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Two years after the death of his wife Emily from cancer, a college professor faces his own life-threatening illness, broken heart syndrome. Adding to his grief, a bean counting administrator has kicked him into early retirement, his daughter is considering a dream job halfway across the county, and his only friend is a pot smoking Vietnam vet stuck in the sixties.
With one last chance to grab life by the balls, the professor plans a roadtrip to scatter his wife Emily’s ashes where they met at Woodstock. To recreate the original trip they’ll need the third tripper from back in the day, now in a nursing home with early stage Alzheimer’s. When the home refuses to allow their friend to come along, the professor and the vet bust him out, attracting the attention of the cops and the media, fascinating the public.
The roadtrip turns into a flight from “the man” and not even the professor’s defense attorney daughter can help. In a psychedelic van, the trio dodges cops in two states and a politically opportunistic worm of a prosecutor. Against all odds, they close in on their destination. Waiting are thousands of supporters determined to recreate the magic of Woodstock and enough cops to end the roadtrip and break the professor’s heart for good.
Sure, there’s sex, drugs and rock n’ roll—we’re talking Woodstock Nation—but most of all, Good-bye, Emily is a journey of self-discovery for a man who thought he’d left all important journeys in life behind, years ago.
Goodbye Emily launches in January of 2013, and will be available for online pre-sale Fall of 2012.
About the Author
Michael Murphy lives in Arizona with his wife of forty years, He enjoys the deserts, mountains, lakes and wacky politics that make Arizona a diverse, exhilarating place to live. A full-time writer, Michael enjoys his four dogs and dabbling in urban chicken ranching with his five chickens. He even tried sky diving. “From two miles up, Arizona’s beauty is breathtaking, and even more vivid plummeting toward it at 120 miles-per-hour.”
A writer from an early age, Michael majored in Journalism at Arizonan State University before graduating with a degree in Business Administration. While establishing a career, he set aside writing until 1997. A business seminar on establishing long-term goals rekindled his passion for writing. His first novel, Class of ‘68 won the Arizona Authors Association’s first place award for novel writing. His second, Try and Catch the Wind won the Golden Wings award for outstanding novel writing. Good-bye, Emily is his eighth novel.
Michael is active in several writing groups including the Arizona Authors Association and Authors Exchange Group, teaches beginning novel writing seminars at bookstores and libraries and is currently working on his ninth novel, a mystery set in the 1930s called The Yankee Club.
My life changed forever the night I drank the last of my bourbon.
Two blocks from home, I entered The Library, once the top tavern in Milton, Pennsylvania. I climbed on a stool at the end of the bar and tuned out conversations of my fellow patrons punctuated with one-liners, high-fives and lame pickup lines. I just wanted a drink. Maybe two.
I signaled the bartender. “Bourbon on the rocks.” No water to dilute the alcohol.
Time changed everything including one’s favorite bar. In the sixties and seventies, students and faculty from the nearby college hung out and debated war, Watergate, disarmament and nuclear power while classic rock played in the background. Now I had to tolerate the latest Lady Gaga song.
The bartender in his twenties wore a starched long-sleeve maroon shirt with a glossy “Librarian” button pinned to his black vest. He slid a napkin in front of me and studied my face. “Professor Ellington?”
That’s me. Professor, former professor, Walter Fitzgerald Ellington. Close friends, back when I had friends, called me Sparky.
He set the drink in front of me, apparently determined to strike up a conversation I hoped to avoid. “You let your hair grow since the bastards forced you to take early retirement.”
“No one forced me out. I retired a year ago to write the great American novel.”
“How’s that worked out?”
This kid was either charmingly droll or a complete smart ass. I lifted the glass in a mock silent toast and swallowed half the booze.
He wiped down the counter with a white towel as if the bar paid him for each swipe. “The man who didn’t force you out, Chancellor Warfield, and his co-conspirator who took your place, Professor Blake, came in last night. They shared a booth, and Blake didn’t look happy.”
“I really don’t care.” I vowed not to think about those two self-indulgent, backstabbing bureaucrats again. I’d moved on.
I sipped the bourbon as if I enjoyed the taste while he prattled on about taking my Nineteenth Century English Lit class. I caught something I never expected to hear. “You presented each lecture like a Broadway show, full of passion and emotion. All you needed was music.”
“I get that a lot.” No one ever compared my lectures to theater before. Unless he majored in mixology, my instruction and Milton College hadn’t done his career much good.
“Bob.” He shook my hand. “Bob Windsor.”
