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Kind of appalling the way I over-talked at dinner the other night. I’d be embarrassed if I were still capable of that emotion, but after six decades, you’ve either learned from your little misbehaviors or decided to accept them.
“Were you nervous, Dad?” Smartacus asked later.
Yes and no. I was at a robust steakhouse with Suzanne’s fam – that place that smells like John Wayne’s hat. Suzanne was at one end of the table, I was at the other. Her glorious mama in the middle. My own mama would’ve turned 99 last week. She’s gone. Now I have a surrogate.
Blah, blah, blah, blah …
For the life of me, I couldn’t shut up. So many words, so few original or interesting thoughts. Just this cheery Irish stew of conjecture, diffidence, speculation. Who could make sense of it? Not me, obviously.
“All boys and men are just looking for a harbor,” Suzanne explained later.
I wanted details. Which harbor? A safe harbor, or a thrashing and exciting harbor? Marina Del Rey? Or, Cub’s Cove, the tiny marina off Grass Lake where I grew up. (Ever seen Blarney’s Island, the Bahamas of the Midwest? Right near there).
Best job I ever had, working at a marina. I’m a sucker for boats and bikinis and coconut oil. Honestly, best job I ever had, working on boats. A respectable job, scraping barnacles and algae. Then I became a sportswriter. Everything went south from there.
Blah, blah, blah …
Suzanne later reported that her family was entertained by my silly stories. She and I had explained our crazy first dates, and how she pursued me up and down the California Coast, as I searched for a safe harbor. Eventually, she cornered me at a brassy little place in Pasadena, well inland, far too far from the sea.
In hindsight, it was perhaps the greatest date of all time. She’d brought along her mother, who was having a birthday, and a two-week old foster baby, whose own mother was having some struggles. Knock-knock. L.A. County calling.
“Could you foster this wee babe a night or two?” the count asked.
So, I quickly learn that Suzanne is some sort of saint in Los Angeles County, where saints are extremely rare. She has a bundle along with her, like a coin purse — the wee baby (Dillon) wrapped for sleep. Handsome little lad. Content. Chill. Just a cool baby dude.
Know who else was there? My buddy Gallagher and my other buddy Kate, who just happened to be in the restaurant when I walked in with the woman with the to-die-for velvet hair, plus her mother, plus Dillon.
I ordered the ginger catfish and a 24-ounce Slurpee-sized martini. Her mom ordered one too. Thank gawd for martinis and moms is all I can say. These days, thank gawd for harbors of any kind.
By then, it’d become apparent that there was a newborn at our table, and my pals (Gallagher and Kate) kept looking over their shoulders – what’s going on over there … what’s going on?
By then, the catfish had arrived, about the size of a marlin, deep-fried and spilling head and tail over the big dinner plate and a little bit touching the nice linen tablecloth.
“Moby Dick?” a passing stranger asked.
We were seated — did I tell you? – right near the restrooms, which is a great way to meet people and also kind of romantic … the rushing water, the catfish, the crying baby.
See a theme? Atonement? Deliverance? It was like the story of Easter.
By then, little Dillon was beginning to protest a bit. The bus boys – bless their hearts – were building a pop-up cradle with blankets on a nearby bench. It was quite the fuss, everyone scurrying about. Then Gallagher and Kate stopped by on their way to the restroom, just to inquire:
“Hey, is that a baby?”
“Yes, I believe it is,” I said.
“Did you know she was bringing a baby?”
“I did not,” I said.
Aren’t surprises wonderful? As is her way, Suzanne was super cool through the whole thing. That’s probably what impressed me the most, I think. Plus her hair, plus her twinkly-eyed mom, who I was already in love with. In fact, I might’ve loved Suzanne’s mama before I loved her.
The food came and went, I finished most of the ginormous catfish. The martinis came and went, as if carried off by the Gulf Stream.
“Are all your dates like this?” Suzanne asked.
“If I’m lucky,” I said.
“Good night,” she said.
And we’ve been hanging around ever since.
Please support my new book, “What the Bears Know,” the memoir of “Bear Whisperer” Steve Searles, at a signing at Barnes & Noble at The Grove, at 7 p.m. Oct. 4. The event is free.
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