ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI
"Hello, Harry. Good seein' ya again. Come on in, take a load off your feet. Christ, it must be five, six years since I seen ya last. Man, we had us some good times together. Come on, sit. Want a beer? No, not beer. I remember, you like brandy and espresso. Well, I ain't got no espresso or brandy, but I can offer ya some instant coffee--it ain't too bad--and a shot of Jack Daniels. I ain't never opened it. Yes, sir, it sure is good to see ya, Harry. Let me put the water to boil and I'll have yer coffee in a jiffy, and just let me find the whiskey and we can have us a celebration of re-union. Yes, sir, I always say a man ought to celebrate when an old buddy comes by. I got some potato chips and green onion dip in the frig and if ya just make yerself at home, I'll just pop in the kitchen and get the water started. It ain't often I get visitors--and ya caught me at a good time; I ain't got to be to work for seventy-two hours. I tell ya, workin' on the railroad sure can be hell for a man's social life. Ya know I ain't been laid in over a month. Hell, who's got time? What with travelin' all the time and never knowin' whether yer gonna be in town for a few hours or a few days. Just a coupla months back I was down in New Orleans--and Harry, let me tell ya, I was rarin' to go.
I had me five-hundred dollars--all fifties and twenties and I was goin' to eat me one of them big fish dinners--even have a bottle of wine; well, there I was standin' all stinkin' and greasy with my overnight bag just 'bout to call me a taxi to take me to one of them fancy hotels down in the French Quarter, when the super come over and tells me there's a man out sick and I got to take his place; well, it just about broke my heart. And to think I had all that money and it was burnin' a hole in my pocket--why I even had me a phone number I got from a switchman I know up in Houston who said the gal was clean--can't be any too careful these days--was pretty, her price right, gave a right tolerable blow job--but, hell, that's life on the railroad and there ain't nothin' can be done about it--which reminds me of the time I was runnin' to Cheyenne and a couple buddies of mine decided to go into town. They was hungry, horny and just like me, a pocket full of cash--well they was walking across the street from the yards when this semi loaded with heavy machinery--well it comes right at them and--SMACKO! they gets killed, their bodies had to be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle. I tell ya, Harry, ya just never know in this life from one moment to the next what's gonna happen--just like yer comin'.
Hell, whodda ever thought we'd be seein' each other after all this time? And to think, we was good buddies and all and ya know sometimes when folks don't see each other they kinda grow distant; not us. Hell, ya sent all them postcards from all over. I learned me some geography lookin' in a big atlas every time I got one of yer cards. I got them some place around here, but I just can't remember right now. Ya gotta excuse this mess. I ain't got a woman to take care of this place when I'm gone, and when I do get back now and then--well, hell, I ain't in any mood to clean up or dust or any of them domestic thin's; no, I just get me a coupla sixpacks of brew, a big bag of potato chips, go down to the Chinese place next door and bring back some fried rice and sweet and sour pork ribs--hell--I can even eat with chopsticks, though I ain't too good--but I can eat as fast as any Chinaman--ya ought to see me go.
I even get me a pizza and have that with the ribs. Now if ya think that's a crazy combo, yer right; but there's somethin' about pizza and sweet and sour pork ribs and cold beer and a good t.v. show that just go together. Know what I mean? Just some kind of what they call af-finity. You like that word? Af-finity. Looked it up in the dictionary one night and, shit, Harry, I discovered there is an af-finity to everythin': coffee and cream, cunt and cock, water, fire, steam, love and hate, war and peace, heaven and hell, hot and cold, dark and light, top and bottom--sweet and sour--just like ribs. How 'bout that? The whole damn world's just one big af-finity. There's even af-finity between the two of us--that's why we been friends all this time and ya sendin' me all them postcards and all. Ya know I still got that picture ya sent of yerself on the deck of the ship ya took to Japan.
Did ya think I'd forgotten? Oh, that ship sure was pretty, beats travelin' by train--I got to take me a cruise some day, Harry, take me a cruise knowin' I can take my sweet time and if it takes me all year to get from London to Timbuctu--well hell--so be it. I got me such a tight schedule these days that I need a long vacation where I can sit around and watch the water. I guess I got me an af-finity with water. Why I almost joined the navy way back--but the army drafted my ass and I didn't see much water in Fort Riley, Kansas. Yes sir, take me a cruise and--hell--why don't we take one together? We could start out in New Orleans. I seen me a lot of ships down in the Gulf from all over the world and sometimes I just want to walk away from the railroad and become a seaman. Ya never knew that, did ya? Well, it's true.
I get me this hankerin' sometimes where I want to throw it all up, just walk away from the iron horse, the bosses, the schedules, this apartment--just git! Yes, sir, I would get me as far away on a ship--as far away as a man can go. But somethin' always holds me back; I keep thinkin' 'bout all the years I spent on the railroad--I'll get me a big pension--maybe it's not so important to hang on for that ol' pension. A lot of guys I knew kept dreamin' of the old rockin' chair and when they was retired their whole lives was changed: They got ornery, bored, some just sat around swappin' railroad stories making themselves out to be bigger than they was and some started hittin' the bottle and being drunk all the time. Hell, Harry, a man's liver don't work too well when he gets old and the kidneys got to pass all that booze--it just ain't healthy. I don't want that to happen to me. One of these days I'm gonna turn in my time card for the last time and take me a trip--maybe go to California, then over to Idaho.
