Cat Show

Lamar pushed the wicker mold plastic bowl to his left. “Neeko?”

“No thanks. You could eat the ChexMix, Lamar, ‘stead of digging out the pretzels. They reload that and you’ve been digging through it. You wash your hands after you took a leak?”

“Pretzels and you are the only reason I set foot in this place, Neeko. I wash my hands before ’cause I know where my dick’s been. My hands, before they get ahold of it, that’s another story. Shake hands with a man, who knows if he just did a reach and rearranged his junk, scratched somewhere dark. So I wash them first. Lamar junior hasn’t got any funk. You think my DNA all over these puffy baby Triscuit looking things is a public health hazard?”

“Not knowing if you had some splash guard like they put on gasoline hoses, I’d be suspect of that entire bowl.”

“How do you know it’s a gasoline hose? Somebody tellin’ my secrets?”

“Even if they had been I’d know they were lying. Only reason your wife keeps you is you can cook. Saw her at the store the other day, she was looking fine as always.”

“She does look good. That’s a woman thing. Even if she looked like hell you’d say she looked good. That’s Neeko’s glass is half full philosophy right there. If you saw me and then somebody who hadn’t seen me in a while you’d say “I saw ol’ Lamar the other afternoon. He looked good.”

“Does that make me a bad person? Telling people we’re all looking good?”

“No,” Lamar sort of laughed. “It makes you about a lyin’ motherfucker though. Not all of us have that magic that women have these days. I watched some old black and white on TCM the other night, and the way they showed old women, and I mean old women who were way younger than our old women, they looked like old women. Like those National Geographic pictures of Russian women hangin’ out laundry in the Sixties. Boxy dresses and that old woman hair, figures like whiskey barrels with tits. Not anymore.”

“I remember in some of those TV shows how old the women looked, and you Google it and they were thirty-four. Going on a hundred. Like once they hit about thirty they looked the same. They got that helmet hair and the whiskey barrel you were talking about and turned into nanny’s and housekeepers. Our women look better now than a forty-year old housekeeper on TV in the Seventies. Or a thirty-five-year old nurse in the Fifties. I think it’s down to the hair.”

“More than that. They work out, have organic hair dye that looks like a color found in nature, hormone therapy. We don’t get any of that. Used to be men looked distinguished when we got older, and being ‘robust’ was a sign of success. Now the doctors want us to weigh what we did when we were twenty, hormone therapy will kill us and all that hair junk for men looks like shoe polish. If we have enough hair to use it. I don’t care how chiseled a look you put up, even Clint Eastwood would look messed up with his head shaved or with jet black hair. I say wear what you have how it is. If all you can grow is ear warmers and a collar cover, let it be. I see men with that skin skull cap and a wispy gray ponytail and I want to smack ‘em for making us all look stupid.”

Neeko hit his iced tea, shot Lamar a sideways glance. “I thought about that hormone therapy for men. Actually looked into it. You get a shot every couple of days or some implants or cream. It might make you crazy before it killed you, but what a way to go. Walk around with a coat hook in your drawers like you were seventeen again for a couple of days before your heart exploded. Go find a couple of hookers I could wear out. Like a personal holy week of testosterone before you check out.”

“Your wife has been gone these ten years, rest her soul,  and you’re still banking on hookers? You’d need to find a couple of ’em drunk enough to take your money, Neeko. Speakin’ of bein’ seventeen with a whopper, I was sittin’ at a light the other day and next to me was this girl in a little maroon Mazda needed a paint job. She was a carbon copy of Jaclyn Werther. Down to the hair. Hadn’t seen or even thought about her in forty years. There she was.”

“She have a tribe of guys following her like Jaclyn used to?”

“No. Car wasn’t daddy issue, either. Shame, a girl like that drivin’ around solo. I don’t think they talk to each other these days, Neeko. Like in this place. They get jobs and if the college romance doesn’t stick they stand around and pose because they forgot how to talk to each other without a phone in their hand.”

