wedding planner as to how it would work. It wasn’t a negotiation.
There would be multiple aisles, not just a centre aisle. This allowed better access while being seated and Rufina had designed arrangements for 5 aisles. The wing aisles would be used by the groomsmen and the bridesmaids. The centre aisle was to be BRIDE ONLY. The piano would be fanned off to the left and not toward the centre like initially thought. The cellos would be at the beginning of the centre aisle, that is where the bride would begin her walk – and the viola would be opposite the piano up front.
So that was that. Rufina had made a pact with herself, deep down, to pull off an exquisite performance. And this was just the prelude. Get the geometry just right.
Tone and I followed the relentless red-head and the bride down to the site. It was a covered walkway part of the way and then an open walkway. And then finally a tunnel since the eastern part of the building was mostly below ground level anyway (to our left).
The building's roof was like a potato chip that had been shoved into the topside of a cliff at a shallow angle. The back wall was basically underground, with a narrow slit of windows facing east. The opposite wall, facing west of course, was all glass and almost three stories tall. The roof was a gentle curve, like the single brow of a great and brooding beast.
So Tone and I re-arranged the chairs on the beautiful parquet floor. Think Boston Garden without the painted lines and with a more intricate design. Six fan-shaped sections of 45 chairs. Each section with 10 chairs at the back, stepping down to 5 at the front. With 30 arcing across the back for the late arrivals.
“You ever seen a room like this?” whispered Tone, and he sounded like he had used a microphone.
Rufina coached us through the centre aisle angles – it had to narrow to the width of the wedding gown train at the front and twice that at the back, where the cellos would flank the bridal entrance. She taped a note to the floor: “BRIDE ONLY.”
Tone and I sat in the front row, where the bride’s family would be on Saturday and stared out of the gigantic glass when were finished with our task. It was like being at a drive-in theatre. We could see the trail of white headlights and pink tail-lights on the highway below and the flicker of the small towns in the distance. Someone then turned off all the interior lights and we could see the stars. We both thought to ourselves, I’m sure, this is going to be one spectacular wedding.