Two days ago, I was on my way to see my friend Lisa. I planned to see her and stay for the night, and was in need of that special loving care she always gives to me in abundance. I'd have to deliver a car by noon the next day in Charleston, S.C.
When the cell phone rang and I could see it was Riff, I let out a long sigh of frustration. Somehow I just knew it would be bad news. "Hello, Riff."
"I have a special assignment for you. Go to Lewisburg and pick up my friend Jack Grindle and take him to Wheeling, West Virgina. Where are you now?"
"Perfect, you're not far at all. Just hop on Interstate 64 and head straight to Lewisburg."
"We're not supposed to take passengers, right?"
"Maybe you didn't hear me. This is a personal friend of mine, you will do this. Clear?"
"It is way out of my way, I'm headed to Charleston."
"Suck it up, cupcake. You work for me and you do as I say." Riff went on to give me the address and I jotted it down. Then I hung up and made the sad call to Lisa. She was understanding.
"I can't say I'm not disappointed," she told me. "But I do understand, its your job."
"You just don't know how much I wanted to see you. I've been feeling a little discouraged lately, and the holidays are hard. My Mom and brother are both gone, I don't feel like I have anyone."
"Cut that crap, you've got me and a lot of other people who love you."
We talked a little bit longer, and then I lost cell phone service. I found the small town of Lewisburg and drove to the address Riff had given me. An older, wiry gentleman came over to my car, half-striding, half-hopping. He opened the door and jumped in. "Hi, I'm Jack, you must be Bill." Then he held his fingers up very near my nose, presumably for me to examine. "See these callouses? That comes from 50 years of banjo strumming."
I pulled back onto the highway and continued down the road. I didn't feel much like talking, but that did not matter to Jack. "I guess you know that I'm an expatriate. You might call me an expat banjo player. And then again, you might not, your choice."
"We're headed for Wheeling, correct?"
"Unless you'd rather drive me to Hawaii!" He began to laugh with gusto, then stopped suddenly and said, "Of course I'm only joking. But in all seriousness, I have lived half my life in Greece. Met a beautiful woman there and married her. She loves me with all of her heart, and man, that woman can make love!"
"Good to know."
"They love my banjo in Greece. And I love to grease the banjo. Just kidding. Now Steve Martin, he can play the banjo. I mean, movie star, comedian, best selling author, and banjo player. I want his life. But seriously, I'm very pleased with my own life. If you take my meaning."
"Good. Do you know the history of banjo? I'm not going to bore you with some long story, suffice it to say that banjos have entertained many people over the years. Ever see that movie DELIVERANCE? There is a hillbilly boy at the beginning of the movie that plays a banjo like nobody's business. He looks like a very cool customer, a shrewd one if there ever was one. There's a lot going on behind those eyes, and it left me wanting to know more. But instead, the story took a turn towards backwoods male rape and such. You follow?"
"Uh, yeah, I've seen the movie."
"Sure you have, of course you have. Did I mention that I lived in Greece? My wife is still there, and I miss her something awful. I play the banjo for her each night, although she's not here to hear it. I'm just in America thinking how much I miss Greece. And sharing my place with a Catholic fella who is addicted to porn. I mean every time I pass his bedroom, he's doing things to himself that I'd rather not repeat. You know what I mean?"
"I've got the picture."
"No, I don't think you do. This guy has a special way of--"
I interrupted quickly. "Let me stop you right there to say I know as much as I need to know."
Jack eyed me warily, then clicked his tongue on his dentures. "Well, suffice it to say that he's hard to live with. I mean, he's a Catholic, for God's sake. I keep telling him he should be fondling his Rosary beads instead of his johnson all the time."
Jack was still taking stock of me. "You don't like banjo music, do ya?"
"I love banjo music."
"Prove it? How would I do that?"
"Tell me the name of a banjo player."
"One of my closest friends in the world, Frank Wilson in Birmingham. He can play with the best of them."
"Well I have never heard of him, and so you are obviously making up a story. I do believe that I've lost all respect for you, and I'd like to make the rest of this trip in silence. Please don't engage me further in conversation. I'm just a quiet and pensive expat, and would like to be left alone." With that, Jack curled up in his seat with his back to me. Fine by me. I put on some George Strait music and just enjoyed the rest of my drive.
It was a long way to Wheeling, and even longer back to Charleston. But I kept on moving so I wouldn't think of my loneliness during the holiday season. Christmas is almost here.