Meeting with an Old Friend by Jamie Beckett

Apropos of Nothing: Meeting with an Old Friend
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett

I saw an old friend just recently. In the process I may have made a fool of myself. I’m not saying I did. I’m just saying it’s possible. The jury is still out. At least it would be if there was an actual jury involved. 

“The jury is out” is just an expression, you know. I think it originated with the television series, Perry Mason. Raymond Burr was the star of that show. But that was a long time ago. So long ago, in fact, that Perry Mason was filmed in black and white. Really. Television — prime time television — was in black and white when I was young. Can you believe it?

And by the way, does “Perry Mason” sound like such a powerful name that you’d hire the man labeled with that moniker to represent you in a murder trial? I don’t think so. If you’re in big trouble you want a lawyer with a name like Rex, or Nero, or Wolfgang. Something powerful. Something dangerous. But Perry? Nah. That’s the guy who designs your shirts. Perry isn’t going to get you out of a murder rap. Especially if you actually did it.

Anyway, I digress. The old friend I ran into is named John Davis. Now that’s a good strong name. That’s a name made of granite and steel. Sam is a good strong name, too. But when your last name is Davis you can’t name your son Sam, because people will naturally call him Sammy. And going around being called Sammy Davis just isn’t right. Not unless you can sing and dance and twirl a six-shooter like nobody’s business.

If you don’t understand that reference go ask your granddad. He gets it. Older people almost always get it. I get it. But then again, I’m old. Being old and getting the reference go together like donuts and cops, or rhythm and blues. It just works that way. It’s best not to question such things. Just accept it.

When I knew John he was a newspaper reporter. A young, ambitious, undeniably talented, and genuinely funny reporter. So, when he reached out suggesting we should get together, I was concerned. Where had this young man so filled with potential gone wrong? He wasn’t in Washington doggedly pursuing corrupt politicians. He wasn’t in New York battling greedy Wall Street bankers. He wasn’t in Miami exposing the dark underbelly of the fashion industry while tailing supermodels into trendy bars.

Nope. John wasn’t doing any of those things. He’d become a poet. Published, but still. A poet? His second book is slated to hit the shelves this year. It’s called “Middle Class American Proverb.” That sounds to me like it could be filled with lawn care tips, maybe some advice about how to properly operate a charcoal grill, or warnings about not waxing your car in direct sunlight. I’m not sure really. I hadn’t read it at that point.

John’s first book is still out there. “Growing Moon, Growing Soil: Poems of my Native Land” is a slim volume, only about 70 pages long. But I happen to have a copy. Don’t ask why. I just do. So I slipped it into my backpack, jumped on the motorcycle, and rode down to the intended place of meeting to wait for John to arrive.

Visions of his transformation rattled around my head, causing periodic twinges of pain and flashes of light. I imagined my old friend sauntering up in a beret, trailed by a thin wisp of smoke from a long slender cigarette tucked neatly into a dainty holder. Think Truman Capote, but taller.

I could imagine him driving up in a pink Fiat 500, the Barbie Edition (there is such a thing, you know), throwing a scarf over one shoulder and traipsing to our table in the unique fashion of a poet.

I opened the book. It begins with “Memory of Fast Eddie’s Pier, Summer 1989.” It rambles through “River Boys” and “Dream Elixirs,” “Cutting Time,” and “Bridge Fishing.” The poem “Siesta Key Clams” led me further through the pages where I found “From the Captain’s Journal,” and “Lament for a Hardee County Dirt Road.”

This guy isn’t Truman Capote at all. He’s John Wayne with a pen. He’s the Marlboro Man with a knack for rhyme and meter. He’s Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings with a heaping helping of testosterone. Oh man, was I wrong.

A pick-up truck pulled up to the curb. It’s engine rumbling ominously. Fire belching from chrome stacks. The driver scowled. A lump in his cheek suggested a large chaw of chewing tobacco.

I made a mental note to avoid any reference to roses being red, violets being blue, or old men from Nantucket.