13 July 2015

This Starts Off Being About Office Supplies But Then I Write a Story About a Man Named Pinochle

In my line of work sometimes I have an excess of paper clips and sometimes I don’t have enough. It’s just the way it goes and I’m pretty used to it. You learn to develop a pretty thick skin about such things, if you want to succeed you do.

I use both small and larger paper clips. Sometimes I use the bigger ones when a small one would suffice, no real harm in that. On the other hand you can’t use a small paper clip when a bigger one is required. You figure these things out by trail and error.

There have been times that I’ve needed a bigger paper clip and only had small ones. That’s pretty rough. What you can't do is let it get you down. No matter what, you’ve got to forge ahead. It’s that can do attitude and never giving up that makes you successful.

Of course my job is not all paper clip shortages or paper clip surpluses. I often use a a stapler,  for instance. You’d be surprised how often you go to use a stapler and it’s out of staples. This requires finding some staples and loading them into the empty stapler. Now you’re spending more time on a job than you expected. This can lead to frustration or in extreme cases create an emergency. It’s best to plan ahead before stapling although that’s not always possible. The key is to remain cool under pressure.

As much as I have to deal with paper clips and staplers, there are other things that occupy my brain. When I’m sitting on the bus I’ll sometimes wonder if a deranged person will get on and stab in the side of the head with an ice pick. I’d have no recourse in such a situation and would in all likelihood pass away. I’d hate that. Not the dying part so much because I know that is the at the end of every life, but going so suddenly and violently and in public. My solution is to keep an eye out for crazy people with ice picks. Haven’t spotted one yet.

There was something else I was going to write about at this point but the fact of the matter is I’ve forgotten what. I hate the frequency with which that has happened throughout my life. I’m always coming up with clever or interesting things to write about and then forgetting them. Often forever. If I write them down when I think of it then it doesn’t matter if I forget, but it’s not always possible to write them down or its such a great idea you figure there’s no way you’ll forget it.

I was thinking of writing a list of some of the great ideas I’ve forgotten but since I’ve forgotten them that’s impossible. Oh well, it was a thought.

I did find one idea that I wrote down. Here’s what it was: “a story with a main character named Mr. Pinochle.” That’s all I had. I’ve started stories with less. Here, I'll give it a shot.

Lambert J. Pinochle was too rich and respected for anyone in the little town of Allbright  to make fun of his name. Oh sure it had happened when he was a younger man and a lot when he was a boy but by the time he made his fortune early into his 30th year of life, the ribbing stopped.

Mr. Pinochle was the far and away the richest man in Allbright. It was said that he could buy the whole town four or five times and still be a very rich man. His fortune started when he received a small inheritance from a grandfather. It was just enough money that, coupled with a loan from his best friend at the time Mac McCoy, he could buy the market where he was an employee. The owner, Rutherford Stallworth, was getting ready to retire and move to sunny California where his daughter and son-in-law had settled. Stallworth sold the market for much less than it was worth because he was anxious to get out of Allbright and anyway he quite liked the young Mr. Pinochle who was 21 at the time.

It wasn’t long before the ambitious Lambert Pinochle was turning a nice profit on the store. He was just naturally business savvy and was attuned to the latest business practices. Lambert soon had enough to invest in the stock market and also to buy some land that to most folks looked useless. But Lambert J. Pinochle was no fool. He had correctly reckoned that the land was soon to become quite important for the burgeoning automobile traffic that was about to start passing right by Allbright on a regular basis. A smaller version of his market and a filling station in the right spot would, and in fact did, make a lot of money.

Lambert J Pinochle
Then the young entrepreneur got lucky. Lambert bought some land just a few miles out of town with the intent of building a getaway for himself and his new wife Ethel. Soon after starting construction on the site, he found gold. Oh it wasn’t a lot, when it was all taken it out it amounted to about $5,000 worth. But our Mr. Pinochle decided to take this little windfall and put it one basket. Again he saw the future was in more and more cars and all those cars were going to require gasoline so he plunked his money into a new Oil Company and tripled his investment in one year. Then quadrupled that the next year. Lambert took a substantial chunk of everything he made from his oil company and bought land. Lots of land.

So by the time Lambert was 30 he was, as the locals would say, rolling in it. He likely had ten times as much money as any other resident of Allbright and was surely the richest man in Montana. Everyone expected that Lambert J. Pinochle would pull up stakes and move to New York or Chicago or California. But he stayed right there in Allbright. “It’s home,” he told people. Him and Ethel took regular cruises to Europe and would visit different countries there, but they always came back.

Allbright never grew too much. When Lambert was born the population was about 2,500 and when he turned 50 it was just past 3,500. I say when he turned 50 because that’s when I met him and that’s when this story begins.

