This collection of 30 short stories deals with classic American themes of fathers and sons, hitting the open road, roller-coaster relationships, sports, growing up and aging. These stories deal with humanity’s goodness and wickedness, loyalty and betrayal, rage and exultation, triumph and defeat.
“The Silver Moon”
It all began last night after dinner. Nick Parducci, Marlene, and I decided to go out for a drink. Nick was staying at our house. He started out driving from our hometown of Chicago about a week ago and stopped here in Oakland on his way to Los Angeles for what he said was part vacation, part business. Nick’s a photographer. We were just about to leave the house when in popped our next-door neighbor, Karen Wertz.
After introducing Nick to Karen, I asked Karen, “Would you like to go out and have a drink with us?” Me and my big mouth.
“Sure,” she gushed. “Stan said he was going to work late in San Francisco tonight, so why not.” Her husband, Stan, was my closest friend.
The four of us jumped into my car and drove to The Albatross on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. Our waitress looked Marlene and Karen over closely before she asked, “Can I see your IDs, girls?” Marlene and Karen, both in their mid-twenties, couldn’t have gotten a higher compliment, so they gladly showed the waitress their driver’s licenses.
The drinks came. Nick found out about Karen and vice-versa. Then Karen suggested playing a game of pool.
Nick and Karen beat us the first game. Marlene and I won the next one. The third and final game went to Nick and Karen, after Karen, so help me God, made a shot on the eight ball that Minnesota Fats would’ve had a hard time making. It was an unbelievable shot, and Nick and Karen started hugging and kissing. I didn’t think much of this contact between my oldest friend and my closest friend’s wife because the shot she made was truly incredible. And what the hell—we were having a good time.
Karen was so happy and proud of herself that she brought up going to the Silver Moon. “I feel like dancing,” she said. “How about you?” she asked Nick.
“Right on,” he said. “Let’s boogie.”
Marlene, knowing we hadn’t danced since our marriage four years ago, started in with “Let’s go, Tony. Come on, it’ll be good for you.”
“I can’t dance,” I snorted.
“Anyone can do what they want on the dance floor nowadays,” said Nick. “Come on, Tony, there’s nothing wrong with having some fun.”
Karen kissed him on the cheek after he said that.
“Well,” I said, “if you guys really want to go, I guess I’ll tag along.”
Marlene embarrassed me by giving me a big wet smooch right on the lips.
At the Silver Moon I danced four straight dances with Marlene. That’s a world’s record for me. The rest of the time we watched Nick and Karen act like high school sweethearts, dancing the slow ones glued to one another and the fast ones like wild animals. What was going on with those two? Had Karen forgotten she was married to Stan? And didn’t Nick have any respect for Karen’s marriage?
None of that was on Marlene’s mind, though. “Tony,” she complained, “why don’t you dance with me like Nick dances with Karen?”
“We’re not them,” I said, “we’re us.”
“Is it because I’m not as good-looking as Karen?”
“What kind of crazy question is that, Marlene? You know I’m not a dancer.”
“You’d be dancing with me now if I were as attractive as she is.”
“Get off it, Marlene. Look, I know Karen is attractive, but it’s you I married, and that means you’re the most beautiful woman in the world to me.”
“You really mean that?”
“Yeah, I really do.”
“Then why don’t you ask the most beautiful woman in the world to dance with you?”
“Marlene, we’ve already danced more tonight than we’ve danced the whole time we’ve known each other. What more do you want?”
“Look how trim and healthy Nick looks,” she kept on. “If you danced like him you wouldn’t have to worry about your weight so much.”
“Don’t you like our marriage anymore?” I asked my wife. “We’re not Nick and Karen, or Stan and Karen, we’re Tony and Marlene Santoro. Can’t you be happy with that?”
“Why can’t we enjoy ourselves like them?” she asked.
“Marlene, I was enjoying myself until you started nagging me.”
When we got back to the house, Nick grabbed my arm and led me into the bedroom. “What’s going on, Tony? Something’s happening between Karen and me and I don’t know what to do about it. Should I get into her pants or not?”
