Friday, July 31, 2009

The Dreamers Chapter 6 of 47

Chapter 6 The Dreamers

I woke up the next morning feeling pretty good. I must have talked myself to sleep. That was a night I hope to forget real soon. I jumped out of bed and cracked the bedroom door open a little. I could hear Gus and Mary talking down in the kitchen. I grabbed my things and ran down to the bathroom in only my underwear. I quickly shaved and showered, dressed, and went down stairs.

Mary had breakfast waiting. She had placed boxes of cereal on the table: Wheaties, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and Rice Chex were the selections of the day. She had prepared a small plate with buttered toast and English Muffins. Mary set a jar of strawberry preserves off to one side. A bowl with the required compliment of eating hardware were set at my and Mary's places. Gus was just having his usual coffee.

"Bill," Mary spoke as she saw me enter the kitchen, "I hope you don't mind cold cereal this morning? I must get down to the church right away and help with the spring cleaning of the Fellowship Hall. Our Ladies' Auxiliary is in charge and it wouldn't look good for the Chairwoman to be late, now would it?"

"Mary, this will be plenty," I reply. "It's almost too late to be eating too much for breakfast. This is great. Usually what my Grandmother puts out for me anyway. Grandpa always had to have his Kellogg's Corn Flakes."

"Gus said to let you sleep in a little," Mary continued. "He felt your trip may have had you a little tired out. That is a lot of driving to come all the way out here from Chicago in only 36 hours."

Gus immediately looked over the top of his newspaper right into my eyes and gave me this big Cheshire cat grin. He knew it wasn't the drive that had me freaking out last night; right up there is All American Bob's bed. How embarrassing. Come on Gus, speak to me and break the ice, I thought. You caught me all right.

"Come on Bill, sit down and eat," said Gus finally. "We've got to get to the ballpark on time. It would not be good to keep Red waiting on your first day. We've got alotta things ta do and alotta people to meet. Step on it, will ya?" Gus was still smiling that big grin.

"Say, if we can't find Dr. Freud, will Dr. Ruth do," said Gus starting to laugh?

"No, Gus, sorry to disappoint you," I replied, "but I don't have a problem in THAT area. Maybe you could set up a couch in YOUR office and make a few extra bucks. God knows we ball players can afford it NOW!"

"What's going on here," said Mary jumping into the conversation. "You leave the boy alone and let him eat his breakfast. You're both gonna be late you keep this up."

I started eating a piece of toast as I poured Wheaties into my bowl. I was glad to get out of that. Last night was funny, though, I think? Mary and I finished eating, cleared the table and made our way to our cars. The sky was partly cloudy with temperatures in what felt like the high 60's. Gus had warned me how it could be in New England in the spring or in the fall. It could be near 70 one day and snow the next. Gus quoted someone, he forgot who, who said, "If you don't like the weather, just wait a day". Who ever it was he could have been a weatherman for Channel 9 in Chicago. The wind off Lake Michigan can cool down a body as well.

We arrived at the ball park at ten minutes to ten. There were a lot of cars in the small fenced parking lot next to the entryway to the ballpark marked "Authorized Personnel Only". There was an old man. Maybe seventy or eighty years old sitting on a stool reading a paper. He was wearing a Monarch cap and didn't have much to do today. As we pulled up he squinted to see into the car and checked out the passengers. The sun was coming right off the hood directly into his face. He was forced to use the paper to shield his eyes.

"Hey, Jocko, It's me, Gus, and Billy Alan, The new player you wanted to meet." said Gus very loudly. Jocko must not hear to well, either, I thought.

"Hey, Gus," yelled Jocko back. "Good to see you." Jocko reached into the car to shake my hand. "Good to make your acquaintance Mr. Alan," said Jocko. Obviously he felt like he was meeting some celebrity or something.

"Jocko," I said, "please call me Bill and it's nice to meet you. Can I trust you to take good care of my car?" Gus and I got out of the car with the motor running, but in Park. I reached over the seat and snatched a small athletic bag from the rear seat.

"You bet, Bill," said Jocko with a big smile. "I'll take good care of your wheels. Don't worry about it. We run'em out of here if they get too sloppy."

"Jocko, between you and me, you can let any pretty ones hang around a while if you want." I gave him a little nudge with my elbow and a wink. He smiled a small smile back.

"Gotcha covered, Bill, you and Gus have a good day," answered Jocko. He quickly moved into the driver's seat and went to find a suitable parking spot for my wagon. "I'll see you guys later," he shouted out the window.

Gus turned to see who was behind us. "That's Jon Tavy. California boy if there ever was one," said Gus sarcastically. "He has a hard time finding room for his uniforms with all his clothes and hairspray crowding up his locker. What a waste that guy is," continued Gus shaking his head. "This makes his third year he will have been here, his last, no doubt unless he gets with the program and moves up to Triple A quickly," finished Gus with great disgust in his voice.

"Stay away from him," offered Gus. "I got it in my mind he is nottin but trouble waitin to happen. Booze, women, poor attitude, what ever. He's just some rich professor's kid from USC. Thinks he's God's gift to the world, I guess," finished Gus.

There was nothing for me to say at this point. We stood and watched Tavy pull his car up and wait for Jocko to come back. We started walking into the player’s entrance under the stadium stands.

"Come on Gus," I said trying to get his mind on something else. "Forget about him if he is just going to get you worked up. It's not worth it. Life's too short to spend it being aggravated. Let's get on inside. I'm anxious to get started with my new career." Gus snapped out of it and walked into the entrance. Our eyes met.

"You're right," said Gus. "Let's accentuate the positive, not the negative on your first day. Let's get to the tack at hand. Where would you like to go? Hall of Fame? Or, would you like to make a brief stop in New York first?"

"Well, Gus," I replied. "I'd settle for a trip to the men's room, if that's alright with you? I need to take a leak real bad. Let's get moving, O.K?"

With that said we move into the clubhouse area located under the stands on the third base side of home plate. We traveled down a cement block hallway which branched off into a "T". The right went down toward first base and the visitor’s clubhouse area. The left hall way went down to the Yankees' areas. This is the area where I first met Gus my first night into town. We both stood in the hall way for a brief moment.

"This is where it all begins, Kid," said Gus. "Let's go stir things up a bit. Just remember you are the equal of any jock in this place. Don't be intimidated by anyone or anything. Everything will fall into place, believe me."

"O.K. Gus, let's do it," I reply. We surged down the hall way and burst through the double doors entering the locker room foyer area.

Red Dodge was standing in the middle of the room with most of the players in the room listening, hanging on every word he said. As Gus and I entered the room Red stopped speaking. Everyone turned to see who the intruders were.

"Hey Gus," yelled Red. "You and Bill come on over here." We did as we were instructed. We moved to the center of the room near Red.

"This gentleman with Gus is Bill Alan, Boys, high school phenom from Chicago-land. God knows we could use some real talent around here after last season. Bill's is a good, young, ballplayer. I don't want any of you giving him a bunch of crap. That goes double for you Bolton. He can use all your help in just getting settled. Some real team work would be appreciated. Understood!"

Everyone seemed to nod and mumble some form of agreement. I looked around the room. Jack Meyers, another pitcher, smiled and winked at me. Dave Bolton, our catcher, gave me a mean look at first, and then it melted into a warm smile as he made his way into the center of the room. He reached out toward me to shake hands. I extended mine, but Bolton never broke stride as he walked right passed me, brushed his hand right through the side of his hair and went to a chair behind me and took a seat, all in one smooth motion. Everyone started laughing, first the players, then Gus, then me, and lastly Red. I had to admit it was a great fake. Red just left the room shaking his head. The players led by Jack Meyers came to my rescue.

"Bill, Jack Meyers, glad to meet you," he said warmly. "Forget about Bolton. He's brain-dead anyway. He pulls that gag on every new guy that comes in here."

Bolton now forces his way through the group, finally getting to the front. He extends his hand again.

"Please have mercy on me, Masta," says Bolton in a pitiful Southern accent. He pauses as he raises a finger to the temple area of his head as his eyes scan the ceiling as if in some deep thought. "Ya see," he continues, "I only have an I.Q. of...," Bolton pauses again as a voice from the back of the room shouts out, "That's it Dave right beside your head!"

Dave pulls his finger from the side of his head and looks at it. He studies it for a moment, a moment too long.

"One, Bolton, an I.Q. of one," shouts the voice. The room breaks out into laughter. A grin breaks out on Bolton's face as well, and then he starts laughing.

Through the din of laughter Dave speaks as he taps me on the arm. "Hope you didn't mind me having a little fun at your expense," he asks. "It's tough trying to be as funny as our pitching staff was last year, right Jack?" Dave turns and looks to Jack Meyers with a big grin on his face. There was, unfortunately, too much truth hidden in that smile.

"Sure Bolton," Jack shot back, "we were just trying to give you some practice, some opportunities to throw out at least one runner trying to steal a base last year. We wasted a whole year trying to work with you and this is the thanks we get, cheap sarcasm? There will be no more help for you this year." It was all Jack could do to keep from giving it up in a smile. Voices from the back of the room kept taking turns lobbing insults at Meyers.

"Only double-digit ERA in the league last year," shouted one voice.

"Highest percentage of base runners to runs scored in the league," shouted another.

"Set back the art of pitching one-hundred years," said someone else.

"So bad, your Mama stopped comin to the park," laughed Ross Jones, the teams fleet-footed Center Fielder. Jones led the League with stolen bases with 85, and the team in hitting with a .310 average. He was only back here with the Monarchs because of his broken leg in the off-season and they wanted to bring him along slowly. If by the end of April he seemed healthy he would be promoted, maybe even to New York. The New York club had the slowest and oldest outfield in the Eastern Division last year. Also, being from Brooklyn wouldn't hurt his chances either.

