The supermodel clutched Sam’s arm as they entered the auditorium. “Sam, these tickets are so hard to get. How did you do it?”
Sam Redman smiled at his date. “I’m a high roller, sweetie. They comp me the tickets.”
They walked to front-row seats as patrons whispered their admiration and, yes, jealousy. Sam made sure his date was seated and looked around at the sell-out crowd before assuming his place of honor. His date crossed her legs, causing Sam to gag on his Mentos.
The curtains opened and the featured act walked across the stage, Tony Orlando and Dawn. Tony Orlando? The clock radio pierced Sam’s nocturnal reverie with a rendition of ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon.’ He sat up from bed and looked over at his sleeping wife, Lana, who was, no doubt, draped on Barry Manilow’s arm in her dream. Six a.m. Time to get up for work.
He switched off the radio, opened one slat of the blinds and examined the overcast morning. A sparrow hopped from limb to limb. A jogger gasped for breath, laboring along the sidewalk. One of Mrs. Shultz’s calicos skulked to Lana’s garden, sniffed the flowers, and crapped on a Petunia.
He gasped and glanced at his wife. Her smile and odd stoking of Sam’s pillow assured him she was unaware of the indignity suffered by her Grandiflora. He dressed, went downstairs, grabbed his iPad, raincoat, and a Pop Tart, and headed out the door to catch his train.
His neighbor, Mrs. Shultz, was pulling weeds from her garden. Her KEEP OUT placard warned away human and animal alike. I should write ‘Crazy Old Bat’ underneath that sign. As he pressed the UNLOCK button on his key chain, she raised her head at the beep-beep, spotted Sam and waved her trowel in a token attempt at greeting. He nodded, thought over the atrocity visited on Lana’s flora, slammed the door and walked to his neighbor. “Mrs. Shultz, your calico relieved himself on Lana’s Petunia.”
She brushed dirt from her hands, stared at Lana’s garden, and shrugged. “I can’t put pants on my cats. He was just doing what comes naturally.”
“Listen…Lucy. She takes pride in her garden. It’s not a public restroom.”
She stood, adjusted her housedress and shook her finger at Sam. “It’s Lucinda…not Lucy.” She looked at Lana’s garden. “Those are ugly flowers anyway.”
A gasp from the front door. Lana. “Ugly flowers? You old crone. I’ll make sure to dump some on your grave.”
Silence as they took in Lana’s wrath and watched her slam the door. “That was harsh. What’s up with her?” asked Lucinda. Sam considered an impromptu trowel-based colonoscopy on his neighbor, but instead turned and headed for his car. He stopped, did a one-eighty, walked to her Hybrid Tea Rose, unzipped and relieved himself. He re-zipped, saluted Mrs. Shultz, and moonwalked towards his car. He turned towards the house and saw Lana peeking through the shades, and returning a thumbs-up.
Sam was semi-retired, but commuted every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to Philly to pick up extra cash and stay out of Lana’s hair. This Monday morning, he positioned himself at the stopping point and slid into the train when the doors whooshed open. He took out his iPad and retrieved his memoir.
The train moved forward. Sam took advantage of no seatmate by tossing his raincoat onto the empty spot. A huffing red-faced man slid into the seat, landing on the garment. “Is this seat taken?” he managed between breaths.
Sam tugged on his coat and the man obliged by lifting one cheek to allow Sam to reclaim it. “It’s all yours,” Sam said.
The man grunted a thanks and stared at the screen. “Working on the train. A good use of time, I guess. I’d rather converse with my fellow laborers as we are hurled into the concrete pit.”
Smiling politely, Sam resumed his writing.
“Whatja typing? That doesn’t look like business?”
Sam tilted the iPad to show his screen. “I’m writing a memoir. It passes the time.”
The man leaned closer, a nose-length away from the screen. “What’s it about?”
Sam sat back and sighed. “I’m laying out my South Jersey adventures.”
The man studied Sam and held out a hand bearing a business card. “Harry P. Walker here. Accountant to the near-famous. You know, I have a million stories myself. Do you want to hear a few?”
Sam took the card and accepted a clammy handshake. “Sam Redman. Investment Analyst,” he replied, handing over his card.
Now how do I escape this guy? “Oops, here’s my stop. It was nice meeting you.” Sam exited at the station twelve blocks from his office. Harry P. Walker waved as the doors closed and the train lunged further into Center City. Sam entered the daylight, jumped in a cab and looked around. Crap, I forgot my coat.
He arrived at the train on Tuesday morning, damp from the off-and-on showers. He had called PATCO earlier; no turned-in London Fog. He slid into his seat and continued his writing.
“Hey, there’s Sam,” a voice called out. Sam turned to see Harry gasping and holding a brown paper bag.
