Bernie at the Pay Phone







I came out of the post office and there

was Bernie Stapleton talking on a pay phone.

Bernie had been hiding from me for seven years.

I had loaned him a thousand dollars for an emer-

gency and I never heard from him again. He wasn’t

sure if I had recognized him, so he turned his

back to me and hung his head down. Bernie didn’t

know what it was to earn a living. He just moved

from one scam to another, narrowly evading the

law. But I had always had a soft spot in my

heart for Bernie. I waited at a certain distance

for him to get off the phone. I knew he was

sweating blood. “Bernie,” I said, “where have

you been? I’ve missed you.” He was massively

uncomfortable. “I’ve been away. I’ve been running

an investment firm in the Bahamas. Yeah, I’ve

missed you too. How’ve you been?” “Well, to

tell you the truth, I’m kind of down on my luck,”

I said, which was a lie. “Maybe I could help

you out, Simon. If you could come up with, say,

a couple hundred bucks, I could turn it into

something substantial real fast,” he said.

Bernie never changed. Everything around us was

changing so fast I couldn’t keep up, and there was

Bernie at the pay phone making nickel and dime

deals the way he’s always done. “I think I

could come up with that much,” I said. “Then

meet me here tomorrow at three. A little favor

for an old friend, that’s the least I can do.”

Bernie was standing tall now. He really believed

he was an investment banker in the Bahamas,

and not some scuzzy little rat holed up in

Shutesbury without a pot to piss in. I admired that

to no end. “Thanks, Bernie, I’ll see you

tomorrow,” I said.


- James Tate (2001)JJames Tate (2001)