Souvenirs You Never Lose by M.E. McMullen

Miles’ girl friend left a while back, sending him, as Miles put it, to a bad place. If you knew Miles, you wouldn’t have to ask why she walked. She lugged out several large boxes of anger and two cartons of unhappiness with her, not to mention a whole trunk of angst and a large crate that’d been totally emptied of concern for anybody but herself, all of which she could keep, says Miles. Dear, sweet Gloria.

She took good things too. Her collection of reggae CDs; her blank stare, her profound indifference to Miles and that sparkling cloak of flirty attractiveness she threw on when she wanted something. She took a decent repertoire of dishes, a great clam dip recipe. Fed up with Miles’ brutal deprivation, the relentless facials and arduous hair appointments he forced on her, the grueling shopping trips and the cruel full massages that Miles doggedly subjected her to week after week, she’d finally had enough.

She called him a cluck, and to be sure he didn’t miss the point, slammed the front door in his face with enough force to jar loose the big mirror in the foyer, which came down on the tile floor with a horrific, gut wrenching crash, shattering into a thousand pieces before Miles’s horrified eyes. Gone forever with the mirror were the Japanese pillows, the cigarette butts and the coughing. Gone was the cast iron table, the moose antlers, the assorted voodoo dolls and the stuffed grasshopper collection. Gloria wasn’t coming back. The whole episode, Miles reflected, shows how people can take you to bad places if you let them.

I am Dodds, Miles’ selfless, long-suffering buddy and sometime confessor. I endure his infantile rants over misadventures largely of his own making. Beaten down by life to the point where he’s not sure if he can answer the bell next time, Miles gains insights all the same, as when it occurs to him that Gloria might’ve had something with this cluck stuff, or that maybe he was a little hasty calling her a complete phony when she was really only a partial phony, not that it mattered. She left a scar on his memory, but she made good pancakes, so it was kind of a tradeoff with Gloria.

With her mouth screwed up into a tight little ball of scolding disapproval and her hair scrambled down across her face like wild ivy on a long neglected wall, she could look ghoulish. At other times, when she bothered, Gloria was more than presentable. Miles started thinking about her one cool Saturday morning and developed a sudden craving for pancakes. He was up early, stomach grumbling. He mumbled something like, 'Honey, why don’t you cook some pancakes?’ but she didn’t answer. She’d been gone for months. It freaked Miles out afterward. He threw on a jacket, headed for the door. “I could practically taste those little golden beauties," he recalled, “all soggy with maple syrup, drenchedin salted butter."

Barry’s Big Burger up on Mainline Road used to have decent pancakes. The Raffle House (Home of the Raffleburger) on Highway 61 serves those little silver dollar pancakes you eat by the dozens, but the best place for pancakes was Mort’s White Rose, which was where Miles was headed on the fateful day of which we speak. Joey Mort played two years for the Chicago Cubs before he came back here to be the star of our local Carpet Town minor league team, the Rugs. Joey bought the team and the White Rose when he was with the Rugs. He put in a breakfast bar, came out with the ` Rug Special’, featuring the best pancakes 'east of the Pecos’.

A trip to the White Rose was Traffic Jam City, a clogged road near a busy freeway ramp but the pancakes were calling. According to Miles, a state of being came with the first loving swallows of those White Rose pancakes, less belly than mind, a sense of well-being thicker than that sweet old sticky syrup itself.

“The world’s a better place,' Miles says, capping his apotheosis to the great hotcakes of the White Rose. “Maybe I’m not a cluck. Maybe, I’m hunting the sugar fix; like you, Doddsy, the victim of a pathological person.' This last remark is a reference to the vicious psychopath, Ramona 'Rummy’ Dodds, my take-no-prisoners ex-wife, determined as ever to dance some day on my grave.

Quaffing a few in the Don Lee’s Tavern, I marvel at Miles’ ability to cast his sad tale of unrequited love as tragedy, in view of the horror that was my marriage. If there are, as is said, three sheets to be put to the wind, two of ours are already flying high and the third is being moved into place as Miles proceeds with his sob story.

“First, I fight the endless southbound traffic on North Bend Road," he says. “Big, big ass
delay, which gives me a freaking headache. Limping along in the fits and starts of stop and go, finally making that right turn into the White Rose parking lot, I’m so close to the pancakes of my dreams that I’ve become a quivering, salivating wild animal and do not notice at first the bulldozer and a twenty foot pile of rubble where Mort’s White Rose once stood. No Wild Rose pancakes today or ever. Cascades of alienation replace the anticipated sense of well- being, superimposed over raw, gnawing hunger. I am lost but not just lost. I am out of touch with life."

“Not a happy prospect, Miles, but neither is it a disaster of the magnitude of the train wreck that was my marriage."

Cocking his head in defiance of the forces of nature and the cruel vagaries of life, in total denial that anything could compare with his lonely, futile existence as a cluck, he stares into his beer. “ There’s more," he says.

The drive he describes is well known, reviving memories of Rummy’s embarrassing disaster when she was caught shoplifting exotic soap. Nabbed before I could intervene, she was soon mouthing off to an assistant manager, pushing a clerk and trying to kick a cop. Hauled away by the cops, taken right up that same long curvy driveway very near the place of the great pancakes, she left me crestfallen, following in my car up that same back driveway of Miles’s nightmare experience, making me part of that same miserable fraternity somehow. We faced an existential catharsis there, Miles and his pancakes, me and my coming to the dim realization I’d married a crazy woman. I tried that summer, with Rummy, I mean, I really did. I helped her deal with her sleep walking and her ongoing psychosis, trying to let her exercise control over her demons. She paid back my concern and kindness by shoplifting exotic soap and throwing a fit when she was caught. My thoughts went running back to that same narrow driveway, like some narrow passageway inour lives. “Can you picture, Doddsy, that driveway winding down the hill at the back of the lot where the White Rose once stood?"

