Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Cloud of Axe, a Cup of Rum, and Ben

The other night, I squinted through the swirling miasma of Axe body wash clouding the interior of my car. The semi-formal dance at my son's school was obviously an occasion that required him to smell like some sort of mid-range, 13 year-old gigolo.

"The girls love this stuff," he assured me. "Could you close your window? It's kind of cold in here."

This question, by the way, from the boy who is–I am not kidding–allergic to cold and absolutely refuses to wear anything warmer than a sweatshirt, no matter what the temperature.

I gagged, wiped my eyes, and tried to focus on not breathing for the entire 35 minute drive to his school.

If the girls do indeed love the musky, manly, overwhelming aroma of Axe, then I can only assume it is because it deprives their brains of oxygen, thus muddling their thinking. Perhaps the boys are confusing the effects of oxygen deprivation with olfactory delight.

Whatever the truth, everyone within a half-mile of the dance was able to inhale several lifetimes' worth of the heady aroma at the dance. Huge, billowing clouds of Axe swirled dangerously from the entrance to the school, roiling in oily, undulating waves across the parking lot, enveloping everything it reached.

Not wanting to be the next victim of Axe-phyxiation™ (I just invented that word. It's MINE.), I slowed my car and instructed Alex to jump as I drove by. "Tuck and roll!" I yelled over the thumping bass rumbling from the bowels of the school. "You'll be fine. And don't rip your new pants!"

Alex jumped from the car and, I can only assume, rolled into the parking lot, relatively unharmed. Just as I gunned the engine to make my escape before the hungry cloud of Axe could envelope me, a shadowy shape flickered through the fog and my buddy Ben dived through the still open door of my car.

"GO! GO! GO!" he screamed, slamming the door shut as the tires on my super-charged Camry exploded on the Axe-slick pavement. We raced from the parking lot in a desperate attempt to save ourselves.

As we pulled out onto the road, Ben sniffed tentatively at his coat and rolled down his window. "I think some of it is clinging to me. There's only one thing that can overpower the smell of Axe. Indian food."

I nodded and stomped on the accelerator.

Ben has been my best friend since we were 10 years old. He knows me better than anyone. He knows about my weakness for Indian food. He knows everything. Except the exact location of the great new Indian restaurant he heard about.

"It's somewhere over by the mall," he told me with assurance.

That narrowed the possible location down to a few hundred clustered strip malls that swarm around the big mall like ramoras clinging to the belly of a shark.

This is how directions from Ben work and, through some mystery of the universe, they are enough. He once gave Kerri and me directions to a lake house he was staying at. The directions included the phrase, "When you go through town, there's a place where a bunch of roads come together. You'll find the right one. It will just feel right."

And we found it. Just as, after missing it only once, Ben and I found the stark, florescently lit Grand India, or whatever it was called. We snaked our way through crowds of Christmas shoppers and pulled to a stop in the parking lot, the last wispy tendrils of Axe swirling harmlessly off my car and into the night.

We opened the door and a cloud of desperation, tinged with curry wafted out to greet us. Or, possibly, to warn us. Not heeding that warning or the warning that the restaurant contained a sole, depressed-looking customer on a Friday night in the busiest part of town in the busiest shopping season of the year.

We marched in and stood there for a few moments wondering how to proceed. There was a buffet set, with enticing, hand-written signs announcing a variety of dishes, all of which looked vaguely soupy and similar. The sole customer hung his head low over his plate an sullenly moved food to his mouth. No restaurant employees were to be seen anywhere.

We stood for a minute, wondering what to do. "Let's take a seat and see what happens," I suggested, my mind obviously still under the pernicious hold of Axe-phyxiation™. What I should have said, of course, was, "Shall we seek another establishment in which we may find sustenance?"

But alas, we sat down and waited patiently until an angry face popped out of the kitchen door and eyed us suspiciously. "Buffet?" he growled.

I looked at Ben and shrugged. "Sure," he said to the angry face.

Our kind host irritably jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the buffet table before disappearing back into the suspiciously silent kitchen.

We made our way to the buffet and, with less enthusiasm than should have been expected on such an occasion, filled our plates. I will not bore you with a review of the individual dishes, but neither of us will be returning there.

With 2 hours left to kill before we had to pick up our kids at the dance, we decided that the only reasonable option available to us was to head to the Chinese food place across the street from the school and use alcohol as a solvent to wash the taste of dinner from our mouths.

We pulled into the parking lot and Ben pointed to another restaurant in the same building, which, I feel compelled to point out here, is only 1,000 yards from the school.

"That's a really good Indian place," he said.

Once in the Chinese restaurant, we pushed through the crowd at the bar and settled in at a table for 8 in the back of the lounge. Once the Mai Tais were delivered, we scoured our mouths and talked.

And talked

And talked

And talked.

Although we have been friends for over three decades,  we usually have a lot to talk about. And when we don't, the silences that settle upon us are comfortable. I've found that the older Ben and I get, the more different we become, but those differences do not separate us. If anything, they make us closer.

The talk spiraled from art to food to old friends to stuff I'm not going to write here because it's none of your darned business.

As the evening wound down and the time to gather our kids came upon us, we sucked the last of the rum from the ice cubes in our sweating glasses and walked into the cold parking lot.

"Have you ever noticed how talking to other adults is usually really boring?" I asked Ben.

"Yeah!" he laughed.

Then I launched into a mind-numbingly boring story about repairs I had recently performed on my car's exhaust system.

And you want to know what a good friend Ben is? He didn't even comment on how boring my story was and the bitter, unpleasant coincidence of the fact that I had just commented on how boring adults are.
At least, he didn't comment out loud.
That's what kind of buddy Ben is.

We pulled into the parking lot of the school, the Axe fog now diluted by swirling puffs of exhaust from parents who–it appeared–sat in the parking lot, diddling on their cel-phones with their engines idling for the entire dance.

Ben jumped from the car and made a dash for his truck before the fumes could overwhelm him. We collected our kids and made our separate ways home.

It wasn't until the next morning that I discovered Ben's hat in the passenger seat of my car. I would hate for him to have a cold head and think that we'll have to get together again so I can return it to him.

After I wash the Axe smell out of it, of course.