The Garden of Converging Paths

Austin Dispatches No. 206 May 29, 2018

It was a dark and stormy flight. A squall shook the charter jet and its inhabitants. In the galley, the stewardesses negotiated vigorously. Finally, the victor, with high cheekbones and an ash blonde updo ponytail, swayed along the aisle to the cabin’s front.


“Excuse me, sir? Sir?” The stewardess tapped the passenger on the shoulder of his cadet grey linen jacket.


Wolfgang P. Barbados halted his reverie. He turned his view from the window. Smoke wafted from his cigar. He arched an eyebrow quizzically and half-smiled as he stopped his Walkman, playing a mixtape from last evening’s gamine dinner companion.


The stewardess flustered at Barbados’ expression. She glanced at her giggling co-workers. “Mr. Barbados, will you please extinguish your cigar, until we’re out of the turbulence?”


“Oh, of course. And please, call me Wolf.”


An awkward conversational pause ensued.


“The captain says we should be through this weather before we reach U.S. airspace. Because of safety requirements, my colleagues and I will be restricting our service to passengers for the duration … but afterward, if there’s anything I can do for you.” She hesitated, considering whether she hadn’t misemphasized some words in her utterance.


Wolfgang smirked bemusedly. “Since you’ve made an offer like that.... If you’re free for lunch, I know this great little Italian restaurant in Hasbrouck Heights. After we land, I can call and reserve a table for us.”




“Weather permitting, we should land about –what? –” Wolfgang glanced at his Rolex wristwatch – “eleven-thirty Eastern Standard Time? You’ll have a chance to slip into something more flattering than that polyester uniform.”


“It’s a blend,” she said indignantly.


“Is that a yes?”


The stewardess laughed, so loudly she felt self-conscious, and placed a hand to her mouth in embarrassment. She glanced again at her co-workers, pantomiming commentary on her conversation. The other passengers, who received perfunctory attention from the stewardess who placed second in the galley negotiations, began to focus on the flirtation to distract themselves from the prospect of drowning. They also wondered why they weren’t getting such personalized service.


“Your offer’s very flattering – I think – but I’ll have to check my schedule before I can commit. Just in case.”


“Very well. I’ll wait for you in the business office.”


To the extent she could strut amid turbulence, the stewardess strutted toward the galley.


The passengers deplaned in the jet’s hanger at Teterboro Airport. Wolfgang unzipped the car jacket covering his 8972 BMW 750iL. He stowed his portmanteau and briefcase in the trunk, opened the luggage, and shifted his Grand Tour’s accumulation of brochures, periodicals, clippings, business cards, receipts, and pamphlets from the briefcase to the portmanteau to make space for the mail, delivered by DHL and the American Letter Mail Co., that awaited him at the airline business office.


“Bill … bill … bill. Boy, it’s good to be back in the States,” Barbados quipped to the courtesy desk clerk, as he stuffed the bills into the briefcase.


Reporters swarmed into the office, brandishing notebooks and tape recorders with their hands not clutching White Castle and Habit Burger Grill coffee cups.


“You’re still here. We nearly missed you,” said a reporter from U.S. News and World Report.


“I arrived sooner than I thought. What merits such attention?”


“You’re a newsworthy name on the passenger manifest,” said a reporter from the Bergen Newspaper Group. “Ever since that Rolling Stone piece.”


“People on the East Coast actually read that old hippie rag?”


“ ‘Hippie?’ ”


“Hmmm. ‘Scruffy bohemian loser.’ ” The reporters noted the term.


“The question is, Why did you agree to that interview?” asked a stringer for WBGO-FM.


“Supposedly Rolling Stone is belatedly attempting to redefine itself for the Seventies. Some elders on the California Liberal Coalition Executive Committee thought there was good publicity from the youngest-ever committeeman, and a local at that, talking to it.”


“Who's the Liberal Coalition going to endorse for president?” asked a reporter for The Jersey Journal.


“Gentlemen, the major parties haven't even nominated their tickets yet. ”


“Who's the coalition likely to endorse?” asked a reporter for WFDU-FM.


“Who're you leaning towards?” asked the reporter for Our Town in Maywood.


