Norma Tennis and Robert Haydon Jones

Tennis R

Norma Tennis
Created using Robert Haydon Jones’s story (below) as inspiration

The Love Wizard
By Robert Haydon Jones

Guido Monte and I have been friends for a long time. I first met him in the elegant, bare-bones bar at the Connecticut Hunt Club, where my Dad used to play Polo. To be honest, I thought he might be a service person grabbing a quick drink rather than a Member. He’s wearing a coat and tie, but Guido is built like one of those wiry big league middle infielders you see in the replays hurdling take-out slides. He talks like a tough Italian guy from New Jersey.

It turns out Guido does his leaping for the New York City ballet. He’s married to the daughter of the President of the Hunt Club. We are both fish out of water at this bar, which is basically a service bar for the restaurant, with a few stools primarily for the convenience of people waiting for others to join them for the meal. It is a great place to string together a dozen drinks in pleasant surroundings with no one looking.

I am just out of the Marine Corps and finally done with a string of surgeries. I still need a cane – and some of the plastic surgery they had done on my face is still resolving. This tends to draw conversation I don’t want. I’m an alcoholic and righteously addicted to Dilaudid. I just want to be out some place nice where I can look at women, get stoned and be left alone.

The women who come to the Hunt Club are generally from the top of the white, Anglo-Saxon food chain. They tend to be slim. Their faces have good bones. Their teeth are white, small and even. They have long, narrow feet. Their laughter is easy and musical.

Most appear serenely settled and content. But there are a few who quietly radiate discontent. I enjoy looking at all these fortunate women  – but it is the radiators who draw my special interest.

To put it simply, although they look much the same as the others, these women seethe with a life force the others lack. They are not settled. They are not content. They are, as my Dad used to say, “Trouble with a capital T.” I am drawn to them.

I soon discover Guido and I have this taste in common. I’ve been gazing at a particularly fetching radiator, who has just been shown to a table with a much older man I assume is her father. It’s easy to see she’d much rather be elsewhere.  I’m wondering if I could figure out a way for her to be with me – when I look up and meet Guido’s eyes just looking up from the same table. I can see he’s wondering the same thing I am – and we laugh simultaneously at finding each other out.

We started talking. We had a lot in common: we were drawn to trouble since childhood; we had been altar boys and were off religion; we loved women and baseball; we loved booze and drugs; we were brawlers; we pissed off a lot of men; we attracted way too many horny married women.

Guido told me his name and it rang a distant bell for me – he saw it ring and said he was Guido Monte, the ballet-star guy. I nodded and he looked at me to see if “ballet-star-guy” was a problem for me. It wasn’t.

So that’s how we met — decades back when we were both in our prime. We became regular drinking companions – once or twice a week – on weekends at the Hunt Club – or during the week at the New York AC or The Racquet Club.

I liked him.  I was having a lot of trouble with my life but he let me be. A few months after I met Guido – we went camping for a couple of nights right after the World Series at a state park a few miles up Route 7.

My wife had asked me, please, please, move out – and the fact was I was still more comfortable sleeping on the ground than a bed. But I was missing my three sons big time. I needed to breathe. Guido was a big support – he had two daughters my son’s age – he asked if there was anything he could do – and I told him he was doing it.

About a year later, we took a trip to South Dakota to hunt elk with some friends of Guido’s. The idea was to shoot the elk from blinds on their trails at dawn. I ended up stalking some of the hunters – coming up behind them and laying the cold barrel of my rifle on their necks. It did startle them – and when they jumped up and yipped I laughed and laughed heartily some more. I did it again the second morning – and Guido’s tough, rich, tenderfoot, friends were very, very pissed and spooked by me.

So, we broke away and rode our horses out toward the Black Hills and a case of beer our guide said he had stashed in a stream maybe three hours out. Darkness jumped us about half way through the case. So we camped. I lay back after we ate and looked up. The stars hit me hard. I missed my wife and sons.  I missed my Marine buddies. I missed my Mom and Dad. I missed God. I got very sad and very fearful. I guess you could say I lost it.

I cried a little and then I started to blubber and couldn’t stop.  I babbled a lot. Guido had a fifth of Scotch they fed me – that’s how they got me back – passed out and lashed up cross wise on my horse like a dead guy.

