I come into town. I belly up to the pizza counter. True: I grew up here. These are my pizza slices. This is my Main Street. I wander, hazed, separated from experience by 20 years. I am not shopping with anyone I know; I will not call anyone later. But here is the store where I bought sapphire earrings, one for me, one for my best friend. I poked a hole in my ear; she still hadn’t done hers ten years later so at her first wedding I gave it to her: something blue, borrowed, old, et cetera. There are no sapphire earrings on Main Street in Westport anymore. I’m walking in water. Nothing. No feeling. No memories. No lovin’. Then I open a door, and there’s a sale on, and I buy two shirts and a belt. Feverish shopping joy comes over me. When I walk out of the store I am no longer alone. I am Westport. I have found, among strangers, the right collar.
He had a car different than the kind we drove growing up, or even different than any of the guys I didn’t date drove. His car was light green and boxy, and maybe it was an Impala or something, I don’t really know. It wasn’t new; it wasn’t even vaguely new. It had some problems, the ignition among them. It started with repeated high-pitched whines of despair, and it stopped with phlegm-filled, dying-man coughs that made the whole thing shudder.
I do not know cars, in case that’s not obvious, but I do know that when I first saw this car, when he picked me up at the airport in this car, after I’d made—in a fast, and probably ill-advised and lust- and fear-oriented sort of way—the decision to live together after two weeks of dating and four months of letter writing from afar, my heart sunk. My Fairfield County heart sunk. My upper-middle class, shop-at-Bloomingdale’s heart sunk. My been-to-Europe-and-he-never-has heart sunk.
Some older, clunkier cars can be charming—they can be antiques, or they can be jokes. This was neither. This was a car he could afford. He was not, at that time, into credit cards. I was. In fact, I was in great debt, and I had an old car too (but mine was old in the joke way). Maybe it was just that this Midwesterner, son of a locksmith, did not have the sense of privilege I had—or maybe he was just cautious, or just smart.
That day, the day we would begin living together, he had driven 1,200 miles, his belongings stuffed into the big trunk of the clunky, nondescript, embarrassing car, and he was wearing a tattered coat. We drove the car straight from the airport to the grocery store, and that’s when I realized he had different ideas than me about luncheon meat (he bought his prepackaged), lettuce (iceberg) and beverages (he drank soda and called it pop).
Oh, sad, stupid me, to have lulled this young man, six years my junior, away from his home and into our new start-up home of hope. We would find out, in the next year, how far we could make it on Led Zeppelin, sex, and unspeakable differences that hushed and shamed and coughed ugly and futile when we tried to shut them off and get the hell out.
My childhood. Your childhood. Space Sticks. What were they called? The things the astronauts supposedly ate? They tasted like chalky reconstituted paper product. The good show. The sound of it. Da doo da doo, da doo, da doo da doo da doo da doo da dooooooo, dodododo. The green cushions in the TV room. The stealthy way he walked. The hat. The pinkness. The catness, the kittycatness. The fact, annoying, that someone later wrote a story about him, and that memory clings to the real, the true Pink Panther of your own world. The fact of sharing. Sharing—sharing with your brother. The brother. He got married. Being a sister. Being an older sister who hogs the Saturday cartoons. Being an older sister who later croons at weddings. Says nice things. Makes up. The Pink Panther—shared, with a brother, with other people. Reluctantly. My childhood. Bellbottoms. Insane seventies notions. Fucking insane seventies notions. A time when only army men and sailors had tattoos. A time before the computer, the cell phone, the fax machine. A time when the microwave appeared: a fat box of promise in everyone’s kitchen. A time of rotary phones and no answering machine. A time when New Age was just gathering a head of steam, hadn’t really gotten there. Dory Previn. My goddamned parents. Leisure suits. Kohl eye powder. I had a goldfish. I watched The Pink Panther. The Pink goddamned Panther. Now I have a three-year-old. What does she watch? She doesn’t even know the Pink Panther. She knows: Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, Maisy. The Pink Panther isn’t just a show, it’s an attitude. He’s got stealth, a stealthy cuteness, that anyone can learn from. He’s an individual, man. My grandfather was alive then, my other grandfather, my grandmother. Everyone was alive back then. The Pink Panther. He’s his own cat. He stealths around, the little do do do do, do do, do do do do do do do do do do doooooo, dodododo song playing, and he’s the one. Space sticks in the kitchen. Microwaved sauce. A phone ringing eight times. Mustang in the driveway. Zorro in the backyard. Everyone breathing. In, out. In, out. My brother just a little kid to boss around. Me, just wondering about the benefits of sharing. Mom and Dad, reading William Blake, eating donuts. Everyone was alive then. Everyone.
“Pink Panther” originally appeared in Gulf Coast.