A long rambling belch came from the poolroom behind me. A blustery, beer-bellied truck driver type lumbered from the room and stuffed a handful of bills into his jeans pocket. He wore a greasy green Transcontinental Transport t-shirt and carried an empty pitcher of beer. His shaved head, shirt and thick toad-like body reminded me of Shrek, without the ogre’s charm. To my great relief, he chose a stool at the other end of the bar.
I came to drink, not to judge, but when Shrek cursed a perceived lack of service with a reference to Windsor’s mother, I muttered to myself, “Man is thy most awful instrument.”
The bartender chuckled. “William Wordsworth.”
“What grade did I give you?”
“Perhaps I misjudged you, Windsor. You obviously deserved an A.” I finished the drink, and the young man brought me another.
Shrek slid the pitcher toward the bartender, who filled it with draft beer and handed the pitcher back. The ogre took a long gulp from the pitcher then wiped his mouth with the back of a catcher’s mitt of a hand.
He focused his attention on two college-age girls, a blonde and a redhead at a nearby table, who sipped fruity drinks with tiny umbrellas. The man made wet kissing noises to the redhead as she popped a cherry stem into her mouth and tried to tie it into a knot with her tongue.
The girls wore jeans and t-shirts with only a hint of makeup. Even I could tell they hadn’t come to the bar to be hit on. They didn’t hide their annoyance with the intoxicated trucker. As his grunts and gestures grew vulgar, their annoyance changed to alarm. The blonde’s face flushed and the redhead covered her eyes with one hand.
The coeds reminded me of my daughter, Cloe, when she was in college. Nice girls who wanted to enjoy a relaxing drink and not be bothered by a pig like Shrek. I nursed my drink, determined to mind my own business.
The bartender had to see the ashen faces of fear on the girls, but he wasn’t exactly the bouncer type.
The blonde grabbed her purse. “Let’s go.”
“Terrific idea.” Shrek climbed off his stool. “I’ll walk you to your dorm, Sweet Thing.”
Enough! I couldn’t tolerate the man’s treatment of the girls another minute. I slid the half-full glass of bourbon away, slapped a twenty on the counter and climbed off the barstool.
Over thirty years as a college professor, I often diffused tension-filled situations, and I could do it again. Retirement hadn’t dulled my skills that much.
Shrek, while imposing and prison tough, didn’t present much of a challenge. His acne and two missing teeth grew more apparent as I approached him. A meth-addict alarm sounded in my head.
Shrek gave me the once-over. “What’s your problem?”
“No problem.” I planned to distract the man long enough to allow the girls to slip out the door.
“Why don’t you go back to your cardboard box in the alley and curl up with a bottle of Boone’s Farm, you long-haired old freak?”
The Philistine was indeed a most awful instrument. “You look familiar. I thought perhaps you’d taken a class of mine at Milton College.”
“You’re a professor? Well, Professor Buttinsky, I’m talking to these bitches.”
The bar chatter quieted as people at nearby tables paid attention to our conversation. I caught the blonde’s attention and nodded toward the front door.
She winked at me and tugged on her friend’s arm. The redhead didn’t move. She appeared more interested in watching how the drama between Shrek and me played out.
I took a deep breath. Perhaps I overestimated my ability to outwit this man. Bourbon might have clouded my judgment. “First off, I don’t think the young ladies appreciate being referred to as bitches, and second…”
The brute slammed a club-like hand against my chest. I stumbled backward, bounced off a table and landed in an empty booth. The bartender grabbed a cell phone and made a quick call.
I regained my feet and a modicum of dignity. It occurred to me, perhaps too late, that sixty-year-old retired college professors shouldn’t get into barroom brawls, especially with men half their age and twice their size. I couldn’t help but chuckle at my situation.
A pulsing vein looked ready to burst from Shrek’s forehead. “What are you laughing at, old man?”
I straightened the jacket I valued so much, and my fingers touched a ripped pocket. “Son-of-a-bitch. Emily gave me this.”
Shrek laughed. “Tell whoever Emily is to spring for a new one.”
“She’s dead, Shrek!”
Several patrons gasped and retreated to the poolroom. The quiet of the bar resembled an actual library. Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” sounded like someone had turned the volume up all the way.
The two girls slipped out the front door, causing Shrek to bellow like a UFC cage fighter. “Now look what you made them do, you miserable old fuck.”
Shrek slammed a punch to my jaw, busting my lip and jolting my skull like a mule kick. I spun backward and knocked over a barstool. Air burst from my lungs as I fell to the floor. I cracked the back of my head against the tile.
I could barely see through a white flash of agony. I spit blood that landed on Shrek’s boots.
The big man let out a Sasquatch roar and stomped a black leather boot onto my ribs.
A wave of nausea shot from my stomach. I struggled to breathe. I tried to suck in air but only managed to squeak like my dog’s chew toys.
“Who’s laughing now?” With a crazed cackle, Shrek grabbed my jacket collar and raised a fist for another blow.
A muffled siren pierced through the haze and my ringing ears.
“This is your lucky day, Professor.” Shrek dropped me like a sack of compost. My head smacked the floor again, and he hocked a loogie. An egg white-like glob landed on my cheek and slid down into my ear.
I struggled to lift my head. The room spun like the first anniversary after Emily died when I polished off an entire Jim Beam bottle. The bartender’s voice sounded far off as he told me to stay down. The lights dimmed, and the bar’s blurry sights and fuzzy sounds faded to black.
My vision and hearing returned. I was in the backseat of a Volkswagen Beetle crowded with sleeping bags and empty fast-food containers.
I coughed from the stink of cigarette smoke. A peace symbol swung on a chain that hung from the rearview mirror, and a sign printed in white shoe polish on the back window read Woodstock or Bust!
My two best friends in the world sat up front. Buck Jamison, in a jungle camouflage t-shirt, biceps bulging, sat behind the wheel smoking a Marlboro. He waved to a bitchin’ blonde in a pickup bed sharing a doobie with a girl who could have been her twin.
Josh Channing rode shotgun, studying a Woodstock program as if he discovered secret plans to the next moon launch. The geeky but brilliant music guru, in a blue tie-dyed t-shirt, was lead singer in our three-person garage band, The Buck Naked Band.
We were stuck in a monumental traffic jam barely crawling along as rainclouds threatened overhead. In spite of the traffic, I couldn’t contain my joy when we neared a green “Welcome to Monticello, New York” sign.
I rubbed my hands together with the same excitement I felt when I was six. My parents took me to a supermarket opening to see the late actor George Reeves in his Superman costume. “Next stop Bethel, New York. Woodstock!”
Josh pointed to a Welcome Hippies sign in a small grocery store’s front window. Buck whipped the car into a crowded parking lot. He double-parked behind a psychedelic Volkswagen bus and held out one hand. “Give me some bread, man.”
We slapped bills into Buck’s palm. He stuffed the money into his wallet, flashed us the fake ID, and went inside the market to buy beer and eats.
Josh and I climbed out of the cramped car and stretched our legs. He grabbed change from his pocket and dropped coins into a pay phone outside the front door.
“Tell me you’re not calling your mom.” He deserved a “wet willy.” I slipped my finger in my mouth then stuck it in his ear.
Josh rubbed his ear, turned his back to me and dialed. In two weeks, he and I would be freshmen roommates at Penn State. When we told his mom about the roadtrip to Woodstock, she preached a long-winded sermon explaining why God would punish those in attendance. Say amen, Sister!
Josh waited for his mother to answer and flashed me a quizzical look. “What?”
I answered with a jerkoff motion.
Josh cleared his throat. “Mom, it’s me.” Pause. Longer pause. “Woodstock.” For the next two minutes, he leaned his head against his hand. He listened to what I was sure was another lecture about the devil’s music.
I couldn’t bear to watch the verbal abuse of my friend, so I plopped down on a bench on the other side of the door. I checked out a parade of hot-looking girls in bellbottom jeans and braless tie-dyed t-shirts. They drifted through the line of traffic hitching rides on motorcycles or cars that barely crept forward.
Josh dropped more change into the phone and continued to listen then cupped a hand over the speaker. “I’m grounded.”
I burst out laughing. “Dork!”
“It’s not like that at all, Mom. The festival is organized, safe…” A college girl in bellbottoms and a pink tube top strolled by and ruffled Josh’s hair. “…friendly.” Pause. “No, Mom. No drugs.”
Buck came from the store carrying a single paper sack. “The shelves are practically empty, man.” He tossed me the bag like he was throwing a touchdown pass.
“No beer?” I peered inside the bag. “Prunes. Seriously, where’d you stash the real stuff?”
“That’s all they had, moron, and I coldcocked a nerd for the last package.”
“Never send a jock to do a man’s job.”
“Fuck you.” Buck dropped down on the bench beside me. “Prunes provide nutrition, which your skinny ass could use.”
“Prunes give you the shits. You ever shit in a Porta John?”
Buck nodded toward Josh, still trying to reassure his mother. “What’s with the douchebag?”