By now everyone was feeling pretty loose and comfortable, even me. Each player took his turn at a personal introduction:

Mike Adams was the second baseman. An excellent fielder with a good hit and run bat. A very steady player. Just pencil his name in the line up and he was ready to go.

Reggie Bond, our black power hitter who played Right Field. Reggie was a Preacher's son from Mobile. Biggest player I had ever seen, six foot-six inches and 250 pounds of pure muscle. He shook my hand while standing in only is jock-strip. He had more muscles in more places than I had ever seen before.

He looked like he could have come from the NFL. He had the biggest smile full of perfect, white teeth that seemed to stretch the full width of the room. Reggie had a big year last season with 42 homeruns and 131 runs batted in but hit only .244. If he could maintain those production numbers and get his average up to near .280 he would be in the show pronto.

"Glad to have you with us," said Reggie. "With you here maybe we won't have to score 9 or 10 runs a game like last year. Seems like some times we could never score enough runs. Even with a lead going into the ninth I was always nervous. I hear you may just be able to do something about that!"

"Nice to meet you Reg," I replied. "I never played on a loosing team before, so I hope I can contribute to a winning season here. Maybe some time we can go have some dinner and you can fill me in on this team and the league."

"Sure thing, man," said Reggie. "You got it. Stay loose; I'll catch your act later, dig?"

"No problem," I replied. "Any time." Reggie walked back to his locker.
Scott Andrews, the Madison shortstop, was over talking to Gus and pointing to his left wrist. Gus motioned for me to come on over.

"Bill, I want you to meet Scott Andrews, our Shortstop," said Gus. We shook hand and briefly conversed how he had sprained his wrist doing some work on his Dad's farm in Missouri. He and his wife Marilyn and spent the entire off season there trying to help his family keep from loosing the farm. The previous year's flood had devastated their crop and they needed a good year to get them selves back on track. Scott and his wife were expecting their first child in July. You could tell by the way he talked about his wife and her condition he was eagerly awaiting his chance at fatherhood.

"I hear you have quite a challenge a head of you, Bill," said Scott. "Trying to play third base and be a starting pitcher will be quite a challenge, a first in this league I think. Kind of like having two careers."

"I know it will be quite a challenge," I reply. "I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life, and with concentration and commitment I'm going to do my best to pull it off. I may not make the all-star team, but I won't be a bust either."

I let Scott know right then and there that this was not some publicity stunt trying to just attract fans to come out to the park. If everyone was as committed to doing their job, we could have one heck of a season. This could work out for everybody, and, bring success to a team that could surely use some.

"Bill, I didn't mean to imply that you couldn't do it," replied Scott, "only that it would be quite a task. I didn't mean to sound insulting or imply you would fail."

"That's O.K.," I replied. "I just want everyone to know this is no joke, that's all. I'll see you at infield practice in a little bit."

With that said we both headed back to our lockers to finish getting dressed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Dreamers Chapter 5 of 47

Chapter 5 The Dreamers

After supper Gus and I helped Mary clear the table then left to go meet Red Dodge, the Manager. We were leaving a little early, but I could tell that Gus did not like to keep people waiting, especially his boss and manager. I made a mental note of that fact.

Red lived in what looked like a new condo-development on the west side of town near the interstate. It was an attractive building done in gray double 4 1/2 vinyl siding with white trim. There was a small overhang over the porch area with a beautiful sculptured wooded front door stained a dark walnut, almost inviting you to come closer for a better look. There were some dried flowers of bright yellow, orange, and brown hung on a nail just below three small panes of glass near the top of the door. Gus moved ahead and rang the door bell.

"Don't be nervous," offered Gus. "You'll like ol Red. Great guy." The door came open.

It had to be Mrs. Dodge, a very tall, thin woman, well over six feet tall. Her hair was balled up into a bun at the crown of her head. She was so prim and proper looking, almost like a School Marm. No, she looked like a skinnier and taller Mrs. Olsen from the Little House on the Prairie TV show.

"Come in Mr. Lollar," she announced. "Have a seat. Red will be with you shortly." That was all she said. Not, how are you Gus. Who is this fine gentleman with you, Gus? Could I get you something to drink? She said absolutely nothing else and left the room.

"Don't worry about her," said Gus. "I should have warned you on the way over here in the car before we got here. Nothin to worry 'bout though." Red entered the room with a big smile on his face and an outstretched hand.

"Good to meet you Mr. Bill Alan," said Red genuinely. "I'm glad ol, a what’s his name, here, brought you by tonight so we could get acquainted." After Red shook my hand he took his fist and gave Gus a shot in the shoulder. You could sense immediately the affection and genuine friendship Red and Gus felt for one another.

"What would you guys like to drink," asked Red. "You're usual Scotch and water, Gus? Gus nodded. "How about you Bill?"

"Coke or Seven-Up will be fine," I replied. I was waiting to hear how alcohol dulls the senses and how he was glad to see me not drinking alcohol. But, then I realized I probably wouldn't hear that kind of a lecture from either Red or Gus. This was no longer high school. I would be responsible for what I do and my performance on and off the baseball field.

This was not kindergarten. I was now on my own and would be in complete control of my life from now on, much more than ever before. No supervision, no baby sitting. It was now time to be a stand-up-guy. It is up to me to make and stay a member of this ball club. Red and Gus will help all they can, but it is really up to me. I started to feel a little scared for the first time. Stupid, self-doubt. Red handed me and Gus our drinks, snapping me out of my daydreaming.

"Bill, I first want to welcome you to the Monarchs," began Red. "You may become a little overwhelmed at first, but just try to relax. There will be no need for you to try and win us the pennant on your first few days here. From the reports we have and the film we have seen, we're all impressed already. My job is to help you feel comfortable in this new environment, get you adjusted to playing games almost every day, and help you reach your full potential. The season is long, the food on the road lousy, and the long bus rides the worst. But trust me, if you want to make it to the "show", it will be worth the inconveniences. Gus and I will do all we can to make it happen for you. Who knows, maybe along the way we might even win our own pennant," said Red with a smile.

I got a good feeling from Red. His experience showed in the fatherly way in which he spoke to me. I had hoped his reputation for a hot temper was only partially true. I had hoped that like most tales, the actual events were smaller than the tall tales being told. Time would tell, but for now, it was enough that my first impression was a favorable one.

"Bill," Gus interjected, "Red is the finest baseball man I've been associated with in all my thirty-plus years in this game. If you have any talent, which we believe you do, Red will help mold you into a great baseball player. When you leave this team you will know how to really place this game the Monarch way, the aggressive way, the intelligent way. Billy Martin played under Red and Billy got more out of his limited ability than anyone could'uv. You'll see. Just trust ol Red's judgment and work hard. The best you have will come out."

"I appreciate what both of you are doing and are going to help me do," I said. "I'm very serious about this game of baseball and the opportunity being presented to me. There is nothing I love more than this game of baseball, a boy's game, now being played by men for huge sums of money. I almost feel guilty about how much money the Monarchs have paid me to play this game for them, a game I'd probably be playing for nothing somewhere. The money is not my primary motivation, although I do like a buck as much as the next guy."

I'll give you all I've got," I add, "one hundred and ten percent, every at bat, every pitch, every ground ball, every out. I am a little apprehensive about making the jump from high school to Class AA ball, but you must think I have a shot or I wouldn't be here. I hope we all have a lot of fun this summer. I'm planning on it."

Red looked at Gus and started to chuckle.

"Looks like we have a junior politician in our midst," said Red. "That's a very good speech, Mr. Alan. Did Gus help you with that? Naw, couldn't uv. Not enough New Yawk in it."

Gus started chuckling, as well. Maybe I was a little long winded.

"I'm sorry Red," I reply. "I didn't mean to sound so...” and Red cut me off.

"Bill, don't worry about it," said Red. "We're just having a little fun at your expense. I know how serious you are about this game. We checked out your "head" as well as your physical ability. We knew what we were getting when we invested in you. You should adjust easier than most. Your old high school coach, Dick Dolan, indicated you had the best work ethic of any kid he ever coached in over forty years. He said you were the best not only in motivation, but in desire and ability. It takes more than just skill to make it to the "show". Every guy you play against and with will have great natural ability. But, those who work harder, stay in better shape and condition, pushing it in the weight room, fielding hundreds of ground balls when others are in the shower, they are the ones who make it. You can not be a primadonna and make it at these levels. It just doesn't work that way," concluded Red with great conviction in his voice.

I had the feeling that Red was trying to prepare me for something that few were really prepared for. At least he could always say he warned me. No, that is not either Red or Gus's way of doing things. They would be taking the bow or the blame along with their players they try to develop. These were not the finger-pointing type. They lived and died with their players and for their players.

They were trying to improve the entire organization. Their Class AA position was an important one along the way in providing New York with new talent. If you were good enough to make it to AA, you had a chance to make it with the big club. I realized that this stop here might be the most important step along my way to becoming a New York Monarch.

"Bill, be at the ballpark by nine-thirty tomorrow morning," said Red. "Gus will help you finish settle in. I'll take you around the facilities when you're ready. I think you'll be amazed at some of the technology we have at our disposal at this level. Most of it can be used on your own and at your own pace. Dick Berg is our technology Guru, an ex-Monarch prospect himself. He got as far as Columbus 'til he tore up his knee. He was probably as dedicated as you are now. He can be a big help to you. You two should get along well. I think he is from the Midwest too, Iowa or Nebraska I think. Anyway, tomorrow the fun starts. Our first game is on Friday night, a three-game home stand against the Providence Pirates. Let's toast. To our success, gentleman!"

We lifted our glasses. As they say for the Olympics: Let the Games Begin.


