Saturday, March 23, 2019

Memories of Armando

Not Armando, but you get the idea


     My dog and I occasionally walk past The Coffee Bean. There’s usually a group of five or six older men laughing and talking together at a table outside.  One afternoon, when Joey was around two-years-old I tied him to a meter where I could see him when I went inside for a double Cappuccino.
     The line was long and he started barking when I didn’t immediately return. I saw one of the older men holding a paper cup of water for Joey to drink, then petting him. That’s how I met Armando, 85, who asked if he could hold him by the leash at the table with the other guys.
     “Sure, just hold him tight. He’ll pull if another dog shows up.”

     “I know dogs,” he said.

      Joey loved all the attention lavished on him and wagged his tail every time he saw his pal, Armando.
         Armando had moved to the U.S. from Brazil when he was fifteen. His family lived in Brooklyn and one-by-one they traveled west to Los Angeles. He continued to work as a plumber in Brooklyn and finally made the leap to L.A. sixty years ago. He met his wife here. They had three children, all of whom had children and who now live in the valley.

         “My wife died twenty years ago,” he said.

         “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “Do you see your kids and grandkids?”

         “Yeah, they were fun when they were little but now they’re always looking down at their phones.”

         I smirked and shrugged my shoulders.

         “Can you take off your sunglasses?” he asked.

         “Sure, but then I won’t be able to see you. They’re prescription.”

         It was his turn to shrug his shoulders; only he did it with joy. “My vision is still 20/20.”

         His eyes were blue and his skin was mostly unwrinkled. He was tall and not bowed around the shoulders like many older people. He walked every day and always wore sandals and shorts. Deeply 
tanned, Armando had ingratiating good looks and appeared much younger than eighty-five. He also seemed very self-sufficient.

         Joey and I ran into him often over the years, and when we walked by The Coffee Bean I waved at the group. My path varied each day so catching sight of them was not a guarantee.  
         Months passed, it seemed, during which I didn’t see Armando or his group. They weren’t gathering anymore. Someone probably died, I thought. Maybe it was Armando. Maybe they all had died.

         Today I tied Joey to the meter and had just ordered my double Cappuccino when I noticed a man adding sugar to his coffee.

         “Armando! I've been thinking about you. Where’ve you been?” He was a bit thinner but still unbowed, tanned and his blue eyes sparkled.

         “I went to a casino with my wife,” he said. Although it was obvious he didn’t recognize me, he gave me a big smile. I pushed my sunglasses to the top of my head.

         “Your wife?” He’d been a widower for over two decades.

         “Yeah, she likes to gamble, but I don’t. The casino gave me a free cash credit of 10 bucks and I won $28, but I forgot my winnings at the table.” He laughed.

         “Did you get married again, Armando?”

         He looked momentarily puzzled but kept talking. “My wife had been playing for five hours straight when I decided I’d had enough of waiting around. So I went to the spa, got a massage, sat in the sauna. It was great!”

         “You did a role reversal,” I said. His expression indicated he didn’t understand what I meant. “The woman is usually the one who goes to the spa.”

         “Oh, okay. We had a great time,” he said, and then apropos of nothing added, “A lot of Asians were there. They’re really addicted to gambling.”

         “Uh-huh,” I said, and looked over my shoulder at my dog tied to his usual meter. He was nine now and sat patiently waiting for me. “Remember Joey?”

         “Oh, yeah,” he said and walked off, going outside and sitting at a table by himself.

         When Joey saw Armando exit, he stood and whipped his tail back and forth with enthusiasm. Armando didn’t acknowledge him. Joey’s wagging slowed, and he sat again, staring at his friend with a worry crease between his eyes.

         At his table, Armando smiled and nodded at no one in particular. I hoped he was thinking of his long ago visit to the casino and that in his memory he and his wife were winning big.

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