Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moby Orange

In 1978 while I was working for Kerry's I entered into a brief and unfortunate affair with Melarie, one of my phone company coworkers. Kerry's was on Broadway in downtown Oakland. One morning when I was late getting started on my delivery route, I was standing at the front counter looking through the plate-glass window at passers-by (downtown Oakland was bustling then, not the ghost town that it is now) when I was surprised to see Melarie stroll past. We had been friendly when we were both telephone operators, but never anything more. My affair with Nancy was very public and although Melarie was beautiful and we were attracted to each other nothing had ever happened. I ran out to the sidewalk and greeted her. She was quite pleased to see me and , in our brief conversation, I learned that she was working around the corner at the phone company billing office - like Nancy, she had transferred to a better-paying position - and was on her lunch break. We made plans to meet for lunch the next day.

Melarie was a vegetarian and there was a single restaurant in downtown Oakland that catered to her dietary constraints, a dark and dumpy little establishment a few blocks from Kerry's. I arranged my deliveries so I could meet her there on her lunch hour. This became our regular meeting place for the next several months as our relationship progressed. I called it "the vegetable place" - vegetarianism seemed weird to me and I couldn't fathom why someone would avoid meat - and she even avoided dairy products. Nowadays even Denny's has vegetarian dishes, but back then you couldn't even buy tofu at Safeway. It was a challenging choice to make.

I learned from Melarie that Nancy, who I had not seen a lot of since leaving the phone company, was also working in the building near Kerry's, but in a different office. Within a few days I had tracked her down and we quickly resumed our affair. Nancy had recently purchased her first house, a tiny 3-bedroom bungalow in Richmond, a crime-ridden strip mall of a city just north of Berkeley. It was very much a"first house" but she was rightfully proud of it. Home ownership, like vegetarianism, was a foreign concept to me.

Stan Burger was a little mom-and-pop (Literally. It was owned by a young Chinese couple and named after their infant son, Stan) burger joint across the street from the store A "Moby Orange" was an orange-flavored syrupy drink that was like a foamy Slurpee. Moby Orange cups were emblazoned with the catchphrase "a whale of a drink".  If I wasn't with Melarie or Nancy (or whoever) and not out of the area on my route, I would have lunch there: a greasy burger, a bag of soggy fries and a Moby Orange. Stan Burger is long gone. When downtown Oakland died of mall-itis, the businesses that depended on the local lunch crowd were the first to go. As I write this I'm not sure if Moby Orange itself is still a going concern (I just checked - it's not). When we started this particular Le Bonx improvisation I simply started singing about what I'd done for lunch that day.

Went down to Stan Burger
Had me a Moby Orange
It's a whale of a drink

I went on to write several songs about Melarie. She was an aspiring Ballerina, tall and lithe, with long curly brown hair - really a gorgeous girl. Our relationship was doomed from the start because we'd no sooner started seeing each other when I reconnected with Nancy, with whom I was truly in love and not just in lust. One afternoon I'd arranged to meet Nancy for lunch and while I was waiting for her on the sidewalk outside the phone company building, Melarie came out looking absolutely beautiful. It was a warm sunny day and she was dressed for the weather. I could not take my eyes - or my hands - off her. If Nancy hadn't appeared at that moment I'm sure I would not have been there when she finally did come out. (I make no excuses - that's the way it was, folks). As I write this I am preparing to go into the studio with the Backorders to record some songs. One of them, "Ballerina", is a Melarie song, finally seeing the light of day.

I never really knew how Melarie felt about me. One tearful night she told me she loved me. There was a storm raging outside and rain was spattering on her apartment windows while the wind howled. She sat cross-legged on the floor with her face in her hands and I stood behind her like an inquisitor. It was over soon after that. Two years later while driving home from Dianne's I saw Melarie on the freeway in her old Honda Civic. I honked my horn and waved, but she didn't look. Another year later when I was working at Schwabacher/Frey, I ran into her in the company's lobby. She was a repair person for the phone company, wearing the traditional helmet and utility belt laden with wires and clips. She had gained a substantial amount of weight and her lustrous hair was much shorter. I smiled at her but she looked right through me.

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