“We've had multiple good presidential choices in my lifetime and I expect that'll continue, with or without an official LC endorsement.”


“But who’re you leaning towards?” asked the WFDU reporter.


“I know many of the candidates and I think they’d make good presidents. Several of the candidates I haven’t met, based on what I’ve read or heard, would also make good presidents. After all, it’s not like they have to do much during the term of office – well, other than stifling the urge to throttle Sam Donaldson.”


“That sounds like a non-answer answer,” said the U.S. News reporter. “What’s the real thinking on the LC’s excom.”


“I just got back from vacation.”

“How did you find Europe?”


“With a map.” The crowd laughed.


“What did you do?”


“Golf, among other things. I was at the Himalayas of Prestwick, on the fifth tee and – ”


“Getting back to the presidential race –”


The blonde and a couple of fellow stewardesses, now garbed in stylish mufti, tentatively entered the business office. The blonde froze at the shifting attention from everyone else. She pantomimed a change of mind. The stewardesses quickly backed out of the office.


Wolfgang frowned. “Gentlemen, gentlemen—”


The reporters looked around in confusion.


“All I know about the race now is what I’ve seen in the news during vacation. I won’t know what the excom thinks until it meets after the conventions. Right now I don’t know what I think about the matter. … The real question is who’re your editorial boards going to endorse?”


Barbados glanced at his watch. “Now, if you'll excuse me, it's late, I'm on Paris time, and I've got to take care of the paperwork that's accumulated in my absence.” Barbados extracted a fistful of bills from his briefcase's exterior pocket.


“Unless you'd like to pay them.” The reporters grinned, scattered, some for the nearest pay phones, some for their cars.


Barbados turned back to the clerk. They both shrugged. Wolfgang tugged at his abstract pattern Missoni necktie. “ ‘I tell ya I get no respect.’ ”


The clerk laughed. “I was going to tell you just before they entered. They left messages for you before they stepped out for coffee.”


Barbados glanced wistfully at the door where the blonde exited. “Since they were obviously at White Castle, I guess that rules out eating there.”


Wolfgang paid his parking bill and dictated telegrams for delivery to his parents and to his girlfriend, both of Sunnyvale, Calif.:


Back safe in USA. Will call later as time permits. See you next week.






Wolfgang exited the airport at Malcolm Avenue. He turned right on Route 17 and continued until he reached Bendix Diner in Hasbrouck Heights. He unknotted his tie and tossed it onto the back seat. In the diner, the waitresses used frequent, unrequested refills of coffee and cream as means to flirt with him at his booth, even though he was obviously focused on scarfing American food, including onion rings, after weeks of continental European cuisine. He tipped them each a silver 5-cent piece.


At another booth, another customer muttered to his friend maybe he could get that kind of service if he were some big shot rich guy. “Yeah, maybe the waitresses would be falling all over you … if you weren’t such a cheap bastard,” the friend quipped.


Wolfgang resumed his drive through the midday mid-Atlantic hustle and bustle, along Route 17, then Route 3, onto The Helix, through the Midtown Hudson Tunnel, onto West 39th Street in Midtown Manhattan, then along Fifth Avenue before entering the resident garage of a skyscraper at Fifth and 57th Street.


Wolfgang ascended from the parking garage to the atrium. At the concierge desk, he picked up more mail, and instructed staff to carry the parcels and periodicals accumulated in his absence. “The chief wants to see you when you’re available,” the concierge said.


In the apartment, Wolfgang directed the staff to deposit the mail atop his main desk, while he dropped his luggage in the bedroom. Wolfgang tipped the staff with redeemable notes issued by a New York bank, activated his computer, played his answering machine messages, hung his jacket and necktie in the bedroom closet, opened the portmanteau to air it, and placed his briefcase’s contents on the main desk.


A familiar voice among the messages gained his full attention. “Hey howya doin’. Come by the club. I’m opening for some new talent tonight.” Wolfgang jotted a note in his planner.


He checked financial matters through the news channels on television and the Telerate module installed on his computer. Nothing he saw, heard or read required an immediate decision. Wolfgang intermitted the television. He called the landlord’s office and scheduled a meeting for later that day.