“If you recall, we didn’t know how without a bong in our hand.”

“At least we were in the same room talkin’. Since you started this with that seventeen-year-old coat hook, and me seein’ that girl looked like Jaclyn, I heard from Fontaine the other day.”

“Fontaine? Damn. Now there’s your real half-full glass man.”

“Yeah. We went back and forth a little. Jaclyn came up some.”

“Bet she did. Bet y’all came up some talking about her. Long time down the road for all of that. What’d he say?”

“Sounded like you, Neeko. He sees somebody, he says they look good. Now I know for a fact Morton looks like hell and went through two rough divorces, with a handful of near-grown kids in there somewhere. The last wife of his, that woman was a hurricane of bat shit crazy. Fontaine says ‘Saw Morton over the weekend. He was looking pretty good.’  That’s some shit, there.”

“Not that I don’t care, but fuck what Fontaine had to say about Morton. I heard something about Jaclyn?”

“You’re still snowed over that business, huh, Neeko? Said he saw her, thought maybe she even got a divorce and she was still gorgeous. Must have been about fifteen years ago.”

“Well hell, Lamar, I looked good in my forties. So did you.”

So we did. But you were never gorgeous. I’d heard she got a divorce myself. Fontaine said he figured no matter how good looking you are or what you got going on, a couple of kids and a divorce had to tear your heart and your life up just like she was one of us.”

“I wonder sometimes about people like that, Lamar. How their dreams went. What they wanted, what they got. If they had a script, did it play as well as it read, or feel like it was supposed to going down? Was it as smooth as an Italian highway and full of poetry or all fucked up and broken in the middle like a Texas Interstate? Did they make it or give each other the finger and throw in the towel. I’d like to meet a few of them in here some afternoon, ask them what kind of ride their dreams took them on. Jaclyn’s one.”

“Well, Jaclyn’s dream took her to a cat show. That’s where Fontaine saw her.”

“No shit? What the hell was Fontaine doing at a cat show?”

“Showin’ some lady his domestic compatibility side. He said the woman loved cats and was looking. They breed those things, did you know that? They don’t just show up under the neighbor’s house and end up in a box in the front yard that says “FREE KITTENS.”

“We had a cat one time, Louisa and the girls had to have one. That cat shit like an eighty-pound dog. And left it on top of the litter box like she was proud of it and we should all want to go in the laundry room and check it out. Why anyone would want to get a specific model of cat is too deep.”

“Then it’s a good thing you never took up with Jaclyn because cats must have been her thing or Fontaine wouldn’t have run into her there. He said at the time he thought that might have been the most embarrassing moment of his adult life, seeing her like that. His only cat show and getting busted that way by the prettiest girl he ever knew.”

“Might have gotten him some points, her liking cats and both of them being divorced.”

“Naw, Neeko. You know how things look different dependin’ on your state of mind. You feel stupid at a cat show, somebody sees you and you feel more stupid, figure they think you’re as stupid as you feel.”

“One shot at Jaclyn Werther or whoever she is now, and he blows it feeling stupid at a cat show. Idiot. He say anything else?”

“One thing. Made me worry about Fontaine a little. He was talking about that cat show? He said he hated seein’ Jaclyn there, bustin’ him at the only cat show of his life. Said it felt just like seeing somebody you knew that one time you thought you’d try on a dress…”

 

Nana Ballet

I asked a three-year-old what I should put on a Facebook page when I was considering it. I thought she’d be a good barometer. Without hesitation, she said, “Nana ballet!”

“Well, I thought it might be about, you know, me.”

“Not you. Me an’ Nana ballet!” “You” was said like someone would say it if they’d just stepped in used dog food. “Not poo!” I haven’t won an argument with a female in thirty-seven years, I’m not going to start today. Nana ballet it is. The one on the left has been three once, and to two Nutcrackers already. The one on the right has been three *ahem* times and I quit counting Nutcracker and Snow Queen rehearsals and performances in the Eighties. The two of them, together, brings me to an old saying; Grandchildren are parents’ best revenge.