I couldn't sleep at all Sunday night. I was tired all right, and the bed was certainly comfortable, but my mind was racing at 200 miles per hour. Jumping from one thought to the next, and never staying long enough to come to a conclusion on any one idea. What if I swing and miss at every pitch in batting practice tomorrow? What if I can't find the strike zone or even home plate when it is my turn to pitch? I can envision every ground ball going right through my legs. No! That's impossible. The ones I do catch I'll just throw the ball into the stands over the first baseman's head. Oh my God. This is nuts. I really belong here. I must belong here or I wouldn't BE here. There is no need to start packing yet. No need to leave in the still of the night. No need to make up some lame excuse about some sick relative who needs my help. No need to believe the team would never even miss me. No need to call Gloria at home and explain my insecurities to her. She wouldn't understand any of this. Or, would she? She had a hard time understanding Bob Lollar's dilemma. She would never understand MY running away. This is crazy. I've got to stop this nonsense. I'M NOT GOING ANYWHERE! I AM NOT GOING ANYWHERE! That's better. Calm down. Get a grip. My mind began starting to slow down.

"Hey, Bill, you all right in there," asked Gus as he quietly tapped on the door.

"Ya, Gus, I'm O.K., just ...a...night mare I guess. I'll be all right now. Thanks," I reply. Shoot, I think to my self. He probably heard me talking to myself and thinks I'm a basket case.

"Well, good night Bill," said Gus. "Just relax and get some sleep. Don't worry about tomorrow. You'll do just fine. Sleep tight."

With that said I heard Gus shuffle off down the hallway and close the door to his and Mary's room. Easy for him to say "relax" I thought to my self. The Monarchs weren't paying him a half a million dollars just for showing up, and a guaranteed salary of $3.7 million over the next three years. I WAS feeling the pressure already and I hadn't even stepped onto the playing field yet. That's what the money does to you. You try and play up to the money and not your ability. I have the talent to make it. I know it. Gus is right. No point in worrying about it. It's just like Red said: "Don't try to do it all in one day". Stay within myself, do what I can do, don't try and be something I am not. Every player knows that is good advice. It's making that happen that is the difficult part.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Dreamers Chapter 4 of 47

Chapter 4 The Dreamers

On the way home from church I informed the Lollars that I had invited Gloria out for some ice cream later that afternoon. They both fully approved. I could tell by the warm, loving smile that Mary gave Gus, and the way his cheeks kind of flushed as I made the announcement. I was some how getting the feeling that there was some master plan being fulfilled. I hadn't been given the chance to review this plan, even though I seemed to be playing a major part. It was becoming clear that if I got off course I would be given corrective directions. Match making can be dangerous. I learned that from high school either being the match-maker or being matched up. Boy, there were some disasters!

When we got home Gus immediately went up stairs to put on some more comfortable clothes. All during church Gus kept tugging at his shirt collar and tie as many blue-collar men are known to do with ill-fitting clothing. The way I first saw Gus dressed, worn navy blue knit slacks, navy blue knit golf shirt with MONARCHS embroidered over the front breast pocket, and black leather coaches shoes, the kind with the deep horizontal rubber grooved soles. The outfit was topped off with an official cap and glossy nylon jacket. This was the official Gus Lollar tuxedo.

Gus came back down stairs as I sat reading the rest of the Sunday paper while Mary was in the kitchen preparing the salads for our dinner. Gus went into the kitchen and made a phone call while standing in my line of view, next to the kitchen table.

"Hey Red, how are ya," said Gus to the Monarch’s Manager. "What ya got planned for this afternoon?"

There seemed to be a long period of silence as Red filled Gus in on his plans.

"Well, what I had in mind was ta bring Billy Alan over ta meet ya. He just got into town yesterdee. Nice kid, Red. Bigger than I thought. I'm real excited about him, Red. I think we got ourselves a winner here." Another period of silence ensued.

"Just a minute, I'll ask him," said Gus as he put the phone done on the kitchen table and came into the living room.

"Bill, Red Dodge would like to meet you 'round eight ta night. Would that be O.K. with you?"

"Sure, Gus, I'll look forward to it," I replied.

Gus went back into the kitchen and finished his conversation with Red. I could make out that they were talking about the Monarchs loss yesterday, obviously concerned about the young season already.

Gus and Red talked about the possible movement up of players in the system and were concerned that as players moved to New York from Albany to Columbus that a number of players from our club could move up as well. They both felt that this could happen before the month of April was over.

It became obvious that minor league managers not only are supposed to win games, but are constantly loosing their better players to the next higher club in the farm system. And, the worse the parent club was the faster this movement takes place. This is good for the players, but a problem for managers. What started off as a nice, quiet Sunday with the Lollars was going to become a very interesting and eventful day.

Sunday dinner with Gus and Mary was very enjoyable. They were such nice people. I felt like I was at home having dinner with my Grandparents. I felt so comfortable here in their home. They told so many stories about Bob and Becky, how they never fought or argued and seemed to support each other in all that they did. Mary felt it was because they were born only a year apart and that neither one had a chance to grow up spoiled and learned to share from the beginning.

Mary beamed about Becky's academic accomplishments and Gus seemed to have endless stories of Bob's last second heroics to win games for East High. They were very proud and loving parents. Every kid should be so lucky, I thought.

We finished dinner and helped Mary clear the table, load the dishwasher, and then took our coffee into the living room. Mary put her coffee on her table/floor lamp and took up shop in her rocking chair.

"Oh Bill," said Mary, "I just remembered, I promised to get you Gloria's phone number and address."

Mary went into the kitchen and came back with the information written on a small piece of paper.

"Why don't you go and give her a call and see what she is up to. They should be finished with dinner by now." Mary prodded. "Why don't you go down to the study to call? It'll be more private." Mary gave a little smile that only a match-maker could muster.

"Down the hall there past the piano, first door on the right," Mary instructed. "Go on now, don't keep the girl waiting.

I took Mary's advice and went down to the study and made the call. Gloria was home and had just finished the dishes. She said she could be ready in half an hour. I said I'd be there on time if I didn't get lost.

"I'm looking to seeing you, Gloria," I said. "You can decide where we go for ice cream. I'll let you lead the way." With that, we said our goodbyes. I felt very pleased with myself. I had a date with GLORIA!

Gloria's house was easy to get to. Just go past the church, take the first right onto Main St. and then a second right onto Mulland Parkway. It was really a dead end street with a large, grassy, curbed area down the center. Gloria lived in the third house from the end on the right. It was a square, salt-box style house, two story, and white with pale blue shutters. Flower boxes hung under the twin windows on each side of the front door. There was a wooden wishing-well in the middle of the front lawn, with a bird bath up closer to the house. The grass was nicely cut with the flower bed in impeccable order. I went up to the door to announce my arrival. Gloria had spotted me through the large, glass storm door as she was making her way from what looked like the kitchen.

"Please come in and say Hi to Mom before we go," said Gloria as she waved for me to come in their house.

"Sure, I'd be glad to," I responded as we exchanged smiles. I realized that little courtesies like that meant a lot to Gloria. I found Mrs. James in the living room which was furnished with very old, but well maintained furniture. Most of the upholstery had large floral patterns in it. Probably the same furniture she owned when Mr. James died.

"Hi, Mrs. James," I offer. "Bill Alan, I met you at church this morning with the Lollars. I enjoyed Pastor Brown's sermon," I add, trying to make some small-talk.

"Good afternoon Bill," replied Mrs. James. "Yes, it was a very comforting message today," she continued as she looked up from the sewing she was involved with. "Did you have a nice dinner with the Lollars? That Mary is quite the cook, you know. She was most kind to cook us a meal or two a while back. Don't know what we would have done with out Gus and Mary's help. What are you kids off to do today?"

"Gloria said she might like some ice cream and I thought it might give us a chance to get better acquainted. Give me a chance to learn a little more about this town I'm about to call home," I reply, looking for some positive response. I felt very uncomfortable about Mrs. James. Didn't know why, I just did. I wasn't really sure what to expect.

"Mom, we’ll only be gone a little while," Gloria informed. "You'll be all right 'til we get back, won't you, Mom," asked Gloria?

"I'll be just fine," said Mrs. James. "I've got plenty of mending to do to keep me busy. You two run along and have a good time and don't worry about me. I can take care of myself," asserted Gloria's Mom. She said it as though she had to admit there was a time she hadn't taken care of herself, or Gloria, for that matter.

Gloria turned and headed for the coat rack by the front door and took a light, white jacket and laid it across her arm.

"Nice to see you again, Mrs. James. We'll be back soon," I said as I followed Gloria toward the front door.

"Nice to see you to, Bill," she replied. "Have fun."

Gloria directed me to a small ice cream shop out on East Main St. that made all their own ice cream on the premises. They had flavors that I had never even heard of before, let alone tasted. The couple in front of us got a banana split and strawberry shortcake. The portions were gigantic with the ice cream pushing the toppings and the whipped cream over the sides of the cardboard bowls. I enjoy eating and love ice cream, but I wasn't sure I could tackle one of those after the meal Mary had prepared.

Gloria and I settled on two scoops of French vanilla with strawberry topping and whipped cream. We spotted a vacant round oak table with two beech wood chairs with turned spindles and scrolled crowns. Very nice furniture for an ice cream parlor, I thought. We sat down and eat quietly for a few moments. I decided to break the silence.

"Gloria," I began, "I don't mean to be nosy or pry. Your mother seems so much older than Mary, but I'd bet they are very close in age. Is it because of your Father? We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," I continued, giving Gloria a chance to not dredge up any bad feelings.

