This is the second half of a file of Patrick’s called FSU plus.rtf. The first half describes my mom, her pregnancy with me, and the prospects for their future together. I’ll share that another time, painful though it is.
“Can you walk? Can you talk? You’re hired!” Dan tilted his head back, eyes shut against the column of smoke from his Lucky Strike; the ash was ready to fall any second. He shoved a manila folder across the table.
Francis flipped open the folder. Ten color eight-by-tens of babies and tots. Samples from Rainbow Studios,Chicago. You wonder how housewives in Orange County, Florida trusted the photographer.
One hour earlier, Francis was hitching rides on state highway 50, on his way from Cocoa Beach to Winter Park, where a wife and three kids waited from him. It was Monday, and over the weekend he was playing bass in the Satellite Inn with Paula’s Trio. Paula, a redhead married to Sam, her manager, was having a fling with the alto saxophonist, Derrick. Derrick was an Englishman who, who knows how, lived in Melbourne. Sam had a good idea what was happening, but he paid very little to Derrick, and good musicians didn’t grow in the orange groves, so he pretended not to have an inkling.
A maroon Pontiac pulled onto the verge.
“Where to, buddy?” The driver was a small guy in a Hawaiian shirt, blue eyes, faded blonde hair slicked back.
“I can drop you at Fairbanks and 17-92. Got to make a couple of stops, though. Jump in.” He reached across and threw open the passenger door.
“Name’s Dan.” He stuck out his hand.
“Francis. Thanks. Not too much traffic at this time of the day.”
Dan put the Pontiac in gear and spun gravel behind as he cut back onto the asphalt.
After a couple of miles, he turned off the highway into an urbanization, winding up and down the residential area.
“Where you coming from?”
“Working at Canaveral?”
“Nope. Playing in a club. The guys from Canaveral party a lot from Fridays.”
“Francis held out his hand and tilted it back and forth. “So so. Better the nothing, let’s say.”
“There’s Coop.” Dan pulled over and a guy with lots of wavy gray hair got in the back seat. “Coop, meet Francis.” Coop grunted, and leaned back, lighting up.
“How’d it go, Coop?”
“Fifteen, and two eyeballs.”
“Not bad. I thought the neighborhood would be OK. Lots of trikes and bikes in the yard.”
“Yeah, there were plenty of flags, all right.”
Dan turned onto the highway again and sped up to sixty miles per hour. Half a mile later, he cut off to the left, entering another tract of houses.
“Looks like more money around here,” Coop said.
“Never know. Bigger mortgage, smaller pocketbook. That’s my experience.”
A pedestrian waved to them from a couple of blocks ahead.
“Looks like Johnny didn’t get very far from where I set him down three hours ago. Ten to one he found a lonesome lady in the first block.”
“Guy’s got no resistance, Dan. Don’t know how his old lady puts up with him.”
“If she knows. Johnny’s still young and plenty of spunk.”
Coop: “Let’s have a beer at The Barn. I’ll buy.”
“Good thing, Coop. For sure Johnny won’t have more than 3 bucks – if she didn’t get her ticket free.” This from Dan.
“What’s her name Johnny?”
Johnny turned lightly red in the cheeks. “Actually, it’s Ruthie. Cherokee, she said. Works at Rexall’s up the road.”
“Well, if she scalped you, it must be where it don’t show.”
Dan nearly choked laughing around the butt in his mouth.
“it’s OK. Maybe she kept his wig wam…”
The Barn was a joint like the name implied. Outside painted red, a Mail Pouch sign painted on the side. “Square dancing on Saturdays” announced a poster on the swinging doors. They occupied a trestle table, benches attached.
“Bring us a pitcher,” Dan told the waitress. “And don’t pay any attention to Romeo here. He ain’t paying. He spent all he got with a Indian.”
“What is it exactly you guys do?”
“Baby pictures,” Dan told him.
“Baby pictures? I don’t see a camera.”
“They sell the appointments. One free eight-by-ten for three bucks.
I get an overwrite of two bucks from the company, they keep the three. If they don’t do something stupid like take an eyeball,” Dan answered, glancing at Coop.
“Zero deposit on the ticket. Half of them ain’t home when the photographer shows up.”
“Fifty percent is better than nothing,” from Coop.
The pitcher was passed around.
“Tell it to Jimmy when he shows up and nobody’s home, or hubby tells him to get lost. Cheers.”
“I don’t get it. How does the company make anything on the deal?”
“The proof-passer. He comes round later with thirty-five proofs, a full roll of film. Takes a will of iron for folks to turn down cute shots of their kids.”
Dan lit up another Lucky and looked at Francis. “How much did you pick up in Cocoa Beach for the weekend?”
“Fifty bucks and two suppers. Stayed free in the hotel.”
“Coop, what’s your take for the day?”
“Like I said, it was a lousy day. Forty-five dollars and two eyeballs, so maybe fifty-one, if they work out.”
“Sound interesting, Francis? I need another guy in the field.”
“I’m not a salesman, Dan. Never tried it.”
