“You’re a son-of-a-bitch, you know that?”
“Yeah, well, what can ya do,” I retorted. I’d never been one to fare well with conflict, and so my way of dealing has always been a stern practice of avoidance. And I’ve found over time that, if avoidance doesn’t work, humor often provides distraction enough. The Titty-Twister worked to perfection as an ice-breaker, and the better part of the next two hours were spent reminiscing and drinking our beverages of choice.
I tried chiseling at the ice more by talking shop. Here was a man who achieved his dream, a success story, a do-it-yourself-er that works for no other, and being so close I was hoping for some of the mystique to rub off. Turns out, though, it was just the opposite, and Mongo wasn’t much for details.
“The dream isn’t so much a dream as it is a façade,” he told me with antipathy. And how my dear friend longed for those days of delivering pizzas while driving around smoking bowls, cash in hand at all times and little to worry about, save the STD’s he may have contracted by bringing home multiple bar sluts later in the evening.
Seems that Mongo’s still Mongo after all. Through the free-flowing alcohol he also loosely discussed the desires of other old habits: to wake and bake with giant bong rips, to go camping with large bags of psilocybin and seclusion, and taking tequila shots from in-between firm breasts of bombshell twenty-somethings. All those wants from long-gone days were still there, but Mongo satiated those cravings with memories. As he said, “I just have to bury Mongo deep beneath the exterior of Bartlett.” And, as if to make the point clear, he held up his left hand, fingers spread, and wiggled his ring finger, the platinum band dancing just a tad too uneasily on that appendage.
They met on a crisp April day at Mongo’s second restaurants’ grand opening. He’d been touring a walkthrough with the health inspector when he saw her nestled in a corner eating alone. Mongo claims that everything beyond that moment became tunnel vision. He immediately excused himself from the inspector and hurried to the kitchen, ordering two of his busboys to dash to the rooftop and set up a dining table complete with candles, a bottle of Mondovi, and the house dessert of cheesecake made from scratch using great granny’s recipe. In jest, Mongo claimed that this was the clincher.
He pulled aside Founda’s waitress and told her to trump up some story about how Founda had been chosen as the grand prize winner of a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the hottest new restaurants in lower California. Every local magazine and newspaper critic had been raving about his first store. How could she resist? According to Mongo, Founda was a little more than reluctant to accept, but by the time they’d made it to the roof, she was smitten.
“She said I was in her head. She’d always loved that famous scene from Lady and the Tramp with the spaghetti and this was her moment. I hadn’t seen it at that point and didn’t really care. This was more than tryin’ to get in some chick’s pants. From the moment I saw her, I felt like I’d always known who she was and what our future would be.”
He’d found Founda and their worlds instantaneously meshed. They knew each other without really knowing each other, and after just three months she was more than happy to give up her attempt at going back to school for a degree in Childhood Development to work behind the scenes and run the books for Mongo’s chain. She’d been an office manager in her previous working life and so made a smooth transition to this new job, which left Mongo free to concentrate on management. And blah blah-blah blah-blah, or at least that’s what I heard because that’s when the epiphany struck like lightening charging through a drunken haze straight to the core of recognition.
What had been off-kilter between the two of us hadn’t been miles or years, but instead, maturity. On the flight west, Matthew taught me that knowing what one doesn’t like is just as good as knowing what one does. Now, most likely without even realizing it, Mongo was imparting his own wisdom. I suddenly realized that I’m not lost because I’m alone, but instead, I’m alone because I’m lost.
My job, bungalow and East Coast—none of it suited me, not because those things weren’t good enough, but because I was always comparing contemporary life with the past. Memories were the best liars, as we look upon our pasts with fondness, seldom remembering negative events. Modern life seemed to not stand a chance compared to ancient glories. But Mongo’s moved beyond, and like Napoleon, Constantine, or Alexander the Great, he’s trying to conquer new worlds. His acceptance of the past allowed Mongo to move ahead and rise to the challenges of life and those challenges invigorated him. He wasn’t looking to become something he’d already been, and because of that he lived freely. Although the dream wasn’t what it seemed, it was what he made it. He seemed OK with that.
One as astute as myself can learn from that. I want to grow too, but before I can there’s one last door I have to close…
It was almost six o’clock by the time Mongo downed his last girlie-tini, and we were halfway to Drunkville. To Founda’s credit, she hadn’t hunted us down to hound us yet, but we were both acutely aware of our overstay. The last thing that Mongo wanted was to spend this rare day off getting bitched out for the remainder of it. We left Oasis Club, stumbling and staggering through the park. Luckily by that time we blended with the rest of the park-goers who were swooning and swaying from heat and exhaustion of the day.