"No, it's O.K.," said Gloria. "I don't mind talking about my Father, what little I know and remember about him. And, you're right about my Mom. She is actually two years younger than Mary Lollar. I know it seems hard to believe, but she took Dad's death pretty hard. I was only five then, but Mary has told me some of the things, a little at a time. I guess she fed me as much as she thought I could handle at the time. Mary is a pretty good judge of character and has a lot of empathy for people. You'll find out for yourself after you've lived with them for a while. Mary is the kind of person I have no doubt will end up in heaven. She may even be one of those Guardian Angels. That wouldn't surprise me at all," Gloria added.

"My Father was a Lieutenant with the Fire Department. Big, strong man, but I just remember his gentle nature. I remember he would pick me up and whirl me around after I would greet him at the front door when he came home at night. He would always nuzzle me right on my neck and cheek and I would giggle and laugh because his whiskers would tickle as they scrapped across my skin. Then he would always finish by blowing on my neck. What a sound he would make. Oh, I laughed so hard. Mom would come out and half-heartedly try and get him to stop, but her smile gave her away and was only a hair away from laughter. Dad would keep right on until we got to the kitchen. Only Mom telling him to wash up for dinner would put an end to my pleasurable torment. After he washed up, he would sneak behind my Mom at the stove, put his arms around her waist, rest his head on her shoulders and kiss her a couple of times on the neck. She would tilt her head back enjoying every moment of it. They were so in love.

"What, he didn't blow on her neck too," I ask jokingly?

"No," replied Gloria with a big grin on her face. "It was a little more serious than that."

I was glad to see Gloria happy with memories of her Father. It's too bad her Mom couldn't use these happy memories to lift up her spirits, I thought.

"Your Father seemed like a great guy. What else do you remember," I ask?

"He would let me try on his Fireman's Helmet once in a while," Gloria continued, and he would laugh so hard when my whole head would disappear inside as the brim would hit my shoulders. He would then pick me up and drop my feet and legs into his large rubber boots. I would then make my way into the kitchen making these awful monster noises like I was some creature from outer space. Mom would shriek and pretend like she was frightened to death and summon my Father to her defense. He would search frantically to find some weapon to suppress this vile creature who was attempting to harm his "Snow White". He would normally find either an umbrella, broom, or even a spatula and force me into the closet. I remember frantically shouting, "It's me, it’s me, and don’t close the door! Gloria no monster! I had no intention of being closed up in that dark closet. Every kid knows there ARE monsters in there. It was great fun. I loved my Dad, and I know he loved us very much. He was the best Father a kid could have. “Tears started welling up in Gloria's eyes.

"Gloria, I'm sorry," I state, "I didn't mean for these memories to make you sad and depressed." I reached across the table and put my left hand on top of her right hand. I used my right thumb to brush away some of the tears running slowly down her soft cheeks.

"Please, Gloria," I said sincerely, "I am sorry. Let's change the subject if you want?"

A smile slowly came back across her lovely face. She laughed a short burst and sniffled.

"I'm sorry," said Gloria as I reached into my back pocket and handed her my handkerchief. "I usually don't embarrass my dates like this making a scene. People in here will probably think you just broke off our engagement or something."

I immediately turned around to see if we had drawn any spectators. Luckily, all of the other customers had left and the employees had their backs to us as they cleaned and rearranged the back counter.

"Don't worry, you big bully, you had already scared them off," said Gloria teasingly. She smiled warmly to pacify by possible embarrassment. "You were lucky this time," she added.

Gloria and I sat quietly for a while and finished our ice cream. I could sense by the way she returned my glances that her sadness was diminishing. I wanted to start up another conversation, but knew it would have to be on another subject for sure.

"Gloria," I said, deciding to break the ice. "Tell me about Bob Lollar. Gus has told me some things concerning his athletic ability, but it seems to me that a guy like that would have every college recruiter on the planet would be courting him. Some would have even camped out on the Lollar's lawn. Why did a guy like that end up in the Air Force? There must be some story there?"

Gloria looked up with those big, beautiful eyes of hers. "So you want to know the Bob Lollar Story, do you," she replied? You're not one of those snoopy Chicago reporters working undercover looking for the scoop of the century are you," inquired Gloria, jokingly? A big smile broke across her face.

"Well," Gloria began, "Bob Lollar was probably the most gifted high school athlete ever to come out of the Connecticut school system. He was first team All State in Football and Baseball his sophomore, junior, and senior years, and second team All State in Basketball his junior and senior years as well. It had anything to do with a ball, Bob could excel in it. He was unbelievable. And you're right; recruiters were literally crawling all over the Lollars. People from the Big Ten, PAC Ten, Big Eight, the South West Conference. The A.C.C. and the Ivy League were courting Bob since his sophomore year. Bob hinted that there were even quiet offers of cars, money, vacations, and bogus jobs from alumni that were all in violation of NCAA rules. Bob really became turned off by much of it," Gloria added.

"Gloria," I asked, "It had to be more than that. Most athletes have to deal with some of that, and I'm sure there are some recruiters who are under enormous pressure that, sometimes, causes them to possibly over step the boundaries. Those stories make there way into paper now and then. I mean, it is almost a joke to call college athletics amateur any more with the huge amounts of money being made. Bob had to be aware of this, especially with his Dad in professional baseball for his whole life. Gloria, there must be something else to this story?"

Gloria looked up with this odd little smirk on her face like she knew something I didn't.

"Bob was a little naive," Gloria continued. "Not just about college sports, but about life in general I guess. You see Bob was very religious, or should I say a very spiritual person. In Bob's life everything was right/wrong, black or white. There was no room for any gray area in Bob's world. Bob was so deeply religious that he probably read more than Pastor Brown. His religious convictions had Bob living in a world that, to us, would seem unrealistic. And, his athletic ability thrust him into a world Bob was unready to deal with. To Bob, it was just a game. To others it was big business."

Gloria paused, collected her thoughts and then continued.

"Bob went on a campus visit set up by his football coach and a recruiter. Bob had called me early on Saturday and told me everything was set for him to sign a letter of intent to enroll there in the fall. He seemed very excited. He said he felt very comfortable with coaching staff, the facilities, the academic help available to student athletes if they needed it, Bob wouldn't since he was graduating number nine in his class, and, most importantly, the opportunity for him to play more than just one sport, if he wanted."

"Bob called again," said Gloria, "at 9PM saying he was going out with some of the players from the football team he met after the game for some pizza. He was supposed to come home sometime on Sunday afternoon. Well, Bob got home early Sunday morning very upset. Some member of the faculty drove Bob home. The Lollars had never seen Bob so upset before. He closed himself up in his room and wouldn't talk to anyone. Bob missed school on Monday and Tuesday, the first days I think he missed his whole life. Mary and Gus were getting quiet concerned. They called the University to find out what had happened, but their spokesman claimed they had no clue. Bob had signed a letter of intent Saturday afternoon and they assumed everything was fine, but it obviously was not now," added Gloria shaking her head.

My curiosity was aroused now. What could have gone so wrong that would have gotten Bob so upset that he would cut short his campus visit? Booze? Women? Rowdy college kids? Who knows? Bob was probably a tea-totaller, I thought, and probably also a virgin. Talk about two endangered species on college campuses these days. But, I had to let Gloria tell it her way. There was no point being smart or coy at Bob's expense. Gloria had never said where she and Bob actually stood in their relationship, so it might be smart to play dumb for a while. That would not be too hard for me to do, anyway. I certainly didn't graduate ninth in MY class.

"Gloria," I asked, "what got Bob so upset?"

"Well," continued Gloria with a very serious look on her face, "Bob had gone out for pizza with some of the guys from the football team. They not only celebrated the teams' victory, but also Bob's signing his letter of intent. I'll bet it was some party all right. It seemed that Bob consumed his first beers, ever, at this little celebration and had to be carried back to the dorm."

"Gloria, that wasn't the first time that has ever happened," I chirped in.
"No, probably not," Gloria quickly responded, "but for Bob it WAS a first, unforgivable, but not the end of the story."

"Some of the player who brought Bob back to his visitors suite at the dorm thought it might be a good time for a practical joke. Bob found himself early the next morning, buck naked, laying in this king-size bed next to this blond cheerleader he remembered meeting the night before. She was naked as well. Bob finally talked about it and claimed he couldn't remember anything of what happened. They were probably both so inebriated that all they COULD do was sleep. You could always count on Bob to tell the truth, that was for sure. Bob said he got dressed and out of the room before she woke up. I guess it was then that Bob got really mad for the first time in his life and was making quite a scene in the dorm lobby. Someone finally called a member of the faculty and brought Bob home."

Gloria stopped for a moment and then a small smile broke across her face. She put her hand up to her mouth to muffle any potential laugh.

"I guess none of us realized how naive Bob really was and what a sheltered environment Bob had placed himself in," she continued. "I'm sure that the lifestyle that Bob is living is the right one, not only from a religious/spiritual perspective, but it is very difficult to stand alone or even understand other people when you isolate yourself like Bob did. There has got to be some balance somewhere in this life that can be acceptable, but not in Bob's world. Like I said, everything to him was black or white, right or wrong. I guess that is why Bob and I were never as close as I would have like for us to be. Maybe he was always threatened by me? Maybe he thought I would have made some strong sexual advance he couldn't ward off that would have spoiled our friendship. He always kept me, and everyone else for that matter, at arms length. I don't think I'll ever get to know the real Bob Lollar. I don't know if anyone will."

"Gloria, you shouldn't take any of that personally," I respond. "Bob's loss is going to be someone else’s gain. I certainly wouldn't keep you at arms length, not as friendly and as beautiful as you are. What a mistake."

