SEPTEMBER 12, 1970: TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

Richard Nixon called him the most dangerous man in America, an honor usually reserved by Republicans for figures such as Charles Darwin and Barack Obama. Timothy Leary wasn’t always so “dangerous.” He had a distinguished military service and academic psychology career timothy-leary-until he started thinking way outside the box, promoting the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. It was your basic slippery slope, as he quickly evolved during the wild and woolly 60’s to a self-described performing philosopher and hippie guru. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD with such heady concepts as space migration and intelligence increase. Eventually, it was all about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.

As a result, Leary also came to spend more time in jail than out of it, becoming intimate with 36 prisons throughout the world. In January 1970, he received a 20-year prison sentence for a pair of earlier transgressions. Upon his reporting for prison duty, Leary was given a series of psychological tests meant to help determine what work duties he was suited to. Having himself designed such tests, he found it quite easy to manipulate the results so that they would show him to be a model citizen with an interest in forestry and gardening, pursuits that would conveniently keep him out of doors.

Leary was assigned to work as a gardener in a minimum security prison. On September 12, 1970, leaving a farewell note, he climbed over the prison wall along a telephone wire to a waiting pickup truck supplied by the Weather Underground. For $25,000 (paid by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love), the weathermen smuggled Leary and his wife out of the United States and into Algeria. From there, they traveled to Switzerland, Vienna and Beirut. In 1972, they headed for Afghanistan which had no extradition policy with the U.S. Unfortunately, they traveled aboard an American airline, and were arrested before they could deplane.

Leary was returned to prison where he remained until his release in 1976. He died in 1996.

Come Together

“Come Together,” written by John Lennon, became a big hit for the Beatles and an anti-war anthem. It was originally written as a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s aborted run for governor against Ronald Reagan.

Said Lennon: “The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; “Come Together” was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, “Come Together,” which would’ve been no good to him—you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?

 

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 2: My New Playmates

One Thursday afternoon Bessie, Cora and I were having tuna fish and mustard sandwiches, the only way they ever served it.  Wilhelm came by with the scarf draped around his shoulders that indicated he was going out for a walk, kissed Bessie on the forehead, and said:  “Cora, I’m going out twinsfor a short walk with Walter and Elliot.”  Bessie’s face tightened right up so it was even harder than Ludwig the Rock; Cora just sighed and shook her head.

“That’s what I want to do,” I said.

“What do you want to do, dear?” asked Cora.

“Go outside and see some friends.”

“But you don’t have any friends around here,” said Bessie.

“That’s what I want,” I said, a little petulantly.  “Some friends around here, someone to play with.”

“Poor dear,” said Cora. “A boy your age does need someone to play with, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does,” I said, poking my finger into my tuna to make little tunnels.

“Oh my,” said Cora.  “I wonder if maybe we could just . . .”

“Cora,” Bessie said in a voice that was probably as firm as Edward G. Robinson’s.

“Oh Bessie,” said Cora.  These twin fortunetellers were having a complete conversation just using each other’s names, and I didn’t have a clue to what they were saying.

“Cora,” Bessie reiterated.

Cora sighed.  “All right, Bessie.”  End of conversation. Certainly enlightening.  Bessie smiled a grim smile and picked up the empty plates and the scarred remnants of my tuna sandwich.  She gave Cora one last meaningful look and marched out of the room.  I knew it was time for Mrs. Halloran who came every Thursday at two for news of her husband, Warrant Officer Warren Halloran, who was in the Philippines and probably having an affair with a nurse.

I studied Cora’s face for insight and she did her level best to remain expressionless and enigmatic.  She failed miserably, and I was able to figure out that she had some plan for finding me playmates that Bessie didn’t approve of.

After ten minutes of an intensive, intimidating ten-year-old stare, Cora broke.  “If you could play with anyone you wanted to,” she said with a lot of hesitation, “who do you suppose you’d choose.”

“You mean someone who doesn’t live in this neighborhood?”

“There aren’t many children your age in this neighborhood,” said Cora.

“Someone from my own neighborhood?”

“Perhaps.”

“Someone from very far way?”

“I suppose.”

“Someone I didn’t even know, like someone in the movies?”

“Someone like Shirley Temple?”

I made a face.  “Someone like the Little Rascals, maybe.”

“Little Rascals,” Cora mused.  “I guess I could conjure up a rascal or two.”  And so Cora had me concentrate very hard, with my eyes closed tight, on the ones I wanted to play with.  And after a minute, she’d say:  “I see them now.  I see who you want to play with.”  She’d sometimes tell me I was thinking of so-and-so, usually a name I’d never heard of, but it didn’t matter.  If I thought hard enough, she’d conjure up the person I was thinking of, and we’d pass many Tuesdays and Thursdays playing together.  And my playmates became more and more fanciful.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” Rick would say to me before he sent me off into the cutthroat-filled streets of Morocco with a highly secret document.  Or I might be called on to kick some wicked witch butt for Dorothy and her inept companions.  Capturing big cats with Clyde Beatty, searching catacombs for Count Dracula’s casket, watching the crazy world from under Harpo’s overcoat — there wasn’t much I didn’t do those Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sometimes when taking a break from my own frenzied activity, I’d listen in while Bessie and Cora told the young military wives their fortunes, and I sensed a change taking place.  One day, Bessie spoke to a young woman about something called a fraulein and sent her away crying.  But it was Cora’s fortunes that were changing the most.  Her futures had always been so bright, so happy — something to look forward to.  Now they were about making the best of bad times and being strong for the kids.

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Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories 

 

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SEPTEMBER 8, 1892: PLEDGE, SALUTE, SING OUT THE CHORUS

salutePLEDGE, SALUTE

Daniel Sharp Ford was a bit of a flag-waver. He thought the country needed a little more patriotism, and so launched a crusade to get flags into every school in the country. As the owner of the magazine Youth’s Companion he had a ready-made platform for the promotion of his ideas. As part of his patriotism package, he asked a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, to create a pledge to the flag of one’s country, a pledge that could be used throughout the world.

Bellamy came up with a pledge that was simplicity itself, and Ford published it in the September 8, 1892, issue of his magazine. The Pledge of Allegiance, as it was called, read:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The pledge was incredibly popular, repeated in schools, public gatherings, government meetings, in Congress. However, Ford and Bellamy found it awkward that folks just stood there while pledging, so they came up with a nifty salute. Pledgers would face the flag, extend their right arm forward and slightly upward — the Bellamy Salute.

Years passed and folks were happily pledging, but then the tinkering began. In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States” were added, thanks to the efforts of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution who fretted that immigrant children might be confused about just which flag they were pledging allegiance to. A year later, the worriers added “of America.”

Then the Bellamy Salute came under fire; it looked a little too much like the German Nazi salute.

Come 1954, Congress got into the act, adding the words “under God” as a way of thumbing their noses at those godless communists, and giving the pledge its current form.

SING OUT THE CHORUS

BelafontecalypsoHarry Belafonte is an American singer, songwriter, actor, activist, and of course the King of Calypso. His third album, Calypso, hit the top of the charts on September 8, 1956, and had everyone singing out the chorus “Day-o.” It became the first album by a single artist to sell a million copies. In addition to “Day-o (Banana Boat Song),” the album included such calypso standards as “Jamaica Farewell,” “Man Smart,” and “Will His Love Be Like His Rum?” Discerning readers will note that some of those calypso standards serve as titles for short stories included in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean.

SEPTEMBER 6, 1916: THIS LITTLE PIGGLY WIGGLY

THIS LITTLE PIGGLY WIGGLY

Before September 6, 1916, if you needed groceries, you would head to your local store and present your list to the friendly grocer standing behind the counter. The grocer would then fetch the items you requested. This could be time consuming and of course you always ended up behind the person who didn’t have a proper list or felt the need to chat for a bit. Clarence Saunders changed all that when he opened the very first Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tennessee. In his amazing store, you could wander throughout four aisles gathering your own goodies at your own pace, pausing to study the nutrition labels if you wished, or zipping through at a breakneck pace. The store’s 605 items were carefully organized into departments of like products. You worked your way through this shopping wonderland to where a cashier waited to check you out.

Saunders patented this self-service concept which was also known as a groceteria, and during the next few years issued franchises to hundreds of grocers throughout the Midwest and South. This little Piggly Wiggly went to market and grew up into an empire of 2,660 stores with annual sales of $180 million.

Saunders of course grew wealthy as well, but wouldn’t you know it he got greedy. He attempted to play funny with Piggly Wiggly stock, squeezing short interest and tripling its price. The stock exchange folks got wind of his scheme, and Saunders got caught, losing $9 million as a result. His company was broken up with stores being sold to such other players as Krogers and Safeway.