There are a lot of those sayings about spoiling grandkids and sending them home full of sugar, how nice it is that they go home, even after a (very) long weekend. How you get to love them and not have to take them to the pediatrician unless they develop projectile vomiting while you have them over spring break. That’s all okay, and understood, as far as the grandparent one-liners go, but what about your kids and those grandkids of yours?

ava bWhat if one of those beautiful grandchildren of yours is your child’s worst nightmare? My daughter’s daughter is my daughter’s mother. Seriously. As well as my son-in-law’s. How messed up is that for them? How could that happen? Those two kids are the pragmatic children, the very antithesis of their Fine Arts and Liberal Arts tree hugging middle-class Last of the Romantics type parents. Parents who dance and play music and still “bust a move” with students when Michael Jackson blows out of the pit at the student center. My daughter was reasonable, talented, smart. Self-motivating and very little trouble until she got Senioritis in high school and started driving by braille. Still nowhere near as much trouble as me, or, I’m sure, her mother. She got over it and turned into an attorney. Just like my son-in-law got over couch surfing and skateboards and became a school principal. They are organized and prepared and scheduled. But their first kid? God help them. My granddaughter is a clone of my wife.

As they run to meet each other “Nana, Nana! Are you going to ballet, too?” bounces off the walls of the studio lobby. The child will dance at the drop of a hat, just like my wife and, I am told, just like her other, now deceased, grandmother. It doesn’t matter if it’s kiddie songs, ZZ Top piped into a restaurant or classical. Gotta move. And read. And imagine. And talk. Talk, talk, talk. Princesses and tutus, fake eyelashes and costumes, all day long.

Nana is actually aBG Denton Ballet on point on Stagen English professor who puts on leotards and tights and becomes ten years old again at least three times a week. Now she has real, kid-sized company. She can even be three now, if she wants, which she does very well. Princesses and coloring books and fairy tales and all that magic you can believe when you’re three that some people, like Nana, have never put away or stopped believing. I told my daughter one day that if she ever wondered how to deal with her daughter, just think about how she dealt with her mom, with maybe a little more patience.

I have heard my granddaughter’s parents say things while rolling their eyes, like “here comes little Nana now…” and my favorite “Will somebody please go get both three-year-olds?” They are inseparable when they’re together. Nana will brave weather she wouldn’t go out in otherwise to see her granddaughter. Stay up late, get behind, go without sleep catching up, make herself sick for a little more time to be ten or three or Belle or Cinderella. To drink tea on the ceiling or hide from a dragon or a wicked witch, dance with a magic scarf or a giant flying stuffed sheep.

girls and nutI used to believe that innocence was the province of children, and that all of our youthful fairy tales from daydreams of ballerinas and pirates rescuing damsels in distress to the sanctity of first true love, were destined to end in heartbreak. Like one day we all get our moment to be Puff when he becomes the un-magic dragon and slumps off to his cave like a big, sad, scaly fire breathing Eeyore. Now, even when I’m tired of crayon bits in the remote control and TV shows laden with songs about everything from “be nice to your brother” to “flush the potty,” I see the magic in my child’s worst nightmare.  The pure, unapologetic logic of Nana Ballet. And I go re-write the last verse of Puff the Magic Dragon.

I believe that the very best thing you can hope for the granddaughters you can spoil and send home is that someday they too will give birth to a nightmare who becomes that very special place where their mother’s magic stays alive.

 

Sold Out

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Early October, 1976

Harper knew he was already a little too close to getting fired to tell the father of someone he’d dated a while back that requesting “If You Leave Me Now” just made him look stupid because the woman in the booth with him wasn’t interested in how up to date he was on shlock ballads. A girl not much older than his daughter was interested in what he could do for her, what she’d do for him if he did and anything else he tried to play into the arrangement, including improving his cool factor, was misguided. The man, oblivious to anything besides not breaking that tenuous might-be-getting-laid spell failed to even recognize him and dropped a five in the jar, so Harper kept his mouth shut and gave Chicago a pass. It was early, he’d get over it. He banked the man, though, so if he ever saw his daughter again he could tell her he once romanced her dad while her mom busted ass at home.

