Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Charlie & Sophie.

     I saw my buddy Charlie at Trader Joe's the other day.
  Charlie was my neighbor on Palos Verdes Boulevard throughout most of the '90's, until I moved to the Bay Area at the beginning of 2000. We met when I was the reigning Roaring Boy of Redondo Beach.
  Charlie and his wife Sophie are from Brooklyn, and Charlie met her before he left to fight in World War Two. He said she waited for him while he was gone, and they married shortly after his return. He worked a union job until his retirement, and then they headed west. 
  I had a colorful life on Palos Verdes Boulevard. It was filled with friends, loud music, beer in the sun, conversations with Charlie, and seizures.
  I knew Charlie and Sophie as the elderly couple up the street that always stopped to say, "Hi", as I sat in the sun with my assorted motley crew. There was always laughter and always this exhortation: "Hey, Charlie! Another day in paradise!" 
  Charlie always smiled and repeated it, saying, "That's right, John, another day in paradise!" 
  Two days after my 39th birthday, I was again outside, wearing only board shorts, when the lights went out. My lights. I was on the phone with my friend Joe Stinson, brokering a truckload for his company. It started with tunnel-vision, and ended with me in an ambulance as strangers asked me if I knew who I was. Eventually I did again.
  I found out later that a "passer-by" had called 911 when they saw me having a grand mal seizure on the front lawn. I've never known who made that call. After all this time, I still don't know how Charlie and Sophie came to know so much about that day, and I've always chalked it up to "neighbors". But a little part of me has sometimes wondered if Charlie was that "passer-by". 
  I've never asked; it probably wasn't him, anyway. Don't look back.
  For the next year and a half, I saw Charlie and Sophie most every day. They always asked about the seizures, and Sophie would take my arm and tell me to, "take care". Charlie and I talked about paradise.
  Then I moved up north. 
  When I returned to the South Bay from San Francisco, I moved to my current apartment, still in South Redondo, but no longer next door to Charlie and Sophie. I have seen them at Trader Joe's, a little slower each time, and less frequently as time has gone on. Each time, though, they ask about my health and Charlie says, "It's another day in paradise, John, just like you said!" 
  The last few times I saw Sophie, I knew something was wrong. She didn't look well, and wasn't as effusive as usual. Charlie, though, always seemed about the same. But then I didn't see them for months.
  The other day when I bumped into Charlie, he was alone. I've never seen Charlie alone. I didn't know what to say.
  So I stood in the aisle at Trader Joe's and waited until he turned my way. "John!", he said, "How are you, John?"
  "Charlie! I haven't seen you in ages", I said, not knowing how to ask about Sophie. "Where have you been?"
  He walks with a cane now, and his eyes have dimmed, but he still wears his little blue hat and he's still undeniably Charlie.
  "God's been good to me, John. I heard the bullets whiz by me in the war, you know. Bombs going off, bullets. God's been good to me."
  I smiled. I told him that anybody with the positive energy that vibrates off him gets some of that energy back. I told him that I loved him. Then I had to ask about Sophie.
  "Stomach cancer", he said. "The doctor says we can't operate, no chemo, so she sits in her chair in the sunroom. But, you know, John, you always said, 'it's another day in paradise', and I always remember that. You were right."
  I was standing in Trader Joe's and I just wanted to cry.
  I hugged Charlie, asked him to give my best to his wife, and we went on our separate ways, shopping as usual. I was in line and watched him wandering in an aisle. I almost got out of line to give him my phone number, in case he needed help sometime, carrying groceries or something. But with my last-minute traveling, what if he called and I didn't answer? What good am I then?
  I've thought about Charlie and Sophie each day since I saw him, and suspect I'll continue to do so. When I see him next, I am going to give him my phone number and explain how my peculiar lifestyle may make me unavailable at times. Maybe we can figure out a system. But I'll make sure he knows that when I'm home, I'll always be around.
  Charlie will understand.

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