By Mickey S.
For the next month I took the train out to Plainfield nearly every Tuesday morning to work on my family tree with Johnny at the library. It became such a regular thing that one week when I had an appointment with a client I called the library the day before to let Johnny know I wouldn't be able to make it. The genealogy was interesting and spending time with Johnny was very comfortable, in spite of his reluctance to talk about himself.
I also began to work on Mom to come visit. I knew I wouldn't have a problem getting her to come see me at the bistro. The last time Art had been well enough to travel had been long before I started the gig at Cay's, probably before Tracie and Melinda even opened the place, so she'd never seen me perform in public. So all I had to do was get her to come up to New Jersey for it to happen. I made sure to raise the idea in every one of my bi-weekly calls to her.
"So when are you coming up to visit, Mom?"
"You keep asking that. Soon, I guess."
"Grandma keeps asking me how you're doing. She hasn't seen you since Art's funeral."
"No, but we talk all the time. She knows I'm doing all right."
"You ever think she might miss you? She is your mother, you know, and she's not getting any younger."
Mom let out a long breath. "I thought mothers were supposed to be the experts on guilt. You must have picked that up from me."
"I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip on ya, Ma." Actually, I was. "But I'm worried about you, too. You've been alone down there all summer."
"I haven't been totally alone. I went to visit Allison in Santa Fe right after you were here."
"That was in June. You've been baking in Boca ever since. You should have come up here for the summer. You sure don't want to wait for the winter."
"And I won't. Spring and fall were always my favorite seasons in Jersey, so I think maybe I'll come up in a few weeks."
Success! But I had to make sure.
"Okay, definitely. I'll talk to Grandma and then make my plans. I'll let you know."
Now it was just a matter of getting the two of them together. Even though I liked the idea of arranging a surprise meeting at Cay's, I wondered if that was the best idea. Maybe I should be up front about it, tell them each what I was doing and make the arrangements openly. But if one or the other wasn't keen on the idea, that would suck. I didn't have to make it look like a date, but it probably would anyway. Or I could just take Mom to the library but that wasn't a great spot for a reunion. Johnny would be working, so that wouldn't leave them any time to talk. No, I had to get him out of the library, and set up the meeting without telling either of them. Even if the whole thing turned out to be a complete dud with the two of them, I was sure they wouldn't mind meeting up with one another again after all these years. After all, they had been good friends. And, as friends, they'd surely enjoy a reunion at a bistro in the Village, the exact kind of place they used to hang out in, with me performing the kind of music they listened to back then.
So all I had to do was get Johnny into the city the same night as Mom. Sure, that's all. I'd practically had to beg to get him to lunch at a diner no more than a mile from his workplace. I'd already mentioned my weekend job to him when we had that lunch, even suggested he might like to come see me sometime. And we'd established that he liked my kind of music. While he'd said he didn't get into the city very often, he didn't say he never went into the city. I hadn't repeated the invitation but now that I had a reason, it was worth a try.
So I decided to go to work on him on my next Tuesday morning visit to the library. Unfortunately, he had other ideas.
"You know, Jack, you're one of the most devoted students I've had, coming here every week, and I hate to discourage that, but you've pretty much exhausted our resources here. I've shown you how to follow up on every branch of your family with what we have, but I'm afraid there's almost nothing more you can look up here."
Oh my God, he was cutting me off, ending it. I couldn't let that happen, not until I'd hooked him up with Mom.
"You mean that's it? I'm at a dead end? There's no further I can go in my research?"
I must have looked as desperate as I was, although Johnny took it for a different reason.
"Well, you still might find more information online. Ancestry.com is constantly expanding its databases. And more people keep adding info to their own trees that you can cross-reference."
"So you're saying I could just stay home and keep looking on the Internet?"
"Pretty much, although there's one physical resource you haven't tried that might be worth your while - the State Archives in Trenton."
He'd mentioned the Archives a couple of times before, and while it sounded like I could further my research there, it wasn't going to help me get Mom and Johnny together so I hadn't pursued it. But I had to keep the conversation going. And if I went to Trenton and found some info, I could bring it back for Johnny to show me how to work with it.
"Can I get there easily from the train station? I'm a city boy without a car, so I'd have to take the train."
"I only have a vague idea of where the train station is in Trenton." He screwed up his face, deep in thought. "Let me think about it. In the meantime, I think I have a local history book you haven't gone through."
