Friday, October 31, 2008

Memories and the viscissitudes of life

Last Saturday Linda and I braved near zero visibility in the second most intense rainstorm we've encountered in our lives to reach Desimones Cafe down in Bridgeport and step back into the past. Along the way, while stopped at the light at Route 363 in King of Prussia, we noticed a single white running shoe awash in the river flowing in the right lane, making it's lonely way toward the sea. We didn't see any sign of a shoeless foot, so perhaps the body had already been washed down the sewer.

Other than that the trip was uneventful, except that I took the wrong fork on the turn-off from 202 to Ford Street. As I said, visibility was bad. And then there was the rude honking when I made the hairpin turn back onto Ford while I thought I had the light. People are so impatient and inconsiderate. For the record, the fellow had plenty of time to brake. And he shouldn't have been accelerating so fast in a downpour like that anyway. Fortunately Linda's car performed magnificently during the somewhat hurried turn, hardly hydroplaning at all, the skid only just perceptible, well under control.

As always we were headed down to Desimones because Charlotte, Louie and Jonathan were in town. For them returning to Bridgeport means returning to Desimones, which is like condensed old-time Bridgeport. Down there in Virginia where they've lived for twenty years, they're staid suburbanites, solid burghers, as the Dutch would say. But when they come back here they seek out the haunt of their youth, as though for a recharge of their former neighborhood selves. Ultimately, you can take a Louie out of Bridgeport; but you can't completely take the Bridgeport out of a Louie, just as you can never wholly take the Penn Street out of a Charlotte or a Sully.

Linda and I arrived at Desimones, each of us, with one shoe full of water from having to step into the rivulet running down Holstein in order to get onto the sidewalk. Neither of us contributed our other shoe to the flow. That lonely shoe on 202 hasn't had any of our shoes for company in the Schuylkill this week.

Sandra and Joey were there with Louie, Charlotte and Jonnie when we arrived, as was Theresa B. Joey's ex-wife Marianne and Sam showed up little later. Bobby called in sick, or perhaps Pat begged off to avoid the smoke. There's no smoking ban in effect at Desimones, at least in the bar area.

Jonny was in costume as Elvis and served as waiter, or at least as order taker. Aside from our group there was the usual Bridgeport bar crowd, animatedly discussing whether the Phillies game would be called off, this while rain was coming down in sheets outside, and I was wondering if the rivulet would grow to sufficient size and force to carry away Linda's car. But I wasn't wondering that for long because Linda and I each had a refreshing Seabreeze when we arrived, and then I had another because it was a thirsty night. I later learned that Linda followed up her Seabreeze with a beer while I was talking with Sandra and Louie and Joey at the bar. Charlotte, as usual, was deep into it with Theresa B, and Linda had joined them at a table.

The big news of the evening was from Joey, who said he had read my recipe for porkette and couldn't see it as his mother's recipe, because she never put celery in her pork. Charlotte backed him up on that; so it may be that all of these years I've been making what I thought was Aunt Carmella's pork, and all these years I've been adding an extra ingredient. Go figure.

Which brings me to an interesting coincidence. Desimones reminds me of a bar called The Knotty Pine which I sometimes frequented back when I was in college. The Knotty was also in Bridgeport, only its Bridgeport is in Illinois, part of Chicago. The Knotty was a favorite of a lot of us because it was relatively near the campus, and the owner/bartender checked IDs in a figurative sense. If you showed him an ID he served you, no matter what date of birth it had on it. The knotty was also a favorite because it was a very safe spot in a very rough neighborhood.

Most of the regulars were cops and a good proportion of the cops were friendly, or at least tolerant of us kids, kidding us about our age or about being Joe College and such. Other of the cops were sullen, unfriendly; but not just with us. They weren't there to socialize. One memorable evening one of the sullen cops apparently took a dislike to the refrigerator in the corner. I didn't actually see him shoot it; but I turned aroung quick at the report of his pistol, and there he was looking at the refrigerator and holding out his gun. And there was a little black hole in the white refrigerator door. Everybody in what had been a pretty noisy place was all of a sudden very quiet. Then one of the other cops went over and talked quietly to him for a while until he put his gun back in its holster. Just an average night in 1967 at the Knotty Pine, a little bar in Bridgeport, maybe ten blocks from the row house where the mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, lived. Well, maybe it wasn't an average night.

What clinched the deal for us and kept us coming back to the Knotty Pine though, was that even for back then it was a very economical joint. Hard to believe now, but six ounce glasses of beer were fifteen cents during happy hour, and happy hour ran until seven or eight or nine depending on how observant of time the owner was being on any given day. One memorable winter night happy hour ran all the way through to the 2 AM closing time.

Nick O and I stayed to the end that night even though it meant our ride left and we had to walk the ten or so blocks back to campus, crossing the sort of no-mans land under the elevated tracks on the way. But hell, who was going to be out and about to bother us in the dark middle of a pretty cold night? Who indeed! Nick later told me there were four of them and that we had to run long and hard because they were very determined. For my part, I remember leaving the Knotty and walking back toward campus and noticing that it was pretty darned cold. And then there's a mixed up blur comprised of an argument of some sort, and Nick yelling to run, and then running into something, and getting back up, and running again.

But all ended well, except that I hurt my wrist a bit and I had huge bruises on the fronts of my upper legs, probably acquired from tumbling over the hood of a parked car that I ran into at full tilt, if Nick's account is to be believed. Also, the next afternoon when I got out of bed I found that I could barely walk due to a sprained ankle that Nick hadn't noticed when we arrived back at the fraternity house even though we climbed the stairs to our third floor rooms together. Nick was luckier than me. He was fine except that he had somehow acquired a several inch long slash in a leather jacket he somewhat prized. He said he thought they wanted the jacket; but I always thought he made too much of that jacket.

No comments: