August 23, 1968

Izzy and Speedy come across a repeat butt-flicker in a 1955 Desoto Fireflite.

Later, Izzy tries to make things right with Juliana.

After supper that night, I called Juliana’s house, but her mother said she was still working at the diner. She asked me how I was in a way that was more than just something people say to one another. I told her I was doing all right, and there was a pause before she said Juliana would be home around 10. It sounded like a suggestion.

I decided to walk over to her house, which was a couple of miles away. I spent a lot of time walking that summer, behind lawnmowers, lugging golf bags around those 18 flags. As I was thus walking, uttering no sound, except to hail the men aloft, sometimes insight would emerge from the tossing or rolling of one foot in front of another.

Her house was mostly dark when I got there and the Fairlane was dozing in the driveway. I didn’t know where her bedroom was or much about the layout of the house. It was a split level built over a basement that opened out onto the back yard, which was lower than the front. Lights burned in separate corners of the house.

I scouted around the back and I was not surprised to find the black-and-white glow of the portable television casting creepy shadows on her father’s face. He was staring into the screen, out there in the August night, with a beer can in hand.

Her dad was only a little startled when I stepped out of the night into his cathode-ray campfire. Maybe this happened to him all the time. “We are getting killed by the fucking Braves,” he said, as though we all took communion in the misery of the Phillies, with just one National League trophy to show for all those years of trying.

I came around and looked over his shoulder. Little men in gray were scratching themselves and spitting while they waited for something to happen in the timeless ballet of inspirational geometry that is modern American baseball.

“Is Juliana home?” I asked.

“I dunno. Did you see the Ford?” Then something bad happened again in the television and he groaned. But he was unable to tear himself away from the suffering.

“Yup, it’s in the drive.”

“Then she’s prob’ly in her room.” He couldn’t tear himself away from the unfolding Phillies disaster.

I circled around to the front of the house. A picture window was lit up, but I guessed that it was her mother sitting in the living room. The other light was in a back corner, and on my way there I came across a ladder stored along the side of the house. All of a sudden, it seemed like a good idea to hoist the ladder and peep into the lighted corner window.

Gentle reader, please note that this is usually not a good idea.

However, insurrection was a thing in those days. I raised one track of the ladder to the appropriate length and managed to lean it with little fanfare against the house, right below the beckoning window.

At that point in my life, I was a lot more familiar with work on the surface of the earth. So climbing the wobbly ladder was enlightening. Each rung brought me closer to the Beach Boys, spinning around on Juliana’s record player. Though the middle rungs were wobbly, the climb became more stable at the top and even seemed the right place to be. She was lying face-down on her bed, her foot keeping beat.

Happy times together we could be spending, I hummed along.

I waited until the song was over, and then tapped on the window frame just loud enough to be heard.

Again, it was hard to surprise these people. She looked up, but couldn’t tell what was going on out in the dark on the other side of the screen. Like it was an everyday thing, she got up and came over to raise the screen.

“Look at you,” she said, leaning forward to be kissed. There are some tactics that work nearly every time. Our lips lingered there, remembering.

“I’m sorry I left you at Martine’s. I should have stayed.”

“I got home all right,” she said. I could see in her face that it had upset her. “But I couldn’t figure out why you left.”

“I don’t know myself.” I wondered at that point what I was doing on a ladder at her window.

“Then you told me you love me,” she said, her eyes brimming, “and you left before I could even turn around.”

“I’m sorry about that, too.”

“Sorry that you love me, or sorry that you left so quickly?”

“I am okay with how I feel about you, but I maybe should have waited till I knew what I was talking about.”

She thought that over. “Until you knew what the fuck you were talking about?”

“Yes, that.” We smiled at each other.

“Just because we’re in love doesn’t mean we have to always agree, you know,” Juliana said.

That plural pronoun was one of the most wonderful things anyone had ever said to me.

“Do you know what our highlight has been, so far, for me?” she asked.

I was sifting through possibilities, glad that there was a “so far” in there.

“Skinny-dipping in the creek.”

“Before or after the criminals tried to steal our clothes?”

“I mean all of it. As we were walking back to the car I kept thinking to myself, ‘Where’s he going to take me next, the black hole of Calcutta?’”

“Sheesh, I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Having climbed as high as I could on that ladder, I lingered there with her, the two of us like a pair of idiots, making out through her open bedroom window. And yet when I climbed back down the ladder, I wondered if we had gotten as high as we would get. from the suffering.

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