“I have something for you, buddy.” He slid into the adjacent seat, reached into a paper bag, and pulled Sam’s coat. He shook it out hitting the passenger in front of him with the sash. “Here you go. None the worse for wear.”
Sam accepted it and looked at a dried red mark. “Oh, that must have been from my meatball parm last night,” Harry P. Walker said. “One minute.” He scratched the mark with a dirty, lethal-length fingernail. “All better.”
“Thanks…Harry, is it?” Sam responded.
“Harry P. Walker, Sam” He craned his neck to examine the iPad. “Still working on the memoir, I see.”
Sam folded his coat and placed it on his lap under the iPad He turned the Air towards Harry. “Yep, making good progress.”
“What’s it about again?”
“It’s an account of my experiences.” He studied his interviewer and sighed. “For example, I have this neighbor, Mrs. Shultz. One mean lady. She’s got seven cats and lets them roam freely to defecate, primarily on our lawn.”
Harry lurched back with a force causing the commuter behind to utter a “Damn” as his laptop lid closed. “She sounds like a real pain in the ass,” Harry said, looking around. “There are some real nuts out there.”
Sam resumed typing.
“My current pain in the drain is an old high school flame who spotted me in Center City,” Harry said. “Now she thinks its karma that we found each other again.” He laughed. “It wasn’t karma. I just couldn’t slip away before she saw me.”
“Oh, here’s my stop again,” Sam said, pointing to a sign announcing the station he left from yesterday. “Thanks again for returning my coat.” He scrambled from the seat and stood rigid at the door awaiting his escape into the city.
“Norma Winkler,” Harry shouted.
Sam puzzled at this as other riders went silent. “She’s my Mrs. Shultz,” said Harry. “I guess we’re all saddled with people we can’t get rid of.”
Waving his hands in an empty gesture of empathy, Sam stepped off the train and climbed the stairs. Harry waved as the train headed towards Sam’s station. Sam put on his coat and reached into the pocket hoping his Dunkin’s card survived Harry’s safekeeping. He withdrew a crumpled sandwich wrapper oozing tomato sauce—and Harry’s business card.
Wednesday morning. Sam reached his car when a shrill voice made him drop his keys. “Hey, Redman…..I mean, Sam.” He turned and saw Mrs. Shultz adjusting her housecoat and walking towards him. What now? He retrieved his keys from that crevice automakers design to hold lint, leaves, and petrified French fries. He wiped a sticky substance from them as he stood.
His Teutonic neighbor closed the nape of her gown and looked around. “Sam, did you see a mysterious man driving around this morning? He slowed when he drove past. Then he came back again. It was creepy.”
Sam shook his head. “Sorry, Mrs. Shultz….Lucinda. I didn’t see anyone. I just left the house. If you see him again, call the cops.”
Three tabbies approached. They rubbed Sam’s pant legs causing fur and wet grass to cling to his Haggars. “They like you, Sam. You can pet them if you want.” Sam bent to stroke one. The feline spit and scratched his hand. He stood and glared at Lucinda as he wiped the bloody mark with a tissue. “You have to be gentle with them, Sam.”
He nodded to Lucinda after deciding not to choke her. “I have to leave, Lucinda. Call the cops if you see the man again.” He drove away to catch his train.
He flopped onto his seat and looked at the inches-long scratch. It stopped bleeding but stung. Dabbing with his tissue, he continued his memoir. Shultz and the cats get a special place of honor today.
“Whoa, Sam” boomed through the car. Harry swung into the adjoining seat. “Boy, I almost missed the train today,” he gasped. “And I’m sweating like a pig.” He studied the screen as he wiped his forehead with a Wawa napkin. “You’re writing about Mrs. Shultz. You’re right. She’s a nut job, looking through the blinds and shaking her fist.”
“You know Mrs. Shultz?”
“I drove by today. I got your address off the Internet and I wanted to see this woman first hand.”
The mysterious driver.
“Look, Harry. We’re just two guys riding into the city every day. You don’t need to be concerned about my problems.”
“Sam, it’s my pleasure to help in any way I can. We’re all members of this global village and need to watch out for each other.” He waved his arms. “Take Norma Winkler. The woman chats me up every day. I can’t shake her.” He leaned towards Sam, almost making nose-to-nose contact. “If only a friend would talk to her, let her know I’m not interested, I’m sure she’d go away and pick on someone else.”
Sam glanced out the window. His bailout station had just passed. “I missed my stop. I have to get off here.”
Harry clapped. “Perfect! This is my stop too. I’ll point out Norma to you.”
Sighing, Sam powered off and they left the train. Walking up the exit stairs, Harry looked around. “Where’s Norma today? Jeez, the one day I want to see her.”
