Things I Learned from R. B. (April 19th, 2020)


Jonathots Daily Blog

(4385)

Episode 11

The dust never settled.

Although our family spent three inspirational and life-changing years in Shreveport, Louisiana, we were never able to make it the home of our hearts.

It is no disrespect to the town itself. The problem was a combination of inadequacies. The community had pretty well determined by mutual decree to remain the same, and I was out to change the world.

So we bought an old, green van and took off to see America. (That particular journey I will relate at another time, when I am not placing my soul’s attention on R. B.)

The initial stop was Dallas, Texas. Actually, it was the first large city west of Shreveport. While Dollie and the kids worked on our plans for the week, I set out to find the telephone number of an old friend—or at least, I believed he was still an old friend.

This was well before the days of the Internet, so procuring the personal information or location of another human being was not so easy. But after four or five calls, I finally reached Maddie, who had been in the cast of our musical which had traveled across the country.

She told me she had run into R. B. in Dallas and had even shared a dinner with him. She generously gave me his number. When I asked her what he was like now, she offered a one-word pronouncement: “Different.”

So I dialed up the number and immediately the phone was answered by a voice I still recognized.

I told R. B. who I was. He acted as if he was trying to recall and place my name. I was offended—but said nothing.

After a few moments he warmed up and asked to take me out to dinner at a supper club the following evening. Just me—not the entire family, since the establishment served liquor and had scantily clothed female dancers.

I agreed. I showed up the next night in my green van, dressed casually but passable for a Sunday morning church service.

R. B. was late, and when he came in, seemed flustered. He was wearing a navy-blue polyester suit and a checked shirt, with his huge hairdo trimmed about two inches into the fairway.

We procured a table and sat down.

(At this point I wish to change over to a theatrical format so as to make it easier for the reader to follow the story without too many cumbersome clauses. I will add author’s clarifications when necessary.)

R. B.: Have any trouble finding the place?

Me: No. The directions were good.

R. B.: Do you want a cocktail?

Me: No, thanks.

R. B.: Oh, that’s right—you’re against drinking.

Me: No, I’m not against it. I’m just basically a kid and don’t like the taste.

R. B.: Not me. I love a screwdriver. You should try a screwdriver.

Me: What’s it have in it?

R. B.: (looking up to the ceiling as if searching for the answer, then back down) Hell if I know. I never asked. My boss always orders them. I thought it would look good to order what he ordered. Eventually I decided I liked them.

(I nodded my head with little desire to continue this particular conversation.)

R. B.: I know you don’t smoke, either, do you? We just might not have anything to do or talk about. (laughs)

Me: Oh, I think we can come up with something.

R. B.: Let me order for us—I know the menu.

Me: Cool.

(R. B. ordered off the menu, making specific requests which the waiter did not understand, leaving them both confused and in disarray. I eventually determined it was going to be some sort of red meat with potatoes and vegetables.)

R. B.: It’s been a long time.

Me: Well, you know—not really. You’ve been gone from Shreveport about eight months.

R. B.: Well, what brings you to Dallas?

(I proceeded to explain that I had decided to take the family on the road, going from town-to-town, holding meetings and concerts at churches as we journeyed. I also shared that we did not have anything already scheduled but were planning to do it spontaneously when we arrived in each town. The more I talked the more he rolled his eyes, even giggling a couple of times. At length, he interrupted to share his opinion.)

R. B.: Well, if you ask me, it sounds irresponsible. Of course, you’ve never had a problem with that, have you?r

(R. B. looked me squarely in the eyes, and when I stared back, he averted his gaze. At that point, I understood the nature of our evening and the purpose of his invitation. He was determined to establish his success, and my ongoing neediness.)

R. B.: Well, if you’re looking for donations, I’m sorry. I don’t have any money for that. Honestly, I don’t consider it a good investment. Sounds foolhardy.

(I remained silent. If there was going to be an argument, he would have to handle both sides of the conflict. His screwdriver arrived and he drank it down in less than a minute and ordered another. He watched me carefully to see if I would comment on his alcohol consumption. I didn’t. I think he might have been disappointed. Feeling the need to change the subject, I brought up Maddie.)

Me: I got hold of you by talking to Maddie. She said she had dinner with you several months back.

R. B.: I did. And it was pleasant. It’s always nice to see an old-time acquaintance. She’s just so…you know. So small-town. I think she might have been interested in seeing me again while she was in Dallas, but I was all tied up in business.

(I knew he wanted me to ask him about his business, but I also knew that if I did, he would act annoyed over me interfering in his affairs. So I waited.)

R. B.: Business is good. I have finally put my mind to the power of making a dollar. You know, we always sit around and talk about our dreams, but we sometimes fail to understand that wishing for them only makes them run away. All they need is funding. Do the work, make the money and then, address the dreams.

