by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
April 25, 2001
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- At 12, we would snicker, "I wish I were=
two and know what I know now." What does anyone know at 12 to make them t= hink they'd do it all differently? Would I say that today? Not on your li= fe.
I remember a time when we were twelve and walking along 37th Aven= ue in Corona, our neighborhood thirty minutes and a nickel ride from New Yo= rk City, where Mary and I spent our summer afternoons walking each other ho= me. It was hot. Our pace was slow.
What started as walking arm-in-arm, heads together, talking, talk= ing, talking, reaching a half-way point, ended with going all the way to he= r house or mine and prompting still another, "I'll walk you back half-way."= We talked about everything, laughed about most things, and often stood cr= oss-legged so we wouldn't wet our pants over some uproarious tale, or at ou= rselves for trying to imitate Judy Garland's skipping down the Yellow Brick= Road.
One of the half-way stops was on the corner of 103rd Street, a plac= e called Sloppy Joe's -- at least that's what wecalled it. It wasn't what anyone in the neighborhood would calla hangout, those were on other corners= here and there.
Sloppy Joe's was, well, sloppy. It was cluttered; it waspiled high with= "stuff."
If it's true there's a sweet delight indisorder, then this place was a= n icing on top of a frosting --there was no order at all. There were one or= two "icecreamparlor table and chairs" -- so designated decades later and= theonly way to say what I mean.
We would order a two-cent plain, ablast of chocolate spritzed with se= ltzer from the fountain. We'dblow bubbles until they cascaded down the sid= es of the glass andover its silver filigree holder.
After that, we'd amble around, feet sticking to the floor,edging our way= past bins of balls, racks of writing tablets,pencils, gum erasers, shaving= soap and Gillette's Double-edgerazor blades, Bugler's Tobacco for roll-you= r-own cigarettes. We'd weave our way to the magazine and comic book rack wh= ere we'dperch on the bound stacks of last Sunday's News ready to berecycled= -- although that word hadn't been coined for thispurpose then.
Since w= e were behind the floor-to-ceiling stockedshelves, little from the storefro= nt windows could offer light.
Mary might reach for Wonder Woman and I'd choose theAdventures of Superm= an. "Joe" never chased us from our littlequiet spot where in the next year= or two we'd reach for songsheets and movie magazines, never spending more than two centsfor our "usual."
Squinting into the sun still high in the sky those suppertime hours, we'= d leave Sloppy Joe's and make a final attempt to part company. We crossed 1= 03rd Street, passing The M & M, a corner bar and grill which reminded Mary she'd better hurry home for the money Pops left for her to "rush a growler"= to him when he got home at 6:00.
We saw a 10-year old boy coming out of the bar swinging a growler for his own father and I do mean swinging. The sudsy beer sloshed in its tin b= ucket as he shifted it from hand to hand, a swing aloft with every other st= ep, moving along, pausing only to look into the window ofthe place we just left.
"Hurry, kid, the beer's getting warm," we reminded him.
There are those who think of tropical islands when they hear of Slo= ppy Joe's -- as in the song lyrics: "Pack up all your summer clothes, meet= you down at Sloppy Joe's, Havana." But not me.
I'm someone who can forget where I put my keys, my glasses, my purs= e -- and yet, today I sat in Joe Mugg's, the coffee shop usually connected to Books-A-Million, and thought of Sloppy Joe's, Corona, forgetting not a m= inute of that afternoon.
At Mugg's, people sat around in lounge chairs or at tables suitable for study. In air-conditioned comfort, magazines and books were scanned or actua= lly read, just as we once read our comic books in a musty back corner on a sultry summer day. The coffee at Joe Mugg's is poured from carafes into S= tyrofoam cups and cold drinks come in bottles refrigerated behind gleaming glass and chrome doors.
It was adequate, not memorable. It served its purpose but gave no sense= of place. I've been there before, always a different city, always differe= nt people.
At the one and only Sloppy Joe's we were allowed to read. Joe Mugg's actually encourages it. And yet, not a book, paper or magazine in the huge,= well-groomed bookstore could take my attention away from that summer of '4= 3.
It's not a matter of "if I knew then what I know now," because what I k= now now is what I learned then; granted, I didn't always see it coming, but= the joy in life was always in marching to the same drummer at the same ti= me, sharing intimacies, confidences, laughter with someone else. The question now is, How could I have traveled that long circuitous ro= ad chosen then, to arrive where I am now, and still be the same person? It= 's as if my mind and body skipped down that yellow brick road leading here,= but my soul remained behind until a future day of reconciliation when hear= t, mind and spirit are one again.
Would I live there now? No. Not unless I were about eight again,= jumping double-dutch with the little brown and tan girls playing outside S= loppy Joe's, now a bodega. Children there now are making my sense of place their own, spending joy-= filled summer days building memories to look back on. Nothing much hascha= nged on that particular street corner, unless it's the absence of a two-cen= ts plain with a silver filigree holder for its glass.
I thought of that as I drained my coffee from the Styrofoam cup at Joe Mugg's. On the one hand, I'll agree, the more things change the more they remain the same. But on the other hand, the more things change, the m= ore it's a pity.