He picked up a book from the counter and handed it to me. Reluctantly, I went over to a table and sat down while he went back to work behind the counter. I skimmed through the book, not really paying much attention to it. There just had to be a way to keep up my contact with him! I was so close. I kept glancing over at him and twice caught him looking thoughtfully at me.
I experienced a touch of the paranoia I'd had when I first met him. The whole point of that initial meeting was to scope him out, to determine if he was the same Johnny who had been Mom's friend and to see if it might be worthwhile fixing him up with her. But I wanted to do it without him knowing who I was. Because genealogy was the excuse I used to get to know him, I had had to tell him my name. Fortunately, Martin was a fairly common name and probably wouldn't make him think of Mom after all these years. But there was also the matter of my appearance. With my red hair, blue eyes and freckles, I looked so much like her, especially before I got my hair cut. I'd tired of the faux-hawk look quickly so I'd had the hair on top cut to match the short length of the sides just before my first visit to the library, so that was a big help. Johnny hadn't seemed to find me familiar-looking, but over the summer my hair had grown out and lately I'd caught him giving me an occasional odd look. All the more reason to get this meeting with Mom over with.
After thirty minutes, he came over and sat opposite me at the table.
"I have an idea. I make several trips to the Archives each year and I haven't gone in a while. If you can make it, how about meeting me here next Thursday morning and you can go to Trenton with me?"
One of the advantages of being self-employed in my line of work was that I could pretty much make my own schedule. If I wanted to work fourteen hours one day and two the next, that was up to me. Or I could work all night and sleep all day. Aside from the occasional meeting with a client, my life was pretty much my own.
"Sure, that would be great," I said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. This would mean a whole day with Johnny. A whole day to work on him, to convince him to come see me at Cay's. I was sure I could do it.
Johnny was sitting in his car, a red Malibu, when I came out of the train station at 7:45 the next Thursday morning. I must have looked as sleepy as I felt.
"Late night?" he asked as I got into the car.
"Not very. I tried to get some work done last night since I was taking today off but I was still in bed by twelve. I'm just not used to getting up this early."
"This isn't exactly the crack of dawn."
"No, but five-thirty is. Between the subway and two trains, I had to leave my apartment at a little after six to be here now."
"Sorry, I didn't take that into account when I set the time. I'm only five minutes away."
"Sure, rub it in."
"You can sleep on the way if you like."
"That would be rude, snoring away while you drive."
"It depends on how loud you snore. I'm used to making the trip by myself so you don't have to keep me company. Besides, it's only an hour."
"Just stop somewhere so I can get a cup of coffee and I'll be fine." While we were going to be together all day I figured I wouldn't have any time to talk Johnny into going to my show while we were at the Archives itself, so the time in the car on the way down and back was my best shot.
Johnny pulled into a Dunkin' Donuts a few minutes later and I ran in to get coffee for us both. Once back in the car I concentrated on staying awake while Johnny focused on driving. It was rush hour so traffic was heavy, but we were headed away from the city so it wasn't too bad. For about twenty minutes the only sound was that of sipping, and the occasional slurp. The coffee was doing its job as I slowly felt more wide awake.
It was a comfortable silence in the car and I kept sneaking glances at Johnny. I wondered what he had looked like at nineteen, when Mom knew him. Probably a long-haired hippie freak. After all, he said he'd been a radical. Besides, that was Mom's type back then if Dan had been any indication. Now, at fifty-three, or thereabouts, Johnny wasn't bad looking. Pretty average, but from some angles he was quite handsome. And his right profile, my view from the passenger seat, was one of those good angles. Lost in thought, I was starting at him when he turned his head toward me and smiled.
"Feeling any better?"
"Lots. The coffee's done the trick." I smiled and turned to look forward, blushing a little (something I only did two or three thousand times a day), embarrassed to be caught staring.
"You seem to be a pretty quiet guy, Jack. How'd you end up performing?"
Great! I'd just been thinking of bringing up my act and he brought it up for me.
"I never had any real desire to perform in public. Lots of guys who are into music get into garage bands in high school or college. I never did that. I only played and sang for my own enjoyment, sometimes with friends. Sometimes for my Mom and her friends."
"So what made you decide to go after a job like that?"