I’m Charles Cherry and when I met Mr. Pinochle I was reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and had recently married Ann Peterson a native of Allbright who came to college in Berkeley, right across the bay from SF. We met at the party of a mutual friend, fell in love and within a year were married in a civil ceremony. It was the early Summer of 1940 and Ann had taken me back to Allbright to meet her folks and three younger siblings. I decided to mix a little business with pleasure and visit Lambert J. Pinochle who I’d heard tell of before I even met Ann. I thought I could get an interview with him and maybe work up a story for the Examiner. Maybe one of those feature pieces that we print in the Sunday magazine section. Anyway it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Mr. Pinochle had a mansion not far from the town center. Despite all his other business interests he still liked to keep an eye on the market where it had all started. Usually at the time of year we were there the Pinochles were off for one of their cruises but the war in Europe was in full swing so they were going to make a trip later in the year down to South America. I’d been warned that LJ (as he was sometimes called) was not too fond of the press and rarely gave interviews and then usually only to the local rag. But I’d all ready learned that in the newspaper business it never hurts to try so I paid him call at a time when he was known to regularly be at the market.

I found him behind the counter chewing the fat with a clerk. He gave me warm greeting and hearty handshake. He’d known Ann’s family his whole life and thought highly of them. Ann’s dad had the local drug store. It was no surprise that LJ refused to grant an interview, but what was a surprise was that he invited me over to his place for lunch and, as he put it, “a nice long chat about this and that.”

The Pinochle Mansion, as it was called, was a huge structure right smack dab in the middle of an ordinary residential block. To either side of it were nice quaint little houses just as there were on the rest of the block and in the entire neighborhood for that matter. Pinochle had had to buy up the adjoining two houses in order to build his mansion.

There was a butler and a few maids and a chef. There were also LJ’s dogs — he had four Irish Setters — and there was his wife Ethel and their two adopted children, both in their early teens (they’d never had any of their own). LJ gave me a tour of the place which included a large library with more books in it than a man could read in three lifetimes. There was also an office with a secretary, a teletype machine and three telephones. He also had a game room downstairs, and indoor pool and a deck on the roof with a view that seemed to go on forever.

Once we sat down to eat LJ confessed that one reason he wanted me to have lunch with him was so that he could pick my brain about San Francisco and my thoughts on the war in Europe and whether the U.S. would get involved and whether we’d also be fighting in Asia. I was able to sate his curiosity about San Fran and its environs but could add little to what he already knew about the war and any potential U.S. participation. I did express more certainty than most people did at the time that we’d get mixed up in it.

“I think you’re right and that its a damn shame. So many young men will die. Just like in the Great War. I missed that one myself. Army didn’t want me an account of a bum left leg. Fell off a tree when I was a child and broke it. Never healed quite right. Hasn’t really kept me from anything except running and joining the service.”

After a sumptuous lunch that included four courses we repaired to LJ’s living room for cigars and brandy. Ethel sat with us knitting and sipping tea. Somehow I found it odd to see a wealthy woman knitting but everyone to their own. She was a demure woman. I'd heard she kept her own counsel and was in many ways the opposite of the blustery LJ Pinochle. She just seemed like a sweet old gal to me.

After an hour of chatting about newspaper, business and sports, Mr. Pinochle excused himself. “Business to attend to, always business.” He said standing. “You and your lovely bride will have to come for dinner some evening. It was a great pleasure speaking with you young man. I’m sure you’re going to make Ann a fine husband.” We shook hands and he called a butler over to show me out. I stepped into the mid afternoon sun realizing that it had been my first time in a rich man’s house. I felt like I’d been on something of an adventure.

Ann and I left Allbright before any dinner invitations to the Pinochle mansion were received. We took the train to Chicago to see what the Windy City was like and after a weekend there returned to San Francisco.

A year and half later the United States was in the war and that included me. I enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor. I saw action in Italy but was discharged with purple heart before the war ended. I’d taken some shrapnel in my left knee that pains me still on particularly cold Winter nights.

It was in January of 1946 and I was at the Examiner office getting ready to go out on a story when I happened upon a wire service story about Lambert J. Pinochle. It seemed that Ethel had caught her husband in flagrante delicto with one of the maids. There must have been a pistol handy or she came in with one because they were shot with their pants still down, literally and figuratively. Ethel Pinochle had then turned the gun on herself and shot a bullet through her temple. She seemed about the least likely person in the world to perpetuate a murder-suicide. You can never tell. Ann's folks had said that it was an open secret that LJ fooled around and it was believed that Ethel was the only one who didn't know. Maybe she had known and had enough or maybe the shock of discovery pushed over the edge. We'll never know.

There was understandably great shock in Allbright and in Montana as a whole and in the financial circles in which LJ had dabbled. I subsequently read that his adopted children had been taken in by LJ’s spinster sister Maureen -- LJ's only surviving relative -- and they took her last name so as not to be connected with the Pinochle family scandal.

I haven’t run across nor heard of anyone with that last name since and that’s going on 25 years ago. I’m still with Examiner. Ann and I are the proud parents of three daughters. I recently returned from Vietnam where the US has gotten itself into a nasty mess that three presidents haven't been able to extricate the country from. But you’re not interested in that or me, after all this has been a story about a fella whose last name was Pinochole, just like the game.

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