THOUGH I'M A RIGHT-THINKING Democrat--borrow now, let our children pay--I'm grateful to George Bush, whose confusing hint to Saddam Hussein, "Sooner, rather than later," kept me at work late one frigid January evening in 1991. My publisher wanted me, the editor, to stop the press if, in his words, "Uncle Sam finally airmailed a few thousand tons of our best bang down the snout of that Hooknose Camel Jockey cousin." War rumblings had built to a crescendo, and on that day, for reasons I sensed but did not understand, a military strike against Iraq seemed inevitable if not prudent. George Bush was big on prudence. I waited past six o'clock, the usual quitting time, and at roughly six-thirty Tom Brokaw of NBC said something was brewing. Sipping my putrid vending-machine black coffee, I learned in the next few moments a shot -- no, a cruise missile -- had been launched from a U.S. warship knifing through the Gulf. This missile, allegedly among our smartest, had paused long enough to get its picture taken, righted itself, traversed the nighttime desert at subsonic speed, turned left at an intersection in downtown Baghdad, went three blocks, turned right, and Boom!--slammed into Saddam's defense ministry, thus blasting it to smithereens. In short, it was one amazing missile. History will not record that Mike Cantor, never without his copy of "Jane's Defense Weekly," won the office pool and the advertised sum of one-hundred dollars. Two weeks beforehand, like a militaristic Jeane Dixon, "Iron Mike" had picked the date--January 16th--and had come within ten minutes of picking the unofficial starting time of six-fifteen. "Six-twenty-five," he had predicted. "Just in time for Brokaw, Rather, and Jennings." Nerved up but impishly relieved the wait was over, I crumpled my coffee cup and reached for my smokes. I then switched off my ten-inch office set and hauled -- it's easily two city blocks under roof -- to the Smoking Room and its twenty-five-inch, carcinogen-caked set. There, while sucking down a nerve-calming Marlboro and officiously changing the channel from CNN to NBC, I met Ruthie for the first time. Smoking peacefully despite the war, she sat in stained but comfortable orange chair. "Where's *the* coffee?" she quizzed, as though we were longtime best pals. "You always have the coffee in the hand when you buzz the office. And such a purposeful walk. A real nicotine-crazed walk." She was a charmer, all right. Inside two seconds I liked her articles: *the coffee*, *the* hand, *the* office. Around the ten-second mark she politely suggested I switch back to CNN. In truth, I was a tad put off. Loyalty is everything in war, and I was loyal to NBC and Brokaw. A switch at this point seemed unpatriotic, and I said so. "If I'm going to get sick from watching the war, I might as well get sick in real time," Ruthie pointed out reasonably. And thus Tom Brokaw became the first American casualty. Wooed by the promise of hair-raising live footage of thunderous tracer fire, I clicked (that's military talk) to CNN and darted to the vending machine to get the coffee. Two putrid cups this time. I had no doubt Ruthie was strictly black; she drank unadulterated coffee. No milk. No sugar. Black as the sky over a soot factory. A true liberal. I handed her the coffee and reached for the wall phone: Yep, even smokers, those noted malingerers, had a phone. "Local Calls ONLY" warned the hand-scrawled sign, a de-facto reminder of past abuses. "Max, stop the press!" I showboated for Ruthie. Truth was, the press never ran until the Union crew staggered in, usually after midnight, usually late and happy, usually after two or three rounds at 'URPH'S B'r and G'ill, once MURPH'S Bar and Grill, a noble house of shots and beers despite its annoyingly gasless neon consonants and vowels. Ever the patriot, Max knew what I meant. He implemented Plan B, which is to say he called up the emergency war story from the bowels of his marvelously versatile desktop-publishing machine. Presto! The travel-executive world had a canned page one. All Max had to do was insert the time the first shot had been fired. "All my life I wanted to say `Stop the press!'" Ruthie exclaimed. "Or at least be in the same room with someone duly authorized to say `Stop the press!'" I could tell she was awed by my commitment to excellence in trade journalism. "Glad I could help, Ruthie." "You know my name?" "I know your name." She glanced at her coffee, sniffed, played with her cup, put it down, tugged her short brown hair, looked at the TV, looked at me, and flashed the smile. "What's the headline on the war story? The obviously *canned* war story." "Tourist Biz Bust In Baghdad," I said sheepishly. "Awfully aseptic alliteration," she deadpanned. "What's the lead?" "There's no place like home -- for now." Surrounded by the sound of gunfire, her elegant face reflecting streaking tracers, Ruthie examined the fairness issue. "Here's fifty cents for the coffee, Brinny. Milk . . . I need the milk next time." I smiled. "You know my name?" "I know your name." And that, thanks to President Bush and the Pentagon, is how we met.
