Next Time

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

In the summer, you see the most amazing things. I sat on the bench on South Wharf and watched a young man with lime green shorts and a white polo shirt eat a chocolate ice cream while he walked around and stared at his phone. It’s summer and Pokemon is here.

He brought a few thousand friends. Apparently, they all rushed at DU and were bringing their girlfriends for the weekend. I was waiting for an old friend, P, who was coming over the weekend. P. had travelled up from Oklahoma to visit her daughter and her new grandchild in Medfield, then was returning to her island home to revisit a few old friends. We had once shared beers in a jeep and zipped around the island together in the glistening green fields of my youth. Then life sent everyone spinning on, with only Christmas cards between us.

I watched another boatload come down off of that new aluminum tinker toy monstrosity and emerge victorious into the arms of home-owning friends and relations. If I didn’t see every person getting off the boat as another car backed up on Sparks Avenue or Old South Road, I could be a little more warm hearted to young men being welcomed into the arms of young women, old women embracing old women, and old men hugging their golf bags. Everyone who gets off a boat wants to be welcomed, even to a place as chaotic as Nantucket in July. Of course, P was not in the first wave.

For those of us who remember fondly the quiet streets (and fairways) of October, July comes in a mob. But we live in a shop display window and cannot see the street. For everyone on this boat, who just made it through an hour wait to get over the bridge in Bourne, then struggled through the trucks and the rotaries in Hyannis in order to get a boat, they walk out into the salty south-west breeze and breathe clear. They have made it behind the glass and into world of Ralph Lauren mannequins and stylized lobster traps. I waited until they began ushering the workmen up the gangplank, then I left. A text message came for me in an hour, with apologies; “Next time.”

I was disappointed, but not surprised that P didn’t return to me. Lives separate. In America, we travel. We settle into a house with a banker and a paycheck, then when the paycheck wants us to move, we move to a new banker. Once there, we make new friends while we try to keep the old, but family and work conspire to keep us focused on the “here and now,” not on the “there and then.” We need to collect our Pokemon. But when you look in the mirror at the end of the day, you see the person that the “there and then” made. We are a sum of all those who loved us, added up in pencil, written on butcher’s paper, and tucked into our wallets. When we forget the sum, we forget who we are.

The older I get, the more appreciative I am for anyone who bought me a meal. I know me, I have been around me for a very long time, and I know what I am worth. Yet, people have bought me prime rib from the Dog Team Tavern, buffalo wings from the Atlantic Cafe, or pan-fried lobster from The Company of the Cauldron. I have reached an age when I appreciate those kindnesses, all of them written up as receipts. But, as our lives separate, we clear our wallets, then we look in the mirror and wonder who that person is?

My mirror has been showing me a strange man these days. The Registry of Motor Vehicle wouldn’t give me a driver’s license because their eye test machine was broken. When I had my eyes tested from a professional, he told me that my eyes were fine, perfect for a man of my age. As long as I wore these glasses, I could pass whatever silly test those bureaucrats had for me. So I got glasses.

The days humiliate you. They bloat you, grey you, wrinkle you, and then bill you for the trouble. You walk around pillar to post, using the same old brain as ever until you look from the sink and see what days were doing while you were filling your Pokedex. I prefer to think of myself as the person reflected in another’s eyes, not reflected in the glass. I can believe that I am worth a cheeseburger and a cocktail.

I keep receipts, of course. They keep me away from the mirror and the mundane: they are why I regret that P stiffed me. I suppose the gravity of the past does not attract with the magnetism of family. Or, even worse, does not pull at all. I would like to think that P still holds a few receipts and that I would still be on her “invite” list, but perhaps I am only worth the lie of “Next time.”

These are the days when I want the compound in Pocomo so that I would never have to hear “Next time” again. Then in the heat of August, when the rest of the world becomes sweat-stained and chafed, I would spread out the receipts and invite them. On a long Big Chill week, we could recognize each other again, remember who we are, and write it down for this time, not next. The years pull our teeth. We smile with close lips, hide, and keep collecting our Pokemon. But the years keep finding us, keep yanking, and keep tugging the “Next times” away. The receipts remain, with memories of long ago meals, companions, and the person that I still am.