FLOWERS

It’s been a long while since I dropped into The Last Mile Lounge on that stretch out of Boston (where my imagination put it), roughly the East Boston/Revere line. I dropped in recently.

There had been weather, there was a lull now. It was Friday, mid-afternoon. A few folks, men and women, have dropped in after work, probably the end of their work week. There would be more later, after five. Deano, the night bartender is already on duty.

I’d forgotten about an occasional patron named Jerry Krause; don’t know him well –not as well as I feel I know Sticky Sammartino who’d dropped in at this odd hour for a single draft. Jerry Krause, the same. These guys, believe it or not, have a book club at a place around the corner where some of the regulars live, an old apartment complex. I think they meet in Pete Garafola’s place. Occasionally they’d meet in the branch public library; occasional out on Revere Beach when the weather’s real nice. They’ve invited women to join, but so far, no takers. And they were spending about a month reading From Here to Eternity. They like military-related stuff, some of them being veterans. They surprised me when one of them told me they’d read Anna Karenina and plan to tackle War and Peace this summer. But the weather — chilly but clear — had lately pushed the Club back indoors and they meet on Wednesday nights, if I recall, probably after some of them grab a bite at a place they like over in Lynn. Pete G. provides beer, soft drinks and nuts for the actual club. What a bunch. I swear I’m going to drop by some night.

Anyway, Stickey nodded a greeting to me, Jerry (they call him Jerry K, I understand) also nodded, though I’m pretty much I’m a stranger to him.

Jerry was obviously kind of in the dumps, from what I could observe. I don’t drink, just come around The Mile, as they call it, because (inexplicably) I like the place — and I can tell you about all I hear and behold there. Deano knows me well and sets me up a tonic and a splash of cranberry. I don’t even have to ask. I’m personally thinking about how a grand nephew of mine was laid to rest last summer after overdosing on his depression medication. An absolutely terrible event in the lives of everybody who knew him. I told Stickey about this. I believe Stickey had told his Friday night drinking buddy Jackie the Crow (who’s been in the hospital for something). Jackie must have told Jerry (though I didn’t know Jerry knew Jackie, but, then I remember — they’re both in book club.)

I wasn’t sitting at a table very long when Jerry came over –made a special point of it — to express his condolences about my grand nephew. “Really sorry to hear about that,” he said. “Jesus, that’s heartbreaking.”

“It was months ago now,” I said, ” but the hurt remains — in the family, especially the parents, the grandparents… very bad.”

“It’ll never go away,” he said. And he seemed like he knew what he was talking about. He looked like a man, as the poet says, acqainted with the night. I invite him to sit for a minute. Stickie was busy talking to Deano at the bar. “You know,” said Jerry, ” I wonder when we’ll figure out what the pandemic did to us, the isolation and stuff, to the kids especially. I mean there are probably other things, other factors, but I know it got to me, the isolation. It’s why I came here more often, because Jake, the owner, kept bucking the state health people. ” He looked at me intently. “Stickie told me you’re a writer and used to be a reporter around here.”

“That’s right,” I said.

He said, “Like I say, I was coming in here a lot during the lockdown, at least when this place was fighting the lockdown– I’d come off hours, like early in the morning when the place opened up and I could get an egg sandwich from Jenny, the Sunday bartender. I liked talking to her. I’m single, you know.”

“So’s Jenny,” I said. I must have done something like wink, because Jerry proceeded to say, “I’m single but I’m a confirmed bachelor. I just like talking to people and I wouldn’t be talking to a woman who was married and I wanted Jenny to know I wasn’t flirting with her and that I hoped she had a boyfriend.”

“She’s got a few,” is said, and thought how unhappy Jenny, knowing Jenny, must have been when a guy told her he wasn’t flirting with her, because I was guarantee she was flirtiing with him — though he was obviously older than thirty-something Jenny. Men and women like to flirt. I do, anyway. But Jenny’s a tough girl, don’t get me wrong. She just likes men, which isn’t a crime yet.

“Good,” Jerry said. “I’m glad to hear she has a boyfriend.”

“Probably several,” I said.

He finally sat down at that point, but didn’t act like he intended to stay, just to get off his feet. But he also seemed especially eager to engage another human being who might, I suspected, be a little more receptive to his tender observations than old Stickey.