WE HAD GREAT DIFFICULTY becoming us. Our first date: a dark, beery jazz club on Ripple Ridge Road in Chicago, early Friday evening. Her idea. She loved joints that played scratchy old records, and so did I. "I'll have *the* Budweiser," she told a hovering waiter who wore a diamond-bit earring in his left ear. "I'll have the Budweiser, too," I smiled and said, parroting her speech pattern and thinking that it's good when new pals like the same beer. Something downright decent was happening, and Ruthie gave me a look of enduring preciousness. It was warm, fuzzy, serious, and altogether intentional. I felt demonstrably alive, which differed from my usual state of aliveness, which was largely mundane and filled with such chores as hunting for matching socks and pretending boring people were fascinating. "He's gay," Ruthie whispered of the waiter, then put on the authoritative look of one who has inside information and can't wait to spill it. "I went to high school with a guy who had three nipples. Wasn't gay, though." I returned her secret smile and said, "Quite a talent, Ruthie, being able to ascertain sexuality from the positioning of an earring. You know any parlor tricks? Can you juggle?" She gave me a look of mock scorn. "Funny. Very funny. It's not the earring," she said. "It's the tattoo that says `Joey and Malcolm forever.' He's Joey." In the next instant either Joey or Malcolm came with the Budweisers. I reached for five bucks; I am a fool for tradition. "Sharing is caring," Ruthie proclaimed, and it didn't even sound stilted. "Thank you, please." She paid with her own five, a new one, I think. "My name is Joey," he proclaimed. "I'll be your waiter till the cows come home." He dismissed himself and shifted skillfully -- no wink, no saunter, no swagger, no tiny, delicate steps -- to another table. Enormously pleased with herself, Ruthie said "Cheerios" and clanged her dewy brown bottle against mine. "By the way," she teased. "I know plenty of parlor tricks. Plenty." She winked, and I blinked. Then and there I decided this woman, this associate editor friend of mine, had the sort of offbeat wit and delightful mannerisms that could keep me interested for, say, longer than a week. How does one describe the opening moments in which a stranger steals your soul? I say soul, not heart, because people smarter than I say the soul is the most important part of the spirit-mind-body trilogy. It's the one they don't bury or burn. We, Ruthie and I, were trade editors in the same publishing company, assigned to different "books," as we call them. Now, there's a term, books, that bothers me. There's nothing book-like about a magazine staff. Getting the damned book out on time is sixty percent of the job; the other forty percent is playing ball with advertisers. That is to say we schmooze them, coddle them, feed them, get loaded with them. We'll do anything for advertisers, except tell them how we really feel about certain rotten, pollutive, destructive, worthless products. Hell, we love 'em. We're the trade press. Leaders in our field. Hurrah. Hurrah. Out of fairness I must say the assault is not always so insultingly transparent. Geographical? Yes. Transparent? No. If in New York: "I see those Yankees are on a roll. How 'bout that Mattingly? Don't you agree that Rizzuto is the best announcer on the planet?" If in Pittsburgh: "Too bad about Clemente. Too, too bad. Way too bad. What a cannon. And that lovely wife. And those beautiful children." Every city has its emotional hero, and we'd play to that hero, living or dead. So, on the evening of our first date, Ruthie and I played a game that worked like this: We each thought up titles for trade magazines that would serve comically narrow markets. Whoever stupefied the other for five seconds won by default and got to study the encyclopedia with Alex Trebek. Whoever lost got "lovely parting gifts." "Ashtray Management," she opened casually, lighting a smoke (Virginia Slims). I refused to laugh. This was a toughie, and laughing wasted precious seconds. "Aftermarket Dental Apparel," I countered. Ruthie put on a grievous look, then went for the jugular. "Physician's Luggage!" I made a noise, a shrill gulp, the kind made by Japanese heavies who do murderous back handsprings across wide-open rooms in martial- arts flicks. (A digression: Did you ever notice the guy who's going to get whacked never makes an evasive maneuver? He just stands there. Just stands there and watches all those fatal catapults.) At any rate, Ruthie, the prescient one, thought she had me. "Sausage Grease Quarterly Green Book!" I squealed, tipping my beer with my elbow. This turned out to be the winning title; Ruthie abandoned the game in a bid to save the beer from draining all over the table. She succeeded, with minimal spillage. "Not fair," she protested. "We don't have a Green Book in our division." She presented me a bottle of foam. "Any self-respecting trade division has a Green Book or Blue Book or Red Book or Yellow Book," I reminded her. "Name your color." "Beige," Ruthie snarled. "Effing beige. Guess I should have come up with 'Barbell Buyer's Bi-Annual Beige Book.'" "Awfully