I immediately thought of Stan. Our friendship is special because we can talk about almost anything: law, philosophy, sports, literature, movies, politics, and office furniture, which is my business. We play chess, we go to sporting events together, we throw the football and the Frisbee around, we go on long walks together, we play tennis, and go out drinking. We’re close. We’re so close that Stan confided in me recently that he’s seeing a seventeen-year-old girl on the side. Not only that, but she went and got herself pregnant without Stan having any say about it. To top it off, her parents know about the pregnancy and accept it.
“Oh, boy,” I told Stan, “you’ve really gone and outdone yourself this time. I hope she’s going to get an abortion.”
“I wish she would,” he said, “but she won’t.”
“What kind of crazy girl did you get mixed up with, Stan?”
“She’s dead-set on having my child, Tony. She won’t listen to reason. If Karen ever finds out, I’m dead.”
I felt sorry for Stan, getting himself into a predicament like that. And now Karen was stretching the strings of their marriage to the breaking point by getting mixed up with Nick.
“What should I do?” asked Nick. “Should I go to bed with her or not?”
“Don’t do anything,” I said. “Stay away from her.”
“I haven’t been with a woman in months, Tony. I’m horny, man. Ever since we got to that Silver Moon place we’ve been feeling each other up. I’m telling you, she’s hot to trot.”
“She’s my good friend’s wife, Nick. I’m telling you, don’t do a goddamn thing with her.”
After we went back into the living room, what do you think Karen asked Nick? “Would you like to come over and see my place?”
She’s actually offering herself to him, I thought, and right in front of Marlene and me.
“Isn’t your husband home yet?” Nick asked her.
“He said he had to work on a case and wouldn’t be home until two or three this morning.”
“Then let’s do it,” replied Nick, and all I could do was just stand there like a dumb oaf.
It was a little after two in the morning when I heard Nick sneak in. I felt like I was his father waiting up for him. I sent Nick my thoughts: “I hope you didn’t do anything you weren’t supposed to do.”
Nick didn’t say a word about Karen this morning, so I figured the case was closed.
After we lounged around the house and ate a late breakfast, the two of us went next door. I wanted Nick to meet Stan so that maybe the three of us could spend a lazy Saturday afternoon together. “Stan never came home,” explained Karen. “He called this morning to tell me he slept at his partner’s house in San Francisco.” And then she went, “Huh,” meaning that Stan was lying to her.
Oh, God, I thought, he’s still making it with that seventeen-year-old.
“Would you guys like to stay for a beer?” Karen asked us.
“A beer sounds great to me,” said Nick.
“I have to catch up on a few things around the house,” I told them.
A couple of hours later, Nick came home and the two of us went for a ride in the Oakland hills. While we stopped to take in the fantastic view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Nick said, from out of left field, “I went to bed with her, Tony.”
I felt as if he’d punched me in the face. “Why’d you do it, Nick? Why?”
“We did it because we did it.”
“I told you to stay away from her.”
“For your information, Tony, I’m not your puppet.”
“But you went to bed with my good friend’s wife.”
“Friends are supposed to watch out for friends, aren’t they?”
“What’s there to watch out for?” he said. “I didn’t force Karen—she’s the one who started the whole thing. Let’s just forget I brought it up, OK?”
“How do you expect me to forget it now?”
“You’re too old-fashioned for me, Tony. You don’t believe in freedom.”
“How can you say that, Nick? Freedom doesn’t mean you just go and do whatever you want to do. You have to think about the consequences.”
“If I thought of the consequences of everything I did, I’d be frozen in my tracks. Leave me alone, man.”
“So why’d you tell me you got it on with Karen? You know you did something wrong. You know it, but you won’t admit it.”
“Get off my ass,” he growled. “I thought I’d tell you because we’ve been friends since grammar school. Why are you getting so self-righteous all of a sudden?”
“Nick,” I said, totally exasperated, “put yourself in my shoes. What would you do?”