Guido collected me at the motel the next morning. The other guys had gone. No elk. I was glad. Guido bought me a pitcher of Bloody Mary’s and some eggs and sausage for breakfast. After I steadied down a little, he told me not to feel bad about what had happened. He said he and the guide had been touched as men by my wailing. He told me he would never forget my grief and my fear.  He thanked me for my service in the Marines.  He said he missed his parents. He said he was very fearful too – because he was getting too old to dance. He said he also missed God.

So, fast-forward 30 years. I’m clean and sober for 26 years.  I’m married to my second wife, Anne, for 28 years. I’m close to my sons from the first marriage and to Anne’s two sons and daughter. By now, I have 11 grandchildren – two grandsons in their early twenties.

I see Guido once in a while at the Hunt Club. At the Holiday Party, the Labor Day clambake and sometimes at competitions. Guido has 10 grandchildren – he tells me he never could keep up with me. He tells me he has a pretty good second career going as a Staging & Choreographic consultant for ballet companies far and wide.

Once he waves me over to his table and introduces me to six old guys he is drinking with. “This is Jimmy, the stalker”, he says, “the recon Marine who showed you pussies what hunting is all about!” He laughs. They don’t.

So, I’m surprised when he calls me yesterday and asks me to meet him in the bar at the Hunt Club at 5:00. “I really need to talk to you”, he says. “The Diet-Coke is on me.”

When I walk into the bar, he’s already there with his McCallan’s.  A Coke is up on the bar waiting for me. There’s just us two and Jack, the barman, who is busy doing setups for the upcoming dinner crowd.

“You don’t know how much you changed my life,” Guido says, before I can even mount my stool. “Out there by the Black Hills that night – you passed out – but me and the guide – we had to bear it all the way on that long ride back. The pain, the grief, that yearning, that longing. But by the time we got back we realized you had helped us feel okay about ourselves – that you had said our say for us even though you were crazy and a pain in the ass.”

I kept silent. “My fear and sadness had made me feel freaky and weak”, he said. “I never felt that way again. From that night on, I honored the yearning and the longing. That changed everything for me. I owe you big time.”

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. “Listen,” he said,  “I want to tell you about something truly wonderful. My granddaughter, Elizabeth, she grew up in Seattle with my daughter Nancy and her husband, Bill. She graduated Summa Cum from Reed. She got a PHD in Chemistry from UCLA. But she is so shy she never meets anyone. I mean she’s attractive enough – I think she’s actually got a kind of hot body. God, are you allowed to say stuff like that about your own granddaughter?”

“No, it’s not allowed. Put your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest!”

“I won’t go quietly.

So, she’s so shy, she sees no one. She coops with a microscope at work and with a Kindle at home. When I visit her, I see the sad, sad, loneliness on her, I see an Old Maid forming for sure. I can’t bear it. But I don’t know what to do.”

“So, what do you do?”

“I pray. I haven’t prayed a lick for forty years even though I was sad missing God like I couldn’t really help believing in God. I get down on my knees and I say ‘Please, God, I beg you to help Elizabeth find a good man.’ I said this over and over 49 times twice a day for 49 days.”

“What happened?”

“Well, on day, 49, Elizabeth goes to meet a girl friend for lunch at the Woodland Park Zoo – only her friend never shows. She ends up sharing a table with a guy, who is a physics PHD from Harvard out for an interview with Boeing.  The guy gets hit by a lightning bolt – and so does Elizabeth. They are getting married in June – and I want you and Anne to be there. It never would have happened without you.”

“Well,” I say, “this is great – but I don’t know what I have to do with it.”

Guido smiles. “I knew you might feel that way. That’s okay. I just had to thank you. You’ll come to the wedding?”

“Sure”, I said, “We’ll come. But do you really believe your prayers had anything to do with it?”

He pauses – and takes my right hand in both of his and looks into my eyes. “Jimmy, do you miss your parents? Are you sad about your dead buddies? Do you miss God? Jimmy, if I can’t believe in this – what can I believe in?”


Tennis I

Norma Tennis
Lucky Boy

Inspiration piece provided to Robert Haydon Jones

By Robert Haydon Jones

About 30 years before Norma Tennis sent me the portrait of her husband that triggered all this – I emerged from a blackout. I was climbing when I popped back.  I stopped climbing and looked to see where I was.

I was about half way up a piling on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.  There was a crowd below me about 20 yards back from the piling clumped behind yellow police crime-scene tape and a cordon of cops. Quite a few of these folks were yelling,  “Jump, you fucking weirdo; see if you can do a triple flip when you really try; you can fly you pansy, you can fly; go ahead and jump — you asshole; JUMP! JUMP! You don’t have the guts to JUMP!”

About a dozen cops and EMS people were gathered right below me on and around the piling. Three of these had placed harnesses around the piling and were pulling themselves up to me. The closest, only about 20 feet away, was a wiry, tired-looking, Irish-faced guy in his early forties. We made eye contact – and to my great surprise, he immediately laughed heartily. “Morning, already, huh”, he chortled.

Well, I had to laugh myself. The guy had nailed me. I knew he was a drinker. He had literally seen me pop out of a blackout and called it. “Oh, you can take it real easy from here, Officer McFriendly”, I said hoarsely. “I’m not going anywhere – but do you think I could negotiate a half pint?”

“Not on your Nelly”, he replied. ”We have no whisky and my shift ends in half an hour. Be a good lad – or I’ll tell them you have a pistol and then you’ll get the SWAT team on you rather than us goody-two-shoes Samaritans”

Well, I gave it up totally and it wasn’t long before I was down. It wasn’t all that easy. I was way up – at least a hundred feet over the roadway. Even with the harness, it was scary. When I got to the bottom, my rescuer deftly handcuffed me while I was still snapped in his harness. He stuck a card in my back-pocket and said, “Good luck and goodbye you idiot. I’m going off duty now.”

The crowd was still giving me a bad time – so someone bundled me in a blanket and stowed me in an EMS van for the ride to the psych ward at Bellevue Hospital.

There was a pause – I guess they were doing paperwork. I sat there in the van by myself.  It was a real luxury for me to have such privacy. I didn’t know it then, but it would be a very long time before I would get to be alone and in private again.

Christ, I wondered, how did I get up that bridge? What happened? The last thing I could remember was eating steak tartar and drinking whisky sours with three  wet-dream-sexy, fringe actresses at PJ Clarke’s. But that was in January and it was summer out. Had I clambered up the Brooklyn Bridge to jump from it? I had no idea. Suddenly I found myself thinking: “I wonder how many people have jumped and then emerged from their blackout on the way down? ”


I got sober. My rescuer was Tim Eagan. The card he left in my pocket had his name and phone number and a list of AA meetings in Manhattan. I still have his card.  I have a few other mementos of recovery. I had a real bad heart attack in a rehab.

I woke up with it on the brink of death. In case you’re wondering, the feeling was like the opposite of an orgasm.  Everything was in full reverse – life was cascading out of me.

A fellow patient in the rehab I had known briefly in the Marines gave the ambulance driver a note for me. “Hang in there.” It meant a lot to me. It was all I got from anyone while I struggled to stay alive in a tiny intensive care ward in a little hospital in Wisconsin. (I also have a “Good Luck” card signed by five nurses, three aides and a security guard.)

Once, my heart stopped – I actually saw my lines go flat on the monitor — and a squat nurse named Betty, who looked like a pro football lineman, balled up her fist and WHACKED me right in the chest – and the lines started up again.

I survived and then I got sober. I emerged from my blackout on the bridge before I jumped. Nurse Betty whacked me just right. My second wife stayed with me.  The rooms kept taking me back and back and back. I was lucky.


So, fast forward to me Clean and Sober for 20 plus years. Life is good. My only active regret is not sticking with my early career as a fiction writer, which I stopped in the name of wife and kids when I was in my early twenties.

On my 70th birthday, my wife gives me Cary Tennis’s book, Since You Asked, and I love, love, love  it. Cary is the “lonely hearts” columnist for salon.com.  He answers questions like, “I stole my lover’s pot while he was sleeping. What shall I do?”

I e-mail  Cary and we connect. We’re in the same 12-Step club. We’ve been down many of the same trails. So, six months later, I go to one of Cary’s workshops on writing, and in just three days, I recover the narrative voice I thought I had lost forever 45 years back. What a thrill!

