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. (Now, isn’t that strange! Here was a guy concerned about how isolation might have affected kids during the long lockdown — and he (allegedly, anyway) prefers isolation.) He liked nights, too. Sticky wondered if he slept hanging upside down during the day, like a bat. He laughed when he told me that (this was a month ago, after Christmas, when Sticky was talking about Jerry before I finally met him. And he told me more about him in this particular day day after Jerry left, which he plainly was getting ready to do, in a little while. But he wasn’t going to leave until he leaned on the table, looked at me earnestly and told mehe prays for the world, the Whole 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 tostreets around here and delivered packages. This was when I was first working for the the P.O. I got to know Jake, the owner. He used to serve more food then. Sometimes he didn’t charge me. I heard he was going to start serving more food.
“The license says he has to,” I said. The city’s been on him about that. 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 wasn’t folling my mind into the kitchen. He was pondering his life now. “I guess I’m thinking I could retire pretty soon with a little pension at some point in time.” He’d been looking around the room. Now he looked at me. ” Stickey tells me you’re retired. Your name is Greg, right?”
“My brother’s name was Greg.”
“Died like your grandnephew, an overdose.”
“Oh, it was years ago, way back in the eighties when we were young. Same stuff going round and round.”
“Yeah, but, like you said, you never….”
“No, never,” he said. You never get over it. How old was your grand nephew?”
“Twenty. It was the day after his birthday.”
Jerry shook his head. “So your grandnephew wasn’t even born when we started going through so much stuff in the world, 9/11 and all that.”
“No,” I said, “he wasn’t.”
He had me thinking now, pondering this tragic episode in my family and how there’d been a young guy, millions, probably –especially Iraq and Afghanistant war soldiers and Marines, who’d come, then gone. And as I said, “Born in this century. Gone 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. That seemed like stating the obvious, maybe a little shallow. I wondered, his this guy a little weird? But ultimately, no, I decided — not weird, but intensely and simply human. That thought also seemed shallow and trite as it rolled around my head. But, I thought, so what? Then Jerry 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 folded his hands, like a kid at school. He spoke like a kid at school, young — simple. Perfect. He was looking up toward the TV where there was no sound but images of a fire, storm destruction. I knew 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,” he said. ” I just wish there was more handwriting and not labels, more handwrapped packages, more handwriting on letters coming down the conveyer. Not plain gray cold typed stuff….and, y ou know, the Fedex and UPS guys, they get to do a lot of the delivering of good stuff. Maybe no letters, but packages. I envy them.”
“Why don’t you go back to delivering packages,” I said, sensibly. He smiled. Something came rushing into that forty-something head– though actually I now realized he had to be fifty-something — fro that face, and if he had a brother who died of an overdose in the Eighties.
“Christmas, I love Christmas in the Post Office.,”Jerry spouted. The room almost seemed to light up when he said it. (The Mile did have some Christmas lights and a tree, but they’d come down in the first dreary days of the month. “It makes me sad that it’s January, that it’s over,” Jerry said. I guess I had to agree with that.
So that was it. That was what was making him sad. A Post-Christmas World.
“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 PO.. But they send them — and they are in these colorful envelops sometimes. You see them coming. 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 Greg 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 as he was coming back from dropping of a draft in front of a guy who’d just walked in. Dean’s suave and polished that way. Jerry 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 as kind of an odd wind out of nowhere.
“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 — wooden and vintage — that Deano told me still 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?” I said. 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?”
” I’m going to get a job delivering flowers. Packages are great, but I love 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’ve never had a garden, either. I may get one. But 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. (And, as indicated, he did.)
I guess Jerry Krause seemed “down in the dumps” just from the look about him — the look on his face. Okay, like a kid, he missed Christmas. But maybe he’s just a serious, solitary kind of guy who occasionally, having no wife or kids or any prospect or desire for such things, feels obliged to take on other people’s loads from time to time. I felt I knew him better now, and, thanks to him, I suddenly knew all I needed to know to make my January afternoon a little warmer and brighter, as if somebody had just delivered flowers to my table.