It's funny how things that used to be a big part of your life can vanish and yet you remember them with astonishing clarity. No, I'm not talking about ex-girlfriends, wives, or cars (too much emotional baggage there attached to all three), but rather places. Special places. For me, it was the lunch counter at Woolworth's. Upon entry, the aroma of popcorn overwhelmed your senses, though not quite enough to forget the fact that the world's best hamburger was waiting for you at the back of the store.
World's best hamburger? Heck, I don't know. It seemed so at the time. Your parents argued over the menu while you got to spin yourself dizzy on that red vinyl-covered stool. Add a vanilla shake to the burger and it was kid heaven.
The other day a friend of mine was talking about how she is able to remember and record more of her dreams if she immediately starts writing upon waking. I was skeptical. My dreams tend to either scare the living beegeezuz out of me or else just vaporize on contact. But I put a pad and pencil beside the bed just to see what might happen.
The first morning. Nothing. There was a vague mist of something about manila envelopes but it took most of the day to make even that small detail permanent. Second morning. Absolutely nothing. I don't have a lot of patience but weirdness and art can't be forced.
Third morning. Jackpot. I had been walking through town with my dad. Apparently, we were on our way to go duckpin bowling (dream logic: we were already wearing our bowling shoes) but had to stop off at Woolworth's for some lunch beforehand. We ordered the usual, though dad had a coffee instead of the vanilla shake. It was perfect, right down to that last ketchup-soaked French fry. I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand, taking care to not get anything on my palm because those duckpin balls were already hard enough for my little third-grader hands to deal with.
We take a right out of Woolworth's, up one block and then right onto Grove St. The bowling alley is up on the second floor. The guy behind the desk gives us the sheet and a small pencil. A few practice tosses and we're ready.
The problem is that William S. Burroughs is not ready. He's less interested in letting us get to the point of the afternoon than in expounding on his knowledge of the history of duckpin bowling. The guy is dressed in a gray suit, fedora, and is holding a tattered book in one hand. Me and Dad were both raised to be polite so instead of turning away and facing our lane, we sit there and listen to him going on about pin size, the relationship to "standard" pins, the long backstory of the pinspotting machines, various ball-return setups, and the finer points of the use of dead wood.
It's all quite interesting but the the lecture is going on and on….
Finally, Burroughs stops talking and places his book on the colored plastic seat next to him. He reaches to his right and pinches the top of a bright red cloth that's covering up what looks like a bird cage. He lifts the cloth to reveal a large bell jar. Inside the jar is what looks like a small replica of the Woolworth's lunch counter. Behind the counter are four musicians, surrounded by their tiny instruments: violins, guitars, horns of various types, a piano, a glockenspiel, and a pump organ.
Burroughs lifts the bell jar and the group begins to play. It's old music. It's mostly comfortable, though it does tend to make me nervous every so often. The little band seems to sense my discomfort. They stop playing for a minute. After a short conference the clarinet player raises his eyebrows and holds up a finger as if to say "OK, how about this, little boy?" They launch into a fast-paced tune called "Hotel Aurora." Somehow I know the song's name without anybody announcing it. It reminds me of the songs that get played at those Polish weddings we go to.
The song ends and Burroughs replaces both the jar and the red cloth. He heads off to the bathroom. We bowl.
I wake up and think that either that pad is magic, or that maybe I should continue listening to Tom Waits before going to bed.