A friend—we met in college—recently retired and moved back to his hometown. Excited about his relocation, he invited me to visit, to see his origins.
Jerry and I hadn’t been close as adults. We communicated sporadically and visited each other when convenient, but, for me, it never was a priority. He was, in my mind, a longtime friend, not a close one. But there I was in his hometown, a village on the edge of a suburb on the outskirts of a major, modern metropolis.
The morning after my arrival he took me on a walk to see his childhood neighborhood. “That house across the street was where the Lawsons lived,” Jerry said. “Mrs. Lawson’s brother—no, it was her uncle—oh, it could have been her cousin—won an Oscar for screenplay or sound or something. It was for a category that started with an “s.” Maybe cinematography. Anyway, I never met the guy.” Jerry stopped walking and tilted his head in thought. “It might have been someone she went to high school with.”
I stared at the Lawson’s dreary middle-class home, processing Jerry’s meandering tale. What was the point of that story? I thought.
“And the house to its right,” Jerry pointed out, “was where the Porzingis Family lived. They were Russian or Polish. No. Not Russian or Polish. But the parents were from that part of the world. They had four kids, but they all were older than me, so I didn’t really know them. Mrs. Porzingis had blue hair, like that light blue rinse gray-haired women used back then.”
“Oh.” I tried to show interest. That was all the excitement I could muster.
And that house on the corner.” He nodded toward a cream-colored home. “The secretary at my elementary school lived there. It was brown then. I understand one of our city council lives there now. But I don’t know what he stands for. I stopped following politics when Hulk Hogan became the governor of Minnesota.”
“Oh.” My feigned interest teetered on disbelief. Not only was Jerry sharing insignificant details from his past, but he was muddling facts. Hulk Hogan had never been Minnesota’s governor. Another wrestler, Jesse Ventura, had.
We continued walking toward the town’s main street. “These trees have been here forever,” Jerry said. He ato one. “That one had a tire hanging from it that we swung on.” He gazed off into the past. “The branch broke one day, and the tire crashed to the ground with Mikey McKean in it. The branch hit him on the head. We all laughed so hard. I think you would have liked Mikey.”
When we reached the corner, where a modern three-story office building stood, Jerry stopped. “The Latvian Cultural Center used to be here. We had a large Latvian community in this town. They had some great parties here, weddings, birthdays, and so on.”
“Did you ever go?”
“No. I didn’t know any of them. I’m not even sure where Latvian is.”
I thought to correct him, to tell him the country was Latvia, the people Latvian, and it was in Eastern Europe, like Russia and Poland, but didn’t. I didn’t want to ruin his stroll down Memory Lane.
We turned the corner. Ahead of us, a sign projected from the building, hovering over the sidewalk. “The Pequod” it read. As we neared it, I could see that The Pequod was a coffee shop. “Interesting name,” I said. “Why’s it called The Pequod”
“I don’t know.”
I thought for a moment. “Oh, I get it. The Pequod.”
“Get what?” my guide asked.
“The Pequod was the ship, the whaler, in Moby Dick.”
I began to laugh. “And Starbuck was its first mate.”
“It’s a rip on Starbuck’s.”
“No, it’s not. Pequod is the name of the owner’s corporation. Pequod Enterprises. He owns a lot of property and businesses in the area.”
“And what is his name?” I asked with suspicion. “Melville?”
“No. Mel Villenueve.”
“Oh, that is brilliant!”
I stared at Jerry for a moment, evaluating whether it was worthwhile to explain the connection between the names. I chose not to. “Never mind,” I said. “Not important.”
We continued walking. “This used to be a grocery. Just fruit and vegetables. The Ashby’s owned it. They went to our church. Mom shopped there all the time.”
Jerry and I reached the corner. “A Greyhound Bus stalled here when I was thirteen. Blocked the intersection for hours. The passengers stood on the four corners waiting and waiting. I don’t even remember where that bus was headed. Maybe Dallas. Or Houston. Anyway, that was when I met Kathy Murphy. She was my age. She was going to spend the summer with her grandmother in—oh, I don’t remember—and she was travelling by herself and really scared. Well, by the time the bus was ready to roll again, we had each other’s addresses and became pen pals. We wrote for years. Like till we were fifteen.” Jerry laughed. “Sorta like Facebook today.”
“Denton!” Jerry blurted. It was Denton. She was going to Denton. Or was that her grandmother’s last name? Is there a town named Denton? Hell, I don’t even think that bus was heading to Texas. I think it came from there.
As we crossed the street, my friend stutter-stepped a moment, looked at me, and muttered “I don’t think her name was Kathy Murphy.” His eyes widened. “It was Katie Murray.” We reached the corner and faced a library. “I worked here,” Jerry said. “After school, on weekends, and in the summer.” He smiled. “Working at the library taught me the importance of books and world knowledge. That’s why I decided to go to college. I was the first one in my family.” Jerry smiled. “That, I suppose, is why I met you.” He looked down and put his hands in his pockets. His shoulders stooped a bit. “I think you had an easier time in college than I did.”
That, I thought, was the first memory he’s had or story he’s told that is interesting or revealing and has relevance to me. Is he aware that his babbling is boring?
Triggered by the sight of the library, I returned to a previous conversation. “I read Moby Dick in the ninth grade. Ms. Horton assigned it. She was fresh out of college and really cute. Diana Horton. She had this yellow dress that we all called her jaundice dress.” I exhaled a chuckled sigh.
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