There is a place that I go. It is one of the most wonderful places in all the world.
With the weather getting fridgid like it is, it's a place where I can go to escape the cold, and let the worries of the world melt away... into the void, into nonexistance... For 25 minutes at a time at least.
I can't wait to get to this place on a daily basis. This magical place of mine, although...
It does requires a bit of work to get there. Some travel. Not the hardcore get on the highway and leave the county kind of travel... but a bit of hittin' the ol' road nonetheless.
There are time constraints. The magic place isn't open 24/7 or anything, but most days, excluding the holidays, the place is open for business year- round.
Ah yes, the magic place... And the people I meet. The people I see, and the experiences we all relate.
Some of the people are merely passers- by. Travelers. A brief stop on the endless road of life. One- timers, with little more than a bit of time of their hands.
And then... there's the regulars.
You see, i've become accustomed to the schedules of some of them, those that like this magical place, just as well I...
The ones that enjoy it's cleansing powers... It's ability to take tired limbs and restore them to strength. Like a healing spring, or a small plot of heaven... These are the ones that recognize the fortitude of the magic place, and it's presage of the divine.
Take old Bob for instance...
Bob knows right when the magic place opens it's doors for business. He follows the hours of operation closely. He's there right from the beginning... 5:30 AM. Standing in line with the 30 somethings as they open the doors, shivering his old- man- ass off. He can't wait to get in there. And I don't blame him one bit...
"Morning Bob!" The A.M. staff comments cheerfully, as he enters the building each wistful morn.
If Bob's on a good day, he might reply in spoken word...
"Hi-yuh," He says simply, in a quiet tone. Or maybe just a sleepy, "Hull-o...." But that's all you'll get from him. Nothing more, nothing less...
A greeting with a bit of that "Old Person Spin" on things. The "yuh" after "Hi," or the refusal to acknowledge that the word "Hello" has an "E" in the middle of all those letters, not a "U," like way he says it.
At any rate, he's the friendliest of sorts.... And even when he foregoes the spoken word of his approach, Bob, opting instead for a simple acknowledging grunt, noone finds it the least bit offensive, or out of the ordinary...
He is, "Friendly Bob" after all, and the place wouldn't be the same without him.
Now, I'm partial to early morning visits to the place myself. The serenity and the calm... the quiescance. It's about the only time I can guarentee true peace of the mind. No chatter, no blaring music, in fact very little sound at all.
Bob's in there, but he doesn't count. Not really.
It's just that getting to the magic place so incredibly early requires a good bit of scheduling. Sometimes a bit of coincidence. Either I'm still up from the night before, or something goofys happened... and I've gone to bed much earlier than normal.
Regardless. Bob and I.
Getting a jump on the day while it's still in it's infancy. Most folks haven't even hit the snooze button for the first time when we're in there. The fallacious news that can sometimes accompany the rest of the day hasn't had a chance to hit circulation. Not yet.
The barrage of text messages, rush hour traffic, the bad beat stories... Those are for the hours yet to come.
Bob and I...
Notably, it took almost a year and a half before Bob even said one word to me. Can you imagine? Being in the same room with someone 40 times throughout a calender year for 25 minutes a pop, and not hearing them say a single word. That's 1,000 minutes if you're doing the math at home. 16.66 Hours... In silence.
When he finally spoke to me, I thought I was hearing things...
"Are you uhh, using the Business section?" He asked of me, one random morning.
I was so in- tune with my relaxation, I hardly heard him at all.
"Say again...?" I replied, in that somewhat manner of a haze that accompanies the early morn.
"The Business section... of the paper there. Are you through with it?" He asks again, quiet as a mouse.
"Oh... Oh, of course Bob," I reply as I hand it over.
I was as surprised as he, that I had spoken his name. I cringed, hoping it wasn't a mistake.
His head cocked ever so slightly to the left at the use of it. His name. Just barely noticeable, an amused sort of look in his eye...
"Who was this young man?" I could tell he was thinking...
