How did this happen? Part of the answer may lie in the purpose for which the film was made: it is a portrayal of love and loyalty and respect that is timeless.
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I have always been fascinated by the time period of the 1930s, and many of the stories you’ll find here are set in or close to that time. It was the last period in the history of the world when there were vast areas still relatively remote and unexplored. There were cities whose names whispered mystery, adventure and romance. Certain names fairly glowed with an enticing aura of the unknown: Istanbul, Cairo, Baghdad, Lhasa, Shanghai, Calcutta, Rio. And more.
What changed that world, of course, was World War II, and I’ve always thought it was a great loss. Fortunately, there are still stories to be told about that time, many of which could have happened in our own backyard, a place that could also be full of mystery, adventure, and romance. You can still find a few small, tattered remnants of that world in the political wilds of, say, Washington DC, or London, or Paris, or Moscow, but when any kind of light is shone on their dark corners, what you’ll see today is usually more tawdry than romantic.
A horrible crime might never have been uncovered if not for a retired schoolteacher's empathy with a young girl in distress.
Listen to the author read his story as published in July-
Catch Me In Lisbon
Ben Maxx and Lina Sommers have made long strides toward realizing their dreams.
Ben enjoys the unusual accolades and good boxoffice he has achieved on the first of his travel films. But success is tempered by the absence of Amelia, the young woman he fell in love with while making them. But she has disappeared. They were separated as they strolled one evening on the sands of Copacabana by a man who wanted to kill him, and would have settled for both. After a final confrontation, the man was dead, but she had vanished. A detective he has hired at long distance reports she is presumed safe, but half a world away. While he earnestly awaits further details, he must push on with plans to shoot his next short films in Lisbon.
Lina’s early success in German cinema has brought her to Hollywood to be cast in a big budget picture for a major studio. It is the dream of her lifetime, and her studio is predicting it will launch her as a major worldwide star. Preparations for her next picture are quickly underway.
Both understand their early success is precarious, and only the beginning of a long road. As Ben is introduced to Lina, they soon become friends, and quickly compare their dreams for the future. A definite attraction develops between the two, but Ben clearly remembers Amelia, and he must quickly set boundaries in his friendship with Lina.
But an ominous detour appears that neither expected! Lina’s career is quickly derailed by her brother, whose star is starting to rise under the new management in her homeland. He insists she give up her Hollywood aspirations and return to Germany to use her talents to help her native country to rise to power on the world stage. She refuses, and he sends agents to convince her to return. When she rejects them, he sends another whose methods include kidnapping.
In the blink of an eye, Ben is drawn into her struggle. He quickly comes to realize that helping her to avoid her brother could very quickly derail his own future and his own dreams. The showdown is played out in the venerable streets of Lisbon as Ben is confronted by the knowledge he may have to take a life in defense of Lina . . . and himself.
A novel. $5.99—Get it for the Kindle
As a means of thanking the many wonderful folks who have been helpful to us in words and deeds during the recent pandemic, I offer this short-
There is a small story behind “Corned Beef on Rye.” The idea came to me years ago when I was producing a picture, part of which was set in New York City. The location for several days was near Columbus Circle, and on one of those days I took my lunch across the street to Central Park where I could relax and observe a slice of life in the big city. I wrote the bones of this little scene that evening but it wasn’t based on any particular person I had seen. I merely observed the crowds and made it up, keeping in mind some personal beliefs of my own. Later, I fleshed it out, intending it to be a scene in a much longer story which, for some reason, I eventually put aside and never finished. A few recent edits and additions to the scene have finally made it stand alone as you read it here.
I’ll leave the story here for a few weeks, or as long as it may be useful. It’s about a 5 minute read.
I don’t know exactly when the old fellow sat down on the other end of the long park bench.
He must have approached very quietly. I became aware of him slowly, out of the corner of my eye. I glanced toward him as he was taking a sandwich out of a sack.
I was about halfway through my own sandwich. I had picked up a corn beef on rye and a can of soda, and walked to the park. It was the first week in October and it was a perfect fall day in New York. The kind of day you want to hold onto and take advantage of because winter was coming and you know there aren’t going to be very many more of them. Days like today, when I could scurry off to the park with a sandwich, didn’t come along very often.
I worked at a fairly large advertising agency on 7th Avenue and West 57th street. It wasn’t one of the biggies on Madison Avenue, but was big enough to have thirty-
My glance toward the old fellow was rewarded with a gesture toward my sandwich.
“You bought that at the Carnegie Deli didn’t you?”
“I did. How can you tell?”
“It’s their corn beef on rye. No one else makes a sandwich like that . . . and puts in a couple inches of corned beef sliced thin like you’ve got there.”
At first, I was skeptical of the fellow. One never knows who might show up in the Park.
“You can tell where it came from by how many inches of corn beef?”
“Actually, it’s the bread. I could tell you who baked it. I could probably tell you who baked any loaf anywhere in this part of the city. That is, I could tell you if you were interested.”
I was not interested in the least, but what I said was, “Are you some kind of bread detective?”
He smiled at this. No, it was more than that. He looked as if he might break into a full-
“I’m a baker by trade . . . was a baker by trade. I’m retired now. But I was 50 years in the business . . . thirty-
“I can see you might know something about the competition then.”
“You get to know who’s baking good stuff.”
He paused to take a small bite of his sandwich. I could see it was not made with white bread from the supermarket.
“A good baker . . . you can tell his hand. How he rolls the dough, the little twist he gives to it as he places it in the pan. It all shows through, even after the baking.”
“Even the loaves the big bread companies put in the supermarkets?”
He glanced at me with a touch of amusement.
“All done by machine! No love and respect for the dough by the man who makes it. But make no mistake . . . the machine, it leaves its mark.”
He paused for another bite of his sandwich.
“Every morning I start at three o’clock. I make the bread dough, the doughnuts, the croissants, the hard roles. My wife, she would come in at six to open the shop. Wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have no business. She makes everyone welcome. Knows everyone in the neighborhood . . . has a cheery word for everyone. They come in . . . buy their fresh bread . . . or whatever else . . . and no one leaves the shop with a grudge against the world.”
“She could make big bucks as a therapist.”
The old fellow didn’t respond. He merely stared at the ground in front of him. Finally, he nodded and looked at me.
“She was the same for me . . . that is just the way she was.”
A brief moment went by.
“I miss her very much.”
Another beat, while I figured out what he meant.
“I’m very sorry . . .”
“I kept the shop for a while . . . hired a young man to run the counter . . . but I would imagine her coming to the back . . . watching me work. Sometimes, I would walk into the front and I could almost see her standing at the counter with a good morning for old Mrs. Ferguson who always comes in to buy just two doughnuts. But my new counterman . . . he has no time for her. He wants to get rid of her so he can wait on young women like . . . I don’t know her name, but I think she’s a model in the magazines.”
The old fellow caught my eye.
“So you see . . . that’s the kind of help you get these days.”
“That’s getting to be a common problem.”
He nodded, then took a deep breath.
“Sometimes I think she’s still here, just beyond what I can see . . . maybe in the corner of my eye. Like if I look quickly she will be there . . . other times I sit in my little kitchen, I bake some rolls, I can almost hear her say, “Smells good, luvvy.” And then she would be reminding me to take a few downstairs to old Mr. Fitzgerald who lives nowadays in a wheelchair and gets only what his daughter brings him from the store when she comes once a week.”
“So, you think it’s really her . . . you can almost see?”
The old fellow smiled and caught my eye.
“No, I don’t think it is. I just . . . I just wish it were.”
The old man didn’t say anything more and I didn’t know what to say either. After a moment, he got up, put his sandwich bags in the nearby trash can and walked away without saying goodbye.
It was only after he had gone that it occurred to me that he had not spoken his name. Nor had I told him mine. I suppose there was no reason that we should have introduced ourselves. We were not acquaintances and I suppose there was no reason to suppose that we would ever become so. Still, he had shared a moment and offered me a glimpse into his soul. Why he should have done this to me, a complete stranger, I have no idea.
A couple of times, I picked up a corn beef on rye from the Carnegie Deli and one extra and returned to that same park bench. I was never able to articulate the reasons for doing this, but I think it had to do with wanting to thank this kind and gentle man who was still deeply in love with his wife after so many years of marriage. Perhaps it was to thank him for a very private glimpse into his life or perhaps it was to ask him what there was about the relationship that made it grow and last. But I never saw him again and my questions were never asked.
And, of course, I received no answers .
About that time, I began to notice the obituaries. I had never done this before. In fact, it was only by hearing from a friend that I ever heard of the passing of someone in my acquaintance. Nevertheless, I did swiftly glance at the obituaries each day, especially those accompanied by a picture.
It was about three weeks later that I saw it. The name, of course, meant nothing to me. But the picture was of the man in Central Park who had spoken me that day on the park bench. From its words I could sense he was survived by a loving family, none of whom were bakers.
I wondered if, in his very last moments, he might have had the impression that his wife was very close and could be seen in the corner of his eye . . . if he looked quickly enough.
Or if she was really there when he looked.
* * *
© 2020 Douglas Grant Johnson
© 2020 Douglas Grant Johnson