Saturday, December 26, 2054

Chapter Five

Its been my experience in life that there’s no such thing as a person who’s purely good or bad. People like Ghandi come pretty close on the good side and Hitler tips the scales pretty hard on the bad side. Martin Luther King; great guy, but he had his bimbos in the closet. JFK? great guy, ditto the bimbos in the closet. Conversely, I bet Stalin bought his wife some really thoughtful anniversary presents. Other than that, thoroughly evil guy.

My point is that everyone’s only human. Now I may have given the impression that my Father wasn’t such a terrific guy. That’s not completely accurate. I remember lots of wonderful times with my Father. He taught me to fish, play golf, and we tossed a ball in the backyard every once in a while. He’d help me with homework sometimes. The fact is that he was driven by the need to be a success and to amass profits. He considered that his duty as a father and husband, and anything else he did was for Brownie points. He wasn’t actually neglectful, just preoccupied.

On the other hand, there was all of the wisdom he imparted to me. Well, truth be told, approximately 25% of that wisdom was a crock of shit. He didn’t trust his employees and he assumed all of his customers were trying to steal from him. Any returned merchandise was given the highest level of scrutiny before being accepted. He claimed he didn’t have a racist bone in his body, but the term 'Those People’ was used an awful lot in the Harkness household.
By the time I turned 16, I had decided that the 25% bullshit factor justified disregarding the rest of my father’s advice. I was 32 before my father began to make sense on any issue again. Unfortunately, I chose to marry during the period when my father was always wrong.

I met Denise Bostwick during my senior year at B.U. I was waiting tables at Crossroad’s, a saloon type joint near Kenmore Square. Denise was majoring in some obscure Fine Arts specialty, and used to come in with some of her friends a couple of times a week.

She was tall, gorgeous and highly intelligent. (Eventually I discovered that there’s a huge difference between actual intelligence and loudly stated opinions, but by then, it was too late.) Of course, I was smitten. We had a whirlwind romance over the next few months. At spring break, I took her home to meet the family and we announced our engagement.

Mom was gentle, but against the marriage on the basis of Denise being a shiksa and all. Dad, on the other hand was practically apoplectic. “I looked into her family”, he said. “She may try to act like some Boston blueblood, but she’s just trash from Dorchester. She’s only after you for my money.”

With a ringing endorsement like that from Father, what else could I do? Denise and I left the house in a huff and got married that very night by a Justice of the Peace in Maryland. Turns out, Father had hit the nail on the head. How could I have known? How was I to detect the one time he knows what he’s talking about?

We remained painfully married until 1992; about a year after Father had passed control of the business to me. Coincidence? Anything’s possible. The judge gave her 23% of Harkness Automotive in the divorce settlement.

I’ve accepted the way things worked out, and honestly, I’m not bitter about it. Her share of the business frees me from paying her alimony, and she’s never tried to play an active part in running it. Grandpa had Uncle Herschel; Denise is my cross to bear.

What’s my point? She’s only human. On the negative side, she mostly sucks as a person; on the positive side, I almost never have to see her.

Unfortunately, today proved to be one of those rare days when she chose to inflict her personal suckiness on me. As Rachel slowly inched the car through the mass of reporters camped out in my driveway, I witnessed a most unwelcome sight: Denise in My Spotlight!

Now this is one of those moments where, I was doing my bit to preserve the notion of “only human”. I was furious that Denise should be getting any benefit from the circus my life had become today. I had no idea what she expected to achieve, but there she was…standing in my spotlight! I wanted the press to leave me alone; to turn off the damned spotlight, but if that wasn’t going to happen, I certainly had no intention of sharing it with Denise, of all people.

I got out of the car and, with a smile plastered on my face, I took Denise firmly by the upper arm and led her into the house. I dropped my keys twice, trying to open the door and I didn’t respond to any of the reporters other than to wave to them with my “key” hand. Neither my smile nor my grip on Denise’s arm faltered. Her smile never faltered. Later that night, one of the local stations played back the footage of my arrival. My smile made me look like a coyote in a claw trap.

Of course, the phone was ringing when we walked in. Rachel answered it, said, “No Comment”, and disconnected the jack. She looked at the counter on the answering machine and asked me if I wanted to hear the 42 messages it had saved? (There would have been more, but the tape had run out.) I asked her if she wouldn’t mind screening them for me and let me know if I should care about any of them.

A few minutes later, I returned to the room with a healthy glass of Jameson’s in one hand and the bottle in the other. Motioning toward Denise with the glass, I said, “Sit”. I guess my tone was a little severe because she dropped into the chair like a grade-schooler reporting to the principal’s office.

As I said before, she was tall and gorgeous when I met her, and age had done little to diminish her looks. Seeing the contrite look on her face was enough to mostly deflate my anger. Suddenly, I just felt tired. “What, exactly are you doing”, I asked quietly.

“They called me at home to ask me some questions and next thing I knew, they picked me up in a limo and brought me over here for an on-camera interview. They wanted your house as a background.”

“Denise, We’ve been divorced 12 years. What could you possibly have to say to the press?”

At this, she brightened a little. “On no, Paul. They didn’t call me because we were married. They wanted to interview your business partner.”

I didn’t say anything immediately. Denise had the sense to read my mood and quickly reverted to the contrite pose. Eventually, with a defeated air, I said, “Go home, Denise…now. Just walk out the door, smile and wave to the reporters as you get back in your limo. And go. Don’t speak, just go”.

To her credit, she went. See? I don’t ask for much.

After Denise left, Rachel started reading off the list of who had called. When she got to Mom, I panicked. “Shit, I haven’t called her at all today. Shit, shit shit. She gonna kill me.”

I plugged the phone back in and started dialing while Rachel continued reading off the list. When she mentioned “Nightline” wanted me for that night, I put the phone down. I grabbed the piece of paper and scanned it for the “Nightline” producer’s number.

Rachel said, “What about Mom”?

I found the number and started dialing. The spotlight was a little warm for my taste, but, hey, Nightline wanted me. How cool was that? I wondered who would interview me.

“Mom knows I’m fine. Hell, there’s nothing else on T.V. She can wait a few more minutes to talk to me”.

Hey, I’m only human.

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