The White-Haired Guitarist: A Vignette

Experiencing fall in the midwest isn’t complete until you’ve gone to an apple orchard—so today Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I trundled out to an orchard in northern Indiana.

Admittedly, the closer you are to Chicago, the more of a racket orchards may be. Visit for apples, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up buying the entire “fall in Indiana” experience: moo-choo train rides (train cars painted like cows), a corn maze, the pumpkin patch, a taco truck, live country music, and even a petting zoo.

Goats aside, the band is something of an experience. They perform on a small stage lined with corn stalks under a massive (think semi-trailer shipping container) banner: Barnyard Jams. At least 50 picnic tables are lined up in front of the platform, with maybe 2 dozen people total scattered around (listening and eating—but mostly eating).

Better than the setup are the band members. All men older than 50 (so, young guys—you’re welcome, dad) and exactly what you’d expect for a country bluegrass playlist. One of the lead singers, also a guitarist, had an especially arresting appearance.

Wearing baggy old-man jeans, a black zip up hoodie, tan work boots, and a black conductor hat isn't anything unusual. His main feature was an untrimmed, untamed white beard reaching almost all the way to his guitar. His white hair stuck out wildly from under his hat.

If he were in one of my stories, playing in the band would be be fulfilling his lifelong dream. But he’d also be keeping a massive secret.

Mylem Drusky had played in small bluegrass bands since he was 15. It started with his cousin Ed and a few of the neighborhood boys, continued through college, and finally became the small back porch group Mylem initiated after he bought a house with his wife Ellie. Being in a band was always interesting, which Mylem loved. His job as an accountant, though comfortable, didn’t leave much room for character or personality—people don’t usually want you to be creative with their money.

So he kept the band going over the years. Eventually they had gained enough repute in the small community that people hired them on for birthday parties and other events. The yearly gig at the community orchard was their biggest crowd of the year, and they rode on the publicity wave for months.

The other members of the band didn’t know Mylem’s secret. Actually, no one in the community did besides his wife. Years ago, when his grandfather was dying, he called Mylem into his room with an important gift.

“I’ll only give it to you if you never let anyone know you own it.” Wheeze, cough, shallow rattling breath. “You can be an anonymous help to the community. When people know you’re rich, they treat you differently.” Mylem sat quiet for a long time, holding hands with the frail old man. Finally, he agreed.

“I promise.”

So, year after year, he ran the business disguised as a middle-aged, well-groomed businessman who lived on the west coast and only flew out once or twice a season to see how things were going. No one ever suspected, even when he did his yearly summer beard shave. After all, mild-mannered accountants don’t have secrets.

Mylem gave thousands of dollars every year to charities, let at least half a dozen non-profit organizations use his facilities for free, and donated each season’s leftover products to homeless shelters in the area.

And today, a cloudy fall day, none of his fellow band members or the 30 dining guests casually ignoring the band guessed his secret. They had no idea that the scraggly looking guy with the full white beard was actually a millionaire, and the owner of the orchard.

The Priest on a Moped: A Vignette

Today I was walking through our apartment’s parking lot towards the street when a moped whizzed past.

On it perched a priest, grinning even in today’s toasty 88 degrees. His mostly bald head shone in the sun. He squinted through his glasses and clutched the handlebars tightly. The black shirt and white collar he wore were nothing out of the ordinary, but shiny plastic flapped wildly on both sides of him because he held a dry cleaning bag on his lap.

He was there. He was gone.

But if he were one of my characters he’d have a gentle, steady, enduring name, like Graham or Elliot. And he’d be going to a luncheon on Marybelle Winslow’s estate. Marybelle’s late husband Charles was a wealthy parishioner who’d left his 82-year-old widow wealthy. Rumors spread that she’d be announcing something important about his money today.

Father had been preparing a small speech for days. This morning the speech papers fell into his kitchen sink full of water and the ink ran, leaving him with three pages of indiscernible words. Trying to recreate it for two hours cost him breakfast. Hungry, he sighed at the knock on the door. A parishioner wanted his advice about her son.

He knocked a glass to the floor in his hurry to usher her out when she finally stood to leave, and broke a window pane with the broom handle while sweeping the glass. Spending half an hour trying to remove a stain from his formal collar was unsuccessful and he relented to his dingy everyday off-white. Last and worst, his 1988 station wagon spluttered and wouldn’t start.

The phone rang as he was pulling the door closed, stressed and already twenty minutes late. He paused, frowned, and reluctantly answered.

“Hello, Graham? Yes, this is Marybelle. Would you be a dear and pick up my dry-cleaning? Nancy’s taking the day off and I’m just desolate without her and I need it for a special event this evening and I don’t think I’ll be able to make it before then. You will? Thank you. So sweet of you.”

Dry cleaning in tow, he appeared at Marybelle’s flustered, sweaty, and trying not to wrinkle any clothes—only to find himself at to her grandson’s surprise birthday party, arriving with the clown.

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The Old Man: A Vignette

Walking in Chicago means looking in windows—I do this all the time, which stresses Curtis (he's very wonderful) out because sometimes I don't look where I'm going and occasionally I walk in front of people and very rarely I bump into them and then they're upset and I'm flustered and Curtis is shaking his head. Today, following my usual pattern, I was looking in the window of a jewelry store and just sometimes looking at the sidewalk in front of me. The building had indents about every eight feet, forming natural benches.

In one of the benches a little ahead of me still, I saw a man sitting.

He wore dark dress shoes, navy slacks, a tan shirt, and a dark brown felt fedora. Thoroughly unremarkable attire. But his bulbous nose held up actual bottle-rimmed glasses with small, almost opaque lenses—the biggest nose and the thickest glasses I've ever seen. I couldn't even see his eyes through them. He sat there hugging his deep brown leather briefcase in his lap and rocking back and forth slowly. On the sidewalk in front of him was a bus stop with several young regular type people waiting for the bus. Presumably he sat there waiting for it too.

That's all. I walked twenty feet past him, and turned to look again just to cement his picture in my mind, but all I could see were his shoes and the pant legs.

If he was one of my characters, I would give him a mildly eccentric but very solid name—like Abner or Eldridge or Quint Schable. He'd be waiting for the bus to take him back to his one-bedroom apartment in Roger's Park, where he'd eat the same thing for dinner that he's eaten for the last 19 years: a slice of bread, a chunk of cheese, and a can of tuna fish. While eating, he'd pull the newspaper inches from his nose to read. But it would still be hard for him to see under the feeble light of the kitchen tiffany lamp.

After eating dinner, he'd retire to a deep burgundy wingback chair in front of the window of his second floor apartment, to watch the young couples walk dogs and the children jump rope and the old couples hobble slowly, hand in hand. Once or three times during the evening, a single tear would slip down his wrinkled face and leave a dark splotch on his tan shirt. And after a very long time he'd pour himself the smallest glass of port, and drink it very, very slowly.

Then, when his miniature grandfather clock struck eleven, he would take his glasses off and lean his head back in his chair and go to sleep—because he hasn't slept in his bed since his wife drifted off in it and never woke up, 19 years ago.

* * *