"Using his name, outright. How did I, this unnamed sharer of the magic place, even come to know it? Did he know me? Had we met someplace... and he'd somehow forgotten this fact?"
"It doesn't matter, I just do," My glance in return seemed to say, as I met his gaze with as welcoming a smile as I could manage. Simple as that...
And from that time forward, we began to make small talk... About this and that and the other thing.
I learned that he was an accountant back in his working days. A part of a small firm, consisting of five. His wife had passed, back in 98'. He had had 3 kids. Two of them were up in Seattle, the third living locally. A daughter. 2 kids of her own, all grown up.
"We email back and forth, the grandkids and I," He filled me in one morning as he spoke in that soft tone of his.
"But..." He hesitated, "But my arthritis... it's getting difficult to type. I...," He trailed off, "I guess it's father time, reminding me of the fate that befalls us all... A-yuh, I believe that's what it is."
I nod, but his remark gave me an idea...
"Bob...," I began, wracking my brain for whatever the fuck that software was called that I'd seen advertised on the T.V...
"Have you ever tried that speech recognition software? Dragon it's called, I think. You speak into a headset, then the words appear on the screen for you..."
"Ah-yuh? I didn't know there was such a thing...?" He questioned me with a sideways glance.
"I'll have to check that out," He countered, as he stood to leave the room, a twinkle in his eye. "A-yuh... I will check that out for sure..."
Then he vanished... Out from the magic place, out deep into the chilly morning air. His visit concluded for this particular day.
And I didn't see him again for a good long time... Not because he wasn't there, but because I wasn't, not at that time of day at least, the primordial dawn of the early morn...
Which brings me to the Afternoon... and the rambunctious crowd that meets here then.
The inhabitants. Typically a bit older. Not in such a bustling hurry maybe, but much the same as the A.M.'ers nonetheless. Ah, except for one thing... which wasn't so much a thing, as a who...
The who, being Boisterous ol' Bill.
Billy. Bill-bit... Bill-Doe... Boistrous Bill... I heard him referred to by many different names before I put two and two together. They were talking about the same guy.... Ah ha! Any crazy combo it seemed, using the letters "B" and "I" and two "L's," was a reference to the main man in the magic place during these, the afternoon hours...
A crazy sunofagun from Mobile, Alabama. That's who. A defense attorney back in his heyday... With a drawl that would put the Bush brother's own to shame.
Bill was miles different from Old Bob. Miles? Shoot... I should say a millenia.
Where as old Bob hardly spoke a word, ol' Boistrous Bill would talk yer ear off from the second you stepped into the magic place, til the time you left it. About anything and everything, it didn't matter at all.
Politics, the new model sedan he'd seen at the auto show last week... Opinions, conjectures, inclinations, and views... All of the above to be sure.
Floods, wars, the economy, typhoons in Japan, "That dumpy, tattooed fuck-bucket that cheated on whats her name? You know who I mean boys..." He would drawl... "That sweetheart from the movies... law's yes, what's her name...?"
"Ah- yuh! Why, you mean Sandy Bullock there Bill, is that who you mean...?" Someone else would reply to him, helping his rant along as it got well on it's way...
"And the fuck-bucket... James is his last name, fella that builds all them fancy motorcycles and cars on the T.V."
"That's them!" Bill would decree, as his preaching motor revved high, reaching 4th gear.
"I Can't imagine... I say, I CANNOT IMAGINE, what that Dick Bisquit was thinkin'. Why... that Saaandy Buhhh- lock, wouldn't harm a fly buzzin' around in the kitchen, she sure wouldn't. What a sweetheart, law's yes, she is... a real sweety, sweet as they come, That's a fact...!"
"Mmm-hmmmm, MMM-HMMM," Another of the old timers would agree, smartly realizing "mmm-hmm" was about all the words he'd get in edgewise, fore' ol Bill had his final say on the matter.