His eyes followed ‘dad’ back to the booth and as soon as he looked away in disgust from the visage of sex jacking an old guy as a promotional tool he was transported into the worn-out paperback detective novels one of the old drunks at the Kerr-McGee station down the street was always reading.

“She walked in and pointed a pair of thirty-eights at me. Then she pulled a gun.” Jesus, that bunk was real. It wouldn’t have mattered how dark the bar was or if he’d been blind, he wouldn’t have missed her. The red dress that almost hit the floor, slit up the side to beyond where heaven probably started, red sequins everywhere. One of those ladies with her own spotlight. Probably had an invisible orchestra that followed her around like Rita Hayworth, in case she decided to bust out a ballad dripping with dumb lyrics and sexy boom-boom hips in a gown that stayed up by a miracle, not straps. Even the men deeply ensconced in their perimeter booths turned to look. Harper grinned a little because he knew checking out the red dress babe would put a dent in their somebody else’s wife’s friendliness accounts. He’d seen married women get bent about that even when they were cuddling with another woman’s man.

Red dress weaved her way through the darkness spotted with tabletop candles right up to the piano bar with the ratty old Baldwin baby grand under a piano shaped table. She dropped her red sequined evening purse on top before she slid the back side of her slit dress onto the bar stool closest to him. She wiggled side to side a couple of times to find the stool’s sweet spot and sighed. Long black hair cascaded across half of her face and down the front of her dress, curled right under, and almost around, a perfect, red sequin covered breast. The dress itself wasn’t risqué at all. The neck was high, sleeves to the middle of her forearms, hem to the floor, but it fit like someone sprayed her with red sequined paint. The whole package, including the sequined evening clutch, screamed high-class hooker. Maybe. He’d seen a lot of those purses downtown. Just enough room for a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, I.D., three condoms and some cash. High-class this high was way too high for Daddy’s Hideaway, though. The Hide was convenient, suburban, close to home and where uninventive upper middle-class husbands met their other-people’s-wives mistresses to set up where and when they’d hook up in a less public venue, write off the check as a “business meeting.” And to sneak in a little sly “watch the lipstick and don’t wrinkle my clothes, darling” romance before moving on to report in with the “loved ones” at home. The place was full of illicit sex, but it wasn’t a “real” hooker haven or pick up bar.

“You could play something,” she said.

Harper tried a light smile. “I am.”

“You could play something I might like to hear.”

Harper nodded toward the far wall. “The guy in the booth over there, having dinner with his daughter? He asked for this one. I don’t like it either, but he dropped a five for it.”

She shot a glance at the wall while she ran two fingers down the edge of the hair in her face, made no attempt to move it. “She’s not his daughter. Sticky sweet love songs should net you a twenty from fountain of youth seekers like Robert, or a ‘no.’”

Her voice was woodfired and charcoally. Gravel and honey. Like she’d smoked Camels and drunk Jim Beam since she was born. If sexy ever needed a voice, here she was. And she knew the Chicago request guy, too. Small world.

“I’d offer to buy you a drink but I’ve already pissed you off with this tune. Two strikes this early would shut me down waiting for the third.”

“Piano players make enough money to flirt it away these days?”

“Lonely piano players will throw money at classy company all night long if they think any of it might stick.” He watched her do all of those lady things. The hair shake, little shoulder rolls stretching her upper back out, flexing her fingers, touching the dress, her sleeves, pushing the clutch around trying to find where it belonged. Small movements, big presentation.

“And you?” She still was looking down, side to side, like a cat had jumped in her lap or the stool was playing lightweight grabass.

“I’m lonely and I’m drinking lemonade with a half a shot of tequila in it. I can’t drink very much or I start to play Carpenter’s tunes. And I do a bad job of it because they make me cry. Old heartbreaks die hard.”

