UNITED STATES—Five long years without a vacation. Yeah, there were trips to visit the grandparents—famiy trips—but they didn’t count as a real vacation.
In Cahuenga Springs, Ben slept on that concrete-sack futon on the floor like he hadn’t slept in five years. No dreams. The dream started Sunday morning when his friend’s mom, who’d insisted they stay overnight, made coffee and told him to walk to the shrine. As Gretchen slept, he walked to the Buddha Shrine and took in the mystical valley, amazed at an open jar left near the Buddha and brimming with coins and bills.
Not having intended to stay the night, Ben and his daughter had planned to leave early, but you couldn’t hold onto the hour in Cahuenga Springs. It was noon when they went downtown with the father of Ben’s friend. There was a yogi on every street corner and refugees from New York and Chicago. Time further dissolved, egged on by the old man who led them to the toy store and stopped to talk to everyone he saw. At the toy store Gretchen asked her dad to buy an overpriced doll. Dolls were something she wouldn’t care about for much longer, and he felt terrible about telling her no.
Just when they were heading back to their cars in order to leave, the old man said he wanted to show them a secret (“Something few have ever seen.”) and off he ambled on his own. Following him, they crossed a street crossing that had flashing lights embedded in the bricked pavement.
The grown-ups all laughed. The secret the old man referred was the only blinkered crosswalk in Cahuenga Springs. He’d tricked them into going to the library, where he had a book overdue.
They all finally said goodbye on the curb next to Ben’s car which badly needed washing.
It was four o’clock and they were well on the road, when the phone call came. Ben didn’t recognize the number. Realizing it was Danny’s number, he called back. After a second attempt he left a message:
“I’m on my way back to the city. You are relieved of your duties,” he said.
In a way, Ben was glad nobody had answered. It might have taken more time to deal with than Ben cared to spend.
“God dammit,” Ben snapped. His daughter looked at him, smirking. She smirked when he cursed.
“I knew I shouldn’t have told him we’d be back at three,” Ben said. “Holy cow, he’s so literal. This is our vacation still.”
Inside, Ben knew that the vacation had been spoiled by Danny’s call.
From time to time Danny was helping fill in for Ben at the arcade, where he came to play Donkey Kong every Sunday afternoon exactly at 3 o’clock. The man with the red mullet always got just enough tokens for 30 minutes’ play.
When Ben got back to the city he wanted to pay Danny off right away. This time Ben had prepared to pay Danny off, and avoid hassles. Danny didn’t know half the hustles Ben had going, and being bugged about the pay could derail him. The funny thing, Danny still managed to derail him and spoil the vacation.
Fuming, Ben parked in front of the arcade. It looked OK: a few smudges on the window, no blinking light to signal the tokens were out and in need of replacement. Walking perturbed down the street to Danny’s apartment, it occurred to Ben that Danny must have been really worried about his well-being. This intuition served to simmer down his boiling rage.
“I understand,” Ben said as Danny opened the door, revealing his carrot-red mullet. “You were concerned about me when I didn’t come back when I said I would.”
Danny looked at him and said in his gentle voice, “I was worried about you AND your daughter. Something could have happened. When I didn’t hear from you . . . “
“You didn’t get my message?” Ben said.
“No,” he said in that even, gentle way.
Ben handed Danny the money owed for taking care of the arcade, after subtracting the advance. Danny gaped at the folded money in his hand and his face screwed up slightly, then he remembered the $10 advance.
Danny needed it and it made Ben feel good to give it. Now it felt good to keep his rage in check.
“Thanks for everything,” Ben said. “You always make me feel like a better human being.”
Ben walked quickly down the street. How sad, he thought. There wasn’t a place in the rotten world for people like Danny, so true, so pure. There was always room for hustlers like Ben who had to lie, gamble and cheat his way through every day.
He had just come from this place of beauty and peace, Cahuenga Springs, only to find he could rage again. He still had to do something about Danny. He phoned the owner of the game arcade and left a message, “Maybe you should consider taking out the Donkey Kong. Hardly anybody plays it any more.”
Humorist Grady Miller is author of “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon.