Chances of a Lifetime

1937 – A young girl wearing roller skates is sitting on the stoop of a five story walk-up tenement in Brooklyn. She is struggling with one of her skates as a group of boys race by on the sidewalk. Two of the boys are tossing a pink rubber ball back and forth and a few of the others are carrying what appear to be broom handles.

Upon passing the girl, one of the boys pulls to a halt, calling ahead, “Hang on a second fellas.”

Looking over his shoulder, one of the boys calls back, “C’mon Paulie, the Canarsies will get another game if we’re late.”

The boys keep running as Paulie replies, “I’ll just be a minute.” He turns to the girl and asks, “Do you need some help?”

The girl looks at Paulie and smiles. “I somehow have gotten something stuck in my skate.  I could use some help, but I’d hate for you to miss your game.”

“It’s all right. They won’t play without me.  I’m their best pitcher. Let me see the skate.”

He sits beside her on the stoop and she crosses her legs to place the bottom of the skate near him.  He takes the skate, taking care not to touch her ankle or cause her long skirt to slide up.

“I see it. There’s a jagged rock stuck in there.”

He pulls out a pocket knife and wedges the stone out of the wheel assembly.

“There, that oughta do it.  Stand up and try it out.”

“I’d rather not,” she says.

“What’s wrong? Did you hurt your leg?” he asks.

“It’s not that…it’s just that…well, I’m somewhat tall and with the skates on, well, I’m kind of embarrassed.”

“Fear not,” says Paulie, as he stands and goes up three steps to the landing. “You can’t be taller than me now.”

She smiles at his chivalry and stands.

“Thank you, kind sir. The skates are fine and I don’t want to keep you any longer from your game. My name is Alice, by the way. I go to Sacred Heart.”

Paulie hops over the stoop railing and starts running toward his game. “Paulie, P.S. 31, and it was my pleasure!”

1945 – Paul knocks on the apartment door as he calls out “Refrigerator repair!”

After a few moments, a young woman opens the door holding a mop.

“I’m sorry,” she says, “I was trying to clean up the water. I don’t understand. My icebox literally held melted ice for over 20 years and never leaked a drop. I finally get a new-fangled refrigerator and I have a flood. Please come in.”

“Sorry, Ma’am, I’ve been doing a lot of calls on this model. It appears that our delivery men were poorly trained as installers. Most of them aren’t used to the electrical devices.”

“Wait a minute, she says. “I’m sure I know you, but…Paulie, right?”

“Why yes, but I go by Paul, now. How do we know each other?”

“You kindly removed a stone from my skate wheels, my, it must be nearly ten years.”

“I remember…let me see…yes, Alice, from Sacred Heart! I’m surprised that you remembered me.”

“I actually saw you once again at a basketball game a few years later.”

Paul moves toward the refrigerator and pulls it away from the wall. “You must have had a good seat as I rarely left the bench in High School.”

“I was cheering for your opponent, so I had a good view,” she says.

“Yep, here it is, just as I expected. This unit has a new feature, an evaporator to take care of any leakage. The delivery men never seem to install the hose correctly. Instead of into the unit, they have it directed to your floor. It’s all fixed, now.”

“Please sit and have a Pepsi,” she says. “Unfortunately, it’s not very cold.”

“Why thank you, Alice, but water will be fine. These easy repairs have me a bit ahead of schedule.”

She brings him a glass.

“So how did you get into this line of work?”

“This isn’t really my line, at least I hope not for long. Let’s see, after High School, I joined the Navy like most of the local boys. I learned some electronics there, but was injured when a shell exploded on board my ship.”

“Oh, my!” Alice gasps.

“Actually, I was lucky. Some of my shipmates were killed. I injured my knee pretty badly and got some bad burns.”

“I was wondering why you were wearing long sleeves in this heat. Are you embarrassed by the scars?”

“Not so much embarrassed, but I don’t like to talk about it to strangers.”

“I’m sorry to pry.”

“Oh, no, not at all. You are quite pleasant to talk to. My injury made it difficult to find work, but the repair work is not too bad. The stairs are the worst part. What about you, Alice?”

“I was lucky enough to go to college during the war. I am a teacher in the third grade at the school around the corner.”

“I hope to start college soon. There is a program where the government will pay to send ex-GIs.  I plan to go for a business degree in September. If you don’t mind me asking, is there a Mister Alice?”

“There I have not been as lucky. I had a beau who fought in the infantry. We were not that serious, but might have been had he returned.”

“I’m sorry. I too, have been unlucky. I became engaged to my High School girl before shipping out, but when I returned, she was married with two kids! Well, I’d better get back to work. It was nice seeing you Alice, and I must say, that you have grown nicely into your height. I believe the fashion models call it statuesque.”

