Sunday, September 6, 2015
I’ve been to Las Vegas three times since 1956 and two of those trips have been this year. In January of 2015 my hot and heavy romance with Jodi Flower got off to an unusual start but our baile del amor was progressing at as steamy a pace as I felt prudent. After all, accommodations have to be made when one is courting a comely body two time zones away.
In the previous eight months my little desert flower and I had managed to get together five times including our first unintentional momentous meeting. This trip marked planned rendezvous number five. Though our first January encounter had been an unplanned, chance meeting, in May she’d stayed a few days at my Midwestern home. She was taking a cross-country jaunt to her ex-husband’s house in Indianapolis and slept in my guest room. Fortunately the reason for her Indy visit had been to see her son, not her ex, and her initial stay with me went well enough for her to stop by on her westward return trip.
In August she’d flown into town and along with my daughter Shawn we’d raced the Camp Courageous triathlon together. Less than a week later she flew back to Rapida Cedro and had the dubious pleasure of meeting virtually my entire family during a fun filled weekend that included the whirl-wind wedding celebration of my son Maximillian and his lovely bride Jamie.
This trip it had been my turn to fly and one of the reasons for our get together was for me to meet her son, Cadence, who was to fly back to Indy on Tuesday.
During her second May visit we’d still been in the planning stages of my flying out to Vegas later in the summer for this more extended get together. When she’d told me of her great plan for Cadence and me to each fly to Vegas and spend time with her over the same ten day period I was hesitant. When she added, “It’ll be great! You, me, and my son exploring Yellowstone and The Grand Canyon. We’ll all bond and you two can wind up bosom buddies.”
I had looked from her eyes to her bosom and back to her eyes before saying. “Yeah. I’m sure that’s how it’ll go but who could resist your heartfelt persuasion?” An hour later I found myself booking my return flight for Tuesday, September eighth and I’d asked, “Tuesday? Doesn’t that mean he’ll miss a day of school?”
Jodi had laughed and said, “Do you really think that school starts the Tuesday after Labor Day? My Lord, John, Indianapolis schools start August third! Cadence is going to miss a whole week of school but it was the best I could work out with his father. The only good thing is that he’ll have been at school a solid four weeks before I yank him out.”
“August third?! But that’s crazy! My kids always started around the last week in August, not the first! Why, when I was in school we didn’t start until after Labor Day. Oh, Lord! Did I just say that? Now I feel like I’m a hundred years old!”
“Yep, Cadence’s school starts the first full week of August,” she said as she kissed me. “And you’re not old. School starts the twenty fourth here in Clark County too but not in Indianapolis. I think school’s always started before Labor Day for me.”
“Thanks, baby-cakes. You were doing okay trying to make me feel young until you threw in that last one. Way to make me feel better.”
“Suck it up, buttercup.” Her harsh response had been highly mitigated by her putting her hand underneath my shirt and scratching my back. “I’m really excited to show you Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. I can’t believe you’ve never seen them!”
“Technically I have seen the Grand Canyon. That trip I made out here when you were one? I remember us driving over Hoover Dam and then my dad pointing off to the left and saying, ‘And there’s the Grand Canyon,’ as we motored along on our way to Dallas. I’ve seen it, I just haven’t visited it.”
“Didn’t you tell me that he did the same thing with the Saint Louis Arch once?”
“Yeah, only more so. One day we drove to some college friend of his and as we drove by the arch he said, ‘That’s the Gateway Arch to the West. You’re not allowed to fly a plane underneath it.’ This was in 1968 so they’d just finished building it less than five years earlier. He didn’t mention the recent completion part but he did say we can’t fly under it because we all had airplanes? You got me! That was just Carl all over, God rest his soul. Great man but sometimes a little lacking.”
“Just like the rest of us, I suppose.”
“Yes, ma’am. You can say that again.”
Getting to know her son Cadence had proven to be a difficult task but after I’d managed to fall out of our boat while white water rafting in Montana’s Gallatin River and then surviving a nightmare rim to rim hike down into and back out of the Grand Canyon we had managed to bond. The kid, like my father, was pretty great but at the same time lacking. I guess that’s just part of the human condition.
Like nearly all mornings I enthusiastically greeted Sunday at a far earlier hour than most of the rest of the world liked to. Since my wife’s death on March 15, 2013 I have woken up in an empty bed all but twice. I’d arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday the 27th while Cadence didn’t arrive until late on the 29th. For two nights I’d shared a bed with Jodi but then she had insisted that I move my things to the spare room so that her son could sleep with her. “Really, the last thing we need to do is rub his nose in it, right? I love having you with me but we need to let Cadi ease into this.”
The worst part about her argument was how sound it was so I got the dinky full size while Cadence got to share the queen with my queen. Our first few days together he found ample opportunity to make his resentment obvious but I did my best to let him transition. Thankfully by the time we were headed back to Las Vegas we’d become buddies although I sure would have liked to put him in the guest room and have me back sleeping with Jodi.
Iowa had managed to have a lusciously cool summer with highs many days not climbing out of the seventies. Vegas’ overnight temps had barely dipped as low as Rapida Cedro’s high the day before but Jodi’s pint sized backyard patio felt comfortable in the predawn hours. Sipping coffee and gazing at the stars I felt relaxed and comfortable and just a little sorry for myself It had surprised me that even though she lived on a little side street in Winchester rather than Vegas proper only the brightest of stars were visible at a few minutes before five.
“Forty eight hours from now and I’ll be heading to the airport,” I said to the crickets. I’d been out enjoying the calm of early morning for nearly an hour when I heard the sliding glass door open, close, and then Jodi’s sweet voice say, “So here you are. I looked in for you in your little bed but it was empty.”
I raised an eyebrow before realizing that in the lowlight the gesture was likely lost on her and said, “We’re you going to give me a treat if you found me?”
“Probably not the kind you were hoping for, lover. I wanted to ask you if you wanted to attend Mass today? You do that, don’t you? It’s not something I usually do but I thought it would be a nice change.”
“Mass? As in church? Sure, that could be nice. What’s the occasion and what time?”
“I checked the schedule and they have seven services including starting at six. After that it’s every even hour until this evening.”
“They start at six in the morning? My Lord! How far away is the church?”
“Not very. Saint Anne’s is less than two miles from here. If you want we could cycle there. I’ve ridden by it hundreds of times.”
“Bike there? In Las Vegas? Wouldn’t we be soaked by the time we arrive?”
“Nope. Just lollygag and enjoy the morning and sweats really not a problem, especially if you want to hit the six a.m. Mass.”
“We could do that. Six a.m., huh? I’m going to tell you I have never been to church at six in the morning before.”
“Be adventurous, try something new.”
“Will it even be light out?”
“Oh, sure. There’s plenty of light to see by and we’ll have little blinkies so what few drivers there are can see us.”
“Little flashing head and taillights? You know! What do you call them?”
“I guess from now on I call them blinkies. So leave here when, five forty?”
“That would be perfect.”
“Yeah. Let’s do it. Ever since Easter and watching Jamie embrace her new faith I keep saying that I should go but really don’t seem to find the time. Sad statement since I have more time on my hands than just about anybody I know! Are you going to bring Cadence?”
“I should. When I said I don’t usually attend perhaps I should have said ever; at least not since moving to Las Vegas. I was actually thinking about him. Steven doesn’t expose our son to much in the way of spiritual so I thought I’d ask you and then check to see if he wants to go. It may be way too early in the morning for him. If he shows any sign of life I’ll ask him. Hang on and I’ll check,” she said excusing herself, slipping through the sliding door and going back into the house.
In Jodi’s absence I thought about church, God, religion and what they all have to do with one another. I’d spent the first six years of my life being educated, or as some might say “brainwashed,” into a church that was rigid and unforgiving and by the time the more embracing and forgiving Vatican II changes were in full swing I had turned nine. The reason for changes in liturgy and doctrine were completely over my head but the seeds of change had been planted and five years later when I started high school with a densely packed hormonal suitcase my nascent physical desires were doing a great job of supplanting the religious and moral instruction I had received earlier in life.
