July 11, 2009
Pick an evening, say a Friday in July. Call a friend at 6 and ask him if he wants to meet you and your wife for Mexican food. He''s single, an empty nester of sorts and is delighted. On the way in the restaurant, you run into a couple who is there for the 89th birthday of an uncle. (Happy birthday, Jim Ford).
Your friend arrives and after much laughter and the telling of stories, you order. "I just completed my 59th circuit around the sun this week," he tells us as we chomp on chips and salsa. For $9 I go for a cactel de camarones, a shrimp cocktail Mexican style. It arrives in a large rounded glass in which an ice cream sundae might be served at an old time soda fountain.
Remember Brookshire''s Dairy Bar on College Street? It was about where the overpass at the Methodist Church is now. Straight out of Archie and Jughead. Classic soda fountain with juke box, booths, soda jerks with the little caps and real milk shakes. Gerald Massey worked there; he''s still around. You can see him at the farmers market on Saturday mornings.
Records and jukeboxes bring to mind a conversation with a friend, Billy, whose kids were amazed to unearth a trove of his old record albums. "Hey dad, here''s a copy of Thriller," one of his children said. On eBay an unopened version of the 1982 LP is going for $200. The kids are working on getting the turntable fixed, says Billy. Ordered a rubber belt off the Internet. An analog learning experience in the digital age.
The cactel de camarones ended up being more than a dozen shrimp submerged in a tomato-based sauce with avocados, onions, cilantro and lots of lime juice. Hold the sugar next time.
After food and more stories, we take leave of our friend and go for a coffee at Beans and Cream, a place where one can still get a good milkshake. There we run into three couples who had dined at Harvey''s and were enjoying a nightcap at the coffee shop. One of them is the mother-in-law of a classmate. "Bo and Kathy coming to the (class) reunion next month," we ask. She''s not sure.
Afterward in the soft twilight I wait in the parking lot while Beth goes in the video store. I get out and lean against the car listening to a jazz CD our second child make for me years ago. Take as long as you like. Across the way a blonde girl is trying on shoes in the shoe store while her boyfriend watches; the wife of a friend strides purposefully toward Old Navy.
A friend pulls up in a black SUV and asks for a movie recommendation good for all ages. Her husband and kids are inside looking. "Shallow Hal," I say having just seen it and not being able to remember anything else. It''s about a guy fixated with going out with only beautiful women until he gets stuck in an elevator with a behavioral guru who hypnotizes him so that women appear to him as they are on the inside. Those who have an inner beauty appear beautiful to him regardless of their outward appearance, and vice versa. Funny and thought provoking. An opportunity to see Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit.
Later that evening I go for a walk on Southside. Near the end of Ninth Street a man is running his leaf blower in the dark. On the next block I can see from the street what looks to be the living room of a white wood frame house. The walls are a burnt orange; the room looks inviting, homey. A shirtless boy on a bicycle passes.
I loop home through the cemetery. Other than the crickets in the trees and the frogs in the swamp, it''s a quiet evening. Stars overhead, no moon. Just one living soul in here with all these spirits. All the lives, all the stories they represent. The night air feels good on the skin.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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