Saturday, September 10, 2016
"I know I am going to be embarrassed when you tell me, but I have seen something for years here in the village, and I just don't understand what it is."
My friend Jack Brock (jack is dead) and I were eating huevos rancheros at Lety's when he put the question to me. The introduction threw me off. Jack was one of those guys who was intensely curious, and he was bound by almost no social conventions in getting his answers.
He reminded me of my dog. If he sees something unusual (such as a lame man making his jagged way down the street), Barco will plant his his butt and stare intently at this new phenomenon. In Jack's case, he would take a photograph. And a good photograph it would have been.
I urged Jack to proceed -- telling him if he did not know, the odds were high that I would not, either.
"Every year about this time, I see women -- usually, older women -- walking around with what appears to be white terry cloth draped over one shoulder. The left shoulder, I think. What is that all about? Some type of religious ritual? Are they wet nurses? That does not seem possible."
I started laughing. I know. I know. It is bad form to laugh at one's own jokes -- ad worse form to laugh at friends when they want information. After all, none of my friends laughed at me when I could not figure out why tennis shoes were thrown over electric wires (tongues on the line). That was left to my dear commenters.
In fact, I did know what the cloth was all about. If only because I carried one of those religious relics myself. But, in my pocket.
During the summer, no matter how long you have lived here, if you venture out in the noon day sun, you will sweat. In my case, sweat profusely.
They are wash clothes, hand towels, or tea towels. Anything that can mop perspiration from the brow. Sweat rags.
I had almost forgotten about this tale until this week when I was standing in line at Sam's Club. I let an elderly women with a few items in her basket cut into line in front of me.
She could have been a middle class matron almost anywhere in the world. But, there on her shoulder was the tell-tale towel. Bringing back memories of what must have been one of my last breakfasts with Jack.
When I stopped laughing and told him about the sweat rags, he warned me: "I feel like a fool. Now, don't go printing this on your blog."
He waited for the necessary three beats, and continued: "Actually, I don't care if you do. I don't care what people think."
And that is how I remember him. Photographer. Raconteur. And feeder of great hooks for essays.