Buck shook his head then gazed off in the distance. He even ignored the fine-looking ladies all around. He wasn’t going off to college. The government had plans for Buck. A month after graduation, he received a draft notice in the mail.
He couldn’t hide that boot camp weighed heavily on his mind. “You okay?”
Buck lit a cigarette and stared down at his boots. “Just thinking this will be the last roadtrip for the three amigos.”
“We’ve got plenty of trips ahead of us.” We both knew it would be our last trip, certainly as carefree teenagers. Life was about to change for us. Innocence lost. Responsibilities gained.
“I’ll be okay.” He blew out a plume of smoke and nodded toward Josh. “Worry about him.”
Josh looked at us and made a yakking gesture with one hand. “Call you tomorrow, Mom. Love you, too.”
Buck shouted, “I love your mom too, Josh. At least I did last weekend when she dropped by the garage and asked me to lube her chassis.” Josh covered the phone’s mouthpiece.
Josh flipped Buck the bird and slammed the phone into the cradle. “Why do I let her push my buttons?”
At the car, I clapped him on the shoulder. “Was that a rhetorical question, because if you’d really like to know, I’d be happy to explain.”
Stocked only with our meager supply of prunes, we climbed into the faded blue Volkswagen with the candy apple red peace symbol Buck painted on the hood. The three of us gave the car encouragement. The Beetle coughed then started.
Josh applauded then peered into the sack. “Where’s the damn beer?”
We crept along toward the concert billed as Three Days of Peace and Music. Three miles outside of Bethel, traffic stopped. The road became a parking lot. When the heap overheated, Buck shut off the ignition and glanced over his shoulder at me. “What do you think?”
Most everyone climbed from their cars and headed in the direction of the festival. I wanted to hoof it. “Let’s walk.”
Buck didn’t appear enthusiastic about abandoning his car. He studied a foldout map. “Are you serious? It’s four miles as the crow flies.”
“Fuck the crows.” Josh snatched the map from Buck and tossed it out the window.
Buck slipped the bug into neutral. We climbed out and pushed the car to the side of the road. We grabbed our stuff and joined the procession walking west toward the festival.
A day earlier, we left the safety of our Milton, Pennsylvania, hometown to embark on a roadtrip of epic expectations. Three recent high school graduates, friends since second grade, we each managed to scrape together the eighteen bucks for a three-day ticket. With a few extra dollars stuffed into our pockets, one change of clothes and sleeping bags, we came for the music, but more importantly, to lay claim to our independence. At least I had.
We hiked more than two miles in the August heat and humidity. In Bethel, locals stood on their lawns as the parade of mostly freaks walked by. Locals waved and offered encouragement. A woman handed us paper cups of lemonade with ice and wouldn’t take any money.
Refreshed, our trek continued. Campsites filled the woods on both sides of the road as we neared the festival. At the site, giant speaker towers sprouted from the rolling farmland. We stepped across downed chain link fences. No one collected tickets.
Buck ripped his ticket into tiny pieces. “Could’ve used the money to buy weed.”
We followed the crowd toward the sound of rock music and paused at the crest of the hill. A canopy sat atop a massive wooden stage at the bottom of a gigantic amphitheater. I stood in silent awe of the rolling ocean of heads. I wanted to freeze the moment in time. “Isn’t this great?”
“Yup.” Buck hefted the sleeping bag over one shoulder and sniffed the dense air. “Three days of peace, pot and pussy.”
A performer I didn’t know sang on stage repeating the word freedom, over and over. “Who’s that?”
“Richie Havens.” Josh scanned the program. “He’s not supposed to be on yet.”
With a parade of people still behind us, we made our way down the hill seeking space to set our sleeping bags. I searched for a place near a stand of speakers and froze when I spotted the most beautiful girl ever. For a moment, my heart stopped.
She wore a form-fitting cotton shirt and white shorts, the blonde surfer girl type with legs that started at her shoulders and ended in leather sandals. Beside her was a skinny hippie girl with short dark hair and tinted glasses. The blonde twirled a flower in her hair.
“Hey, guys, how ‘bout there?” I pointed to a gap in the throng and made my way through the crowd. I dropped my bag twenty yards from the girl of my dreams and her hippie friend.
Josh settled in beside me while I tried to make eye contact with the blonde.
Buck tossed his bag onto the ground and followed my gaze. “Dibs on the blonde chick.”
“Why do you get first dibs?”
“I’m off to boot camp next week, that’s why.”
Damn, Buck. A couple hundred thousand braless babes and our high school’s ladies’ man sets his sights on the girl of my dreams. I shot Buck a hot, fevered stare. “She’s not a piece of meat.”