Hearing the hotel door quietly close behind her, he rolled over and pulled the sheet up to his shoulders. He thought about the young woman who had just left his hotel room and his bed. She was a beauty; shiny blonde hair to her waist and legs that went on forever. She had caught his eye at the club the night before and after years of practice he was an expert at picking out the women who would require the least amount of involvement. Of course, women had never been a problem for him. While he had spent most of his movie career trying to overcome the pretty boy image, he had to admit there were times when that handsome face of his came in handy.
Yet, all of the young women were beginning to look alike. He was beginning to feel as though he was in a long term relationship with a series of different women who all looked and sounded the same; always young, always beautiful, always willing, always the same. He knew most men would not see that as a problem, would envy him his lifestyle, but he was beginning to miss the steady comfort that comes from sharing a life and home with a friend, a confidant, a kindred spirit. The thought of his two children living so far away with his ex caused his heart to tighten.
The clock on the bedstand told him he had a few hours before his assistant appeared at his door and they would begin the daily routine required to keep him in the business of being a celebrity. Almost without thinking, he got out of bed but hesitated, acknowledging the throbbing in his temples caused by the excesses of the night before. He took a hot shower, wrapped a luxurious hotel towel around his waist and absentmindedly turned on his laptop as he walked by the desk.
He lit a cigarette, grabbed a dirty bread plate from the room service tray from the night before and plopped himself in front of the blue computer screen, typing Rock City Angel in the password box. He opened Google and typed in his name, Johnny Dunn. Shaking his head in disbelief at the results, over 38 million hits, the smile was wiped off his face when he noticed the first story was still a rehash of his split with his ex, a split that happened over a year ago. He didn’t always like the attention celebrity brought him, the foolish antics of some of his more exuberant fans, the ludicrous questions often asked of him, yet he remained gracious, recognizing his fan base was an important factor in the support he needed to continue his film career.
He had drawn lines in the sand, however. He never discussed his personal life publicly. Consequently, reporters felt compelled to make up the details and it always made him angry. As a young man he raged against the injustice of it, but now, at 49, he was much more pragmatic, unless his children are involved.
Switching from Google to Facebook he clicked on the AP that searches for pages that mention his name. Hundreds of thousands of comments scrolled down the left side of the screen, each author’s small, square photo popping up on the right. Most were the typical fan comments, “If only, would you, I want to, I love you.” Having scrolled through a dozen pages, he was on the brink of closing the AP when a particular post caught his eye. It was funny; the author mocking the notion that she would ever meet him. Just a little curious he opened the photo. Not beautiful, certainly not the taut, young face that he was used to, yet there was something in the smile that made him smile back, a refreshing genuiness that he could appreciate. Still smiling he snapped off the computer, pulled on a pair of faded jeans, a blue plaid shirt and slipped into a pair of black flip flops.
After the business session with his assistant he took a long evening nap as was his habit. At 9 his car picked him and his bodyguard up outside the hotel and drove them to the small, smoke-filled club where he was performing with his band. While he made his living as an actor, playing guitar in a rock and roll band was where his heart lived. Not feeling in the mood, he politely ignored the come-ons from the women he met, then, sweaty, exhausted and a little high, he packed his guitar and rode back to the hotel.
She was sound asleep when the phone rang. Jumping up she looked at the clock on her nightstand and her heart picked up speed. Phone calls at 3AM usually mean trouble. Reaching for the receiver on the cordless phone, she knocked it out of the cradle onto the floor and began searching with her hands in the darkness. By the time she aligned the receiver with her mouth she was repeating herself, “hello, hello” she gasped. A soft-spoken male voice with a slight southern drawl said, “Hi, is this Janice Niven? “ “Yes” she replied with obvious tension in her voice, “who’s calling?” After a moment or two of silence, she heard, “This is Johnny Dunn.” “I’m sorry, could you repeat that, I didn’t quite hear you,” she responded. “Johnny Dunn,” he replied, “This is Johnny Dunn.” “OK, that’s it, I’ve had enough of you little shits calling this house at all hours of the night. My alarm is going to go off in 3 hours and you think this is funny? If I ever find out who the hell you are I am going to rip your nose right off your face,” she blurted out before pushing the disconnect button. “Johnny Dunn, my ass,” she ranted after she hung up the receiver. “How did those little shits find out I’m a fan of Johnny Dunn?” she asked the empty house. Then she remembered the Facebook story she posted about him … “Damn.”
