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"Sin," Bill said.
"Sadness," Bill said.
The doctor most likely leaned forward in his swivel
chair. The chair
might have creaked before the room became silent.
This young man equates
sadness with yellow. That's a first, he must have
After a while Bill's voice probably intruded into
the silence. "Is that
it doctor? Am I certified?"
Perhaps he stared at Bill. Two days of tests and
the doctor still
couldn't figure him out. Was he another smart guy
faking it, or did he
really have a problem? The organization could not
afford to keep
mentally unbalanced recruits. Too much risk. Best
thing to do when in
doubt is to certify them nuts and cut them loose.
"Private Lundy, I'll recommend the Army discharge
you for medical
reasons. I don't think you are fit for Military
Bill Lundy was one of the first kids I met when we
moved to Sun Valley,
a working class community in the San Fernando
Valley, which is just over
the hill from Los Angeles. Young families were
moving into the area.
They came from small mid-western towns near the
Mississippi River like
Davenport, Iowa, and they came from large cities in
the East like
Boston, New York, and Pittsburg.
In 1951 construction of inexpensive houses was
booming in the Valley.
The house my father bought was small, one thousand
square feet, but
seemed like a Beverly Hills mansion when compared
to the rented
apartments our family had lived in. Like most of
including Bill's family, we had trouble scraping
together the meager
down payment on the ten thousand dollar tract
I had attended five grammar schools before our
family moved to the
Valley. So, by the time I came to Strathern Street
school two blocks from our new home, I must have
met every type of young
person that existed. But I had never met a kid like
Bill Lundy. Even
now, years later, he remains an enigma.
We met on the playground. We were both in the sixth
grade, and were
among a group that stayed after school to play
basketball or touch
football, depending on the season. Bill wasn't the
athletic type. He was
not physically well coordinated, wasn't muscular,
was short, and he ran
slow. His left elbow had a large bump as if the
bone had been broken and
never set properly, causing his arm to hang
He was one of the last chosen for a team. Bill
compensated for his lack
of coordination, strength, height, and running
speed by bounding around
the basketball court like a hyperactive rabbit,
hustling as if life
itself depended on making the next basket. He
argued about every point
the other team scored. He played with abandon as if
non-existent, and created a rule when the situation
needed a verdict.
Verbal insults and physical challenges from the
other team did not
bother him, for on the court he was in a trance,
completely focused on
winning the game; nothing else mattered. His
competitive attitude must
have rubbed off on his teammates since his team
Bill possessed a photographic memory. He knew the
names of most major
league players living and dead, and could rattle
off batting averages
and other statistics for players I had never heard
of, men like Harry
Steinfeldt of the 1906 Chicago Cubs or Stuffy
McInnis of the 1911
In Junior High, subjects like history that required
us to remember lists
of facts were a breeze for Bill. He was a good
speller. His memory
probably helped him. I don't know if he wrote well,
because I never saw
anything he wrote. He was weak in science and math,
required reflection and reasoning.
I can't remember ever having a serious conversation
with Bill. Having a
discussion with him was like talking to an
encyclopedia; he had all the
facts and figures about sports, history, and
geography filed in, and
quickly accessible from, his computer-like memory.
We never had much to
talk about. I didn't enjoy discussing batting
averages and capital
cities, and he wasn't interested in science fiction
or the meaning of life.
Board games were important to Bill. He wasn't a
chess player, but he
loved Monopoly and electronic football, and he was
good at them. He
hated to lose, and rarely lost. He was so good at
these games he didn't
have to cheat to win. At least I don't think he
At times Bill invited Raul, Larry, Jerry (friends
in the neighborhood
our age) and I over to play his games, the games he
was good at. His
mother, Petra, an attractive woman with long black
hair, treated us
exceptionally well, perhaps because she wanted her
only child to have
company. Dan was a different story. Dan wasn't
Bill's real father. He
was a large, muscular, tough looking, unfriendly
man, and we all feared
Once, just before a crucial play during an electric
football game, Larry
teased Bill about a small cloth sack that always
hung from his neck. I
had often wondered what was in the mysterious sack,
worn like a precious
jewel, but I never felt comfortable pushing him for
Bill's concentration was broken by Larry's taunts,
and he began to
scream curses as tears came to his eyes. Larry,
much larger than any of
us, could have silenced the cursing with one quick
punch, but he never
lost his temper with a friend. Dan barged into the
room and began to
taunt his stepson: "Act like a man you crybaby." He
turned to us and
told us all to leave. We didn't wait to see what
would happen to Bill.