It wasn’t that I was wild, frothing at the mouth, girl crazy kind of an adolescent, it was just that I was an adolescent. By far the one area of Mother Church’s insistence on self-denial, mortification and self-control that stuck in my craw more than any other was in her push for chastity. By the time I’d graduated high school my religious faith had waned and remained rather dormant until Eileen gave birth to our son Max. Funny how having kids of our own makes a return to traditional values so appealing but it certainly seems so. Always a lot of young couples with children and old folks knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door at Mass.
My relationship with the church that Peter built has had its ups and downs for over four decades but I do enjoy attending Mass occasionally, with great emphasis on the adverb occasionally! I could count on my fingers the number of times I’d attended Mass since Eileen’s passing and four of those occasions had been for either a family funeral or wedding.
Jodi returned to her backyard with a cup of coffee in hand and sat in the patio chair next to me. “Well, he wasn’t thrilled with the idea but when I told him you were going he scowled, inhaled and said, ‘Five minutes, okay? Then I’ll get up.’ I think he really likes you.”
“He’s a great kid. I like him too. I think the sky is just starting to get light. What the hell time is it?” I asked, checking my watch. “Not quite five. I guess in another 45 minutes we really will be able to see, won’t we?”
She reached out and took my hand and we sat in amiable silence in the awakening dawn. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you and Cadence are getting along. I don’t see him much and when I do I want things to go well, you know? He met Mark once and called him a loser. To his face. I was so embarrassed.”
Chuckling I said, “I can imagine. Just confirms his good taste. And judgement. Uhm, not trying to over-turn any apple carts here but do you ever think about trying to get more visitation? Or custody? Sorry if that’s out of line.”
She squeezed my hand and said, “No, it’s not out of line. I think about it all the time but since the divorce my life hasn’t been very child centric? Child phile? Anyway, it hasn’t been the kind of stable home life I think he deserves and now that he started high school I just can’t imagine pulling him out of the home he’s known so long. I should see him more though.”
“So what holds you back? From seeing him more I mean?”
“Ha! Two things really; work and money!”
“Yeah, that whole work life balance thing can be a bitch but you live in Las Vegas; can’t you get tickets to Indianapolis for like a hundred bucks or so?”
She sighed. “Probably. And certainly for under two. But I think one or two hundred bucks is different for me than it is for you. And besides that’s just the beginning. Round-trip winds up being at least three hundred by the time I go both ways and pay fees and taxes. Then there’s the car rental and a hotel room. I wish I could but right now I just can’t swing a lot of trips.”
I was momentarily distracted when she’d said, ‘hotel room.’ I wasn’t sure where she’d stayed when she visited her son and ex-husband back in May and at that time I’d felt it a bit presumptuous to ask. I may not be the conservative Catholic my parents always wanted but I hated the thought of sharing my girl with her ex. It was good to get confirmation that that was not what was going on there.
“You know I could help, right? I mean, if you want to fly to Rapida Cedro we could drive over. It’s less than a six hour drive.”
“That’s sweet, John, it really is, but even if I do that I’d have to take off three days just to see him for one. Thanks, sweetie but I’ll have to work this out on my own.”
“Fair enough but one more thing before I let it drop, okay? That Rapida Cedro thing was me not thinking straight; me being selfish. I’d gladly spring for the airfare for you to get to Indianapolis and I could drive over and meet you. I’d have a car and you’d be my guest at a hotel so there wouldn’t be any extra expense that way. I know it’s still time away from work for you but we could stretch a three day get away into a lot of time with you and Cadence and I’d get the pleasure of your company. Just something to consider, alright?”
“That is the sweetest thing anyone has said to me in a long, long time. You have no idea how grateful I am for the offer but let’s table this for a while, okay? I need to get Cadence up and we need to get moving if we’re going to get to church on time.”