Meanwhile, almost 3,000 miles and 3 hours away, he sat laughing, staring at the IPhone in his hand. He was stoned just enough that he had forgotten about the time difference. “Well, she’s definitely feisty,” he said to himself. The next morning he came up with a more logical approach and had his business associate put together a dossier on her. It didn’t take long before he knew more about her than her family did. She was 10 years older than him, twice married, and a single mom. After reading the report, particularly her age, he tossed the file in the trash intending to forget the whole thing.
Three months later her home phone rang at a much more reasonable hour. A man’s voice at the other end asked, “Am I speaking with Janice Niven?” Skeptically, she confirmed he had in fact reached Ms. Niven. “My name is Frank Maloney and I am an employee of Johnny Dunn.” “Here we go again,” she said before he finished the sentence. Her voice rising she continued. “How did those kids talk you into this? You’re obviously an adult. You should know better.” “Wait, wait,” said the man on the other end of the phone, “don’t hang up.” “Mr. Dunn read your story about him on Facebook a few months ago, enjoyed it and was hoping to meet you.” “He is in Saratoga Springs for the next few days and would like to have dinner with you tomorrow night.” “We will send a car to pick you up at 8PM if your schedule allows.”
“This must be a joke,” she blurted out. “I assure you it is not,” he responded. “This can’t be true,” she said to no one in particular. “May we send the car, then?” he asked. “I can’t just jump into a car because someone on the phone said Johnny Dunn wants to see me,” she said; “If he wants to have dinner with me then he will have to come and pick me up.” She thought she heard a chuckle before the man said, “May we call you back later this evening, Ms. Niven?” “Sure,” she said, thinking she had successfully called his bluff.
She was wiping the makeup from her eyes when the phone rang at 11:30 that night. The cotton pad she was using slipped and the soap made her eyes burn. When she picked up the phone, a male voice with a slight southern drawl said, “Hello, may I speak with Ms. Niven, please.” “Speaking,” she replied. “Please don’t hang up on me,” the man said with a smile in his voice. “This is Johnny Dunn.” She sat down on the edge of the cold bathtub, speechless. After a few seconds she heard him speaking to someone, “I think she hung up on me again,” he laughed. “No, no, I’m here,” she said quickly. “Good,” he said, still laughing. “Are you free for dinner tomorrow night?” “I’m renting a house on Lake Lonely and will have my staff prepare something, what is your favorite dish?” Without thinking, she blurted out, “Salmon, I like salmon.” “Great,” he said, “me too.” “There is one problem however” he began, “I won’t be off the set until 8 which means I can’t pick you up until after 9 which means dinner at 10.” “Not a problem,” she managed to squeak out. “One more thing,” he added. “Please don’t mention our dinner to anyone. If word gets out it will start a media frenzy and disrupt our entire night.” Again, she managed an, “OK.”
“Great, then” he concluded, “I have an early call so I’ll see you tomorrow night around 9:30. I’m looking forward to meeting you.” “Ok” was all she could say. As soon as the shock wore off she started rummaging through her closet looking for something to wear. What does one wear when they meet a movie star she wondered, a gorgeous movie star at that. Two hours later she settled on an above-the-knee brown, beige and blue patterned dress with handkerchief sleeves and the new pair of tawny brown summer sandals with wedge heels that were still wrapped in tissue paper in the shoebox.
It was 4AM before she fell asleep on the couch in her living room. The sun streaming through the window woke her eight hours later. She slowly opened her eyes, stretching her arms and legs, until suddenly she remembered she was about to meet Johnny Dunn. There was something about the day that slowed everything down. She realized she wasn’t nervous, just excited. Originally she had thought she would call her hairstylist and beg for an appointment, but after thinking about it she decided she had such a good cut, she could do her hair herself. It wasn’t like it was a real date. He wasn’t even 50 yet and she was over 60, he was a world famous celebrity, she was not, she was simply a curiosity for him; idle entertainment.
By 9:15 she was dressed, powdered, and scented, sitting in the chair by the living room window overlooking the driveway. She was pleased with what she saw in the mirror. Her soft “blonde” hair falling perfectly into place and the wedge heeled sandals made her rather short legs look longer as they stretched up under the short skirted dress. She wondered what her neighbors might think when a limo pulled up to her house at 9:30 on a Thursday night. Just as the thought left her head, a navy blue BMW pulled into the driveway, its headlights traveling over her as she stood looking out the living room window.
She was sure her mouth dropped open when Johnny Dunn opened the driver side door and walked through the headlight beams heading for her front porch. She saw a flash of his dark shoulder length hair, a light blue button down shirt opened at the neck and tucked into worn, loose jeans with a chain looping from his belt to inside his left front pocket. She noticed all of this in a split second. She heard his hard soled shoes climbing the porch steps and felt reality slip away.
After he rang the doorbell she counted to 10 then walked over and opened the door. She was not prepared for this man. His face was more chiseled and even more handsome in person. He stood there with a big grin on his face, held out his arms at his side palms up and said, “Well, do you believe me now?” “Yes,” she smiled back, “I definitely believe you now.” Not quite sure what to do next, she asked if he would like to come in. Much to her surprise he said yes and then asked for a tour of her small little ranch house. She was SO thankful she had spent time during the afternoon tidying up.
As they were leaving, he held the door opened for her and said, “You are a beautiful woman.” She thanked him and tried to look casual as she grabbed the porch railing to steady herself as her legs buckled. He held the car door open for her than jogged around the back of the car and settled himself into the driver seat. He asked her to help him with directions just in case the car’s GPS didn’t work properly.
She will never understand why, but they were friends from the start. She soon forgot he was a world famous celebrity and only swooned when he looked at her directly. They spent most of the evening entertaining each other with stories from their lives, he mentioning names she had only read about in People Magazine yet he seemed genuinely interested in the events of her life.
He really liked her. She was not only attractive, but funny and articulate and smart. He hoped she would not be turned off by their age difference. At 2AM his assistant came into the parlor where they were sitting next to each other on large overstuffed pillows in front of the fireplace, enjoying yet another glass of his favorite German Riesling. It took the man a few minutes to get their attention because they couldn’t hear his voice over their laughter. “Excuse me, Johnny” he said, “but it’s 2AM and you have to be on set in four hours.” Shocked by the time, he pulled out his pocket watch to double check.
“Listen,” she said, “You must have someone who can take me home. That way you can get to bed now and get at least a few hours’ sleep.” He protested, but eventually agreed to the logic of her suggestion. “Only if you’ll come back tomorrow night for dinner,” he insisted. Looking at that magnificent smiling face she knew she would follow him to the ends of the earth, so returning for dinner was a given. “Yes,” she replied as he took her hands in his, leaned in and whispered in her ear, “I own this little island that I’d like you to visit with me, think about it and we’ll talk tomorrow night.” When she pulled her head away to look at him to see if he was serious, he stepped forward, took her in his arms and kissed her, leaving no doubt of his intentions.
As I sit here typing this, a bird is chirping outside the window. There’s something comforting about birds chirping. They are such little scaredy cats that when there’s a loud disturbance or a sense of danger there’s not a peep out of them. I imagine them huddled together on a branch or wire somewhere holding their collective breath. When I hear them chatting away it means all is well. Even if I’m not conscious of their chirping, I suspect I possess a genetic throw-back that’s tuned into that kind of thing and somewhere inside of me one or two muscles relax.
You know that wolf whistle sound that is most associated with construction workers, the whistle they make when an attractive woman walks by? Wish I could type the sound, here’s my best try: whooo – hooo. Well, I recently discovered that it is a misnomer to call it a wolf whistle, there is a bird that lives in the woods behind my house that whistles that tune all morning long and whenever I’m in the backyard and hear it, there’s a part of me that wants to say, “Why, thank you.”
There are so many sounds that I am oblivious to most of the time. Living in suburbia and working in the city, they are all just part of the background music. Emergency vehicle sirens get my attention only when I hear lots of them at the same time, or they stop close by, or when I’m expecting someone to arrive at my house and they are late. I am generally able to absorb the sounds of the lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, weedwackers and chain saws that ratchet up the volume in my suburban neighborhood when added to the sounds of barking dogs and children playing. Unless, of course, the lawnmowers start booming before 9AM on a Saturday morning, then I just want to reach over and change the station or, better yet, throw something out the window at the offending neighbor.
While driving to work this morning I passed an industrial-sized lawn mower cutting the grass in the median separating the two highways. Tooling along at 70 mph, I suddenly flew through the strong scent of just mowed grass and my thoughts immediately splintered. Simultaneously, I remembered lying in tall grass on a summer day as a kid, snapping off a fresh green blade of grass to chew, and remembered the peace I feel sitting on my front porch or back deck in the twilight of a summer evening surrounded by the smell of my fresh cut lawn.
At lunch time today I walked the paths and stairways on the campus where I work. It is different now that the majority of the students have left for the summer, classes finished until late August. The ebb and flow of thousands of people trying to get from A to B all at the same time has given way to the peace and quiet of a well planted and well manicured park. Everywhere I look there are different types and shades of flowering borders; yellow, red, lavender, white, orange, blue and ten different shades of green. Each weedless border stops where the thick, flat, dark green lawns begin and then those lawns stretch out to span the length of football fields or until they reach the next flowering border.
I wandered up and down small concrete pathways and short concrete steps shaded by infant trees, at least they were youngsters compared to the centuries old trees that towered over them. Finding a park bench I sat and looked at the view. The lawns were sprinkled with sculptures, as if the natural beauty wasn’t enough stimulation. Movement overhead caught my attention. The strong breeze was blowing white clouds quickly across the blue sky. I leaned my head back and tried to find an interesting design in the clouds, believing that on such a beautiful day, in such a beautiful spot Mother Nature would entertain me. Nothing, not a horse-drawn chariot, not a castle in the sky, not even a simple little puppy. There was something about the way the wind was churning the clouds, however, that made them explode like fireworks.
Walking back to the office, I couldn’t help but notice the bulletin boards throughout the campus. When classes are in session, notices of concerts, meetings, games, apartments and clubs are pinned or stapled to those boards three layers thick. Today the boards were empty except for hundreds of white speckles marking where all the notices had been ripped off, leaving hundreds of small chunks of paper still stapled to the boards. In a few months the boards will be full again. Until then, I intend to enjoy my quiet, private park.
My mom was extremely religious. She was a devout Catholic. She had a strong faith in God, the pope and the saints. Yesterday, when I read the statement of support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious issued by the seven Franciscan Provinces in the United States my second thought flew to my mother. While mom loved the Virgin Mary and said her rosary every night, her favorite, very favorite saint was St. Francis of Assisi. She had a personal relationship with St. Francis and prayed to him whenever things hit the fan in our family. He was her last resort, her Ace in the Hole.
I’m sure mom knew everything there is to know about St. Francis, but she loved the fact that he was the patron saint of animals and she had a two foot tall statute of St. Francis, with a bird on his hand and a lion at his feet, in her flower garden. Mom was the rock of the family, the disciplinarian, but inside she was soft and sweet with an affinity towards flowers and small animals.
After mom passed and we were going through her belongings, I found a very tiny and well worn mini book. It is about 2 inches high and, when folded, about 1 inch wide. The cover is a well worn dark brown with faded gold braiding; the edges of the “book” have been loved down to white. On the back in faded gold printing it reads: “Franciscan Fathers T.O.R., Loretto, PA.”
