Three African American women in their mid forties eat seafood outdoors at Johnny's Reef Restaurant and suddenly burst out in song.
You don't have to be a star, baby, to be in my show.
A few tables away, I sit with my parents, chasing my last bite of friend shrimp with a sip of sangria. I turn around and smile at them. Another slightly older trio of African Americans at the table directly next to them a gentleman and two ladies smile as well. One of the singers says to them, “Bet you don't know who sang that?”
Even if I'm wrong, I see where the conversation is going, and I want to be a part of it. “Leo Sayer,” I guess. I'm pretty sure I'm wrong about the artist, but I've got the right decade
“No, that's Peaches and Herb.”
”Nooo,” I say. “That song before their time.”
The sister who asked me by the condiment bar if she can have one of my salt packets says, “Yeah, now that you say that, I'm thinking…”
Her friend guesses, “Ashford and Simpson.”
Finally, the older brother calls out, “Billy Davis…”
“...and Marilyn McCoo!” the sisters yell. Everyone shares a good laugh. Of course, any conversation about seventies soul is going to lead to laments about today's music. Today, the lament leads to reminiscing about old school toys.
A third trio of women on our other side join in. “Remember paper dolls?”
Oh, yeah, paper dolls. You had to cut them out.
“I think they still make them,” I say, remembering racks of them at the old Coliseum Bookstore in midtown. “I think people who design costumes for theater use them.” Everyone nods their heads, pleased to know that they still exist and are being put to such lofty uses.
“I miss Colorforms,” I add. “They need to bring those back.” I swear I'd be a bunch of sets if they did.
“I used to love me some Baby Alive,” says the woman who started the singing. “You felt like you had a real baby. You fed her, you changed her…”
I never liked or wanted Baby Alive. I had a few friends who owned that doll, and the Hasbro didn't really think her through. “She was fun until all that gunk got trapped inside,” I remind them. “You didn't know you were supposed to clean her out until it was too late.”
“That's right!” says my salt-loving friend. “Some of the baby food would get trapped inside, and she'd get corroded.”
A woman from the table on the far side said, “Remember those dolls that could walk along with you?”
That reminds me of another large doll of the seventies. “Remember Tiffany Taylor?” I ask. “You'd twist the top of her head, and you could make her go from a blonde to a brunette.”
“And coloring books.”
“They don't make good toys like that anymore,” says Miss McCoo. “All the kids do nowadays is this…”
Everybody twiddles their thumbs, miming a child playing Xbox.
Then I say something that makes me sound as if I sit on the later half of fifty, but let the truth be spoken. “Go outside! Play Double Dutch, hopscotch, Hot Peas and Butter…” The amen chorus fuels my rambling list as my own childhood comes back to me. “… box ball, Hide n- Seek, skullies,… We had video games but still went outside on a nice day.”
Miss McCoo says. “They don't have anything that makes them use their creativity or imagination.” She doesn't sound frustrated as much as she seem sorry. “You had to sit down and cut out those paper dolls. Now you can't get a coloring book unless you go to Barnes & Nobles.”
“Well, sometimes the guys in the street have them,” says her friend.
But the singer is off on her own ramble…”But nooo, now that got that Sudoku.”
“Now, now, now,” the older brother says good-naturedly. “I love Sudoku.”
Yeah, girl, don't mess with a man's Sudoku. I offer an olive branch for my sister's well-intended oversight. “At least, that challenges your mind.”
“Yeah, that's true,” says Miss McCoo, and we all laugh. As each group finishes its meal, we bid each other farewell as if we just might see each other again. You'd think that after a conversation like that, a person would feel depressingly old. But I have a feeling we all left feeling very much alive.