"I didn't go after the job. It came after me. I'd met Tracie in rehab and we'd become friends. When she and Melinda opened the bistro, they asked me if I'd perform now and then."
Damn, I'd hoped we'd just glide right past that. I hadn't meant to mention it at all but it slipped out.
"Uh, yeah. A few years back I tried crystal meth a few times and ended up getting hooked."
"I've heard that stuff is extremely addictive."
"Yeah, apparently it is. I thought I was just playing around and had it all under control. It was pretty stupid of me."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. You beat it and that's what's important. Addictions sneak up on you. I went overboard with booze not too long ago, and while I managed to stop without rehab, I'm on the wagon for good now."
"Just take it one day at a time." I was relieved that not only wasn't he horrified but that he could relate in some way to my problem. I'd been afraid he'd want to drop the junkie off at the first train station we came to.
"It gets easier all the time."
"Yes, thank God. So, back to my story, I ended up playing at the bistro as a favor to Tracie and decided I liked it. You should come see me sometime. I know you`d like the music."
There. I'd finally got the invitation out, though I had taken the long way around.
"I'm sure I would, but I just don't get into the city that often these days."
"All the more reason to. You said once before that you occasionally went in for shows or concerts. My act isn't exactly Broadway or the Garden, but both the place and the music are very seventies. Think of it as a stroll down memory lane."
He smiled. "I can put a record on the turntable, sit back and close my eyes and do all the strolling there I like. I don't have to make a trip into the city."
"But you'd be all alone. It's good to get out and be around people now and then."
"You're right about that. I get too comfortable with myself sometimes. But as much as I can enjoy being alone at home, I dislike being alone around others. I like to go out now and then, but I prefer to do it with someone else."
It was interesting that in trying to talk him into a surprise meeting with Mom I was finding out more about him personally than I had in a couple of months of weekly genealogy sessions with him. He was a loner who didn't always like to be alone. I could relate to that. I spent much of my week working alone at home and my only regular social event was playing at the restaurant. Even then I was alone on stage, playing for strangers.
"But you wouldn't be alone there. I'd be there and I don't play non-stop all night. And you'd like Tracie and Melinda." Actually, I couldn't be sure he'd like the lesbian couple, but I couldn't very well tell him he wouldn't be alone because I was fixing him up with my mother.
"Oh, I don't know." He was wavering, which was progress.
"You know, this reluctance of yours isn't doing much for my ego." Maybe I could work some guilt on him.
"Why is this so important to you?"
He had me there. The amount of pressure I was putting on him was certainly suspicious, if you were the type who suspected others motives.
"I just think you'd enjoy it. Besides, you've shared your field of expertise with me. I'd like to share something I'm good at with you."
"Still obsessed with payback, are you?"
"No, really, I've gotten over that feeling of owing you. But I've come to enjoy your company and would like to spend a few minutes with you that isn't about family trees."
Johnny seemed to be a bit embarrassed by that statement. I hadn't thought it out in advance and had somewhat surprised myself with the idea but I wasn't lying and it seemed to sway him.
"Okay, you've sold me. I didn't mean to make such an issue over it but when it comes to socializing, I tend to drag my feet. When would you suggest I do this?"
Eureka! I tried not to show how ecstatic I was over his giving in but instead took the opportunity to nail down the details.
"How about a week from Saturday? You've said you usually work Saturdays so Friday wouldn't be good for a late night out."
Mom had made her plans to arrive the next Wednesday and I knew I could get her into the city anytime I wanted. The only possible problem with her would be convincing her not to come on Friday.
Johnny thought for a moment. "Saturday would work for me."
"Sure you don't have to check your social calendar?"
He grinned. "I think we've established that I don't have a social calendar. Saturday will be fine. What time?"
"Eight o'clock would be good, I think. I usually play from seven-thirty to eight-thirty, then again from nine to ten. So if you get there at eight you can catch most of my act and I can spend some time with you between sets."
At the Archives, time passed quickly. Johnny and I were each assigned microfilm readers and he showed me how to use death certificates, or returns as they were called, to discover the parents of some ancestors. When I ran out of dead ancestors, he showed me how to use wills to find more relatives. He had brought along his own work so we weren't able to talk much. He'd explained that his usual procedure was to work until two or so, then stop for a late lunch on the way home. That worked for me.