When I opened the “book” I was not surprised to find a picture of St. Francis in a small oval frame covered with a small oval piece of clear plastic. Below the picture a miniscule oval, and inside that oval an even smaller piece of what appears to be brown fabric. Under the smallest of ovals it reads: “Cloth touched to relic of St. Francis.” What faith, to cherish a speck of fabric that was simply touched to some unknown relic of her favorite saint.
How could anyone disparage such faith? How could anyone not honor such faith? Since I found it, I carry mom’s St. Francis relic in my wallet and have for years, moving it from shabby wallet to new one. If we ever meet and I have my wallet with me, I will show it to you.
I have to wonder what mom would think if she was alive today and read that her beloved Franciscans were standing alongside the remaining US nuns and they, together, were standing up to the pope. While I believe she would support the pope, I also believe she was pragmatic enough to understand the position of the Franciscans and the nuns and she would be totally torn. Here’s the irony, I suspect she would get down on her knees and pray to St. Francis for enlightenment.
If that was my second thought, what was my first? Astonishment. During the course of my life I have wandered away from the Catholic faith, leaning now toward a more open-minded spirituality, heavily influenced by eastern philosophy. Even so, the tenants of Catholicism are deeply rooted in me even though I was the kid that raised her hand in religion class and started her questions with, “Yes, but …” and I was the kid the nuns called “doubting Thomas,” obviously ignoring the fact that it was a little girl standing in front of them. The notion of priests openly disagreeing with the pope and supporting women up to the brink of endorsing them as candidates to priesthood almost seems like science-fiction to me. If you had told me a week ago this would happen, I would not have believed it.
So, like my mom, I am taken aback by the Franciscan Leadership’s position as well. The difference being that I think mom would have felt disconcerted, perhaps a little betrayed, while I feel optimistic and pleasantly surprised.
The trees outside the windows are green and lush and hanging down from the weight of the relentless rain that pings off the roof of my camper. The frying pan is still warm on the stove and the dirty breakfast dishes on the counter don’t bother me at all this morning. It’s a rainy day at camp.
Instead of the hum of adult conversations, the excited chatter of happy kids and the occasional rattle of boat trailers that filled the air outside my camper last holiday weekend, today I hear the birds chirping and can almost hear the quiet through the raindrops. I can see my neighbors cars parked outside their campers, but, like me, the rain is keeping them inside. This morning when I woke and realized it was Saturday and I didn’t have to jump up and get on with the day, I let myself be lulled back to sleep by the comforting sound of the rain.
An hour later when I finally got up and opened the door to my camper, I spent two or three minutes just watching a very hungry hummingbird flit from one section of the bright red feeder to another, then fly away into the woods, only to return a few seconds later to eat again. Like that hummingbird, I had a big breakfast. Having time this morning to chop up some peppers and onion and cook them for a while before cracking a few eggs into the pan and scrambling everything up with a whisk. For an unknown reason, my toaster did not make it through the winter and I keep forgetting to buy a replacement so this morning I toasted bread in a pan and it reminded me of the many times I went camping in a tent and had to cook breakfast outside in an open fireplace, rain or shine.
Rainy days at camp also remind me of the delightful rainy days I spent with my little boy in a family camp on a lake years ago. Hours of reading children’s books, playing cards, watching children’s movies, him kneeling on the carpeted floor making tiny car tracks with the tiny metal HotWheels car we bought at the market the night before, then long summer naps on the overstuffed couch. When I was a child on rainy summer days I would make tents in my bedroom by draping blankets over bedposts and holding the ends of the blanket on the floor with tall piles of hardcover books.
Last weekend my friends, Cindy and Ned, came to visit me at the camper and brought a beautiful hanging plant which we hung outside one of the windows that looks out on the pond. During the past four days I have been away the plant has grown, the purple flowers have multiplied and the green leaves have begun to hang over the side. Now when I look out that window, I not only can see the clear mountain pond, but I am reminded of how lucky I am to have good friends in my life.
I am off now to finish watching the movie I paused on TV, begin reading that paperback book I picked up at the market last night and I believe I see an almost-summer nap in my future.