Wednesday, April 2, 2008

You Gotta Know When to Run

I heard Kenny Rogers' The Gambler on the radio today, and it brought back a memory so vivid that I burst out laughing.
It was 1979, and I had been divorced about six months. Suzanne and I had moved into a duplex in Lone Oak, and I was enjoying being back in Paducah.
One night a group of friends stopped by. They were on their way to Embers. It was the hot spot in town, they said, and asked me to join them.
Embers was a nice comfortable place, and we were soon having a great time, talking, laughing. Reminiscing.
When the waitress appeared, I had no idea what to order. And then I saw someone sipping a drink with a cherry and orange slice in it. I pointed to it, "I'll have one of those."
My Tom Collins tasted pretty good, so when she came around again, I ordered another.
As the lights dimmed and the band began to play, another round of drinks was ordered. A fresh Tom Collins appeared before me, and I drank it. Quickly.
My head was swirling by the time the band began to play a Kenny Rogers song, but I was having a great time, tapping my foot to The Gambler and singing along. I had never really liked the song, but now I loved it.
Suddenly, someone touched my shoulder. I turned and found myself staring into the face of a man who looked exactly like Kenny Rogers.
"Would you like to dance?"
"Go on, Brenda," someone said, "Dance with him!"
Soon I was on the floor. "Are you Kenny Rogers?" I joked.
He laughed, smoothing his neat grey beard and straightening the sleeves of his western shirt, "People do say I look like him."
Kenny clicked his cowboy boots and spun me onto the dance floor, where we were soon gyrating to the beat of Y.M.C.A., Heart of Glass, We Are Family. Before I left Embers with my friends that night, Kenny had asked me to have dinner with him. And I had accepted.
"What?" Suzanne said the next morning, "You've got a date?"
I popped a couple of aspirin and guzzled ice water like it was going out of style. I had a splitting headache. And I was very thirsty. "Yes," I said, "and he's a dead ringer for Kenny Rogers!"
"Gag me with a backhoe," she said, "I can't stand Kenny Rogers!"
The following Saturday night, I had reservations; I had not dated since I was 18, and I felt like I was stepping out on my husband. But I slipped on my peach dress, gold chains, a pair of clunky platform sandals. And Suzanne sprayed me down with my favorite L'air du temps.
As I was heading upstairs to get my purse, I heard Suzanne. "Oh, my god!" she shrieked, "A lounge lizard!"
A what? I dashed down the stairs and huddled behind Suzanne, peering out the window.
Kenny was getting out of a powder blue Cadillac. He was dressed in a blue leisure suit exactly the shade of his Cadillac, and his paisley shirt was unbuttoned to his waist. He was wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck. It glittered in the setting sun as he approached the door.
"I can't go," I whispered as he rang the doorbell.
We looked at each other and turned back to the window. Close up, he looked to be about sixty years old. And aside from his beard and hair, he looked nothing like Kenny Rogers.
We jerked back, but it was too late. He smiled and waved, so I rolled my eyes at Suzanne and opened the door.
As we drove through the streets of Paducah in the powder blue Cadillac, I gazed at Kenny's hands, which were caressing the steering wheel. He was wearing a square diamond ring on one hand, a horseshoe-shaped diamond on the other. Another sparkled from his pinky.
He sniffed the air, "You're wearing L'air du temps," he said. His beard quivered.
"I know women's perfumes."
He turned at the light, maneuvering the Cadillac down Broadway. "I've got a big farm in Missouri," he said, hands still caressing the wheel, "And beachfront property in Florida."
We were pulling into the parking lot of Whaler's Catch now. "And I have my own construction company," he said, "Only commercial." He cut off the motor and gazed at me. "That's where the real money is." He smiled, "Not that I need it."
After we were seated, and the waitress handed us our menus, he smiled up at her, "Thanks, honey bun."
As he dug into his garlic-reeking shrimp scampi and I picked at my scallop dinner, he continued. "I haven't been very lucky at marriage," he said, "But it's because they all married me for my money."
I put my fork down. "I'm not feeling too well," I said.
I got up to call a cab, but Kenny insisted on driving me, talking all the way to my house. As soon as we arrived, I jumped out and ran inside.
I never drank another Tom Collins, and I never saw Kenny again. But, after all these years, I can't help thinking of him when I hear The Gambler.
You gotta know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run...!


Suzanne said...

OMG! I remember it like it was yesterday...hilarious! Great post.

Anonymous said...

I love it! So true. Plus, I like the fact Suzanne said, "Gag me with a spoon." HA!

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley