The Tom Tom

O.K. So we got a call from Downtown that the Mayor’s Office is getting complaints that the hotel is being used by a bunch of girls. New Haven is having a sweep so they’re probably from up there. We’ve been told to put an end to it.

With about a year and a half on “The Job” and only 2 weeks within the specialized Undercover Narcotics,Vice and Tactics unit I was as green as grass and constantly amazed at what human beings could dream up for pleasure or profit. It was with close attention and a vague premonition of dread that I listened to our squad leader, none other than, The Tom-Tom. At six foot three, 200 pounds, bald with an Irish- red face, Tom-Tom was a truly imposing figure. I would discover as a few years went by that fear was never present when Tom – Tom was by your side. And, I was about to soon discover that Tom -Tom, with his quick wit and Irish sense of mischief, could turn a routine assignment into a night never to be forgotten.

Eddie, Tom–Tom said to one of the senior squad members, I want you to work with The Kid. Come into my office.

A few minutes later Eddie came out and told me to follow him. Out into to the night we went to our unmarked car parked at the curb a short distance from our “headquarters” – a non-distinct building in an unremarkable neighborhood at the edge of town.

I’ve got to swing by my house to pick up some equipment, said Eddie. Then we can get something to eat. It’s gonna’ be a long night, Kid.

OK, I said. Actually, it was the only answer that could be given to a senior team member.

45 minutes later we pulled into the hotel parking lot to “Ron Day Voo”, as Eddie would put it, with the team. Tom-Tom explained that our “cover” would be that we were a group of surveyors traveling through the area and that we would hang out in the bar to see if any Ladies showed up.

Only hotel management knows we’re coming, he said. And, even though department regs say ,”no drinking on duty”, this is “on duty”. But, only 2 drinks for the whole night. Am I clear? Tom-Tom was very clear, it seemed.

So, off we went. Everyone moseyed up to the bar and ordered their favorite beverage. When the bartender asked what I was drinking it seemed that Tom-Tom’s eyes would bug out when I answered, Diet Coke, please. But then he got a certain little smile and said, Oh, this is going to be a good night.

Oh, boy, muttered Eddie.

It didn’t take long for The Ladies to arrive. There were two. One was wrapped in red silk, the other was in “Hardly Any” green. For working girls, our team of “Surveyors” must have seemed as manna from heaven.

Well, hello. You boys look like you’re having fun, said Red Silk as she sidled up to the apparent leader of the gang, Tom-Tom.

Yeah, we like to have fun, Honey. But, it sure gets lonely on the road. We’re working for the State surveying all the bridges. Been away from home almost three months now.

Oh, what a smooth operator this Tom-Tom is, I thought.

Well, why don’t we go somewhere quiet and maybe we could make you a little less lonely, offered Hardly Any.

Why, Honey, you know I’d love that but I’m a bit too old for that, especially with this new pace maker thing I have.

Oh, what a glib liar, I thought. The Tom-Tom was as strong as an ox and not too old for anything.

But, you know, my nephew over there could use some cheering up since his “old lady” left him right before we hit the road. And, with that Tom-Tom signaled Eddie to come over.

And, then it happened. That look of devilish mischief combined with absolute merriment came over Tom Tom’s face.

You know, girls, my son here has never been with a lady before. The iron strong arm of Tom Tom reached over and pulled me close to him in what appeared to all the world to be a fatherly embrace. I think he could use some special attention, don’t you?

With that, Red Silk and Hardly Any both erupted into convulsions of laughter.

Oh, Honey, I’ll take real good care of you. Oh, Lawd I will!, promised Red Silk

If it weren’t for the grip of Tom-Tom on my shoulder and the insistent tugging of Red on my arm, I would surely have collapsed.

Oh, no, Dad. I can’t, I pleaded.

It’s time son.

Oh, Lawdy, yes it is!, choked, Red.

But, Mom wouldn’t like me doing this. This time my plea sounded more like a whimper.

Mom will never know. And then Tom-Tom pulled me closer and whispered, It’s an order.

So, off we went. I being half pushed, half dragged by Red Silk through the hotel lobby to the bank of elevators and Eddie nearly sprinting. That Eddie, always ready to perform his duty!

As Eddie opened the door to a double bed room, my mind tried to work its way through every possible scenario where the job could get done without the actual labor, so to speak. Eddie had other plans.

Hardly Any was already down to her slip and Eddie, in a manor of seconds, had taken off his pants and shirt and lay on one of the beds, displaying the “special equipment” we had earlier stopped by his house for.

