Near Alabama Jacks, Road to Key Largo – March 16, 2013
George loves cars. When he tells a story, the characters all come with their cars attached like titles.
“Helen Sneider drove a ’38 Pontiac,” he says.
“I had a ’37 Ford,” he says.
He fell putting gas in the engine and it blew up. She took care of him in the hospital. She was beautiful. They fell in love.
“My second wife was a Sicilian,” he says. “Her mother owned the second biggest antiques dealer in NYC. She had lions and tigers and all that.”
He shows me pictures in an old photo album. The pages stick together and George smiles at me from forty years ago.
I met George a. Hour earlier on the dock next to his house.
His place is small, just two little rooms left over in a restaurant parking lot. A pair of restored bicycles and a moped from the mid-1900s fill one room along with a tv, table, chairs, and a big recliner. His bed and a kitchen fill the other. There’s no door.
The bikes look new, every piece painted to perfection, the frames swooping and curving like old automobiles.
“Can I leave my boat here while I go eat?” I asked.
“Where are you going in that thing,” he said.
We were drinking together five minutes later.
George is from South Florida, West Palm, 1931, but he loves Canadian Mist. It’s a whiskey that comes in plastic bottles, cheap and strong. He has three half-empty ones in his refrigerator and a case of Coke.
George and I decide to split dinner. I’ll order conch fritters and he’ll fry up some green tomatoes. I run over to the restaurant to order before they close, but I’m too late.
“Even for George?” I ask, pointing to his house in the parking lot.
“Even for George,” the man says.
George takes the news well.
“We still got the green tomatoes,” he says.
I’m meeting my cousin in the parking lot in the morning so George offers to let me stay in his place.
“You can sleep in the recliner,” he says. “As long as you don’t mind watching westerns until 2 am.”
“I love westerns,” I say.
We flick on the tv and Bonanza comes on. Little Joe is in love with the wrong woman. Hoss is fist fighting his uncle.
“Get ’em Hoss!” George says.
He has seen almost every western ever made. Most were made before I was born. He runs through names and looks disappointed when I don’t recognize them all.
We drink more Canadian Mist. I wonder if there is any water in George’s house. I have my doubts.
George tells me to pour my own drink since I know what I like. I pour light, mostly Coke, knowing I barely drink anything these days.
“You gotta be able to taste it at least!” George yells.
I pour a bit more. We start frying tomatoes. George salts them with a big cylinder of Morton’s. I laugh because that’s how he told me his last name.
“Morton, like the salt,” he said.
Three Cuban ladies show up to fish on the dock. They call him Georgie and give him big hugs and kisses on the cheek. He grins at me when they go out to the dock.
“You’re a charmer, George,” I say.
“Always have been,” he says.
George tells me about dancing with “8 to 10 women” at the restaurant who come watch the band play on Sundays.
“I got all kinds of girlfriends,” he says. “And moves you ain’t never seen before.”
He explains that age 42 to 50 is his sweet spot. George is 82.
A new western comes on. There is a killer cougar and a love triangle. George tells me about growing up. He and his dad used to go out and cut dade pine with a cross saw.
“It’s the toughest wood there is,” he says.
Some of the oldest buildings in south Florida were made of dade pine. They are the only ones that have survived all the hurricanes.
The cougar makes its appearance on the tv.
“There were lots of cougars back in the 40s,” George says. “Even black panthers. Lots of them.”
I don’t know if that is true, but he was there so I don’t push him on it. Not a lot of people still remember the 40s.
George leaves me frying tomatoes so he can go flirt with the three ladies fishing on the dock. The world is spinning a bit and I’m dealing with hot oil. The tomatoes are good though, especially with a bit of salt.
George comes back in. The two men in the love triangle have teamed up to hunt the cougar. George falls asleep in his chair. I’m afraid to move because if I wake him he might make me drink again.
He wakes up anyway and the first thing he says is, “I gotta go talk to those girls again.”
He disappears for a bit then comes back. The cougar is dead and we’ve switched to a new western. This time a wagon train is heading west through dangerous territory with only one man to protect it. George yells at them not to go through the pass because there is an ambush. He is excited because he hasn’t ever seen this one before.
The ladies come back in the apartment. They call him Georgie again, very affectionately, and give him lots of hugs and a few kisses on the cheek. Then they are gone.
George smiles at me and we both get another drink. He also hands me a slice of turkey to eat. We settle in to see what happens to the wagon train. The female lead comes on and begins falling in love with the one guy left defending the wagons.
“Every movie has to have a woman in it,” George says, “to cause trouble.”
The wagon train survives and it is bed time. George insists that I sleep on his giant recliner. It’s comfy and goes almost flat. I feel like a baseball in a mitt.
I text my cousin to make sure he knows where to meet in the morning.
“Do me a favor,” I say. “Bring me a bottle of Canadian Mist.”
And you should too, if you’re ever down that way. Go on Sunday afternoon and look for the man dancing to the band. White hair and full of life. You can’t miss him, just remember, it’s Morton, like the salt.