February 17th, 2004


Dark Songs of Hope or Ravioli at the Macaroni Grill

Current Events:

I'm finally getting over a head cold I've had for a couple of weeks. I feel like I've been walking around with my head in a bucket. The weather was freezing and windy and I was living in a shell shut off from the cold and people I didn't want to deal with with my head pounding and a perpetual frog in my throat. The weather is much nicer and I feel nearly human.

My bud, WJ, called me up and invited me to go to the Macaroni Grill this evening. He's been doing this since he was two. He used to grab the phone from Mom or Dad and yell about as loud as he could, "I invite YOU go Macawoni Dwill!" He'll be six next month and he can now say "Macaroni Grill" and dial the phone and the whole bit.

Compelling Chronicle:

We used to go to what we imagine was the original Macaroni Grill in Leon Springs, Texas, just south (I think) of San Antonio. It was (is?) an Italian market and deli as well as a restaurant, right next door to what we think was the original Rudy's Barbeque. The Rudy's in Leon Springs was a gas station and convenience store also. This was ten or twelve years ago. Now you can eat at Rudy's or the Macaroni Grill all over the country. The chain restaurants are pretty much identical to the originals sans gas station and deli.

WJ likes it because you can draw on the paper table clothes with crayons (courtesy of the wait staff). I took him to the Macaroni Grill the day his grandmother died so that his parents could deal with the mortuary people coming to remove the body and all of that grim stuff. Before we left he had the entire table covered with drawings of trucks. Mostly tow trucks. He also loves the bread they serve. He's been a bread man since he had teeth. He loves croutons, crackers, toast and his absolute favorite is the bread sticks from Papa John's Pizza with extra garlic butter dipping sauce. He's also been nuts about garlic since he was a year and a half old. It could be worse. His parents, of course, wish he was gonzo over broccoli and peas and carrots, but bread and garlic butter has got to beat candy and soda pop. For now, at least.

I enjoy WJ a lot. Most of my acquaintances either have no children or their kids are off living with one ex or another somewhere or, in some cases, grown up and long gone. Until old WJ happened along I hadn't been around kids since I was one. The freshness and spontaneity of what the kid has (or has not) to say is delightful. Very simple and completely uncomplicated. He likes me because I let him do what he wants short of hurting himself or destroying something.

We play the home version of "Will It Float?", dropping marbles and pencil erasers and Hot Wheels into an abandoned glass of melted ice water on the counter. I let him spread his dad's router bits out on the work bench and make up stories about what each one might be used for or make a "car wash" out of a garden hose and a pile of rocks. We start out playing Chinese Checkers and end up driving Hot Wheels around the board through an obstacle course of potholes and marble "boulders". We set out to "wash" my truck and end up chasing each other around the driveway with a wet sponge. It's fun. Being with a kid gives you license to do all kinds of stuff you'd feel really silly doing by yourself.

When WJ was little, his favorite band was REM and he had his favorite song on each of their albums. He would get somebody to put on the CD on and then dance wildly around the living room. I told an adult friend of mine who is a huge REM fan about this and he said, very seriously, "You can't dance to REM." "You can if you're two," I told him. That's the whole point.