Me: I suppose that’s true.

R. B.: Don’t suppose. It is true. I used to sit around and pray for success. Can I tell you something? Success is not religious. Matter of fact, it makes fun of religious people. I don’t mean any insult to you…

Me: I don’t feel insulted. I don’t feel religious.

R. B.: But you are. You hang around with those people who count how many screwdrivers someone drinks, and probably would not approve of my lifestyle in any way.

Me: Are you making friends?

R. B.: I have a woman. Well, had.

Me: Tell me more.

R. B.: You wouldn’t approve.

Me: Listen, I’m not going to disapprove of anything you say for two reasons. Number one, I have no room to judge, and secondly, when I leave this restaurant, I may never see you again.

(R. B. was a little surprised, and thought about being insulted, but realized there was no intent of being harmful on my part. He lowered his voice to a whisper.)

R. B.: I hired an escort.

Me: An escort?

R. B.: Well, that’s one name for them. A call girl. A prostitute. Do you get the picture?

(I nodded my head, careful not to allow any part of my facial features to flinch with reaction. He continued.)

R. B.: Let me tell you, I just got tired of being a virgin. I had never been with a woman. I kissed for kind of a long period of time when I was in high school—one night on a hayride. But that was it. I don’t like masturbating. It feels nasty to me. I suppose that’s the last part of my Bible training. I got tired of waiting. I got tired of wondering. So I hired an escort.

Me: Do you want to tell me about it?

R. B.: (laughing) It was fucking great! And speaking of that, she—by the way, her name was Krystall. Isn’t that beautiful? She’s from Florence, in Italy. Anyway, she said I was good. I took that as a compliment, since she’s been with a few other men.

(I sat very still. This was R. B.’s story. This was R. B.’s night. He had paid for it. He had probably planned it out in his mind. It was my job to sit, watch and listen, like a ten-year-old the first time he sees an R-rated film. R. B. wanted me shocked—but he did not want me to offer advice.)

R. B.: I was surprised at how quick it was. Krystall told me that was normal. When I watched in movies, it seemed to go on for a while, but…well, anyway. It was so good that I paid to see her again. It’s pretty expensive. After the second time we were together, she explained that she was short on cash and needed some financial assistance. I felt, what the hell? So I gave her an extra five hundred dollars.

Me: That was generous of you.

R. B.: (shaking his head) It felt so good. Not just the sex, but she allowed me to kiss her. She said she doesn’t normally do that. And she lay next to me in the bed for an extra fifteen minutes, even though she was late for an appointment. Dammit, if I didn’t feel like a husband. Or maybe that’s not the word. I’ll tell you one thing—I felt like a man. More like a man than I had ever felt before.

(R. B. paused to order his third screwdriver. I wasn’t counting, but the waiter was reminding him, since the supper club had a policy of limiting the alcohol and prompting the patrons. After a long pause, R. B. spoke again.)

R. B.: I don’t hate God. But I sure the hell hate what He represents. When I was with Krystall, I felt more spiritual than I ever did sitting in church. I know that probably shocks you…

(I decided to change the subject.)

Me: Do you ever think about us?

R. B.: (surprised) Us? What do you mean?

Me: What we’ve been through together. The nights we prayed so we wouldn’t feel like we were the only person screwed up. The songs. The music. The sense of wonder whenever something worked out that shouldn’t have. The silences that left a chill down the spine. Just knowing that something you said or something you gave made someone’s life a little more sensible.

R. B.: Nope. I don’t think about that. Because I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t know why. I’ve just reached a point in my life where I want to earn, and I want to possess. I’m not selfish. I’m just tired of being ignorant in the name of God.

(The meal arrived. It gave us the chance to chew on something other than our feelings. There were passing thoughts—brief memories of times on the road. Then R. B. finally continued.)

R. B.: I almost decided not to come tonight. I thought you might try to talk me out of my choices or criticize my relationships. I don’t want to go without having a woman. I can’t find one who wants to be my wife. Hell, I haven’t met any who wanted to go further than “how do you do?” I don’t want to screw every night, but when I want it, I want it. Just for a while, I’d like to make the decisions instead of trying to find them in a big, black book. Do you condemn me for that?

Me: I wouldn’t even if I could.

(Things went slower after that. Both of us knew we had exhausted what each of us came to do. It was concise, eventually became awkward, and soon was over. After dinner, we went to the lobby, through the door and out into the parking lot. There was a moment when we both knew we should have hugged, but instead, exchanged a clumsy handshake.)

R. B.: Listen, good luck. Don’t bother with my joking about what you’re doing. I hope you’ll be safe.

Me: And to you, too. I wish you well with Krystall.

R. B.: (interrupting) She’s moved away. But it’s a big world.

(I nodded my head. Something we could agree on.)

It is a big world.

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