Discharged

24 August 1985

I’m sitting in a booth at Lenny’s Nosh Bar, dispatching the remains of a hot meatball sandwich with a Löwenbräu chaser and stewing in a shame of failed expectations that has dogged me from San Antonio to Eugene.

My return to Oregon after being discharged from the Air Force on grounds of a difference of opinion regarding my military career path was not celebrated at home by a ticker tape parade. There’s no reward for an idealistic child of flower children that infiltrates a system to change a system.

I desperately want to kick off my combat boots and peel off the military issue fatigues that hang on my body like an old skin to be shed in snake-like fashion and to wash away the sour smell of cigarette smoke and cheap alcohol—the proprietary perfume of the Greyhound bus that delivered me home—which clings to me like a desperate barfly. But first, I need to decompress in familiar surroundings.

Tossing back the last swallow of beer, I sigh deeply and press my back against the duffle bag propped beside the wall of the booth and close my eyes, listening to the sound of a twelve-bar blues tune with a palpitating Hammond B3 organ line as it spars with my beating heart. Green Onions, the 1962 hit by Booker T. & The MGs, is playing on the jukebox to welcome me back.

My head turns as the bell above the door rings and there’s Lenny Nathan, strolling into the Nosh Bar like he owns the place. He sees me and raises an eyebrow but heads directly to the tap. A moment later he comes over with another pint which he places on the table in front of me. He plucks a joint from the pocket of his apron and sets it beside the beer.

“I told ya so,” Lenny says. But there’s humor and understanding in his mischievous eyes.

I grin back at him as Ella Fitzgerald starts singing Too Young for the Blues.

Excerpt from Long Live Lenny’s Nosh Bar.

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Antonio Arrives in London (1592)

23 April 1592

London.

My English tutor, Thomas Watson, calls it a growling, hungry, leviathan that will swallow a man the moment he sets his boots down in Thames Street. And yet, in some ways, ’tis not so different from Venice with regard to the river Thames—which runs through the city from east to west. I wonder if the citizens revere the river in the same way that Venetians revere their canals.

“Londoners rely on its currents to transport them to and fro throughout the city,” Watson says, as if hearing my thoughts. “And to many other places besides.”

“Your gondolas are not so narrow as ours,” I say. “I also notice they lack the curved prow and stern as our boats and they are moved along with oars rather than a pole.”

“True,” Watson says. “And they are called wherries, not gondolas, and their captains are known as boatmen or watermen. Some have more than one boatman, which makes for speedy travel, and these men must be highly skilled to ply their trade—serving no less than a two-year apprenticeship before they are allowed to solo. This is a great comfort to the citizens of the town as London Bridge is the only foot bridge that spans across the river.”

I watch the continual flow of wherries crossing from one side to the other as other craft traverse up and down the length of the river and it seems like utter chaos.

Even so, Watson says the watermen are so skilled there are few mishaps.

“Moreover, the public wherries are considerably more comfortable than the common gondola because of the soft embroidered cushions on the seats. Ample room to stretch out your legs. Most are covered for protection from the rain.

And best of all, there is no haggling over the fare. It is a penny to cross from one bank side to the other. All other fares are fixed depending on distance and whether you are going with or against the tide.”

***

Excerpt from Shakespeare’s Apprentice, a  novel written by Richard La Rosa.