I had stepped outside to have a smoke. One more pasta dinner was almost in the books and it had been a busy one. When we had bought this old social club a year before-technically the bank bought it and was letting me run it for the next fifteen years-I had the brilliant idea to go back to the traditional Italian dinners on the last Sunday of every month that had been a fixture when I was growing up. Homemade gnocchi, ravioli and spaghetti. It was a good boost to the visibility-we donated some of the proceeds to the youth programs-and helped the catering side of the business.
Any boost would help. To say the place was on the “other side of the tracks” was a bit of a stretch in that the place was ON the tracks. Or close enough that when a stranger to the club parked too far back in the lot one night his Impala got clipped and spun like a seven pin by a coal train that wasn’t slowing down. We found the rear bumper up in a tree.
It was good to see the place full and everyone seeming to enjoy themselves. Our spank-buddy Theresa had joined us full time a couple of months ago and had worked her cute ass up to number two in the front kitchen. I was working the back kitchen as Management (my wife) mandated Theresa and I keep a building between us on these long days. Knowing a good thing when I’m living it, I complied easily.
A lot of people came through here-some locals, some “used-to-bees”. Sweet Lori, who I hadn’t seen for years, was at the bar today. She gave me a smooch on the cheek blaming a cold for not wanting to give me a proper kiss. Not buying that, but OK.
I remembered one of our last “dates”, me in the kitchen of her apartment rummaging through drawers and cupboards looking for a wooden spoon, spatula, yard stick, anything. “Why do I have to spank you”, she called from the bed room where she lay naked, wet and ready. “Why can’t you just come in here and make love to me?” Ok, that was a good question. Good question then, good question now. Still no answer. Bored with it. Moved on. It was good to see her though. She bought take-out for her and her husband.
So I’m enjoying my smoke outside the front door. This woman comes out and I know she’s missing something. I spied her coming in an hour ago and she was wearing this god-awful, freaking hideous, faux leopard fur had, brimmed in black with a wide pleather button on the top. She was short and a little round looking like a small bottle of kid’s bubble bath with an ornate screw top. You forgot your hat, I told her. She looked at me and blinked. Put her late sixties maybe. Her companion came out behind her.
“Eddie, I forgot my hat…” Eddie was wearing a flannel shirt button to the Adam’s apple and both breast pockets were bulging with documents, little notebooks wrapped in gumbands, pencil stubs and pens. He looked over his bifocals. “Your hat”, he said breathless. There was a light sheen of sweat on his upper lip and he leaned forward as if the weight of all the documentation was pulling him over.
“I’m sure it’s in there on the chair beside where we were sitting.”
He made a three-point turn as smoothly as he could with his tripod cane and headed back into the hall.
“He’ll find it,” I assured her.
“Hope he doesn’t. I hate that goddam hat”, she said. “I’m sure I left it behind accidently on purpose somehow.”
I laughed and she blinked up at me. “This place has really gone downhill hasn’t it?” she asked. I gave her the non-committal “It’s had it’s ups and downs…” answer.
“Mostly down. Like the rest of this town goddam town. I remember there used to be dances here years ago. They don’t have them do they? They were nice-my husband and I would come down and dance the night away…”
I knew about those dances. The last one was fifty years ago.
“They should go back to them dances. Might make something outta this dump.”
I allowed that there probably wasn’t much of an audience for that kind of dance down here anymore. If “they” had one, probably just she and her husband would show up.
“That would be a trick”, she said. “He’s been dead twenty years.”
“Oh”, I said glancing back toward the hall. “I thought…”
“Him? That’s Eddie. He’s just my date. Couldn’t hold a candle to Charles. But he’s dead.”
Come on, Eddie, I thought. How long could it take to find one ugly hat?
“Did you have a good dinner, at least?” I asked stubbing out the cigarette in the planter next to the door.
“I don’t go in much for the Eye-talian food. Never did. That’s his thing. But I come with him. He takes mine home with him. I’ll eat the bread and salad. Cake’s not bad-it’s store bought though.”
Finally Eddie showed-his glasses further down his nose and leaning another few degrees forward. No doubt from the weight of the furry abomination in his non-cane hand.
As they wobbled down the broken sidewalk my old man came to mind. When he saw someone he didn’t like wearing one, he would say loudly enough to be heard but softly enough to not appear aggressive, “Who took a shit under that hat?”
Indeed, Pop. Indeed.