After that incident Larry called Bill the "Little
Athlete," an endearing
name for our friend who, although he wasn't
especially likeable, tried
When we got to high school, Bill's family moved to
a new neighborhood
and I lost contact with him. He was too small and
slow for football. I
later learned that he went out for baseball and
made third string second
base. His competitive spirit wasn't enough to
compensate for his lack of
ability at the high school level and he was hardly
ever put on the field
during a game. In his senior year he became editor
and writer of the
sports page for the Van Nuys High School paper.
That made sense since he
loved sports and had that astounding memory for
I graduated from high school confused about life
and without the passion
to pursue a college education or a trade. Seeking
answers and adventure
I volunteered for the peacetime U.S. Army.
Prior to entering the Army I had never read a
complete book, but that
changed when I read a mystery novel to pass the
time while waiting to be
assigned to cryptography school after basic
training. That first book,
although not literature, showed me the power and
scope that could be
included in a written story. I couldn't stop
reading, and I devoured
everything I could get my hands on: books by
Tolstoy, Voltaire, Huxley,
Poe, Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Dos
Passos, Steinbeck, Rand, Mailer, Baldwin,
Burroughs, Kerouac, and other writers dead or
alive. Any writer that touched my heart and mind, writers
whose style and
characters and plots inspired me and opened my
After three years of travel, training, meeting
people and reading, I
realized I had a lot to learn and was impatient to
begin. After being
discharged I moved back to the Valley and was
accepted by the
Engineering school at Cal State University
Northridge, a college in the
One Saturday night in 1965, during my third year of
study, I ran into
him at the Prelude, a popular bar on Lankershime
Boulevard in North
Hollywood, a community next to Sun Valley. He had
changed. He looked
different, confident. He was dressed in a suit, his
thick dark hair was
styled and raven black (I learned he dyed it). He
stood straighter and
almost as tall as I (I also learned he wore
"Hello Ron," he said as he tapped me on the
shoulder. "William Lundy
"Bi..........William, how have you been?" I said.
He talked about his job as a writer for TV Guide,
a job he somehow
obtained after dropping out of college. Even though
I tried to turn the
conversation towards old times he avoided the
subject. He wasn't
interested in old times or talking sports, even
about the Dodgers who
had Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitching that
year. We each had a
drink while we discussed what we had been doing as
we eyed the women in
Bill told me about his ex wife and son living in
San Francisco. He
showed me a picture of her, an attractive blond
stewardess he had met
through an old friend of ours, about two years
before. I later learned
she initiated the divorce when she found he had
been cheating on her.
Now Bill was going out with a married woman, Anna,
and this was one of
their nights apart. He was at the Prelude for a
little action, and his
eyes were constantly shifting, like a weasel's,
around the room. After a
while we exchanged phone numbers and shook hands.
Drink in hand, he
strolled in the direction of a blond I hadn't
noticed until then. I
headed for the door since I needed to wake early
the next morning.
Both he and I had changed. I had found direction
and established goals.
What goals did Bill have? It seemed as if all he
wanted to do was chase
women. He had changed his physical appearance and
his actions. He
carried himself differently, with more confidence;
he wasn't bouncing
around anymore like he did on the schoolyard and he
baseball and basketball scores and statistics.
Had he grown on the inside? Was he philosophical
now? Did he write
passionately? Had he read great writers?
A few months later, in my senior year, I received a
call from Bill. "Are
you married yet Ron?" he said.
"I'm not even dating steady, Bil...William. Work
and school keeps me too
busy to get involved," I said.
"My girlfriend has a friend. I think you'll like
her. Would you like to
double date? We could meet at the Prelude. Have a
few drinks. Talk. See
Bill had a funny way of popping into my life.
"Sounds like a good idea.
My head is spinning, needs a rest."
"What about this Saturday night at ten?" he said.
At five minutes to ten almost every seat in the
Prelude was occupied. I
stepped through the entry door and squinted toward
the twenty or so
tables squeezed into the smoky room. The bouncer
waved me in, but I
hesitated. My eyes had not yet adjusted to the dim
lighting, and the
unpleasant odor of cigarette smoke mixed with
Budweiser and Seagrams
The chatter of a hundred and fifty intoxicated
patrons assailed my ears.
Piercing voices became louder while I paused in the
entry, their volume
reaching an almost unbearable din as they competed
with each other to be
heard. Glasses clinked. Men and women, some
standing, some sitting, were
crowded at the bar. Groups of two or three leaned
close together and
shouted at each other. Waitresses were bustling
about between the tables
with trays of drinks held high. Barely audible
above the racket, a three
piece band in the far corner of the room played a
Finally, I plunged into the crowd and shoved and
twisted my way through
the packed room. Bill grabbed my arm when, not
noticing him, I passed
near his table. I bent toward him. "Ron, this is my
girlfriend Sharon and
her friend Teresa," he said.
He wasn't kidding; Teresa was nice. The dim
lighting and the cigarette
smoke hanging in the air could not hide her high
cheekbones, warm eyes,
and full lips. She tilted her head slightly back
and to the side and
produced an intriguing smile, which put me at ease.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello Teresa, nice to meet you." I still faced her
as my eyes shifted to
Sharon. "Nice to meet you," I said, then quickly my
gaze returned to Teresa.
I sat between Bill and Teresa, and ordered a drink
for the table when
the waitress arrived. After a while the crowd began
to thin out, and
those that remained settled down. Conversations
became mellow and the
band was no longer struggling through the tunes. We
had an enjoyable
evening, talking, listening to the band, and slow
dancing into the quiet
late hours. Teresa and I dated for the next few
Bill now worked for Universal Studios, in their
department. Even though he had dropped out of
college, his writing
experience at TV Guide gave him the credentials
to talk his way into
the job. He was earning good money, had an office,
and best of all, from
his point of view, he had his pick of young starry
eyed females who were
attracted to the studio. He acted as if he were
somebody and the
secretaries and other young women who worked at the
studio were all
looking for a somebody.
Just before my graduation, Bill and I went to a
movie. It was an art
film called "The Grass Eater," or something like
that. After the show we
discussed the main character and the plot. Before
long we were arguing
and he reminded me he was a professional reader of
scripts, and he let
me know I didn't know s**t about movies and plots.
In fact, as far as he
was concerned I didn't know anything about Life.
"Ron, you are nothing but a pseudo intellectual
who hangs around too
many college types who know nothing about the real
world and will never
know anything about it. All you know is what you've
What did Bill know about life, I thought. He had a
job that required him
to write, but I don't think he ever read any of the
great writers. I had
never discussed novels or philosophical subjects
with him. He hadn't
traveled to a foreign country. In fact, other than
trips to San Francisco
and Las Vegas, he hadn't left the Valley since his
family moved there in
1950. True, he seemed to know a lot about women --
or was it sex? -- but
what did that have to do with examining and
understanding the human
After that episode we lost contact. I graduated a
few weeks later in
1966 and got a job as a logic design engineer for
My life went on. I married, bought a nice house in
the Valley. We had a
son and I opened a business that became successful
and we were happy.
One evening in 1992 I received a call from a woman.
She was Bill's
fiancÚ and told me Bill (not William) had a medical
problem and wanted
to get together with old friends.
Terri had divorced an abusive husband three years
before. She owned a
small hair salon and her two sons were recent
college grads. Her
daughter was working and taking college classes.
