I was a cocktail waitress when the varietals of wine sold at most bars were “house red” and “house white.” Triangle drinks and trendy craft beers weren't in the vernacular yet. No, I handed out the real deal. Grown-up drinks with masculine names like Stinger, Sidecar, Gimlet or Gibson. Up, on the rocks, with a splash or a twist. Drinking was a more serious pursuit in the 1980s. It was about picking your poison.
The restaurant I worked at featured live music on weekends. Jazz musicians stopped by before their gigs in New York City. One was Doc Cheatham, a well-known trumpet player who had lived longer than most.
Doc had joy in his pocket and shared it like spare change. He was lanky and tall and walked with a happy purpose. Thick-lensed glasses nearly overwhelmed a face lined by a life lived. He favored plaid polyester suits. His hair was brown and suspect. I found out later it was a toupee.
His was a bad one.
Doc and I had a "thing." Not in the way you might think. I was eighteen. He was more than seventy. But, he flirted with me in a grandfatherly way that rendered me light.
"You look lovely tonight beautiful darling. That smile of yours would make the angels sing" or "Well, well looky who's here. Now I know I'm gonna have a good night."
I floated the rest of the evening, handing out drinks like a ballerina.
Doc sat on a high bar chair on the small stage wearing his bad toupee like a crown playing magic through his horn. Sometimes he sang. Once he sang a song for me.
I want a little girl, call my own.
She must be someone who's all alone now.
Say, I want a little girl
To fall in love with me, oh yeah.
The song swelled a Wawa in my heart and left behind a muted fullness that lingered. It was our song, though he didn't know it.
I left that job. He kept playing. From time to time, I'd picture him sitting on that high bar chair wearing his bad toupee and playing magic through his horn.
I read he performed up to two days before he died, eleven days shy of his 92nd birthday.