An excerpt from my interview with Jack from Grumpy Gators Saloon.
Jack was reminiscing about another story that he heard from a patron at the Grumpy Gator Saloon. Jack is the bartender. And as a bartender he talks to a lot of people and hears a lot of interesting stories. The saloon has become, according to Jack, a kind of magical, mystical, existential place of healing. Hence my interest in speaking with Jack, the person with whom most of the lost souls gravitate toward upon entering. They don’t seem to gravitate toward each other. Jack appears to be the draw. Or at least that’s the impression I get from speaking with him.
Jack shared a narrative with me that was shared with him by a middle-aged, balding, African American man who had a very chaotic and at times lonely childhood. I was intrigued with Jack’s fascination and almost intoxication with an aspect of the man’s story that featured a rural backyard, trees and a broken down, somewhat dilapidated, swing set from the 1970s. You know the type of which I’m speaking. Metal, the slide off the side of the main frame of the set, a couple of plastic swing seats connected to the metal frame with chain link and of course the obligatory seesaw.
Jack told me the most memorable aspect of this interaction was the Man’s eyes. And then, how he used the swing set to escape his reality.
“His eyes told the whole story,” Jack muttered. “Dark, almost coal-like eyes, lit up and almost glisten when the man talked about his interactions with his swing set. A swing set that for some reason, somehow, became a whole other world for this guy. Allowing him to heal if but for an afternoon of solitary play.
Jack took a step back, gazed to his right almost as if he was trying to make sure that what he said next captured the essence of that moment and the essences of that man’s windows to the soul.
“He told me the swing set became his safe place, his travel machine. He would imagine that he was a pilot soaring high above the world, away from all the chaos covering the ground, as he would swing for hours pretending to fly around the world. His eyes widened, seemed to flicker as the man continued to tell me how he would picture different destinations throughout the world. A smile casually and occasionally crossed his face as he told vivid stories of what he would do in places like Paris, Casablanca, Bangkok and more. That guy really had a hell of an imagination. That swing set teleported him to remarkable places of which he never saw, experienced, or lived. Not sure if the guy ever did visit those places after his time here.”
Jack took a step back. Wiped his forehead with the towel that he was using to clean glasses. He gazed again to his right and a smile casually crossed his face. His eyes sparkled.
“He told me he would sit on the seesaw and rock back and forth. Imagining that he was on a great merchant ship sailing the seven seas. Like with his airplane travels he would spin tall tales of adventures in interesting Ports O’ Call. I asked him once why he never imagined himself as a pirate. He scorned and sternly told me he ‘never wanted to be anyone or anything that took or stole from another’. I found that fascinating. But I didn’t pry as I assumed loss is part of his pain.”
Another smile and a subtle head shake were the only indications I had that Jack was reliving that memory; almost as if he were living it in this very moment.
Jake turned to me and said, “The magic of a swing set, in a rural back yard with a forest of imagination framing that all time machine. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes, the places he went, the healing that occurred, the pain that dissipated because of that swing set and that man’s imagination. Imagination so powerful, so able to heal, so often never used by people in pain.”