* Familiar Unfamiliarity *
I was in a hurry, but it was christmas so that's understandable. In fact, everyone I saw was in a hurry. I, like everyone else, carried two, or four gift laden bags, from various department stores, and the proverbial package, hugged precariously beneath one arm. That seems to be the usual gear this time of year.
I walked up a street, the name of which, eluded me, but I knew where I was, or at least I seemed to know this street. I had this dim awareness, which I'm unable to describe. Call it déjà' vous, or what have you, but I'd been here before, doing exactly this. I knew, for some inexplicable reason, that my brother Dav ( Dav doesn't put an 'e' on his name ) lived just up the street. His house is on the left, past an intersecting street, of which, I again do not know the name. I knew Dav was having a Christmas party, or gift wrapping party, and I was expected to attend. I don't really care much for christmas, and haven't cared much about it since I was very young. But, a party despite it's pretext, was after all still a party, and I intended to make an appearance.
I'm not like a Scrooge, or anything you know. All though I'm not the religious type either, I can appreciate the spirit of the season. The giving and receiving of gifts is always fun, but I have to defer when the G-man and J-boy are mentioned, but that's a whole other ball of worms. My main problem with christmas stems from the fact that I'm single. Well all my problems stem from that fact but I digress. I've been perpetually alone for most of my adult life, and christmas is the worst time of the year for single people. Every year my family would gather round the imitation taunen bomb. The Parent's, my siblings, and their respective significant others, and me. Christmas has always been torture to me but the fam', well, they just called me Scrooge.
The night was chilly, just under 50 degrees, I estimated. My trench coat hung open, but I wasn't cold. I never button my coat, well suffice it to say, I never button it when the weather was above 32 degrees; Fahrenheit that is. The flaps of my coat kept getting caught on my bags, as I walked along, and threatening to dislodge the afore mentioned precarious package. I paused for a minute, setting down my loot to button my coat. That's when I noticed a woman walking towards me, down the street. I believe what caught my eye about her, was that she didn't seem to be in any particular hurry. This oddity made her stand out, on this cold night, so close to christmas. She also had no packages, alas, a kindred spirit. She walked calmly, subtly swaying, as if she were listening to music or something.
She wore a long pink winter coat, befitting the season of course, a pink hat, and a pink scarf. I assumed there were pink gloves adorning the hands she pressed into her coat pockets. It's strange to use the term woman, for as she drew closer, I saw that, despite what her scarf covered of her face, she was probably near to my age. The Peter Pan in me makes me not want to refer to woman my age as women. My feminist sisters argue, however, that if I am going to distinguish myself as a man, as opposed to the term 'boy', then I should use the term woman instead of the term girl. In truth, I rarely refer to myself as a man, in efforts to retain my waning youth. Even though I am inclined to say girl in this instance, I shall instead say woman.
I founded my hypothesis of this women's age by what I could see of her face. Foremost, I could see her eyes, they were deeply brown, the kind of eyes that flowed with a sense of soft emotion. In those I saw a shiny quality of youth, I look that I had lost somewhere. She was a black women. Not particularly black, definatly of African decent, but her skin had a caramel tone to it - no wrinkles. I don't judge the beauty of a black woman by "white" standards, meaning the closer her skin is to white, the more beautiful she is. No, not at all, with eyes like hers she could have had purple skin and it would not have detracted an iota of her beauty. Of course it occurred to me that she could be seriously 'muggin' beneath that scarf, but I didn't think so.
I'm not much in the habit of speaking to people on the street, and certainly, out of shyness, not to members of the opposite sex. I felt though since our eyes were meeting I was compelled to offer some form of salutation. For lack of anything insightful I simply said, " Uh, Hi," and a muffled, "Hello," came back through the scarf. Her voice with that Hello seemed cheery and melodic, and I hesitated as she passed me by. I was experiencing one of those bizarre,' Do I know her ', moments. I realized I probably looked pretty stupid just standing there, so I picked up my things and moved on.
There was a bar on the corner of that nameless intersection, that again, I felt I knew. I was beginning to get used to this familiar, unfamiliarity, that was plaguing me tonight. Anyway I ducked inside to see what else I might discover that I already knew. As I expected everything was casually familiar, and I took my unusually usual seat at the bar. I set my bags beside me, placing the package on the bar. The bartender, who's back was to me said, "What's up Andy, what can I get ya?", without turning around. I felt used to the fact that he never turned around, yet he always seemed to greet me before I got his attention. As you have probably already guessed my response to his question was, "The usual".