Saunders attempted to stage a comeback with fully automated grocery shopping in his Keedoozle stores but the concept failed to catch on (or was it the name? Would any serious shopper admit he or she was going to run down to the local Keedoozle?). Saunders died in 1953. A replica of his original store has been constructed in the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium.

Ernest Tubb (1914-1984)

Known throughout his career as the Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb was a pioneer of country music who helped to popularize the honky tonk style with his major 1941 hit “Walking the Floor Over You.” His career went on to span another four decades. He died on September 6, 1984.

 

SEPTEMBER 2, 1838: LEI LADY LEI

LEI LADY LEI

Her name didn’t exactly come tripping off Hawaiian tongues, but the islands’ last queen, Lydia Kamehameha Liliuokalani was a beloved leader during her short royal stint. She became queen in 1891 upon the death of her brother King David Kalakaua.

Liliuokalani-hero-H

Government ministers demanded that Liliuokalani immediately sign an oath to uphold the constitution that had been previously forced upon her brother. It pretty much made her queen in name only. She tried unsuccessfully to form a cabinet several times. She drafted a royalist constitution but it went nowhere. Finally, just two years later, pro-American forces overthrew the government and named as president Sanford B. Dole, a name that lives on in infamy and pineapples.

Liliuo — we’ll call her Lydia — petitioned President Grover Cleveland who said the coup was probably illegal and certainly not very nice. But Dole just thumbed his nose at the pronouncement. Eventually, after an attempted uprising for which she was blamed, Lydia was placed under house arrest. During her confinement, she penned Hawaii’s most famous song, “Aloha Oe” (other than Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” perhaps).

Lydia Kamehameha Liliuokalani was pardoned in 1896 and died in 1917 at the age of 79.

 

tHE cAT cAME bACK

In 1813, Londoners were amazed to see, floating down the Thames River toward London Bridge, a large bowl with a passenger on board — a tortoiseshell cat, quite relaxed and seemingly enjoying the journey. As she approached the fall, onlookers were certain she would be overturned and thrown into the water. But she stayed seated and, to loud cheers, deftly shot the center arch with as much dexterity as a white water kayaker.

A young boy in a boat having observed this feat rowed toward her and lifted her into his boat. He discovered a parchment scroll hanging from a collar around her neck. The note stated that if she should reach London safely she should be taken to a Mrs. Clarke in Highstreet who would reward the person delivering the cat. The boy conveyed the cat to Mrs. Clarke who gave him half a crown. Mrs. Clarke was well aware of the circumstances of the cat’s arrival, the voyage having been the result of a wager between two Richmond gentlemen. With precious little to do, it would seem.

Carry a Big Shtick

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Minnesota State Fair On September 2, 1901 in which he publicly used the phrase with which he would always be associated:  Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.  Four days later, President William McKinley was shot by an assassin and following his death eight days later, Roosevelt became President.

My father always wanted to be the center of attention.  When he went to a wedding, he wanted to be the bridegroom.  When he went to a funeral, he wanted to be the corpse. — Alice Roosevelt Longworth

 

 

 

AUGUST 31, 1928: LOOK OUT FOR LOTTE LENYA

With music by Kurt Weill and words by Bertolt Brecht, Die Dreigoschenoper premiered in Berlin in 1928. By 1933, when Brecht and Weill were forced to leave Germany, the musical comedy which offers a socialist view of a capitalist world had been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times. We of course are more familiar with the English title, The Threepenny Opera.  And we’re mostly familiar with the opening song which has been sung by practically everyone, most notably, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald in a grammy-winning performance, and Bobby Darin who made it the top song of 1959 – “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” (“The Ballad of Mack the Knife”). The song was added just before the premiere, when the actor playing Macheath threatened to quit if his character did not receive an introduction.

 

At the beginning of the play, we meet Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, a London entrepreneur who runs the city’s begging operation, training the beggars and taking a nice chunk of their earnings. He is the perfect capitalist, a man who today would work for Goldman Sachs.

But Peachum has problems: his grown daughter Polly did not return home the previous night, and Peachum fears she has been misbehaving, and worse still, misbehaving with the ne’er-do-well Macheath.  Peachum does what any worried father would do – he determines to thwart this budding relationship by taking away her cell phone and having her paramour hanged.