aseptic alliteration," I said charmingly. A smile creased her face. "A good mind and a good memory. But 'Barbell Buyer's' most likely would have won." "Most likely," I agreed. "Thanks for saving the beer." "Priorities," she said. The next game, a longer one, was "Available Credit Lines." She sort of sprung it on me. "Let's see the cards," Ruthie demanded. "What cards?" She smacked my hand, which was putting out a Marlboro. "The credit cards, buster. Let's match types, companies, colors, and credit lines." How much did I like this woman? I liked her so much I handed her more than fifty-thousand dollars worth of available credit -- Visa, MasterCard, Discover, Diner's Club, AT&T, American Express. My corporate card alone had a twenty-nine thousand dollar limit, the total of my 1991 schmooze budget, and schmoozing season for my book didn't start for six weeks. Ruthie handed me her cards, and we played out the drama. She had better colors, but as an associate editor considerably less available credit. I won again, but did not understand the dimensions of this win until much later. Alas, all good things must come to an end. After relentless fun, four beers and two hours, Ruthie glanced at her watch, an unpretentious Timex. "Gotta go." "It's only eight-thirty," I protested. She gave me a serious look, and I sensed the mood shifting. "I am a fool," she said. "An absolute fool." A master of the polite fake, I said, "What's his name, and what law firm does he work at?" Ruthie changed the subject. "Really, Brinny. I'm shocked you'd end a sentence with a preposition." Remembering Winston Churchill, I said, "This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put." Ruthie gave in. "How'd you know he's a lawyer?" It was a no-brainer. "You're the only one in the building, the only one of those eight-hundred frustrated writers and artists who dresses like a potential junior partner." "Hope you're not suggesting he tells me what to wear. Really, Brinny. You're not suggesting that, are you?" Oops. Dug myself a hole. "No. Of course not," I covered. "It just happens that way. You hang out with someone long enough, you start acting like them. It's called informal leadership." "Did you buy the subscription to 'Psychology Today' or was it a gift? We met in law school." This was amazing news. "You're a lawyer?" "I'm a lawyer," she began. "A lawyer-turned-writer." Ruthie provided details. Important details. "I do the legal-brief sections for our publishing group, like Mike Cantor does for yours. I live with a lawyer -- a tax lawyer. He adds figures. All kinds of figures." Her voiced trailed off. I am such a liar. "None of my business. We're pals, right? Nothing wrong with this." Ruthie squirmed. "Friends, pals, famous thinkers," she said. "Anyway, I'll be in Idaho all next week, schmoozing the potato people and urging them to sue. See you when I get back?" "Of course, pal." Yes. Absolutely. Pleeease! I thought. Now on her feet, Ruthie said, "You're okay, Brinny. A tad snobbish. A tad too sure of yourself, but basically decent and okay. I bet you cried when the Space Shuttle exploded. And I bet nobody knows about it. Gotta go. Bye." Abruptness, as it turned out, was part of her charm. We did not kiss. We shook. But it was a bit too purposeful, a bit too longlasting, I thought, not to have implied, if not intimate, meaning. To say I liked this woman is to say a river has water. She was alive with substance, alive with the stuff that often disappointed me in other relationships, other romances. Spontaneous. Smart. Snappy. Feisty. Serious. Playful. Evasive. Right for me and about me. "You get bored too easily" was the opening line in the standard speeches against me. "You're too concerned about intellectual compatibility, symbolism, figuring out how and why things work or do not work. You're too dismissive, too inattentive, too bent on perfection. Why don't you just take it as it comes like the rest of us schmucks? Why can't you say, in moments of enlightenment, 'I love you?'" They are right, those critics, and it bothers me -- but not enough to change. I like smart women, women with brown eyes and brown skin and brown hair that is problematic. I like educated women who worked at amusement parks during the summer and learned it is not a sin to mix business with pleasure. I like women who went back to school and studied more than enough to get by but still found time to drink beer from a pitcher. I like women who get nervous inside but won't talk about it; that's what happens to me. I need to tap that nervousness, and I need mine tapped. That's where I'm most alive. (I have a sinking feeling that at least twenty percent of my creativity is trapped in there). Naturally, I had another beer, my fifth, and listened to an Alberta Hunter blues series. I choked down a sixth beer, left Joey five bucks, and soon was home watching CNN, the only place to be for around-the-clock war coverage. I fell asleep thinking about the handshake, the understated nervousness, the passion for life, the wit, the charm, the coffee, the Budweiser, the brown eyes, *the everything*. But most of all I thought about the tax lawyer.