“A flirty, cornball, heartbroken crybaby. My lucky night. Flag the waitress and I’ll join you. Lemonade and half a shot. What a great idea. You make that up?”

“Yep. It’s a Harper.”

“I like Lynzey better. From now on they’re Lynzeys.”

“I tell her that and the bartender won’t know what to do, so she’ll pee in a glass full of ice and stick an umbrella in it. Your name Lynzey?”

“Yes,” she spelled it for him after she rolled her eyes. “I had to work it in, you weren’t going to ask. You’re not much of a flirt.” She glanced back at the wall where he’d said the request had come from, wiggled a little and pulled on her dress. “Now you can play something I might like. Daddy-o over there has a lip lock going and a hand in his lap that’s not his own. And you’ve beat that chorus into tomorrow just like Chicago did. He got his five buck’s worth.”

Whoever she was, she had a good eye and a sense of humor drier than July. “You a ‘Popular Hits for Piano,’ ‘Easy Listening,’ ‘Peaceful Easy Feelings’ or a Standards girl?”

She gave him a dirty look with the half of her face that wasn’t covered with hair, picked at the chipped Formica on the piano bar top with a red fingernail. “These piano cover things are always the shittiest piece of furniture in a bar. What do you think? About me.”

“I think you’re an old fashioned Standards girl. And the piano underneath this piece of shit isn’t any prize, either.”

“Story of my life.”

Harper tried not to laugh but couldn’t stop himself. “Being under a piece of shit or not being a prize?”

“I was starting to like you. I’m always the prize, no matter what piece of shit I’m under.” She threw some of the hair over her shoulder but not out of her face and watched him while he flipped through the fake book and hit on “The Man I Love.”

“I wasn’t giving the waitress the peace sign,” he said. “She’ll bring us both a Harper here in a minute.”

“They’re Lynzeys now, remember?” She smiled, leaned up off her stool onto the piano bar top trying to look at his hands. “You have a fake book down there? You aren’t even a real piano player?”

PH Rockin Cal 1981 a“I’m a between bands rock n roll keyboard player. I was washing dishes in here for free food and some cash when the old drunk who usually does this fell off the bench. Alcohol poisoning. They used to light his breath, drag him around to light all these candles.”

“Flirty, cornball, heartbroken crybaby comedian. You keep raising the bar. Between bands? Why?”

“Creative differences. I don’t like light-footed drummers, especially a dumbass who gets the clap every weekend screwing shit he should leave alone, but he and the other two guys were all brothers. And I just can’t do the platform shoes guitar band thing anymore.”

“Really high heels make my back hurt. Men walk like they have a broomstick in their ass in those things anyway, so it’s good you saw the light. Did you at least go to piano player school long enough to find ‘All the Things You Are’ in that book?”

Harper played his way out of where he was and flipped to the index, and back to the page with her request. “This is two.” He nudged the tip jar and grinned. “’Man I Love’ was on the house.” She gave him a tight-lipped eff-you smile, stepped off the stool, walked like sex with feet all the way around behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Slow down a little, Harper. Let a lady make love to a song.”

He slowed down, and what she did with a song, several songs, Harper figured was probably illegal in forty-seven states, including the one they were in. She’d left her hand on his shoulder, bent over and put her head right next to his, let all that perfumed hair fall all over him while she flipped through the fake book one handed. When she’d find one, she’d tap the tempo on his shoulder, then squeeze him a little when she wanted him to let it drag, tap him with her index finger when she wanted him to pick it back up. He played wide and close to the ground, left her a lot of room. She filled it like blue smoke in a giant bubble. After five songs Lynzey slid back on her stool to light applause from the darkness. When that calmed down he noticed through the hair that she was flushed.

“Nice job of being there and staying out of the way, Harper. That was unexpectedly perfect.” She picked up the red candle holder wrapped in plastic netting, tilted it to get the wax away from the wick so it lit up the top of the piano, and him, then finished her Harper. Or Lynzey.

