Dedication: In honor of my mom's birthday, this entry is dedicated to her. Happy birthday, Mom - no gift, but...here's a post?
We got our tickets from a man named Haynes. Not Hayes. Haynes. My wife kept confusing the two, and for good reason, I thought – you want to trust a man who sells you tickets, and a name like Haynes just doesn’t lend itself to trust.
Not a car, not a dog, not licorice – you don’t really want to buy anything from a man named Haynes. Maybe you wouldn’t mind knowing him in passing – pat him on the back as you walk by him on a barstool – “Hey, Haynes, how’d you like the Chicago game? Fourteen points in the final five minutes – I told you your D wasn’t built to play a full sixty.” Maybe see him on the street – “Hey, Haynes, how’s the lawn? Drought’s been vicious this year, what?” Maybe even get culinary tips from him – “Now, you want to chop the onions very finely! If you’ve done that, you’re in for one fine bouillabaisse, or my name isn’t Haynes! (applause)” Sure, any of that might be OK – “Haynes” doesn’t have to make a man a pariah – it just makes him an untrustworthy vendor.
But we were hard up and he was willing – a not-uncommon complementary relationship in many business deals. So we completed the transaction and walked the half a block to the concert hall.
“I wonder why Mr. Hayes didn’t need his tickets,” my wife said as the snowflakes began to linger a few seconds on the snub-nosed brim of her black, felty hat before melting.
“Haynes,” I said. “Was it Mr. Haynes, or just Haynes?”
“I don’t really know. Anyway, I wonder why he didn’t need them.”
“I don’t know – he looked dressed for it. Especially those shiny, tasseled shoes.”
“Yeah – maybe his wife was sick.”
“Or his husband,” I said, thinking as much about egalitarian mindsets as I was about his shiny shoes.
“Maybe. He had a gorgeous wedding ring, though.”
“That’s no guarantee.”
Well, wouldn’t you know it, we got to the theater, and the tickets were rejected.
A look of pity settled into well-worn grooves on the ticket-taker’s face.
“I’m sorry, sir, but these tickets seem to be counterfeit. Where did you buy them?”
I could feel my face going red. I turned and ran the half a block to where we’d done the deal with Haynes, knowing full well that he’d have to be less than an idiot to still be there. I found the spot – everything was as it had been, except for Haynes.
I made my way back to meet my following wife, who, though upset herself, had to play consolator to my much more upset psychology.
“It’s OK. Don’t worry about it, David. We’ll find somewhere nice to eat, and we’ll forget about it.”
“Son of a bitch. If I ever find Haynes…”
“Haynes – the guy who sold us the tickets.”
“Was that his name?”
I couldn’t believe it – she hadn’t remembered his name. Probably hadn’t even made her suspicious!
“Of course that was his name. I knew we shouldn’t have trusted him.”
“It’s OK, dear. It’s my fault. We’ll buy them on time next time.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s Haynes’s fault!”
“Honey, please. Don’t make it worse than it is. We’ll be fine. Let’s go get something to eat. You’ll feel better.”
But I didn’t want to feel better. I wanted Haynes to feel worse.
We walked along the wide brick paths under the Christmas decorations – white, lacey, and irregular wide-gauge nets of insulated wire strings hung above us, in some kind of whole-street-consistent decorating motif, looking like the branches of a bare tree flattened to two dimensions, with a light at every intersection. There were fake-candle lamps and fake oil lights in store windows. It was like a stage set for a Christmas play, and I began to think of Haynes as the cockney-accented swindler in a dirty top hat with a deteriorating ribbon around it and crooked fingers reaching out of a jacket with too-long, too-wide sleeves.
We sat down in a concert hall of a restaurant that was part Victorian sitting room, part ski lodge. The lights were low, and there were gas lamps on every table. Huge wood pillars cobwebbed this way and that twenty feet above our heads, and the tables and booths were set so far apart you could walk four across between the parties. Some booths were hidden behind a large, attractive piece of drift-tree art that sat on a waist-high stand across the middle of the room. A fish tank near the wall was the brightest thing in the place and cast an ethereal light across a quarter of it. We were seated next to a wall of windows that looked out onto the cement pathway and, beyond that, to the calm black waters of the bay.
We looked over the thin menus inside the thick leatherish covers the hostess had left us as going-away presents. I thought the clam chowder bread bowl looked like it might be my order.
“He probably didn’t even give us his real name, you know,” my wife said to me, not looking up from her menu.
Of course he wouldn’t have given us his real name! It dawned on me that all we really knew about Haynes was that he’d sold us fake theater tickets and that his name wasn’t Haynes. It could be anything else imaginable – Andrecovich, Chevalier, Ramachandran – anything but Haynes. It turned out that you couldn’t trust a man not named Haynes, either. But how could you know if he indeed was or wasn’t Haynes until you’d tried the tickets? Yet I realized that we'd known, when buying them, that they must either be real or fake – therefore, that his name must either be, or definitely not be, Haynes.