They got sturgeon so big up in them Idaho lakes it takes a tractor to haul them out of the water. I sure would like hookin' one of them fish. I could eat all week and the next, and when that was all gone just bait my hook and catch me another. There's a lot of livin' to do yet; but I don't seem to be gettin' much of it--just miles and miles of tracks, the same towns, same faces, same routine. Now take a guy like yourself, Harry: Ya never took any shit from no one; never worried about no pension, dental plan and all that--why ya just lit out. Hell, I remember the day ya quit, said ya was goin' to Madagascar. Hell, nobody knew where that was, so I got me that atlas and looked it up and sure as shit I found it and couldn't believe anybody who didn't live there would know about it--but ya did. Now how in the hell a feller would know where such a place was is beyond my imagination. Just think, Madagascar, way out there in the Indian Ocean and someone I knew was there! Can ya beat that? Well, I showed everyone that postcard, why I even took my atlas on the train, and when I could, I tried to imagine what ya was adoin' and a thinkin'.
Why I even had ya humpin' half a dozen women one after the other and laughin' at us down at the roundhouse--ho, ho, boy did I work up my imagination: There ya was, Harry, all wet with sweat on account it's so humid there in Madagascar (I did me some readin' about that place) and the sweat just drippin' down and them women all a sweatin' too and ya goin' from one to the other and stickin' it to them just like the stud bull my daddy used to rent way back when I was a boy--yes sir, I had ya hoppin' and a humpin' and them women just beggin' for more and more, and I tell ya, Harry, sometimes I'd get so worked up I had to have a visit with Madam Fist and her five daughters.
Ya know, when a man reaches a certain age it's just got to naturally follow he ain't gonna get laid as often as he should--and what with me workin' the way I do--well I took account one day and ya know what I found? I found that I don't know anyone who don't work for the railroad and that's the God's truth; every last soul who I can count as friend is a railroad man.
"bout to eat no snake. Why I heard in some places snake is number one meat for folks. But not me,. Beef, pork, chicken, fish, ya know, the reg'lar thin's a man ought to eat--but I ain't such a fool to know that if there ain't nothin' but rattler meat to be had that I guess I'd sink my teeth into some. I've heard it said it tastes just like chicken--but then I wouldn't know. Just goes to show ya how little a man knows 'bout thin's. Why I bet there's a million pounds or more of snake meat crawlin' 'round the world and there's hungry people all over dyin' 'cause they got nothin' to eat. Now down in Texas, there's a place that has a rattlesnake roundup every year and then they slaughter the rattlers, skin 'em, then deep fry 'em--just like chicken--then have a rattlesnake eatin' contest.
I ain't never told no one 'bout that but ya--and if ya'd keep that confidential like--well I know I can trust ya, Harry. Maybe if I was married my life would be different; but ya know what, Harry? I never could find a woman who could understand me--not a one. So I gave up and just got me a whore now and then to keep my horn blunted. It's important for a man to have a good woman--trouble is I never found one. Most women I've met think givin' a man some poontang now and then entitles them to all sorts of privileges and attentions and gifts and goin' out to dinners and shows and if you're late or somethin' happens and ya got to be away for a while--well they just forget 'bout all the good thin's ya done for them before--so's I kinda got away from reg'lar women--if ya know what I mean. There's one gal down in El Paso; she's not much of a looker, but when I'm in town I look her up; we drink some beer, watch t.v. then we go to bed. Then, when it's time to go, I give her a little somethin'; she hugs me, kisses me goodbye and off I go--gonads feelin' good, my temper calm and ready for the road. What? Ya gotta go? Well I'm sorry ya can't stay longer. Shit, Harry, we was just gettin' warmed up. I could visit with ya longer. But I know, yer like me--the restless type. Sure, sure, I understand. Send me a postcard from where ya go next. Sure was swell seein' an old pal. Good luck and God bless--oh, one thin' more, Harry: Tell me, did ya really have all them women like I imagined ya did out there in Madagascar?"
le of which was a concert harp, a chair, a dash of white wine."
"Nonetheless, it was delicious. Ruth told me you have a freezer full of trout. You must be our-self."
Ruth turned from the sink, "Mom's a great fisherman--or woman--I should say," then returned
"Well, yes, we do a lot of fishing. I like to ours. But tell me, Mr. Durrell, what do you teach over at the Brawley school?"
"I have to admit that English literature was my worst subject in college. I congratulate you on sticking to it."
"And what is your field, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Not at all. I'm the manager and day ticket agent and baggage handler at the bus depot," she said, "not very exciting, but the pay is good, the work interesting and I have weekends off."