“You know when it’s that good? It’s better than sex. All that room you made for me, my God. I felt like I was rolling around on a huge bed in loose satin sheets. Enough room to be coy, enough to fall a little bit in love…” He watched as she drifted off somewhere and stayed.

He almost agreed. Almost. Maybe she’d been having sex with the wrong people, or needed to fall a little bit in love with whoever it was. She wasn’t all that old to be bumming on it. Harper was almost twenty-four and only last week a dishwasher turned lounge piano player, once again, this time by having a particular skill set in the proximity of need. He put Lynzey at just over thirty. Eyes and skin and smile or laugh lines were how he guessed women’s ages. And women telegraphed it if you tuned in. But he wasn’t concerned with how old she was because when she sang it really was almost as good as sex. Almost.

He was stuck on that sex with a side order of being in love thought when she came back from wherever she’d gone and said, “I was thinking about you in platform shoes.” She tossed her hair and he saw her face before it fell again. “I think you’re lying.”

“Gospel. I have pictures. I was thinking about you as the Phantom of the Opera. I thought there was a reason for the hair, like you were halfway ugly. Now I think you’re hiding.”

“Don’t play shrink, play the piano and be nice. I’m just another girl in a red dress.” She pinched the fabric of a sleeve with her thumb and forefinger. “Put this on half the housewives in a square mile of here, take the crap out of their hair. There I am. Or here they are.”

“Unless it’s magic, that dress doesn’t help you sing. I’m almost a half bad guitar player, too, if you’d like to try this in the park with me tomorrow.” That one made her laugh out loud but she caught it quick.

“Was I going to wake up in your bed before we skipped off holding hands to play troubadour and muse? Did you just leapfrog the big question and go straight to an ‘after we’ve slept together’ suggestion?” She snarkled a choked laugh again. “God, if you did, that’s new and very good. Intuitive assumption. When you get tired of playing miserable songs for miserable people, you have a future in sales. Don’t ask them if they want whatever it is, just ask them how they’d like to pay for it.”

“I hadn’t really thought of any of that. It was an honest proposition.”

“An honest man?” She looked at him again through her phantom mask made of hair. “Don’t take this personally, but I could never do what you asked, even if I were tempted. Since we’re being honest with each other, I’ll tell you what you’re wondering about me. I’m not a hooker, I’m a singer. I have a two-year-old son at home, with a sitter.” She barely lifted her hand from the wrist, made a small movement from left to right with it. “My husband is one of these men, in a bar a lot like this probably, only halfway across the country. More than likely sitting with another man’s wife or a starry-eyed intern and paying too much for drinks while someone quite unlike you entertains them. He’s ‘important,’ and gone a lot of the time. I see the receipts, the places on his expense reports, the guest golf club memberships. The matchbooks and keys to hotel rooms he was never registered in. I smell his shirts sitting in the passenger seat of my car before I drop them at the cleaners. I come in here occasionally and sing to forget, just like people who come in here and drink and replace their emptiness with a little alcohol and stolen romance. I heard about Kingsley passing out and was curious who they’d found to replace him. And I needed to sing.”

“So why just occasionally? You’re a slammin’ singer.”

“I just told you, Harper. I’m a sell-out. From the walls in, this little cavern of moral treason is a sell-out. I used to sing opera, on a scholarship. And I’m a better pianist than you are. Or I was. Well, you have those hands that make it so wide, harmonically, but…Anyway, we don’t have a piano in our house, and when I argue he just walks away. He says the noise is distracting. I made a huge mistake in college and here I sit.”

Harper was having trouble getting behind “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and listening so he went back in time a little and found some four chord classics, caught her eye a gave her half a nod.

She picked up the cue that he was really listening and smiled behind her hair while she made rays of water come from the condensation ring her glass had left behind. “You’re listening. I’m not used to that, other than about who and where and when and how much did it cost. Do you find me fascinating?”

“Yes.” Shit. There was a better answer, a cooler answer. He knew there was.

