Scene One – LONE WOLF – Bobby’s home, Mequon, Wisconsin, November 1957
“He’s my hero.” I thread 16mm black-and-white movie film around sprockets and behind the lens of dad’s Keystone home movie projector.
“Who is, Bobby?” Jeannie lifts a cardboard box. “This Castle Films label says Hopalong Cassidy in Lone Wolf. Is Hoppy your hero?”
“Na. I like the Lone Wolf.” I turn toward the basement wall switch to dim the lights. He’s cool. He robs trains and doesn’t need anyone to tell him what to do–”
“Wait.” Jeannie stands and touches my elbow. “I’m confused. You like the bad guy and not the star of the movie?”
“Well, I like Hoppy too, but I really like the Lone Wolf.” I take Jeannie’s hand. We sit side-by-side on wood folding chairs in front of a Starlite portable movie screen. “You’ll see in the movie how cool he is. He sleeps on the range and lives alone. He doesn’t have chores around a house or live with a bossy family.”
“Don’t you like me, Bobby?” Jeannie squeezes my hand.
“Sure, I like you, Jeannie.” My voice breaks. “You’re my girlfriend.”
“How can you have a girlfriend, or family in the future, if you want to live alone?”
“I don’t know.” I reach for two bottles of Coke on a side table. “I guess I want both.”
Scene Two – PHOENIX – 400 block of North 16th Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 1962
“Jump in the hole, Williams.” Foreman Jones kicks top soil into the excavated pit beneath the house. “We have to pull this painted lady out of the hole and get her across Clybourn Street before dawn.” He pulls off his engineers cap. Subby House Movers is barely readable through oil stains and grime. “Take this hammer and shims. Your job, on the rear corner of the house, is to fill gaps between the top of the wheel carriage and the ten-by-tens that carry his baby. Here, come on, I’ll show you.”
We scramble into the pit. My flashlight, a cone of brilliance in northern Wisconsin is a mere candle beneath the home. Darkness, infused with plaster dust, dirt and an eternity of cobwebs that hang from rafters and caress my face like unwanted fingers, block our lights. We touch the basement ceiling for guidance, as a miner might feel his way through a cave, to find my station at the left rear corner of the house.
“Why are we moving this house, Boss?” I shine my flashlight in a broad circle.
“Freeway will come through this block.” He removes a work glove from his right hand and rubs his chin. “This home was scheduled for demolition until someone hired us to move this Victorian beauty. First day on the job, Bobby?”
“Yup.” I sneeze. “Excuse me. Dad called Mr. Subby to get me a job.”
“I thought so.” He lights a Camel and deeply inhales. “Tough smoking in all this dust. I better show you a thing or two.”
Jones points upward. “Store your shims above this ten-by-ten. See how snug the wheel carriage is against the beam? No gaps, right? As we pull her up the ramp, out of the hole, over the curb, and onto the street, gaps may open. If they do, use the hammer to pound shims into the gap to close the opening. Be careful of the wheels. Always work from behind. We don’t want any accidents. I already had pancakes for breakfast, if you catch my drift.”
“Sure.” I laugh.
“Got to get back and check the rest of the crew.” He snuffs out his butt and replaces his cap. “Listen for the horn. Two short beeps will tell you we’ve started to pull. When we’re out of the hole and onto the street, we’ll stop and you can scoot out from under the house. Remember to work this corner. I’ve got a man on each of the other five dollies. See you on top.”
His flashlight beam swings side-to-side, like a snake that slithers away from me. I move behind the wheels. Disconnected electric wires dangle from above and tickle my neck. I jump and bump my head as I grab hammer and shims. Beep – beep from beyond darkness. Beauty above me trembles and groans as she inches forward. Water drips from disconnected pipes and soaks my shirt. I shiver. Painted lady raises, like a Phoenix, after eighty years of rest.
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.