Bill and Terri had
known each other for a year and were in love. "Ron,
I've gotten in touch
with Larry and Jerry, your old grammar school
friends. Can you come to
Bill's house for a little get-together? They are
coming," she said.
Even though we hadn't seen each other for
twenty-six years, we all had
no trouble talking to each other and spent the
evening discussing our
lives. Larry had never married and was having a
rough time coping with
life, emotionally and financially, but that night
he became the
happy-go-lucky young Larry of our childhood. Jerry
had worked hard and
invested in apartments and owned about thirty units
and was in good
health and his family was doing well, and he was
still the stable, shy
quarterback of our after school touch football
games and high school
team so many years before.
As the evening went on, we reminisced and Bill told
us that he missed us
all and had been diagnosed with colon cancer. "Not
the Big C. No way,
not my little buddy," said Larry. Jerry and I were
shocked and didn't
know what to say.
He let us know he was scheduled for an operation
the next week. Part of
the colon would be removed. "After the operation
I'll have to wear a
bypass bag to collect my solid wastes until the
colon heals. Quite a
mess, but as long as I wear a shirt all that you'll
see will be a bulge
under my clothes," Bill said.
The operation was a success and we all decided to
celebrate once he
recovered. We set a date for a Friday night the
next month at a well
known Latin dance bar about twenty miles east of
downtown L.A. Terri
would invite three of her single girlfriends and I
would drive Bill,
Jerry, and Larry to the place. My wife and Jerry's
told us to have a
The four of us drove to Cisco's in good spirits.
Bill was still getting
used to the bag and we all joked about it. During
the drive he kept
threatening to show it to us, but none of us wanted
to see the thing.
Larry, who was sitting in the back seat with him,
could easily overpower
him if he pressed the issue. The four of us talked
about old times, and
then Larry told us how lucky Jerry, Bill, and I
were to have children
and companions and success. Although he told us how
he had messed up his
life, he didn't sound depressed.
Cisco's was as large as a supermarket. I felt the
excitement of the
evening as soon as I drove into the parking lot.
Fords and Chevys,
highly polished and heavily chromed, low to the
rumbling softly, cruised around the lot. Serious
young men and brightly
dressed young women, ready for an evening of
dancing and drinking,
strutted to the entrance. I hadn't been out like
this since I was
married. We were four men, over fifty, about to go
back in time.
When we entered the place, the music hit us like a
blast of air. The
odor of cigarettes and beer and tequila, the
chatter of the crowd, and
the motion of the waitresses and dancers brought
back erotic memories.
"Where are they?" I said, leaning toward Bill.
"They got here early and reserved a table." I
barely heard him as he
pointed in the direction of the dance floor. This
was going to be an
evening of shouting. I knew my throat would be raw
by the time we left.
As the four of us made our way to the table I
couldn't keep my eyes off
the young ladies. I noticed Jerry's eyes moved like
mine. But Bill
seemed peaceful, untempted by the beauty all
around, a chaperone happy
to escort us. As we made our way to the table, we
were careful to
protect Bill's bag from the swelling crowd of
Terri introduced us to her girlfriends, Pony,
Alicia, and Susan, all in
their early forties. Everyone was in a good mood
and shouted greetings
to each other above the noise of the crowd and the
beat of the music. We
insisted that Bill sit on the one available chair.
"No way. I want to
stand and feel the music," he said.
Jerry and I leaned toward Larry and told him to
take the seat since he
was single and it was between Pony and Susan, a
perfect place. We
ordered a round of drinks as the band finished the
set. Suddenly the
noise diminished and we could have a reasonable
conversation. We joked
about our being Bill's childhood friends and how we
were here to
recharge our aging, weak batteries.
Bill was more relaxed than I remember ever seeing
him. Larry told
stories about the four of us as kids, embellishing
Bill's strong points,
ignoring his weaknesses.
The band started and I caught Melissa's glance from
across the table.
The atmosphere, the music, the drinks and occasion
conspired to remove
any inhibitions I had. I stood. "Would you like to
dance?" I said.
