As I said in the previous post my ex wife Brenda and I moved to Chicago about a year into our marriage and got jobs at the same publishing company. Sitting at my desk in the cubicle shared with the associate editor all I had to do to see my wife was to look up from my typewriter. Her desk was about 30 feet from mine.
A couple of weeks into our tenure a tall, girl with blond hair that hung down past her very well-formed posterior walked past my cubicle into the production department. Despite the fact that I loved my wife, and I did love my wife, when I laid eyes on Caroline a small voice in my head screamed, “I want THAT!”
As the fates would have it she was the managing editor for my wife’s magazine and the three of us became close friends. During the next couple of years there was an enormous amount of sexual tension between the three of us though nothing overt ever happened. Perhaps it was only in my mind.
One day in Florida, about a year after my wife and I split up, and about two years since I’d last seen Carey, I’d swallowed a couple of tabs of mescaline when the “clean the house bug” bit me. This was totally drug-induced since I’m the type inclined to hang my dirty clothes on the floor until it’s time to throw them into the washer. Culling through shoe boxes filled with old papers I came across a postcard Carey had sent to me and Brenda when she was vacationing in Spain. All the old memories came flooding back in a huge, erotic rush. In my drug-altered state I hurried to my typewriter. Since I was still freelancing at the time the machine was loaded with a roll of teletype paper that I used when doing my rough drafts. That way I could keep writing without having to change sheets of paper and ruin my concentration when I was on a roll. Those were the old days of real “cut and paste.”
I stood at my typewriter and all the old feelings for her came gushing forth and I ended up composing a 16 foot long, single spaced letter graphically detailing what I wanted to do to every square inch of her body. I ripped it off of the roll, put it into one of my business envelopes, slapped three stamps on it and dropped it in a mailbox.
Not surprisingly I never got a reply.
Two years after posting the letter, and by circumstances involving a midnight knock on my door by union thugs too convoluted and bizarre to go into here, I found myself back in Chicago for a couple of weeks waiting for a berth on a self-unloading ship that had been promised to me by the union that controlled the staffing of the dinner cruise boat I’d been working on in Fort Lauderdale. I was staying with an old college friend and, naturally, wondered if Carey was still in Chicago.
Naaah, she must have been married by this time but I dug out the local phone book nevertheless, and was stunned to find her listed and still at the same address where she’d been living when Brenda and I moved to Florida.
It took several hours to build up the courage to actually call her. She was home and seemed genuinely glad to hear from me. We agreed to get together the coming Saturday evening. The plan was to go out for dinner and perhaps take in some music and do some dancing which we both loved. But, she told me, she had moved recently and gave me her new address.
She was living near Diversey Harbor, at the edge of Lincoln Park. Her digs were on the 23rd floor of a new high-rise. When Carey opened her door I was stunned. She was as eye-catching as ever. Half German, half Finnish, she carries her Nordic heritage well. That long blond hair still spilled past her waist and her eyes were a deep, emerald green. She was wearing a diaphanous yellow dress and with the lighting behind her it was obvious she was wearing little else. It wasn’t the type of outfit one wears just to go out. I was sure I was going to get “lucky” this evening and live out the fantasies I’d built up about her over the years. I was right about not going out as she said she’d whipped up a little something for us there.
Besides Caroline, the view through her windows was also spectacular. Lakeshore Drive wound its way south into the city below us. To the left of all the bright white lights of the buildings and the red and white lights of the cars going into and out of the city Lake Michigan was a black blot.
I can’t remember what we had to eat that evening. I was just awed to be in her company again and the conversation of what each had been doing in the intervening years flowed easily. Around nine Carey excused herself to go to the bathroom. I got up from the dining room table and wandered around the living room looking at the pictures on her walls, the books in her bookshelves and then, on an end table between her couch and the floor-to-ceiling windows, I spotted IT.
There, next to the table lamp, was the thick envelope with my name and old address on it. I vaguely remember writing to her years before and out of curiosity I took out the long yellow sheet of paper and started to read. There is absolutely no way to describe how embarrassed I became reading that drug-induced missive. It was so graphic it would have made Larry Flint blush. With fingers that barely worked I refolded the letter, put it in the envelope and returned it to the end table.
When the object of my affections came back to the living room I mumbled something like “It’s sure been great to see you again,” gave her a peck on the cheek and I was out the door. Honest! I don’t know if I was more mortified by what I had written or by the fact that she had kept the damned thing. So, there I was, sitting on the bus at 9:30 on a Saturday night leaving the sexiest woman I knew and who had obvious had designs on my tender body that evening and was now headed back to a friend’s house where six dogs were waiting to wag their tails at my arrival. What an asshole!
Saturday’s fiasco gnawed at my psyche for several days. What must she think of me now? Though I was starting out on a life-changing career move, essentially I was still a writer, so I did what writers do best. I wrote a letter trying to explain my hasty departure. I hopped on the bus the next afternoon knowing she would be at work and went to her apartment building where I convinced the doorman that it was of the utmost urgency that he put my new letter in her mailbox. That time was of the essence and entrusting it to the U.S. Postal Service was not an option.
