"To understand a man, you must know his memories. The same is true of a nation..."--Anthony Quayle
I am usually blessed [though sometimes cursed] with an excellent memory--not quite photographic, but extremely accurate and clear. Earlier this week I walked into a store to buy a gift for a friend and ran smack dab into the parents of one of my first girlfriends--a girl I dated throughout most of high school and still saw on occasion during and even just beyond college. We were very close--close enough that we lost our virginity's to one another--and her parents knew it. They knew it, unfortunately, because once sex between us became a regular thing it often took place in her home after they went to sleep, or after we thought that they had gone to sleep. Her parents were apparently much lighter sleepers than we gave them credit for.
We were never confronted as a couple, thank God, but my girlfriend's mother did confront her privately at some point, and after that my visits to their home were as brief as possible.
They didn't recognize me in the store, and I didn't attempt to re-open old wounds. I briefly considered pretending to be someone else so I could ask after their wonderful daughter [who I know is now a happily-married child psychologist], but quickly realized that while they had gotten older they probably hadn't gotten any stupider and would most likely recognize me as soon as I started talking.
My old girlfriend's parents left the store shortly after I arrived. Seeing them that day however has awakened a sort of archival review in the back of my mind, where most of my personal memories are kept. Recently, as I go about the moribund daily tasks that generally constitute my existence, I have often been surprised [usually pleasantly] with flash floods of the past...
I remember things about my first restaurant job. I remember the first time I saw a restaurant employee eat from a guest's cleared plate [I was horrified then and would still be horrified now--I haven't actually seen it in years because I fired the last two people I saw doing it and my feelings on the matter are well-known]. I remember Tim Kelly the head-waiter [certainly long-dead], a man that would handle his six-table station like an absolute champion--never lose his cool, never fall in the weeds, and never forget to say please and thank-you to those he worked with, even if they were chubby, snot-nosed busboys. I remember when the manager told me that I would be in Tim's station every night that we worked together because Tim had requested me. I remember showing up early and icing down the bartender's wells to make an extra $5 a night. I remember when one worldly guest actually asked for espresso when I offered coffee, and I remembered that Tim Kelly was the only person in the whole restaurant who knew what the guy was talking about. After fifteen minutes of hunting the manager came up with a bottle of instant espresso. I remember being angry that the guest didn't actually drink the "espresso" that we had gone to so much trouble to produce. I remember working four roll-over doubles in a row during a huge convention one summer and making nearly $1000 during the four grueling days--back then I thought that was all the money in the world--now its lunch at Olives in the Bellagio. I remember a record-breaking Saturday night at this restaurant, and I remember being asked to come out for drinks with the waiters after the shift, to the dive bar in the hotel next door. When I sheepishly mentioned that I was only 14, the response was, "oh yeah, 14's too young...tell Jim you're 16 if he asks. Now come on". I remember that Saturday night as the beginning of a six year love affair with rum that lasted until I met that sleazy whore vodka.
I remember borrowing a bottle of Bacardi Light from Jim two years later and sharing it with the aforementioned girlfriend. I also remember that only after the fact did I realize how nearly impossible it would be for me to replace said bottle of Bacardi [which I remember did its job fantastically well], because I was, of course, 16 years old. When I tried to simply give Jim the bartender the money to replace the bottle, he informed me sternly that when an honorable man borrows something, he must return it in kind--it took me three weeks to figure out how to buy a bottle of Bacardi Light [and in all honesty I don't remember who I finally found to make the purchase for me]. When I returned the bottle to Jim and apologized for the delay, he shook my hand, said not to worry about it, and further told me that an honorable man could always count on his help.
Oddly enough, the paradox of a bartender willing to regularly serve a 14-year old hard liquor but unwilling to let that same child slide on a favor of honor never struck me until this very minute. If I wasn't positive that Jim the bartender was also long dead I would try to look him up and ask him about it.
I remember the thrill of playing football--the base joy in understanding that I was faster, stronger, and/or meaner than those that opposed me. In remember the pride I felt when opposing players would point me out during warm-ups and issue warnings to their teammates, "there he is, that's 74. Watch him, he's alot better than he looks. Shut him down or he's going to get to the quarterback". I know I still hold the record for most-safeties-forced in the county I played in, and I held the record for most points scored by a defensive player for nearly fifteen years. I don't dwell on those years, but I do remember them--and when I walk into a competing restaurant now I feel a familiar version of that same pride as I get recognized and the buzz starts to circulate through the staff, "that's Last One Home, from the Steakhouse. They do $10 million...he's been there forever...he fired my roommate just for making noise...he hates girl servers...I heard he's a cocaine addict...that guy's an arrogant prick...etc." You almost never get the honest credit, so you may as well enjoy the notoriety. Over 400,000 bottles of wine sold and well over $100 million in total property sales--maybe not as cool as the record for most safeties, but damn close and a hell of a lot more profitable.
I remember giving the Heimlich maneuver, six or seven times. I remember one time in particular when the gentleman who was choking was a frail, older man. I remember pulling him gently to his feet from his chair and whispering in his ear, "you're going to be fine, but to help you I have to force this food out, and its going to hurt. I'm sorry". I saved his life and I cracked two of his ribs.
I remember a lavish Christmas party thrown by a large restaurant company I worked for just after college. The company had properties strewn along an interstate corridor for nearly 100 miles--the staff from my restaurant and two others nearby were bussed to a nightclub owned by the company that was about 50 miles away--to this day it was one of the best parties I have ever been to. I remember Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance" was the big hit at the time, and I remember that a waitress I absolutely hated came to the party with her boyfriend. I also remember that toward the end of the party the boyfriend decided it would be cool to punch the waitress I hated. I don't remember whether or not the boyfriend got a broken nose, but I do remember that he didn't make the bus ride back, and I remember that my hands hurt like a bitch the next morning. I also remember that the event impressed upon me the fact that most of what makes people what they are is hidden from our view--that party was the end of punchy boyfriend, and the waitress almost instantly became a much more likable person.
I remember that I have never been arrested, but I also remember two times when I should have been. remember being pulled over after foolishly racing through town with an old 5-series BMW. The officer, not being an imbecile, could tell I was drunk and administered the "follow the moving pen with your eyes [don't move your head, don't move your head, HEY I SAID DON'T MOVE YOUR HEAD]" test. After about five minutes of the most singular, focused concentration I have ever executed in my life, I passed and he let me go [after ascertaining I was only about four blocks from my house]. It wasn't Christmastime, but I still got a huge gift that night.
I remember the second time I should have been arrested, but it will remain a mystery...
I remember lots of things, and I think I will write most of them down here over the next few days. But right now, I remember I have a cute girl waiting for me at a bar down the street. New memories in the making...