The beat was just right, not too fast, not too
slow, and the dance floor
not yet too full, and I felt twenty-six again, and
I felt as if we were
the only two on the floor as we moved to the
rhythm, close but not
touching. We stayed on the floor, dancing this way
for the whole set. I
felt something and I could tell she felt something
We returned to the table and joined the
conversation, and I knew that
nothing more would happen between Melissa and me,
because it couldn't. A
night like that happens rarely in one's lifetime.
Perhaps that is why the
sweet memory never fades away.
I cupped my hand over Bill's ear. "Bill," I said,
"let's go to the bar
so I can buy you a drink."
The bartender gave Bill another plain Coke, and me
a Jack Daniels and
Coke. "Bill, I'm enjoying this evening. How's the
"Glad you guys are having a good time. I'm happy to
be able to come out
with you. Hope we can do it more often. Doctor says
I'll need another
operation in a month and will have to wear the bag
for at least six months."
He now worked for a firm that represented
screenwriters, directors and
actors, in their contract dealings with studios. He
himself was writing
a screenplay. Because of his sickness the firm was
giving Bill special
hours and a lot of time off.
"How's your story coming along?" I said.
"A little slow. Don't have the energy and I can't
concentrate. I'll show
it to you when it's finished."
I was feeling relaxed and sentimental. "Bill, when
we were kids you wore
a small cloth sack around your neck. What was in
"You know, Ron, I haven't worn it since I was
thirty," he said.
I didn't press him. There was no reason to. It
wasn't important. He wore
a long shirt and I couldn't see his elbow and
thought about asking him
about it too, but ignored the impulse.
"Bill, when we were kids I always envied how you
could memorize things.
What a great gift. I couldn't."
"It didn't do me much good. Memorizing things was
easy for me, the only
gift I ever got in life. I never had the patience,
or maybe it was the
ability, to examine things. I never planned a lot
in advance. Everything
I've done has been on impulse, has been what was
good for me at the
time," said Bill.
The conversation turned to our families. "And how
is your father, how's
Dan?" I said.
"I thought you knew Dan was my stepfather," he
said. "My real father,
Christopher, lived in Boston where I was born. He
was a wealthy, married
restaurant owner, when he had an affair with my
mother who was a
waitress there. He paid off my mother and she moved
to California with
me, where she met Dan. I never met him or wanted
Now that I was in the questioning mood, I wanted to
ask him about his
elbow, but then I thought why, does it really
matter if I found out
whether it was a birth defect or an accident that
caused the bump? So we
both stood silent and I tapped the bar with my
The band was moving back to the small stage in the
corner. "Ron, I give
you credit for completing your Army duty and
college. I never told you I
got a medical discharge. I faked insanity, and they
let me out," Bill said.
"Why'd you want out?"
"I was drafted and didn't like it. The Army was
just a waste of time. On
impulse I decided to get out and figured I could
outsmart the doctors."
"I guess you did what was best for you. Anyway it
was before Viet Nam.
It's not as if you were a coward," I said, and
thought, but I could
never have done it, not many people could or would.
It takes a special
Larry began to date Pony after that evening. Terri,
Bill, Larry, Pony,
and Jerry and I and our wives got together a couple
of times. I met Bill
for lunch a few times while his condition
deteriorated over the next six
months. Then he became bedridden as the cancer
advanced throughout his
body and we visited him at his house while Terri
with the help of a
nurse did the best she could to minimize his pain.
Bill's mother and stepsister and her husband came
to the funeral. His
stepfather, Dan, had passed away in 1985. A writer
from his old days at
TV Guide was there. Some people from his firm were
there. Larry and Pony
came, along with Jerry and I and our wives , and
Melissa and her fiancÚ.
As Larry gave the eulogy, I wondered if Bill ever
screenplay. Even if he didn't, I told myself I
would find out if a draft
existed. "... and we'll all miss the Little
Athlete," said Larry when
he concluded the eulogy.
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