The hot air clung to me last night as if had stepped into my shower stall with all my clothes on, making it difficult for me to move, and even more difficult for me to sleep.
Ten cups of coffee at Kalico Kitchen didn’t help my restlessness either, and between being wired and fighting off mosquitoes I tossed one way, while scratching the other, trying to find a position where I might drift off – but could not.
Pauly was in a particularly good mood – as if the world and its troubles didn’t exist. He laughed and split the illegally cool air of that over conditioned restaurant with his heated humor, making us for get the wall of hot air that hovered over the world outside.
He brought back the past Hank and I had ached for for years, if not in reality then in spirit, as we recounted our stumbling paths from a past when we had the whole future fingered out, to the confusing present when past and future seemed so muddled, with markers of our lives standing out like giant stones from the mist, times we were chased by dogs, women and angry husbands (fresh from the grill with their stained aprons still on, brandishing pointed folks and faces red with rage.)
Pauly talked about the old dreams with nostalgia, unable to quite release them when in reality our grip on them was wrenched loose by day to day life, his words rekindling for a moment in that sacred hangout place of our youth, replanted seeds of hope we all knew would whither the moment we once more stepped out the door into the far too strong sunlight of the present. He weaved the old tales, killing off Hank (that joke of Hank not surviving until 25) only to resurrect him again, and kill him again, and leave us in doubt as to whether he was alive or dead or if we had all simply passed on to some other plain of existence with this place, Kalico Kitchen, our heaven or hell, in which we were to spend eternity.
In moments like this, I once more remembered why we had taken up with Pauly, and like apostles, had followed him through so many weaving paths, tolerating the stinging thorns and the broken dreams, always with the expectation that he would lead us out from the quagmire again. But I also realized that he was not what we thought he was, and what he sold us was an illusion, his dream manifest before us, a quivering image of what might be, but which could not survive too close a scrutiny.
And yet, I also realized that without him or Hank or the number of other that followed Pauly over the last decade or so, I would have lost myself in my own quagmire, and that in the end, it was better to be lost with somebody like him, than to be lost alone, and as he and I sipped coffee, and Hank sipped Coke, we were grateful for having taken the journey and would be willing to do it all over again – if we ever got the chance.