Memory #5: Life Is Like Jazz

Sitting in our favorite Ft. Myers establishment, a Mediterranean beatnik cave called the Orpheus. The previous year we’d befriended the owner, an aging Greek man with a pointy face that masked his warm nature. Last spring we had capered around the lonely bar with two hippy-dippy local boys, following them like the Pied Piper from the beach to here to their trailer. They swayed and dipped and twirled with their guitars the whole way, their voices lilting into the heavy night air. Last night I had ended up on the stage with a reggae band, cajoled into singing Jimmy Cliff for the five people in the restaurant. I can tell you are a singer, twinkled one of the musicians when I had initially protested. I can hear it in your voice.

But tonight we were joined by a lively crowd in our beloved Orpheus. Between us and the live jazz band is a particularly rowdy family, among them a gawky girl-woman who could be a teenager or in her thirties. She is tall and whippet-thin in a white crocheted sweater and loose linen pants. Her heavy auburn bob is swinging and hitting her diamond-sharp cheekbones as she jerks back and forth with howls of laughter. She draws the attention, good and bad, of all the other patrons as they dine on their gourmet pizza. “What is wrong with her,” whispers one of my friends disapprovingly. We silently nod, half-agreeing with her unvoiced opinion of our fellow diner.

Then the trumpeter on stage is beckoning to someone in the audience, laughing and extending his arm. The audience follows his gaze and turns to see to whom he is speaking. The girl-woman shrieks with giggles and shakes her head emphatically, then crumples up her napkin and throws it on the table. She lopes on up to the stage, confidently takes the mic, and then as the band begins to play, she opens her mouth.

It’s like swaths of velvet floating out from the stage and over the audience, gently billowing over their heads before settling upon them, velvet the color of a day on the sand in the sunlight, of having too much wine, of your lover’s sleeping face by candlelight. And then she is no longer a girl-woman, but so obviously a woman, the kind of woman whose presence so bluntly reminds your 20-year-old spring-breaking self that you are really just a girl still, and that for you, womanhood still remains nebulously out of reach.

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