My Beloved and I have been invited to Jack’s house on Friday night. Jack, as I already mentioned, is one of my dear old queens from The Beanhouse. He’s about 75, bald-headed, flush-faced, with a body like a soggy dim-sum dumpling. He power-walks to The Beanhouse from his place, so the weather system around him is always a wee bit humid.
But I adore Jack.
And he calls me “sweetness.”
“How are you today, sweetness?”
Then he presses his moist dumpling cheek against mine and kisses me. Every time he sees me.
Every day, he sits with his “peeps” (yes, he calls them “peeps”) and sips his “small dark coffee in a ceramic mug, please.” Frequently, he nibbles a butter croissant. He has not become a weathered dumpling for no apparent reason. Sometimes I hear him randomly singing to them in his rich basso profundo voice. They always roll their eyes at him, but he loves to sing, wants to sing, asks my advice about singing lessons. And if the discussion with his peeps turns to theatre, he waves me over.
“Trace, have you seen …..?”
“Sweetness, what do you think of …..?”
“Oh, you would just DIE, Trace! That show was SO bad!!”
I adore Jack.
He loves the arts, the theatre, good books. He’s full of vim and vigor, still, and stories to tell that should be heard. The 20-somethings I work with have no idea what they’re missing by not engaging our older customers. Frankly, they’re the only ones of much interest to me.
One Sunday afternoon — a day off for me — MB and I, feeling lazy, wandered over to The Beanhouse with a bag full of books. My co-workers ribbed me for being there on my day off, but, hey, the coffee’s great and it really is an inviting place just to hang out. So we sat there, engrossed in our books, sipping our coffees, when suddenly over my shoulder, I heard, “Heeey, sweetness.”
It was Jack. Peepless.
We invited him to sit down and within a few questions, he was opening up his life, his stories.
Jack was in the Army during the Korean War. When he came home, he had no clue what he wanted to do, but he’d always liked to draw, so he started shuffling his work here and there, seeing who’d bite.
He landed a job as Art Director for Mademoiselle magazine, of all places.
“I was the only guy there, Trace,” he said. “And the whole time I worked there, everything was ‘fun.’ All these women constantly with the ‘Oooh, Jack, isn’t that FUN?’ ‘Let’s do this — won’t that be FUN?’ ‘I adore that layout, Jack. It is just SO FUN!’ Good God. I was so sick of ‘FUN’!”
We were howling with laughter. He smiled this sweet, pleased little smile. He had a rapt audience.
“Oh, and you know who ALWAYS kept coming around with his little drawings?” he said, irritated.
“Oh, that Andy Warhol.”
Um, WHATT?? MB and I had stopped breathing now.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, rolling his eyes. “What a pain in the ass. I thought he was SUCH a hack.”
Spitting up coffee now, both of us. He regaled us with his life for two hours while we just sat, transfixed and dumbfounded.
So we’re going to Jack’s house Friday night. He has a little society he’s put together called The Norma Desmond Film Society, an eclectic group of peeps and others who gather regularly for an evening of film and noshing and conversation.
The requirements for membership?
1) You must have seen “Sunset Boulevard.”
And 2), I’m just guessing on this one, but — Jack’s gotta like you.
The other day at work, when he invited me, he spoke softly, seemed almost shy. I offered to bring something, anything, to eat. “Okay, great,” he said.
“So how many are you expecting so I know how much to bring?”
“Oh, well …. just you two. I wanted this one to be special.”
I felt tears lumping in my throat.
“Jack, that is so sweet. I can’t wait.”
“Yeah, me too. I’m making a little program for the evening!”
Can you believe that?
He’s making a little program for the evening.
May I tell you something?
I just adore Jack.