Monday, May 7, 2018

Her name was Candy

We’ve been away from Peru for almost a year, yet I still have flashbacks that are so vivid that it seems like yesterday. I can clearly picture the combi station in Tucume, and us getting on the combi after visiting a pronoei in some desert village. During the ride back to our home in Chiclayo we would talk about the people and our thoughts, and what I should write about them on our webpage. Most times it took a few hours of wracking our brains to come up with what we wanted to say. Occasionally the post would write itself in my head on the combi. All I had to do was type it when we got back.

Yesterday while cutting the grass an idea for a short story popped into my head all by itself. And not just the idea…while I was mowing it was writing itself. I like to write. Most times when I have an idea it takes me a couple of days to finish it. Then I save it in a temporary file, and in a month or so delete it. The story that follows took about an hour to type. Like I said, it pretty much wrote itself. Some of it is fiction, some not. I’ll leave it to you to figure it out.

Her name was Candy…Candy Barr. That was probably her stage name. I never did know her real name. Doesn’t make any difference. A name is no big thing. You need a name to vote, get a driver’s license and receive social security payments. You need a name to put on your grave marker. It goes slightly above or below ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, depending on your preference, or more likely the preference of whoever has the responsibility for putting you in the hole. You also need a name to make a medical appointment, though that’s not the first thing you need.  Let me shed some light on that.

Shortly after moving back to the states from Peru I called a medical clinic to set up an appointment to meet a doctor for a get-acquainted visit. Using my best friendly telephone voice I explained to the woman that we had just moved into the area and wanted to arrange for a family doctor. I was prepared to hear; welcome, how do you like the area, what brought you here, and thanks for calling our clinic. She didn’t say any of that. Instead she asked, “What insurance do you have?” I was speechless. In the old days I would have said flabbergasted. I’ll tell you straight; she flat-out pissed me off. I had visions of a sterile white office with white plastic furniture and white plastic peoplebots. After a moment I said, “That’s the first thing you say to me…what insurance do I have?” She replied matter of factly that the information was necessary to determine if the clinic would accept us as patients. I told her that while she was evaluating me I was also evaluating her clinic and decided it was not acceptable. I hung up. I wonder what old doc Curtain would have thought of today’s health industry. He’s the doc that brought me into this world. If one of us kids had a fever or some other problem that wouldn’t go away, a call to him would have him at our house day or night. In he would come with his black doctor bag and grandpa bedside manner. After he was finished I would hear my dad ask if it was okay to pay half now and the rest next week. We and the country were still recovering from the Great Depression. He never said no.

The first time I saw Candy was in a Wisconsin Northwoods tavern during deer season. This would have been about 1962 or so. There were always a few tavern owners that hired strippers for the nine-day season to get as many hunters as possible into their bar at night. Lin, John and I were seated at a table not far from the make-shift stage where Candy was doing her routine accompanied by the stripper’s national anthem, “If you want it here it is, come and get it…” We were talking about the new rifle John had brought to camp. It was a Browning .30-06 BAR camelback model. I didn’t like it but wouldn’t say that to John, who had spent a bundle on his new pride and joy. Anyway, we suddenly heard Candy say in a loud voice, “It seems to me that the boys at that table (ours) might rather see a man up here taking off his clothes.” I just laughed and so did John, but Lin, never one to take an insult said, “Well, perhaps if you would come up with something more creative than the same old bumps and grinds we would show some interest.” Some guys at another table took exception to Lin’s comment. A big beefy guy shouted that Lin should apologize to the lady. The situation had all the makings of a brouhaha.

Fights were not uncommon during deer season in taverns in those days. Many bartenders had a bat behind the bar to try to keep order with. Often the cause was about shooting a doe. If I remember correctly a camp with a minimum of four hunters could apply for a permit to shoot a doe for the purpose of ‘camp meat.’ Old timers believed you were hurting the deer population by shooting does, despite what the young whippersnappers in the Conservation Department were saying. Our camp always got a permit. We always shot a doe. Venison is venison in my book.

Another fight-starter was different opinions about the best caliber for hunting. Shortly after the Korean War was over the military dumped a lot of .30 caliber carbines on the market. Most hunters thought the gun should be outlawed for hunting because it wasn’t powerful enough. I agreed with that. I didn’t like that rifle. To me a guy was better off with a Red Ryder BB gun. Sure, it was easy to carry, being short and light. Officers liked it. It was standard issue to all support units. Support units were ordinance companies, headquarters companies and all the other REMF’s (rear echelon mother f_ _ _ _ _ _). The rest of us carried the M1 Garand. That was a rifle. It weighed 9 ½ pounds, was 43 ½ inches long and .30-06 caliber. It took care of business. It was eventually replaced by the M14, the only differences being a built-in flash deflector, and magazine instead of clip fed. But you don’t care about that.

So Lin shouts back to Mr. ‘Boca Grande’ that he should keep his opinion to hisself. So the guy stands up, inhaling as much air into his lungs as possible to expand his chest and make himself look more threatening. You know, there ain’t much difference between us and male birds and animals. So Lin stands up, but he don’t have to inhale to look threatening. He stands 6’3”, weighs 235 and is built like a fire plug. The other guy can see that. What he can’t see is that Lin can hit with either hand harder than a mule kicks. He can lift the state of Rhode Island. And he loves to fight; something his mild-mannered parents could never understand.

As both guys start walking toward each other the guys at his table stand up. Me and John got no choice but to back Lin’s play and stand up, and I’m thinking here we go. The bartender starts yelling that everybody should relax, but it was Candy who defused the situation. She shouted out, “Boys, sit down! Ain’t nobody insulted no one!” That big voice coming out of that little bitty body took everyone by surprise. We all sat down, but not without making our most fierce expressions at each other. Candy resumed her routine, we applauded, pounded on the table and wolf-whistled, and everyone was happy.

Later, after the place had emptied out some and Candy had changed into regular clothing and had taken a seat at the bar I bought her a drink. I told her I was impressed with what she did and asked if she had experience with that sort of situation. I don’t remember what she said. The rest of the conversation was your normal small talk until she started telling about her personal life. She lived in Milwaukee, was divorced, and worked as a clerk in the jewelry section at Gimbels Department store. She said each deer season she worked a gig as a stripper, because it added something different and sort of exciting to what she said was a dull life. Before you know it I was telling her about myself, and it felt like we were becoming friends. Now don’t go reading anything into that. She was attractive but I was more interested in who she was than anything else.

A couple nights later we were back at the bar. So far, except for the camp deer none of us had shot a buck, and with only one day remaining the odds of getting a deer were slim. So we talked about what we would do different next year. Later, Candy and I talked a bit but I guess we had said all there was to say previously. As we parted she said, “See ya next year” and I said, “Let me know where you’ll be working”, each of us knowing that we had not exchanged contact information so that couldn’t happen.

A few years later I was at Milwaukee’s Southgate Mall when I heard someone behind me shout out, “Hey!” I turned around and there was Candy. With her was a boy of about 10 years. She had forgotten my name, and I thought it would be prudent not to call her Candy in front of the boy. She asked how I was doing, and volunteered that she was happily married to a great guy, was still at Gimbels, and had "stopped making trips up north.” I told her I wouldn’t have seen her anyway because the guys in our camp had sort of drifted apart two years ago.

It sounded like Candy was happy with her life. I was glad for her. We said our goodbyes. I never saw her again.

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