I couldn't say what reminded me, but having that itch nearly exclusive to Sundays, I'll write this little chestnut down before the vodka swills and half-remembered blows to the head flush it all away.
This would've been the autumn of 2006. Miss Kathyrn and I were living on Two Street, Mummers' Row in the heart of old Irish South Philly. The First Ward. Pennsport. Not two blocks from the Riverview movie theater where you can take in a Pixar and get shot by an infant for the same ticket price. A steal, if that's your thing. Also we had a Burger King. Jesus, was it awful. Anyhow Kate and I liked it and we had some happy times in that place.
At the time I was working at the law firm of Larrabee, Cunningham & McGowan, P.C.. A terrific bunch of folks who put up with me much longer than I would have. And given that they paid me a king's ransom (by my math anyhow) I used to spend the liberated evening hour going through the Reading Terminal Market, shopping for the makings of supper, often giving very little regard to what I spent. At the risk of a digression: Le Bus batards; Salumeria's clotted cream and purple-marbled Roquefort; the cookie & an attiude (the attitude was free), the rabid octogenarian playing the upright piano as if all music was the embossment of her dream and all the Market was bygone Vienna; the Amish yogurt and raw milk; chickens from Och's; Jill's Cook Book Stall--yes, Kate I did have a kind of crush on Jill, but it was a harmless one; the leeks, Yukons & cipollinis from Iovine Bros.' that became so many a night's copper purees and then the chive ragouts that crowned them, are among not only my fondest memories of the Market, but of Philadelphia on the whole. Hell, of all my known adulthood of details on the whole!
I don't remember what I bought that day, save for what was jutting out of my book bag. It was one of those kinds of book bags they only give us city liberals. You wingnuts don't get them. To accentuate the elitism and snobbery of my book bag, I'll add that it read the name of the greatest record store on the planet, my former place of employment, A.K.A. Music., where, as we speak A.K.A. Mike is edenically rooted in a Frankie Miller live album, arguing about Slumdog Millionaire with the excellent Tony Creamer. Oh wait, it's Sunday. Mary and Mia. Jesus, Mia's pregant!
I rely on these details to safeguard the chemistry of nuances. It's like when you watch Bob Ross paint a picture there comes a time in the execution of each canvas when you caution him, Bob, that color doesn't go there. That's where the stream yields a tuft of blond grasses, like you said earlier, before you started. But moments and soft words later the counterintuitive swath of emerald green has fallen behind--that's right, a precise and exemplary tuft of blond grasses. So please know that it all belongs, and belongs in the order in which it falls.
In those days I rode the old Smiths bike. A 50's era Ross, doubtless made in Allentown P.A., resembling the regal Raleighs of Nottingham, England. I remember at first sight of it, thinking of my hero, the great tragic World War I poet, Wilfred Owen, riding across a smoke-buffed moor path with a bag of letters, intelligence and the augured imaginings of fatality and honor that would win him his sad fame. If I could imagine him there on that Ross--a Raleigh simulacrum, then it was the vehicle for me. I could, and it was. Incidentally we called them Smiths bikes because of their profusion in the 1987 music video for The Smiths' "Stop Me If You Think You Think You've Heard This One Before". Both anglican associations gilded my appreciation, though truthfully neither came so readily to mind as thoughts of excessive violence upon watching a thief in a red sweatshirt ride it past me, the unlatched cord-lock sitting in the wire basket I'd added only days earlier. You know...
Anyhow, these we're happier times to be sure. Peeking above the scarlet rim of my tote was a batard, some greens, a white paper wrapped parcel of Luganega sausage--I do remember!--and a slender bouquet of flowers wrapped in green tissue for Kate. In those times, too, I was better dressed than I am now. Like the self-portrait galleries showing Rembrandt's rollercoaster of fortune and misfortune, my own is detailed in the sartorial surges and crashes that live in memories. It was cool enough for a scarf, and this was before that rueful day when Kate gave me the brown corduroy jacket ultimatum. So there I was, affected and content as could be, pedalling my way down Two Street, a tote brimming with food and flowers, oh, and a 30 pack cube of PBR balanced precariously on my handle bar. From behind me I heard the acceleration of an engine and as best as I could, I yielded to the unseen auto. This had to be done cautiously, and yet with enough expedience that the driver would detect my courtesy; that kind of bike, with that kind of occupant, carrying that kind of tote formed a gestalt portent of Pennsport gentrification. I was not so well liked by the neighbors. Nor was Kate. And she had being pretty on her side.
So there I was, yielding to not just a picture of fourth generation Pennsport stock, but one driving a pickup, more to the point one with that dusty red complexion exclusive to contractors fond of the n word. He cast me a long unconceding stare. The thought occurred to me to stop entirely, let him pass as quickly out of sight, and out of the path of confrontation, as possible. I thought about how old I was, how I'd come to look and act as I did. I was from people so much like him, and yet I was so unlike him. I don't mean that in a judgmental way. Where did my water diverge from the greater currents?
The glare seemed to occupy the entire autumn of 2006, when, having slowed to my unsteady bike pace he imparted, "Brother, you are living the dream."
As quickly as that my confidence was restored. I remember finally laying the flowers on the kitchen table, overtop a gas bill. There was enough light coming off the Delaware to know one object from the next. But really, that was it.