Originally published on November 17, 2010, at The Diner of Cville. Recently I had cause to think of the story again. And I thought I could tell it better. So I am.
I have a love/hate relationship with blogs. Part of me wants to think of this space on the Interwebs as a book. I’ll have experiences, then write luxuriantly and elegantly about them the minute get home. Each experience a chapter in an ever-evolving narrative of my life in food. But life gets in the way doesn’t it? Sometimes the stories get published. And sometimes they languish in my sad little notebook lying at the bottom of the chasm that is my purse. Then sadly, I forget them.
If they’re good stories though, they rise from the chasm. Something will happen, my mind will jerk awake, usually at 3am, and I think, “Damn, why haven’t I written about that?!” Smack self in forehead. Or I’m doing laundry, or out for a walk, or driving into town and the shape of a tree will remind me of something I experienced 10 years earlier and haven’t written about yet. The mind, the memory, isn’t linear, but a circular, jig-jag messy business. And so is this blog.
This was exactly the case this week. I am sipping a Guinness for St. Patrick’s Day. For strength of course. And out of the blue think to myself, “The United Republic of Texas.”
And there it is. The United Republic of Texas. The thought sends my head Wayne’s World reeling, complete with flapping hands and Doodle-do noises, flashing back to an image of two scruffy, grizzled, elderly gentlemen in dirty suits, one brown, the other gray. They wear brogues on their feet, fedoras atop their heads. Francis Phelan meets Tom Waits by way of Harry Dean Stanton (look ‘em up kids). Sitting outside a pub on Portobello Road in London on worn wooden chairs. The table in front of them is gouged with pocket knife carvings and covered in pint glass water rings. One is strumming a guitar, the other is humming and playing drums with the tabletop. Both are drunk, guzzling Guinness like it’s water. It’s like a scene out of Ironweed.
The Hubby and I had headed out to the corner pub to meet friends. We grab the only two chairs left on a busy happy hour Tuesday. Two chairs immediately adjacent to said grizzled guys. Humming, strumming, drinking along without a care in the world. Waving to anyone who looks and generally being genial in an, “I’m drunk and cannot really harm you,” kind of way. Most people would choose a seat inside, but I figure, what the hell. We’re traveling. Let’s make some friends. So we sit. Offer the gentlemen a Guinness which they gladly accept. Small talk is exchanged.
That’s when it happens. The older gentleman of the two, his face covered in gray frazzled beard, his eyes just on the verge of rheumy, but jolly all the same, his teeth yellowing, reaches into his jacket and offers me his card. A business card. Handmade. Like something a child who was just learning computer software would create in some early version of Windows Paint. The edges are dirty, like he’d fingered it many times, offering it to people to look at, but never keep. The words are typed in mismatched fonts, the map below badly pixelated and some of the words are misspelled. It says, in all caps:
PROUD CITIZEN OF THE UNITED REPUBLIC OF TEXAS!
A colorful map of the Republic lay underneath. Mr. Grizzled begins a long diatribe about how he came to be a proud citizen of this Republic, and in his American accent (getting slurrier and slushier by the minute) talks about what brings him to that stretch of London on that particular afternoon. Or day. Or month. Or year. It kind of doesn’t matter. Mr. Grizzled Two just sits and strums his guitar and grins. Grins like he’d heard this speech many times before. Too many times to count, so why not just strum the day away. Playing nothing in particular. I think I may have actually whipped around to make sure that 1) I wasn’t dreaming and 2) ol’ John Singer wasn’t about to come walking around the corner because right then I was sure I had somehow dropped into a Carson McCullers novel.
But no, Mr. Grizzled is real. And he is passionate about his cause. He talks and talks about why this Republic needs to happen. And why it needs to happen NOW. I want to ask if he’s so passionate about it, then why is he sitting on a London street corner instead of protesting in Austin, but he won’t let me get in a word edgewise. It’s as if the card is attached to an invisible string leading to his sternum, and once it’s pulled, he’ll talk until that string coils back up inside him. However many hours that takes.
Our friends arrive a while later and we leave these gentlemen. One strums, and one talks. Even as we stand to leave, Mr. Republic of Texas just smiles, waves, and keeps spewing his passion all over Portobello Road. Later on that week we see them again, one strumming, the other just sipping, this time seated at a different pub on a different street in the same neighborhood. I catch the eye of Mr. Texas and he just smiles. Points his index finger at me and with a wink of his eye pulls the trigger. But in a genial way. Like we’d shared a secret joke.
So is this story accurate? For the most part. Like all stories you file away in a drawer for a year or two, it’s probably the victim of embellishment. Memory is messy. Sometimes when you let a story percolate flavors are added and boring spices removed. The narrative ferments and acquires a better taste. If it’s a good story of course. Maybe forgetting for a while makes it better? Maybe not? In any case, it makes it mine…