I studied him as he deftly managed to give me my Long Island Ice Tea, without letting me see his face. He always did that, I don't know how, or more to the point, why, but no matter how hard I tried, I never saw his face. I studied his back, for that's all he permitted me to see. He wore a black sweater, not real thick. It had vertical lines in it, kinda like how corduroy looks. Black denim jeans of no discern-able brand, and I couldn't see his shoes, but I'm betting they were black as well. He had long blonde hair, pulled back in one of those Steven Segall ponytails. I knew without knowing that he possessed one of those beautiful faces that most women fawn over. He reminded me of a friend of mine who died shortly after I graduated High school. I wanted to tell him I missed him, you know. But I didn't, I just sat there sipping at my Long Island. I fumbled around in the pocket of my coat for my cigarettes, and lighter, as my friend, the bartender intuitively slid me an ashtray. He was one of those astute bartenders who always knew what you needed before you needed it. I lit my cigarette, and had only just taken a hit when he said, "Still smoking generics, I see". Looking at my cigarette I noticed my fingers were covering the generic label. Rather than ask him how he'd known, I just kind of laughed.
"You on your way to Dav's?" He asked.
I said, "Yeah, how'd you know?"
"He was in earlier,..,Told me you were comin," He replied frankly. "Your kinda late aint'cha" This was more of a statement then a question.
"Fashionably late," I said through a smoky exhalation.
"Yeah, Dav said you would be," The bartender said over one shoulder as he prepared a drink.
That was a given with me. Not that I was irresponsible but I was often late for social functions and the like. It's an involuntary, uncontrollable tradition in my family. The only time were on time is when we're hosting whatever event, and we're often late then too.
Someone at the end of the bar called out for service. Whoever it was all ready sounded like they'd had their share of christmas spirit. I decided I should be getting on. I downed my drink while simultaneously crushing out my cigarette( I'm cool like that ), then stood and gathered my bags and package. The bartender yelled out,' See ya Andy, Tell Dav I said Hi".
"I will," I yelled back, "See ya Brent". I don't know if that was his name, but he didn't seem to object to that appellation. ( And now a moment of silence please. My typewriter has just died and I've got to find a pen)
I was pushing through the crowd toward the same door I'd come in, when something odd caught my eye. Sitting on a stool, all by herself, was the women I had passed on the street. She didn't have a drink or anything she was just sitting there watching me. She was still bound up tight, wearing that concealing scarf, that hat, and her hands were still shoved into her pockets.
It seemed kind of odd I thought as I utilized the exit. Why was she in the bar? When I'd seen her earlier, she'd been walking away from the bar. I filed that strange thought with every other strange thought that had afflicted me this evening.
I strolled up the street, crossing diagonally at the corner of the two streets, who's names escaped me. I didn't know my brother's address but I knew I had been there before. I was always going places that I didn't know the address of, but anyway, I had this feeling I'd know his house when I saw it. Just as I expected, four houses down an unfamiliar house seemed somehow familiar to me, so I proceeded to its door.
I entered without knocking since it was my brothers house and I was after all expected. The general chaos into which I burst was, dare I say familiar one more time,...,Yes, I dare. I knew some of the people and some knew me. I'd expected to be greeted like norm from cheers, you know, with a universal hailing of my name. Only one person hailed, yelling, "Andy's here," but I didn't see who it was as I had turned to shut the door.
Some women who, I didn't know I might have known, approached me. "So your the famous storyteller," she said with a smile.
"Er,,, Yes, ah, yes I am," I said nervously. I always get nervous when talking to people I don't know. Even more so when that people is a female, and ten times worse when that female is attractive. This person was all three of those, so I was on maximum nervousness. However, I think it was Socrates who first coined that phrase, 'Always,' no wait it was, 'Never let them see you sweat'.
This women I didn't know began taking my bags from me and I struggled not to reveal my discomfort. She mentioned her name to me as she sat my bags down but I don't remember it. I have a habit of not bothering to remember peoples names until such time as its evident that I'll see them again someday. "So Andy, will you be granting us the pleasure of a story this evening," she said, again with that smile.
"Ma-maybe later," I stuttered. She told me to make sure she was there if I did begin a story, I mumbled an affirmative. I think she could tell I was nervous, cause she went away after telling me that Dav was in the kitchen. Where else would Dav be, I wondered if not in the kitchen. Dav was the only person I knew who would cook meals for his party guests. I throw a bag of chips on the coffee table and go to it.
