Eddie’s Back Door

I was sitting on a crate out back of the restaurant about 1:30 A.M. in the summer of 1968 when Cutter told me about RFK’s assassination.

 During the summer of 1968 I was between colleges—I had completed 2 years at a small liberal arts college in the mountains of North Carolina and had been accepted at a large university in Colorado. I was working two jobs that summer—washing dishes at Eddie’s seafood joint in Sylvan Beach at night and selling paint and hardware at Ward’s during the day.

 Cutter was a drunk—an alcoholic—he usually came to work smelling like gin. As far as I could tell, alcohol and jobs at places like Eddie’s were pretty much what his life was about and he seemed OK with that. He kept a bottle hidden somewhere in the alley but for some reason that evening he didn’t smell like he’d been drinking when he came out for a break and a smoke. To Cutter RFK’s death was sad but what can you say?–lots of things in life were sad.

 We both sat there not saying much—just listening to the street night sounds and the clatter and murmur of customers eating inside—a good crowd tonight. From a coffee house stereo across the parking lot I could hear a song I loved—Paul Simon’s “America,”—

 ”Let us be lovers,

we’ll marry our fortunes together.

So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies

and walked off to look for America.”

We were both remembering JFK’s death 5 years before and Martin Luther King’s death 2 months before. I was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma when JFK died—I was in my sophomore year in North Carolina when King was shot. All three gone in such an all-American way I remember thinking—kind of like the TV version of the old west—if you got a problem with somebody, just gun him down.

 Looking back four decades later it was a good place and moment to hear about Robert Kennedy’s death. The alley in back of Eddie’s—where deliveries were made—was one of those special places I think we all have or have had—where we feel a little apart from the world and safe—but not separated from the world. A cozy little niche where we can see and hear all that’s happening in our lives but, for the moment at least, we can hold life at arm’s length and breath a bit easier.

Eddie suddenly came through the door—he never even looked at us—just walked quickly to his car, got in and drove away. He never left when it was busy—never before anyway. Eddie was Irish Catholic—he loved the Kennedys. I guess he’d heard.

 A siren went off in the distance—across the tracks in the darkness on the other side of the canal. Not for Bobby Kennedy though—it would be help for another American life or lives in jeopardy—no siren could bring enough help for Bobby—now lying dead on the other side of the continent. In that special, safe place behind Eddie’s—with my alcoholic friend inhaling nicotine nearby—I had the luxury of being able to quietly, comfortably, ponder the cosmic insanity of what had happened to a man who, many of us believed in those days, might have—who probably would have—altered history.

 I let my thoughts blend with the night sounds—cars passing in the street around front, a barge being pushed by a tug boat—engines thrumming—sloshing through the dark canal, the breeze rustling the branches and leaves of the old elms arching above the parking lot. I knew several people at school who anticipated working for Bobbie’s campaign if he had secured the Democratic nomination. I also knew people who cheered when Dr. King was murdered.

I went over the three events in my thoughts again and again—trying to place them in some sort of context—puzzle out some kind of meaning. To Cutter I suspect there was no reason why there should be any reason. It all just seemed so vast, overwhelming and incomprehensible and at the same time so far-way, ordinary, so life-as-usual-in-this country. Where was the beautiful nation so many of us in those days wanted to make a better place? The crazy ordinariness–it  just kept slipping away into the night sounds—moving quietly into the endless night with the barge in the canal—slipping sadly away into the silence trailing after Paul Simon’s words—

“Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,

they’ve all come to look for America,

all come to look for America.”

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2 Responses to “Eddie’s Back Door”

  1. Wery Christian Says:

    You’re a good writer, and this image tells me now an emotive american story, with kind of Simon’s Sound of silence…. Thank you Orion for remember time from my early teens.

  2. orion Says:

    Thank you Christian–for your kind words and for coming to my website. I put a lot of time in on the stories so it means a great deal to me when someone like yourself is good enough to read and comment on them–thank you very, very much. Orion

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