From The Arnie Chronicles, the semi-fictional biography of Joshua Bateman Arnold.
by Dave Riley
Mrs. R and I came home from a movie after dark one night last week, and as we got out of our car we spotted our neighbor Arnie staring off into the distance. “What are you looking at?” I asked him.
“The red light out there on top of the radio tower. It’s real pretty. How do you suppose they change that thing when it burns out?”
“I’m just guessing, Arnie,” Mrs. R said, “but I suspect someone has to climb up there with a new one.”
A bit of background here. Arnie is a retired cross-country trucker who lives a few doors down and across the street. He was born and raised in Montpelier, but moved to California after his wife, Flo, passed on a few years ago. Arnie isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier but he’s got a good heart, especially when someone needs help.
“Now climbing up there is something I’d like to do just once,” Arnie said. “What a view you’d get.” I shuddered at the thought. Heights just aren’t my thing, so much so that it took me three attempts before I could muscle up enough nerve to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. But Arnie was quite serious.
”Something else I’ve always wanted to do,” he continued. “I’ve always wanted to be the guy at the airport that stands in front of the plane as it taxis up to the gate and holds those neon thingies telling the pilot when to turn and when to stop. That’s power! I’d be controlling a great big 767.”
My wishes were more modest. “Just once,” I said, “I’d like to be the guy at the driving range who rides around in the caged tractor with the thing on the back that collects the golf balls.”
Mrs. R looked at me as if I were nuts, but I just shrugged. Then she got this sly smile on her face. “Here’s what I want to do,” and she paused as if waiting for a drum roll. Finally she said, “I want to referee the Super Bowl.”
“You just want power over men,” I said.
“You’re darn right. The bigger, the better. Can’t you just see me. ‘Fifteen yard penalty on number 67 for roughing the passer, and don’t scowl at me buster or I’ll give you another 15!’”
“She’s tough,” Arnie said.
“Oh, yeah. She really identified with Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.”
“Okay,” she said. “Let me tell you a job I wouldn’t want. I wouldn’t want to be a toll taker at a bridge. Too boring.”
I said I just couldn’t be a highway patrol officer. “Imagine having to pull somebody over on a deserted stretch of road at night. You don’t know who could be inside. That’s scary.”
“I couldn’t be a dentist, “ Arnie said. “Just picture yourself pulling someone’s tooth. Or a heart surgeon with all that blood and arteries and gooey stuff hangin’ out.”
”But aren’t you glad somebody does these things?” Mrs. R said. “I mean if nobody wanted to do them, we’d be in a big fix. There’s lots of jobs like that. Being an ER nurse. Taking care of the elderly people who come to Adult Day Care. Working in a nursing home. Volunteering at a homeless shelter or a battered women’s shelter or a hospice. Those people are saints.”
“Yeah, they’re great. I just couldn’t do stuff like that,” Arnie said.
“Oh, I think you could,” Mrs. R said.
“No way,” he said.
“What do you do on Saturdays?
“Saturdays? I go see my dad up in Paterson.”
“Isn’t that a five-hour drive one way?” I said.
“Yep. I’d move him down here, but he’s around things that are familiar to him up there and that’s real nice for him.”
“What do you do there?”
“I read to him.”
“Read what?” Mrs. R. asked.
“Oh, Field and Stream and chapters from Tom Sawyer, which he really used to love, and I don’t know what else.”
“Does he understand it?” I asked.
Arnie chuckled. “Heck no! He just smiles once in a while. When he does that, it’s like it used to be between us. Real friendly. But these days he doesn’t even know who I am.”
“But you still go,” I said.
“Of course I go! He’s my dad. He’s been my buddy for years.”
“Arnie,” I said, “you’re a heart surgeon.”
“It’s okay, Arnie,” Mrs. R said. “It was a metaphor.”
“A semaphore?” Arnie said.
“A metaphor,” Mrs. R said. “Riley was paying you a nice compliment.”
He had to think about that. He just didn’t seem accustomed to being complimented.
“Well, okay, thanks,” he said after a while. “I mean really, thanks.”