“Romeo, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
So wailed Juliet Capulet on opening night in the Globe Theater in London in 1600. “Romeo and Juliet” was Shakespeare’s tragic play of the passion of young love — in Verona, Italy (of course).
The play’s story offered a whirlwind five days of passionate attraction, violent duels, secret elopement, offstage consummation, and a delayed communication that culminated in the tragedy of a fake death compounded by two real suicides. No wonder in the middle of this drama, Juliet got a little frantic.
Things are less hectic in modern Maryville, but there is a group of us that might serve as an alternate answer to Juliet’s plaintive “wherefore.” For the past seven to eight years, we have had lunch every week at different local restaurants, and then retired to a coffee shop to regale ourselves with the exploits of the day, much
as Romeo Montague and his companions would have done in the
piazzas of Verona — and as the old English writers, playwrights, poets and statesmen did in the 17th and 18th centuries in London coffee houses.
Though not Italian or anymore English, we are a diverse lot. We all go to church; but, mostly, we are Methodists. Some of us are locals (and let’s count Memphis). The rest of us have sprinkled in from upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Nevada, and even Canada and India. We are all surrounded by family. We built our careers primarily in the business sector (retail sales, plant managers, electrical and chemical engineering, construction, consulting), but also in government service and academia. Four of us are veterans. We don’t talk of duels, but enjoy sharing our war stories.
What else does such a pack of cosmopolitans discuss? For one thing, there are a lot of topics we avoid. Theology gets us quickly confused. We all have our politics. Of course they did back in Italy as well. Back then, politics incited blood feuds. Here in Maryville, we take that warning to heart, and keep these discussions well shy of cardiac arrest.
The weather is safer, but East Tennessee is mostly too mild for sustained conversation. We do talk about our dogs. So far, no one has brought up any cats. The inconsistencies of state traffic laws and different driving habits in our great land command our attention. Relating the various traditions of left turns can make you want to bite off your fingernails. Talking about driving inevitably slides into driverless cars, a topic that makes us fearful for the future.
Nevertheless, we put on quite a show for our fellow coffee house patrons, who pretend to ignore us. What can provoke this lurid curiosity more than the raucous guffaws roaring out from our humor? Indeed, sometimes our conversation can get downright spine-tingling. I remember an intimate sharing about the consequences of a defective epiglottis; because, if it gets leaky, it can put a lot of mess in the wrong place. While we are at it, we do worry about the regularity of our bodily habits, as we swallow our brown Fiber Con pills — and dread our next colonoscopy prep.
The sad truth is that like Romeo Montague of Verona, there was a time when we viewed ourselves to be models of virility — of Corvairs, Corvettes, GTOs, Jaguars, Mustangs, Peugeots and Alfa-Romeos — all revved up and ready to speed down State Route 1 to Big Sur in California. But now we have become more like the cars of old — the venerable VW Beetle, the banged up Geo Prizm, the clunky Saturn, the dependable, but bland Ford Falcon, and maybe even an old Yugo — chugging down U.S. Highway 411 to the nearest gas station. It’s not that our engines have sputtered out, but we do find our shock absorbers in the midst of knee replacements and various shoulder repairs, our axles wobbling into back spasms, cataracts dimming our headlights, and cancers rusting our bodies. But technology does wonders, and prayer has helped lift us over these medical potholes.
As men rounding third base on our way home, we meet once a week at the coffee house to boost our spirits (when one loses a spouse, another suffers a bad accident, still another an unsettling cancer scare, or even when someone loses a faithful pet).
We are at that stage where time slows in ultimate expectations, so that friendships can be especially cherished. As Juliet Capulet found her Romeo in Verona, we are grateful in Maryville to be one of the many Romeo Clubs sprouting up around the country, like the one my wife’s sister told us about where she lives — just a bunch of Retired Old Men Eating Out.