He had huge blue eyes, a shock of pure white hair under a ball cap. Tall and gangly, you could tell by his profile he had been a very handsome man once. Sunburned by a thousand hot Fresno suns, he rode his bicycle here and there over the streets of the town. A scarecrow on the back of a bike.
“Bill, Bill, is that you?” The chubby elderly lady dressed in a mauve warm-up suit waved one hand out of her front door. “Oh, Bill, I have something for you. Just wait a sec and I’ll be right out.”
He paused in front of his apartment door, the door key in his hand, and turned to look down the hallway. Impatience clouded his face as he clutched the key. He decided to head inside. Phyllis would catch up. She always did. He unlocked the door and dumped his heavy backpack on the floor. Thankfully they had a nice bike rack downstairs so he could lock up his bike without having to bring it inside.
He started to flip through his mail, looking to see if there was anything interesting. Whole Term Life, get your policy for Whole Term Life. Discounted, special for senior citizens! He threw it in the trash with a flick. Coupons, coupons, Green Dot Market coupons, he set those aside. More ads for cable TV, wireless phones, hearing aids. Funeral home specials.
“Jesus!” He thought to himself. “I’m not dead yet!”
There was one for a Latin dance club. Cumbiatron!!!!! In bold letters it announced salsa night at the club. He put that one to the side.
There was a knock on the door. Grudgingly, he went to open it.
“There you are, thought I had missed you!” Phyllis gushed with an aluminum covered pan in her hands.
“I wish,” Bill winced to himself.
“I just happened to have some extra of this beef casserole and I know how much you like ground beef. No big pieces.” She smiled the big smile at him, a wonderful set of choppers showing.
“Oh, that is so nice of you Phyllis,” he oozed is his best nicey, nice voice. “You are so right, it is my favorite.” He yanked the glass dish out of her hands and placed it on the counter.
“I thought maybe you could join us downstairs later for some bridge.”
“Sorry Phyllis, I just can’t. Got some things I just have to get done. Maybe next time.” He was scooting her toward the door with his big, boney hands.
Her mouth formed a little disappointed frown. “Oh, I just thought…”
“No, no. You were right to ask. It’s just that I have had a long morning already and have to rest up for this evening. You understand.” He grinned at her. He had a nice set of choppers too.
Phyllis recovered. “Okay then, well enjoy your dinner and next time.”
Bill nodded vigorously and shut the door on her rear end.
“Now where is that blue silk shirt I used to have.” He went into the bedroom and started to rummage through his closet. He wanted to make it so church tonight and see if that new gal was there.
“Lady, Linda,” he mused, “what was her name? Ah, here it is.” He slid the long sleeved shirt out of the closet and examined it. Being over twenty years old, it was not doing too badly.
“Like you, you old dog.” He winked at himself in the mirror. “Lady, I think the name was. Hot!”
He headed for the shower humming a little tune, Lady from Styx.
That evening, Bill arrived at Open Door Mission Church a little early and hustled over to get coffee and cookies before they were all gone. The church crowd was starting to gather and mill around. Bill worked the room saying hello and shaking hands. He was peering around looking to see if Lady had arrived yet. To his disappointment she was still not there.
“Patience,” he mumbled to himself. “All things in God’s time, can’t rush it.”
“Bill, hey, you’re here!” Came the booming voice of the church pastor. Bill turned. Jimmy Dean, minister of Open Door was a paunchy guy with a friendly face and balding, thin blond hair. He was extending his hand effusively toward Bill.
They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. After a few minutes, Jimmy shifted his over-tight belt around on his double-knit polyester tan pants. Bill wondered if they came from Wal-Mart. It would be the kind of tacky thing the pastor’s wife would buy.
“Bill, I need to discuss something with you for just a minute.” Jimmy was starting to sweat a little on the brow. There was a pause while the man tried to collect his thoughts.
“You know that we at the church,” he waved his hand a bit to indicate the congregation, “always appreciate all the help you give us, volunteering and all.”
“I’m here to serve and help Jimmie, you know that,” Bill answered earnestly. “I’m just a humble servant.”
Jimmy paused for a moment, seemingly losing his train of thought. “Ah, yeah. Right. That is sort of the thing Bill,” he paused again, “some of the parishioners, just a few mind you, have been complaining about the help you have been giving them.”
Bill managed to look shocked. “Whatever can you mean Jimmy?”
“Well,” Jimmy was having a little trouble with the words, “some people feel you are a little, well, intense…yes, yes, that’s the word. A little too intense for their liking.”
“Well, Jimmy, you know that I started out in seminary school, and I have been doing good works and carrying the message of the Lord for all these years. I am so sorry if people just aren’t interested…”
“Interested is not really the right word Bill, no, no. I wouldn’t use the word ‘interested’. No, it’s more like they feel like you come on too strong with them and the message and they feel…” He was struggling again, “They feel, well, intimidated. Yes, that’s it. Intimidated.” The pastor managed a weak smile.
Bill was shaking his head back and forth, mystified.
“Well, Jimmy, whatever it is you want from me, you know you just have to ask. You know that don’t you, Jimmy?” He put a boney hand on Jimmy’s thick shoulder.
