I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it until my friends start patting me on the head and saying, “That’s nice,” but: The best thing about a 5 a.m. factory whistle is the 1 p.m. quittin’ time. I headed out the door and went directly for La Margarita to meet Alex for lunch. La Marg is Kate’s favorite Mexican joint, so the food is all too familiar, but when I meet Alex there we sit on the bar side, because he smokes.
Indiana has a bizarre two-door policy for restaurants that serve liquor. Children can eat in places with adult beverages, but only if they can’t see the bar. Seriously. They can’t walk past the bar en route to the so-called family room, either. Now that smoking is a factor, most new places make their bar the smoking area, wall it off, and everyone’s happy. Older joints like La Marg have two entrances. Turn left for bright lighting, gaily colored pinatas and high chairs, turn right for dim lights, deeply padded booths and sin. (You can get margaritas on both sides, but you can only watch them being made on the bar side.)
And television. Usually it’s tuned to ESPN, but today, for some reason, it was on a soap. Don’t know which one — whatever’s on CBS at 1 p.m. eastern — but it was on over Alex’s left shoulder, so I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse now and again. I was never a soap fan; the action is too slow, the acting too bad, the setups too preposterous. I don’t mind a little suspension of disbelief, but I have my limits. I’m also too slow-witted to tolerate that favorite soap trick, the Sudden Personality Transplant, in which a character who once acted one way abruptly starts acting another way, usually turning e-vil. Brain tumor? Maybe? Bored writers? Just as likely.
But this soap today — the Hot and the Horny, whatever — cleared up one mystery for me: Oh, look, that’s that pretty actress who played Lt. Fancy’s wife on “NYPD Blue,” the one who had the dodgy pregnancy and the great perm. And I thought about soap freaks I have known, like my late friend Paul, who adored Erica Kane. Once, when we were vacationing in Florida, he’d always take his lunch break from the pool to coincide with “All My Children.” I came in one day to get another beer and found him preparing an elaborate cheese and snack platter, and opening a bottle of champagne. “What’s going on?” I asked, still dazzled from the sun. “Erica’s getting married today, so I’m having a reception,” he said. Not that he ever needed an excuse to open a bottle of anything, but it did make for an amusing hour or so. Her wedding dress was red and sequined. Soaps can afford anything but subtlety.
Alex told his soap-fan story, about the time he got hooked on some serial he can’t even remember now, and it was building, over a period of months, to some big revelation/climax/plot tie-up, and oh but it was so good so good so so good and he was tuned in and the moment of truth was arriving, and then–
“We interrupt this program to bring you this news bulletin. President Reagan has been shot.”
You want to know why people call networks when that happens? You’d be frustrated too if you’d been making out with someone for four months, being led along a bit at a time just forEVER and just when you were going to close the deal, they were called away on an urgent errand.
Anyway, Alex doesn’t watch soaps anymore. I stick to the ones in prime time.
Congratulations, Judy Blume. I’m too old to have been a fan, but I’m raising one. And you deserve ’em all.