“I don’t know what going to happen to the world when somebody so young can be so down in the dumps,” Jerry said. (And wasn’t it interesting that he used the same adjective that had floated into my mind when I beheld him and his somewhat sorrowing countnance on the bar stool.) All at once his whole complexion went dark. Really down to the dumps, which he, plainly, intended to sift. He had reddish blond-to-gray hair, with a scumble of wiry gray hair at the brow, blue eyes and freckles and some wrinkles you might see on a guy in his late forties who’s putting on hard years. I didn’t ask, but I learned later from Sticky that Jerry works overnights at the post office and always seemed to like the isolation that overnight work can afford a person. Sticky wondered if he slept hanging upside down like a bat during the day and laughed as he said it (this was a month ago, after Christmas, when Sticky was talking about Jerry and he told me more about him in this day after Jerry left.

Jerry would leave in a while, as a matter of fact, but not before he told me he prays for the world, especially for young people. “I grew up in Lynn,” he said, on Chatham Street. I’ve seen the city change. I love it just the same.”

“Where do you live now?,” I asked him.

“I’ve had an apartment in Saugus for about a year but I’m not going to renew the lease. I used to come here to this place after I finished my rounds — I used to deliver mail to and the streets around here and delivered mail here when I was first working for the the P.O. I got to know the owner. He used to serve more food then. I heard he was going to start serving more food.

“The license says he has to,” I said. “Jenny, some of those people, they can make sandwiches, cook burgers. out back. They’ve got a kitchen,” as you know. Deano and the owner just had it remodeled, fireproofed, all that. They had to put sprinklers in here, too,.”

“I know that,” said Jerry. But he was clearly pondering his life now. “I guess I’m thinkingI could retire pretty soon with a little pension at some point in time. Stickey tells me you’re retired. Your name is Greg, right?”

“Right.”

“My brother’s name was Greg.”

“Not living?”

“Died like your grandnephew, an overdose.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh, it was years ago, way back in the eighties when we were young. Same stuff going round and round,. I’ll bet your grandnephew wasn’t even born.”

He had me thinking now, pondering this tragic episode in my family as I said, “He was only twenty — just exactly twenty. He was born in this century.”

Jerry sat back. I said, “Can I buy you a drink of something?”

“No, I’ve still got my beer at the bar. I don’t drink much, really.” He’d grown noticably morose with the information that my grandnephew’s entire life was enclosed in this still-young century.

“I’m thinking about just how sad things can get,” he said. ” I work in this big, big noisy, bright room overnight with a lot of good guys and I’m making people’s loveletters and bills and packages go on their merry way like life going on its merry way and sometimes I think I can see these people who are sending this stuff. I mean people don’t write love letters or anything like that anymore, they just send emails.” He fold his hands, like a kid at school. He was looking up toward the TV where there was no sound but images of a fire, the storm destruction. I know this, because I’d swung myself around a bit when Deano arrived with my tonic ( he didn’t have to bring it out to the table, but Deano’s good to me) and I kind of wanted to see what Jerry was looking at so intently. But disaster just seemed to be a backdrop for everything that was pouring out of him. Something to prime the pump of sentiment and fond reflection.

“It’s really a good place to work, the Post Office. I just wish there was more handwriting and not labels, more handwrapped packages, not plain gray stuff….and, y ou know, the Fedex and UPS guys, they get to do a lot of the delivering of good stuff. I almost envy them.” He smiled. Something came rushing into that forty-something — actually now I realized it had to be fifty-something — face, if he had a brother who died of an overdose in the eighties.

“Christmas, I love Christmas in the Post Office.,”Jerry said. “It makes me sad that it’s January, that it’s over.”

So that was it. That was what was making him sad.

“I mean they bring in extra people at the P.O., so you get to meet them and get extra help, but you can see all these packages coming down the conveyers that you know are gifts trying to get to somebody across the country someplace. And then all the cards — people still send cards, not as many as when I started at the post office. But they send them — and they are in these colorful envelops sometimes. You see them coming down the conveyers. It makes me happy.

I decided to ask him something that was at the back of my mind. “Jerry, how old was your brother when he died?”

“My age,” he said. “We were twins. Identical twins. We were eighteen.”

So — this Jerry was older than he looked. Weren’t we all, I thought. No, I thought, again. Some look positively whipped and ancient at fifty. But I took in the news that Jerry Krause had a twin…..I took it in, knowing now that I was looking at the face of another man who never made it to this century or this year of 2023, except in the identical face of the sanquine, pensive twin soul across the table from me.

