How to Become Part of the Fort
by Laurel Tarantino
From her Journal “Loving and Leaving the Fort”
March 15, 2015
How to become part of the Fort:
be part of a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th generation that has always lived there,
find a rental,
buy your way into it,
or marry into it.
I did the latter.
Jim Tarantino and Laurel Josephson, 1991
I was feeling a bit sorry for myself the night I met Jimmy in 1990. I had it all together, a job- two actually, a beautiful bachelorette pad on Goose Cove, dependable wheels, money in my pocket and a good friend to enjoy free time with. What I lacked in my life was a loyal dog, a good man, and at that immediate moment in time, a decent meal. I’d been grabbing fast food in between my day job and more take out for dinner at my night gig. I was really tired of never having a nice sit-down meal with someone during the week that I decided I would take one night, blow off work and sit down to a nice relaxing meal for myself. My boss completely understood, course it didn’t hurt that my boss was my mom at the time. So I never punched in and headed for town, in search of a meal that would sate me.
Now, where to eat? The first place I came to that made me think, “I’ll try this,” was Antonio’s. If they didn’t have a nice steak on the menu, at least they’d have Italian, with a name like that. Plus that, it looked inviting, and it was.
It was a small place, a few tables in one room with an intimate little bar. Anyway, I mosey up to an empty chair at the bar, there’s a guy in one of the other chairs who informs me that the bartender will be right back. He also told me that he could get a drink for me if I knew what I would like. A glass of wine or beer would have been easy, but I wanted a Bacardi Gimlet, straight up. Had to wait for the bartender to come back for that order, but I didn’t mind, it gave me a chance to peruse the menu.
So the bartender comes back from wherever it was he had gone. I thought he was really interesting to look at. A bit tall, lean, border lining on thin, perhaps a couple weeks overdue for a haircut, but what struck me right off the bat was his polite manner and a set of eyes a girl could get lost in. I didn’t think he was handsome, but there was something about him that made you want to keep looking, hopefully not getting caught staring.
There was friendly banter; he introduced me to his friend who was the other customer at the bar. I got my delicious ice cold Gimlet and ordered a Steak Au Poive with all the fixings, salad, mashed and green beans. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl. I’m also, a bit ashamed to admit, a smoker, which I wouldn’t have brought up, but it has to do with my story. Back then, 1990, you could still smoke in bar rooms, so I went to light up after a few sips of my beverage. When I did, Jim (the bartender) says, “Hey Chris, what’s wrong with you? Be a gentleman and light the lady’s cigarette.” I in turn said, “Oh that’s alright, he doesn’t know any better, he’s from Gloucester.” Boy did I ever say the wrong thing. I thought the bartender was going to come right over the marble top bar and give me a “what-for.”He says, “Excuse me miss, I happen to be from Gloucester, I’m proud of it and I resent that statement.” I could not apologize fast enough, and immediately let them know that I was from Gloucester as well.
That’s when Jimmy had me. From that moment I was completely intrigued by his passion and pride. All of a sudden his eyes seemed more intense, his hands, graceful, long and beautiful, he had become an instant Laurel Magnet.
Small talk continued, I enjoyed my meal and little by little, the restaurant started emptying out. I was getting a bit sad that the night was coming to an end and I may not see this guy again. Then he asks me, “Would you like to dance?” A bit taken back, I say “Yes, but there’s no dance floor.” Of course, he can take care of that too. He and a couple friends move the dining tables and chairs that had been recently vacated, he throws some coins into the juke box, he puts his hand in mine, the other on the small of my back and I find myself dancing (honestly-melting) to Sinatra singing “The Summer Wind.”
Great, now I’m all off kilter! This guy just cleared tables so he could dance with me, but of course, the song ends. He has to “Z -Out” the register and close the restaurant for the night. Now what? Do I ask him where he’s headed? Is that too obvious? He’d danced with me, hooked me with fresh bait, but didn’t follow up with what would come next. I’d already learned in earlier conversation that he sometimes hangs out at the “Blackburn Tavern” or the “Old Timers” down the West End. I head out to the street and my car and think “Damned, that’s it” as he waves Good-night and heads to his car. Double Damned! It’s a way cool silver Chevy Impala! Did he have to have a nice set of wheels too? Well, it’s a good thing he did, you couldn’t miss it and I didn’t, when I went “Jimmy Hunting.”He was parked up on Main Street, but I found him in a very empty Old Timer’s and he asks, “What’d you follow me?” I could only be honest and answer “Yes.”
So, I haven’t a clue what our conversation was about so very long ago. I do remember once the Old Timers closed for the night, that we drove out to Niles Beach in his way cool Chevy. We sat across from each other, him leaning on the driver’s door, me on mine. It was dark and cold outside, I remember wanting to giggle every time he moved, because his leather coat made so much noise against the seat. Nervous laughter I believe they call it. I noticed something sticking up awkwardly in the back seat; it’s a child’s sled. I knew it was too good to be true; he has a kid and most likely a wife too. He explained his situation, a recent divorce, and the pain of leaving his young daughter with her mom. The guy just kept getting better and better. To hear him speak about his little girl, you knew he had a huge heart, with a bit of an ache in it. We finally called it a night, parted with an exchange of phone numbers and “I’ll call yous,”
I only wanted a decent meal that January night, but I left with Don Henley singing a tune in my head, “This is the last worthless evening that you’ll have to spend… “ Here we are 25 years later, miles of memories in between, and still enjoying each other’s company. I also learned something else that night- I will never, ever stereotype a Gloucester guy again.
Jim and Laurel Tarantino, 2010 (photo by David Cox)