What the hell? I blurted!

What are you looking at? he said.

Nothing. I was speechless. For sprawled across the bed with his arms in back of his head was Eddie dressed in what he must have thought to be proper boudoir attire. And, I promise this is true, Eddie was wearing white boxer shorts with little red hearts, black over-the-calf socks and a stocking garter.

Now, I’m not in the habit of staring at men in their underwear, but this was a sight to behold. Apparently, our “dates” had seen their fair share of odd sights or maybe they had grown up in a circus. In any case, they didn’t bat an eye.

Part of the Outfit

Eddie continued to give me the Stink Eye and said to Hardly Any, Come on, let’s go. I’m ready! Indeed he was.

Red Silk says to me, Come on, Honey, take your clothes off.

My mind and heart were racing. Think, Billy. Say something clever. Aha!

Can we just talk for a while?

Red Silk responds, What you want to talk about? This ain’t talkin’ time, Honey. This is doin’ time.

Hardly Any: Talk??

Eddie rolls his eyes and through clenched teeth mutters, What the *!%#.

I start to pace the floor. Both girls begin to get jittery.

Let’s get out of here, Red says.

No, no, let’s just talk.

And then a look of sheer panic comes over both girls. Aaaa, Aaaaah, Aaaaaa. They start screaming, They gonna’ kill us! Aaaaaah, Aaaaaah. They start crying.

It then dawns on me that these poor girls think they have fallen prey to the slayer or slayers of a recent string of working girls.

No, no , I say. It’s OK. I just want to talk.

Aaaah, Aaaah. Oh, Sweet Jesus, help us!

By now, Eddie has lost all attention to this assignment. If looks could kill I would be murdered right then!

Both girls drop to their knees next to the empty bed and are now wailing: Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.

My pacing becomes more frantic and so does the crying.

Red Silk opens the bedside table, grabs the Gideon and frantically flips through pages. The Lord is my Shepard…

Oh, are you a church girl?, I ask.

Eddie says, Are you kidding me? This is just great.

Aaaaah, Aaaah, Oh, God help us.

It’s OK, I tell the girls as I too get to my knees in an effort to calm them. God is with us. You’re going to be OK.

Aaaah, Aaahhhh

I glanced over to Eddie but between the look on his face and his outfit I thought surely I had entered into one of Dante’s infamous rings. Or a Fellini movie.

Just as I gave up all hope for an end to this nightmare there was an earthquake – like crash and the room door burst open. There stood The Tom-Tom.

You’re under…what the hell is this, a prayer meeting!

I suppose the open Bible and three of us on our knees might have given one that impression.

Both girls ran sobbing into Tom-Tom’s arms. Are you the police?

Yes, girls, I’m the police.

Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord. Thank you, Jesus!

The girls were ushered out into the hallway. Tom-Tom looked around the room and said, Eddie, what the hell happened?

I don’t know. I can’t begin to describe it.

Well, the other people on this floor thought that these girls were being murdered and called downtown. Patrol is on the way. We have to get out of here, but we can’t let them think this was a police operation so we’re going to put cuffs on you both and lead you out…now.

Off we went, not quite as we had entered a short time before. My head hung low as we were perp- walked through the lobby past a large wedding reception. And Eddie. Well, let’s just say he wore his special outfit, hearts and garters, proudly.

It would be a few months and several running street battles together before Tom Tom stopped shaking his head whenever he saw me. His little smile told me it was OK, but he never missed the chance to repeat those infamous words, What would mom say? And then laugh.

I think of Tom Tom often. And still laugh at that Night Never To Be Forgotten.

Living in The Real

Farms, Augusta County, VA

One of the pluses of living in the country is that one is required to live in The Real.

I had especially noticed this sense of living in The Real during my many visits “Back Home” to Ireland. Being of the first generation of my family born here in The States, Back Home meant the family place. For us it was the West of Ireland – County Mayo and in particular the then small town of Charlestown.

My first visit was a real eye opener. Despite stories of having descended from Irish Royalty (weren’t we all?) the reality was the family was materially poor.  My father and generations of family before him was born and raised in a single room cottage that was, upon my first visit, still occupied by my uncle and his family. No electricity, no running water, no plumbing. That was home.

Politically, it seemed the family was all over the place. Uncle Batty, when I showed up unannounced at his workplace, thought I was an IRA hitman that had “come for him”. I never asked why he thought that. But, the joy he showed that it was the son of his never-met older brother standing at his doorstep erased all need to explore the matter further. His wife, Evelyn, was a nurse, educated and trained in England.  Her political views, expressed only once, was that, Yes, things had been bad in the past. But, she said, “Without the English we’d all now be a lot worse off”. She was living in The Real. The world as it was right then, not what it had been, good or bad.

