In Keeping With Tradition

December 5, 2010 at 8:14 am (On the road again..., Sweet sticky things)

Having Caller ID pop up on the TV is the coolest feature. Most times it’s for my teenage nephew, and the thundering hooves down the hall mean I can ignore the ringing phone. “Cell phone Oregon” was pretty generic. I answered, hoping it wasn’t my older sister.

“Allou?”

As always, I recognized the voice upon hearing the first note. When she first began calling, it reminded me of Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley; “HELLL-oh!” Over time the French influence has set in, and now she sounds like Amelie. “Allou?”

“Holy fuck Batman, is this who I think it is?” She could feel my grin through the phone.

“Well, if you are thinking of the correct person, it is.” She spoke as though used to enunciating for the French and curious two-year-olds.

Well spank my ass and call me Charlie. Mizelle is back in town.

“I wasn’t expecting you for another two weeks! What happened?”

“We had to bring my mom home. She’s been in France for the last month and a half, and we figured we’d better get over here while flights were still open. This is your weekend, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I sighed. “But the one thing I have to do is right now. I’m getting ready to meet Meg to go grocery shopping. I loaned her some money last week, and now she’s buying me food to make up for it. But I’ll be done in a couple hours. How long you gonna be in town?”

“We’re leaving Saturday. Maybe we could meet for Indian buffet in the morning?”

“I’m all yours. Come over at eleven AM?”

“It’s a date!”

Of course, when Friday morning rolled around, I was up, out of bed and showered by nine AM. I net-surfed, drank coffee, applied the appetite stimulant that puts all the color in Indian food for breakfast. By 12:30 PM, I was beginning to get anxious. Mizelle has always been punctuality-challenged. Before long the dog was barking and attempting to burst through the living room window. Woman and child were at the front door.

I opened it, met by wide eyes (two-year-old) and the biggest grin ever. (Mizelle.) “Oh…my…God. Look at you! Look at all that hair! Where’s your beard? Who the hell are you? Can we use your bathroom?” She nodded at Lily. “It’s kinda urgent…”

“Of course.” I stepped aside. Mizelle knows the house, and dodged cats and dog on her way to the back. Mayhem had been quelled by the time they returned. We snuck past my barely sleeping sister and continued the reunion by the rented minivan. Hugs from a Frenchman are almost as sweet; he’s like the son-in-law I feel blessed to have. We loaded into the minivan. Lily and the Frenchman took the back seat; they shared a storybook while Mizelle and I caught up on old times.

“I couldn’t believe you were up already. What happened to the sleep-til-noon old dude I’m used to?”

“I’ve been known to get up early, if the occasion calls for it. I can’t think of a better reason to get up early on a day off. I haven’t had Indian food since you left. What’s it been, almost two years?”

“Yeah, Lily had just turned one. We went to Powell’s, then to Podnah’s, I think.” She remembered my favorite barbecue joint.

Lily was cute as a button, with prominent front teeth, short blonde hair and a penchant for babbling. Her vocabulary is extensive for a two-year-old. She’s like a parrot, only not as smelly. I tried to watch my language after hearing the word “sodomy” come from the back seat. Little pitchers have big ears, as the saying goes…

We went to Namaste, the ‘new’ Indian restaurant on 82nd & NE Sandy. It had replaced Steamers, a bar near and dear to my heart. I’d met Mizelle while working at a nearby store when she’d first came to town, and we’d spent many after-shift hours sipping Spanish coffees (sans flame) and watching Tonya Harding play video poker. It was the site of a major gunfight in the mid-90s; the store was locked down and we were taken out one-by-one at gunpoint. I once had sex with a hooker in the upstairs bathroom. I hadn’t been back since 1998; it was a flood of memories.

It was also a flood of familiarity, the Indian buffet thing. Mizelle and I hit all of them back in the day, sticking with a few favorites. She’d already been to Swagat on 21st Avenue; the redheaded lady asking her “Where’s the little guy?” (Mizelle’s ex-husband.) “Where’s the big guy?” (Moi.) She still remembered us, after seven years.

Abhiruchi was the back-up contingent, in case Namaste had gone bust. (It wouldn’t have surprised me, in this economy.) We pulled in, thinks looking the same from the outside. They looked pretty much the same inside. (No Eileen to meet me at the door, offering a free drink like the old days, but hey…) We chose a booth, and took turns amusing Lily until she fell asleep in her car seat.

As is typical, we closed the place down. Three plates later, plus dessert, and it was time to crawl to the van. The Frenchman, learning about gluttony from two experts, injected, “I hear there is a second Voodoo Doughnuts, on Sandy Boulevard?” Hearing him pronounce ‘boulevard’, I understood why she married him. Sex-eh…

“Yup, down around 15th. We should go.”

Mizelle took a right on Fremont, and we were on our way. A few minutes later we were singing the praises of the Memphis Mafia, Old Dirty bastard and being coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs. I chatted up the lovely at the counter while the gang decided, telling her of Namaste. I tipped a dollar, and she made sure my Memphis Mafias and apple fritters were colossal, the pick of the litter. Lily gobbled the cereal spheres off the top of her doughnut, then attacked the frosting. She was a lovely chocolate mess. The grown-ups hid their doughnuts for later. Mine were being kept for a late-night dinner/dessert. Nothing like a 3 AM sugar buzz.

It wouldn’t be a typical visit without a run to the Bins. Mizelle and I would spend hours rummaging through the trash at Goodwill. I was on the lookout for a cheap DVD or CD player for Meg. Mizelle and the Frenchman were looking for cheap scuba gear. My search failed. They found two pairs of underwater goggles. I bought a fry pan for $1.38. Lily paid no attention as we put the toys she’d been so interested back in the bins on our way out. I showed Mizelle a dead bedbug, eliciting a screech. She began looking at every item of clothing carefully.

“Psst… The Frenchman says you look like a teenager from behind,” Mizelle whispered. “You’ve lost a LOT of weight. Hard to tell under those clothes.” I’d worn extra-baggy, making room for buffet, doughnuts, et al.

Much too soon, they were dropping me off at the house. She came in long enough to bid adieu to the family, with promises of returning next July. (She’s officiating her sister’s wedding!) The last hug turned out to be far from it. I kissed her on the cheek, got one in return, then Lily wanted a kiss, then I felt it only right to kiss the Frenchman on the cheek and soon all of us were having a happy-teared four-way group hug under the streetlight next to the minivan.

Cat got your tongue?

“Oopsie! I have one more thing for you…” She dug through her purse and pulled out a box of candy coated cat tongues. “I don’t know if they are made with real cat tongues, but I figured you can use the box to put the fear o’ God into that cat menagerie of yours…”

They will be prominently displayed with her other exotic candy gifts that I will keep but never consume. I have a ten-year-old bag of habanero potato chips from Tokyo. A packet of Mullet Gum. A Gummy Weiner. You get the idea.

It will also help if I ever get writer’s block. If anyone asks, “Cat got your tongue?’ I can reply with confidence, “Au contraire! Quite the opposite, in fact…”

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