Fade to Macheath who is preparing to marry Polly once his gang has stolen her trousseau. After the gang has stolen some food and a table, they all enjoy a wedding banquet. Polly entertains with a charming little song about a maid who becomes a pirate queen and executes her former bosses and customers. The Chief of Police, Tiger Brown, joins the party. It seems he had served with Macheath during the wars and had, over the years, exerted his influence to keep Macheath out of jail. He and Macheath sing. Polly returns home and lays the fact that she has married Macheath on her parents who are not amused. She sings a charming little song advising them to go fuck themselves, bringing the first act to a conclusion.

In Act Two, Polly warns Macheath that her father is gunning for British bear and that he must leave London. He agrees and leaves his gang in Polly’s hands. On his way out of town, Macheath stops at his favorite brothel, where he sees his ex-lover, Jenny. They sing a charming little song (“Pimp’s Ballad”) about their days together, but (the plot having thickened) Jenny has been bribed by Mrs Peachum to turn him in. Despite Brown’s apologies, he’s powerless and must drag Macheath away to jail. Macheath sings a charming little song about his life being over.   Another girlfriend, Lucy (Brown’s daughter) and Polly arrive at the same time from stage right and stage left, respectively.  A nasty argument ensues and together they sing a charming little duet about scratching each other’s eyes out. After Polly leaves, Lucy engineers Macheath’s escape, bringing the act to a tidy conclusion.

In Act Three, Jenny selfishly demands her money for the betrayal of Macheath, which Mrs Peachum refuses to pay.  Jenny nevertheless reveals that Macheath is at Suky Tawdry’s house, and he is once again arrested. Back in jail and scheduled to be executed, Macheath desperately tries to raise the bribe money to get out again, even as the gallows are being erected.  But no one comes to his aid, and Macheath prepares to die.  He laments his fate in a charming little song.  But what’s this? A deus ex machina enters stage left. Peachum announces that in this opera mercy will prevail over justice, and in a parody of a happy ending, a messenger from the Queen arrives to pardon Macheath and grant him a title, a castle and a pension. The play then ends with a plea that wrongdoing not be punished too harshly as life is harsh enough.

AUGUST 26, 1851: DOO-DA, DOO-DA

DOO-DA, DOO-DA

Picture a young man sitting on an elaborate veranda on a warm afternoon. Off to his right a beautiful river languidly flows on its journey from the swamps of Georgia to the Gulf Mexico; on the left, fields of cotton stretch into the distance. He is sipping a mint julep perhaps, and listening to the lilting voices of the slaves as they sing a happy song while picking cotton for their beloved “massa.” Life is good, everyone thinks, and hopes it will stay just like this forever.

The young man is inspired to pen a song: “Way down upon de Swanee Ribber, Far, far away. Dere’s wha my heart is turning ebber, Dere’s wha de old folks stay.”

The young man is, of course, Stephen C. Foster, one of America’s best-loved musical storytellers, who wrote “Old Folks at Home” (or Swanee River) in 1851, one of about 200 songs he authored during his prolific career.

While working as a bookkeeper in Cincinnati, Foster wrote his first successful songs — among them “Oh! Susanna,” and “Nelly Was a Lady”, made famous by the blackface Christy Minstrels. During the following years, Foster wrote most of his best-known songs for the Christy Minstrels: “Camptown Races,” “Nelly Bly,” “Old Folks at Home”, “My Old Kentucky Home,” and “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair.”

Many of Foster’s songs were not original; he was a “Songcatcher,” writing down songs that had been passed down for generations. And about him sitting on that southern veranda – erase that. Foster chose the Suwannee River that flows through Florida because it fit the meter of the song; he never set foot in the state. Nor the south. He visited only once, on a riverboat voyage down the Mississippi – after he had written the songs.

Swanee River became the Florida state song in 1935. In an episode of Jackie Gleason’s “Honeymooners” called The $99,000 Answer, Ed Norton warms up on the piano by playing the opening to “Swanee River.” Later, on the game show of the title, the first question asked is, “Who is the composer of “Swanee River?” Ralph nervously responds with “Ed Norton,” and loses the game.

Chances are, those slaves picking cotton were not all that happy either.

