5:30 AM. Still. Calm.
My dog, Mrs. Wilson, has to pee. Relieved, she joins me in the study. A mug of Keurig dark roast, Columbian, 100%, fair trade, robust, in hand, I hesitate to touch the reading lamp at that first sip.
The room, a shade of black coffee, is bathed in light…..Mini versions. Red and green spots indicate a satellite on duty, yellow for an always warm Sony HDTV awaiting the trigger, in the corner, a vertical device, its multi-hues flashing; power, broadband, mobile, under an ATT worldly logo ready to re-ignite the tiny blue of an aged, ca. 2015, HP printer.
One foot away a dozen cords, tangled, plugged, recharging lithium ion molecules. A reminder that the best use of lithium was treating bipolarity.
For a moment, as if the faceless subject of Edward Hopper, an original sketch, the dim light at a lonely intersection, below draped windows
I turn on the 3/way lamp. The second stop, 70W.
Reflecting on a recent reunion, sixty leathered, weathered years in the making, drew me toward the bookshelf; Drift, a college annual, 1958 version. Sophomore year.
30+, fraternal brothers and loved ones for dinner, in a gilded age mansion, reminiscent of the house we shared, pre-VietNam. The private club restaurant, an Indianapolis landmark on tony N. Delaware St. long ago, was a proper venue. Less proper, yet realistic, the ‘hood is a fast growth urban fungus; boarded windows, abandoned buildings, wandering nighthawks, dim streetlamps, pot-holed street, traffic, oppositioned by a 24 hr C-Store incandescence. Pouring rain. For hours.
The dinner, delicious, the companionship without peer, the crowning achievement…my wife having a wonderful time. After a necrology briefing (one revered member, our house treasurer passed away, less than a week before), trips to the bar, and exchange of the secret grip, we embraced time travel for three hours.
Conversation brushed on old memories, most quite accurate, interspersed with aortic stents, PSA levels, titanium joints, HDL, A1C, the big C…..acceptable as we recognize the inexorable decline to the final checkout lane. The last scan.
How and why we, octogenarians all, were chosen to survive, baffles this writer. Many of us spent a childhood in northern Indiana’s Lake County. The cinematic triumvirate, “west side story”, “grease”, “happy days” surely owe us royalties, so help me Maria, Travolta, and The Fonz.
TV, 3 stations, rarely viewed, turned off at midnight, the prayer to Saint Francis of Asissi, and a stoic Indian chief looking reverently skyward in the glow of cathode rays. With no flouride in the water, most of us had early cavities, filled with mercury amalgam fillings. Thanks to Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, and Bit -o-Honey. We had never heard of bottled water. Drank from any tap, delivered magically through unseen pipes. Lead, wrapped in asbestos to conserve heat inside. In homes painted with Sear’s Best, or Sherwin Williams, lead based rainbows to “cover the earth”.
Catfish caught in nearby Wolf Lake or the Calumet Sag Canal came off the hook with anomalies: two heads, vestigal tails, or crooked spines. On warm summer days the aroma of rendered pig fat drifted south off the Lake Michigan breeze, a wisp of frying bacon, courtesy of Lever Brothers. Mom bought P&G’s Rinso White, and Ivory, a soap that floats.
Airborne soot from Inland, Youngstown, USSteel, omnipresent, turned every neighborhood into a chest x-ray; black, white and shades of grey. Whiting Beach closed due to a Sinclair refinery oil spill. The word ecology had yet to make an appearance in Webster’s collegiate, but we had 29¢/gal. leaded gas for the 1952 Nash Statesman. A uniform attendant pumped, while multi-tasking, cleaning the dirty windshield, adding PSI pressure to bias-plied tires.
We ate PB&J on chemically bleached white bread. Our mother insisted that the PB brand was named after my older brother’s nickname, Skip. There was no warning caution : this product made in a facility where traces of wheat, peanut, soy, milk may be found.
Like our sports heroes, we ate gluten, 100%, straight, covered with 3.5% milk and called it the Breakfast of Champions. Stan Musial returned a stare, a cardboard smile, over a worn linoleum topped table.
Other brothers arrived from mythical towns, those on wrinkled Shell station maps of Indiana; Evansville, Poseyville, Stewartsville, with names like, Dick, George, Joe Don, and Red.
Smoking…?….almost everyone did. The RJ Reynolds sales rep passed out free Salems every week in the Campus Club. Packs of 4. Take all you want. Here, have a free lighter…..filled with volatile organic compounds. Yet, six decades later, no one in this room lights up.
We view grainy b/w photos, Kodak Instamatic or Polaroid, relishing our unique history, a blink in time, lamenting brothers passed, and best friends unable to attend. Attempts to revisit our vocal skill, fraternal anthems, once enhanced by Schlitz, Falstaff, Blatz, were rather lame. Even when provided with crib notes, Songbooks. Our fresh 1959 vocal cords were much better, contending 1st place in the annual “Spring Sing”. We had tonsils.
940 W. 42nd St., Indianapolis
Bottom l-r; Lathouse, Mitchell, Generalli, Bevis, Lilves, Anthony, Elliot
Top l-r; Schuetz, Dorsey, Secor, Smego, Siurek, Stevens
Lynn and I were among the first to arrive, and the very last to leave. Married for 28 years she knew little of her husband’s past life. We exit the darkened parking lot, drizzling rain, wipers at the 3rd notch. Driving at night, no longer a welcome task, as I glance past her cheerie smile, merging into the too fast traffic.
“Honey, that was so enjoyable. I hope the boys plan to do this again next year.”
It’s 7:11 AM, EST, the civil sunrise, and Wilson is restless after her morning nap. She delivers an anxious stare. She wants her breakfast, our daily walk, a bowel movement, so get the leash. Now.
In dogspeak, ‘Chas, you’re no Stan Musial.’
Nostalgia is contemporary.
These, too, are the good old days.
Very special thanks to Walt Hap and his wife, partner, and date for 50+ years, Rita (nee Taylor) Hap
Insightout © 2019