Do we really want to connect with childhood friends?
A call came in on their car Bluetooth.
Anthony grimaced, cut a glance at his wife. No one had called him that since he was a kid, back in Detroit’s east side Italian neighborhood. Kathleen, raised an eyebrow, mouthed his new-old name.
“Rosario,” Anthony replied, playing the old-time name-game in turn. “What a surprise.”
“Yeah. Long time. What, sixty years? Sounds like you’re in a car.”
“Yeah, my wife Kathy and I are on our way to Florida.”
“Me and Donna are on Tybee Island. Hey, I know. Any chance you can stop by? Stay a couple days? Be good to see you…go over old times.”
Anthony sent a look of dismay to Kathy who shook her head—what? He silently pleaded—help me.
“Hi, Russ. We’ve never met. But, Anth… Nino,” she amended with a mocking grin, “has told me so much about you and your grade school years together.” She opened her palms toward her husband—what now? He nodded, rolled his hand—keep going. Kathy shrugged, took a deep breath. “That’s a very kind offer but we’re kind of on a roll to get down there…”
Anthony nodded approval and did the stop now, throat-slash hand sign. So, she added, “How about we connect later and see about the return trip?”
Anthony rocked his head mildly displeased. “Yeah, Russ. Maybe we could meet for dinner on our way back.”
“Well, okay. Yeah. That would be good, I guess.”
As soon as they disconnected, Kathy said, “I don’t understand why you’re reluctant to see your grade school buddy.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to see him…” He paused, swung out to pass a sixteen-wheeler. “I just don’t want to have to spend a night at his place.”
“I don’t know what he’s like…these days. Where he is with religion. Politics. How well-off he is.”
“You care about how much money he has?” Kathy asked.
“Okay, not really. Not like comparing bankbooks and stock portfolios. Although, maybe just a little. It’s more like…what? What we have in common? Maybe they never had kids. Maybe they have some kind of mansion overlooking the ocean, or just the opposite, some double-wide in a trailer park.”
“But he’s your buddy. You’ve talked about him over the years. I should think none of that would matter.”
“It didn’t when we were kids, when we were equals. Our dads working, moms staying at home. We didn’t know any better. And now that I think about it, we only hung together for maybe four years in grade school. What’s that?…like five minutes in your 70’s. We could be very different now.”
Kathy looked out the window at an Ohio farm house naked and alone in the middle of a frost covered field. “So, you’re saying that it’s like us when we go on a tour and get to know some folks for two weeks. But then it doesn’t last.”
“Something like that. That’s why I might consider a meal in a neutral setting. Check each other out. No ‘your place-our place’ required.”
Kathy laughed out loud. “You’re making this sound like an internet dating encounter… ‘let’s meet for coffee before we decide to sleep together.’”
Anthony snarked. “Yeah. But, I mean…you want to ease into it. See if you still have anything in common. Remember when we ran into Paul and Sharon?”
“Uh-huh. That sign in the front hallway, WE HAVE A POLICY OF NOT WEARING SHOES IN THE HOUSE. He was the head of personnel for John Deere, in Indiana, wasn’t he? Huh! Bringing work attitude home. Good thing he wasn’t a cop. He might have frisked us.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. And what if Russ and Donna are cat people or dog lovers. I hate a nose in the crotch. And then there’s my allergies.”
“So, you never want to look up long-lost friends?”
“Face it. ‘Good ol’days’ conversations last only so long. And half the time the other person doesn’t remember what you remember. And what he remembers isn’t necessarily flattering to you. And besides, when you’re kids you haven’t differentiated yet. Everything’s fun. ‘You wanna ride bikes? Cool. Wanna play catch? Sure.’ Life is simple. We were simple. Didn’t have annoying habits, strong opinions, weird twitches and strange preferences…yet.” Anthony paused, lowered his voice. “And another thing. Maybe I don’t want to see what he looks like now. You know how they do those things online ‘remember this movie star…you should see her now.’ Maybe I just want to remember him…us, the way we were.”
“Wow. Well I guess that settles that. Sounds like you’d prefer new friends to old ones.”
“Makes for a lot less baggage to sort through.” Anthony tapped the steering wheel for quarter mile, then looked over at her and said, “I didn’t necessarily say we wouldn’t call them. I just needed to get all the objections off my chest first.”
A week later, Anthony called Russ from the car. “How’re things on Tybee?”
“Don’t know. We’re on the road. They issued an evacuation warning couple hours ago.”
“Yeah, well, Hurricane Milo chased us out of St. Augustine too.”
“Damn. So where are you, now?”
“Outside Jacksonville. It’s like a two-lane parking lot on I-95. We hope it will clear a little once we get past 10.”