“Thank you, Paul.”

1959 – Paul walks on to the floor of Whiteman Appliances on Delancy Street from his office and sees a clerk arguing with a woman. He moves in to investigate and recognizes Alice.

“Alice? What seems to be the problem?” he asks.

The clerk starts to speak, but Paul shoots him down with a look that screams, “We will discuss this later.”

Alice takes a breath and says, “It’s good to see you, Paul. I had a new television set delivered from here last week and I can’t get a clear picture. You can’t even tell Jack Benny from Rochester.”

“I see. Do you know if your antenna is wired to your roof, or are you using the rabbit ears?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure.”

“That’s not important, then. The delivery person should have set it up and explained it to you. When we are finished, this young man will accompany you to your home and will not leave until your picture is perfect.” He turns to face the clerk and says pointedly, “Even if it means a trip up to your roof.” The clerk looks sheepishly at the floor. “For now, come with me to my office.  I’d like to show you around.”

She notices that Paul still has a slight limp. “Is it Paul Whiteman,” she asks.

“No, not me. It’s Kreppel, Paul Kreppel.” He chuckles as they enter his office. “Actually, even the Whiteman’s aren’t Whitemans. They changed it from Weitzmann. Please, have a seat.”

She takes the chair in front of his desk. “In any case, you appear to be in charge here.”

“Yes, I am the General Manager of the entire store. It’s one of three and there are two more planned. I did go to NYU on the GI Bill and then got a Master’s degree in Management.”

“And is there a Mrs. Kreppel?” Alice asks, scanning the room for pictures.

Paul smiles. “Not yet, but I am currently dating the boss’s daughter. She’s a divorcee with two boys. Apparently, it’s a common practice these days. They sure didn’t cover it in Business School.”

“Do you still live in the neighborhood?”

“For now, but again, it seems like the management track also includes a big house out on the Island. I imagine that might be next. What about you, Alice?” He notices that she is not wearing a wedding ring and quickly changes his tack. “Are you still teaching?”

“Yes, I am, but that will be changing soon. I have been hired as a principal in a new elementary school in Levittown. It seems that I will be moving to Long Island as well.”

“Well, maybe we’ll be destined to cross paths again. You know, I don’t even know your last name.”

“It’s Alcott, Alice Alcott.”

“Like the author, Little Women I believe.”

“Paul, you never fail to surprise me.”

They head out to the floor. Paul says to her, “You let me know if Junior here doesn’t fix your set properly. This is an opportunity for him to learn about customer service.” He waves the kid over and bids Alice a warm goodbye.

1968 – Paul is on his way home from the office late one evening when he sees a Chevy Corvair with a flat tire on the shoulder. There is a woman standing beside it. The traffic is light at this hour, but the twilight makes it dangerous never the less. He pulls his Cadillac over and backs up to where the Corvair is stopped. He gets out of his car and immediately begins laughing.

“Alice! I should have known.”

“Paul? This is just too much. I can’t let you change a tire. You’ll ruin your suit. Let me wait for a tow.”

“Nonsense. Suits, I have, and dry cleaners, I have. It will give me something to do while we catch up.”

He moves toward the trunk when she stops him while opening the hood. “It’s up here, Paul.”

“In the engine?”

“No, the engine is in the back. It’s backwards in nearly every respect. I wish that Ralph Nader had published his book sooner.”

Paul gets everything out that he needs and begins to change the tire.

“Good thing we’re near a streetlight,” he says. “So tell me, what’s new.”

“Well, I’m no longer Alice Alcott, but….”

“Congratulations, Alice.”

“None needed, unfortunately. I married a man named Spencer shortly after moving here. It just seemed the thing to do, you know, dinner parties, children, suburban living.”

Paul is removing the lug nuts and carefully placing them in the hubcap. “I take it that it did not go well?” he asks.

“Sadly, no. We didn’t really know one another. He turned out to be kind of a bum and kind of a drunk.”

“I’m so sorry.”

Paul moves to the rear to operate the jack.

“Those weren’t the biggest problem. He just wasn’t a nice person. I could live with his faults, and so could he. He just couldn’t live with the fact that I could live with them. Do you know what I mean?”

“I think I get the picture. Divorce?”

“Yes, after three and a half years. With no children it was almost as though it never happened. It seems to be growing in popularity these days. Still, I have a nice home that I will soon sell for a nice profit, and my work is going very well. I am coming from a city-wide Board of Education meeting. I may be looking at a state appointment in Albany.”

Paul lets the jack down slowly. “Good for you,” he says. Is that why you’re selling your house?

