When I was coming home from sculpture class, I passed by Helena Bell-Crane’s place and discovered her
sitting on the front steps. Her purse was open in her lap and her gloves were sitting on the brick steps
beside her. I stopped to ask if everything was alright.
“Oh, Mitchell, dear. I’m so glad to see you. This time I’ve really done it.”
“What’s the problem, Helena?”
“Oh, it’s not just the lock this time; this time I can’t even find my key,” she said and began looking through
I noticed that, as she dug around in there she had one hand clenched tightly. I took her hand gently and
turned it over for her to see.
“Is this the missing key?”
“Oh, lands sakes,” she said, “How on earth…My goodness, it’s like a magic trick isn’t it?”
“Well, there you go,” I said laughing as I opened the door for her and helped her to her feet, and guided
her in. “Are you going to be OK?”
“Yes, of course, why wouldn’t I be? Still she said, looking around for something on her person, “It’s like I’m
the magician as well as the rube. Now where are my gloves?”
She sat in a small room off one side of the entry as I went out and retrieved the gloves from the step. I
came back in and handed them to her.
“Thank you, dear,” she said placing the gloves in her suit pocket, “thank you.”
“So,” I said, “How are you?”
“No, how ARE YOU?”
She looked confused, shook her head as if to dislodge a thought and stared at me for a bit. We sat in
silence for awhile. She seemed to be catching her breath. She took her gloves out of her pocket and
looked at them. After a bit she brightened up and said, “And how is your father?”
“Yes, I hope he’s keeping busy since he’s turned the business over to you.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, Helena,” I said becoming concerned.
“I’m sorry to say that since Daddy is gone we no longer have anything for you to do, but you certainly do
nice work.” She smiled and fiddled with her gloves. We sat. She said, “I don’t think anyone binds a book as
neatly as your father, well, and you too of course. We have quite the handsome library.” She looked
around, admiring the book shelves in the room. “My lands, it has been years. What brings you by?”
“Do you recognize me?” I asked unnerved by the way things were heading.
“Yes, of course, you’re the bookbinder’s son. I’m sorry I can’t recall your name right at this moment.”
“I’m Mitchell,” I said.
“Mitchell?” she said and rolled the name around in her mind for a while. “I don’t think…was, that his name?
No. It wasn’t Mitchell; it was…James or Henry or…But, if you’re not the bookbinder’s son, who are you and
what are you doing in my house?” She was suddenly frightened.
“Don’t you remember, I helped you find your key?”
“Oh, please leave,” she said, “you’re frightening me.”
And so I left, pulling the door shut behind myself.
I don’t want to get into what a complete and useless pain in the ass it is trying to reach anybody in
government whose job it might be to care for people like Helena; but, like all good government workers
everywhere—each and every one of the several I talked to was an expert at reciting why something could
NOT be done.
About four days later—it happened that quickly—I came out and discovered two big lugs carrying some of
Helena’s furniture outside and placing it into a moving van.
“Where’s Helena?” I asked one of these guys. He just shrugged and nodded over his shoulder. At the door
was a man with a clipboard.
“Where’s Helena?” I asked him.
“Who’s Helena?” he said with smirking indifference (which, by the way, was 30 times more caring than any
response I’d gotten from any of the government agencies I tried to deal with a few days earlier.)
“She’s the lady who owns this house. Is she alright? I mean, is she going to be alright?”
“Is there something we can do for you?” he asked coldly.
“I’m concerned about Helena. What’s happening to her stuff?” I asked.
“Are you concerned about her or about her stuff?” he asked raising an eyebrow accusatorily.
I said nothing.
As a guy who owned three t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, one futon, one bar stool, a record player, four
records, and an old cast iron typewriter, I owed no one any explanations.
In those days we were always hanging out in the Village—a bar owned by two Greek brothers, one of whom
was named Nick, and the other one, known to us as The Other One. It was a dark place where all of us self-
proclaimed artists and heavy dedicated literary drunks hung out, every night, without end, until closing
time. When we left, we left under threat of brutal expulsion. Nick and The Other One were both bruisers
who you didn’t want to mess with, especially if they asked you to leave.
One night Rick and Ginger and I were tucked away nicely in a booth opposite the bar, deeply involved in
the liveliest, most highly intellectual and undeniably witty conversation ever constructed by such a humble
team. Regrettably, this conversation has been irretrievably lost, vanishing like mice when the porch light
goes on. It’s unfortunate of course, because in those days I could not only quote Nietzsche, when pressed I
could actually spell Nietzsche. (For this writing, I looked it up.) So, we’re involved in this most high
conversational process, Rick and Ginger and I. That’s what I’m getting at.
A big redneck in overalls was sitting at the bar. BIG redneck. He was as large as Rick and I AND Ginger all
put together. He looked like he’d spent his entire life on his back in the mud wrestling with the cold
indifferent greasy metal undersides of a long line of endlessly failing farm vehicles. While we went about
our lofty business this big guy would, from time to time, rotate around on his swivel stool, glom Ginger, and
then spin back around to lean over his beer. Whenever he swung around and locked his eyes on Ginger,
his big round unshaven face broadened into a sloppy grin. Ginger, being Ginger, didn’t even notice the
guy. But I (being me) did. I was keeping an eye on him because he was big and scary and drunk…all good
reasons, as far as I could see, to be cautious.
It started out innocently enough, this swiveling surveillance, sloppy grin routine. At first, he just spun
around and looked at Ginger, smiled a wry little smile and spun around again to consult with this beer. But,
after a few drinks he spun around, anchored himself permanently with one elbow on the edge of the bar
and his beer nestled in his lap. He was grinning like an idiot--which was something I personally understood
from the inside--but, there was something about the casualness of that posture which set off warning bells
within the ever-heroic, but not-to-be-taken-very-seriously, me.
That night, at that hour, driven by whatever quantity of drink I’d consumed, I began to stare back at this
monstrous creature. He was locked so solidly on Ginger that he didn’t even see me. I was a gnat. When he
did finally notice me, he shrugged, smiled knowingly, snorted, and swung around with his back to us again.
Still, I kept my eye on him. After about--who knows—an hour of this kind of school-boy nonsense,
something clicked inside the poor man. He was hunched over his beer and, after shaking his head
erratically for a long time, placed both palms on the bar; he was about to take action.
I quickly warned Rick and Ginger and we watched as he stood up, turned to face us, shuddered like a wet
dog, then, with his head hanging down—a man drawn by shameful but irresistible temptation--lumbered
over to our table. He stood there wavering for a few beats, then shrugged ‘what-the-hell?--leaned on the
table with both fists, smiled at Ginger and said, “I’m a hog for you honey.”
Having said what needed to be said, he went back to the bar, drained his glass in a single gulp, stood for a
second in thought, shook his head, and without looking again in our direction, stumbled out the front door.
It was the finest example of the classic aw-shucks I’ve ever witnessed.