“He was a very beautiful person,” Jerry said of his brother.

“What was his name?”

He looked at me a little quizzically. In fact, a lot quizzically. “I told you,” he said. “Greg, like you.”

Boy, did I feel stupid. “Yeah, sorry, I said, and then wondered how I could forget my own name. My folks told me he was named for a Church. I was named for a prophet. ” He smiled broadly at that.

“Jeremiah,” I said.

“That’s me,” he said.

Stickey was suddenly standing over us and putting Jerry — that is, Jeremiah’s– half-drunk pilzner of beer in front of him. ” It’s getting worm, my friend.”

“Join us, Stickey,” I said.

“After I go to the boy’s room, and I gotta make a phone call.” He had his cellphone in hand as he walked off toward the hallway leading to the bathrooms. “You know, please apologize to Stickey when he comes back,” Jerry said, and took another drink of his beer, leaving a full finger of amber. “I’ve got to get home and get ready for work. Plus I’m at a meter. ” He got out a dollar, stood, walked over to the bar, slapped the dollar down as a tip for Deano who smiled at him and picked it up. He came back to the table and said, “You know, I’m planning on moving back to Lynn. It’s got problems, but it’s home for me.” He sat and, it became clear, had one more piece of information for me. But it came like a bolt of lightning.

“It was like demons came down upon him, darkness,” he said. He was talking about his brother — Greg. ” It was the drugs, but it was life, too. No pandemic to bring it on back then in ’85. . Just that big darkness. “He looked around the bar that had only two other patrons at a table nearby. I hadn’t noticed that about four people had walked out while we were talking. I was looking over toward what must have been one of the last phone booths in the country that Deano told me got used regularly once a month by a well-known bookmaker.

“It’s nice meeting you and it’s been nice talking to you,” Jeremiah (after the prophet) Krause said to me. “I’m going to pray for your grandnephew. Is he laid to rest near here?”

“Not far . In Winthrop.”

“Someday maybe you and me can go pay a visit, drop some flowers and a few prayers. And you know what?”

“What?” Since I wasn’t going to be seeing him in a few moments, I took note for the first time of his clothes — his blue pull over v-neck sweater, a gold chain and some kind of medal around his neck. His coat still hung on the back of his stool at the bar. It was maroon and had some kind of a patch on it. It looked well worn.

“Now, Greg, I’ll tell you what I was telling Stickey and that is that I’ve decided I actually WILL be retiring soon. I’ll have a pretty good pension. And you know what I’m going to do?”

“What’s that?”

” I’m going to get a job delivering flowers. That would make me very happy – flowers for wedding, flowers for funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, flowers from lovers, delivering them to other lovers. That’s how I’m going to spend a rest of my life, as long as I can drive or walk. I’ll deliver flowers. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a great idea.”

“Brighten up the darkness,” he said. He stood up. “See ‘ya again sometime, ” he said, and offered his hand, which I took and which he shook warmly. Then he grabbed his jacket off the back of the stool and was out the door. Stickey was behind me, under the TV, talking to somebody on his cell phone. He had loads of people in his life. I was hoping he’d tell me more about this Jerry when he was done.

But I already knew all I needed to know to make my January afternoon a little brighter, as if somebody had just delivered flowers to my table.

JANUARY, AGAIN…

It is January 4, 2023. I have that January feeling. It’s not a great feeling. Forgive me if it’s your birthday or anniversary month, but anxiety and a creeping sense of the blahs always overtake me on the morning of January 1. It’s the feeling you get when you get in your old car (mine is a 2015 and I’m reminded that 2015 once felt new) and you prepare to crank the ignition, and hope the old bag of bolts starts up. ( It starts, but the air conditioning has failed. In Florida, no air conditioning in the car amounts to a grand a sweaty case of blahs-on-stilts — i.e., the malaise.

Now for my metaphor: As with my car, it’s that time of year when you turn the key and hope the new year starts. You hope it take you where you want to go. Pretty good, eh? Yeah, just pretty good.

I just read last January’s posts. Very depressing. I hoped for change. It all depended on me. Nothing really changed. But, on the deeply sad end of things, a beloved nephew died suddenly July 13. Then, very, very far down the scale of concern and sadness from that catastrophe was that one of my dogs had to be put down (May 15). This year, some of those I love are very ill and very old. I’m praying.