That evening at dinner time Carey called saying she understood completely and would I please come again the coming Saturday, an invitation I quickly accepted.
This time when I arrived she was dressed in blue jeans, a white peasant blouse with colorful flowers embroidered about the neck. Her thick flaxen hair was worn in a braid that fell down to her beautifully curved ass. Unlike our previous meeting it was obvious that she was wearing a bra this time.
We ordered a pizza and scarfed it down. Carey had hers with a bottle of a fairly decent Chianti and we shared a couple of joints. The evening swept by with laughter, reminiscences both shared and individual, and speculation on where our lives were headed. My time in Chicago would be over in less than two weeks and I hadn’t the slightest idea where the ship would to take me.
In the very wee hours of the morning, but shortly before sunrise, she asked if I’d ever heard of Dory Previn.
I admitted my abysmal knowledge of popular musical stars outside of The Beatles, Cat Stevens, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Fats Domino.
Carey, her green eyes looking searchingly into mine explained that Dory had been married to Andre and while institutionalized after a nervous breakdown and she started composing songs as a form of therapy.
“There’s one I want you to listen to,” she said. Rising sinuously and exhibiting the grace of the professional dancer she’d once been, she went to the turntable by the windows.
God, she looked so good there. Backlit by one of the world’s great cities and the soft golden hue from the candles scattered around the apartment I felt lucky to be in her presence and good graces.
The disc was already on the turntable. She turned it on, lowered the needle and came back and sat on the floor with her knees touching mine. She took my hands in hers and said, “I want you to really listen to the words of this song. Don’t say anything, please, just listen,” she said as the acoustic guitar intro filled the room. Then Dory began to sing in a lilting alto:
Would you care to stay till sunrise?
It’s completely your decision.
It’s just that going home is such a ride, such a ride.
Going home is such a ride
Going home is such a ride
Going home is such a low and lonely ride.
Would you hang your denim jacket near the poster by Picasso?
Do you sleep on the left side or the right? Or the right?
Would you mind if I leave on the light?
Would you mind if it isn’t too bright?
Now I need the window open
So if you happen to get chilly
There’s this coverlet my cousin hand crocheted, hand crocheted
Do you mind if the edges are frayed?
Would you like to unfasten my braid?
We fell into each other’s arms and clothing flew everywhere and we consummated our lust on the floor before ever moving to the bed as the eastern horizon of the lake was turning a light pink.
At Carey’s insistence I returned to Dennis’s, got my duffle bag and spent the next two weeks with her, calling the Union Hall in Detroit every couple of days until they told me a berth was available and I should be in Detroit in two days. Carey took the day off and we spent the next 48 hours naked and satiating ourselves.
After reporting to the union hall I went to the Coast Guard offices where I was issued a Z card which is required of everyone working on vessels of over 100 gross tons and returned to the hall. They wrote me a ticket and told me to meet the S.S. Consumer’s Power out behind Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge plant where I would sign on as an Ordinary Seaman.
Except for the year I spent teaching school a few years later, it was the worst job I ever had in my life.
The Consumer’s Power was what is known as a “self-unloader.” It is a creation of the iron ore fleet of the Great Lakes. Consumer’s Power delivered coal and rock salt around lakes Huron and Erie.
My place in this world of maritime commerce was to go into the holds with a shovel as they emptied and make sure every morsel of salt and lump of coal found its way off the ship. Underway I chipped paint and primed de-rusted areas. I ate and roomed with Abdul from Yemen.
I hated it and jumped ship, so to speak when we got back from a run to Canada two weeks after I came aboard. On the Lakes when you sign on to a ship you are there until the ice sets in and the ships are unable to move. I couldn’t see doing that until summer and fall deepened into arctic winter.
So, there I sat in Detroit with brown snow falling about me. The city air around the auto factories was so polluted that it was impossible for a pristine flake to make it all the way to the ground.
What was I to do now? The pay on the ship had been pretty good with overtime and I had close to two thousand bucks in my pocket. It wasn’t going to last forever, though. Should I go back to Fort Lauderdale and confront the union goons? Chances were I’d never run into them again. But should I take the chance?
What about Chicago? Carey and I had spent a glorious two weeks together saturated and satiated with sex. But was that the basis of a relationship? Who knows? I dug into my grimy jeans, fished out a quarter to call for a cab to take me to the bus station. I stared at it for a couple of minutes, brown flakes melting as they hit George Washington’s nose.
What the hell? Heads I go back home to Fort Lauderdale. Tails I’d take my chances in Chicago. I flipped the coin high in the air, caught it and slapped it down on the back of my hand. I sat there for quite a while before raising my hand to see what would become of my life.
It came up tails. To shorten this long tale, Carey and I had a tumultuous relationship for the next three years. Three times I asked her to marry me. Three times she said “No.” Three times I literally got on a boat and left. “Third time’s a charm,” they say and I’ve never been back to Chicago again. And if you might think I’m a bit hypocritical because I wouldn’t have returned to Chicago for Brenda, I was only there in the summers for those three years.