Kat’s Book: The Beginning

“Do you work for DSS”?, Kat asked me.  I played along with her.  If she wasn’t going to recall that first encounter, then neither was I.  I told her that we did work for DSS.  She said she was very concerned about an issue effecting our employment and would I give her my opinion.  She was speaking to me as if Jeff wasn’t present,  and she was somewhat nervous.   Aha, I thought, she can’t fool me.  Obviously, she remembered our first encounter.   All this was going on in my head while she was talking.

The caseworkers union officials were calling a unilateral strike against the Department of Social Services (DSS).  There had never been a strike vote taken.  They did not hold a strike vote because they knew it would never pass.  I invited Kat to join Jeff and I for lunch at a local diner where we could discuss the issue.  I told myself it would probably be a good idea to put the Brooklyn wise ass attitude back in the cage.  I tried to be on my best behavior, in spite of myself, and I gloriously succeeded.  Kat was definitely not feisty.  She was really concerned about doing the right thing, both for herself and co-workers,  and she wasn’t sure what that  should be.

Kat asked me what I was going to do,  regarding the strike.  I told her there was no vote for a strike,  thus I wouldn’t support it.   I intended to go to work every day.  Kat seemed relieved and said she would do the same thing.  We talked about some other things,  none of which I remember.  I do remember not being able to keep my eyes off of her and not wanting to keep my eyes off of her.  She was easy to talk to and very pleasant once she got over her initial nervousness.  I asked Kat to lunch a couple of other times that week.  We seemed to enjoy each other’s company but there was no instant romance.  In fact, I was still dating Florence Amato, or so I thought.

Florence and I had gone out every weekend for about a month.  She had broken up with a longstanding boyfriend before going out with me.  I would pick Florence up outside of her parents house in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  I was never actually invited in the house.  Florence was a sweet girl with certain physical attributes that I found attractive.  In the vernacular of the times, I had barely (no pun intended)  gotten to second base with Florence and I was looking forward to advancing down the baseline.  Second base was achieved in my father’s 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air.

Jeff and I were going on vacation at the end of the week.  In fact,  Jeff had resigned his position at DSS.  He was going to start graduate school the first week in September at the University of Arizona.  He asked me to drive to Arizona with him.  I would take a two week vacation: one week driving to Arizona and spend the next week with Jeff exploring the Tucson area and taking a trip across the border to Nogales Mexico.  It would be the first time I traveled outside of the northeast and I loved the trip so much it would later have an affect on mine and Kat’s relationship the following year.   I would not see Kat for at least two weeks and I had not yet any thought of asking her out, foolish person that I was.

Jeff and I drove across country in his eight cylinder 1962  Oldsmobile 88.  Once we got to the Midwest and we were travelling on open roads,  it was not unusual to travel at 110 mph. The roads were wide open and the car was powerful.  Jeff and I alternated driving every two hours.  At night we slept in the car after driving 14 hours during the day.  We stopped in Tulsa Oklahoma to spend three days with a co-worker at DSS who was going to law school at the University of Oklahoma.  We stayed with Walter Harris and his beautiful wife Sharon.  I smoked my first joint and was introduced to Walter’s upstairs neighbor, Elise.   Elise and I shared a joint but that is all she was willing to share.  Next  onward to Tucson.  We stopped for dinner one evening in a large restaurant in Amarillo. Amarillo is in the Texas panhandle.  There seemed to be dozens of tables, most of them occupied by tall, broad,  cowboy types,  wearing boots. I weighed 128 lbs and I was the heavyweight of the two of us.  We were both about 5ft 6in tall, wore glasses, and probably had New York Jew written all over our faces.  Not knowing what to order, and seeing several varieties of chili on the menu, that’s what I ordered.  I don’t remember what Jeff ordered but he was definitely smarter than me.  I took one spoonful of the chili and I immediately needed to drink water because the chili was so spicy, hot.  I quickly finished the glass of water that came with the meal and asked the waitress for more water.  I really didn’t want to eat more but I was too embarrassed not to finish at least half of the large bowl.  I had to ask the waitress for another glass of water at least 2-3 times.  I don’t remember if Jeff was laughing as I probably would have been,  if positions were reversed.  He was a lot nicer person than  I was.   Memorable meal over, we went on our way and arrived in Tucson about 1 ½ days later.  Arizona was the most beautiful state I had ever been in. We took Snake River Canyon down from northeast Arizona to Tucson which is in the southernmost part of the state, very close to Mexico.  We drove to Nogales,  Mexico one day.  I bought gifts for my mother and sister,  Sheila .  When we went through the border crossing between Mexico and the United States,  we had to open the trunk so the authorities could see if we were  smuggling anything out of Mexico.  This was on the Mexican side.  Because the car came from the northeast and we were in very late summer, there were some crushed leaves scattered in the trunk.  Crushed leaves can look a lot like  marijuana.  The border guards  questioned us but let us go, probably because they could not believe anyone could be so stupid.  Apart from that one nervous incident,  I loved everything about the trip and flew home after that week in Tucson. That was also the first time I ever flew.

When I got back to the office, Florence told me it was over between us, she was going back to her old boyfriend.

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