So, on this early January day… I pray, pray, pray….

I just went out to Lowe’s to buy a new filter for the refrigerator. My Veteran’s discount didn’t apply. It cost me $64. But a new filter was long overdue. There was a little red light giving me that message. Red lights tell us things. And loud buzzes and whining alarms. I’m supposed to change the filter every six months. The packaging for the filter says I am now reducing twenty-eight contaminants and, potentially, they include Atenolol, Carbamazepine, Estrone, Neproxen, Phenytoin, Timethoprim….

And those are just the pharmaceuticals. Funny things — I looked up carbamazepine and it’s used in treating seizures and bipolar disorder. I guess the chemical hasn’t been concocted in the world’s labs that doesn’t start out having great uses before it becomes a poison. It’s like the worst things we ever did when we were young — they all started out as fun. (What kind of fun were they having when they cooked up COVID?)

Back to my filter. Waterborne stuff being filtered out might include assorted micro-organisms, or metals, including, of course, lead. The sort of things that have given me kidney stones. Then, the pesticides. Oh, my! By now, reading the packaging for that filter, I’m feeling resigned, as I take my first long sip of water, to let grace and nature take their course. I’m hearing Doris Day singing, C’est sera, sera….whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see…. ( that’s from a very old Hitchcock movie called, The Man who Knew Too Much. Never in my life have I felt I knew too much.)…

What I feel about the water is what I feel about the year. But if I’ve got ickies in my water, well, the pesticides I’ve allegedly filtered out include Atazine, Carbofuran, Endrin, Lindane……and on and on….

I’ve gone my whole life never having heard of any of these things, much less knowing I might be drinking them. We live immersed in dangerous science. We are hypostatic organic systems, in the mind of a future Harvard moral philosopher I once dated. We were in our twenties. I took her for Chinese food ( I believe she was eating vegitarian). I’d been happily, luckily “fixed up” with her by old, distant friends met during a summer working in the Sierra Nevada while a college student. (Ah, times lost, memories….etc.) Speaking of luck, the future philosopher and I dined at a place in Cambridge called, The Lucky Garden.

For much of our lives, we dream of living in a Lucky Garden. We don’t necessarily think much about heaven, and sure as hell don’t think much about hell. We just hope we’re lucky. (I believe the current MegaMillions jackpot is at $940 Million. Imagine a couple of folks in a little woodframed bungalo on Main Street coming into that kind of dough? Or you? Or me? The total budget for the city of Largo, Florida (where I currently reside) is $309.7 million, up 18% from last year. The population (last year, anyway) was 82, 381. I’ll bet that will rise, too, especially after this winter. But just think, I’m just a digit and still feeling very much like an alien in the subtropics. Like a roaming hypostatic organic system. A white Anglo-x. Three years ago, I reduced the population of Lancaster, Mass by one. (Did they miss me?) But I’m a restless digit, a restless hypostatic organic system. I’d like to re-increase Lancaster’s population — and Largo’s population only in the cool months.

Now, if I could only kill off the January mosquito that has somehow managed to spawn and commenced to whine about my ears. Where’s a little Atazine or Carbofuran when I need it? It would be ironic, right?, if pesticides in my water got me and the mosquito went on happily whining about. But my bug guy tells me mosquitos only live twelve hours. It seems like, in the eleventh hour, they always manage to bite me, then, like Simeon, go happily to their death with a load of my Type O blood in their tank. And every night, a barely visible little — I mean little — cohort of sugar ants can be found floating in the tank to my Keurig. Not in the sugar bowl, mind you, but in the Keurig. Go figure. Water again. Where’s the filter in my Keuric?! Or, here’s where a little poison in the water might help. The average cup of coffee probably brings us micro-chemicals out of Brazil, just for taste. Who knows?

My next purchase must be an evapcore for my failed car air conditioner. Even in January, you don’t want to be without air air conditioning in Florida. (Temperature today, 82 degrees, and, damn it, a trifle muggy.)

I’ve been quoted a price of $1230 to fix the A/C. Now, if I could just win the lottery….It might ease the blahs. Or maybe they’ll invent a filter to filter out the blahs.

But I’m guess I’m bound to confound all this snarky January ruminating and say the only times I succeed in filtering out the blahs is by praying. And the only lottery I really want to win is the one that brings me –and the world — peace. True peace. In January, and the whole year through.

I’ll end on that preposition. (Or, is it an adverb?)