Saturday, June 16, 2007

Somewhere Over the Wine-bow

We sat at the small table and picked up our menus, the awkwardness apparent but growing less dense as the minutes passed. I had given my brother Joe a $60.00 gift certificate to this small Italian restaurant for his 60th birthday. Being the frugal and fair man that he is, he refused to use it on himself and his wife, Janeard, unless Al and I went along—he felt that it was way too generous a gift, and would not accept no for an answer. We agreed to meet there on a Friday night when there was a live jazz guitar duo there, adding some evening ambiance to this otherwise bland little room that was actually the “restaurant side” of a pizzeria.

My brother and I have an odd history. Due to our sixteen-year age difference, and the fact that there were never any other children in between us that may have created some kind of bond, we were never particularly close. I’ve known Al for ten years, yet I can count the number of times that he and my brother have actually been in the same room together, let alone out to dinner. Over the course of his years, Joe seemed to drift away from our family and most of his friends. Where I am very forgiving almost to the point of being someone who is the equivalent of a throw rug, my brother tends to hold grudges in order to keep the wall around him impenetrable. Our differences are apparent in other areas as well: I have a varied taste in music; Joe basically can not understand why they even bothered to produce music after the early sixties. He does not understand the point of screaming a rock song or having a course called, “The History of Hip Hop” at our local university. I actually saw him cry for the first time the day Bobby Darren died.

…We won’t even get into the subject of movies. He's still reeling over the fact that they actually made "Mannequin 2."

Being that Al had to finish a job and was running late, we waited to order our meals until he showed up. Of course, we did not wait to order some wine. After tossing around whether we should buy a bottle of wine we had all never tried or just have a glass each of the house wine, we opted for the latter. This particular merlot was a fine choice for the three of us, being that we’re all lightweights when it comes to drinking alcohol. We sipped and chatted, and the minutes that passed seemed to take away any tense feelings that were present, turning them into fond sentiments full of shared memories and silly laughter. I do admit; it felt good to laugh like that with them. I truly began to wonder why it was that we hardly ever got together.

Al arrived, looking as handsome as ever, and ordered his usual Grey Goose martini with three olives. Joe laughed at him, openly wondering how Al could possibly handle drinking that “rocket fuel;” my brother admitted that he would be passed out under the table if he imbibed in one of those. With a few sips, Al caught up to our level of giddiness, and we all engaged in conversations ranging from “Casablanca” to the “most beautiful, perfect head of broccoli” that my brother ever saw in his life at a local farm stand.

After their break, the musicians noticed our lively, little table and upon their return, came over to inquire if we had any requests. Of course, Joe asked for “anything by Frank Sinatra,” and I requested their wedding song, “Happy,” by Bobby Darin. The lead guitarist told me that he wasn’t sure if he had ever heard of that song, but he promised he’d try to look for it in his song book. Joe told him that he probably wouldn’t find it, but that he’d be happy if he just played some classics. They went back to their guitars, and continued to play some wonderful, old standards that fit the atmosphere perfectly.

In the meantime, we were served our sumptuous dishes. We continued to eat, drink and chat as the music played on in the background. I’m not sure what it was that caught my attention, but as I took a break from talking, I noticed that the lead guitarist was softly playing “The Christmas Song.” I leaned over and looked at him, and he winked and smiled as if he knew I got the joke. Never one to keep my mouth shut and just let things be, I shouted out, “Hey!! You’re playing Christmas music!!” Al looked at me in bewilderment and snorted, “Are you crazy? Have another drink! They’re playing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow!! How can you not know what they’re playing? You just made me watch that stupid Meg Ryan movie for the hundredth time last week, and they play it at the end of the movie!! Every time!!!” Chuckling, Joe and Janeard chimed in that yes, it was indeed “Over the Rainbow” and maybe we all had had a little too much to drink. I stopped to listen for a minute…and I immediately felt embarrassed. My goodness—they were indeed playing “Over the Rainbow.” I looked around to see how many other tables were filled with people who may have heard my drunken outburst, and I meekly uttered an “oops,” followed by, “Wow, this pasta dish is delicious!”

…”How about those Yankees?” probably would’ve worked better. I started to feel that the cobwebs were really taking over my middle-aged brain.

Recovering from the Christmas blunder, I decided to continue enjoying myself and my family. We had such a good time, we didn’t realize that the whole restaurant had cleared itself, and we were the last ones there. We got the check, and my brother opted for a quick bathroom visit. As we sat at the table to wait for him, the jazz duo packed up their guitars and headed in our direction toward the front door. They came over to us and apologized for not being able to find the song I had requested. We assured them that it was fine, and that their selections were just as enjoyable. With that, the lead guitarist looked at me and laughed, “I can’t believe you caught on that I was playing “The Christmas Song!” The rhythm man chimed in that he couldn’t believe it either—that they do this on occasion just to see if anyone is actually paying attention.

SCORE!! I excitedly jumped up from my seat to give them both a high five. “I knew I wasn’t crazy!!” I exclaimed. I turned to Al, who looked both surprised and relieved at the same time; surprised because he really didn’t hear it, and relieved that his wife was, indeed, not suffering from dementia. When Joe came back, he laughed with us as well and also seemed thankful that his sister was not just another loud-mouthed, drunken fool who’s inclined to random outbursts of nonsense. Actually, being a musician himself, I think he was actually disappointed that he didn’t hear that sneaky riff as well! As strange as it sounds, I really was relieved myself. There is something quite unnerving about being so certain of something, beyond the shadow of a doubt, and having everyone tell you otherwise. You can tend to feel a bit crazy.

One thing I am certain of is that I will have to do this again with them soon. Life is really too short to not get together with the ones you love!