NO STOPLIGHTS IN WENONAH
“Something’s wrong with your chair.”
“It’s because you’re sitting in it.” The thought came to me long after she had left. She was a nurse who had come to the house as part of the Home Care Service related to Liddy’s spine surgery. If chairs had feelings this chair in the sun room of our Lakebridge carriage house must have cringed as this morbidly obese lady prepared to sit. Three hundred pounds would b a modest estimate. The chair was one of those constructed with a series of thin metal pipes, a large one extending down from a cushioned seat to a four-pipe system in the form of an X with rollers at the end of each pipe. When she sat, one of the pipes cracked and gave way, causing the chair to sag in that direction. She honestly thought the fault lay with the chair.
Gloucester County, South Jersey is like Costa Rica, there are people who know how to fix things. The Gloucester County Yellow Pages lists 26 businesses in the welding category. It was easy for me to choose because there was only one in Deptford where we live – Cotterman, Inc. The guy who answered the phone, Paul Thomas, gave immediate reason to think this was the right choice – his voice was sort of gravelly, like the movie actor Walter Brennan if you know what I mean – kind of welcoming. Could they fix my chair? Sure, bring it on over they’ll get right on it.
Paulie Thomas may be good at fixing things, and I was to learn he is a great story teller, but he is lousy at giving directions. Don’t listen to Liddy if she tells you Max is lousy at receiving directions. The first thing I learned was that the phone book had it wrong – they were located in Wenonah, not Deptford; the Deptford address was that of his bookkeeper and he had no idea how it got there. Paulie led me a merry chase trying to find his shop. I lost count of the number of wrong turns, dead ends, false road markers, blind alleys, etc. At each stop I called Paulie on the cell phone – “Where are you?” He would ask. “What do you see?” Note: I was only using the cell phone when stopped – there is a New Jersey law against using a cell phone while driving and I respect the law.
“I just passed two stop lights on Mantua Avenue.”
“There are no stop lights in Wenonah. Turn around.”
Am I coming or am I going? Nobody knows. Not true, Officer Hand of the Mantua Municipal Police Force knew. I was headed backwards into a ditch, and he was witness to the whole cockeyed episode. I had pulled onto a small lane bordering the Avenue, stopped, fired up the cell phone and dialed up Paulie Thomas. I did not notice the police car parked no more than 15 yards ahead of me.
“Hang on Paulie, I just backed into a ditch, I’ll call you back.”
The tow truck arrived within 15 minutes. “If your wagon is draggin’ call the dragon.” That’s what was displayed on the side of the tow truck. My wagon was draggin’. The dragon never had an easier job – they had me out of the ditch in just a few minutes and gave me a special rate of only $100 because I was a senior citizen and a veteran.
But a funny thing happened while the tow guys were setting up. Paulie Thomas and his helper, Pete, showed up. My confusion was complete. “How did you get here?” I asked. I don’t remember his explanation, but it had something to do with the cell phone. Whatever. Officer Hand handed me a ticket for using a cell phone while driving, everybody had a good laugh and Paulie Thomas, as well as Officer Hand, gave me directions to the welding shop assuring me “you can’t miss it.”
I missed it. The next thing I knew I was on a four lane divided highway in fast traffic going in the wrong direction. I pulled onto a narrow roadway running parallel to the highway, stopped the car and called Paulie Thomas. A Chiropractor’s office sat on rising ground to my right.
“Don’t move, I’ll send Pete,” said Paulie.
I had no trouble following Pete over a circuitous route through tree-shaded residential areas and finally to the welding shop that was tucked into a notch of forest somewhere in the wilds of Wenonah. A slogan on the side of a truck in their parking lot proclaimed, “we fix everything except broken hearts.”
Pete went to work on fixing the chair while Paulie began by showing me the railroad-track stitches on his back. It was because I told him I had to get home soon because Liddy was alone recovering from spine surgery. Here is the story: Paulie worked thirty some years as a tractor-trailer driver; three years ago he fell from the back of his truck and fractured six vertebrae. “You can’t imagine the pain.” He retired with a 40K pension and $200,000 compensation for his injury. “Money is not my problem, I still have pain.” Paulie deals with the pain by taking extra strength Tylenol; he could take Percocet but is afraid of becoming addicted to the narcotic. Liddy chose surgery for the same reason.
Paulie is 65 years-old and missed serving in Vietnam because as a high school senior he already had a wife and child to support. But his brother Bill, who founded the company, is 80-years old and served on a Landing Craft in Korea. Paulie took me to the office where I met Bill and exchanged a few sea stories about the Korean war. Bill told of being present at Eniwetok when they tested the first hydrogen bomb.
“No charge for the chair,” said Paulie, “just follow me and I’ll get you back to Deptford, no need for you to get lost again.”
“So how did it go?” Liddy asked when I finally got home around four thirty, in time to cook supper.
“Nothing to it,” I said, “the chair is like new. But in case you ever wondered, there are no stop lights in Wenonah.”