“I’d let two consenting adults do whatever they wanted to do. Obviously there’s something wrong with Karen’s marriage. Tell me, what kind of husband calls his wife the next morning and tells her he slept at his partner’s house? Come on, Tony, wake up. The guy’s seeing another woman.”
He had me there, although I wasn’t about to admit it. I just felt a need to stand up for Stan. I knew he’d feel terrible if he ever found out about Nick and Karen, and he’d probably blame the whole thing on me.
“Nick,” I said, “you gotta stop what you’re doing.”
“When are you going to get it through that spaghetti brain of yours that whatever goes on between me and Karen is none of your business!”
Here’s what I was thinking while Nick and I drove home in total silence: What should I do? If Stan ever finds out about this, it’ll ruin his marriage. It’ll ruin our friendship. It’ll ruin everything! Am I being fair to Nick, though? If Stan can carry on with a seventeen-year-old, then why can’t Nick and Karen do what they’re doing? Am I really that old-fashioned?
I pulled into the driveway. Suddenly, as I was getting out of the car, my adrenaline hit the ceiling, and the words just machine-gunned out of me: “Nick, if you’re going to mess around with Karen, I don’t want you staying in this house anymore!”
He tried to calm me. “Don’t get so mad, Tony. Take it easy. It’s no big deal.”
I was trembling. “Don’t tell me it’s no big deal!”
“The whole neighborhood can hear you,” said Nick. “Take it easy, man. Let’s talk inside.”
As we were going into the house, I was thinking, How can I treat Nick like this? Christ, we’ve known each other for twenty-five years. Am I losing my mind or something?
Nick called Marlene in from the kitchen. After we told her what was going on, she dropped a bombshell on us: “Karen knows that Stan is seeing another woman.”
“How?” I asked.
“This teenage girl called her last week and told her she was having an affair with Stan. She even said she was going to have his baby.”
Logically speaking, I didn’t have a leg to stand on, and Nick knew it.
“What did I tell you, Tony? Their marriage is the shits.”
“I don’t understand what’s going on anymore,” I said. “It seems like everybody’s out for themselves. The word of the day is screw ‘em. Literally and figuratively, just screw ‘em.”
“That’s life,” said Nick.
“Well, Nick, if that’s how you feel, then go and do your screwing out of someone else’s house; you’re not going to do it out of mine.”
“I think I’ll be leaving for LA,” he said, which was his way of saying, “That’s the end of our friendship, Tony.”
Marlene tried to talk him out of going but he wouldn’t listen.
Karen came into the house and found out what was going on. The funny thing is, she’s the only one who understood my position. “Tony, you’re such a good friend to Stan—so true and loyal. I wish there were more people like you in the world. But it’s my life, not yours, and I like Nick more than he even thinks. As for Stan, our marriage is finished. It ended a long time ago. Thank goodness we don’t have kids to squabble over.”
“Are you still kicking me out?” Nick asked me.
“I can’t let you do this behind Stan’s back.”
“Then I’ll be going,” he said.
“Where are you going?” asked Karen.
“I have to take care of some business in Los Angeles, then I’m heading back to Chicago.”
Karen went up to Nick and put her arms around him. “Would you mind if I go with you? I don’t think I can stay another minute in that house with Stan.”
“Go and pack your bags,” said Nick.
After watching Nick and Karen drive off, Marlene said to me, “How do you think Stan’s going to take this?”
“Hard. But I’ll help him out as much as I can.”
“That’s real nice of you to say that, Marlene. I’m glad you like Stan as much as I do. Look, I got an idea.”
“You won’t believe this, but I’d like to take you to the Silver Moon tonight.”
“Tony, are you messing with my mind?”
“I really mean it, Marlene. I was pretty stubborn last night. I hope I won’t act that way again.”
“Oh, Tony, you’re the best husband a wife could ever have,” and she wrapped her arms around my neck.
“I love you, Marlene.”
As we kissed I felt as if I were kissing my wife for the very first time.