Who schedules brunch on the day that Daylight Savings happens? Oh right, that was me. So I had brunch with a friend this morning at a restaurant called North Star in the Short North. Not to sound like an old guy but I remember this place when it used to be some sort of medical lab processing business and the White Castle was the only place to eat on that corner.
Eddie and I lived down the street at the corner of Second & Hunter Avenue for many years. I met him while he was in art school at OSU and later moved in with him and his cat Samson. It was one of those humble Victorian Village houses that was originally built as shotgun apartments for factory folks. We had so many parties there. These took many forms but usually went like this: tons of food, more alcohol than a well stocked bar during OSU football season, people laughing or passed out momentarily and everyone having a great time. The place had an incredible garden which later developed into Eddie’s landscaping canvass over time.
Many of our friends ended up taking some of the adjacent units over the years. Ted, Puck, Angela, Paul, Phil and Mike to name just a few. It was when I met up with Eddie over at Ted’s apartment where I found them all piled up in his bedroom watching some old black and white film together. It may have been “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” or a raunchy John Waters film, I can’t remember. But I do remember the enormous coffee tins that were overflowing with cigarette butts and Ted shouting “WHO SMELLS LIKE A BIG LILAC!?” When I showed up. I was into essential oils and herbs during that phase of my life and I was always mixing various scents together. Just as I did for Eddie in my old apartment on Hamlet St in Italian Village. I had this gigantic two person tub and I’d mix up things like neroli, vetivert and sandalwood and we’d hop in the tub for a soak on a cold winter night together. Ted introduced us to truffle making, a way of combining various foods and flavors and one of the driest senses of humors we’d ever meet. He lived hard and played hard. Sadly he passed away the first year we came back to Ohio and we missed a chance to say our goodbyes. (His is the only name I did not change for this piece.)
Angela was just plain fun. Maybe a little too much fun at times but she was always there with a shoulder and a smile when you needed it. I remember her as a strong young woman who had so much to offer people. Oddly enough, I think she was struggling with confidence more than anything. Be that as it may she was always boisterous, disarming and powerfully charming. We spent so many nights drinking with her at the growing number of bars on High Street. When Havana first opened up under Michael Counsel it was creative and cool. Our friend Chuck would see that we were properly inebriated, always laughing while surrounded by each others company. I always remember him when I hear a Missy Elliot thinking of his voice, smile and hand gestures.
Time passed. Angela got married to an incredible man and her unit went to our friend Paul. Paul. Oh god. We knew this skinny little crazy tattooed white boy when, of all places, he lived behind a church on 5th ave & High St. It was rumored that he was a heroin addict however it was acid that really floated his boat. There was a time when he’d lost his job and we sent out an invitation to all of our dinners that he was willing to try. He was too proud to come every night but we saw him a great deal during those lean months. It was then that we got to know him better. He had a wicked sense of humor, a wild streak and, at heart, a big ball of sentiment underneath his armor. I remember being called on the phone one night to come rescue him. He was panicked. A bat flew into his apartment on 5th. Eddie and I got there only to find Paul proudly, but still shaken up a bit, declare he caught it with an “ingenious” setup made from a laundry basket, a tshirt and a tennis racket.
Another story of his that I cherish is when he and one of his gentleman callers were headed out for breakfast one Saturday morning. They were blocked in the parking lot by two women who were doing some sort of drugs together. The neighborhood still had a definitive edge to it. Paul asked them to move whereupon the women began to heckle the guys. Paul being Paul hauled off and called the main character a “skank” which is when the situation escalated. The main character was pregnant, high and would have been a Wallmart denizon if they had been around at that time. She began to move on Paul like she was going to do some serious bodily harm when he jumped back into the car and made an escape to finally get breakfast. His moral from that was to “never call a pregnant white trash girl a skank.” To hear him tell the story is a joy though. It’s his hand gestures, smile and body language that really makes you feel the ridiculousness of it. In fact, when I die, I’d love for this moment to repeat over and over in my head until the lights go out… it always makes me laugh. Sadly his dad killed himself while we lived in Dallas. I’ll never forget that phone call. He was devastated but I could still hear the strength in his voice. I had another failure of character here however. I should have gotten tickets to go be with him through this crisis but I chose to remain in Dallas and work on some now forgotten corporate deadline. It’s only after carrying these kinds of regrets that you realize that family should always take precedence over work.
Phil was always low key. We never really hung out at each others places too much but we were definitely patio and porch buddies. I think it was one night after drinking heavily with Paul, the boy liked to party, we ended up on our section of the porch outside of “Le Salon” as our apartment was known. Phil had brought a bottle of moonshine up with him. And with the livers of young people we all shared that with him. It was that night when the most dangerous thing happened. He was arguing that you could catch moonshine on fire for whatever reason. And then he poured some out on the deck and proceeded to prove his point. The place was basically a five alarm fire just waiting to happen. We had live gas light pipes in our ceilings next to electrical wire, some exposed, the place was old, brittle and dry as hell. How we all didn’t end up homeless, or in rehab, that night will always escape me. He and Eddie were fellow students in a Master program at OSU in the fine arts. And again while he kept to himself there were those moments that only your direct neighbors hear on hot summer nights when he had a lady friend over and they were both being very intimate with each other. We weren’t listening but our room was directly above his and everyone had their windows open as no one had the money for air conditioning.
Mike was different. He and I worked together at a restaurant called A La Cart. As our rent was a ridiculous $300 he decided to move in as one of the lower units opened up. He quit his job and started working on a stand up routine. He was a talented writer and a really smart guy. My only regret here is that I didn’t check in on him enough. I think he was worse off than I thought and probably could have used a better friend than I was. I think I had just jumped from waiting tables to doing the wine sales thing and was being pulled down toward Cincinnati. Not my best years.
Puck. He and his boyfriend Carlos literally shoved me out in front of Eddie one night at the Eagle dance club. I’m not very aware of what goes on around me in bars. So I was surprised to learn that this handsome artist with a shaved head and hair everywhere was attracted to me. We kissed for the first time that night and that was it. I knew Carlos from my early college years when I was in forestry and lived with a group of guys on steroids. Puck was a skinny art/skate/queer/punk guy when we all met him. Things inevitably change. His relationship with Carlos ended. Carlos moved home to Florida, declared bankruptcy and started a new life. Puck moved to Broad St from his warzone home on Bryden Rd. It was around there that he started taking steroids. Lots and lots of steroids. While his musculature increased it actually changed his bone structure. Even his skin changed becoming more textured and welted. It was his thing so we accepted him for who he was becoming. Still, it always worried me. It was after the rouge guy directly below us (our Boo Radley myth), and before Phil, that Puck moved in to the unit below us. He did odd things like forego a refrigerator and baked awful cornbread. We’d all hang out in Le Salon together, make food, have cocktails, listen to music and talk about art/architecture and furniture.
We took a road trip to visit Eddie’s best friend in Chicago one year together. I remember that one because the comet Hale Bop had come to visit. We could actually see it from the car we rode in along the way to Chicago. Once there we all had a great time. It was however at one bar where Puck met Charlie. An old has been of an artist. Overly aggressive and usually offensive as decades of steroid use had made him. He later developed a Vicodin addiction. As he had been working the system pretty hard he had stockpiled so much of the stuff that before he joined rehab he threw a party and gave everyone a bottle of the stuff as a party favor. That one always confused me… why would you give the gift of addiction to someone else as you struggle to keep your intestines from rupturing again from the habitual abuse? But they fell for each other. When we got back to Columbus we immediately went to Havana and tied one on together. It was one of the best road trips, annoying moments or not, that I had ever completed. Shortly afterwards Puck decided to leave Ohio and go to live with Charlie. It would be many years before we saw one another again.
Every spring Second Avenue would suddenly explode into pink blossom filled trees lining the sides of the street and filling the air with perfume. I enjoyed walking down the street at sunset smelling the fragrance of the blossoms while everything around me was tinted pink, gold and orange by the sunset filtering through the branches above. It always looked like the street was alive and vibrating with life. When you see a scene in a movie where the character is contemplating and then you get a transitional device framed to “take you back” with the actor… that’s how this feels when I think of it. So when I saw the arrangement of branches at Northstar this morning I was hit with all of these memories at once. I was back on Second Avenue this morning having breakfast with a respected colleague. She’s a strong independent woman in the tech industry in her 20‘s. The fire in her eyes and the confidence in her voice made me think of what it was like to be young and live down the street with Eddie and Samson. It gives me a moment of pause to think of all of the people I knew and the ones I know now and how lucky I feel to have been where I have and where I’m at today.
I like to think we are all of us full of dreams, spirit and wonder. It is, however, when we take the time to be vulnerable, take risks and bear our hearts that we make real magic happen.