"Pisses me off to all of hell in heaven, law's yes it does, to think about what he done to her... Poor sweet Sandy... uhh, erm whats her name againnnn...?
"Bullock, Bill... er' names Bullock there... Saaandy Bullock!"
"BOO- LOCK! That's right! Right as rain, matter o' fact it is! That poor, sweet, dear Sandy BUH-Lockkk, the one from the movies, law's yes, wouldn't harm a fly, not her!"
"Nope! No Way, Not her Bill!" The others would chorus back, in stern consent of what he's just said. "Not a fly! Certainly not that dear, sweet Sandy Bullock... she wouldn't!"
And so it went on in the afternoons...
Boisterous Bill holding court, just like the glory days of his yore. His jury of old timer's, like a choir in a baptist church, "Mmm-mmm ing', and Amen-ing to his every word.... Law's yes, when ol' Bill was up on his pulpit. Yes indeedy, in the times of the good ol' afternoon. That's exactly how it was...
And that, brings me to evening times in the magic place.
7:30 til round about 9:45pm, when they begin to close things down for the day.
That's when you can find another old fella there in the magic place, guy by the name of Frank.
Franky, as the evening- folk refer to him. Not nearly as quiet as old Bob, and certainly not as loud as Boisterous ol' Bill... No, Franky it seemed was right there in the middle somewhere.
Sometimes speaking readily, sometimes staying mute. An interesting old bird that Franky was.
And he was a good bit different than other two too, in that he always had a bit of advice for anyone willing to listen to it.
"You might try this...," Frank would offer, upon over- hearing some conversation or another. Not shy like old Bob from the morning times, not dusty, or rude, or crude like ol' Bill in the afternoon as he sat, preaching to his invisible masses.
No, Franky was just Franky, through and positively through.
And he was helpful too... on more than one occasion.
Whether it was planning an alternate route to avoid a closed road, or an offering about what might be causing that "tinking" noise in the engine of your car, Frank knew about just about everything...
A journeyman by and large, Frank had made his way in the world doing it up... and exploring it all. An optimist. His stories, always perfectly prefaced by some interesting fact...
"... was the end of the Tet offensive, 74', up on hill 2218, that's where I learnt it. The tactic I'm relating here today..."
Not that he was talking about the war, but the fact that he'd heard there was work to be had, when once again they all returned home.
"There'll be all kinds of opportunities if you put your mind to it fellas. Use what you learnt, and you can never go wrong!" That was his motto.
Though a struggle at first, he found what he was looking for.
In New York. Upstate in fact. Using his skills... he worked as a mechanic, a chef, even a pilot... til his eyesight began to fail.
Ever the optimist. Just trying to survive. Struggling to live on, in a world of political turmoil. A world that wasn't always the kindest... to the boy's comin' back home.
But he never held a grudge. Not Franky. Not ever. Instead, using his patience to eventually teach high school kids the in's and out's of the periodic table. After all the years of searching, through instructing a chemistry class, he'd finally found his call...
Now, it may seem silly to go off describing a dirty old sauna as some enchanted place... But with the lessons I've learned there, that isn't the case...
From old Bob, the merits of silence. The fact that one should be seen, not heard. The loudest lesson of all it turned out.... was not, all that loud at all.
And ol' Bill... boistrous as he was, let the world know just what he was thinking. Whether the economy, or the war, or the floods... or even what that fuck- bucket did to poor Sandy Bullock... There was never a doubt where he stood on it.... no, never a doubt at all.
Finally, came Franky... whose path was not a clear call. But he never lost faith that he'd find his way, if what he continued to give........ was to give everything his all.
This story is dedicated to my good friends Bob and Franky who I was saddened to hear both passed-on during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year's. Thank you both for the conversation, the kind words of encouragement, and all the lessons you've passed on to those of us in the younger generation.
The Westlake Rec Center will never be the same without you. And the sauna, I will always think of as "The Magic Place," where I was fortunate enough to have spent time with you.
R.I.P Dear friends. God Bless.