Sunday, July 20, 2008

Debbie - Part I

I have mentioned that my father moonlighted in the 1960s and 1970s, playing the organ at a steak house and cocktail lounge. One evening in 1969 he called me and suggested I visit him there on a Friday, when there was a certain young woman waitressing in the lounge part time. "You've got to meet this one. She thinks she's a Goddamn queen."

I said I would, and did so the following Friday. I met the waitress, Debbie (see a preceding post, Gluttony in Las Vegas), who was in fact a "Goddamn queen." We were both interested immediately, but she was in the process of getting a divorce and was very cautious about being seen with anyone during that period, so it was a while before we met outside the lounge.

Her father, John, owned the restaurant, and during the course of my Friday visits his paternal radar picked up signals. Now he and I didn't like each other, dating back to well before I met Debbie, but we had been cordial, more for the sake of my father, I guess, than for any other reason.

In any case, a few weeks passed during which Debbie and I talked when we could. When she took a break we would sit together and chat. We exchanged a few books that we recommended to each other. During all this, John kept his eyes open, and whenever we sat together he would come over and sit with us, the lack of an invitation being no barrier to him. He didn't really pay much attention to us, seldom participating in any conversations. Mostly he just kept his eye on the lounge.

One week Debbie told me she was reading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I hadn't read it and she promised to bring it in when she was done with it. The following Friday I was sitting alone at a table near the organ, chatting with my father while he played. Debbie came over and sat down and a moment later so did John. After a bit . . .

Donnie: "So when do I get The Turn of the Screw?"

Debbie: "I'm sorry. I've been busy, but I'll finish it and bring it next week."

A good moment later, John started, turned to me, and left Debbie and me in hysterics by asking "What did you say?"

We dated for a few months, then drifted apart.

Twenty Years Later, in Chicago

Dad and I were having one of our fairly regular telephone conversations when he said "Oh. I ran into Debbie at a flea market in New Hampshire. I took her number and promised you'd call her."


I took the number and assured him that I would honor his promise.

That Sunday afternoon I called and caught her at home. We talked for perhaps three hours, and it was a lot of fun. We caught each other up on the preceding twenty years. Her daughter, an infant when I last saw her, was now in the process of becoming a Registered Nurse; I had just bought a house in an attempt to lead a "more normal" life, etc.

We exchanged addresses and agreed to talk again, and as we concluded the conversation I told her "Well, if you ever need to run away from home for a few days, you know where I live."

Two Sundays later, I decided to call her again. Just as I reached for the phone it rang. It was Debbie. (No, no, don't be skeptical. It's true.)

Another couple of hours of fun conversation, concluded by my repeating the offer. She said "Really?" Immediately I thought, "I wonder what flight she's booked on."

The following Friday I picked her up at O'Hare.

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