“That’s one possibility. I also have an offer to be Assistant Superintendant in a new district in South Florida. I have some family there and they say it is a wonderful place to live. It’s called Coral Springs. It sounds so exotic.”

“Near Miami?” Paul asks, as he tightens the last of the lug nuts.

“No, it’s closer to Fort Lauderdale. I’m flying down on National in a few days to check it out. Now tell me what you’ve been up to.”

“Let’s see. In a nutshell, I married the boss’s daughter. You’ll find this amusing. I’m no longer a Kreppel. My wife insisted I gentile it up before we married. I’m now Paul Kane.”

She laughs and says, “Wait, Kane of Kane’s Electronics?”

“Yes, I grew as manager and was practically running the entire operation anyway. When her old man retired, I took over. I drive a fancy car, and commute from a big fancy house on the Island.”

“That sounds wonderful, Paul.”

“I suppose so, but between the stress of running a business, and my wife spending money faster that we can earn it, it’s hardly paradise. Coral Springs sounds pretty exotic to me, too. Oh, and my two genius stepsons alternate between dropping out of college and wrecking the business.”

“They sound spoiled,” she says.

“Like their mother, I suppose. Well, you’re all set to go. I imagine that with you moving, this will be our last meeting.”

“We’ll leave it to the fates, Paul. Thank you so much.”

1982 – Alice is sliding a dollar bill into a vending machine, but no matter how much she flattens it or reorients it, it just comes back out. Paul pulls up in his golf cart and sees that the woman is frustrated.

“Maybe I can help,” he says. “I have some new bills here.”

Alice turns around and immediately begins to laugh. Paul smiles and shakes his head. They embrace.

“Oh, Paul, you are truly my knight in shining armor.”

“This is just too much,” he says. “I’m heading back to the ninth hole. I think I left my wedge by the green. I’m here visiting a friend. He’s waiting since there’s a backup on the tenth tee.”

“But here in Coral Springs, what are the odds?” she says.

“You made it sound so wonderful. How could I not check it out? So I assume that you moved here.” He puts a dollar in the machine and of course it goes right in. He bows and waves his hand toward the machine. “M’lady?”

She smiles and makes her choice. She offers her dollar to him, but he declines. “Keep it. It may allow us to meet up at another machine someday.”

“As usual, thank you for saving me, Paul. I did not come here right away. I did five years working with the Board of Regents when my sister took ill. I came down in ‘74 to take care of her and my parents. I worked in the Broward School System in a number of capacities and hope to retire in a few years. The move to Florida has been good to me. My golf partner dropped me off at the machine when we finished our round. She’s getting the bags in the car.”

“I won’t keep you, but I will tell you that it has been up and down for me. My wife left me for a man with deeper pockets.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It was actually a relief. Business has been a struggle competing with the department stores and my stepsons are pretty incompetent. I will lose my shirt, but I am considering letting them buy me out and starting over, possibly down here.”

“What about your knee? I wouldn’t expect you to be playing golf.”

“Arthroscopic surgery. It’s pretty new, mostly for athletes. It’s amazing. They cleared out 40 years of junk and it’s nearly as good as new.”

“Oh, I wish I had time to chat, but…”

“Let’s do it again in ten years.”

1997 – Alice is looking at the net on Court 5 at the Kings Point Tennis Club in Tamarac. It is clearly dipped several inches below the proper tension. A ball bounces by from Court 6 and a man calls out, “A little help?”

She picks up the ball and turns to toss it to the man and says, “As usual, I think that it is I, who needs the help.”

Paul lets out a big laugh. He turns to his doubles partner and shouts, “Larry, volley without me for a little while, OK?”

Alice tosses the ball to Larry who rejoins his warm-up.

Paul goes over to the net pole and begins to turn the crank. The net tightens. “How’s that?” he asks.

Alice measures the height with the racket and says, “Perfect as usual. Paul, I just moved here. I have a match in a few minutes.”

“What an amazing world we live in,” he says. “I retired here ten years ago after I cashed out of the business. I had a nice nest egg. My knee feels great and I kind of run the Tennis Center here. I did a little consulting, but what I really loved was teaching.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I taught some business courses at the college level, you know, as an adjunct professor. I loved it and I think the students enjoyed it as well.”

“Good for you, Paul. Amazingly, after sixty years, we are both in the same place again. My relations down here are all gone, so I got myself a nice condo, and here we are.”

“It looks like we both need to get to our courts.” He begins to walk away, but turns back toward her. “Alice, would you think it too forward if I were to ask you out for a cup of coffee?”

Alice smiles for a moment, then steps forward and takes his hand.

“Oh, Paulie, I thought you’d never ask.”

© Copyright 2014 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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