At ground level, Sam checked his watch. “Well, gotta go now.” He waved at Harry, who seemed to be scanning for his stalker, and walked away.
“It’s the other way, Sam. You’re heading away from the last stop.”
Crap. I have to walk that way and circle back when he doesn’t see me. He signaled thanks and started away. After a block, he turned to find Harry still watching him. Sam slid behind a newsstand and looked back. A woman had one arm on Harry’s shoulder as she spoke loud enough to cause passersby to stare. The two walked off together. Harry looked back but Sam, pretending not to see, waited until he could change direction and go to his job.
Leafing through the paper, this Thursday morning, he chomped into a sweet role and smiled. I’m glad I only work three days. No Harry until Monday. He picked up his extra–large Columbian and ambled to the open front door. Scanning his horizon, he appreciated the majesty of birds in flight, taut female joggers hoping to lose those stubborn six ounces, and, Oh God, Mrs. Shultz brandishing her trowel. He offered a Queen of England wave and hoped for the best.
“Sam. Gotta minute? I saw that man again this morning.”
Damn Harry! He haunts me even on my days off. He trudged over to his neighbor. “Did you call the cops?” he asked.
“I didn’t have a chance. He sped off when he saw me running out and shaking my rolling pin.” She started to close her gown but instead turned towards the street searching.
Oh, my God, she’s commando. Take me now, God.
She turned back to Sam. “Tomorrow, I carry my gun. He’s going to be one dead pervert.”
“Now you don’t want to be shooting people, Lucinda. Give it a few days and see if he doesn’t just go away. Maybe he’s had his thrills.”
She closed her robe. “Hmmm. Maybe he couldn’t resist. I guess I’ll have to dress more conservatively.”
“I’m sure that’s it. Don’t give him a free show, Lucinda. He’s only human.”
Lucinda sashayed away, swinging what she’s got. Sam returned to his house and was met by Lana. “Sam, what the hell. Were you hitting on Mrs. Shultz?”
Friday morning was uneventful. Lucinda labored in her garden, Lana went grocery shopping, and Sam raked his lawn. After lunching on a microwaved hot dog, he went to his home office and checked his business email. He waded through meeting notices and status reports. Bubbling to the top was an email from Harry titled Norma Winkler.
Crap. Sam debated whether to skip it. It will be harmless to read through, I guess. As it opened, a message flashed: ‘Return receipt has been sent to originator.’ Darn it. Now he knows I read it. In the email, Harry listed Norma’s home phone and address and business phone and address. Her picture was attached. The last line shouted MY MRS. SHULTZ, and was signed ‘Your friend, Harry.’
Monday morning. Sam wolfed down part of a sausage biscuit and walked to his car. Mrs. Shultz was nowhere in sight. Her brood of cats, meowing and scratching her door, spotted Sam and rumbled towards him. He tried shooing them but they returned in force. He tossed the sandwich a few feet from the car and jumped in as they swarmed to the meal. I wonder where their mistress is.
Sam lunged into the train before it left the station. Harry was already seated. “Hey, Sam,” he shouted and waved him over. Sam considered ignoring him, but felt a social need to obey. Harry patted the adjacent seat. “Did you get my email about Norma? She won’t give me a day of peace.”
“Harry, what do you want me to do? If she’s stalking you, call the police.”
Harry whistled as he thought this over. “No. She might really come unhinged then. Plus we have a high school reunion coming up. I don’t want to be dodging a butter knife all night.” He leaned towards Sam. “Can’t you just talk to her?” he said. “I’ll introduce you two. You can offer to meet to give her financial advice.”
“I don’t know, Harry. This seems creepy. Plus, why would she accept financial advice from someone she just met.”
“I’ve been talking you up, Sam; my friend, the financial wizard.” He put his hand on Sam’s. “Look, I took care of Mrs. Shultz, didn’t I?”
“What about Mrs. Shultz? What did you do?”
Harry laughed. “Let’s just say she won’t bother you anymore. She’s indisposed.”
“If you’ve done anything to her, I’ll call the cops.” Sam removed Harry’s hand. “You just can’t abduct people.”
“Now Sam, really. One of her cats jumped into my car. The tags gave Lucinda’s address and phone. I called her when I got home.” He grinned. “She came over and we had a stiff drink and a lovely conversation. She must have been tired because she nodded off. Don’t worry, I’ll drop her back home tonight.” Pointing to the station sign, he continued. “Oh, here’s our stop, Sam. I’d like you to meet my friend Norma.”
The men climbed into the sunlight, walked towards the Powers building, and entered the lobby. Harry looked around. “I normally see her by now.”
“Well, I gotta go, Harry,” Sam said. “Make sure Mrs. Shultz gets home ok.”
As he navigated the revolving door, a young woman entered. She waved and shouted “Harry, I almost missed you.” Sam glanced at Harry who met Sam’s eyes and pointed to the woman. Oh, boy. Sam re-entered the lobby.
Harry and Norma hugged until he could break free and wave Sam over. “Norma, this is Sam Redman, my financial analyst friend and fellow commuter. Sam, this is Norma.”
She turned to Sam, studying him. “Norma Winkler,” she said, extending a hand. She nodded towards Harry. “I’m Harry’s girlfriend. Do you believe it, we dated in high school, and after all these years we meet in Center City.”
“Glad to meet you,” said Sam. He looked at Harry and back at Norma. What now?
Harry pointed to the office directory. “Walker Accounting, second floor. Let’s all get acquainted.”
Harry stood before his modest office, dwarfish compared to the corporate suites adjacent. He removed Norma’s arm from his and placed it onto Sam’s, unlocked the door, switched the lights and motioned them to sit. “You two chat while I brew some coffee.”
Geez. He turned to Norma. “So Norma, you work in the city?”
She punched his arm. “Of course, silly. I’m a law clerk. Actually, I’m on the seventh floor.” She pointed to Harry who focused on placing the filter in the coffee maker. “The same building as Harry, yet I only spotted him a few weeks ago. It’s karma, I tell you.”
The clock ticked like a slow stream of raindrops overflowing a gutter. Harry put steaming cups in front of Sam and Norma, and tossed sugar packets, creamers, and stirrers onto the desk. He slid into his chair. “So, Sam. Tell Norma about your work.”
Sam shifted and considered a mad rush for the door. Darn it…Mrs. Shultz. “I work for Amalgamated Equity Trust. It’s a part time job really. Monitoring accounts, preparing reports, pretty boring stuff.”
Harry waved his pencil, conducting the orchestra. “Norma, my friend is being humble. He’s a wiz at investments.” He leaned forward. “Maybe you two can discuss over lunch. I’m busy myself so just meet without me.”
You bastard. Sam smiled at Norma. “I’m free at noon. Is Market Deli OK? It’s a few blocks from here.”
“It’s a date!” Norma replied.
Norma and Sam joined the line snaking from Market Deli. Office mates greeted Sam as they passed. Norma waved to each, excited by the attention Sam drew. As they reached the open door, half inside, half outside, Sam spoke up. “You know, Norma, Harry’s fond of you but he’s a busy guy. He may not have time for a relationship right now. It’s probably not my place— having just met you—but maybe you can give him some space. I don’t know, maybe find someone who can give you the attention you deserve.”
“Are you hitting on me, Sam?” She said loud enough to cause diners and staff to look over. “You’re a married man.”
Sam felt hot, likely from the glare of those within earshot. The two were next to be seated. The hefty hostess looked at his hands and spotted his wedding ring. She swatted Sam with the menu. “Keep to your wife, you creep.” She looked around for an empty table, then back to Sam and Norma. “Table for two?”
They sat at a table near the back. It didn’t matter, all eyes were on them. “Norma, I’m just saying, give Harry some space. He feels a bit pressured by you. Let him be. You deserve someone who can give you his full attention.”
Norma stared into Sam’s eyes. “I hear you loud and clear.”
Sam entered the Tuesday, nine a.m. train and slid next to a college kid studying a Physics textbook. No Harry in sight, he closed his eyes and relaxed. “Hey, Sam. There’s my pal.” Two fingers stabbed him in the arm. I can’t escape this guy.
“Harry,” Sam said. He glanced around. “Pretty crowded today.”
The student stood. “This is my stop. I’ll let you sit with your friend.” Sam nodded, accepting the continuation of his karma.
Sam slid over while Harry lunged into the empty seat. “Sam, you did it. Norma called and said she needed her space.” He poked him again. “I’m a free man.” They emerged from the train and scanned for Norma. Sam waved goodbye to Harry and took the normal circular route to his office.
Wednesday. My last day this week. Maybe life will go back to normal…I hope. Sam walked to his car. A whistling Mrs. Shultz hurried over. “Sam, I met your friend, Harry. He is very charming. We had a nice talk. I’ll keep my cats out of your garden from now on.” She tippy-toed and whispered in his ear. “I must have had one drink too many. I woke up in his apartment.” She giggled. “I hope he didn’t take advantage of me.”
Sam fumbled with his keys. “Well, gotta go.”
Finding an empty seat in the train, he awaited Harry. A stranger swung a leg into the seat.
“Hold it there, buddy. My friend is saving that seat for me.” Oh no. Norma waved a hand brushing the man back. “Find a different seat.” The man mumbled an OK and continued his search. Norma sat and grinned at Sam. “This is comfy cozy.”
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