He opened a package of LPs. He took the records to the stereo system and set them in an empty Per Madsen Rackit module. He peeled the plastic exterior wrap from one of the albums, extracted the LP, checked it for warps or scratches, placed it on the turntable, ran a brush over the A side grooves, and activated the stereo system. He repeated this for each side of each record in each such package in between unpacking his luggage, opening his other parcels, and sorting through the accumulated papers on his desk.


By 6:15 p.m., Wolfgang had switched to listening to new CDs, replaced his Glock’s magazine with frangible bullets for one with hollow points, written notes to himself in a three-hole, spiral-bound 9” x 12” notebook for the next day’s business endeavors, and changed into a fresh outfit before arriving at the landlord’s office.


“Norma, hold my calls for 15 minutes,” the landlord told his executive secretary.


“The concierge told me you wanted to chat.”


“Joe?” The landlord mentally added a plus to the concierge’s employment record. “The staff gave you all the help you needed with your stuff?”


“Absolutely. You have the best staff.”


“So. While you were in Europe. How was business?”


“I was … carousing most of the time, but my impression, plus the business press there – I don’t think there’s any deal awaiting you or your people.”


“Yeah? OK.”


“And the pace is a little too leisurely for you. Nobody over there moves at your speed.”


“All right. I figure it was worth a talk, especially after that Formosa deal. Although another finder’s fee like that and you’ll wind up owning this place. My brother gave me hell for waiving your rent in lieu of payment. You’d think he’d appreciate cutting down on paperwork.”


The landlord paused in thought. “Your sister’s graduating school, isn’t she?”




“You gonna attend the ceremony?”

“I don’t dare miss it.”


“How long are you staying here this time?”

“Through tomorrow, then a couple days in Greenwich, a couple days in Baltimore to see relatives, then I fly back to Sunnyvale for the graduation.”


The landlord activated his intercom. “Norma, send a card to—.” Wolfgang gave the name and address. “For high school graduation, ASAP.”




“What’s she doing after school?”


“She has a part-time job in an apartment leasing office. I think she might go into real estate full time, until Mister Right comes along.”


“She a smart kid?”

“She’s a shark.”


“Sounds like somebody I could use.” 


“More like she’ll be besting you in a real estate deal.”


The landlord guffawed. “That’ll be the day.”


The club sound system emitted a Caribbean klangfarbenmelodie that reverberated from the buildings as Wolfgang sauntered east from his residence, browsing each storefront along the way. Other men who noticed him tugged their women closer.


He entered Jack Roy’s Laff Riot on First Avenue, paid the dollar cover, sat at the bar farthest from the stage, and ordered a G&T from Teddy the bartender.


Jack Roy emerged from his office as the club manager, Tony, doubled as MC. Wolfgang noticed Jack bookended a monologue with familiar bits, followed by a warm-up for the next act.


Wolfgang followed Jack to the office. Inside, Jack had shucked his black suit for a paisley bathrobe. Jack paced the office, verbally evaluating his set to Tony.


“Hey, you made it. How was my set?” Jack asked. “What’d you think? How was I out there?”


Wolfgang regarded his drink. “I think you’ve got a great future in aluminum siding.”


Jack deflated. “I knew it, I knew it wasn’t getting enough laughs out there,” he said half to the room in general, half to Tony.


Tony wordlessly conveyed sympathy, even though he’d heard this plaint many times before.


Jack sputtered as he attempted to down his Scotch without removing the lit cigarette in his mouth. “Word gets out, and my next gig I’m the opening act at a Zanie’s in Fort Lauderdale.”


“I’m kidding,” Wolfgang said. “You killed. You should use the new bits on your next Carson gig.”


“I can’t. This is material for an HBO showcase in two weeks.” Jack continued pacing between gulps. “But it’s no good, no good. The new stuff isn’t ready yet.”


Wolfgang and Tony looked at each other, trying to think of something to assuage Jack.


“So call Lou Silverstone to doctor it,” Wolfgang finally said.


Jack paused. “Lou Silverstone,” he repeated softly. He opened a desk drawer and checked his address book.


Jack brightened. “That’s it! I’ll call him after I introduce this next act. Hey, kid, you’re all right!”


Wolfgang shrugged. “What’re friends for?”