Slaves are generally expected to sing as well as to work. ― Frederick Douglass

AUGUST 7, 1966: CINCO DE CUGAT

CINCO DE CUGAT

Francesc d’Asís Xavier Cugat Mingall de Bru i Deulofeu was born in Spain and emigrated to Cuba when when he was five. He was trained as a classical violinist and played with the Orchestra of the cugatTeatro Nacional in Havana before coming to the United States in 1915, where he rode the tango craze to stardom in movies and night clubs. Eventually Cugat and his orchestra became the resident musicians at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.

     On August 7, 1966, Cugat took his fifth stab at marriage with Charo, a Spanish guitarist and comic actress. One can only wonder why the 60-year-old Cugat would marry a 20-year-old who could barely speak English. It must have been her flamenco ability. Cugat’s previous wife, the sultry Abbe Lane, couldn’t play a lick.

     As a recording artist, Cugat followed dance trends carefully; his tango years were succeeded by  takes on the conga, the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, and the twist when each was in fashion. He had major hits with his recordings of “Pefidia” and “Brazil.”

     Cugat is the only band leader in the Conductors Who Hold Chihuahuas While Performing Hall of Fame.

 

I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve. ―Xavier Cugat

JULY 29, 1887: NAUGHTY NOMADS AND SINGING SOTS

NAUGHTY NOMADS AND SINGING SOTS

Born in 1887, Sigmund Romberg moved to the United States in 1909 and, after a short resume builder in a pencil factory (as a sharpener?), found work as a pianist.  An instrument here, an instrument there, and pretty soon he had his own orchestra. He published a few songs that caught the attention of the Shubert brothers, who in 1914 hired him to write music for their Broadway shows. Next day on his dressing room, they hung a star.

 

Career off and running, he wrote his best-known operettas, The Student Prince in 1924, The Desert Song in 1926, and The New Moon in 1928.

 

The Student Prince was the most successful of Romberg’s works, the longest-running Broadway show of the 1920s at 608 performances, even longer than the classic Show Boat.  The “Drinking Song,” with its rousing chorus, was especially popular in 1924, with Prohibition is full swing:

Drink! Drink!
  Let the toast start!
  May young hearts never part!
  Drink! Drink! Drink!
  Let every true lover salute his sweetheart!
  Let's drink!

The Mario Lanza version from the 1954 movie remains popular with imbibers everywhere.

The Desert Song (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein) is your typical superhero-adopts-mild-mannered disguise-to-keep-his true-identity-secret saga much like Zorro and Superman but with better music and no phone booths. The Red Shadow loves a beautiful and spirited girl, who loves his hero persona but not his wimpy side.  Will true love win out over hero worship? After much sophisticated music, lust in the dust and naughty humor, we learn the answer, especially in a lavish 1929 film production of the operetta – but only until the 1940s when it became illegal to view or exhibit the 1929 film in the United States because the folks in charge feared the naughty bits would morally harm us.

A second feature version was made in 1943, which had our hero fighting the Nazis, and a third version with Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae in 1953 was about as squeaky clean as you can get.  Thank god for censors.

I drink to make other people more interesting. ― Ernest Hemingway

JULY 17, 1717: CHAMBERMAIDS GONE WILD

CHAMBERMAIDS GONE WILD

The King was on the poop deck counting out his money; the Queen was in the fo’c’sle eating bread and honey.

     A bevy of aristocrats, including King George I himself, boarded the royal barge at Whitehall Palace for a nautical jaunt up the Thames toward Chelsea.  Anne V was there, as was the Duchess Sailing to Musicof Bolton, the Duchess of Newcastle, the Countess of Darlington, the Countess of Godolphin, Madam Kilmarnock, and the Earl of Orkney, to drop just a few names. The rising tide propelled the barge upstream without any necessity of rowing. The evening’s dinner consisted of four and twenty naughty boys, baked in a pie.*

     Another barge provided by the City of London contained His Majesty’s secret service, the press corps, and fifty musicians who performed music written for the occasion by composer and conductor George Frideric Handel. The music opened with a melodic French overture and skittered through minuets and bourrées, with enthusiastic hornpipers hornpiping throughout.

