From WTP Vol. V #4
How We Rock ‘n’ Roll
By Frances Park
The sky was moody the way moody writers like it, but historically the Fourth of July was supposed to be a sunny rockin’ day—good eats and bad ping pong washed down with Monkey Bay, and bro-in-law’s fireworks show destined to join the others rewinding in my mind like a movie clip: me up on the deck, watching Skip dart in and out of magnificent lawn lighting through the dazzles and the duds; in his thirties, his forties, his fifties, now sixties, half-Einstein-half ZZ Top, the boy in him popping out year after year because, hey, the show must go on.
But the rain came and cancelled everything. No memory-making for the reels today, folks, just me and Professor Lovebug stuck at home in a home that wasn’t quite home yet cause we’d just moved in, boxed in by the mad clutter of books unpacked and mirrors unhung, with nowhere to go.
On the brighter side, the sunroom was set up and since I can’t live in Stars Hollow, this will be my little corner of the world. Got a desk, a bookcase and a nook, a nostalgia nook, if you will, centered around my dad’s Harvard chair which I like to look at and picture him in. If that sounds eerie, so be it; his ghost is all I have. Between us, Lovebug is the bon-vivant one, blessed to not know that kind of pain. Boned-in, deep as marrow. In 1980, a young thing, I had to call National Memorial Park to report that my father’s grave was sinking, a reality that would prove symbolic of the days and years to come. Meanwhile, Lovebug can pick up the phone anytime and call his dad in New Jersey. Lucky guy.
Lovebug twitched, looking outside. Fun was on the books—now what?
“Really? No Fourth of July at Ginger and Skip’s?”
Lovebug and I are a good duet but sometimes I think we hit the high notes early.
“The rain might clear up,” he says, upbeat as always.
Oh, I doubt it. Highly. If I know my baby-faced sister, and I do, the all-day rain forecast was her doing. Don’t get me wrong, Ginger’s the proverbial hostess with the mostest, could win any throw-down you tossed her even while gaining steps on her Fitbit and bouncing balls with her pups, but sometimes things get so crazy, it’s like ten families and their pets live over there, leaving her a pile of ashes. That said, I suspect she woke up that morning with only enough steps in her to do a rain dance. She has powers, you know. Next up, a lottery dance.
Bookish types always have something to do, so we fall into our work—me in the sunroom, he in the living room a few steps away. Normally silence is golden but today it’s a dull chord. At some point I put on a little James Taylor, mellow just the way Lovebug likes it. Mellow’s fine but sometimes I have to draw the line.
“The first time I saw you,” he expressed way back when, “I could hear Dusty Springfield singing ‘The Look of Love’.”
Like a lounge singer on “Loveboat,” he began to croon with gushing emotion.
“Don’t you love that song?”
No. You’d assume Lovebug’s love of the Burt Bacharach songbook was a generational thing but, my God, we’re the same age. Brought up in an old world family, he remains old world and squeaky clean. But gimme rhythm and blues, baby—“Tell Me Something Good,” “Let’s Get It On” —something jazzy or sexy, something funky so I’ll move like I’m twenty again, not elevator music for the wheelchair set. Well, consider our history: When I was working in a record shop, he was studying abroad; when I was cocktail-waitressing, he was perfecting his Yiddish, probably by an oil lamp. Granted, no one ever said Jewish scholars who prefer footnotes over football are known for having rock ‘n’ roll souls.
Lunch at two, coffee at four. Half-asleep and off-key. Yawn.
Early on when the enchantment between us was palpable, we would slow dance like the moon outside my condo was hanging in the sky for us and us alone. In some perfect little film, Lovebug got up from bed one night, went down the hallway and into the kitchen, made clinking and clanging noises, then returned balancing two flutes of champagne and two little plates of chocolate cake. Voraciously inhaling it all, the bubbly, the sweet, the magic: “This is what Life is all about…”
How could I possibly fall asleep after that? Ever.
Before supper, Lovebug hopped off the couch. I blinked like an old horse and wheezed: “What’s up?”
“Sax time, Sweetie.”
A year ago, Lovebug began taking saxophone lessons, and for someone who’s the first to admit he’s not a natural, he hooked up famously with his new brassy friend.
Out of its case, the instrument cast a glow in the sunroom and suddenly, ionically, a stage was born. My eyes lit up, a little.
“My teacher says I need to work on my musicality. Put away the sheet music and play from memory.” With Shakespearean flair: “Feel the music.”
Feel the music. Made sense. But what music? Lawrence Welk music?
“Let me serenade you,” he said.
A serenade sounded promising. But Liberace-style?
After warming up, Lovebug launched into a recognizable number: Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.”
Old-fashioned but smooth.
“Thumbs up, Lovebug!”
A few pleasant rounds later, he suggested I accompany him.
“You mean sing?”
“I don’t know the words.”
“Grab the sheet music.”
“But I can’t sing!”
“Yes, you can!”
As an adolescent, too young to drive and stuck at home, I fancied myself a songstress—the next Carole King!—and composed a summer’s worth of songs that my mom, bless her heart, put to music. Our mom-daughter duet brought down the house, the house being a yellow colonial in the ‘burbs. Seeing as we still laugh about them, our performances were legendary to us, at least, and I can replay them at will: She’s on the piano giving it her all; I’m belting my fourteen-year-old heart out. But carry a tune today? Sing with abandon? Surely my voice was shaky as my soul.
Once, in my noncommittal days, Lovebug said something to me on the phone that, for better or worse, was recorded for the ages: Take a chance.
I did back then, I took a chance. And, now, in my ho-hum, low-note mood I thought, what the hell, take another. So I sang.
Naturally, Lovebug’s reaction was buoyant. “You were great!”
I was bad. Really bad. My ancient voice, rusty-wobbly-shot, embarrassing in front of anyone but Lovebug, made worse sounds than my first car, a ‘73 sky blue Pinto, would make if I tried to start it up today. But so what. It felt good to sing my guts out. Really good.
Well, we missed out on good eats by Ginger, a sumptuous feast she’d whip up in the time it took to pour wine, and fireworks by Skip where under stars and sparks he’d slip in and out of view, annual images I capture like fireflies—is he thirty, is he sixty? Can’t tell from up here on the deck. One less collective Fourth of July for the memory books, folks.
Now autumn’s around the corner and I’m in the sunroom again, looking at a Harvard chair I’ll be looking at for the rest of my life. A woman my age still missing her dad seems like a very sad thing, but at least me and Lovebug ended the holiday on a high note.
Frances Park is the award-winning author or co-author of literary novels, memoirs and children’s books including When My Sister Was Cleopatra Moon (Hyperion) and My Freedom Trip: A Child’s Escape from North Korea (Boyds Mills Press). Her short fiction and essays have been published in dozens of magazines and newspapers such as USAToday.com, OZY Media, and The Massachusetts Review.