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ROMPER ROOM

EXCERPTED FROM MOODS OVER A SEPTEMBER MOON

Barroom crowd

The sun sank its reddened face under the billowy blanket of its western bed and now it was night. Outside my window, guided by street lamp, I saw desolate shadows dancing across the floorboards of our wind-swept porch. With its barren steps creaking, I sat and thought about candle-lit cakes and ribbon-laced packages and family-filled rooms. I thought about what could have been. And what once was. But that was a long time ago; a time when reality played to a different set of rules. Now, my reality had no rules; life as I once knew it had become a free-for-all.

Night marched on. All was quiet, not a sound in the house. Across the darkened room, lay Pinky, ensconced in her feline slumber. She had given up.

In the other corner of the room, the worn grandfather clock, harboring no regrets of its own, marched on. My eyes became transfixed to its pendulous taunt and I felt as though I was being hypnotized. I fell into a daze. I was carried back to a different time, a different place.

Balloons of red and green and white filled the cavernous hall. Toward the back of the hall stood a tall, imposing figure. Draping his body a long robe. I moved closer. I began to recognize the face. With his brooding brow and whitened beard and weathered cheeks I could tell he had aged but aged well. I moved closer. “Ricky . . .

Suddenly, the telephone. I jumped up, as did Pinky. I ran over to the end table and picked up the handset. “Hello.”

It was a wrong number.

I looked down at Pinky; she was purring against my leg. “Well, in a few more hours my birthday will be over,” I said.

“Meow, meow.”

Well, I’m going to call a few of the neighborhood taverns again, I thought. Might as well, what do I have to lose?

After dialing enough numbers to provide callous to my fingers I decided that it be best if I just go out and see if I could find Mother; maybe Lenny and Trish too.

I threw on my old shoes and jacket. Outside I glanced up at the sky. The September moon with its jovial face stared down at me.

Down the city streets I went, eying up the neon that dangled in my path. Surveying the shingles I focused on the one marked The Dew Drop Inn, one of Mother’s favorite hangouts.

With its revolving door churning out penniless, dream-shattered, plastered wall-hanging hacks and the occasional happy go-lucky nine-to-fiver, the Dew Drop spun its tales with flair. Sparked by loneliness, half-time hankerings and get-away-from-it-all attitude, the Dew was in a sizzle.

I reached the door. I stood under the neon, nervously peering in at the hazy crowd. Around the notched oak I searched for the face of Mother. But in her place sat an impostor. I gathered courage and slipped in, unnoticed, through the door.

Crawling through the throng of wobbly wayfarers and steely-eyed, beer guzzling braggarts I felt like a snake slithering down the pike. Trailing me was a stein-clutching mongoose, sputtering ale and bad language:

“Hey, this isn’t the fucking Romper Room. Are you the shoeshine boy or some kind of fucking gypsy boy? There ain’t going to be no fucking shoe-shining here, you skinny-assed punk. You better beat it before George sees ya. Can’t you fucking read or what? See that sign? It says no fucking gypsies or shoeshine boys soliciting my guests. Signed by the management. And George is the fucking management, kid. He owns this joint. He’ll throw you out on your skinny ass if he sees ya in here. So, I’m doing you a favor, just beat it.”

I slowly turned around. It felt as though my heart was about to burst out of my rib cage. Standing before me was a giant creature with cruel eyes and square jaw, clenching a bruised fist. Devilish tattoos lined the log-like limbs that protruded from his knotted bole.

“Please, mister,” I pleaded, “I’m not a shoeshine boy and I’m not some kind of gypsy. I’m here to see my mother. You see, today’s my birthday and…”

“And what? Like I said, kid, this isn’t the fucking Romper Room. Besides, I don’t like fucking kids hanging around me. I hate kids. I come to this fucking joint to get away from the whiny-ass brats. Don’t you get it, kid? Now hit the road before I whip your skinny ass.”

Suddenly, and thank God, a gentle-faced patron interceded and threw a bear hug around the big oaf. And then he smiled. “Don’t worry about The Hawk here,” he said. The Hawk is a bit drunk and besides, he wouldn’t hurt a flea. He likes to scare people, that’s all.”

I felt my heart pounding to a lesser beat, a relief, thank goodness. I got my courage back.

“Well, I was getting a little worried about your buddy here,” I said. I thought that I would have to put him in his place if you know what I mean.”

“You what?” The Hawk spat, tipping his stein and dispensing beer down his midriff. “What did you say, punk?”

The gentle faced, impeccably dressed patron threw an arm around the hawk-man.

“Yeah, listen to the kid,” he said. “Cool out! Hey, let me buy you a drink.”

“Well, alright, Skip.”

Skip and The Hawk spun around and galloped toward the bar. As I watched them fade into the smoky recess I bargained for the door. A quick change of plans led me back out onto the city streets.

 

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