I felt sorry for the beleaguered coat rack so I passed it by. It was also a habit of mine to keep my coat on at a party. This could have been due to insecurity you know like Linus's blanket. A 'woobie' if you will, my jacket might have served as a shield against the unknown. More likely though it was due to the number of parties I had attended which had been raided by the police. I preferred to keep my coat with me in case I had to jump out of a window or something. I was under legal drinking age when I developed this particular habit, and it's been my custom ever since.
Anyway I made my way to the kitchen to see my brother. Dav was there, and as always, he was deeply involved in some mysterious culinary creation of dubious ingredient. Culinary creations came and went with Dav, but dubious was always a main ingredient. You could count on the dubious ingredient. Dav is a good cook, despite the dubiousness, and the smell of this concoction was expectedly inviting.
"Hi Andy," Dav said, "where ya been?"
"Here and there," I said skillfully evading the question. My family as I said was always late for the social function. But we never admitted that we could have been on time had we not been dicking around. "Whatcha cooking there buddy," I said while peering ominously over his shoulder.
"It's a surprise," he said. It's always a surprise with Dav, the Dubious ingredient made sure of that. I neglected to verbalize this comment however, as Dav is touchy about his cooking. "How about a drink," He said pointing to a large bowl on the counter. Dav was also notorious for serving Hairy Buffalo punch at his parties. I'm one of those people who takes leave of their senses when drinking hard alcohol. I declined the punch for this reason asking if there was a beer to be had instead.
"Good Idea," Dav said as he put a lid on this evenings creation. He opened a beer filled fridge and blindly handed a beer back behind him. Having learned to be cautious I checked the brand before taking it. It was an Old Milwaukee. I asked again, "Do you have a BEER," adding emphasis on the word 'beer'. Dav's idea of a beer was anything he could get at around seven bucks a case. He remembered that my tummy doesn't take well to those cheaper brands he was so fond of. He kept the Old Milwaukee and handed me a Budweiser apologizing for his careless insult. Not that Budweiser is an expensive beer, but it's as cheap as I can drink without getting dysenteric.
I asked him who had brought the Budweiser and Dav said that he didn't know. Some beer drinker probably anticipated the Old Milwaukee scene and opted to B. Y. O. B.. I asked Dav if someone might not get mad about my drinking their beer. Dav waved away my concern saying, "Who cares, if someone complains give 'em fifty cents and tell them to go buy a life." We laughed, popping our tabs simultaneously and adjourned to the kitchen table.
Sipping slowly at our beers we chatted for a spell, with frequent interruptions from thirsty guests. Somehow we had got to talking about the family christmas get together and I was trying to think of a way to change the subject before I grew dismal. Suddenly one or two of those dubious ingredients in Dav's culinary surprise, decided to attempt an escape from the large covered pot on the stove. Cursing, Dav sprang to beat it back into submission, and I, anticipating an ugly struggle decided to vacate to a more peaceful part of the house.
I found an empty chair facing the door to relax in, and continued to nurse my beer. Some guy asked me where I had gotten my Budweiser and I casually told him that Dav had given it to me. He frowned and wandered off toward the kitchen before I could find two quarters. People were scurrying both in front and behind me and my head was buzzing from random conversations, or possibly that Long Island. Someone was calling for a pen, in a soft happy voice, somewhere behind me. I reached into one of the many pockets of my coat, retrieved my pen held it above my head. It was quickly snatched away and a soft happy, "Thanx a million," came back.
As I sat there, surveying the present wrapping melee around me my attention was drawn to that fat overburdened coat rack. There on the top of that rack someone, either very brave, or in possession of a keener sense of balance then myself, had placed a coat. A long pink coat with a pink hat and scarf hanging from one of the pockets. A peculiar smile stole across my face as I remembered who in fact owned such a winter ensemble.
At that moment a small piece of paper flittered down from above me. I picked it up off my lap to examine it. I recognized the red ink from my pen immediately, the phone number, however, I had never seen before. Given the nature of the better part of this evening I felt unfamiliarly unfamiliar. Then a slender caramel hand reached around me, holding my pen. Behind me that same soft happy 'Thanx a million' voice said, 'My name is Robin."
Taking the pen I started to turn around to see this women with the soft happy voice, who calls herself Robin. All I saw was that slender hand moving up to cover my eyes, sending me into darkness.
The sudden lack of visibility startled me awake. I sat up blinking sleep away while I tried to dismiss the confusion. All the while I searched tussled sheets for a phone number that wasn't there.
I realized discontentedly that it had of course been a dream. The air of familiarity and déjà vous had seemed so real, so intense. I began to laugh dispite my loneliness, because the first clear thought to enter my head was," Damn,,,, that's a new one."
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