Sammy Koval walked past the hospital emergency entrance and into
the crowded parking lot. As he walked he counted the clouds. He brushed
his chalk white hair back across his head and wondered why things happen
the way they do. He had always felt that being a good, fair man was
a sure way to a promising future and a rewarding retirement--not the
day to day dead end he was living.
In the past nothing lay ahead but a beautiful world of forever tomorrows
with no cares, no worries, and only great times to be had. Who even
thought of retiring when elegance and opulence were the words of the
day. Sammy's Long Island was a young growing place filled only with
golf courses, a few psychiatric hospitals, and a sprinkling of classy
vacation spots enjoyed by the very, very rich. For Sammy, his part
of this island paradise was a town called Long Beach and a small but
elite restaurant he had struggled to build. He called it "Sammy's," of
course. And why not?
Long Beach of the 1920's was one of those seasonal places where the
rich would play in the summer and, if need be, hide in the winter if
monies were low. It was a town whose streets were lined with Duisenberg’s
and Bragatis driven by Harvard grads and flappers dressed in cool summer
white linens. Art Deco hotels overlooking the Atlantic seashore, daily
lawn tennis matches, and a more than occasionally vocalized "Hi
Ho" were the every day sights and sounds.
Sammy loved being part of this world of status and social eminence
where celebrities of film and radio gathered on sun drenched beaches
just to be seen. And, as chance would have it, they discovered and
came to love Sammy's place. They would romantically watch the blue
green waves roll over the Long Beach shore and eat Russian pastries
and sip Columbian coffee spiked with any assortment of liqueurs.
The food business, especially if you were located down by the big
hotels, was lucrative and Sammy's was one of the busiest spots in town.
Young hopefuls would travel from miles around just to sit at his outdoor
soda fountain. They would leisurely drink cherry cokes for hours on
end who knew what film director might see you! It was such a fresh,
innocent time. But time fades even the brightest dreams and always
becomes yesterday whether one likes it or not.
Today the stars don't come this way anymore. Oh, there are small studios
scattered around here and there but nothing like the hay days of the
20's. Now the town has become a true shadow of its former self.
And for Sammy the years have really turned things around! His apartment
having gone Condo and him without money or relatives, has left him
living hand to hand, day to day from one County subsidized room to
another. Now he lies on the beach each night to sleep rather than to
snooze in the sun under the lazy shade of a multi colored beach umbrella.
He eats from modern day soup kitchens instead of off silver plates
and plays hide and seek with street kids to avoid getting rolled for
a Social Security check he never seems to get.
The Great Depression had finally caught up with him. Where was that
thing of beauty, that social promise of the good life for the old.
Retirement. Where did it go?
What Sammy wanted wasn't much to ask for: a room with a bit of privacy,
three squares a day, and a place to sit to watch the world go by. As
a young man he'd brag about how he'd out live his friends; who knew
that it would be like this? Happiness. The word was as foreign as China
and he'd probably be better off there. Those people respect their old.
Just a quiet life, that's all he wanted. Just a place away from all
Sammy stopped and looked at the time displayed on the corner bank
clock. He'd have to hurry. His friend Louie needed him now more than
anyone had ever needed him before. As he sneaked through the hospital
rear entrance and across the grimy kitchen floor all his mind could
repeat over and over again was, "But for the grace of God go I".
He was finally beginning to understand that the well worn cliché.
It had meant nothing to him before he met Lou.
Sammy and Lou had unexpectedly got together one cold February morning
while huddling under the boardwalk to escape the blasting ocean winds.
They were friends the moment they met. It was as though they had known
each other from childhood and had played street games together. And who
knows? Maybe they had. Their ages were almost exact. All they ever talked
about was how they both had been too young for the Great War and too
old for WWII.
And Louie did have the gift of gab. He'd never even been to a recruiting
office, never mind ever having been in a street fight, but nevertheless
he always had a good war story. His stories made the frigid winter
air seem like a soft Italian wind on a Naples beachhead where Lou would,
of course, always die a hero's death.
They were good friends; friends to the end. But even friends have
secrets they don't share. Sammy had wondered from the very start of
their friendship how Lou always had only a few days growth on his face
and sometimes even clean clothes when all the other bums had dirty
Salvation Army hand me downs and long beards. It didn't take long to
figure it out though. All the answers lie in the hospital bracelet
on Louie's wrist. Louie was terminal. He'd sneak out of his room whenever
he could and just wait for some social worker to pick him up.
There are some things you can't run away from and time is at the top
of the list. It had finally caught up with Lou. It had grabbed him
by the neck, flung him into a white barracks like hospital room, and
surrounded him with helpless expiring images just like himself. Louie
was going out. The cancerous pain had left him in constant agony. No
one could fake the kind of torment he had to endure not even this trouper:
the man who had won a hundred battles, a hundred fictitious victories
at sea and all for Mother Freedom. Now his only freedom was the stuff
they constantly injected into him; day in, day out.
Sammy had come to the hospital today because, if nothing else, he
was a man of his word. They had made a pact that first frigid day they
met: Who’s ever situation was hopeless the other would come to
the other's aid. The good deed would be done quick and simple. No frills;
just a simple bullet to the head, a knife to the heart, or maybe like
the Romans, with slit wrists in a hot tub. No one wants to die a slow
agonizing death. Get it over with quick, they had agreed.
Sammy blinked his vacant wet eyes and his daydreams slowly disappeared
from the white antiseptic walls. Louie had finally stopped struggling
so he moved the pillow from his old friend's head and looked up to
God for forgiveness. As he called the nurse he held his friend's hand
and came to realize that now both their dreams had finally come true.