“That’s marvelous! I haven’t been fascinating to anyone in the longest. ‘Specially with my clothes on!” Harper had already gone to imaginary no clothes Lynzey in his head and had to force himself to come back. Fully clothed she was still fascinating. And she’d quit making the watery abstract sunshine and wiped it all away with a paper napkin.

“In college I smoked pot at a party with my future husband. I mean I’d done some mescaline a couple of times and Quaaludes once and all the required college party drugs, but I’d never trashed my throat smoking anything. I told him ‘no,’ he knew I never smoked anything because of the heat and ash and junk in my throat. He said this bong thing of his roommate’s was full of water and cooled it off, it would be okay. I’d always wanted to see what the big whoop was so I smoked it. A lot of it. I decided to show off and tried to be Janis Joplin as loud as I could and woke up with a shredded throat. It’s a muscle like a football knee or a tennis elbow and I blew it out, just like one of those. So I messed my everything all up being a one-time pot party girl. I wouldn’t have married him if it wasn’t for the money and his master plan ‘we’ discussed for my life after I couldn’t do what I wanted. And I doubt he would have proposed if he hadn’t felt guilty.”

“Drop that shit right on down a deep hole, Lynzey. He’d have proposed. He wasn’t guilty. You had to be the hottest chick he knew, or will ever know. The guy may be an asshole but he’s not stupid. Or Blind. Just lucky. That’s not an ass kiss. You can believe it or leave it, but you need to see it from this side before you start backing up on yourself.” He was surprised how pissed off he’d gotten about her selling herself short like some sort of bar-fly loser. More surprised that in his instantaneous deep infatuation he’d used her name and barked at her.

“Thank you. Not for the sweet bullshit or the sermon, but for listening. And caring.” She shot him a small smile full of irony. “This has all been…different tonight. To be heard. I told you, I’m a sell-out. Everyone in here is a sell-out. Get the bartender’s story. Go ask the man over there with his ‘daughter.’ I know half of these people and none of them is with who they should be. Junior League, Charity presidents, chairperson of the board of this and that. Parading their misery and sadness with themselves like badges of success. I want you to listen to me. When Kingsley comes back, even if he dies and doesn’t ever come back, get out of here. No matter what happens, don’t learn to drink, don’t learn to hide, don’t buy into it. Don’t sell-out.”

He let her words hang in the air between them, raised his eyebrows. “Trading sermons?”

“Shut up. I’m only home inside myself when I sing, Harper. What happens in here or out there doesn’t matter when I sing. It doesn’t matter that I hurt myself being stupid for a man and traded who I could have been or who I thought I was for a pretty hostess with some good looking kids gig. I’m a ‘wife,’ I’m a ‘mom.’ I’ll be a ‘mom’ again soon and he’ll be gone again and I’ll keep coming in here or somewhere and singing to keep my head from exploding until I can’t sing anymore and then I’ll learn to drink or play golf or chit chat like a pro, like I care about my fucking ‘civic responsibilities’ and really be one of them.” She paused, almost out of breath, looked at him through the hair again, and then pulled it all away so he could see her.

“I’m sorry. I…I made the mistake of feeling how it felt when someone listened.” The hair stayed back, her eyes angry, tired, the blue gone gray. She looked defiant for a moment and then let it go. “The lemonade cuts phlegm and that’s just enough tequila. Thanks for that one, Harper. I’ll always remember you for naming a useful drink after me and being the last man who listened. Isn’t it nice to make lasting memories together, fully clothed? To know you won’t be forgotten like a one-night stand with a wakeup song in the park?”

“I’ll never forget the Phantom of Daddy’s that renamed my drink, or wore that dress.” Shit. He wanted to say something else, something with substance, something poetic, not just some lame crap, and he couldn’t find it. He did find the simplest, most open version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” he’d ever played.

She sang it from the stool, softly, like she owned it and was giving it to him as an ephemeral gift, as if she’d ridden that rainbow to the dreams she’d dared to dream and wanted to share them. He found himself wishing even one of whatever they were would come true for her. When they finished she checked the delicate, diamond crusted watch on her wrist.