I’ve thought many times of Evelyn’s words and contrasted them with those of my father. Yes, he had seen a bit more of the brutality of an occupying army.  Not allowing even English Toffee into the house, however, seemed a bit much, even to a little urchin. But, the day that my eldest sister had a would-be “suitor” call at the house was a real humdinger.  Dressed in a tweed suit, he carried a gold pocket watch that he allowed me to hold.  Yet, the real treasure was a strange coin with some type of antelope stamped upon it.

South African Springbok coin

“Dad, look at this”, I blurted out. Examining the coin, my father seemed to enjoy the novelty of it as much as I. Until he turned it over. There it was. The image of Queen Elizabeth II in all her youthful beauty.

The “Sum of all Fears”…Elizabeth II

 First, his jaw went slack, and then his eyes started blinking out some type of Morse code. We had seen those telegraphing eyes before. Whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good.

“You’re a *&^)#%@*^# Limey”, shouted my father. “I say”, said my sister’s Caller. Well, he didn’t get to say much else, I can tell you that. The last we or my sister saw of him was the back of the tweed bending over to pick poor Elizabeth up from the sidewalk in front of our house.

It would be several years later before my sister would agree (with permission, naturally) to marry a very nice man. Of Irish descent, of course. All went well until the day before the wedding.  It was then that dad found out that while the young man about to marry my sister was indeed Irish, he wasn’t the “Right Irish”. His great-grandfather had come from…get ready…Belfast, Northern Ireland. My sister was marrying a “Collaborator”.  Neither I nor anyone else in the family knew what the heck my father was talking about. Which brings me back to the beginning of this story, living in The Real.

When I say that we live in the country it’s that we are surrounded mostly by farms. Dairy, goat, poultry, horse and agriculture farms abound here. Some are small, some quite extensive. Our immediate neighbors in this neighborhood come from different backgrounds and professions: teachers, technical engineers, business owners, medical professionals, skilled labor, etc. Many come from small towns or farms. And, of course, this city boy. Each of us have been drawn to this area for reasons, while specific to us, have similarities, too: the need for “elbow room” in order to have privacy or to have a garden, the need to escape the costs, congestion and craziness of large cities.  Yet, there is the tacit understanding that we would help one another. And will be kind to each other.  Perhaps it is by being so close to nature, to God’s abundant blessings, that we have become so aware of how beautiful life is.

And so, this past week, we celebrated our good fortune in two ways. First, we had a “block party”. Every family in our little hilltop neighborhood came to “the crossroads” to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day and sharing food, laughter and the feeling that, at least within our little community, all is well.

Caption on sign: A Farmer Learns More From A Bad Harvest Than a Good One.
Cattle grazing on hillside, Spring Hill, VA

Secondly, The Redhead and I ventured out for a drive yesterday that took us out beyond Route 42 into deep farm country and finally heading westward along Route 250 through the Allegheny Mountains into the small town of Monterey. Monterey is the home of the Maple Festival, drawing craftspeople and maple syrup product connoisseurs from great distances. Unfortunately, like most other festivals, this year’s was cancelled due to the pandemic.  Nonetheless, Monterey is a nice little town (really small) but it has several nice country- style restaurants, inns and spectacular scenery. I will say, that prior to yesterday, driving over the mountain was something beyond my comfort level. Do it slowly, carefully and in good weather and you could have a nice outing. Hint: Monday may not be the best day to make the trip – some things are closed. 

The Curly Maple Restaurant, Monterey, VA

Along this section of Route 250 you will also find the Confederate Breastworks and the battle field of McDowell, dating from 1862. Both locations, near one another, while relatively limited in scope, were where Confederate and Union troops clashed for control of this mountain pass. Standing at the Breastworks and looking down the valley where so many men had struggled, fought and died two thoughts came to mind: What a terrible tragedy that Civil War was, pitting neighbor and family against one another. And, later last night, after mistakenly watching a few minutes of the “news”, I thought back to the beauty, bounty and friendship we had seen all around us this past weekend and wondered, why this country is being torn apart.

Confederate Breastworks, Route 250, looking toward McDowell VA

Will we ever let the transgressions, real or imagined, of Queen Elizabeth, Stonewall Jackson, Columbus, Kit Carson, Junipero Serra and on and on stay in the past? Will we ever again live in The Real?