The File Cabinet:
Bent Out of Shape
Dobie was out a couple weeks ago, just for about three days before they took him away again. That nickname makes him sound like some kind of harmless lovable goof, doesn't it? He got it in the Army, when he was in there for a very short hitch, because his last name is too long for people to bother with. Anyway, it's true that Dobie is the most harmless guy in the world, really, except for the one problem. He has a crush on this woman, Laura. Well, it's more than a crush. He follows her around a lot. Sometimes he gets obnoxious about it, puts his hands on her. Writes poems about her. Forty months out of the last five years, he's spent either in jail or up at Camarillo, behind this Laura thing.
I ran into him on Windward. He looked like a bum, but it wasn't his fault. If it was me, I'd look like a bum too. I'm not proud of myself, but at first I thought about shining him on. The guy is like this loose cannon. You never know whether to get clear of it or jump in there and try and tie it down. Either way you'll probably get dinged.
But we got to talking, and I heard myself say it. "You might as well stay at my place till you get on your feet. Your stuff is still there anyway."
We started toward home and went by where the Gas House used to be, the old beatnik hangout. The city tore it down, all but one iron pillar. It's one of those local landmarks the kids who want to direct always put in their Super-8 movies.
All of a sudden Dobie stopped walking. "This is right where we were standing."
"What do you mean?"
"When Laura wished me a nice life."
"You're gonna stay away from her, remember?" He's touchy about hearing anybody else say her name.
"Can you just comprehend this for a minute? I told the shrinks that I would forsake her so they would let me out. What they don't understand and apparently what you don't understand either is, she has feelings for me. That was an incredibly sensitive, caring thing to say."
It just so happens I was there, that time by the Gas House pillar. What Laura actually said was, "I want you to go away and have a nice life." It wouldn't do any good to mention it. He didn't hear the go away part. He never does.
When we got to my place I pulled his bundle out of the bottom cupboard and handed it to him.
"Did you open it?"
"Dobe. Buddy. Take a deep breath and relax. I respect you, man."
Dobie unwrapped his meager clump of belongings and showed me the corner of a sheet. "It's real satin. Just in case Laura drops over." He still had Laura on the brain. It was time for a new subject.
"Remember that weird thing you told me about the number on your discharge papers? How did that go again?"
"246. 2 plus 4 equals 6, see? Then there's another 6, and together they make 12. And 2,4, and 6 all go into 12. And it's the beginning of an infinite series..." and on and on.
The number means they threw him out "for the good of the service." What he did was, he went over to the base craft shop and revived an old Victorian art form. They used to make designs out of dead insects pinned to cork. Dobie made a dead bug collage of a colonel's insignia and gave it to his commanding officer. He still doesn't understand why they tossed him out.
Pretty soon he was reminiscing about Laura again. I took him over to Cafe 50s. The songs on the jukebox were all oldies, so I figured he couldn't associate the music with you-know-who, and get started.
Dobie's like the only guy I ever did that male bonding thing with, and I wanted to see him stay out of trouble. I thought okay, let's get his head going in another direction. I talked to this waitress I know, about giving him a ride. Gwen is a nice girl, don't get me wrong. She doesn't do it full time or anything like that. She wanted $75, but so what? I figured it would take his mind off Laura. The date happened at my place. Where else could they go? Over to Gwen's in front of her old man?
So they're in the bedroom about three and a half minutes and Gwen comes out.
"I'll need a hundred," she says. "You didn't tell me there would be kinky stuff. He wants to kiss my feet and call me Laura." I scratch around in my pockets and come up with seven singles and my Kama Sutra key chain. It's the best I can do. She balks. We're trying to work it out when I all of a sudden wonder why Dobie is so quiet. It's not like him to pass up the chance to join a debate.
He's so quiet because he's gone, out the window and over the roof. Of course he heads straight to the boardwalk and gives my money to some bozo for a key to Laura's building. Hey, the manager only charges $5 for a lost key, so that's a $70 clear profit. A lot of the tenants in that place would sell you their key for less. So he unlocks the door and goes upstairs and lays himself down on the hall floor in front of her apartment door. And he waits. Pretty soon she comes out and trips over him and breaks her wrist and she's mad as hell, which I don't blame her. The building manager calls the cops and twenty minutes later, Dobie is back off the streets again. It's a crying shame, but what are you gonna do? I tried.
© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman