Many people enjoy Lakeview Park, and each one has a unique story. Between the pages, you’ll meet:
·Clarence, who thinks he might have found a winning lottery ticket
·Kuniko, a grandmother and widow who discovers that friendship can bloom anywhere
·Wayne, a former guitarist who rediscovers the joy of music
·Jenny, a mother whose husband is serving in Afghanistan
·Carol, whose journalistic assignment teaches her more than she expects
·Shirley, who discovers that some dreams are worth keeping
·Alex, for whom friendship bridges age differences and soothes a broken heart
·Gloria, who discovers her blessings and makes peace with her past
·Alice, who loves to tell jokes, even though her memory is fading
·Carl, who discovers that reality may hold more promise than long-held fantasy
·Carolina, a ghost searching for her lost child
·Tiffany, a teenager with hopes and dreams
·George, whose life is ebbing, but not his love
·Sheila, a young woman estranged from her family
·Carlos, the groundskeeper who has devoted his career to the park
Lakeview Park is a collection of O. Henry-like slice-of-life stories about the people who frequent a fictitious park. These tales
Clarence pulled his grimy blue sweatshirt closer about him, hoisted the black plastic bag to his shoulder and started across the grass toward the next trashcan, following the walking path along the lakefront. His mood matched the day, gray and overcast. A cold February wind ruffled the waters. Even the ducks were huddled in the protection of the trees far from the water. Only a lone egret waded at the south end, scanning the shallows for fish.
“Just you and me, Tall Skinny Kid,” Clarence mused, for that’s what he’d come to call the white bird with the long neck. You and me going about our noontime rituals: you walking the shallows with your tail dragging in the pond; me collecting cans and bottles to turn-in for food money. How long has it been? Seems like an eternity.
Clarence paused, set the bag down and watched the lone unmoving figure stare into the wind-rippled water. Has it really been that long? He thought back, trying to focus. I got canned last May and now it’s almost March; that’s ten months. He shook his head. Hardly seems possible.
“Doesn’t look like a good day for either of us, Skinny Kid. Too much wind for you to spy dinner and too cold for most regular folks to be here.”
“Well, tomorrow’s Wednesday. Should be better. The RC sailboat club meets down on the peninsula. Any time there’s wind, they show up. Those old guys sit in their folding chairs along the edge, fingering joysticks while their sailboats jockey for position around the flags. They always leave empties, though. Yep, tomorrow should be better.”
He again hoisted the half-empty sack and trudged toward the next container. Reached in to retrieve two Diet Pepsi cans.
“Slim pickins,” he said to no one, since no one was around. Clarence had developed this habit of talking to himself. Better than the constant silence.
“Can’t hardly wait for spring. Warm weather and people picnicking. Ah… and those company parties around the fire pits. Them folks always provide. Sometimes they even leave leftover hot dogs and potato salad. Then I can use my recycle money for gas for Big White Truck. Yeah, can’t hardly wait.”
Clarence’s monologue was interrupted by a commotion from the far side of the upper lake. The geese were making a racket.
“Either the ‘feathered mafia’ have spotted Jorge or there’s a dog loose in the park.” Clarence called the five large geese that ruled the upper lake near the island bridge, the ‘feathered mafia.’ Then Clarence saw Jorge.
Jorge Garcia came around noon every day. Rain, cold, heat, didn’t matter. He always wore short pants, a dirty red sweatshirt and carried three shopping bags: one filled with heads of lettuce, one with day-old bread, and the third with birdseed.
You’d have thought the Pied Piper of Hamlin had arrived the way the entire flock would surround him, hundreds of ducks, geese, some visiting mallards, and a multitude of black-feathered, white-beaked mud hens. Through this fowl mass, the ‘feathered mafia’ would stroll unchallenged to be first served. The rest would then fight over the remainder. Seagulls circled above. They didn’t seem to be hungry, but let a mud hen try to escape with a large piece of bread and they would descend to separate the poor bird from his dinner. Successful, they often tossed the stolen morsel away. The chase being better than the prize.
By the time Clarence reached the upper lake, the show was about over. Jorge had cast the last of the seed into the air and was headed back to the parking lot. The flock dispersed in all directions.
Crossing the bridge, Clarence encountered several power walkers doing laps on the one-kilometer-long asphalt path that circled the lake. They paid no attention to him, and he didn’t make eye contact. A girl, she looked about high school age, jogged by in a gray-hooded tee, matching tights, and short, white skirt. White ear buds connected to the iPod at her waist. Clarence’s eyes followed her up the path for a short distance, and then he turned slowly back to the task at hand.
How long had it been? The divorce was five years ago. Before that he had been happily married, well more like comfortably married, with a reasonably steady job and a future. The drink had messed that up. First Margaret, then finally the job disappeared. Now he lived in his truck and collected recycle for the deposit money. But he was sober, hadn’t had a drink in six months.
“Hey, Yosemite Sam, what you doing?”
Clarence looked up from the waste receptacle to see four kids from the local mid-high school.
“Punks.” He whispered to himself. This group often harassed him. Last fall the local youth gang had nicknamed him ‘Yosemite Sam,’ probably because of the matted shoulder-length hair and gray beard reaching to his chest.
