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Thread: Stairway to Paradise

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    San Diego Calif.
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    Stairway to Paradise

    Stairway to Paradise

    “‬How much for a ham sandwich and a cup of Joe?”

    The counterman sized him up and decided to give him a discount.

    “‬Thirty-five cents.”

    He fumbled in his pockets. ‬No coins. ‬What he thought was a folded-up dollar, wasn’‬t. ‬It was his Veteran’‬s Bonus Certificate. ‬Useless until nineteen forty-five. ‬His stomach growled and announced it couldn’‬t wait twelve years. ‬Saying nothing, ‬he turned back to the ‬mean ‬streets.

    ‬Georgy had been out of work for ages. ‬Standing in bread lines was getting stale. ‬He’‬d fought for his country and won the war with the Germans. ‬Nobody dared say Georgy hadn’‬t done his bit. ‬He'd given Uncle Sam the best years of his life. ‬Before that he was a farmer but while he was overseas fighting the Huns, the First National Bank foreclosed on his farm in Ohio. ‬Bankers were only robbers that wore suits and ‬sported fancy shoes to his way of thinking.

    ‬The stock market crashed ten years after that. ‬Now he was out in the cold, ‬looking for work every ‬day. ‬He’‬d been a lieutenant and a leader. ‬Now he followed the soup kitchens around instead. ‬The hero of Bellow woods turned into the Bum of Central Park. ‬How dramatic was that? ‬How much more like tragic-comedy could life be?

    ‬Finally he’‬d had enough. ‬He walked by the Rialto. ‬They were playing a Gloria Swanson flick, ‬Sadie Thompson. ‬He’‬d always like Somerset Maugham.

    ‬He looked up at the marquee. ‬Then down at the six-sheet. ‬Swanson had more jewels than King Solomon’‬s Mines, ‬more beads than an ‬Indian trader ‬and more feathers than a peacock. ‬Her eyes were beautiful and yet hardened. ‬They were the eyes of Miss Sadie Thompson. ‬They seemed to mock him.

    ‬“Still, ‬Gloria is my kind of gal,”‬ he mused. “‬She’‬s a regular peach.”

    ‬A block later he was home. ‬He opened the door to his cold-water walk-up apartment he shared with his old army buddy. ‬No one was home. ‬There was nothing to do. ‬It was as freezing inside the apartment as it was outside. ‬He'd never felt so desperately cold. ‬He felt ill-treated by nature itself. ‬The weather had it in for him. ‬The thought was driving him over the edge.

    ‬“What can I do to make money if there isn’‬t any work?”

    ‬Next door the neighbors were listening to the radio, ‬Fibber McGee and Molly. ‬The Ajax Radio hour promised a concert of Gershwin after that.

    ‬“I like Gershwin,”‬ he thought. “‬Always have”

    ‬He found a box of cornflakes in the trash barrel outside. ‬He looked at the wrapper "‬Kellogg’s of Battle Creek”‬.

    ‬“I was in Bellow Woods and Chateau-Thierry with Pershing,”‬ he mused, “‬I must have missed Battle Creek.”‬ The picture of Gloria flashed back to his mind. ‬She looked at him with eyes that pierced his heart and seemed to be saying,

    "‬Big boy, you used to have fiber. ‬Now all you've got is corn flakes."

    ‬Fibber McGee was about to open his closet door.


    ‬The sounds that poured out of the radio only echoed the number of things that poured out of his mind as he imaged what made all the clatter. ‬He realized his closet was empty. ‬His empty stomach growled ‬like a monster.

    ‬Then came the Gershwin. ‬It was An American in Paris.

    ‬“****,”‬ he thought. “‬I prefer Rhapsody in Blue. ‬But I guess I’‬m in no position to prefer anything.”

    ‬After American in Paris it was a specialty number, ‬Stairway to Paradise.

    ‬I'll build ‬a Stairway to Paradise,
    ‬With a new Step ev'ry day.
    ‬I'm going to get there at any price;
    ‬Stand aside, ‬I'm on my way!

    ‬I got the blues
    ‬And up above it's so fair;
    ‬Go on and carry me there!
    ‬I'll build a Stairway to Paradise
    With a new Step ev'ry day.
    ‬With a new Step ev'ry day.

    He started tapping his toes. ‬His mood changed immediately. ‬A thought ‬occurred over his head like a ‬light bulb over the head of Felix the Cat. ‬But this thought wasn't as warm and glowing.

    ‬He went out to the hall and searched for a loose board on the stairs. ‬When one moved he found what he wanted. ‬Out came his black bandana.

    “If they catch me, that’s later. I’m a hero, not a victim. Uncle Sam trained me how to use ‬a gun. I’ve got my sharpshooter’s medal to prove it.”

    ‬He went up three more steps and found the next board exactly as he had left it. ‬Out came an envelope with nine forty-five caliber bullets and clip.

    ‬“They’‬re right where I left them years ago,”‬ he considered, “‬Now I’‬m going to put them to good use. These bullets are going to serve me like I served my uncle Sam."

    ‬He crawled up three more steps to the last one he needed. ‬Now he was humming the tune to himself quite distinctly.

    ‬Out came the board and behind it the heavy Browning Forty-five. ‬It was issued to him when he’‬d been an officer and a gentleman. ‬Now he was a gangster instead. It’‬s funny how being out of work can change a fellow.

    ‬He returned to his room and his wood table and loaded the clip, slamming it into the forty-five using the palm of his hand with a click. ‬He tied his bandana around his neck and buttoned up the collar of ‬his shabby coat just right. ‬He tied his shoes. ‬Then he straightened his hat.

    ‬“A man’‬s gotta do what a man’‬s gotta do. And today it's my turn to get mine."

    ‬He closed the door and walked down the stairway and out the entrance and turned ‬left knowing full well the ‬First National ‬was only a block away. ‬Walking down the street he heard that even the Italians who lived over their grocery store were listening to the Ajax Radio Hour too.

    ‬“Maybe they like Gershwin as much as I do.”

    ‬The lovely strains of music floated out of their grimy tenement windows and ‬contributed a confident rhythm to his stride.

    ‬I'll build a Stairway to Paradise
    ‬With a new Step ev'ry day.
    ‬I'm going to get there at any price;
    ‬Stand aside, ‬I'm on my way!

    ‬I got the blue
    ‬And up above it's so fair;
    ‬Go on and carry me there!
    ‬I'll build a Stairway to Paradise
    With a new Step ev'ry day

    It was a straight shot from there to the morgue.

    “‬Funny thing about this stiff,”‬ remarked the undertaker to his assistant. “‬All he had on him when the cops shot him outside of the bank was thirty-five cents and this worthless bonus certificate."

    “He didn’‬t get away with the money?”

    “That’‬s just it, ‬he did. ‬The thirty-five cents. The cops found out from the teller. ‬And another thing. ‬He was singing Gershwin almost all the way here in the ambulance, ‬until he kicked ‬that is.”

    “All red-blooded Americans like Gershwin. Even crazy vets. ‬There’‬s nothing unusual about that.”

    ©Steven Hunley 2010 Julian Ovenden I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 09-27-2017 at 01:55 PM.

  2. #2
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    The Prairies, Canada
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    Gosh, I felt like I was reading something from O. Henry himself!
    You produce wonderful stories, Steven. Thank you for sharing your talents here.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  3. #3
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Jan 2016
    Beyond nowhere
    I don´t remember if I ever read O. Henry, but I loved this story. The American Dream falling to pieces, but being true to itself to the end. Should be anthologised.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  4. #4
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Danik 2016;1343248]I don´t remember if I ever read O. Henry, but I loved this story. The American Dream falling to pieces, but being true to itself to the end. Should be anthologised."

    I had an anthology of O. Henry's for some time. Here's a great site about him. ,

    Just now I'm half way through Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. His first book. But this particular story was a re-print, stirred once more in my imagination after Barbara and I saw American in Paris two weeks ago. And as much as I like the 51 movie version, or the The Aviator version, musically, I like this version best.