I COULD NOT RULE OUT war-related terrorism in my neighborhood, which looks and works loosely like this: Across from my apartment complex Arab merchants run a convenience store. My neighbors from behind are fair-eyed orthodox Jews. They avoid the Arab shopkeepers, won't wave at anybody, won't look anybody in the peeper. Blacks and whites live on both sides. They mostly avoid eye contact with each other, occasionally wave or nod, and don't mind patronizing the Arab merchants. The Jewish mothers won't let their kids play with black kids, but white kids, save the Jews, play with black kids and vice versa. My best acquaintance in the building is a Chinese guy, Charlie the Cop, who drinks too much beer, sleeps around, and stays up late. I am the white guy he buzzes when he gets too drunk and locks himself out of the building. I love to regale people with Charlie the Cop's tall tales and heartfelt claim that life does not begin at forty, it begins at point four-zero. When I have a date, I often talk about Charlie the Cop. He is an excellent icebreaker. Anyhow, the chilly Saturday morning after my first date with Ruthie I saw something that made me sick and could have gotten me killed. Practically every Saturday morning I go to the Arab convenience store to buy a paper and a sixteen-ounce Coke. The paper is always thirty-five cents, and the Coke is always seventy-five cents. On this Saturday the Coke bottle had a yellow banner that said "Four Ounces Free," so I knew I would get twenty ounces for seventy-five cents. I stood in line on the mopped-with-mud tile floor. In front of me, three spoiled brats in need of strict parental supervision argued over the relative merits of slime-green chewables or rock- hard sour balls. Behind me, a black man kept peering through the front door into the potholed parking lot, where a tractor-trailer sat idling. He's a truck driver, I thought. He's a truck driver keeping an eye on his ride. This was not odd -- trucks often idled outside this store -- except I noticed he had the same items I had: a paper and a Coke. I did not notice what the people behind him had. Slime-green chewables won out, and it became my turn to pay. The Arab attendant smiled at me and said with a heavy accent, "One dollah -- ten cents." I handed him a dollar and a dime, as I had done so many Saturday mornings. I heard the truck driver clear his throat; he was getting ready for his turn. "Who be next?" the attendant said quickly, sharply, to the truck driver. I walked toward the door, but before my hand met the crash bar I heard the attendant say, "One dollah -- tirty cents." What? I thought. Did I hear that right? I couldn't believe it: The Arab, in front of witnesses, was going to charge the truck driver twenty cents for four free ounces of Coke. I turned around and saw the truck driver suppressing a slow boil. He looked at me. I looked at him. I felt scared and ashamed, and was proof positive of a double standard. White guys, sure enough, got their four free ounces for free. "I pay one dollah," blared the truck driver, pointing at me. "Reep off!" Jumping Jesus! I thought. I didn't rip off anybody. I paid a dollar and ten cents, the exact price. That's what the truck driver should pay. His anger was understandable, but I didn't feel he was entitled to pay a buck, to get an extra ten cents off, to demand reparations. "One dollah -- tirty cents," the attendant said. The truck driver was steamed. "One dollah," he snapped, imitating the Arab's broken English. The truck driver had an African accent, perhaps Nigerian. It was so strange, so telling, to watch this battle of accents. Imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery. "One dollah -- tirty cents," demanded the Arab. Pointing at me, he said, "He mah custumah regulah." The truck driver went ballistic. "Four ounces is free, four ounces is free! I weel not pay tirty cents for four ounces is free. I cull d'police!" The Arab, incredibly, scanned the line for support. I had the feeling he expected white people to rise up in his defense, considering they, by his judgment, were clever enough not to pay twenty cents for four free ounces of Coke, and black people were not. As though caught but nonetheless unapologetic, the Arab relented. "No police. One dollah -- ten cents." "Blast you, mun!" screamed the truck driver, throwing down the paper and the Coke, which surprisingly didn't shatter. Everyone in line put down his stuff and walked toward the door, toward me. I was nervous. My pulse raced. Feeling the need to defend myself by deflecting total and absolute blame to the Arab, I started to say something to the truck driver. "Nevuh mind, mun," he