I was turning five or six and waiting for my birthday party to start. I remember watching the clock proceed glacially toward 1 pm. Staring. Closing my eyes. Staring. Groaning when the hands hand only advance a few seconds. It was interminable. Seconds, minutes, days. They lasted forever.
Decades later, I meet up with a friend.
We celebrate birthdays twice a year with a drink- a limoncello frizzante. Can’t quite recall how it started. It was a fancy drink and we pretended we were movie stars. I was Danny and she was George. Or was I George and she was Danny. It was a tasty way to mark the years.
Now we gather when we can. Birthdays, now, are a figment.
And then this week we sat down to figure out how long we’d been marking. The bartender, the one we’d nicknamed Deputy Dog, had been there for 11 years. The Limoncello Frizzante had been off the menu for 5. We’d met to talk of frustration and pride in our children and grieve out losses. Surely, it couldn’t be more than 5 years. Was it 8? Nay, 10 years?!
Spring break 1987. Before the internet. Before the proliferation of travel books. We loaded up the car, grabbed a map and headed south. Making our plans along the way. We’d camp in the Everglades. We’d drive down and explore the Keys each day. No problem.
Note to others, this is stupid. It’s hundreds of miles. By the time you reach the end, it’s time to come home. But we made it then, in time to play lacrosse on the beach and rinse off in the rain and have a drink at Captain Tony’s. Before driving back.
31 years onward, we reunite on Key West. “Welcome Spring Breakers” crow the signs.
‘Tis the season for flip flops and reggae. Captain Tony’s is still going strong. Thousands more dollar bills tacked to the wall. This has to be some sorry of fire code violation, right?
A young musician (Sharese Nicole) with the voice of an angel. Just started playing music in bars. Tied off madras shirt, cut-offs and mirrored sunglasses. She tunes and adjusts her capo. She takes a request for some Pearl Jam.
She squeaks, “I learned the words to this song in my car seat!”
My God. Where has the time gone. We miss most of the new wave of spring breakers who are likely just waking for the day. We’re home in bed by 11:30, destined to wake once or twice to the toilet.
That clock, so glacial when I was a kid, leaps ahead. Each blink a mile marker. A birthday. A limoncello.
Tick, tick, tick. 20 drinks becomes a decade. And “Boom” someone’s grandkid is crooning out Pearl Jam or some other golden oldie.