“Well, of course Bill,” Jimmy was working hard to maintain the smile. “Tell you what, maybe if you could just, tone things down a bit, for the time being, let the newcomers just sort of feel their way around here, that might help.”
Bill nodded with enthusiasm, “Absolutely, Jimmy, you’re the man in charge.”
Jimmy looked relieved, he could see his wife scowling at him from the kitchen area. “Well, actually, He’s the man in charge,” he pointed a finger upwards.” But still, so glad we could speak to each other like this. Again, thanks for all your work for the church. Have a good service.” He wiped his brow with a hand and scurried off to see what his wife wanted.
Bill smiled and turned back to the congregation and pews “Ass,” he thought to himself. “I was preaching when he was in diapers.”
Jimmy beat it over to his wife, double time.
“Did you talk to him?” she hissed at him in a low voice.
“Yes, Linda, I talked to him. He seems very cooperative.”
“I hope so, I am sick of him. The old moocher,” she shook her head in disgust.
The service was starting so Bill was forced to find a seat with the others. To his delight, he glimpsed Lady coming in late through a side door. She grabbed a seat a few rows ahead of him. He could lean sideways and get a glimpse of her stocking clad legs over a well shod heel. “Got to love it,” he mumbled a little. The short, dumpy lady sitting next to him shot him a suspicious look. He opened his book.
After the service, the church always served coffee and refreshments and he raced the crowd back to the kitchen. Lady wandered in and began chatting with some other women. He moseyed over and hung onto the edges of the conversation, laughing when the others laughed.
As the parishioners started to leave he casually got his bike off the rack and wandered over to where Lady was getting in her car. “So, good to see you here tonight, we just love newcomers,” he told her.
She jerked up, a little startled, and then pausing said “Ah, that is so sweet to hear you say. Thanks Bill, it feels great to be welcomed.”
“Don’t know if you’d ever like to go for coffee after the service,” he ventured.
She had gotten the car door opened and threw her purse in. She looked like she was considering his offer for a moment. “Oh, don’t think so Bill. Thanks so much, I have to get home to my fiancée.“
His guts lurched at the word fiancée. Still, he managed to keep the smile on his face. “Well, maybe invite him too sometime, why the heck not?”
She laughed and got into her car. “Maybe, sometime.” She started the engine and drove away. When she was well out of the parking lot she shook her blond head back and forth. “Men, amazing.”
Bill was pedaling like a madman back home to Happy House Village. “She’s not that great,” he fumed furiously. “And that suit she was wearing. What’s that color, hot pink? Just another tart in a cheap suit.”
He slammed his bike into the bike rack. As he went by the club house he could see a group of people playing cards. Phyllis was there sitting next to some man he didn’t know. “Yucking it up, as always. Bunch of jerk-offs.” He stomped up the stairs not waiting for the elevator.
Next night Bill rode the bus, putting his bike on the front, and was able to find the Cumbiaton bar for the salsa dancing. Electro Latin Nights the billboard screamed. He was wearing his best blue silk shirt and some nice fitting white pants. He was so proud of himself he could sit fit into all his old clothes. “That’s exercise for you.” Plus, he knew the light here would be very dim so that would help immensely.
Always a good dancer, he was eager to try these new steps. “Go Dog go,” he encouraged himself. He asked many ladies to dance and they usually said yes and pretty soon the whole place was a riot of motion and energy. He was really having fun.
After the end of one exhausting set, he asked his little Latina partner “Drink?”
“Si, senor, Dos Equis, por favor.” Bill ran to get her drink.
As she sat sipping her drink, he fondled his coke. “Would you like to go out sometime?”
She laughed, a little tinkling laugh, and her black curls shook. “No man, you fun but you old enough to be my grandpa.” She giggled again and sipped her beer, her bright red nail polish brushing drops off the low-cut chiffon thing she was wearing.
Bill raised his glass. “Cheers, no problem,” he gave her a big smile.
Back home that night, he stared in the mirror. “What’s wrong with me?” he asked his reflection. “The girls used to always go wild over me. They must have no taste anymore.” Shaking his head sadly over the state of the world he made his way to bed.
Next night, he waited until it was bridge time and ambled downstairs to join the group. He balanced one skinny hip on a plush chair.
“So, Phyllis,” he asked casually, “still looking for that bridge partner?”
“Oh, Bill, that is so sweet of you.” Phyllis gushed. “But, oh, here he is.” She waved to the entranceway as a dark haired man walked in. “Fred, Fred, over here honey!”
Fred sauntered over and plopped down in one of the folding chairs at the card table.
“Fred is my new bridge partner. Isn’t he just the cutest?” Fred, looking a bit like a carnival bear dressed in a shirt and tie, gave a curt nod in Bill’s general direction.
“So, we gonna play or what?” growled Sally, the unofficial bridge headmaster, one cigarette hanging out of her mouth. The others eagerly pulled their chairs up to the table waiting for cards.
“Ah, yeah,” Bill mumbled to Phyllis who was already caught up in the game. He got off the chair and wandered out to the pool and laid down on one of the big white plastic loungers.
He leaned back and stared up at the night sky and the bright, white stars. “What’s the world coming to Lord? What’s the world coming to?”