I was to be in the city to meet Ian at nine. But for all of our pragmatism, it is still cold in January. Flesh-cold, like the coins to pay the boatman cooling in our eyes. Like every corner and socket and animal in Baltimore is so cold, accosted, cold. It had been a day of missed connections--my shift at the coffeehouse shortened, cancelled plans, a day that demanded adjustment to the point of surrender. By the time eight o'clock saw me I was deep into a little dinner with my father, roasted vegetables from a shallow bowl--dense, layerful brussel sprouts, red potatoes and red onions; sweet, resilient turnips. Slow-roasted because he couldn't find a lid for the roasting dish. We talked a little, and ate from our laps watching television, like any family who reads sometimes wants to do. I remember thinking how my stomach was an endless and unsettle-able world, a frontier to remain wild, the olive oil pooling in our plates. He gave me a broiler pan, "I bought it for meat but I never used it," that I could use to crisp up the soft skin of bread loaves--throw a cup of water into the broiler, shut the door quickly, and let something as peasant as steam do your work for you.
Locked into this kind of tranquility, it's hard to imagine starting a car, frozen like water to the driveway--unnatural to enter the coldest world at night, you should be staying put. But remembering just how long winter will drag without friends, and to break the cycle of disrupted plans, I went. To meet Ian, and we to another friend's apartment, and Ian left, all the boys talking business and hating the finicky neighbors, and lesbians who are in love with them, my picture on an old friend's wall--I turned to Nick and said, "I am going to get a milkshake," with enough deliberation to affect a statement and an invitation all at once.
So back to Ian's to scoop him up, thankful to be just blocks from the Sunday all-night January shakest milkshake in the city, and not have to question. A kind of diner, but with no whisper of the customary red-white-black color scheme. With wooden tables, decorated in mannequins and matchbox cars and all manner of standard-issue kitsch. For this, and for the homemade whipped cream. A generous, thick-necked waitress came to take our order. All of this had started in my head after all, and not without a clear picture. It was not about a milkshake, it was about a strawberry milkshake.
"We're out of chocolate ice cream," she told the two undaunted boys, one of whom I knew to hate the stuff without exception, and I can't remember which one asked excitedly if the strawberry and vanilla flavors could be swirled, but a rush of comfort seemed to come with her response. A robust, even egging, "Why not?" and immediately, both ordered it. There was a second where I didn't want to be thought of as missing out, and almost changed my order to a round for the table, but I stayed silent, she deftly snapped up our menus, and as though my companions had asked, I said something about being a purist or a Puritan, and meant it happily.
The red cups came out on our matron's tray, just thin enough to eke through a straw instead of a spoon, frozen strawberries that had to be shoveled quickly to your moth if they were to make it at all. And the whip on top some kind of daydream--porous, weighty, and more cream than sugar. We drank and conversed equally, kicking each other with incidental abandon under the table, eyes bright with what would have been sadness if we hadn't made it giddiness, with what would have been the months we are lost for if we hadn't beat the weather at its own game. Like reptiles or children, absorbing the heat we found until it was our own. Knowing we had kept our own table, the flash of some grown guardian for our foray into the world. Saying, Here, before that, hold this to you first, it has worked before.