A clichéd bell rings as I step out of the cold and into the apple pie and Monte Cristo warmth of the near empty diner. The resonating starkness of the bell against the otherwise stillness of the dimly lit room is reminiscent of the last seconds of the Sopranos finale and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was James Gandolfini in the corner booth glancing up from his copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Adam’s swaddled in a tatty wool turtle neck and has a fleece hat pulled down low on his eyes with the earflap extenders velcroed tightly under his chin. A dog-eared copy of the Salinger classic rests in one his slightly trembling hands while the other hand grips a full mug of black coffee; the uniformed waitress retreating from the table implies it’s a mug that has just been warmed up.
As I stomp my feet on the damp rug and brush the melting dusting of snow from the shoulders of my jacket Adam acknowledges my arrival and motions for to me join him at the table. I wend and wind my way through tightly grouped sections of tables and chairs he flags the waitress with a peace signal and a hoarse call of her name, Maggie, and she smiles and begins to pour another cup of coffee. The closer I get to the table it’s obvious that he’s sick, his skin is pallid in the glow of interrogation style lamp dangling over the center of the table and his eyes have a glassy sadness that sometimes accompanies illness. Sitting down across from him on the cracked vinyl bench Maggie arrives and places a mug of coffee and a side plate with a handful of creamers in front of me. She asks Adam in flirtatious whisper if he needs anything else and he grins and says gently, “No thanks Maggie. I think we’re OK for now.”
Over the phone Adam explained he had gotten tagged for an 8 Question meme by Ella over at Momisodes earlier in the week and with Christmas only a few days away it had to get done tonight or it would have to wait until after the Holidays. On short notice I agreed to meet him at the only place still open at this ungodly hour and so now here we sit, the only two patrons in a corner diner, a sudden flurry of snow ghosting against the window.
You look pale, are you sick?
Double ear infection. It started out as a sinus infection that somehow got into my ears. How the hell does a sinus infection get into your ears? I’m swallowing more drugs than a Columbian mule with a kilo of cocaine and a 12-pack of condoms. Mommy and Daddy are even putting antibiotics in my bottle at night, tastes like an amoxicillin Fribble. I’m drinking it, but 9 times out of 10 it’s coming right back up. I try not to laugh but watching my Daddy trying to figure out the best way to get 8 oz of warm whole milk medicinal vomit off the attic door is pretty funny. Wait, does this count as one of the questions?
Do you want it to?
Sure, why not?
I see you’re reading Catcher in the Rye. What else are you reading right now?
For a few weeks now I haven’t been able to put down a Squeeze and Squeak Book called Bunny’s Hungry. Absolutely brilliant. It’s about this Bunny who is hungry and goes around to other animals to get something to eat, but decides that what they are eating is not what he should be eating. He needs to find the food that’s right for him. I’m telling you this book’s assertion that each of us goes through a journey in life to satisfy our urges, our hungers and our dreams is truly profound and the squeaky bunny embedded in the cover really drives home the message. Besides, the heavy cardboard binding and pages are delicious.
You mean you eat the book?
Well, no, not technically. I don’t so much eat it as much as I gnaw on it. There are few things I won’t immediately start chewing on once I can get my hands on them. Books, blocks, action figures, shoes, remote controls, deltoid muscles…it’s just my way of determining whether I like something or not.
Besides chewing on things, what else are you doing these days?
Climbing. I’m doing a lot of climbing lately. Mostly on the couches and the ottoman, but if someone leaves their dining room chair out even a few inches I drop whatever I’m doing and go for it. Opportunities like that don’t come along everyday. Someone leaves a chair out, you don’t ask questions. You climb, damn it you climb and you don’t stop climbing until you’re on the table doing your Richard Dreyfuss impersonation with a plate of mashed potatoes.
You mentioned earlier that your parents put your medicine in your bottle. I thought you were breast fed?
Right around my first birthday my Mom got pneumonia and the medicine the doctor put her on would have made me sick if I continued to nurse so I had to quit cold turkey. I tried the Nippleret Patch to help with the cravings but I think they may have been just stripper pasties because even after a few days I was still Jonesing pretty bad for a little suckle. It took a while but I eventually made the switch from boob to bottle and to tell you the truth the bottle gives me so much more freedom to move around and do things while I’m drinking. I even ask for it by name when I want a snack or before I go to bed for the night, “Baba….Baba….”
Speaking of which, besides “Baba” are there any other words you know and use?
Mama’s a big one for me. I use that all the time. Before I learned how to say Dada I was calling my father Maba pretty regularly. I think it may be a combination of Mama and Baba because he comes in a close third after those two, but a week or two ago I started saying Dada so Maba isn’t even in the rotation anymore. I’ve also been experimenting with new sounds lately. L’s and G’s are my trendy picks this week, but I’m thinking of trying on my J’s and K’s next week
So you’re really finding your voice?
And it’s about time. I think we’ll all be happier once I can articulate what I want instead of screaming like an air raid siren until I’m red in the face. I have gotten better at pointing and grunting at things and I can even shake my head no when Mommy or Daddy says, “This? This? This? Is this what you want? This? This?” I usually just say No to everything just to be a pain in the ass though.
Tell me something about yourself that people might not know.
I love brooms, actually I love anything with a long handle. Brooms, mops, rakes, vacuum extensions, I could play with them for hours. I swept up my own clippings at my first haircut for Christ’s Sake. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed or anything but putting me in the same room with a Oreck Upright is like an after hours party in Paris Hilton’s Hotel room, something’s getting sucked.
Just then Maggie delivered the check to the table and giggled at Adam’s ribald analogy. Adam winked at her then dropped a $20 on a $4.93 check, picked up his copy of the Catcher in the Rye, put it in his mouth and headed towards the door. I followed behind him and as he opened the door the bell sounded again, this time signaling our departure. Outside the diner he coughed in the cold air as flakes of snow clung to his hat and sweater.
“Did you get enough for the post?” he said between coughs. I told him I had more than enough and with that we shook hands and I watched him walk away, hands jammed deep into his front pockets. Floating from the puddle of one street lamp to the next he passed a garbage can with a broken broom handle masting from the center. He stopped and stared at the pole and then back at me. He shrugged to indicate that he knew I understood then drew the handle from the can, like Excalibur from the rock, and disappeared into the night.