The following excerpt is from My Old Couch Brought Me Love by Robert
My christened name is Clyde but after the age of ten no one,
not even my parents, called me Clyde. I was given permission
to call myself something that I liked. I had an uncle Bill,
so I chose Bill as a first name. For legal purposes, I had
to have Clyde on official papers but I was allowed to have
Bill in brackets after Clyde. People, especially kids, liked
to tease me with CLYDE, knowing that I hated that name.
My parents couldn't even give me a valid reason why they
named me Clyde. Mother did mention that Clyde Beatty, was
a very famous trainer of circus animals. Great! One more
stupid thing I had to live up to! Believe me, it was easier
to change my name to Bill.
All of that was a long time ago, a very long time ago.
This story is about my post retirement adventures in the
city where I live. I retired the same day I turned sixty-five.
I ended my career at five fifteen on November the fourth.
It wasn't the best time of the year to retire, what with
winter coming on, but I turned sixty-five. I had been with
Rotterman and Son for the last fifteen years of my working
life. They ran an old fashioned hardware store downtown.
My last five years were spent trying to manage a dying store.
Old man Rotterman started the store just after he got out
of the army at the end of World War II. He had a good
location right downtown and, while he was alive, it did
very well. He owned the building and the place next to it:
That's the big apartment building to the left as you face
the Rotterman and Son Hardware. Things were going well
until he brought in Harold, his son. I never said that
Harold was no good but many others did. The old man died
about six years ago and that's when things started to take
a turn for the worst. Harold didn't know how to run
anything except his own social life. If he came into the
store, it was usually in the afternoon. I was made manager
largely by default. After that, Harold only came to visit
once in a while to sign checks. Usually it was to take
cash out of the till. The big hardware chains and large
box stores popped up like measles in the suburbs but the
renovation craze hadn't hit the downtown core. I didn't
get a watch, a retirement party or even severance pay when
I turned sixty-five. Harold came downtown to pick up the key.
Maybe he came because I threatened to lock the door of the
place and drop the key down a sewer if he didn't show?
Who knows? I gave him the key, told him I was retiring,
mentioned again that I wasn't going to be there the next
day and that he was in charge. I had been putting money
aside--no, I didn't steal it--and I had a sizeable sum from
insurance money. I had invested wisely and was comfortable
financially. The insurance money was given to me after the
death of my wife. She died of cancer two years ago.
We didn't have any kids. After Sally passed, I didn't have
much to live for and Rotterman and Son wasn't really a salvation.
I guess I stayed there out of some misplaced sense of loyalty.
I went through my days just passing the time away until I
retired. I left that store and went home. Home at that time
was a third floor walk-up apartment with three rooms, if you
count the bathroom. I gave old lady Kravits, the landlady,
my notice that same day. Then I had to think about moving
out and moving on.
I think that most people talk to themselves. They just don't
talk to themselves out loud like I do. I have full
conversations with myself and that retirement day I had one
of my loudest discussions I had ever had. I got home, kicked
off my shoes and stood in the middle of my crappy kingdom.
"Well, Billy, you did it! You're out of a job. You now
have nothing to do with yourself except watch TV, read or
walk around in smaller circles until you disappear.
Way to go, dummy!"
"I can move out. I'll give my furniture away to the
Salvation Army and travel the back roads.
"Like that's going to work! Even Johnny Appleseed would get
arrested for littering these days. Those days of doing good
deeds are over. I could get locked up and be lucky to get
bread and water."
I really didn't have a comeback for that. I had two weeks to
get out and find something to do with the rest of my life.
The next day I awoke at six as usual. I got dressed for
work, then it hit me; I wasn't going to work at that place
again. I felt distressed and saddened that I wasn't part
of that routine anymore. Like I told myself before, it was
time to put that behind me. I had time for a bowl of super
sweetened breakfast cereal, bitter coffee and orange juice
in that order. Out of habit, I washed the dishes then sat
on the couch. I picked up some lined paper and a pen.
I drew a vertical line down the middle of the page making
two columns. At the top of the left side I wrote a big 1.
On the right I penned in a 2. Under column 1, I wrote the
things I had to do before I left town. They included everything
from getting a medical exam to renewing my driver's license.
I added things as I thought of them. The right side was for
things to do once I got out of town. It was empty.
First on my left list was a message to call the
Salvation Army. I wanted them to take my furniture.
It wasn't worth much but perhaps some destitute family
could make use of it. I didn't want the reminders around.
I'd keep one chair, a kitchen chair and the ragged,
lumpy bed. I'd eat at the counter or eat standing up.
I called and they said they would send someone around later.
I guess I was expecting someone in a uniform, not this
nondescript little man. He didn't impress me as someone
who knew furniture or at least the value of used furniture.
He looked it over and then went to the door of the apartment.
I asked "Well, what do you think?"
He scratched the matted hair on his head and said,
"Sorry we can't use it. It's not worth repairing." and he
turned to leave.
"Hey, wait a minute. I'm not asking for any money. I'm giving
it away and you won't take it?"
"Would you buy this furniture?" he asked.
"No. I'm giving it away. I don't want it anymore, that's
why I'm giving it away. Am I not making myself clear?"
"Oh, you're clear. We take furniture and put it in our
display rooms. If it needs repairing, we repair it then put
it up for sale. We don't give furniture away. Everybody
has to pay something for the beds, dressers and tables and
so on. This stuff is beyond repair. I'm sorry."
He said then left.
I sat on my rejected couch and felt really sorry for myself.
I looked at its well-worn arms with the padding peeking
through. I patted it as though it was a pet, an old,
old pet. Maybe I should just leave everything and walk
out the door? Surely the Army will take some of my old
clothing. That's what I'll do. I'll pack up everything
I don't want into a bag and take it down to them. While
I'm there, I'll register a complaint about the little man
with the matted hair. I went to the bedroom and started
As I walked through the door to the Salvation Army Hall,
I bumped against the door jam. It was a careless move on
my part and I lost my balance and stumbled. I was turned
around and was a bit dizzy. I was facing the door. As I
stood there trying to straighten out, a woman came over and
held my arm. She talked to me. "You poor man! Let me
I felt compelled to straighten myself and her. I was coming
in to complain not to get pity. Maybe I was a bit rude.
"Thank you. I'm just a bit dizzy. It will pass."
Just then I dropped a bag filled with Sally's clothes and
some dresses spilled onto the floor. I stooped down to put
them back in as the woman bent down to help. Instead of
stooping and scooping, I sprawled all over the cement floor.
The ceiling started to spin and I felt sick to my stomach.
I let out a little moan. "I'll be O.K." I groaned.
Others came running and I was helped to a bench, told to
put my head between my knees and had a bag of ice placed
on the back of my neck. I kept trying to tell them that
I was fine but the words never got past my lips. I was
looking down at the floor when I heard this deep voice ask,
"When was the last time you ate?" I looked up to see this
man in a Salvation Army uniform standing there.
I managed to straighten out and looked up. "Ah, early
this morning. It was around seven that I ate. What time is
it now?" I asked.
The others had departed and the Major and the woman remained.
"I'll get you some tea and toast. It's past three now
and you more than likely felt faint because you're in
need of food. Let Marjorie and me help you to one of
the tables." said the Major.
I let them help me further into the Hall. Marjorie stayed
with me while the Major went in search of tea and toast.
She was most solicitous. "Do you want us to tell your wife
that you're here?" she asked.
"Sally died a few years ago. I don't have a wife anymore.
No need to tell anyone. I'm alone." I said feeling sorry
"Oh, there I go jumping to conclusions again. I saw the
dresses and . . . Well, I guess the alternate life style
is O.K., I mean it's a modern choice I guess. I think I
Just as Marjorie was trying her best to explain that she
wasn't judgmental about my lifestyle, the Major came back
with a tray of tea, toast and goodies. He placed it on the
table in front of me. "Don't be shy. Dig in. If you want
more, Marjorie will help you. You'll stay for supper
It seemed very impolite not to accept the supper invitation
so I nodded a yes. "Yes. That is most kind of you."
I said as I bit into the buttered toast.
Marjorie sat, then got up. "I'll take your bags and put
them behind the desk. I'll bring you your number. You wait
right here. I'll be back in a jiffy."
I swallowed the piece of toast and said, "I don't need
those bags any more." That was all I managed to get out
because I started coughing.
Marjorie poured some tea into a mug, added milk and sugar
without asking and handed it to me. I took a sip and
looked up at her. She said, "That's O.K. dear. You can
make that decision later. It won't cost you anything to
put the bags away for safe keeping." and she left.
By the time she returned with a big pasteboard number in
her hand, I was finished the toast, the tea and the three
cookies that were on the plate. I told her, "That was
wonderful. Thank you very much. Does the Major always
give such personal service?"
"Oh yes. He pitches in all the time. It's just the way
he is. We all try to do our part. Here is your number.
Now let me hasten to add that this is just a number for
your belongings. We don't give people numbers around here.
I will ask you for your first name though."
I gathered the plate and mug and put them back on the tray.
"I'm called Bill. Just plain Bill will do. Do you want
my last name?" I asked.
"No need. You're Plain Bill today. We have another Bill
but he comes in later. We do have regulars and lots of
Bills. We'll manage just nicely. Here let me pin the number
on your jacket. If you get another jacket we'll transfer
this." Marjorie said as she pinned on the number 14 onto my jacket.
I was about to protest but thought that I should let her
do it. I could tell them later that I was bringing in the
bags not taking them out. Plenty of time later. "I'm fine
now. Maybe I could wash dishes for my tea?" I asked.
"I'll take the tray back. We'll find something for you
to do later. Do you want more?" she asked.
"I guess supper will be served soon, so I can wait. I don't
mean to be rude but do you work here?" I asked.
"I do in a manner of speaking. I volunteer now but before
I had to do some community service. One of the best things
that happened to me really!"
"Sorry. That was rude of me. I don't mean to pry but I
was wondering why an attractive lady like yourself would
serve an old character like me?"
"Oh, that's easy. I really like to help people now and you
aren't a character. You should see some of the characters we
get in here. You're pretty tame compared to some of the
others. I'm going to turn sixty next month and believe me
I've seen lots of characters in my day."
"I just turned sixty-five a few days ago and I've seen a
few characters, too." I said.
I'll be right back. I have to take this tray back.
Stay here or you can go to a more comfortable chair. I have
a few moments before I have to get some things ready for
supper." she said as she took away the tray.
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My Old Couch Brought Me Love
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