Standing up I took the hint and let it drop. “Okay, consider it tabled. I’m going to go shave and change and then maybe we can grab a quick bite before we go just to tide me over? I can spring for breakfast afterward if you’d like.”
“Deal,” she conceded, standing along with me. “Go get ready and I’ll get Sleeping Beauty up. Or should that be Rip Van Winkle?”
“Hmm. Not sure. Let’s go with Sleeping Beauty. Are there male characters that sleep without aging?”
“Can’t think of any,” she answered, offering her lips for a quick kiss. “We can Google it later if you want but for now we’ve got to move it move it, baby.”
I followed her into the house, locked the sliding glass door and made my way to the second bathroom while she slipped into the master bedroom and reawakened her slumbering progeny.
“Cadence my friend,” I said to myself, “we may be seeing more of each other in the not so distant future.”
Even though Jodi is an avid outdoors woman the cycling to church thing threw us for a little loop. She had a mountain bike, a triathlon bike, beach cruiser and a BMX bike she’d gleaned from Goodwill for Cadence to ride when he visited her. That meant that two of the three of us had bikes that fit either really well or at least satisfactorily so for our short little jaunt but it left me with the choice of riding either her pink beach cruiser or her lavender mountain bike. It wasn’t the colors that bothered me, it wasn’t even that I’d be on a woman’s bike. It was the size.
At five feet ten Jodi is not short. Of course, at a tad over six one I’m about five percent taller than she is and her tri and mountain bikes were set up in an aggressive, seat above handlebar manner. “Uh-huh,” I said when I saw her stable. “Looks like Cadence gets the BMX bike, you’ll ride the mountain bike and I get Molly Ringwald.”
“What?” Cadence asked.
“Molly Ringwald? ‘Pretty in Pink’? Really? You got nothing? What kind of education are you giving this kid?” I asked with a wink.
“Yes,” Jodi answered. “He should definitely know who Molly Ringwald is. After all, ‘Pretty in Pink,’ came out when I was his age. Ignore him, buddy. I think John’s had too much sun since he came out here.”
“Or watch it on NetFlix. It’s a fun movie.”
“Again, yes,” Jodi said. “Maybe later. Right now we need three bikes and as you said John you either get the mountain bike or my newly re-christened ‘Molly Ringwald.’ What’ll it be?”
“Oh, I’m all about the Molly. Let’s get some blinkies going and then we can lose this Popsicle joint.”
Cadence again looked at me, shook his head and said, “You are even stranger than I thought. I suppose you’re gonna make me wear a helmet?” he directed the question part to his mother.
“Good guess. John, I don’t have a helmet that’ll fit you so you’ll have to be extra careful.”
I self-edited a comment about putting a helmet on a soldier before going into battle –no sense ruffling Cadence’s feathers too much- and simply said, “Will do. Do I get a blinkie?”
“Good question. I have two white ones and two reds. How about I go first with one of the whites, Cadence follows with a red and you take rear with both a head and taillight.”
“Why does he get both?” Cadence asked.
“Because I ain’t got no helmet kid. We’ve gotta roll if you’re going to get me to the church on time. What about a lock?”
“There’s one in Molly’s basket. Follow me and we’ll be to the wizard’s in no time.”
“You are both really, really strange.”
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” I replied as we glided along enjoying the early morning twilight on the deserted street.
Two blocks into the ride Cadence said to me, “So what’s church like? I’ve never been before.”
“Yes you most certainly have!” Jodi exclaimed. “You were baptized and your father and I have taken you to church for Christmas. And Easter.”
“When?!” he asked.
“Plenty of times. When we were married. When you were a little boy.”
“Well you haven’t been married since I was in kindergarten. How do you expect me to remember that? Geeze, Mom, lighten up.”
“Just for the record we were not divorced while you were in kindergarten, we were separated. We didn’t divorce until you were six. July fifth, 2007; it was the closest I could get to Independence Day.”
“Funny, Mom. Real funny. So what’s church like?”