So, six months and seven published stories later, here I am, Mr. Sobriety, pulling up to my “home” 12-step meeting at a church in town. I’m the volunteer coffee maker. The meeting is in the garden of the church, so I stop my car at the entrance to the garden, walk a few feet up the path and set the coffeepot down.

I walk back to my car and it’s GONE!

I told the very pleasant, quite pretty, young policewoman who responded to my distress call, that my first thought was that someone had stolen my new Mercedes. Then I heard a sound. I looked down the driveway and just glimpsed my car heading into the surrounding woods.

It finally stopped about 50 yards in — hung up on a ledge. Right below the ledge was a parking lot teeming with people. I told the cop that just as I approached the car, a little man in a green suit with a bowler hat opened the door and ran away down the hill. She told me not to tell anyone about the little man – that he was an undercover agent for the state police.

The damage to my car was over $20,000. The insurance paid it. The police didn’t give me a ticket. I have to endure a lot of kidding at meetings. People ask me if I am parked again in the woods or if I want to start a camp meeting. But like they say, “Nobody got hurt.” I thought that was the end of it.

Then Norma Tennis sent me the jpeg of her portrait of her husband as her “inspiration piece” for this round of SPARK.

Well, it catches the man perfectly. I said to myself, “That’s Cary!” The damn jpeg beamed Cary up right in front of me.  “Ecce homo.” There he is – with all his quirks and crannies, his intermittent bubbles of energies – his infernal grinning distance – his priestly devotion to the muse and to the celebration of integrity in himself and  in others.

Suddenly seeing Cary human merely being triggers a fusillade of shocking realizations. Suddenly, I think, “What if my car, had not been stuck on the ledge  but had rolled on down and fell on the lot and squashed a human being like Cary?”

Think of the poor squashed human being. Of his or her family. Think of me and all of my family. Our lives squashed forever too.  Well, once this door was knocked ajar, a lot else came flooding through. Too much else. Awareness hurts. It can be very hard to stay awake. Don’t you think?

I talked it over with my Sponsor. He suggests I should immediately go to the parking lot below the ledge in the woods. Once I get there, his instructions are clear:   “Find that man your car didn’t kill – and ask him how he’s feeling.”

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  1. Good stuff from the ever-reliable R.H. Jones. I especially like the line “darkness jumped us about half way through the case” in the first one. I can’t tell you how many times that exact thing happened to me in the old camping days. Summed the feeling that accompanied it nicely with nine words.

    I like the crowd daring the climber to jump in the second one. Like Philly fans booing Santa, there’s something refreshingly perverse about that level of Manhattan cynicism. Or maybe it’s pragmatism.

  2. Bob
    You are a grand writer . I enjoyed the stories for their literary value and for the innate honesty Also the decent attitude toward asshole humanity
    Very fine work and deserves to be widely read

    Peace Malachy

  3. Rob,
    Fine writing. Some of your best, I think. Such evocative images e.g. the scene at the bridge piling, the fringe actresses at PJs, Nurse Betty and her punch. Thank you for sharing this with me and keep ’em coming.

  4. rhj-

    these are the kinds of stories i enjoy. there’s a refreshing quality… honesty with hopefulness.


  5. Thoroughly enjoyed them!! Certainly on a level of much that I’ve read in “New Yorker”.

  6. Thanks for sending these again. Have read them before and think they are among your very best. Excellent writing.

    • Thanks — your comments mean a lot to me.p

  7. Rob……wonderful, funny, holy…..thanks for sending this on to me……lovely spending time with you and yours tonight and being together for Eli…..best, Clo

  8. Great Job, I really liked it, thanks for sharing.

  9. There they are, the old RHJ subtleties. Not until the second paragraph of “The Love Wizard” are we jolted into the realization that “service person” does not refer to a waiter — an essential distinction rammed down our throats.
    I think I know the Egan in “Recovery,” unless the disguise is not as light as I think. Brilliant touches abound — too numerous to note here.

  10. I loved these stories. Thanks for posting them, Robbie. “The stars hit me hard” was great and, I have a theory that most of us end up drinking Diet Coke sooner or later… 🙂

  11. I am re-reading them all, I like them so much! Keep your pencil as sharp as your mind…

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