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Return Engagements (Book One) PART 10… in which I recover

Picking up from Part 9, in which I tried to orient myself.

“Westward” brought Michael Burroughs to Rochester, Minnesota, and there to a stop. He exited the Interstate highway and meandered through the city, stopping at a grocery store to pick up some fruit, nuts, bread, and cheese.

Then he headed out of town on Highway 14, going in whatever direction he felt a pull. He stopped as he crossed the Straight River (which wasn’t), got out of the car, sat on the bank, and finished his grocery store lunch. Then he took a walk and stumbled upon a long-abandoned mill.

For the first time he could remember, at least since his childhood, Michael was simply enjoying a day. If I feel like exploring, I’ll explore, he had decided, then found himself wondering why he hadn’t done this for so many decades. True, he had been busy through all of those years, and mostly with good reason, but still… he had lost track of something. Had that really been necessary? Or had he fitted himself into a mold?

* * * * *

The clothing store was wonderful. I found a middle-aged salesman, told him I’d been on a long and difficult road trip, and that I needed to look like a businessman again. He chuckled, pulled out a measuring tape, and started fixing me up.

In the end the experience cost me $100, a lot for 1963, but aside from one more fix, I’d look like a respectable businessman, a good and useful role for me to play. Looking like you can afford a lawyer keeps a lot of petty annoyances at bay.

The one necessary fix, however – and I simply hadn’t noticed before standing at the mirror in the clothing store – was that I needed a haircut. My hair was the same kind of odd as my blond friend. Every hair on my head was about an inch and a half long. And so, my happy salesman recommended a nearby barber to me, and an hour or so later – after a haircut and shave and wearing some of my new clothing – I walked out of the barbershop looking right for a man of my age and vocabulary in 1963.

The next stop was the hotel I had seen earlier. It was now almost 3:00 in the afternoon, and it was all but certain that I could find a room immediately. I pulled up in front, pulled all my various bags from the trunk and gave them to the bellman, and gave my car to the young man in front. I gave each a dollar tip in advance, which was greatly appreciated by both.

The young lady at the desk found me a room, told me about the hotel’s amenities, and took my money. I told her I would stay for two nights, possibly three. Finally installed in my room, I began to feel my weariness. I staggered through a shower, closed the various curtains and crawled into bed at about four o’clock and slept hard.

* * * * *

Robert elbowed James, who was asleep in the window seat.

“We’re landing now; sorry to interrupt your sleep.”

“It’s okay,” James responded, “but I feel like I need more recovery time here. I’m holding up, but the difference is striking.”

“I know what you mean. I slept for a bit myself.”

In just 10 minutes they’d be on the ground in Minneapolis and on their way to the same downtown hotel my friend died at the night before. It would be midnight before they got there, but they had been assured by a stewardess that a room would be available for them – she stayed there on her Minneapolis layovers.

They went directly to sleep at the Radisson and slept late the next morning, both of them rolling out of bed at around 9:00 AM. James set up the equipment while Robert showered. Then they took their measurements again.

“Okay, we’re solid on this one,” James reported as he carefully examined a meter. “He, she, or they are 64 miles from here, 30 degrees west of due south. If we go there, we should be close enough to feel them.”

Robert patted him on the back. “Beautiful! We’ve got this… I think you should clean up now, while I find us some transportation.”

But transportation for 64 miles might be a problem. In order to drive a car, and he presumed also to rent one, the rulers of this time required a license card. Without it, you were presumed to be dangerous. And they didn’t have one. They could probably forge one, but that would require an authentic card to work from and would take time.

Robert remained stuck on this problem for a moment, and then began laughing.

“The hotel people!” he said out loud. “‘Anything we can do to help!’”

In an hour they were checked out of the hotel and had their bags loaded in the trunk of a car belonging to the father of the woman at the hotel desk. He was no longer working and would otherwise be sitting at home bored. For a small payment, he had agreed to drive them for the day. And after a quick review of a map they knew where they were going, a place called Mankato.

* * * * *

I had awakened at about midnight and made my way to the lobby of the hotel, looking for some food. Room service was closed for the night. After a good deal of asking, someone got me a couple of oranges from the kitchen, which was at least something. I thanked them.