     Many freeloaders also took to the river to hear the free concert. According to a London newspaper, the whole River was covered with rubbernecking boats and barges.  On arriving at Chelsea, the king left his barge, then returned to it at about 11 p.m. for the return trip. No one knows exactly what he did during his bit of shore leave, but rumor has it a chambermaid was involved. (The Queen was in the fo’c’sle eating bread and honey; the King was in the Chambermaid and she was in the money, goes the unauthorized verse.) The king was so pleased with the evening’s music that he yelled “more, more” every time the orchestra attempted to take a break, forcing them to play until well after midnight.  The moonlight, the lapping of the water against the barge, and the chambermaid are all lost to history, but Handel’s Water Music lives on.

* Sing a Song of Sixpence,
   A bag full of Rye,
   Four and twenty Naughty Boys,
   Baked in a Pye.

 

JULY 14, 1789, 1973: BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

Every écolier and écolière knows that the breakup of France – Révolution française – began in 1789, its defining moment the storming of the Bastille on the morning of July 14. 1789. This storming_the_bastille[1]medieval fortress in the center of Paris represented royal authority. That the Bastille housed only seven inmates – all with good reason to be there – was unimportant. It was a symbol of the abuses of the absolute monarchy, and the French had had it with monarchs, aristocrats, and pretty much anyone in power. Bring on liberté, égalité, fraternité.   King Louis XVI, exit stage right

 

Bye Bye Don

Another momentous breakup took place on the evening of the same day, nearly 200 years later, in 1973, at Knott’s Berry Farm in California (Knott’s Berry Farm was America’s first theme park and probably the only one devoted to grapes and strawberries and such things). Every schoolgirl and schoolboy knows that the Everly Brothers were one of America’s most successful pop duos, lending their sibling harmony to such hits as “Bye Bye Love”, “All I Have To Do is Dream” and “Wake Up Little Susie”, a franchise that would seemingly go on forever. Well, forever is a long time, and brothers Don and Phil had, by the end of the 1960s pretty much had it with liberté, égalité, fraternité and most definitely with each other.

The defining moment of their breakup came in the middle of their set when the stage manager told the audience that the rest of the show had been canceled because brother Don was “too emotional” to play.  In reality, Brother Don was too drunk to play. His skipped guitar notes and bungled lyrics sent brother Phil into a real snit. Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off stage into a solo career, promising he would “never get on stage with that man again.”

 

Phil and Don reached a sort of detente a decade later.  Louis XVI, on the other hand, was beheaded.

(Phil Everly died in January 2014).

I have no intention of sharing my authority. — King Louis XVI

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 2: A Bargain Is Struck

Monty hated the thought of paying Bridget Berman seventy-five dollars a day to do practically nothing and eat his food in the bargain. What if Aunt Agatha held on for three or four days? No matter how bad she looked, she was a tough old bird. She could rack up a couple hundred dollars while he was in the city.

By the time Monty bit the bullet and finally contacted Bridget Berman, he had already devised a scheme to avoid paying the old hag more than what he considered appropriate remuneration for her services. Emphasizing how sick the old lady was, how she probably wouldn’t make it through the next 24 hours, Monty proposed a flat fee for Bridget’s sitting services. “Ninety dollars,” said Monty, “It’ll be like getting paid time and a half most likely.”

Bridget didn’t trust Monty at all; she assumed right off that he was trying to procure her services on the cheap. But if the old woman were really dying . . . Bridget also hated to pass up something extra for next to nothing. She expressed doubt about the arrangement. “But I will consider it. Mind you, just consider it. First I must see your aunt for myself.” Bridget had watched a good many people check out of this world and felt confident that she could reasonably judge the amount of time a person had left.

Later, as they stood at Aunt Agatha’s bedside, Bridget, after carefully studying the dying woman for several minutes, concluded that here lay one very sick woman and that she had better get an agreement quickly, before Aunt Agatha expired. “I don’t know,” said Bridget, “She doesn’t look all that bad to me. But I understand your situation, and I want to be as agreeable as I possibly can. One hundred and fifty dollars.”

Monty stood silently thinking. Aunt Agatha groaned.

“One twenty-five,” said Bridget.

“You’ll stay until she dies,” said Monty.

“Or until you return,” said Bridget.

“Agreed.”

Ten hours passed. Monty was in the city, Bridget sat bedside, and Aunt Agatha lay there still looking as though the next minute would be her last. Bridget sighed and dozed off. She awoke Saturday morning to find Aunt Agatha just as ill and just as alive as she had been the night before. For eight hours, Bridget stared at the bedridden woman just lying there, continuing to breathe without consideration for others, taking money from Bridget as though she were a common pickpocket.

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