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Salted Nuts and One Chair

A lot of dreams came true for me during the Combat! years, one right after the other. In early March 1965, we had just started our yearly hiatus of about six weeks before going back for the fourth year. An American, who lived in the Phillipines and owned the ABC affiliate station there, offered me an all expense paid trip, including Hong Kong and Japan, if I would do a week of appearances for him. I got my first taste of the Orient which I’d been hungering for.

My manager called me at the airport in Seattle as I was on my way home from Hong Kong to tell me I was going on safari to Africa, to do a show for the popular ABC series The American Sportsman. "But I’m due to start production next week," I said. He’d arranged to have me written out of the first two shows and appear only at the end of the third one. I got home long enough to pack a rifle and some clothes, my measurements had already been sent on to a safari tailor in Nairobi. I had a three-week hunt that I’d yearned for for years.

On my way home from Africa, I had asked to be booked, on my return, through Paris instead of London. I was looking forward to again sauntering through the Louvre. On this trip, I also took a taxi up the hill the short distance to Montmartre for lunch at one of the bistros that surround the town square.

Afterward, I joined the other tourists at the large area in the centre, where artists have been displaying their works for over a hundred years. These days, you don’t find a Chagall, or a Van Gogh, only commercial painters who will do a quite nice oil and then keep making copies of it as long as they sell. None of them cost over fifty dollars. With the paint still wet on most, it would take weeks to dry enough to pack against something else. The artist would tack a piece of hardboard over the painting, using half-inch spacers at the corners and use frame centers on larger works.

One piece that I still have I bought from a black man, an Abyssinian who spoke perfect French, and was sitting there with his French wife whom he introduced. It’s a head of Christ, arcing almost to a point, but if you stand back and look, it becomes an arched stained glass window; most unusual. He had salted it well with beach sand and the gritty look it has, with the vibrant colors, makes it worth more than just a glance.

I paid his asking price, $12.50.

Not a large picture, and he’d probably made two hundred of them, but I have yet to see another copy anywhere of any of the paintings I bought that day. I bought about a dozen, in all sizes, in less than an hour. I had a funny feeling, I didn’t know why, that I was going to need them. Over the years I sold off the Montmartre’s, and made a nice profit.

Pat picked me up at the airport. When I opened the front door to the house, it was vacant. All the furniture, all the paintings, bronzes and statuary, all the antiques I’d taken almost two years to lovingly collect, all were gone. Shirley had left the king-sized bed in the master room. In the large dining room she left a small round table and one chair.

On the bar she’d placed a large, round, glass bowl filled with mixed salted nuts and a letter was leaning against it. I opened the envelope. I don’t remember it word for word, but in essence it said how sorry she was for having behaved in our marriage as she had. She said she realized how ill she’d been (not meaning physically) and she and her daughter, Jamie, hoped I’d forgive her and perhaps after a while we might see each other. She hoped we could find a way to get back together again. I looked around the empty living room as I handed the letter to Pat.

I’d expected something, but not this total. She’d had a sale several weeks before and sold everything, most of it to interior decorator friends, and walked away with a nice bundle of cash. Pat handed the letter back and asked, "What are you going to do about it?"

"Well," I said as I walked behind the bar, "if she left me any gin I’m going to mix us a couple of martinis, then we’ll hang some of my new paintings, even without frames. By then, it should be time to go out to dinner."

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