Jack D. Hunter's Blog

10 November 2007

This newsletter has been pushing against the seams of the cladding I had originally intended for it. At first it was meant to be a mere now-and-then report on what was up around the old art shop. But lately it's spread into a kind of blog-shaped creature, so from now on it's going to sail under its true flag: BLOG, wherein I allow myself to ruminate and pontificate and cogitate and extrapolate and orate and narrate and irritate and exhilarate. Some of the material will be pirated from a newspaper column I used to write, so if something looks familiar, that's probably the reason. Otherwise, I'll try to make the blog so fresh it's positively insulting (as W.C. Fields would say). If any of you folks want to comment on things you see here, you are cordially invited to send me an e-mail. I can't promise to answer or to post your comment right away, but I assure you that you're being read and appreciated.

Al McDonald and The Revolving Door

So, today's blog has been triggered by my encounter with a quote from La Rochefoucauld, the 17th Century French moralist: "It's our own vanity that makes the vanity of others intolerable to us."

I suppose the old boy was right. After all, people don't quote you 300 years later unless you've had a perceptive eye, a good agent or both.

Anyhow, the word "vanity" made me think of Al McDonald.

I'd met Al in the Hitler War, when he and I were making the counter-intelligence scene in Germany. He was a big, broad-faced, plain-looking guy with a quick laugh and a head of dark wavy hair, and he saw himself as a real ladies' man. Being single and loaded with vanity, he was unrelenting in his foraging among Deutschland's damsels, and I'll have to admit he had a fair measure of success.

His most spectacular conquest was Lotte Richter, a youngish widow whose husband had died in the fighting at Stalingrad. She was a willowy Nordic blonde, with ice-blue eyes, a creamy complexion, and a throaty voice that made a mere request to pass the salt sound like the murmurings of Aphrodite.

When I returned Stateside to assume the role of Mr. Suburbia, Al stayed on in the military for (as I later heard) an eventual transfer to CIA. I pretty well lost track of him after that until one day not too long ago when, out of the blue, he called me and said he'd be passing through and maybe I'd join him for dinner.

The idea of seeing Al after the passage of nearly half a century was simultaneously exciting and depressing: so much had gone over the dam, and only a dimly remembered war in common. But I said OK, and I went to the restaurant as agreed.

My memories of the evening are quite clear. I recall standing uncertainly in the lobby until a man came at me, grinning a greeting. And I found myself struggling to hide my surprise.

Al's wavy hair was gone, except for a white fringe over his ears. His face was seamed and his teeth were false. His torso was shaped like a pickle barrel, and somewhere he'd picked up a limp. And yet, for all this, the old thinly veiled conceit, the air of serene self-satisfaction, came through as strong as ever.

Al took my hand, swung me around in an inspection, clucked his tongue reprovingly, and, shaking his head in elaborate accusation, said, "Hey. You've put on some weight, buddy."

It became instantly clear to me that Al, the eternal egocentric, hadn't the slightest idea how much he himself had changed.

I think it was over dessert when I asked him, "What ever became of Lotte, that sensational blonde you were squiring in Frankfurt?"

He laughed — a bit too loudly, as I remember. "Well," he said, "after I joined the CIA I was transferred to Washington, and I spent the next 10, 15 years working my way into Management. So I lost touch with Lotte. But a couple of years ago I had a mission in Berlin, and, during a layover at the Frankfurt airport, I called her on a whim."

"So how did it go?"

Al laughed again, I recall, saying something like, "Our date was in a bar we used to like all those years ago. It still has a revolving door, and, as I started to push my way through, I saw her through the glass, sitting at a table in the far corner. My God, man, you wouldn't believe it. She must have weighed 200 pounds, and she had this weird hat on, and a wig and glasses.

"It was like she was a caricature. So I just kept right on going, right around with the door and out to the street, and I never looked back. She could still be sitting there, for all I know." He laughed even louder, shaking his bead in that way of his.

I felt a flash of annoyance. "That was a rotten thing to do, Al, letting her sit there like that, waiting. She couldn't help what the years had done to her. She was still the same person."

Al tried to maintain his air of blasé amusement, but my irritability must have gotten to him. His grin faded, and suddenly he seemed subdued and lost. There was a long, stilted pause, and then, eyes averted, he said, "No. It wasn't a rotten thing. It was a good thing. I did her a favor. I saved her some embarrassment."

"How?"

"Well," I remember Al saying, with uncharacteristic softness, "as I was pushing through the door, she stared right at me. And even though I was shocked at the way she'd changed, I managed to smile and nod hello through the glass."

"What did she do?"

"She looked away, as if I was some kind of dirty old guy on the make. And I realized, right at that instant, that she hadn't even recognized me."

There was another awkward silence. Then Al, perceiving how thoroughly his guard had fallen, gathered himself, laughed that laugh again, and snorted, "Hell, a couple of experiences like that could make a guy think he was getting old, eh?"



Copyright © 2007 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.