But while going through this process I saw something else of interest, a copy of the evening paper, the Minneapolis Star. It had been so long since I’d read an afternoon paper that I had almost forgotten that every significant city used to have both morning and evening papers. I took the paper back to my room with the fruit.

On page C6 I found the story, noting that a young woman had checked into the Radisson hotel Wednesday evening and had died from apparently natural but unknown causes.

And then I began crying, and continued for some time. It wasn’t just for her; she was back to normal on her home world, wherever that might be. It was an emotional release over the whole episode.

Even while I had been containing my emotions, I knew that I’d have to process them soon, and this was the gusher. And so I went with it and cried myself out. Afterward I washed my face, poured two glasses of water, sat at the small desk, and ate my oranges.

I went back to reading the paper again, but got no more from it than a few smiles at the baseball box scores. By 2 AM I was back in bed.

I felt that I was recovering both physically and mentally, but that I had a long way to go. I lay down to sleep as if it were prescribed by a doctor.

* * * * *

Evidently I had forgotten to put the “Do Not Disturb” card on the room door, because a cleaning lady woke me at a quarter past eight in the morning. I groaned a “Come back later,” she apologized, and I lay in bed, half asleep, for another hour and change.

It was an odd feeling to trudge into the bathroom and then the shower, knowing that a uniquely blank canvas stood in front of me.

I had a similar feeling once, back in 1985, when my boss fired me. (I had been fired and rehired by him before, even twice in one day, but this time it was for real.) As I began driving home I was troubled, knowing that my severance pay wouldn’t last long and that I had heavy responsibilities.

But then, in a burst, I realized that every option in the world was open to me. Whatever I wanted to do next, I could do it. Within a few seconds, I was thrilled and even grateful to have been fired. This feeling was similar.

Yes, I would want to take full advantage of a chance to make my world better, but that was going to take some planning. But I was already overloaded with making sense of my situation. For now my best use of time was to recover, and feeling free in this way was a nice step in that direction.

I showered, dressed, and headed downstairs, waving at the cleaning lady as I went. And as I went, I realized what I wanted to do for the day. I’d get a couple of pens, a few legal pads, and install myself at a restaurant with multiple newspapers. There, I’d begin to plan my life in this place. I had a couple of years to make life better for my family and friends, and I would enjoy the adventure.

The weather was clearly going to be hot, but it was still comfortable as I walked to a stationery shop, to a newsstand, then to a restaurant on Highway 169, not far from the hotel. It didn’t have air conditioning, but it was cool enough with its fans blowing.

I rolled up my sleeves, opened my shirt, wrote “What Creates Benefit?” on the second page of the pad (so the first page would cover my notes when I wasn’t working on them), then pushed it to the side and started reading newspapers, jotting random thoughts as they arose.

I had arrived early enough to get a booth in the back corner, before the lunch crowd arrived. I worked and ate slowly, through the lunch rush and past it.

One idea I ran into was that there would be a Liston-Patterson rematch on July 22. Patterson was an underdog, but I knew he’d lose in the first round. That would probably get me decent odds in Vegas, making me consider it as my next destination.

Beyond that, Las Vegas was such a transitory town that I could come and go or even stay for long periods without anyone really noticing. All of that, plus the fact that it had multiple flights daily to a dozen destinations, made it a logical base.

I’d be down to about $500 by the time I got there, but there was always a need for electrical guys in Vegas, even if the Liston fight didn’t work out.

Then I started thinking about getting a driver’s license and passport… an identity… but that started to feel heavy, and I very much wanted to avoid heavy. On the fourth or fifth sheet of paper, I quickly noted “Docs: Outfit guys in Vegas? Paper Trip methods?” Then flipped back to the front.

Light and fun, I reminded myself, light and fun.

I put the papers aside as I ate the lunch special and thought about myself… what would be best for me right now? I was feeling well, even if still lacking some sleep.

I decided to take a nap once I got back to the room, take another walk in the afternoon if it wasn’t too hot, and maybe even go see the Cleopatra boondoggle on a big screen. It was playing at a theater nearby. The next day I’d rest more, then head out to Vegas Saturday morning, which would be the 13th.

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)

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