“Harper, do you remember what I said about when it’s good?” She took his Harper-Lynzey from in front of him and drained it. “I’ve had more good sex tonight than I ever had to make a baby. With my clothes on. With someone handsome in an unkempt, youngish and easily impressionable way who appreciated the simplest me. Remember what I said about getting out.”

She slid off her stool, nodded slightly towards the bar. “Do both of you favor. Take that little waitress who can’t keep her eyes off of us with you when you go home tonight. She needs a ‘good guy’ break.”

“Not going to happen. She and the manager –”

“Manager?” She snorted, said it like the lemon she’d bitten had stuck in her throat. “You must not have asked. Yet. Just be like the best music, Harper. Slow down. Give a lady a chance to make love. To a song. To you. You might be surprised.” She pulled herself up perfectly straight and smoothed her red second skin across her abdomen to her hips with the palms of her hands. “See you, between gigs piano player. Not in the morning, and not in the park.” She smiled the small irony smile again, the hair fell back in her face when she picked up her purse. She turned away and weaved her sex with feet walk toward the door.

For the first time, all evening, he knew what he wanted to say, and why words always seemed to fail him where music didn’t. “Unforgettable” followed her through the candle stars dotting the darkness of Daddy’s Hideaway. She stopped under the fake arch over the doorway with every eye in the place on her, tossed her hair, blew him a kiss. Mouthed “get out” as she let go of the door.

Not Too Deep or Wide and Kind of Slow

You could fish here with your Grampa. Or stand by the rail and think about Route 66 a long time ago. Walk across and feel the wood move, hear it creak and groan. You could park just off the road in the shade and blow an entire afternoon with the stereo off and nothing but the music of the breeze and the birds and the creek to serenade you on a hot, Oklahoma summer day. You could share it with a friend or your true love, lean on the rail and watch the leaves land on the water and get carried off into nowhere like your thoughts. You could think about who you are, where you’ve been and where you haven’t and how you might correct that. You could think about nothing at all and let the movies your mind wants to play for you run until the sun starts to set and twilight says get home before they eat without you. You could bask in the simplicity of your not very deep thoughts and be all the better for it. Because simple isn’t always as easy as it appears and navigating shallow waters is often worse. Which is why we should enjoy all of our moments with our not so deep thoughts. Because they pave the way for deeper ones.

Not far from this peaceful bridge in Catoosa, Oklahoma, a man shot and killed a police officer. The man convicted of it somehow seduced, from prison, a girl who was at the top of the list of girls most likely to be somebody. She became the somebody in a story full of tragedy who helped him escape from jail and they moved to nowhere in the Dakotas. Years later they were both recaptured, and she died of an overdose and a broken heart at forty-nine, the love of her life back in jail until he turned to dust. Her house could have been on your paper route. Maybe her mother made you talk to her through the screen door. She might have made fun of a record you took to a swimming party once, but your name wasn’t on it so you dodged that one. You could watch a leaf kiss the water and float away and make it almost any allegory you wanted.

Oklahoma trip 039You could stop here after taking a picture of your lover in that Route 66 Blue Whale, laugh, drink a Coke and talk about all those people who splashed in that mud hole like it was fun, watch another leaf kiss the creek and wonder where memories go, and if they really live forever.

One day no one will stand here because the bridge out of Catoosa will have rusted away. All of the dreams dreamed by dreamers with the top down on their MG, the travelers with their tired kids who needed a place to pee right now, the people who crossed this bridge daily or only once, all of those will no longer have a home. Did the girl who escaped with the murderer cross this way? Will their memories all die with the bridge?

Lord Byron begins his ode to Venice with,

I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs

and ends with,

There are some feelings time cannot benumb,

Nor torture shake, or mine would now be cold and dumb.

All of our dreams, all of our crossings travel a Bridge of Sighs. A bridge of memories that once made, cannot collapse or die. They merely fall like leaves in the breeze, kiss the water and float off into forever.