I got a call last Sunday night. It was my High School buddy with news from the old neighborhood. It's rare that I visit there anymore, but Jimmy keeps me informed about all of the goings-on there.
We always plan to meet at the St. Patrick's Day parade in Philadelphia the Sunday prior to the actual holiday. Since we are two divorced dads, we planned to stop by the old pizza shop and get dinner with our kids. I always look forward to the St. Patrick's Day parade. It's an opportunity to celebrate my Irish heritage, and, after a brutal Philadelphia winter, I regard it as my "Irish Spring".
Children seem to always get sick when you have plans. So, instead of enjoying a parade gossiping with my friends, and getting a cheap meal, I spent the day taking care of my snotty kid and watched the event on the television. The weather is always dicey on that day, but "Irish Luck" prevailed.
The weather was beautiful!
Well, Jimmy and I got to talking about this person and that person and the old pizza joint that we hung out of as teenagers. He brought his kids there to get their traditional Irish meal of: Pizza, soda, onion rings, and yes...French Fries. He bumped into this girl Kathy that we knew. They recalled a particular time that I was the victim of a skating ring prank. I was a novice skater desperately trying to keep vertical. The group that I was with all held hands and formed a line. I figured this would be a good way to stay off the ice rather than sitting on it. I was wrong. It seems that I was at the end of the "whip" that got "cracked". Never could I have imagined the velocity that I could reach that night. I didn't make much of an impression on the girls, but I sure did make an impression on the wallboards.
After chuckling for a moment at my own expense I asked him about the old place. A couple of teenagers were eating there but most had abandoned it for cleaner pizza shops with a less "rustic" atmosphere. The pizza parlor changed hands since those days. One of the former owners died, the other went back to Greece, and the new owner was from the Middle East. They kept the Greek Helmet on the window, but gave the business a more Italian name which I can't recall. Debbie, the high school cutie who took orders and ran the cash register went to college, married a rich guy, and lived happily ever after. The workers are now Mexicans who speak little English, but there was one person who still works there after all these years...Charlie.
According to my buddy, Charlie, whose name would sound more like "Chollie" with a Philly accent, was still delivering pizzas. His was dressed in his denim attire, topped by his signature Jeff cap pulled to his eyebrows concealing a receding hairline. He kept fit by running up and down the stoops and porches in the old neighborhood while his open fake leather jacket flapped in the wind. He was still the "Mayor" of the pizza shop, shaking hands while he greeted customers that he pretended to remember. He made a fuss over Jimmy's kids and swore that he remembered me too, but I doubt it. He sat and chatted with them while he waited for the next delivery. The two men reminisced about the characters that used to haunt the old place.
There was a young married couple who lived in the apartment over the store. They were always dressed alike in denims looking like twins. Dweebs, the husband entered the store once with a bag of pennies he had saved for a long time to buy a pizza for dinner. Often bored in their claustrophobic apartment, they would come downstairs and hang out with their toddler trying to gather any gossip was going around town. I never saw either one of them read a newspaper except for the comics section. They seemed to exist on the shop's menu and we all wondered if the child was well taken care of. We felt sorry for them because we all thought that they were a little bit slow mentally. One night the two were overwhelmed in their inability to calm their child's tantrum. Sweet Debbie tried to calm the situation and made the mistake of saying "Aw...she's a good girl, I wouldn't mind taking her home myself." About an hour later they appeared with the child and a packed suitcase!
It has always been known that truth is stranger than fiction. Jimmy and I talked for about a half an hour. I told him that the last time I saw Charlie was shortly after the "schoolbus" incident. This was an event that everyone knew about but was never in the news. It seems that Charlie, who was working as a school bus driver decided to take a little vacation.
One Friday after he had left the last student off the bus, he decided to keep driving. For some reason known only to him he wanted to go to Indiana. I asked him:"Charlie, what possessed you to take a school bus and drive it to Indiana?" Well, he gave me his usual goofy look, and shrugged his shoulders. "Lord knows, I don't know why I did it", was his response. "Didn't you think that the bus company would notice that one of their school buses was gone?" He gave me a dumb look and said, "Well, if I didn't run out of gas in Ohio I would have made it to Indiana."
Needless to say, Charlie lost his bus driving job, and because he was harmless the company decided not to file charges. Since then, he has been delivering pizzas, and earning a living doing odd jobs. Jimmy didn't catch where he lived or with whom, but he is still the happy-go-lucky guy we knew years ago. Their conversation ended when the owner called him to make some deliveries. Charlie "God blessed them" and darted out the door. Then Jimmy told me, "That's the last time I saw Charlie."