i only wear white when it rains

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chattaway epiphanies

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I guess a bigger Gator fan might have stayed home to mourn our disappointing loss to the Semenholes tonight. But I was just thankful not to be in Tallahassee cutting gum out of my hair. 

Besides, it was my friend Scrabble’s 40th Birthday and we were to meet at the historic Chattaway Restaurant. I had never been there before but was confident Carrabba’s it was not.

As I pulled into the gravel parking lot in South St. Pete, a man smoking unfiltered cigarettes and sporting a rocker mullet and acid-washed jeans flagged me down. I opened my window, wondering if perhaps he was breaking the news that this wasn’t actually Scrabble’s birthday bash but rather a Loverboy concert.

“I was just waving,” the man, who I later discovered to be a band member on a smoke break, explained.

“Okay…” I said, feeling pretty sure if feathered roach clips were still around, he had one hanging from the rearview mirror of his car right beside the “leather scented” Little Tree.

As I crossed the rickety wooden bridge to enter the Chattaway’s al fresco dining area adjacent to a coral pink ramshackle that it called home, I debated whether it was possible The Copper Monkeys slipped LSD into my vodka during the Gator game.

Trellises adorned with Jasmine and colorful strands of Christmas lights helped to camouflage the occasional Travelocity-like garden gnome, fairy or whimsical tree face. Hand-painted clawfoot bathtub gardens made you question, “Why the hell not use a bathtub as a planter?” And also, “Am I still tripping?” The fusion of its Margaritaville, Caribbean, kitschy, 60s hippie vibe was made even more schizophrenic by the restaurant’s interior tea room complete with real china, British memorabilia and lace table runners.

But perhaps the Chattaway’s most interesting dichotomy was its clientele.

Surrounding its outdoor space heaters and Parrothead walk-up bar was a combination of yellow-toothed locals boasting single-stranded DNA and…us. A tight-knit group of about 20 overly educated, Range Rover driving parents of private school children who wanted to escape in their pitchers of beer and Chattaway burger baskets. It struck me then that this was the ideal setting for Scrabble’s birthday, as she is a bit of an enigma herself.

One of the most brilliant people I know, Scrabble may have read every book on the New York Times bestseller list this year, but she has trouble spelling the word “does.” Despite her age, she’ll maintain the envious quality of always looking 16. Her hair is that pin-straight shiny that never requires a flat iron or my overpriced Frederic Fekkai glossing conditioner. And most admirable? She seems to genuinely adore her husband. A soft-spoken but incredibly intelligent and interesting  fatherly type who would encourage you to enjoy dessert despite its toll on your hips.

As I sipped an imported beer from a mug that may have doubled for one of the Chattaway tubs, I began to relish in the warmth and enchantment of this 50-year old eatery. Sitting across from my gorgeous friend Mary who possesses the rare cornflower blue-eyed-black-hair combo, I was completely entertained by the notion that this world is more bipolar than not. Because just a few inches behind her, a Joan Jett lookalike with tire marks on her forehead was sloppily gyrating to the band’s classic rock covers. It was evident Joan Jett was a strung-out groupie, and I found it comical that someone so rugged and timeworn would be in the same sightline as one of the most refined women I know.

It was then that my friend’s husband Mr. Camper sparked a heated debate about who was more desirable at Ridgemont High. Clearly one would guess that her absence of a gag reflex and the most iconic bikini scene ever would have earned Linda this title, but he swore most men would pick Stacy. A poll at our table proved him shockingly correct. Mr. Camper was either animated and hysterically funny or asleep in a narcoleptic coma. Why is it that it has taken me 30(cough) years to discover we are more Cybil than we realize?

I don’t claim to understand much. I’m baffled by simple concepts. Like how even 100 units of Botox cannot stop my forehead from moving. Or why we slam on the brakes at the Sunpass toll even though we know the gate is foam and will do no damage when we plow right through it. But it was at the Chattaway Restaurant in South St. Petersburg that I was able to finally understand and embrace that waiting outside every stuffy tea room lurks an eccentric garden gnome ready to dance when the time is right.

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Written by I only Wear White When it Rains

November 28, 2010 at 10:03 am

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