Other People’s Stories

These are stories friends have shared with me, and they are too good to lose.

* * *

Ken’s in-laws treated him to a vacation in Jamaica, and after dinner one evening, Ken treated himself to a long walk and a vacation from his in-laws. He had floated through the afternoon on a river of Red Stripe beer and there was, of course, wine with dinner, so a little clearing of the head was definitely in order. The rented villa was on a country road, so Ken just chose a direction and started to walk.

It was a beautiful, starry night. About a mile down the road, Ken came to a huge iron gate framed in stone pillars, and behind the gate, two Doberman Pinschers who began to bark. Loudly, frantically. Perhaps emboldened by the gate, and certainly by the day’s many beverages, Ken leaned over and said to the dogs, “You want a piece of me? You wanna try
your luck out here??” At this moment, the dogs turned, one to the left and one to the right, and trotted around the two stone pillars. Ken stepped back, and realized there was no stone wall. Just two pillars and a gate, and now two Dobermans closing in, one from each direction.

When Ken told me this story, I said, “What did you do?!” And he said, “The only thing I could do. I sat down.” And there in the road, the two dogs licked his face, danced around him and accepted scratches behind the ears.

After a minute or two spent in regaining his composure, Ken stood up, and decided to head back to the villa. The dogs, having been endowed with a new best friend, came along with him. Ken walked into the villa and the dogs walked into the villa, too. The maid, cook and butler began a chorus of shouts and cries, and Ken went looking for another Red Stripe.

* * *

As a young priest, Jack had the good fortune to study at the Vatican. As one would expect, there were often cardinals and bishops, a stream of dignitaries from all over the world, visiting the Holy City. On the occasion of such visits, after a special Mass, the assembled students, teachers and church officials would go from the sanctuary to a reception hall for coffee and conversation, liqueurs and light snacks, with the guest of honor.

A student at the Vatican is still a student, and shares certain similarities with students at any center of higher learning. Thus the young priests were told that one glass of liqueur would be sufficient. Being bright students, they developed a protocol that enabled them to comply, visibly.

Moving swiftly but with a facade of calm, they arrived first at the buffet table where the coffee and liqueurs were set out. They immediately knocked back a shot of liqueur, put the glass down, dumped a second glass of liqueur into a cup of coffee, and then picked up the coffee and a third liqueur to visibly represent their “one” glass. Jack said they could accomplish this in seconds, and everyone was satisfied.

* * *

David lives in Baltimore, and it was there that we first talked about our mutual love of the original “Bedazzled,” a film with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore that follows Satan through a day on earth. When the film came out on DVD, it reminded me of my favorite “Bedazzled” story. In the days before video and DVD and 150 channels, the only way to see this film was to find it playing at some art theater.

David had gone out to Monterey, California, for language school; one weekend, he opened a San Francisco newspaper to the theater page and there was an ad for “Bedazzled.” He was ecstatic. He drove up to the city and caught the matinee. On his way out of the theater, he struck up a conversation with a mother and daughter who loved the film as well. They went to see it whenever it was playing. In parting, David said, “I follow this film around. I’ll drive anywhere to see it.” As he drove off, he waved, but the women’s smiles froze and they just stared at him, without waving back. It was several minutes before he remembered that his car had Maryland plates.

* * *

Jonny grew up in the Netherlands and was a teenager during World War II. When it came time for her to go to college, the war was over, the German occupiers were gone, but there wasn’t much left standing in the way of university housing. In fact, the only building that could serve as a women’s dormitory was in the city’s red light district, directly across the street from a house of prostitution. Every day at lunchtime, the young women would
return to their apartments with whatever food they had been able to find, and sit out on the balcony to eat and talk and drink wine. The house of prostitution did a fairly brisk lunchtime business, and the girls on the balcony, being bright, observant and playful, soon began taking bets on how much time each patron would spend on his visit.

With watches on the table, they would log each man in and make book on his estimated time of departure. There was apparently an art and a science to it. Would someone who rushed in also rush out? Would that older gentleman be out sooner or later because of his advancing years?

One wonders if the man leaving after just five minutes knew that the laughter and applause Coming from on high were for him and the young woman on the balcony gathering in all the money.

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