Gloria started blushing and looked down at the table where she had been tearing her napkin into little shreds. I hoped I had not said too much or made her uncomfortable. She was definitely a person I wanted to get to know better. No pretense. Just let the relationship travel where it will. There is so much past to overcome. Slowly. There is no need to be in a rush.

Gloria went on to tell me about Bob's refusal to attend that university and enlisted in the Air Force if they promised him a chance to attend flight school. He went to boot camp in July of '69 and finished his advanced training in November. He graduated from Officer Candidates' School in June of 1970 and was off to flight school shortly thereafter. He also went on to Jump School and Ranger School as well.

He was truly a case of over achievement if there ever was one. I thought to myself, this guy must be too good to be true. The guy every father wants his daughter to marry.

I took Gloria home. I really had a nice time and she made it clear that she did too when she kissed me good night at the door.

"I'll call you tomorrow, if it's O.K.," I asked with a big grin on my face.

"You better," replied Gloria, "or I may just have to call you. I'm taking quite a chance seeing you again, you know. I work at the diner from seven until three. Call me there."

With that, she went inside and closed the door. I walked out to my car on cloud nine, or was it nineteen. It was certainly high. Then, I came back down to earth. I was to meet Red Dodge tonight, the Monarch Manager.

There were still so many unanswered questions about Bob. That was some strange story. It was interesting, though. Maybe the Lollars won't mind talking about it. They wouldn't be upset at my curiosity about Bob, would they? They have treated me almost like family now, anyway.

When I arrived at the Lollar’s I found Gus at the kitchen table and Mary at the stove warming some tomato soup. She had placed a new package of variety luncheon meat slices on the table along with potato salad and a jar of green olives. There was a choice of rye or white bread, as well. Gus went to the refrigerator and brought back a jar of dill pickle spears, opened the lid, took one out, took a bite and made quite a face.

"Hey Gus," I said with a big smile on my face, "I thought you'd be glad to see me."

"Don't think anything about THAT face," chirped in Mary. "That's the best he has ever looked. The face that launched a thousand ships...that's not it!" Mary and Gus started laughing.

"Don't you start," replied Gus. "Remember, you married me FOR my looks. Don't you remember how desperate you were? I found you crying at the town mission, thinking you would be the only girl in town without a husband. Out of immense pity I took you in. Clothed you, fed you, nurtured you into the woman you are today. Why if I hadn't...", Mary broke in.

"You better stop while you’re ahead, Mister," announced Mary still laughing. "Do you want to eat this soup or wear it?"

"O.K.," replied Gus. "I guess I did exaggerate a little bit. Sometimes, Bill, when you get our age, the past become a little cloudy. I may have overstated a point or two."

"You know, Gus," I reply, "I think you're right about that. And, besides, that shade of tomato soup is not really your color anyway. It would definitely clash with your hair."

"What hair," shot back Mary? "Hasn't been any snow on that roof in quite some time."

She didn't mention anything about the fire in the furnace, so, I didn't either. Some things are best left unsaid.

I sat down at the table across from Gus while Mary brought the hot soup over from the stove. She carefully poured it into our bowls.

"Help yourself to the bread and make a couple of sandwiches," said Mary instructively. "Mayo and mustard coming right up. While your doing that you can tell us about your big date this afternoon."

"Oh Mary, let the boy be willya “said Gus with a grin on his face. "That's private kinda stuff." Gus immediately began eating his soup, no matter how hot it really was.

"Oh it's O.K. Gus, I don't mind telling you and Mary about my date with Gloria," I said.

Mary quickly sat down and got into position to hear every detail. She wouldn't miss this for the world.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Dreamers Chapter 3 of 47

Chapter 3 The Dreamers

I woke up the next morning to the sound of the toilet flushing in the bathroom down the hall. It was then that I realized how much I needed to go. I rose up in the bed trying to remember where I dropped my jeans from the night before. Man, was I tired! I found them draped across the chair in front of Bob's desk. I threw the cover off my legs and dropped my feet to the floor. There was a knock on the door.

"You awake, Bill?” Gus asked.

"Ya, sure am Gus," I replied in my true crackly morning voice. I cleared my throat and tried again. "Yes, Gus, I am."

"Good," said Gus. "The bathroom is all yours. Breakfast in about thirty minutes. Bacon, eggs and pancakes. Sound OK to you Bill?" Gus inquired.

"Sounds great to me Gus," I said, realizing how hungry I was. "I'll be down as fast as I can."

I shaved and took a quick shower, then went back to the room to finish dressing. I pulled my Bears jersey with the number 34 out of my bag and pulled it over my wet hair. Found a clean pair of socks in the same bag, installed them on my feet and laced up my Rockport’s. I then stuffed my dirty clothes into the Bears bag and zipped it closed, placing it at the foot of the bed on the floor. I made a quick stop into the bathroom to re-comb my hair and then headed downstairs. The aroma of the bacon hit me as I touched my foot to the third step. I WAS HUNGRY!

As I entered the kitchen I spotted the clock on the wall. It was only 7:10 AM.

"Good morning Bill," sang Mary.

"Sleep good last night?” Gus inquired.

"Good morning Mary. Sure smells good in here," I replied. "I slept like a rock, too. I was more tired from the long drive than I thought," I confessed as I turned to Gus who was sitting at the table with the sports page open.

"Ya," said Gus not looking up. "It takes a while to catch back up. You'll be there in a coupladays."

"How do you like your eggs, Bill?" asked Mary as she opened the egg carton sitting on the counter.

"Scrambled," I replied.

"That's right. Men like scrambled eggs, don't they," said Mary almost talking to herself. "Please sit down and pour yourself some orange juice."

Mary finished preparing our breakfast. I enjoyed every bite. You could tell Mary enjoyed having someone to cook for. All Gus had was a cup of coffee.

I helped Mary clear the table and load the dishwasher while Gus made his way into the living room with the large Sunday New York Times. Mary took the smaller local paper, sat in her rocker and started sifting through all the coupons that come as inserts to the paper. I went outside to get my large suitcase that would contain proper clothing for attending church. Somehow the Bears jersey just didn't seem appropriate. In Chicago-land? Maybe. But not here in Giant and Jet territory. Sorry Walter.

I stepped outside. It was a beautiful spring day. No clouds and unseasonably warm for the first week of April. As I walked to my car, I could see kids playing down the street. Looked like wiffle ball. Gus's neighbor was just coming out to get his paper. He smiled and waved.

I opened the tailgate of the wagon, pulled out the larger of the suitcases and went back into the house.

"Mary, what time do you normally leave for church?" I asked.

"Usually about 10:15. Church starts at 10:45." she said.

Gus broke in, "Bill, read this about the NY Monarchs." "The Expos kicked their behinds 16 to 4." Gus handed me the entire sports page to read.

"Are you finished?" I asked, not wanting to impose on the sacred act of a man reading the Sunday morning sports page.

"Naw, go ahead Bill. I'm through. Looks like the Monarchs are in for a long season. They've lost four times as many as they've won down there in Florida. The season starts Tuesday in New York. It's gonna be a long-un," Gus said as his voice trailed off in the end.

"Oh honey, don't get down on them already," said Mary. "The season hasn't even started yet."

"Gus," I jumped in, "I thought these games didn't mean very much. That the players were just trying to get into shape."

"Bill, one thing you'll need to learn real quick is that the Monarchs are the exception to every rule. Mr. Steinbaum hates to lose even a game of Tidily-winks. He pays his players well to play the game of baseball and he accepts very little failure. That's what makes playing in New York the best and the worst. The pressure the players receive not only from Steinbaum, but from the fans and the media who expect the Monarchs to win the World Series every year is unbelievable. I'm not trying to scare you, but you're still nineteen when it comes to pro ball. Men who have been in the Bigs for ten years still can't handle it.

It was unmistakable that what Gus was just now telling me was going to be the hardest lesson for me to learn. THE NEW YORK DISTRACTION SYNDROME.

I sat down and read how the NY Monarch pitching allowed 12 walks and 14 hits. The route would have been worse had the infield not turned seven double plays and Johnson not picked three men off at first base.

I went upstairs and got ready for church. Mary and Gus were waiting for me at the front door. Mary looked beautiful for a woman in her fifties. I guess that's what she was. Her facial features were such that you knew she had been a real pretty young woman. "Hey Gus, are you going to introduce me to your daughter or just stand there?" I asked. Mary blushed. Gus laughed.

While making our way to church, Gus and Mary made sure we took a few detours so they could point out some of the landmarks in their fair city. It really wasn't so bad for an older New England blue collar town. They told me that the town earned its nickname of the "Marble City" when the main industry was making grave markers. But, like other towns, Madison was forced to diversify its industrial base when the business went to the Far East. The town was in the middle of a mini renaissance now, with the issue of downtown redevelopment a political hot potato. It would happen, but not without a little grief along the way.

Gus went on to say that the moving of the New York Class AA franchise here was a big step in proving to the citizens and to the potential new industry considering a move into this area that this was the place to be in Connecticut. This, a town of hard working men and women trying to push their town to new heights.

The ball park that was built in 1986 cost the taxpayers twelve million dollars. No small amount considering the average per capita income in town was around $9,700. in '86. The stadium built without a bond issue, too.

We arrived at the church located on Broad Street which split the town down the middle, north to south. It was a beautiful typical New England Church. Large pillars stretched across the front of the building reaching thirty plus feet into the air. The steeple seemed to reach endlessly into the clouds that looked like giant cotton balls flowing slowly through the sky.

Out front were the standard church welcome signs informing you of your arrival to the "Third Baptist Church". Gus pulled in front of the building, stopped and told Mary and me to wait out front while he parked the car in the rear lot.

Mary introduced me to a number of the Lollar's friends, proudly informing them who I was and that I was their house guest. Then I saw her again.

Gloria was coming up the sidewalk in front of a newer, single story building that probably was some sort of fellowship hall or Sunday School classrooms or both. Walking just ahead of Gloria was an older woman in a long, heavy winter coat. She looked very old. Probably Gloria's grandmother, I though. Gloria saw me standing with Mary Lollar and I thought I saw what might have been a smile come across her lips.

Mary spoke up. "Mrs. James, how are you feeling today?" and without waiting for a response, "Gloria, don't you look lovely."

"Hi Mary," Gloria said. "Mom's not feeling too good today, but she just wouldn't miss church. You know how she is about her church," Gloria continued in a somewhat sarcastic tone. "It's no crime to miss church once in a while, but you can't convince her of that. I really think that she believes that the first Sunday she misses the devil is going to snatch her right up!"

Mrs. James and Mary started conversing about some church business. Gloria stood not more than four feet from me looking more beautiful than I had remembered her from the night before. I could smell her perfume and maybe a strawberry shampoo coming from that sexy hair.

"Hi Gloria," I said to start the conversation, any conversation. "You do look wonderful. I hoped I might see you again."

"You would have any way." she replied as a broad smile overcame her beautiful, soft looking lips, "if you were to keep coming to the Bluelight."

"The foods not bad there Gloria, but not enough for a reason to keep coming back," I quipped.

"Did you find a place to stay last night after you left the diner," Gloria asked?

"Well, kind of. Gus took me to his place and Mary was nice enough to put up with me," I informed her. "I get the impression that they want me to stay with them for a while. I think they would enjoy some company. They seem like real nice people."

"You won't find any better, at least not around here," Gloria informed me in a warm, but firm voice. "When father was killed 13 years ago, Gus and Mary stepped right in, helped my Mom get back on her feet. Without them my Mom would not have made it. I'm sure of that." Gloria became very quiet and sullen.

"I'm sorry about your Father," I said. "If you ever want to talk, I'm available. I'm not much on advice, but I can be a good listener."

"Thanks," Gloria said as a little happiness returned to her face. "I'd like that very much." "You like ice cream?"

"You could twist my arm and then I might," I said. "Would you like to go out for some this afternoon?"

Gloria said she'd like that and I could get her phone number from Mary to call and set a time for OUR FIRST DATE!

All during church all I could think of was seeing Gloria this afternoon. I sat in the center section of the pews with Gus and Mary. Gloria sat with her Mom over on the left, four rows in front of me, which allowed me to glance in that direction without being too obvious, I hoped.

The sermon given by Pastor Brown was pretty tame by Southern Baptist standards. No hell fire and damnation here. No strong declarations concerning the end of time being right around the corner. The gist of the sermon was that God love everybody and that he wants us to try and be better people. All true, but none the less a very safe sermon. A politician running for re-election tomorrow couldn't have spoken to the masses better.

As we were standing in line out in the vestibule waiting for our turn to shake the pastor's hand and compliment him on a "fine sermon", it struck me that most of the people who were in church today were, well, older. Some were ancient. As I was standing in line directly behind Mary and Gus I tried to spot and count anyone who might even be in their thirties. I could do it on both hands with fingers left over. That explained the sermon. How can you tell these old people, some knocking at death's door, they might not be going to heaven? Maybe Pastor Brown felt that since he had been here less than a year, according to Mary, that they really weren't his responsibility. His job was to try and uplift their spirits and try to slide their minds into a more positive mode. Positive thinking is a strong force but it doesn't get you into heaven. My preacher back home would have a field day here.

I quickly realized that trying to tackle such cerebral areas as deeply spiritual and philosophical were certainly beyond my gifts and training. Best left to the professionals I concluded and went back to something I could deal with. Gloria!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Dreamers Chapter 2 of 47

Chapter 2 The Dreamers

The food that Mel had prepared for us and that Gloria had so efficiently delivered to our places was very good and really hit the spot. Gloria left right after serving us, not giving me a chance to further our minimal conversation and find out why such a beautiful young woman was stuck working in a place like the Bluelight Diner.

Because it was so late, Gus felt it would be best for me to spend the night at his house. He had two spare rooms with his youngest, a son, stationed at Andrews Air Force Base and his only daughter, Becky, attending Brown University in her junior year.

Becky was a journalism major, which Gus felt was well suited to her personality of being open minded and outspoken. She was salutatorian of her high school class, a cheerleader, student council vice president and a member of the National Honor Society. I hoped that along with each of these qualities she most assuredly inherited from her mother, she wasn't blessed with Gus's "good looks". I thought, God wouldn't be that cruel, would He? Time would tell.

Gus's son Bob was a good kid, Gus went on to tell me as I drove down East Main Street, right through the center of the downtown area. Bob was a good athlete in high school, earning varsity letters in baseball, football and basketball all four years. No small feat that had never been done before or since. Gus went on to say that Bob was about my size, six feet two inches and about one hundred and ninety pounds, which Gus felt was the near ideal athletic size. Bob ran the forty yard dash in four point five seconds and could bench press over three hundred fifty pounds. Gus just beamed telling me how HIS son just overpowered any competition he came up against. Bob rushed for over three hundred yards in the city league championship game his senior year and scored a state record seven touchdowns.

Gus kept rambling on and on about his son, and I wasn't about to be the one to stop him. It is very fortunate that a father can live out his fantasy through his son. Gus was able to do just that and I was happy for him.

I reminded Gus that I was a tourist in town and that if we planned to do something other than drive around all night he had best start giving me directions. A sheepish grin rolled up on his face and he started to chuckle, stumbling all over himself apologizing for burdening me with all his stories about Bob Lollar, All American Boy.

I lightly banged my elbow into his arm and told I hoped that I had stories like that to tell and enjoy remembering. Gus smiled and sat quietly for the rest of the trip to his home, except for the occasional "turn left" or "turn right". Gus was happy walking through his son's past and I left him to it.

"Take a right at the next corner," Gus said as he awoke from his trip down memory lane. "It's the white house on the left, the second from the corner," Gus informed me.

There were absolutely no street light near his house and no one had left on a porch light as any kind of a guide for us. If the house was white, I would have to take Gus's word for it. I could count, found his driveway and pulled the wagon up to the house behind and old Plymouth "K" car sedan. It looked tan.

As my head lights spun across the front lawn and came to rest on the back of the car, I found the only socially redeeming quality the old car possessed, a vanity plate that shouted, Monarchs.

"Gus," I said quite surprised. "I thought your wife wasn't a baseball fan."

"Oh, she isn't, but she knows which side her bread is buttered on. She indulges me a little once in a while," Gus replied with a smile on his face.

As we were remarking about the plate, a light came on in one of the upstairs rooms. I wondered if my car had made too much noise from the dual exhausts and had been the reason for the light to appear.

"Grab yur bags kid, and let's go on inside," instructed Gus. We opened the car doors and I hit the power door locks to secure the car and went around to the rear of the car. I opened the top glass to the tailgate and reached for my Chicago Bears Duffel bag that was all I would need for the night.

"Gus I'm sorry if we woke your wife," I apologized. "I hope she's not going to be too upset with us."

The front door of the house opened. A short, petite little woman pushed open the storm door and held it open as she stood on the cement stoop. Her hair was up in curlers and appeared to be covered in one of those pink nets. A pink terry-cloth housecoat and blue, furry Bigfoot slippers is what she wore to greet us. She put her hands up to her forehead to form a visor to shield her eyes from the porch light glare. She bent over at the waist to help in her scrutinizing of her husbands mystery guest.

She spoke. "Who's that with you, Gus? Where have you been?"

Gus turned to me and said, "Come on in Billy, she won't bite. Let's get on inside."

We worked our way on the circular sidewalk leading to the front door. Gus stopped at the bottom of the steps and ushered me up first.

"Mary, this is Billy Alan," Gus stated proudly. "Bill, this is my lovely wife Mary."

Mary's face lit up like warm spring sunshine. "Nice to meet you Bill," said Mary. "Please come on inside."

As I passed Mary and made my way through the front door Mary and Gus kissed a very warm and affectionate kiss for their age. "Another remark about my formal evening wear and I may just leave you outside," Mary kidded Gus. "Wait a minute; I thought you were the milkman! Billy, who is this guy you brought here?"

We were all laughing as Mary finished closing the front door. I sensed right away a genuine love and affection that Mary and Gus had for one another, plus a sense of humor that is somewhat a byproduct of children in their early twenties. Mary and Gus were young at heart. I was happy for them.

Their living room was tastefully decorated in Early American. A large, high-backed herculon sofa in brown and gold plaid was bracketed by two large end tables with hinged lids. On the front of the end tables were storage bins and in one of them was a skein of yarn with the needles protruding out of the top. In front of the sofa were two chairs in the identical fabric facing each other over a rectangular coffee table covered with magazines and a basket of dried flowers.

In the corner was a console color television with a rocking chair to the right and directly in front of a window. A floor lamp of simulated oak with a circular table at its center was to its' side. A weaved handbag rested against the legs of the rocker, with more yarn and knitting needles showing out of the top. A small secretary desk was next to the front door with assorted nick knacks on the top. A writing lamp was to the right and a large picture window occupied the rest of the wall space back to the TV. A piano was against the wall on the right with some sheet music and a church hymnal waiting patiently for the next recital.

"Where have you boys been all night," Mary chided. "Been out chasing the young damsels in our fair town, have you?"

"Oh, Mary, give us a break will you," Gus said coming to our defense.

"I'm not worried about you Gus. It's this young good looking, very eligible bachelor. But you're right. They probably come to him, don't they?"

Gus could tell that I was becoming a little embarrassed by this conversation. "Come on Mary; take it easy on us will you?" Gus pleaded half heartedly.