“Well,” I answered, “there’s a lot of ritual. The priest says something, we say something back. We stand, we kneel, we sit. Just follow my lead and you’ll do fine. Back when I was in my early twenties I once went with a friend of mine named Rob Goldberg to a Catholic Mass funeral. He did great until we all got up to get Communion; I told him he’d probably want to pass on that.”
“Why? What’s, what’s, what did you call it? Communion?”
“According to Catholics the priest has the power to take bread and water and transform them into the body and blood of Jesus and then we get to eat and drink and be one with his body. Rob wasn’t very Jewish, but he was Jewish. I didn’t think he’d appreciate the irony of him participating in that particular ceremony unawares. I probably won’t go up for Communion either because I haven’t been to confession in a long, long time so I’m not in a State of Grace.”
“Ha!” I laughed. “Do what I do, and follow along in your book. I’ll show you how. There’s even a cheat sheet because about five years ago or so they changed some of those ritual words around and old guys like me tend to say the old version. It’s easy; just do what I do, okay?”
“Okay. Do you really think that you’re eating somebody’s body and drinking his blood when you go to church?”
“Well, I’m not much of a Fundamentalist and I’m certainly not the kind of guy who thinks that the Bible is the literal word of God but what matters to me is that we’re respectful, you know? Just because I don’t see things the exact same way as somebody else that doesn’t mean I can’t respect the other guy’s opinions and beliefs. Right”
“Okay, chatty Cathies,” Jodi said, “We turn left on St. Louis and then church is another three blocks on the right.
The parking lot was far fuller than I expected at so early of an hour and Jodi had us park our bikes at the Saint Anne’s School bike rack where she locked them. As Cadence stood off to the side waiting she whispered to me, “Not bad, Powell. It’s almost like you’ve had practice being a dad before.”
I smiled at her and said, “Working on 47 years, cumulative, that is. Can I count Jamie now?”
“I think you only get to count the years since Max was born, sorry.”
“No worries. As I just got through explaining to your son what matters is that we’re respectful of one another, not that we see eye to eye on everything.”
“Are you calling me an egotist?” I answered with a smile.
“Better check the other definition too, sweet heart. Come on,” she added as she finished locking the bikes. “We don’t want to be late.”
We gathered hymnals and cheat sheets in St. Anne’s vestibule and then entered the church proper. I dipped my hand into the holy water and crossed myself and Cadence tried to follow suit, slapping his forehead and chest. I winked at Jodi who shrugged.
I’m old so I still genuflect before entering a pew. Cadence made a face and did his best to do what I did but Jodi simply sat. The service was nice, I nudged Cadence when it was time to stand or kneel and he was a real sport about following along. When the congregation got up to receive Communion I got up as well but only to make it easier for other parishioners to file by me. Cadence started to follow the line to the altar but I whispered to him, “Remember my friend Rob? This is what I was talking about.”
He nodded sagely and we sat back down. Our positions got changed and now I was sandwiched between him and Jodi where before he’d been the carne in our taco. Mass was ending and at its conclusion the priest asked Eucharistic Ministers who would be delivering the Body of Christ to those unable to attend Mass to step forward. Half a dozen benevolent souls filed to the altar at this request and received tiny metal containers that held the consecrated Host. Sitting where I was Jodi and Cadence heard my little sob and looked at me to make sure I was alright. I held up my hand to indicate that I was and we followed out after the priest.
Back at the bicycles Jodi said, “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I responded. “It was that bit at the end. You know how I said I’m not much of a believer? Well my old man was and towards the end one of his greatest pleasures was receiving the Eucharist. Nice folks just like those half dozen people would visit him at my sister’s house, in the hospital or at hospice and give him the Bread of Life that he wanted so badly. Just brought back memories, that’s all.”
Jodi and Cadence looked at one another and then at me. Nobody said anything but we got back on our bikes and headed to Jodi’s. I was thinking how as humans we make far too much of our differences of belief rather than focusing on the 99% that most of us have in common. That and my father.
“Hey!” I hollered to lighten the mood. “Let’s get something to eat. I’m hungry.”