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Danny Birdman. By Martin Green.


I suppose everyone has a Danny Birdman in his life. I'd known Danny since we were school kids. Danny was the bad boy in kindergarten, teasing the girls and starting fights with the other boys in the playground. When we were older, he was the first one to discover girlie magazines and enlighten us, more or less, on the mysteries of sex. In high school, he was the first one to go 'all the way,' at least that's what he claimed. Danny and I started in at our local college at the same time, but after a year he dropped out and the next I heard from him, a postcard, he was back-packing his way through Europe. Danny was the wild one, the one who deviated from the proper path and went off to seek adventure.

While Danny was doing this, I dutifully obtained my business degree, got a job, met a nice girl, Sally, was promoted, married Sally, bought a home in the suburbs, had three sons in succession, worried about house and car repairs, the mortgage, the bills, the crabgrass in the lawn, my job when the economy went into a slump.

Shortly after we'd bought our house, Danny suddenly appeared at our door, back from his European trip. He was a good-looking guy, now he was tanned and fit. He brought me a beer stein from Germany, an Irish sweater for Sally. Sally was immediately taken with him. He was a charmer. At night, he regaled us with stories of his travels, the women he'd met, the strange jobs he'd found, the narrow escapes he'd had. He talked of maybe going back to college. Then one day he left, saying he was going to Italy, to take up with a girl he'd met there.

A few months later, we had a postcard from Danny, saying he was living with his Italian girl friend and had found a job, working in a garage. He was a good mechanic, who could fix anything. He was also good at picking up languages. But Danny didn't settle down in Italy. The next year, we had another card; he was in Africa, buying native artifacts for some import-export business. He stayed in Africa for a while and every so often we'd receive by parcel post an African mask, a drum or some other object. Then there was a gap of many years.

By this time, Sally and I had had our ups and downs, but, unlike many of our neighbors, were still together. We'd weathered our sons' teenage years, barely, two were out of the house and working, the youngest was in college. We still talked about Danny Birdman every now and then and wondered what had become of him. Had he struck it rich in Africa or somewhere else and was now a multi-millionaire' Had some native's poisoned arrow took his life' Was he poverty-stricken in some seedy hotel in Nairobi'

Then Danny once again turned up on our doorstep. If he wasn't poverty-stricken in Nairobi, he wasn't in very good shape when he staggered into our living room. His clothes were dirty rags; he had only a backpack with him; he had a scar on one cheek. Sally rushed to get him something to eat and drink. 'I'm in trouble,' he said. I could well believe it. He wouldn't tell us anything more, saying the less we knew the better. But he needed some money and right away. If he didn't get it, certain unnamed persons would put an end to his career..

'How much'' I asked.

'Ten thousand.'

'Whew! That's a lot. I'll have to talk to Sally about it.'

While Danny immediately fell asleep in our guest bedroom, Sally and I talked. At first, I said, 'Out of the question.'

'But he told us he'd be killed,' said Sally. 'We can't not help him.'

It took several days to get that much money in cash. When I gave it to Danny, he said we'd saved his life. The next morning, he was gone. He left a note saying, 'I'll repay you when I can.'

Life went on. Our youngest son graduated college. Sally and I moved to a retirement community in California. We didn't hear from Danny. Sally and I began to go on tours. Many of our tour guides had colorful backgrounds and it occurred to me that Danny., with his flair for languages, might have entered this profession. Once, in one of the many tour books we received through the mail, I saw a picture of a group of the company's guides and one of them faintly resembled Danny, but it was impossible to tell. We assumed we'd never see Danny, and of course our $10,000, again.

But we were wrong. One day, in with the usual bills and ads, we received a letter. It was from Danny, a fairly long letter. During the past years, he'd been to Asia as well as back to Africa. He'd returned to the States and, I hadn't been far wrong, he'd become, not a tour guide, but one of those men who danced with single women on cruise ships. On one of these cruises, he'd met Madge, a widow, and he was now married to her and living in a retirement community in Florida. Along with the letter was a check for $15,000.

Sally and I took turns re-reading the letter. 'What do you think'' asked Sally.

'I'm a little disappointed. All those years Danny was off having his adventures while we were doddering along. Now he's also in a retirement community, the same as us, only in Florida, not California.'

'But at least he's reached a safe harbor after all the storms. Look at that check. He must have found the proverbial wealthy widow.'

'Danny was always a charmer.'

'Well, we have that big check. Let's do something wild.'

'All right. We'll go to Thunder Valley (that was our local Indian casino) and maybe bet up to $20 instead of our usual $10.'

'And we'll drink a toast to Danny, home and safe at last.'

But again we were wrong. A year later we had another letter from Danny. It was postmarked from Nepal. 'The widow was a doll,' it said, 'but I got restless. Have stumbled across an unbelievable deal here. If you want to get it on it, send as much money as you can.'

It was like old times and my spirits immediately perked up. Somewhere out there Danny was risking his all on who-knows-what. We wrote back and enclosed a check for $5,000. Now we're waiting to hear from him again, or possibly he'll turn up at our door. Will he be in rags or will he have become a multimillionaire' Will we have becomes multimillionaires or just have lost $5,000' That was the fascination of having a Danny Birdman in your life.


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