I joined in the fun. "Well Mary," I jumped in, "the reason we're so late is that we had to get police protection. It's pretty rough for a couple of studs like us, out loose in a thriving metropolis like Madison." Gus started laughing and so did Mary.

I decided to take another shot. "Don't sell Gus short. He has something that drives the ladies wild. They can't seem to keep quiet, giggling and falling all over themselves. I don't know what it is but Gus has it!"

At that moment Gus decided he needed to come clean. "Mary we've been over to the Bluelight grabbin a bite to eat. I met Bill checking out the ball park earlier. We got a little situated there and then went to Mel's."

"Yeah, sure," Mary shot back winking at me. "Seems like I've heard that story before. Well listen, Bill. I'm very happy you'll be staying with us for a while. You're more than welcome here," Mary continued.

It was then obvious that my staying at their house had already been discussed, planned and given the seal of approval by both Gus and Mary. With both of their children involved in their own lives away from home, I could sense Mary would welcome some new activity in their family.

"I really appreciate your taking me into your home on such short notice, Mary. I don't want to impose or anything," I replied.

"It's no bother at all. Before I go back to bed, can I get you boys something to drink?" Mary asked. "It's nice to have people who appreciate me fussing over them."

"No thanks, we'll be OK, sugar," Gus said. "Go ahead on up. I'll be right behind you."

"Well, OK," Mary said as another smile broke over her face. "Don't be long. We're all tired, especially Billy. Sleep tight."

With that, she turned and made her way up the stairs to their bedroom on the second floor.

"Bill, would you like a nightcap before we go up," Gus asked?

"No, I think I'm all set Gus." I reached down and picked up my Bear's bag that I had dropped at my feet earlier. "I'm beat, Gus," I said.

Gus reached for my arm to direct me to the stairs. "How'd you like to go to church with Mary and me tomorrow?" Gus inquired. I could tell by the look on his face he wasn't sure how I'd react.

"I'd love to Gus," I said smiling.

"That's great. I mean, it would mean a lot to Mary, all of us going to church," responded Gus. It was obvious by the look on Gus's face that he felt he had just given his wife something very valuable to her.

"I'm glad she'll be happy, Gus. But it isn't just for you and her. I need to be in Church."

"Good. It's settled then," declared Gus. "Let's find you a bunk in Bob's room." With that we headed upstairs to get the sleep I was really looking forward to.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Dreamers Chapter 1 of 47

Chapter 1 The Dreamers

"Hey kid, the place is closed. No one is allowed in here after the park is closed." Gus Lollar made you fully aware of his presence and who was in charge. "Whadayawant in here anywaze," Gus barked?

I was immediately reminded that I was drafted into the Monarch organization, the dialect was unmistakable. "I'm Bill Alan, I hollered back." I was to report no later than Friday, but sitting around my grandparent's house was driving me crazy.

Gus stood about fifty feet down the tunnel from the playing field that I was surveying for the first time. "Come on down here kid," Gus said with a much more friendly tone in his voice.

As I walked down the tunnel toward Gus, I could sense a presence, almost ghost like, of former Monarchs greats that had also used their stay in this same ballpark to hone their baseball skills. Could it be that I belonged here in this same ballpark? Did I have what it took to make it to the bigs?

"Come on now Alan, stop daydreaming. I don't got all day ya know," Gus bellowed from the opening to the locker rooms.

The echo of Gus's voice resounding, swirling down through the tunnel snapped me from my thoughts of potential inadequacy. I started my trek toward Gus and the lockers wondering how many times Gus had made the same statement to other rookies. It must easily be two or three hundred times.

As I got closer to Gus, I could see his lips start to curl, and then his right hand became outstretched. "Alan, good to meet you and welcome to the Madison Monarchs. Your reputation precedes you," Gus warmly stated. "Come-on in. I got ya all situated with a locker in a good spot."

As I shook Gus's hand his face lit up just like it was Christmas morning on his tenth birthday. It was then that I realized that not only was Gus Lollar the Monarch’s clubhouse manager, a job he held for over 29 years, but he was also a fan. Gus was a true baseball fan, but you had to be to endure over 30 years in the bowels of a minor league ballpark. Hope always springs eternal, and I, Bill Alan, was to become Gus's hope for this new season.

"It's good to meet you," I said. "I've never been in a ballpark quite this big before. But, I guess I'd better get used to it in a hurry."

"Yuv got nottin to worry about," said Gus still smiling ear to ear. "Yur right, Alan, it’s a little bit different up here, but from what I hear, you got what it takes to make it in "AA" ball. Don't worry aboudit", Gus said as he turned and started walking toward the locker room.

I followed Gus as he pushed his way through the double swinging doors that led to the Monarch’s locker room. The room was huge by any standard. Around the rectangular room were cubicles with players names written on white tape stuck at the top of each space. Jones, Meyers, Bolton, Adams, on and on til I found Alan.

Each cubical was five feet wide, constructed of wood, and freshly painted a baby blue. The paint was so thick it probably equaled the thickness of the original wood. At the rear of the locker was a full width seat, and above it were four brass hooks. A full-width clothes pole was placed six feet from the floor and above it was a shelf.

I was so used to regular foot-wide "high school" lockers that this almost seemed such a disgusting waste of space.

While I was admiring my new territory Gus had sauntered off and returned with my entire uniform and a couple of towels. "I thought ya might like your old high school number so I got Dave Bolton to switch," Gus stated. Gus saw the expression on my face and was quick to respond, "Don't worry Alan, he wasn't mad or nuttin. All it took was a new glove, coupala new jockstraps and some new Nikes." Gus started laughing, so proud that he had pulled the greatest deal of all time.

"Thanks Gus", I said. "I'm glad I negotiated a contract BEFORE the Monarchs realize they have the shrewdest negotiator since Jack Donlan." Gus was laughing even harder now.

Gus started making his way to a door off to the left of the locker room. "Any place to get something to eat in this town?" I said to Gus.

He stopped at the doorway, turned and said, "Give me bout ten minutes kid and we'll have Gloria fix us sumthin at the Bluelight. OK?"

"Sure Gus, that will be great. I'll just unpack a few things and we can go."

Gus turned and entered the room and closed the door behind him. The door was one of those doors you see in "private eye" movies with the etched glass you can't see through. Across the middle of the glass in large black letters was painted "Manager, Private".

So that's where the infamous Red Dodge lived behind the scenes. Red Dodge, manager of the Madison Monarchs, that would be some meeting.

I sat down on the stool that was pushed into the corner of my locker, tugged the zipper on my smaller suitcase. I started emptying the contents on the seat at the back of the cubical. Two gloves, Wilson A2000 models, one brand new, the other so dark from being oiled so much that it flopped back and forth like a rag doll. I knew that I would have to start breaking in the new one, but I just couldn't part with that old glove that I had used all through Junior High and High School. It would serve as a good reminder of where I came from, and who I was, just in case my head ever got too big.

I thought back to when I first bought that glove. $48.50 that glove cost me! Over five weeks of paper route money back in 1961. It was Ron Santo's second year with the Chicago Cubs. Before Ronnie came up with the Cubs, I always wanted to be the shortstop because Ernie Banks WAS Mr. Cub long before anyone had thought of the name. But now Ron Santo was here, a potential star baseman with some sock in his bat.

More than anything else, I believed that it was Ron's strong personality that drew me to him. Fiercely competitive, you could sense that he did not take to losing easily. This was the same quality that I thought I possessed. I now know that I was just hot tempered and that it had nothing to do with an intense desire to win or team spirit. But, at fourteen years old, what did I know and who was anybody to tell ME differently.

Santo used the Wilson A2000 so that was the glove I would use. Good enough for Santo, good enough for Alan, I thought. My love for Ron Santo went so deep that if I had known what deodorant, soap, jockstrap, foot spray, and antifungal cream he used, I would have used it too. Sometimes you become so superstitious you really believe that things like that make a difference. I don't anymore, but at fourteen I sure did.

"Hey kid," yelled Gus. "I thought you were gunna unpack some yer stuff. I thought you were hungry."

"I am," I replied as I awoke from my coma. I then realized that I hadn't accomplished anything in over twenty minutes. "I'm sorry Gus," but then he interrupted. "Don't worry aboudit kid; you weren't the first or nuttin. Let's get some grub, whadya say?"

"OK, Gus, you're the boss," I said as I soaked in his warm smile. "Would you like me to drive? My car is right out front."

That'll be great. Now my old lady doesn’t have to make the trip. She hates the trip. She hates this place. Never liked baseball like we do, Alan. I thought it might grow on her, but it never did."

I could see the sadness surface on Gus's face. Men love to come home from a day at the office and dump the entire day's happenings in their spouses lap. It is some form of therapy; I'm sure, one that was never prescribed for Gus. I could then realize how lonely Gus was and why he spent so much time at the ballpark. He loved it here. He was safe. It was his whole life.

Gus flipped off the lights as we pushed our way through the double doors out of the locker room. The clicking of our heels made the sound you might hear down a lonely, deserted alley on a rainy night. I could almost imagine Bogart throwing down his lit cigarette, then snuffing it out with his left shoe. The he would disappear into the night with the collar of his raincoat pulled up on his neck.

"Bill, what kinda car you driving? Ya got one of dem fancy German mochines, or what?" Gus smiled as he inquired about my mode of transportation. He knew I signed one of the largest bonus contracts the Monarchs ever dropped on a high school player. He also figured that I was like other players and blew it on fast cars, fast women and fast living.

"Sorry if I disappointed you Gus," I said. "That's my black Taurus Wagon over there. I know it isn't a Benz or BMW. I hope you're not disappointed. Gus smiled a little apologetically.