“Why ain’t you in school?” he called back.
“Don’t you know, old man, it’s Presidents’ Day. No school,” said the ringleader, a heavyset kid with baggy pants hung so low that the elastic band of his shorts was perpetually exposed above his belt.
Fortunately there’s only four of them today. Not enough to harass me, Clarence thought. It took ten punks last summer. The group had surrounded him, grabbed his recycle bag and after tiring of ‘keep away,’ tossed it into the lake. Wouldn’t happen today, though; these kids were only brave in larger numbers.
“Was a time when I could have taken all you punks,” he murmured to himself. In high school he’d been on the football team, his five-foot ten-inch frame all buff and muscular. But life on the street had taken its toll on him. Now thinner, he’d had to punch three more holes in his belt over this past year.
Clarence ignored the catcalls and insults and continued his rounds. As he reached the south end, he again encountered the egret. It hadn’t moved.
“Have patience, dear friend,” he whispered toward the still bird. “It’s getting close to month end. The Fish and Game people should do their monthly restocking any day now.”
It was always lively for several days following a restocking. Fishermen would line the banks. Still, there’d be plenty of fish for the egret and plenty of recycle from the fishermen. Then, somehow word would get to the cormorants, who would magically appear in groups of fifty or more. They would sweep the lake in military precision, heads popping up to look skyward then disappearing beneath the surface again. Within several days of their appearance, the fish, fishermen, and cormorants would all be gone, leaving the lonely shore to Tall Skinny Kid, and himself.
As Clarence watched, the egret’s head slowly moved back, coiling the long neck. Then, STRIKE. With blurring speed the head descended and up came the beak, holding a small fish. A quick toss and the morsel disappeared into the mouth and down the throat.
“Good work, Tall Skinny Kid,” Clarence called. The egret seemed to take a small bow before resuming his frozen posture above the shallow water. “Your luck’s changing; maybe mine will, too.”
Brightened by his friend’s good fortune, Clarence headed for the last trash container, the one just before the parking lot and public restrooms. It was usually one of the better locations. Today was no exception. He found several large glass bottles, the high value ones, in addition to two six-packs of empty cans.
“Someone had a nice party, and me an’ Big White Truck thank you,” Clarence said to the empty air. This haul, along with the earlier run would insure a meal and maybe a little left over for gas.
“Maybe my luck’s changing too.”
Big White Truck waited in the lot near the men’s room. It was the last major item Clarence could call his own. He had bought the 1989 Ford Ranger 4x4 years ago at a time when he was flush with money. The previous owner had modified it by raising the body higher to accommodate oversize tires. This made it somewhat top heavy, but Clarence loved it. From high up in the cab he could look down on other drivers. A metal step bar had been added below each door to make it easier to climb in. Even so, Margaret had refused to ever ride in it.
“It’s too tall and too ugly,” she’d complained. She continuously nagged him to get rid of the monstrosity. It was about the only thing his wife hadn’t gotten from the divorce.
Now it was both transportation and his home. Big White Truck couldn’t stay at the park overnight; the local police patrolled after dark. But a deserted cul-de-sac about a mile away had become a quiet and seemingly-safe haven. He would pull in late at night and leave at dawn. He believed no one had noticed the frequent overnight visitor.
He tossed the now-full bag into the truck bed and stood on tiptoe to unlock the driver side door. As he opened the door, he noticed an envelope plastered against the front tire by the wind. He stopped, reached down, and retrieved it. There was no address or stamp. It was sealed but blank.
Curious, he pulled his pocket knife, slipped it under the flap and split the fold. Inside was a Mega Millions lottery ticket. On the third choice down, the numbers were circled in red pen.
Clarence stared at the ticket, his mind not quite comprehending.
“Now why would someone seal a lottery ticket in an envelope? For safe keeping?” he murmured aloud. “No one does that. Unless… maybe they think… or know it’s a winner. And the circled numbers? Could they be?”
Clarence looked around nervously, as if expecting someone to run up and instantly claim the envelope and its contents, but there was no one nearby. He quickly climbed into the cab, locked the door, and glanced furtively out every window.
The two power walkers were on the far side of the lake on their second lap. A young family, father pushing a stroller and mother pulling on the arm of an unruly preschooler, were crossing the island bridge. An old man, plastic bag in hand, was picking up after an equally old-looking dog. The park maintenance ground crew was lunching at a table beyond the restrooms. Other than that, no humans were visible. No one had seen him.
Still, Clarence hesitated, unsure what to do.
In the silence of the truck, his brain began to warm to an idea.
This might be a very lucky day.
“Okay, Big White Truck, we better check this out,” Clarence said as he put the key in the ignition. The truck groaned, sputtered, and died. “Come on, don’t quit on me now. I put a buck’s worth in you just last week.” Again he tried, with the same result. Finally a third try to no avail, except the starter motor grind was beginning to slow.
“Hey Clarence,” a voice and loud banging on the passenger side door nearly gave him a heart attack. The older maintenance guy, Carlos, was standing outside. Clarence quickly slipped the ticket into the envelope and stashed it under the driver’s seat, and then he leaned over and rolled down the window.
“Having trouble getting her started?” Carlos inquired.
He didn’t see the envelope. Clarence breathed easier.
“Yeah, think I’m out of gas. She’d sputtered as I pulled into the lot earlier,” Clarence said. “Don’t relish the trek to the station for a buck’s worth, though.”
“I got a little left in the mower can. I’ll loan you enough to get to the station,” Carlos volunteered. Most of the maintenance crew ignored Clarence, but Carlos had always been friendly.
If this Lotto’s a winner, Clarence thought, I just might share some with the people like Carlos who’ve been good to me. Better be careful though; wouldn’t want word to get back to Margaret. She’d be after a cut. You can bet on it!
“Thanks man, I owe you one,” Clarence said as Carlos dumped some fuel from a red two-gallon can into the truck’s tank before twisting the gas cap back on.
This time, Big White Truck growled, coughed and then sputtered to life. Clarence waved a thank you to the man as he eased her out of the stall and onto the road, remembering to pull the emergency brake to slow down as the brakes took several pumps of the pedal before they would stop the vehicle.
“If this ticket’s a winner, I’ll get you fixed up,” Clarence promised as he patted Big White Truck’s dash. “New bakes, shocks, paint job… the works.”
He exited the park, made a left at the intersection, thankful that the light was green, and headed into town.
Clarence had never played the Lotto before and didn’t know quite what to do or where to go. For a minute he was confused; then he had an idea.
“Seven-Eleven’s got a Lotto machine. Bet they can tell me how much I won. Come on Big White Truck, let’s head that way.”
As he turned down Main toward the store, he was already thinking of ways to spend his winnings, his earlier thoughts of sharing with others forgotten in the euphoria of anticipated wealth.
“First, I’ll get some clean clothes and a place to stay. Then a good meal at a fancy, first-class restaurant, one of those places with a maitre d’ and everything. Maybe even do some traveling, see the country. Heck, see the world. I’ll show ’em. I found it and she ain’t getting any of it. No way!” He pounded his fist on the steering wheel.
“She don’t deserve none of it. None of ’em do. I found it and I’m gonna keep it all.”
The sound of a very close air horn shocked Clarence back to reality. He was traveling too fast into the intersection and the light was red. He slammed his foot on the brake. It went to the floor. No slowing. Frantically, he pumped the pedal. Still nothing. The screech of tires caused him to look to the right. Smoke poured from the rear wheels of the sanitation truck that had honked as the driver tried to stop.
Desperately, Clarence jerked the wheel to the left in an effort to avoid and outrun the sanitation truck. The front left wheel of Big White Truck caught the center divider and the vehicle tilted wildly. For an instant, Clarence thought he could save it as he counter-steered to the right but the top-heavy truck had leaned too far and slid onto its side then to its top. The sanitation truck struck and sent Big White Truck careening several hundred feet down the road leaving a trail of bottles, cans, and torn black trash bags.
Officer Philips, first to arrive, took in the scene. Debris littered the street, a dented sanitation truck blocked two lanes, and what had once been a white truck rested on its roof, the cab crushed down to the door handles.
The officer walked around the truck. “Poor bastard,” he muttered as it dawned on him that the truck’s driver probably didn’t survive. He also realized there was little he could do.
Paramedics confirmed the driver probably died instantly. It took several hours to get the vehicles removed and the street cleared.
“It’s gonna be another shitty day,” Officer Philips murmured. “First the fight with the wife this morning, over money again, and now stuck standing out here in the cold while they get this mess cleared up.”
As he walked back to the squad car, he noticed they’d missed some trash when sweeping up after the accident, an envelope. He leaned over and picked it up.
“Got to keep the city clean,” he remarked as he tossed it into the city-provided recycle bin on the curb.
Have you ever walked through the park or just set on a bench and watched other people? Do you ever wonder what their life is like, whether they are poor or rich, have a loving family or an estranged family?
Lakeview Park is a collection of fictional stories based on a few actual events or places. It's the stories of 15 different people who all use the park in one form or another. Some just to talk a walk, some to feed the ducks and others to reminisce. There are others who like to race their sailboats in the lake or just pick up cans for money to live on. And then we have Carlos the grounds keeper who has met them all, knows their names , their problems, walks with them and talks with them. Some stories will make you smile, so will make you feel a little tug at your heart or cause a little tear to form. Did I have a favorite among the stories and the people? Yes, all of them. It would be hard to pick out just one ot two but I would have to say the story of Alice and George or Carlos.
I have read every book that has been written by Larry Collins and his wife Lorna. If you have not read any before than your are in for a real treat. Their stories are cleaning written and always have a meaning in them that one can take to heart. After seeing the trailer I know you will want to read the book. Recommended for everyone.
You'll Laugh and You'll Cry
These short slice-of-life stories will make you laugh and cry. Each features a different person who frequents Lakeview Park. Every story is unique, yet familiar. Alex and George made me cry. Alice made me laugh. Others made me think. All are well-written treats you'll savor.