interrupted "It's freaking Saddam Hussein ovuh thuh. He hate d'African and d'Jew. He hate you, too, mun. See tat sign behint you?" I looked, and a chill came over me: SPECIAL TODAY: 20 OUNCE COKE & NEWSPAPER: $1 The truck driver tore the sign off the window, went outside and climbed into a reddish '87 Camaro. A white woman hopped into the tractor-trailer, fired it up and drove off. She had a kid with her, possibly her son. I wasn't sure what I had just seen but knew I didn't like it. I put down my paper and Coke and left without asking for my money back. Maybe that made the Arab the victor, and maybe what I left behind were the spoils. I don't know. I just know I respected the black man and would never again do business with this Arab merchant. I wondered if, by some decree, it was suddenly okay to lump in all Arabs with Saddam Hussein, conqueror of Kuwait, killer of Kurds and attacker of Israel. I decided it was not. We were, after all, aligned with the Egyptians and the Saudi Arabians on this one, and those people were Arabs. Nice Arabs. Later I called my mother. She told me there were good Arabs and bad Arabs, and that her best friend in college was an Arab. A good Arab. So, anyway, Ruthie later told me plenty of women drive trucks, and that I never should have assumed the black guy was a truck driver, and that I should pay more attention to signs, and that she knew a place that sold a paper and a Coke for ninety cents. "So effing typical," she said. "And I hope you don't indict the entire Arab-American community for this isolated, shameful incident." I promised her I would not.
IT WAS A THURSDAY MORNING (dreadfully early). I was having a war dream when the television, now tuned exclusively to CNN, began to annoy me. Unconsciously, I reached for the clicker but discovered it wasn't the TV that annoyed me, it was the telephone. It rang and rang, and there's nothing so shrill as a telephone ringing in the middle of the night. This was a most unusual occurrence, as most of my relatives are already dead. "Uh, hello?" A nasal voice that reminded my foggy mind of Lily Tomlin said, "Long distance for Mr. Potato Head. Collect call from Idaho for Mr. Potato Head." I knew no one in Idaho, I was not Mr. Potato Head, my number was unlisted, and I never gave it out. Not even to female pals. "It's Ruthie, Mr. Potato Head." Now happily groggy, I said, "How you is? And how'd you get my number -- not that I mind you have it." It was early, but I was touched. "The card," Ruthie said. "I have the card." "What card?" "The phone card, Brinny. I have the phone card." I am pained to describe the influence this woman had over me. What some might see as an act of thievery, I saw as an act of requited affection. Hell, petty theft has a certain romance to it. "Pretty nifty," I said in my unflappable voice. "Suppose I'll have to start destroying the carbons when you're around." There was a pause, a few seconds of dead air. Thinking time. And then it was electric, better than nicotine. The woman I met in the Smoking Room had a big-time crush on me. "That's why I'm calling. I think I want to be . . . around. Yep, that's it. I want to be around you," she proclaimed. "Am I allowed to say I miss you?" Yes! Yes! Yes! Of course! Dammit! Yes! I did a mental catapult. "Bien sur," I chimed, but then my memory kicked in. "What about the lawyer?" It is my editorial training that causes me to cut to the chase, to be skeptical. "Sixty days," Ruthie said. "Sixty days?" "Sixty days," she said again. "He's important, but I do not love him, and he does not love me. I'll need thirty-five days to plan, twenty days to summon the nerve, and five days to cry and argue and be alone." I cleared my throat. "Leading to what?" "Leading to us becoming divine friends -- in separate quarters, of course. Space, Brinny. I need the space. But there's something about you. It's like I know you and can feel you. Please don't be afraid, but I haven't felt an attraction like this since . . . hell, I've never felt an attraction like this. I stole the card and knew I'd call you at some godawful hour. I do such stuff. I'm in effing Idaho; it's two-effing-thirty. I can't sleep, and I usually sleep the minute my head hits the pillow. Do you want to become divine friends?" It was the no-brainer of all time. "The divinest," I said dreamily and with great relief. "Me, too. Bye, Brinny." Click. Charmed again by her sweet abruptness, I put down the phone and looked at the TV. A reporter wearing a gas mask was on live during a Scud missile attack in Israel. "There go the Patriots!" he screamed, and ducked. He was talking about missiles, and I was watching war in real time.
