In A Family Way

     I was at a pay phone on Ventura Blvd. dialing information.  I had no clue I was feeling that alone.  Why should I?  I was coming from one of Tommy's parties loaded with flora and fauna and I had just met this lovely gazelle, Dawn.  We talked for a good half hour and I could feel something was going on between us, so I figured all bets were covered for the night.  But the more we talked, the more I knew this wasn't business as usual here.  I started to become uncomfortable with the thought that this was the kind of girl I could maybe like too much.  Maybe even marry someday.  So I took off as mousey as I could, not even saying goodnight to Tommy.  

     I drove about a mile before I was able to convince myself that I was being a jerk.  I mean, what could possibly happen that I didn't want to happen, right?  No gun to my head.  I drove back to the party and got to the door, but I couldn't go in.  I heard voices coming closer -- maybe someone was leaving.  Just what I needed, to be caught in the middle of an argument with myself.  I took off again.  

     So there I was at a pay phone booth on Ventura Blvd. dialing my cousin Stanley's number...

     Hello, Aunt Fay?  Is Stanley home?  This is Scott.  

     Your nephew.  

     Your favorite nephew.  Your only nephew.       

     Right.  Scott.  

     Yes, I know it's been a long time.  

     No, nothing's wrong, Aunt Fay, I just wanted to talk to Stanley.  

     I'm sorry, Aunt Fay, but I just didn't send out Christmas cards last year.  

     Yeah, I guess it is a few years I haven't.  But why are Christmas cards so important to you, considering you're Jewish and all?  

     Out of respect for my mother?  Remember, she divorced my extremely unreligious Catholic father who never sent a Christmas card in his life.

     No, no, I think I understand.  Yes, "Respect has only respect to answer to."  I agree.

     Listen, Aunt Fay, when will Stanley be back?  

     No, it's not important like I'm in trouble or something, but I do want to talk to him.  Tell me, what's Stanley doing now, Aunt Fay?  

     No, I don't mean right at this moment.  I mean for work.  His job.  Last time I saw him, I think it was at Uncle Harold's funeral, he was working at some garage but he didn't think

he'd be staying there much longer.  

     Oh, still.  I guess he's happy there.  I know, Stanley could always fix things, radios, televisions, cars, anything.  

     Yeah, I'm still doing the same thing, too.

     Well, tennis is a job, Aunt Fay, really.  It may look like I'm not working, but what I do really isn't that easy.  

     Yes, it's a living.

     No, that was just a commercial.  

     She's not my girlfriend, just an actress.  

     The one with dark hair?  I don't know if she was married.       

     No, she didn't really cook anything.  They were all actresses, Aunt Fay.  Stanley wouldn't like any of them.  And even if he did, you wouldn't like them.  

     Exactly, pretty face, no brains.  Listen, Aunt Fay, please tell Stanley to call me when he gets home.  

     Whenever.  It's three hours earlier out here.  I'm in California.  

     Well, my job makes me travel a lot.  I have to go to where the tournaments are.  

     Yes, he can call me collect.  

     No, it's not important.  I just want to talk to him.  

     Yes, he has my number.  I called him a few months ago and gave it to him.  I guess he didn't tell you.  

     No, it's not a hotel.  It's my own place.  Yes, I have one there, too.  

     I know.  It's a good job, Aunt Fay, I told you.  And Merry Christmas.  

     Well, we get Christmas earlier out here also.

     The phone rang and startled me out of a deep sleep.  I was having a crazy dream about Humphrey Bogart trying to strangle me in a church.  The Bogart part was obvious.  I had been watching "The Maltese Falcon" when I conked out.  The strangled in church part was probably the guilt trip Aunt Fay dropped on me.

     Stanley?  What time is it?  

     No, out here.  I'm in L. A.  I already did this number with your mother.  Listen, Stanley, how much do you make?  

     C'mon, Stanley, this is me, not the fucking IRS.  I just want to know, that's all.  Listen, don't apologize for it, just tell me the figure.  Trust me.  

     That's all?  

     I'm just surprised.  You're worth more than that.  I'm telling you straight.  I'll double it.  With all expenses paid.  No, working for me.  

     Why?  I need you.  

     C'mon, Stanley, I'm telling you, I need you.  It's either you or a fucking stranger, and I'd rather have you.  

     Because I trust you and I like you.  That's it.  That's the whole story.  

     C'mon, Stanley, we were kids.  We were supposed to fight.  It's expected of cousins.  Listen, did we fight at Uncle Harold's funeral last year?  Or even before that?  

     See?  Not since we both grew up.

     What's to think about?  It's a simple choice.  If you don't want the job, forget it.  

     Lots of things, take care of travel plans, tournament schedules... I don't know exactly, but we'll fit the job around you.  

     Because it would be great just having you with me.  On the road, especially.  

     C'mon, Stanley.  You know me better than that.  I wouldn't do that.  I get my own coffee.  I'm not looking for a lackey; I'm looking for a cousin who can be a best friend.  

     Of course it's crazy.  It's me, Scott.  Would I suggest anything that wasn't crazy?  

     I know you don't know shit about tennis.  That's a major plus, believe me.  

     Okay, take your time, think it over.  Only one problem -- your time's up.  So what do you say?  You're on the payroll the minute I hang up the phone.  

     Terrific!  I love you!  Listen, I'll be here until Monday, then I go to Phoenix.  Would you rather meet me there?  Let me warn you, that can be one dead town, but I know a pro with a tennis camp resort and you'll meet flora and fauna galore.  

     No, that's not their names.  Forget it, just tell me, here or Phoenix?  

     Okay, put it all together and let me know the flight and time and I'll pick you up at the airport.  

     No, you handle it and I'll square with you when you get here.  You can do that, right?  

     See?  You're fitting in already 'cause that's one thing I know you'll be doing for me.  For us.  We travel a lot.  It'll be fun.  The French Open.  Italian open.  Australian Open.  Wimbledon.  

     No, that's not a country, that's a tournament.  


     No, I'm glad you didn't know.  That's what I mean, see?  I need you because you don't know.  

     Are you kidding?  Your mother will make her friends drop dead from your postcards alone.  Monte Carlo will give them coronaries!  

     No, no, you're going to earn every penny of it, believe me.  My insanity isn't easy to live with seven days a week.  Even I have trouble with it.  But I'm also appreciative.  And I do need someone I can trust.  And Stanley, right now I trust you more than anyone on the planet.  

     Great!  See you soon.

     I got off the phone, but now I was too wide awake to go back to sleep.  Then a troublesome thought hit me -- when I get back to L.A. will I phone Tommy and ask him to give me Dawn's number?

Nick Meglin is a writer living in North Carolina.

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