"I didn't mean nuttin, Bill," he said. "It's just that most of these guys think they're God's gift to the Monarchs or something. They come strutting in here like they already made it. Big cars, fancy suits and clothes like they should be pimping in the Bronx.

"Hey Gus, that is NOT MY STYLE," I replied in a firm voice. "I came here to learn how to play baseball. My only agenda is to make it to the big leagues. There may be time for that stuff later, but right now it doesn't interest me."

Gus sensed that he had touched a raw nerve with me and he had. "Alan, don't take me wrong,” Gus said as he raised his hand as if to stop the next words coming out of my mouth. "I didn't mean you were some kinda primadonna or nuttin. It's just that I've seenum come and go over the years. Some of them had no talent to start with, but others just screwed away a good opportunity. A smile started to stretch back across his face. "I just don't want that to happen to you, Bill." "You have more talent at this stage of your career than anyone I've ever seen step into this ballpark. You could be the first pitcher/ full time player in major league history. I just want you to have the best shot at it you could have, that's all." As he finished talking he put his big, thick hand on my neck and shoulders and gave me an affectionate squeeze.

"I know, Gus." "That's all I want too. Let's get some of that good food you said Gloria can cook up for us. You don't mind if I treat do you? That's not too extravagant is it, Gus?" I said.

"Naw. Go ahead kid. It may be the best investment you'll ever make." With that, I opened the passenger door and Gus slid into the bucket seat. As I walked around the front of the car Gus and I both looked at each other. We both knew he had just made a very important statement. Only I did not know just how important it really was to become.

I pulled the Taurus wagon into the Bluelight parking lot. Every town in America has one just like it, and probably someone just like Gloria bussing the counter, I thought.

In the parking lot were mostly old pickup trucks, and old Pinto with rusted rocker panels and a Central Connecticut State University decal in the back window. One of the trucks had a gun rack in the back window with what looked like two shotguns mounted with Master combination locks securing them in the rack. If the driver of the truck needed a weapon to defend him self in a hurry, those rifles were certainly out of the question.

The outside of the diner was one of those polished metal models. This type of diner reminded me of an old Silver Streak model train engine that I got when I was eight years old for Christmas. The entry way to the diner jutted out like the nose on your face. There were two doors, one on either side of this entry way, and one main swinging door directly into the diner.

Once inside the diner, the smells of coffee and cigarette smoke over took your senses. A counter ran the full length of the diner separated in the center to accommodate traffic from the grill to the booths that lined the area by the front windows. Two stainless steel coat racks rose like pillars to signal your entrance to the Bluelight Diner.

The left counter was home to three men in plaid wool coats and baseball hats that said John Deere across the front. They spotted Gus and me right away. The tallest one smiled at Gus and said, "Hey, Gus, howya doing. Come on over here and let me buy you and your buddy a cup of coffee." "Hi, Jack," Gus replied while grabbing my elbow and ushering me toward the counter.

"Who's your friend?" Jack asked. "Jack, I'd like you to meet Billy Alan, our newest member of the Madison Monarchs," Gus beamed.

"Nice to meet you, Bill. I'm Jack Cramer. This is Art Crowley, and next to him is Jake Conlan." We all shook hands and took a place at the counter.

"Bill just got into town tonight fellas, and we got a little situated over at the ball park and decided to get a bite to eat."

"Jack. This is the kid I was tellin ya about. Mr.
Everything back in Illinois." Gus emphasized the "s" at the end of Illinois like it was the most important letter in the name.

"Ya know, Bill, you're all Gus here has talked about for the last two months around here. Ya think Steinbaum puts pressure on his players? Ya ain't seen nothing yet." They all started laughing. So did I.

"I hope I live up to the advance billing," I responded toward my three new friends. "I'm sure I've never experienced any pressure like what lies directly in front of me but I'm looking forward to it. I guess if you're going to play for the Yankees you'd better get used to it in a hurry."

"You're right about that," stated Jack matter of factly. "Gus thinks you have what it takes, if that makes you feel any better." I could see Gus becoming a little embarrassed by the direction of this conversation. I was sure Gus had developed some opinions about me that he freely expressed to these gentlemen on many occasions. Opinions that he developed on his own without ever speaking with me once. or for that matter, before he had ever met me.

"Well, fellas, I'm looking forward to the challenge. I know that the jump from High School baseball right into Class AA professional ball is a big one. I'll give it all I've got. I'm sure Gus is going to be a big help to me in learning the ropes as fast as I can."

Jack smiled. "The people associated with this ball club from Gus all the way to the top, are all first class in my book," he firmly stated. "If you have the ability, these people will mold you into a fine major league ball player."

Art Crowley chirped in, "God know the Monarchs need someone to turn that team in the Bronx around. I hope you're it, kid."

"Don't worry about it Art. This kid is all I've said and more. You're gonna hear a lot about Billy Alan for a long time to come,” said Gus matter of factly. "Hey fellas, the kid is gonna starve to death while we push him into the Hall of Fame. Here's a menu, Bill. Decide what you'd like."

I took the menu Gus had pulled from between the sugar glass and the napkin holder. It was one of those plastic laminated, pre-printed cardboard menus. Tape had been placed across the original prices, with ballpoint pen signifying that even the Bluelight was not exempt from inflation. The menu was sticky from all the handling from fingers dipped into maple syrup, ice cream, Coke, and other famous confections. I quickly surveyed the standard listings. There were hamburgers with six different names, mashed potatoes with roast beef and gravy, grilled cheese, veal cutlet, cube steak, about a dozen of Campbell's best soups and a listing of deserts to top off a wonderful evening of exquisite dining.

"What'll it be Bill?" asked Gus. "It may not be the most delicious meal you ever ate, but the food is good, and the price is right, and the people are real. You'll learn to appreciate this place in a short while. You'll see,” said Gus.

I sensed that Gus was either embarrassed for bringing me here, or that he felt that I was used to eating in better places that the Bluelight.

"Gus," I said, "this place is just fine. You don't need to apologize to me for this place. I prefer to eat in places like this than in some fancy restaurant. Don't worry about me."

Gus smiled as he leaned over the counter. "Now if we can just get some service around here, we can get this show on the road."

Impatiently Gus got up from his bar stool at the counter and went to where he could see into the grill. There was a rectangular cut out in the wall with a small counter where the cook spun the next meal to the waitresses. Above the counter was the typical array of spinning lazy-Susan order ticket rack. A rather crude, but effective way of communicating the culinary choices of the many patrons of the Bluelight Diner.

"Hey Gloria, Mel, anybody home?" shouted Gus into the grill area.

"How ya doin Gus," Mel shouted back. "Good to see you." "Come on out here. Got someone I wantya to meet." Out from the gill came this man about five feet five inches tall and well over 250 pounds. This had to be Mel. He was wearing white pants and a "V" neck tee shirt with billows of gray and black chest hair foaming out. He had on a filthy chef's apron that had been collecting the droppings of a hard days work. He was totally bald except for a wedge of gray hair just above his ears that wrapped all the way around the back of his head. The black rimmed bifocals were pushed down toward the end of his nose, and were accented by a dark, pencil thin mustache, like Clark Gable used to wear.

"Whattsamatter Gus, you finally bring us a celebrity into our fine establishment, or what?" joked Mel.

"Just come on over here and meet Billy Alan, a new player for the Monarchs," stated Gus. "Good to meet you. Any friend of Gus's is a friend of mine. We don't get too many players to frequent the joint. Not spiffy enough for em, I guess."

"This place is fine for me," I said. "No need to be apologetic. It's nice to meet you. I know it's pretty late, can we still get something to eat?"

The clock on the wall showed that it was well past eleven p.m. on Saturday night. "No problem, we usually are open til well past one in the morning," Mel was quick to inform me. "What'll it be?"

As I began to tell Mel what I was hungry for, I heard the door to the grill begin to swing back and forth. Moving toward our end of the counter was a girl. No, it was a woman who was working her way toward us. At first she wasn't paying any attention to us, but then she looked up and saw that I was staring at her.

Could this be Gloria, THE Gloria that Gus had mentioned to me? She was young, beautiful, and putting the stress test to every seam on her waitress uniform. She had auburn hair that had been permed into flowing waves that fell to just below her ears. Her skin was like porcelain with just the right amount of blush accentuating her high cheek bones. Very little eye make-up, and just a touch of lipstick to high light her perfectly formed lips. How could a girl, I mean woman, look this good after working all day? This wasn't what I was expecting to find. I was expecting to find someone Gus's age, not my own, and certainly not this beautiful.

I don't know how long I had been staring but it must have been a considerable length of time because Gloria was becoming a bit uneasy. She stopped at the end of the counter to our right and frantically searched for some work to accomplish. She seemed to realize the only thing she could do was to fill the sugar jars and started to unscrew the top to the first one.

"Gloria, stop messing with the jar and come over here," said Mel. "Bill Alan, I'd like to introduce you to Gloria James. Gloria, meet Bill Alan, newest member of the Monarchs."

"Hi, Bill," said Gloria in a voice so soft and warm it would have melted a block of ice. "Hi Gloria," I responded, hoping that my voice didn't either crack or sound like Mickey Mouse. "It's very nice to meet you."

"Gloria, Gus and Bill would like something to eat. Why don't you take their orders and I'll go back and fire up the grill in the meantime, OK? said Mel with a big smile on his face.

Gloria grabbed an order pad and pencil from the back counter in front of the milk dispenser and started scribbling what was probably our counter location and the date. She was so nervous she forgot that we were the only people eating in the whole place, and was not likely to forget who ordered what.

Her soft brown eyes finally lifted off the pad. It seemed to take forever. "Bill, what could I get for you?" she said softly.

Oh, Gloria! Why did you have to say it like that, I thought to myself and buried my eyes back in the menu.