“I can.''
“Past the Wal-Mart Parking Lot, he says, “past various commercial venues arriving eventually at a road with very little traffic. Congratulating myself for remembering this back way, I cruise around the bend and over the hill, following the narrow lane as it curves down, with no way of knowing, of course, that dark personal oblivion awaits just around the bend.'

“Dark, personal, ---'

“Oblivion, yes, beginning at the spot where the driveway’s blocked off by a plastic saw horse barrier with a large sign saying NOT A THRU STREET. The only thing keeping it from being a thru street is the large NOT A THRU STREET sign. Most discouraging of all, the road ends abruptly just around the bend, and there’s no room to turn around.'

“All for pancakes."

A grim look passes across Miles’ face. “ There’s more," he says. “Taking a quick gaze over my shoulder, I twist around awkwardly, drop her into reverse and start backing up, very slowly, around the bend, going okay for a few seconds until the tires bump hard against the curb and the back bumper rides up over one of the saw horses."

“Not good."

“Rocking the car to get free doesn’t work, so, I jerk the wheel, hit the gas and seriously crunch the sawhorse, double jamming it underneath the car. My stomach’s in my throat, my eyes are bugged out, and I’m beginning to feel like a candidate for some kind of fatal attack; a stroke, cardiac arrest, mental meltdown, something bad."

“You know, Miles, ---"

“ There’s more," he says.

I try to picture it.

Out of the car, Miles has a go at the sawhorse, sliding underneath on his back in the grit, cursing and growling at it. As he’s reliving the experience, he begins to sweat profusely, his face a mask of anguish and despair, reminding me of my own frustration the day dear Rummy maxed our four credit cards to the tune of forty eight thou in one vindictive, self-indulgent spree, charging everything from mink-lined walking boots which she never wore, to a grand piano she couldn’t play, all of which I learned about, ironically, at the very spot where Miles tangled with the devil plastic sawhorse.

This diabolical event proves Miles was indeed the cluck he always feared he was. The tortuous bending and twisting of the malleable sawhorse as he attempts to dislodge it lends a macabre animation to the scene in my mind, as if the plastic came alive just to bedevil Miles. In the viral You Tube posting that followed, Miles became a kind of everyman hero figure standing for all the frustrated fools who ever were, and for all the clucks who ever got into a life and death tussle with an inanimate object that could anticipate his every move and trump him at every turn.

Prying at it only infuriated it more. Cursing it, beating at it only makes things worse. When he finally crawls out, he kicks a tire and hurts his toes. Stupid.

“Here’s a kid, ten or eleven, passing by on his bike," Miles recalls, “catching this incredible cluck show on his cell phone camera. The sawhorse encounter turns out to be the kid’s first truly viral posting, which may be his break in showbiz, make him world famous before he turns twelve."


“I thought about a cryptic quote for posterity," Miles said, “like how easy it was to get dragged into bad places, but I figured if some good came of it, all the better. Maybe the kid learned a lesson. Maybe not."

“Any good come of it?"

“Not until last night," Miles said. “What happened last night?"

“She asked me not to mention it."


“Ramona. She heard about the internet post and called me. We talked about Gloria. We talked about the sawhorse. We talked about a bunch of things. Mostly we talked about you, Dodds."

“She called me a few months ago at four a.m., claiming she wired a bomb to my car, which I knew wasn’t true because she couldn’t wire anything to anything. I hung up on her. My car started fine."

“It was chocolate allergy. She’s been off chocolate and her life has totally turned around. She says she feels terrible about what she put you through, Dodds."

“I’ll bet."

The chocolate rap sounded like another Ramona denial fantasy, like the bomb wired to my car. Boundless as it was warped, her imagination often ran to places where distinguishing between fantasy and reality was a challenge. She believed her own excuses for 'jumping the trolley’, as she described her meltdowns. As long as she had someone or something to blame besides herself, she was fine. As for her feeling bad about it, that might have been true. When the feverish hurt finally wears off, another more permanent hurt takes over. It begins with remembering only the hope at the beginning and ends with the stupid ache that hangs around forever after the hope is long gone.

“She was very clear-eyed, Dodds. Very sure in her speech. She was on the level about the whole thing. The chocolate messes up brain chemistry. Couple éclairs, she turns into Attila the Hun. We’ve had coffee a few times. I may start seeing her, Dodds. I hope you don’t mind."


Well, the idea caught me cold, but once I thought about it, I did mind, not that I’d ever let on to Miles. If he wanted to see my ex-wife, fine. “Go for it," I say. “Is there such a thing as Chocolate Abuser’s Anonymous?" I might have smirked through that last line. The notion that Rummy had gone straight over night struck me as unlikely, but it did give me an idea. Since I actually did run into Gloria at the grocery store, which I didn’t mention to Miles because he goes into shock when her name’s mentioned, working himself into a funk over some unkind cut from her, maybe I should call her.

“You know, I saw Gloria a week or so ago at the grocery store, and I have to tell you, she was definitely on her game. Like I say, I thought about, you know, ---"

“Calling her?"

“Would you mind if I did?"

Miles grins, which I know for the fake grin he often throws up when he’s trying to grin his way through one of the bad places he is routinely being sent to by fate. Seeing his pal and confessor Dodds with his ex girl friend would frost him for sure, but he would never admit that for a second. “Give her a call."

“Maybe I will," I say, doubting I ever would, but reserving the right anyway, deciding that I just might for spite. Sometimes you just don’t want to hear certain things because you don’t want to hear them. They connect you to places where you don’t want to go, and the problem it that there’s always more hurt where that came from, more old scars.

“ There’s more," he says.

“ There always is."


All Rights Reserved--2007-2024