“The marks sell themselves. Nothing to it. Johnny’ll show you how.”
When Francis hesitated, Dan said, “Can you walk…”
For Francis, it was a real tough time.
“Tell me about it,” quipped Dan. “Never met anybody recently who wasn’t knee-deep in shit. My line of business, what else?”
“Come on, I’m interested. Tell me about it. You said you was a school teacher? I thought that was a lifetime on easy street.”
They sat at the counter of the Rexall drugstore waiting for Johnny and Coop to show up. They were on their third refill of black coffee. Dan had a coughing fit and stubbed out his cigarette. When the fit was over, he lit up another and sipped at the coffee.
“A wise kid kicked me in the balls when I told him to sit down and shut up. I punched him in the mouth. His front tooth on the floor, the tendon of my index finger slashed to the bone. When I came back after surgery in the hospital a couple days later, they had to let me go. Seems the kid’s father is a big shot in the garbage business, which maybe means he’s in the mafia, or so they tell me. Name of Goldoni, so could be. Anyway, out I go. When I leave the parking lot, the tie rods on my Studebaker let go and she’s totaled on a telephone pole.”
“If that ain’t the way. Things happen in bundles.”
“That’s not the end of it. I was moonlighting as proofreader for the Sentinel, on the six to twelve shift. Couldn’t keep my eyes open half the time. Up at seven to go to the school. Home at one a.m. Weekends also moonlighting in Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, Vero Beach.”
Dan whistled through his teeth. “What did you need with all that money?”
“You kidding? Three hundred dollars a month before taxes for teaching. Ninety dollars rent, cheapest you can find for a family of five.”
“One boy, two girls. What with doctor bills, food, gas for the guzzler, never made it to the end of the month.”
“Sounds tough, all right. I have the feeling you will hustle out there in the field, sell some photos. My boss is gonna love you – not to mention me for the overwrite.”
Wait. That’s not all. After being dumped from the Sentinel, I’m home at night, and I notice my wife is spending a lot of time with our boarder, which I didn’t really catch on to before. An old buddy from college, divorced his wife. Sleeps in the Florida room. Which happens to be where she works on her art projects.”
“Same old story. Saw it coming.”
“Well I’m not one hundred per cent sure, you know. But I am kind of stressed out, as you might guess. So I’m in bed sort of waiting for her to show up for a little comfort, and when she does it’s past two in the morning and I pop her one. Never before in my life hit a woman. Nothing serious, a little nosebleed. But it does nothing for what’s left of our relationship. We already had a lot of what you might call encounters of the loud voice kind, and this was the camel’s back. So the boarder moves out.”
“Who was helping with the bills, right.”
“You got it. Now it’s no car, no job, if you don’t count the bass job, which doesn’t add up to much at the end of the day. No boarder. Nothing to sell. No possibility of teaching in the county. And so it goes.”
“Hey, you do it right, Rainbow Studios will sort out your problems. At least the financial end. Believe me. If you bang on enough doors, you can do three hundred a week, easy. Just keep moving, don ‘t pull Johnny’s tricks with the ladies – and believe me, they are out there waiting for a little adventure, and you can get a second-hand car in a month.”
“Yeah? And then?”
“And then… I’m thinking of heading back to Indiana, where I come from. With a car, you can have your own crew. Keep on canvassing, get the overwrite for three or four guys. It could be real sweet. Might not help with your wife. But at least you can eat and feed the kids, pay the rent.”
Coop showed up then, ordered a coffee, and ten minutes later, Johnny came in.
“Hey Ruthie. Give me a coffee with cream and a donut.” He gave her a wink and sat down. “Not bad, huh?” He said. “Look at that woman. She must pour that uniform on every morning.”
Dan was right. Two months into the job, Francis – by now dubbed Frank by his co-workers, was pulling down enough to keep things under control back on the home front. And when his neighbor across the street finished overhauling a black Buick 88 he had picked up at a police auction, Frank paid cash for it.
But as it turned out, he didn’t get a crew right away, since Dan had decided to wait till spring to move back north. Still,Frank could drive to the coast on weekends and keep his chops up playing in Paula’s trio. Plus the new vehicle attracted ladies on the loose like honey attracts ants, and soon they were crawling all over him, easing up his conjugal anguish more than somewhat. He never let it get in the way of selling, only picking up waitresses and shop girls out to lunch.
Johnny’s wife had dumped him and headed back to Georgia, so Johnny took off after her, which is how Ruthie was the first babe to introduce Frank to extramarital joy. They had it on one morning before she went to work, while an encyclopedia salesman prowled around the living room, obviously miffed at being out-maneuvered, though he was still there when Frank check out and went out to the field to knock on other doors.
He met with Dan before staking claim to a neighborhood, just to keep from messing up his plans. But Frank knew Orange County backwards and forwards, and with his own car took on condominiums for young couples and new housing developments up toward Apopka.
Yes, it ends this abruptly in the file. The story sounds mostly autobiographical, except for the “pop her one” and maybe some of the trysts.
Patrick Meadows 1934 – 2017.