So Long

by Jerry Vilhotti

The tourney was underway. It was a charity event put on by the Lions Club to help starving children in the greatest country in the world. Johnny was a bit nervous so forgetting his tees, which he had many in the trunk along with his favorite golf ball, among hundreds found in the woods, which was in his golf glove that he had shot fairly well with the last time he played. It's not that he loved the woods that much! It was more like his ball wouldn't go where he wanted it to go!

He recalled his older brother Tommy Tom Tom who had died a week before. Tom's fourth wife Rhoda had called Johnny forgetting to tell them where the funeral was; only that it was in Fort Christie Lee. If she had called when he died, it would have saved he, his wife, their son and daughter-in-law and seven year old granddaughter a hundred mile trip to the New Jersey state hospice where he was told by a very surprised nurse: "Your brother died last night."

Johnny's group was shooting off the eighth as their first hole and it was designated as "closest to the pin" since it was a par three.

Tony Thomas hit his ball six feet and eight inches from the pin which would be the best shot of the day and win him a certificate attesting to that feat.

"There never will be another you kid!" Tom said to Johnny which made him laugh; remembering how Tom seven years older than he born in the same decade would sing "Ciribiribin" as a warning he was about to throw him down the steep flight of stairs or pull every strand of his blond curly hair out of his head for coming into their family and becoming their father's favorite.

Tom would say it again as an older man asking for forgiveness for all the bad he had done on Johnny and Johnny replied: "Tom you made me laugh!"

Johnny was walking as if on clouds and his bother Tom was walking beside him without a limp that he had inherited as a six month old when polio began to ravage his body; eating up much of his left leg.

"Fore!" Johnny yelled though he saw no one in peril but a few birds and one nervous squirrel.

Tom giggled; making Johnny laugh; recalling when their parents got their first television set three years after all the other households on their street, nestled beside swamps that harbored millions of mosquitoes and Tom came into the parlor and asked: "What's this - Fog Theater?" Fourteen year Johnny laughed off his tension; thinking he was the only one going blind as his parents were saying nothing about the terrible reception.

Mad Dog Cheeeny hit his ball into a sand trap and Toto hit his ball onto the green about twenty feet from the pin.

"You're in the sand - Johnny Pump!" Tom said beginning to sing "Ciribiribin" that would forewarn Johnny that an impending teasing attack was about to happen on him: either scary faces or red blotches where pinches had happened or even worse a hair pulling that Tom promised would straighten out Johnny's curly hair and render him bald which would be appropriate since the little bastard had become the Baldy gang's mascot; using his same moxie that had stolen their father's love from them: his older brother Leny One N and his sisters Tina of the Troy and Alice, and it was Alice who had saved Johnny that day when the three of them were trying to convince the four year old he could fly from their tenement roof to old Saint John's college where the Fordham Rams with their seven blocks of granite were preventing other teams from scoring touchdowns; being led by big Vince Lombardi a Brooklyn "Eyetalian" kid. When Johnny refused to see if he could fly - at Alice's suggestion - calling Tina, Leny and Tom a bunch of crazy people (!) that's when the three of them joined hands over the clam shell Johnny had found on Orchard Beach that carried the ocean's voice inside and threw it - making it shatter in the courtyard five flights below! Then Alice took him by the hand and led him away from the roof telling them that if they ever tried to make Johnny fly again she would tell their father and then the "forty eight' would happen on their heads making those uprisings to overthrow "God" sponsored monarchies in the mid eighteen hundreds look like a picnic on the sands of Orchard Beach.

This made them go hide while Alice put on The Make Believe Ballroom Time that played all the songs Johnny would love and remember for the rest of his life like: "Serenade in the Night" (a song he would finally remember its title that none of his siblings could remember which his father played for him and the whole party of people on his accordion), "Perfidia", "I'll walk Alone", "I'll Get By" and "I'll Be Seeing You". He Knew if he were naked and freezing his brothers, sister and Mother would not have been able to give him dry wood to warm his bones; instead, he knew, they would have thrown spat-on wood to the direction of frostbite.

While Cheeeny was whacking his ball out of the sand about ten feet away from the pin, Johnny put his twenty yard chip into the hole for a bird.

This was followed by Roto who putted his forty foot "greenie" in for a birdie.

At the water hole Tom said: "Johnny - you're in the water! Do you know how to swim?" While Johnny was six feet under searching for the golf ball he felt the same panic he had when Tom and Leny were trying to teach him to swim as a six year old in an Annapolis where his father was working in a shipyard building ships that would eradicate dictators who wanted to take freedom away from God Bless America which would happen years in the future when labor rights would be taken away from workers, the very rich able to more easily buy elections with their free speech millions of dollars ... as Kate Smith's voice soared above his head that was being held under for several seconds at a time until he was able to free himself from their frenzied attempts and run across the tracks to the three storey building that housed their apartment - to hide there until their father and mother returned from shopping.

"Fore!" Johnny shouted again hitting his penalty shot toward the green that had shifted fifty yards away from his ball. A squirrel scampered to safety.

"Johnny, I'm sorry for that day when I threw you out after you came to help me give up my crazy looking for Christ in a world that would kill him again while drinking tea. And I am sorry for teasing you the last born when we were kids. And I really was not trying to kill you those times I tried to throw you down those steep stairs but Jesus Johnny you had that curly blond hair and always smiling; becoming Pappa's favorite and you know in The East Bronx - you were like the sun! Will you ever forgive me?" ... “One day you will find out you were nothing! I was never jealous of you like Leny One N and Tina of the Troy were because I knew you were really never one of us but I agree with them that you stole our father’s love and that wasn’t right!” Tom, the almost-psychologist, said as he walked about the apartment that was twenty four levels above the ground and emanating from its parlor window was a soft green light toward the New York City skyline to across the East River all the way to the Empire State Building where King Kong fell to his death - trying to save mankind from its self-hating ways. Killing themselves after killing innocent children with expensive guns to become broken dolls.