“Don’t count on it. Everybody and his uncle is heading North and West.”
“I’m surprised that you’re not standing on your deck and cursing into the wind? Somehow, I pictured you locking your shutters and hunkering down for the blow.”
“No way,” Donna joined in. “Gives us an excuse to visit my cousin’s horse farm in Lexington.”
“Hi, Donna. Kathy, here. We’re thinking of dropping-in on family too. Anthony’s cousins live just outside Nashville…if we can ever get off this freeway.”
“What are cousins for?” Donna added. “Too bad we can’t get together, just now. You sound like someone I’d like to meet.”
“Hey Russ, talk about cousins, remember when your cousin Al came to visit you guys. They were from southern Indiana. Said his name like ‘owll.’”
“Yeah, Owll Burrell. My cousin. Haven’t thought of him in forever.”
“And, you told the story of driving around Detroit and his mom noticing all the pizzeria joints. She said, “Man, that mister pisseria sure has a lot of stores.”
“You remember that?” Russ asked. “Nah, I don’t.”
“C’mon man. At our age we’re supposed to have long term recall even if we can’t remember what we had for breakfast.”
“Oatmeal,” Donna said. “We had oatmeal and toast and coffee.”
“I knew that,” Russ said. “Hey, it’s not like I can’t remember. It just takes me longer to bring it to mind.”
“Anthony would never make it on Jeopardy, either,” Kathy remarked, “slow reaction time.”
“All right. I got an idea,” Donna said, “as long as we’re both stuck in traffic, let’s you and me, Kathy, see how much these guys really remember from their childhood.”
“Okay. Me first,” Kathy said. “Russ. Who was your seventh-grade teacher?”
Anthony snorted. “Poor lady. She must have been seventy and still teaching a class of fifty twelve-year olds. Telling us to be good in the lavatory because our guardian angels would be watching.”
“Was she the one that got her name written in the urinal?” Russ asked.
“Nah, that was eighth grade. Sister Stella. But I always wondered how she found out.”
“So, what happened?” Kathy asked.
“She got pissed off,” Russ deadpanned.
“You guys!” Donna groaned. “All right, what was your favorite sport?”
“What season?” Russ asked. “We played football, basketball and baseball…depending.”
“Yeah, we didn’t have any Little League or Rocket Football like kids nowadays. No coaches. No umpires and uniforms. Just played next to the city airport because they had a nice grass lawn next to Outer Drive.”
“Nino, remember the time Carmine showed up with a brand new Voit football and it bounced into the street and a car ran over it and it shot out the far side of the road?”
“The ball was still good. Just had some tread marks on one end,” Anthony added. “Talk about Carmine, do you remember the time you and him gave me a PB on your front room floor.”
“What’s a PB?” Donna asked.
“Pink belly…Nah. Don’t remember.”
“Well, I sure do. Not that it hurt so much. Just that it made me feel so helpless and violated.”
“Women know the feeling,” Donna said.
“Right on,” Kathy said. “You know, I really would like to meet you. I bet we would have a lot in common. What do you think, Nino,” she asked her husband, “would you and…Rosario, is it…like to meet up?”
“Not gonna happen,” Russ said flatly. “Not today, anyhow.”
“Maybe not ever,” Anthony said.
“Right,” Russ agreed.
“Why not?” Donna asked.
“Yeah, why not?” Kathy echoed.
Donna broke the prolonged silence from both men. “Well? Sounds like you guys don’t want to meet face to face.”
“Why’s that?” Kathy probed.
Russ sighed. “Just this little bit of talking made me think. I’m like this guy who was practically blind and finally broke down and got glasses. When he walked in the house and looked at his wife, he said, ‘I liked you better blurred.’”
Anthony roared. “Yeah, you got it, man!”
“What? This is about us?” Donna asked.
“No, no.” Anthony corrected. “Don’t you see? It’s about saving memories.”
Russ chimed in, “Yeah, Nino…maybe I want to remember us as beautiful kids. But the way I remember us. I don’t want someone else coming up with stuff I forgot. Messing up the stories in my head. My stories.”
“I get you,” Anthony agreed. “And, as far as I’m concerned, we really don’t need to see each other. I don’t need to see another old man.”
Russ laughed. “And hear about his operations, and how many kids he has, and what jobs he’s held, and does he still go to church and how he voted. Who cares? I mean, really. You’re more fun to me as this kid I grew up with.”
“I hear you,” Anthony concurred.
They rode in silence for another minute until Kathy said, “Donna what’s your email address? I don’t know about these guys but you and I got a lot to share.”
“Finally,” Anthony broke in, “traffic is picking up. We just got past highway 10. Feels good to be moving, right Russ?”