    It makes me want to perfect my French Man imitation. Fortunately or unfortunately, hearing me do this irritates Barbara to no end. She tells me what my mother used to tell me, bless her sainted soul, which was, "Knock it off!"

    With both of them it worked. Now I practice my French accent when no one is around.

    George and Ira's contributions to music! Love them like crazy.

    So I come up with a story that's a combination of Roaring Twenties and Gershwin. Gershwin is the flower of the story, the centerpiece. The rest is MGM gangster.

    "You're gonna get yours" 30's gangster's MGM. Bogart? Cagney?

    "You're gonna get yours, Alice." Ralph in the Honeymooners. 50's

    Reference to Scorsese? Of course, "he turned back to the Mean Streets."

    I really do have an obsession with the French. Maybe too much. Maybe I have too much Gaul in me. Like the Time I wrote French Sailor.

    The French Sailor
    Steven Hunley

    Jean Paul Belmondo was named after the actor. It happened because his mother knew the moment she was impregnated. She remembered right where and when. It was in the last-row of the little theater down the street when they were playing Breathless. With subtitles. That’s when they stopped reading and started making out. So Jean Paul. That was alright with him. After all, he wasn’t the only man with a French name living in Quebec. There were plenty of others, as the movie was quite popular.

    When he walked downstairs that typical Canadian morning to eat, there was nothing, only a huge mountain of spinach left over from the night before. He unwrapped a cube of butter, stacked it on the pinnacle of the spinach mountain, put it in the microwave, and gave the button a push. It was done in two minutes.
    Then he ate it. It wasn’t remarkable, him eating it all. That was just his way. What was remarkable was what happened next.

    His right arm started to itch, then his left. His right forearm started to swell, then his left, then both at one time, though his elbows stayed pointy.

    “Q’uest que ce?” he remarked, though I can’t be sure, it was in French.

    A dark shape started to form on his skin marking his forearm. It was T-shaped stick with a curve and something all pointy on the ends.

    Starting to dress, he slipped on the skinny jeans he normally wore. But somehow he thought,

    “Il n’est pas bon.”

    So he walked to his uncle’s room who was an ex-hippy who lived in Berkeley when he was an exchange student Francaise. In the back of the closet he found what he wanted, a pair of white bell-bottomed pants. Then he located a wide belt to match. He looked in the mirror.

    “C’est bon,” he said to himself, as nautically as possible.

    He went back to his room and found a striped long-sleeved shirt with no collar.

    “Oui,” he said to the mirror.

    Lastly he went to his brother’s room and stole his white sailor’s cap left over from French Halloween when he attended a masked ball as Marshmallow Françoise, or the Michelin man, I can't remember which.

    Before he walked out into the sunshine, he pulled up the sleeve of his right arm and exposed the now perfectly formed tattoo of an anchor, like an Ed Hardy piece of human art.

    He looked at himself in the mirror before exiting the door.

    “C’est magnifique!” he announced to himself in a remarkedly Gaulic fashion.

    He had an odd thought he’d drive to the docks. On the way he noticed that only skinny girls demanded his attention. The skinnier the better. He started wondering just where was it he could obtain a corn-cob pipe.

    “Ou est le pipe cob-corn?” he said, while scratching his noggin and squinting his eyes. I have to tell you he pronounced it 'peep' cob-corn.

    When he got to the docks and was looking for a likely ship, a man with a tie and bowler hat, a rather wimpy-looking man if you get my drift, started to approach. Somehow he knew that the man wanted to borrow money for a hamburger, and pay for it next Tuesday. He started to run willy-nilly to avoid him, and accidentally ran off the end of the pier.

    A giant brute of a man with arms like tree trunks who needed a shave caught him as he fell off the pier and saved his life.

    When the para-medics tried to revive him they asked him who he was.

    “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.” he muttered, and they took him away.

    A week later when he got out of the hospital, the doctors told him he’d had an allergic reaction.

    “And lay off the spinach,” was their professional advice, and the only one Canadian National Health would pay for.

    “Mais oui,”he replied, and ended the story right there.

    *** My Obsession Rolling Stones
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 09-28-2017 at 05:00 PM.

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