Saturday, August 11, 2007

Blues City

It's 104 degrees and I can feel the sweat begin to bead at my temples as soon as I open the car door. This is hellacious - literally. I'm hung over from the night before, sleep deprived too, and it's a stifling 104 degrees. I turn the corner and enter the cool embrace of a Coffee Shop's air conditioning and thank God for the vaulted ceiling generously peppered with spinning fan blades. It's Saturday morning and I'm home for birthdays - The florist's and my father's. Dad and I are on Main St. in search of something (preferably iced, and caffeinated). I feel like crawling into the Mississippi and surrendering to whatever fate might take me as long as it's cooler than this Memphis air. Instead, I order an iced Americano - large with room for cream. It's early still and there are few people here, but the synthetic breeze is the only thing on my mind and it moves more freely without the obstacle of bodies. Dad chooses to sit outside, "because there is a 'shade'."

It's ONE-HUNDRED AND FOUR degrees! ...but it's his birthday.

He smiles and says that he likes the heat because he's an old country boy. I politely inform him that I am not, and then clasp the sweating plastic of my frigid cup and suck down a bitter-creamy gulp.

I step inside to use the "patrons only" restroom, and pass the pastry chef as he is stuffing something that resembles eclairs without chocolate. He calls me baby girl and it startles me...I hate to be called that anymore, even by my own mother. I don't hate the chef, just the name and I stop to talk with him on my way out. His name is Kimberly. He has a house in Sardinia where he lives 3 months out of the year. When he was 18 he moved to Japan where he was engaged to his pen pal's sister. She died 2 weeks before their wedding. He turns away and I hear him mutter, "that broke me in two."

A fly has begun to challenge the ownership of the sweets on the counter and Kimberly swats at it, cursing, as he continues his work. I chat with him for longer than I should seeing that my Dad is roasting outside, alone, on his birthday, but I'm so intrigued. I think the chef tries hitting on me...something about eating sushi later, but I tell him I can't - "It's my Dad's birthday, after all." I shake his hand and head toward the door, and as I walk away, I hear the triumphant assassination of the fly he has defeated. "I got you, bitch!" he exclaims, and I smile at the irony of the enemies.

I swing open the heavy door and again enter the inferno. A man resembling a pirate has laid claim to the bistro table adjacent to my father. A powder blue wrap encompasses his head, his mouth is covered with warm-brown whiskers, his over sized white button-up is rolled sloppily at the sleeves and hangs below his waist, unkempt. His khaki pants are dirty and have been cut off at the knees. He wears big, black, unlaced boots that raggedly hug his feet and ankles, and the remnants of an aimless strap hang limp across his body from shoulder to hip. I am unsure of it's purpose since it attaches to nothing. His name is Dan Smith, perhaps an alias, and he used to fly planes for Northwest. I choose to imagine him adrift the seven seas with billowing black skull and bone sails instead. He asks my Dad if he understands death, to which my father unbiasedly replies, "no."

My Dad "understands" everything.

The pirate sits back against his wrought iron seat and agrees that he doesn't either, but it seems to him that Heaven and Hell just take up too much space.

Blues music pumps soulfully into this sidewalk. My father clears his teeth with that popping sound he makes with his tongue. He thinks for a moment before claiming ignorance to both modern art and jazz, but blues he says, "blues, I understand."

On the corner of Main street I roll my eyes at his dramatic tone, and shift in my seat to find the coolest position in this miserable heat. And between the pastry chef, my pirate, the characteristically southern temperatures, and Dad, I feel at home for a moment, at Home.

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