“Oh, God you did it with a hundred cute ways. You even had to have different color hair. Judas Priest, was that an eye catcher among people with green olive like skin and purple straight hair. Damn, you had that certain kind of moxie when you walked like you were afraid of nothing with that damn smile of yours that showed your dimples. Just because you became the Baldy mob's mascot because you were able to beat up the round the corner kids who were older and bigger than you because Leny the promotor got them for you to fight so he could get big odds and big bucks from guys like Johnny Garfield, Jake the Lamotta, Vince the big Ram Lombardi and least of all John Tefloni who became the boss of all the New York families! And you even had to be born the day before Christ. You were our only gift that late depression day who FDR plunged us back into it by listening to the GOP guys saying stop spending and creating jobs for the masses. Only my sister Alice in wonderland liked you because she wanted a doll for Christmas and so you became her for real doll! I wanted be the mascot but I couldn't run fast enough from the Irish cops who liked to club young guys' heads. And remember you threw that knife at me – making my hand throw up blood because you told Mama I was trying to pull all your hair out of your head and teasing you while I was singing “Cherry Cherry Bin! Well for your Dante’s circle of information, I was only playing around with you until that bum fighter – who beat Sugar Ray Robinson for his first loss in Detroit – who knocked up Tina, came and took you away from Papa!” Tom said as he flipped the butcher knife and then clumsily caught it between both hands – trying to impress Johnny who could catch fly balls with his back to home plate as a ten year old. "And why did you have to have four names? Gianni, Sal, Gerry, Sanque. Get it Gerry Gerry Bin?"

“Be careful Tom. Here, give me the fuking thing before you cut yourself in half,” Johnny said taking it from him while floating in mid-air.

“No! No! No! That protects me from the voices in the hall who want to take me to that place that wants to fry my brains and my fourth wife and Leny want to take me there too! I told Judas give me the kiss of death and I’ll go off by myself and start a new religion that will make the Pope rich!” Tom said referring to the restaurant he and his wife Rhoda had bought, which once was an apartment where O’Henry had lived while writing the Gift of the Magi, that had fallen deeply into debt, not granting them the riches they thought it would — only bankruptcy.

“Tom, you really do need help. Let me at least drive you to your head shr-”

“You crazy or what? You remember when you and your wife lived with us here when you gave her a baby and is now north until you finish your last months of teaching here and weekends you both would go to Connecticut and see her parents and mine for the weekend? Well me and Rhoda used to read your diary and you guys used to do pretzel positions too! Anyway that guy is one big weirdo sicko who left his wife of twenty years and two kids to go live with two chicks in The Village about as old as his daughters and the bastard charges me a million dollars an hour and says Israel should cleanse themselves clean from all Arabs like the Nazis tried to clean up Europe of all inferiors. The shyster just gives me pills that make me stare at all the white walls and I blame you because I sent you to him to fix up the way you always argued with your instructors at Harlem College and you would have flunked out too if he didn’t help you but what did you do? You think your college was better than my Brokenland College because Jonas Salk, Frankfurter and Eddie G Robinson graduated from yours but George Gershwin went two years to mine and he did the melodies while Ira who went to yours could only write words! So big deal the guy who taught this country that debt was a great thing had his house on your north campus but the bastard from Jamica who was really our Father Washington’s illegitimate son got shot by Aaron Burr who would have gone to Brokenland College if it existed then! You told the neurotic psychotherapist bastard a man could love three, six, nine women at the same time but for different reasons and that’s like saying two fuking birds can in fly in the same space!”

“OK, then I’m getting the hell out of here. You spend my share of the rent and board money buying cheap bread. There’s more to eating than just stale bread. I came here while doing my last five months’ teaching in the city before I go north to a simpler place in time with my wife and little son because Mama asked me by saying 'we’re all our brothers’ keepers'. I don’t think you guys were ever brothers to me. I’m not going to yell like Leny does - thinking that by yelling at someone who needs help will cure him! You’ve got to see for yourself that you need-”

“OK. OK. OK. Please don’t go. Tomorrow I’ll go see the horny nut. Don’t go. I’m putting the butcher knife away. You go to sleep. I’m OK now,” Tom said and then began to cry; whispering no one ever liked him because he had polio.

“I’ll take you. I’ll take off and I’ll take you,” Johnny said going into the study that was once his and his wife Linda Ann’s bedroom and closed the door. He did not see Tom painting circles of gray, red and black on all the white walls of the large apartment but he could still hear “GerryGerrybin” coming through the wall.

In the morning Johnny would see the strange sight of circles and he could hear that song again in the colors of gray, red and black ....

Johnny laughed; sounding like a sob. Tom when alive had told him several times how bad he felt and Johnny gave the same answer: "That boy - the father of the man I am today - says fuhgetaboutit. You did say you were sorry."

Tom smiled before walking away and before the woods swallowed him up he waved and said: "Thank you, kid."

Johnny waved and said so long to a person who had made him laugh. That he would always remember. He heard that song that the French had a saying for and the Germans had a song for but the American saying did not capture their full essence of the meaning but the melody did for Johnny. "So Long", he sobbed. Then Johnny went to the final hole.

"Fore!" he said to the sky.