HOW OFTEN DOES A PLAN come together absolutely? Every once in a while I begin to miss a particular dish, a particular restaurant. I plan to go to the restaurant, and in fact go, but more often than not order something other than what I thought I missed. But missing something is what got me there, and just being there, I've come to learn, is the thing. You can't make a choice unless you go to the source of the choice, feel it out, discriminate, get comfy, think about it, think again, and finally take action. At least I think that's the way it works. Strange though it may sound, I did not seek Ruthie out on any of those sixty days. I did not want to give counsel. Nor did I want her to feel obligated to anyone other than herself. After all, wasn't that the problem? Two people feeling obligated but not loving each other? It was good enough -- in small ways -- to let her know I cared. That was easy; the hard part was staying away. I also did some minor behind-the-scenes caring, but that was for myself. At one in the morning I drove through sleet and drizzle to the Marriott Plaza Hotel. I told Carla, the midnight auditor, that though I admired her -- "You're tops" -- and though I respected her -- "What kind of guy do you think I am?" -- and though I enjoyed our passionate, inelegant romps -- "Is this illegal?" -- I now sought something more, something like love and commitment, something like sanity and stability in a relationship. "Can I come over and get my make-up kit?" Carla asked. Before I could answer, the switchboard phone rang. My memory is a little fuzzy, but the conversation went something like this: "Roger? Is that you, Roger Ramjet? Hi, Roger! Can you hang on a min. Uh, Brinny. Just throw it away, okay?" Carla dismissed me with a tired wave, and it was back to Roger and his delightful Ramjet. We, Ruthie and I, downscaled considerably. We used fewer words and gave each other knowing glances. Mixed with nicotine, that is powerful stuff. I did not quiz her. She did not update me. We saw one another only at work. I wanted very much to become divine friends, but decided I better not bank on it. "Shall we?" she said one day, after secretly dialing my extension. "We shall." So off we hauled -- two minutes apart -- to the Smoking Room. We smoked. We looked. We agreed that this would be the year the Cubs would finally win. That was the extent of our relationship, and the nebs never guessed we were silent somethings. Mike Cantor also was a famous smoker. He had taken to wearing tweed jackets, perhaps because of their implied sophistication. Odd. Mike began to look smarter than us all. Never underestimate the power of tweed, I thought. One day I picked up a copy of "Jane's Defense Weekly" he'd left behind. I saw it for what it was: a bone for the Bozos who thought a lucky guess was the same thing as military genius. Mike was smart like that. Most lawyers are. Because I mark down everything on my calendar, I knew the exact day the sixty days would expire. But since Uncle Sam destroyed Saddam Hussein's army in far less time than that, I had to change my viewing habits. How ironic, I thought. Waiting on Ruthie was going to be worse than sweating out a war. But I knew I could do it. Maybe Gorby would get overthrown in Moscow, and maybe CNN would once again keep me up around the clock. It was back to NBC. Back to Brokaw at six-thirty. The sixtieth day came and went without an announcement from Ruthie. She didn't even dial my extension. Thinking it might be too forward, too aggressive, too something, I didn't dial hers, either. I smoked alone. How often does a plan come together absolutely? Not too damned often, I thought. Later, I privately commiserated by making a pot of stifling-hot, beef-laden chili. It was my answer to chocolate. I fell asleep early. In the middle of the night I heard the TV, no the telephone, no the door buzzer. It was unusual for the door buzzer to ring at that hour, but it had happened before. My neighbor, Charlie the Cop, would get drunk and lock himself out. Since buzzing without looking is dangerous, I went to the door and peered into the outside entryway. No one was there, so I went back to bed. It was then I heard someone tapping on my window. Someone tapping and cackling. I threw back the blind, and in very poor light saw Charlie the Cop. "Brinny," he wailed, "I'm drunk and I can't get up!" Charlie fell back and laughed; it was funny because it was stupid. Typical cop hyperbole. Brrrr! I went outside and fetched him, and poured him back in his apartment. "Want a beer? I drank more beer than Glidden has paint!" he bragged. "Lucky nobody called the cops on me, those drunks!" "Goodnight, Charlie." I went back to my apartment -- and discovered I was not alone. "You know where I live?" "I know where you live." "And you know Charlie?" "I do not know Charlie; I knew Charlie would flop for the six-pack." I was in heaven. "Cute. Divinely cute." "I pay attention when people regale me," Ruthie said. The TV, mysteriously, was tuned to CNN, and I noticed a small suitcase on the floor. This would be the start of a long weekend, I hoped. "Physician's Luggage?" I asked. "Physician's Luggage," she smiled and said. And then this beautiful woman I had never even kissed winked and asked if I knew any parlor tricks. "Plenty."
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