“Hi, my name’s Wendy, and I’ll be your server,” said our server, Wendy. She was an attractive brunette in her mid-thirties.
My wife ordered a White Zinfandel. I hadn’t even known we were ordering wine. So I didn't.
I ordered an apple juice.
I saw my wife’s eyebrows rise, but she didn’t say anything.
“The water looks like the sky,” my wife said, and I felt as if I’d just dived out of the hot sun and into a cool swimming pool. I hadn’t even realized I was still so tense.
I looked out at the bay and saw how the lights from the boats, and the dock, rested in it like very large stars.
“Yeah,” I said. “It does.” And I looked at her, into her wide, dark eyes, the irises so dark you can’t tell where they end and the pupils begins, and that’s kind of like looking into the dark night sky, too. And the smile that forms below isn’t unlike the stars that make the night sky beautiful and wonder-inspiring instead of foreboding and despair-inducing.
And it’s a smile that’s surprisingly small – boxier than you’d expect. And that sometimes annoys me when I’m irritated, but makes me smile when I’m not. And right then I wasn’t. I was, at least, had been, tense, and shaken up, and angry, but not irritated. And so I smiled. And put my hand on hers. And it didn’t feel silly or irritating or forced, but welcome and happy and easy.
We ordered jointly, as we do when we’re happy. We ordered a salad and mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce and, for after, a small steak with steamed asparagus and, yes, the chowder in the bread bowl.
We spoke a bit – not about the ticket fiasco, or the play, but about other things. How pretty and neat the salt and pepper shakers were (the salt shaker was yin, the pepper shaker yang, and they fit together to complete the symbol). How the driftwood art reminded us of the beach vacation we’d been casually discussing taking. How cold the feet of the little white Pekingese being walked along the path outside must be.
Following the dog’s paws bouncing along the sidewalk, my eyes landed on something, and I felt my stomach go tight. I realized it was a shoe. A shiny, tasseled shoe. I looked up to see Haynes. He was still in that fancy getup, the low-down, simple thief.
I knew I couldn’t take it sitting down, though a part of me wanted to stay with my wife, in the beautiful restaurant, eating our dinner. But I couldn’t just sit here and watch him stroll by. How would I live with myself afterwards? I sprang up and ran out of the place.
I found Haynes not twenty feet from where I’d seen him. He smiled at me when he saw me.
“Hello, sir,” he said, smiling – too forcefully, I thought.
“Give me back my money,” I said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The tickets were fake. Give me back my hundred dollars.”
I noticed, past Haynes, that the Pekingese and its owner had turned around to watch the festivities.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir. Maybe you confused me for someone else.”
“Give me back my money, Haynes!”
“My name isn’t Haynes, sir.”
“Right. Of course it isn’t. So why’d you tell us it was? What is your name? John Doe? Mark Twain?”
“Listen, friend, I’m sorry, but I’m sure you’ve confused me with someone else.”
I smiled the confident smile of the beaten and desperate. I sensed my wife somewhere back behind me – she must have followed me out.
“You…” I laughed. “You sold us fake tickets, Haynes! Now just give us what we’re due, and you won’t have any problem!”
“Listen, sir, I’m sorry about your situation, but I’m not the man you’re looking for.” He held out his hands and turned them palms up as he finished, emphasizing his empathy. “You should probably go to the police.”
And that’s when I saw the glittering gold on his left ring finger. It was a beautiful ring – not just a typical wedding band, but thicker, and intricately carved.
Though he stood a few inches taller than I, my rage had overcome any physical fear I might have had. It was all I could do to stop from punching him.
“Friend…” Haynes said, as he inexplicably reached out to touch my shoulder.
I pushed back, instinctually, but willingly. He may have been off balance reaching for me, or standing on some ice, or my rage may have been too much, but when I pushed, he lost his balance. He fell backwards, not getting his hands down in time, landing on his hip and letting out a moan.
“Bark!” exclaimed the Pekingese.
In a moment of inspiration, I saw my chance for redemption. A chance to recoup my losses. I reached down and grabbed it. It slid off as if he wore buttered socks. He looked up at me, holding his shoe in my hand, with incomprehension. But what he didn’t do is move his still-shod foot. So I reached down and snatched that shoe, too.
I looked over at my wife. Her expression was almost indistinguishable from that I’d just seen on Haynes. It was not the look of someone to be counted on.
I took off alone down the walkway, the bay water on my right, the cold air a welcome sting in my throat, cooling the fire in my head. I was totally alone. I began to fixate on the bay – on how its placid sheen reflected the occasional shore light like a flawless black mirror.
Like the polish on my new shoes.