Friends Past

I spoke on the phone with my parents earlier today. We got to talking about some people we used to know who, more or less, fell out of our lives over the years. When I started thinking of them, I realized how much I miss them and wondered what they might be up to these days. I thought I’d write about them here, though I’ll change their names.

We met them all when my family moved to a new city. My dad moved a few weeks in advance to start his new job while mom and I stayed behind, waiting for me to finish out the school year. We made weekend trips to visit dad and brought a few more boxes with us each time. During the week, dad frequented the bar of a restaurant in the neighborhood where he was staying. Not only was the food good and the whiskey well stocked, but the people were amazing. It didn’t take long for the guys who worked there to become dad’s family away from family. On the weekends when mom and I visited, we would go there for dinner. Instantly, we were accepted and adored. I did a sketch of the restaurant’s facade that turned out pretty well, so I presented it to the owner. I felt really proud because they hung it in the kitchen and all the staff who saw it complimented me. Despite all of the amazing options a big city had to offer, we preferred the company of our new friends.

A guy named Tony ran the joint. He had vision, he had taste, but he apparently wasn’t very good at business. This wasn’t his first venture and it didn’t turn out to be his last. I suppose that’s what he liked doing, though; running restaurants. He lived in or around the neighborhood where we ended up buying a house and sometimes, years later, we’d see him driving around in his convertible BMW. It was a truly beautiful car – very well cared for – and I could tell it had been a long time since our days at the restaurant, the last time I saw him, because his hair had gone entirely silvery gray. Tony had had dark brown hair, when we were both younger. I asked my mom once how he could afford such a nice car if he kept failing restaurants. He’s the only man I’ve ever met who had a sugar-mama.

David tended bar. My dad got to know him fairly well since that’s where he spent most of his free time during the week. I always thought he was kind of a quiet person. It always surprised me that he worked in a restaurant as a dapper bartender. With his dark hair, goatee, and glasses he struck me more as the technical type; but that’s judging a book by its cover. I remember Dad saying David was trying to start a business of his own… I wonder if he was successful. When I think back to these times, I always picture him as the one who had his life together and on track – the stoic bartend who would lend you his ear and some legitimately good advice. He didn’t say a lot because not a lot needed to be said.

Next is the host with the most. With a strong New York accent (or was he from Jersey?) and a knack for storytelling, Frank was your instant friend. He was the first person who ever treated me like I wasn’t a kid – not like an adult, but not like a kid. I remember he chewed gum a lot and always had ideas about what he was going to do next in life. For a while, that was film making. He even wrote, directed, and starred in his own movie that was screened at a local film festival. I wasn’t allowed to see it when it came out, but Frank had offered me a part in the film before the restaurant went under. After that happened, we didn’t see him much. Occasionally walking down one of the main roads or puttering around in his car that was so rusted through you could see the road through the floor. There were times that I wanted to be more like Frank. He was a sharp dresser and a go-getter and he could spin a yarn like none other.

Then there was Cha-Cha. Sure he had a name like Tim or Simon or something, but everyone called him Cha-Cha. I think the nickname came from his skills navigating the busy restaurant floor. His movements were so fluid it was like he could carry a tray of dishes through an obstacle course without losing so much as a spoon. There may have been a specific time when he dodged an obstacle in such a way that it looked like he was pulling a dance move. Whatever it was, the name stuck. He always seemed bright and happy to me, but mom and dad would occasionally mumble about some drama that may have happened in the kitchen. I suppose he got frustrated quickly or something. But he was always nice to me. Because of this, and maybe a little to do with those bright baby blues, I had quite the crush on him for a while. He was the first to leave us, though. I believe he moved to another city (even bigger than the one we had just moved to) because his partner had taken a job there. At the time, I thought it was horribly romantic. I hope things worked out for them.

Finally, there was Danny. Danny taught me how to make one of the best, and simplest, desserts I’ve ever made. He was taller than my father and liked to go to the gym, so he could be rather intimidating at times. He was also the only gay man I’ve ever known who would wear chef pants casually. He wasn’t even a chef at the restaurant – he was a waiter – but he obviously knew his stuff. We would see him fairly often walking one of the main streets – he walked everywhere – and was the only one we kept in close contact with for years afterward. He was a make-up artist and showed us pictures once from the Halloween celebration in Key West where he made one of his friends up to be Marilyn Monroe. Had I not known in advance that the person in the picture was a man, I would not have been able to tell. I could hardly believe they’d found anyone who could look that much like Marilyn! Danny even got us tickets once to see a high school production of ‘Oklahoma!’ (the musical) that he did the make-up for. It was a great performance all around and the first time I’d ever seen ‘Oklahoma!’. After that, though, we saw him less and less. He got busy. He refused to own a computer, but would email us every once in a while from the library. He wrote once when I was in high school to say he was moving again to a new apartment and that was the last we heard from him. Mom saw him a couple of times, still walking, still in brightly decorated chef pants, but she wasn’t near enough to get his attention.

These are some people I loved, who welcomed me and treated me well. I hope to always remember them.

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