We'd taken the Turnpike down to Trenton, but Johnny chose another route back. We rode up a two-lane highway that followed the Delaware River north and stopped in the tiny city of Lambertville, where we had lunch in a restaurant in the old train station.
He'd been fairly quiet on the ride from Trenton (what else was new?), occasionally pointing out places of interest, like Washington's Crossing. I'd been planning on using this time to talk him into coming into the city, but since that had been accomplished on the way down, I wasn't sure what else to talk about. Quiet time with him was comfortable, but some conversation was occasionally needed. While I would have liked to find out more about his life, that would probably have meant telling him more about mine and I didn't want him to find out about Mom, so I avoided personal stuff. And with Johnny's shyness, he avoided nearly all conversation. I'd been to New Hope, just across the river in Pennsylvania, with Richard a few times, so I talked about that. Johnny knew the area quite well, so our lunch conversation was pretty much a local travelogue. Even though it was just impersonal small talk, I enjoyed it. The more time I spent with him, the more I understood Mom's special feelings for him.
Wednesday morning I took the train out to Fanwood and Grandma and I went to the airport together to meet Mom. She looked great, much more rested and relaxed than when I had visited her in the spring. It was amazing how she always bounced back. Even though Mom was going to be up for a month so I`d have the chance to see plenty of her, I'd planned to spend the night at Grandma's to get the visit off to a good start. Plus, I had to make sure she would be at the bistro Saturday night. The closer it got, the more nervous I was, the more I had second thoughts about how I'd set the whole thing up. I had to constantly convince myself I was doing the right thing. By the time I left for the city after lunch on Thursday, Mom had agreed to come see me Saturday night. Now I was really counting the hours.
Saturday finally arrived. I made sure Tracie reserved the table I'd picked out for the rendezvous. I'd chosen one in the back for privacy, but with a good view of the stage and a good view from the stage, so I could watch my masterpiece unfold. Also, one that didn't directly face the front door so Johnny wouldn't see Mom come in.
"This whole thing could backfire on you, you know." Tracie had been urging me to be upfront with both Mom and Johnny ever since I'd told her of my plan, making me even more nervous.
"I know there's a fair chance things won't work out the way I hope, but I don't see it `backfiring', as you put it."
"Well, you know them both and I don't, but I don't think I'd like being set up on a surprise blind date."
"I'm sure Mom will be annoyed with my meddling and Johnny will be embarrassed, but it's not like either one is going to storm out or come up to the stage and punch me out. They were good friends years ago and I think at the very least they'll enjoy seeing each other again once they get over their initial reaction."
"If you say so," Tracie said doubtfully. "Now, are you sure I'll know them when they come in?" Tracie was the hostess/manager, while Melinda was the chef.
"Absolutely. Johnny will give my name for his reservation so you won't have any problem there. As for Mom, just picture a slightly shorter me with big boobs."
"Not an entirely unpleasant picture. Okay, you told them both to be here at eight?"
"No, I told Johnny eight and Mom seven-thirty. She's always at least a half hour late for everything, so he should still be here first."
I was halfway through my first set when Johnny arrived, right on time. We exchanged smiles as Tracie led him to his table. He was still looking over his menu when Mom arrived.
I'd wracked my brain trying to come up with an appropriate song for their meeting, but the only ones I had thought of about a reunion of old friends/lovers were Harry Chapin's Taxi and Dan Fogelberg's Same Auld Lang Syne. Both of those had sad endings, so I couldn't use them. So I'd settled on Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. On a single acoustic guitar and without CSN's harmonies it sounded quite a bit different but it was still recognizable.
Since the song wasn't in my usual repertoire I had to pay more attention to what I was doing than normal, but I was still able to see the meeting at the table. Johnny recognized Mom as soon as he saw her. He slowly rose from his seat, his mouth open in surprise, as she approached. She seemed a bit puzzled when she saw him, but he must have introduced himself right away because she suddenly threw herself into his arms.
They sat and in no time were quickly babbling. Well, Mom was babbling and Johnny was listening intently. Even he seemed more animated than I'd ever seen him. They giggled now and then and a couple of times burst out into hearty laughter. Mom occasionally caught my eye and at first had given me a stern, scolding look, brushing one index finger over the other, but then laughed and shook her head. No hard feelings, I guessed. By the end of my set, all of my doubts and nervousness of the week had dissolved. I'd done good.
To Be Continued