Men of a certain age, take stock of their lives, usually in their fifties, to ascertain if they have been a success. (Man, I loved that show…why do they always cancel the good shows, like “Deadwood,” and “Friday Night Lights?” Maybe they just cancel shows I like.) We measure, or attempt to, success in a myriad of different ways. That word “legacy” creeps up. Are we going to leave something behind? Not just an inheritance, but something for which we will be remembered, a heritage. Sometimes these things are not good things, these legacies, like Jeffrey Dahmer’s. I remember an episode of “The Jefferson’s” where George Jefferson wanted to leave a statue of himself in a park. That was going to be his legacy. The short black man who built a dry cleaning empire and moved up to the “East Side.” The episode’s premise was that he didn’t need to leave a statue to be remembered, to have a legacy. (The Jefferson’s, by the way, were not canceled until they shot 253 episodes in 11 seasons. The last season was 1984.)
I always thought my legacy was going to be a book. Just one, on a shelf in the library, with my name on it, read and appreciated, not a best seller, probably out of print, but a book just the same. It hasn’t happened, probably won’t happen, and after a year of writing thousand word-stories on WordPress, I still haven’t even been “Freshly Pressed.” I don’t know why I put so much importance in that, but it seems I do, and I wonder if it will ever happen. You’d think, if my writing was any good, that someone at WordPress would have noticed by now. I notice that some have been “Freshly Pressed” more than once, and this makes it even worse. I think of quitting, of giving up the “Freshly Pressed” mission, and then I think of something to write about.
I’ve had at least a hand in raising four stupendous kids. They’re all doing well in their own right. I’m both proud and impressed with all of them. That should be enough of a legacy, but somehow it’s not. And just so you know, neither would being “Freshly Pressed.” As I struggle to find a job at my “advanced” age, I worry constantly that I will ultimately lose everything I have as my wife works overtime to keep the lights on and the roof over our heads. The retirement funds are gone, the payments are getting behind and the lottery ticket, as usual, didn’t even have one number on it.
The quote of the day is: “It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” Quote by the author of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. (You’re supposed to put two dots over the “e” but I don’t know how to that on the computer.) I don’t get the use of the word vain here. It is self-important to say? It is arrogant to say? It is narcissistic to say? But I agree with the meaning, that we can’t just be satisfied with nothing to do, we have to be busy doing something, and that’s how we create most of our own problems.
That is what I have done over the last four decades, created most of my own problems. Those decisions you make that completely change the course of your life. How you react to a strong current, and what you decide you need to have without careful consideration. So you “take stock” and wonder what would have happened if you had made a different decision. And that’s when I thought about Fairy Ruzilla.
Fairy was her real name. I was sixteen, had just gotten my first car, a 1953 Chevy four-door, red and white, straight-six, station wagon, and she was in my home room. She was a petite blonde who walked by me every day on her way to her seat a few behind me. I had seen her the first time on a porch on North Main Street during the summer. It was love at first sight. I had to find out who she was, but I had not the aptness, or flat-out, the guts, to go up to her on the porch right then and introduce myself and ask her out. So I did what any logical, infatuated teenager would do, I read the phone book. I memorized the house number and sat for most of an afternoon, going through the addresses one by one until I found the Ruzilla’s on Main Street. That didn’t give me her name, but it gave me her phone number.
But I did nothing but drive by the house hoping to see her in the yard or on the porch. When school started in the fall, my sophomore year, I was sitting in my assigned home room, and she walked in, and smiled at me as she walked by (I swear she did.). During roll call, was the first time I heard her name. “Fairy Ruzilla?” “Here,” she said from behind me and I turned around.
For the next several weeks, I made it a point to be in my seat early so she I could say “Hi” to her as she walked by. Sometimes she answered me and sometimes she didn’t. In the early sixties, girls were not aloud to wear pants to school. I’m going to say it; really. They were allowed to wear pants on snow days, and these allowed days would be announced in home room. The first snow day that Fairy walked in her tight-fitting jeans was the day I decided I had to do something. The winter dance was coming up and I needed a date.
I sat in the upstairs hallway holding the phone in my lap for hours, rehearsing and rehearsing what I was going to say. I also had to be “alone” which was difficult in a house with seven kids, three bedrooms and one bathroom. I dialed the number and on the first ring pushed the switch hook. I tried again, the heart pounding out of my chest, sweat beads forming on my forehead, let the phone ring twice and hit the switch hook. A sibling walked up the stairs and wanted to know what I was doing. “Nothing,” I told them, “leave me alone.”
Finally I took a deep breath, dialed the number, and let it ring. A man answered.
“Is Fairy there?” I squeaked out.
“Sure, just a minute.” I hear in the background, “Fairy, it’s for you.”
“Hello?” I froze. “Hello,” she said again.
As rehearsed: “Hi, Fairy, this is Len. We have home room together. I was wondering if you would like to go to the dance with me next weekend?” Silence.
Finally she says, “Who are you, again?”
I explain that I sit three seats in front of her in home room. I try to describe myself as best I can. I say that we say hi to each other almost every morning. Silence.
“Well, I still don’t know who you are,” she finally says. It is obvious that she is trying to figure out in her mind whom is asking her out, and I seem to be a little too invisible.
The next thing I hear over the receiver is the “plan.” Tomorrow, in home room, I am to stop her and tell her who I am. She will then let me know if she wants to go to the dance on Friday night. After I hang up I think I might have a chance here because she doesn’t seem to have a date…yet.
The next day in home room, I’m sitting there as usual and she comes in. She looks right at me, says nothing, and neither do I. I can’t speak. I can’t even get out a hi. She walks to her seat and that was that. I’m pretty sure I lost my voice because I didn’t want to be told that she wouldn’t want to go out with me. That’s what I told myself anyway. We never spoke again. I always wanted her to stop at my desk one morning and say “You’re the guy that asked me to the dance, aren’t you?” I stayed invisible.
After all those years, I still wonder what would have happened if I had just said to her that I was the one who called her yesterday about the dance. Hey, I couldn’t dance anyway. I have no idea what I would have done had she said yes. Maybe I should have asked her out to a movie first.