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Drama Friendship Inspirational

Ramone looked out his window at the ‘SOLD’ sign in the front yard across the street. He shook his head.  

Now retired, he’d lived his whole life in this house. He made mud pies at the foot of the driveway before they paved the street. He went to school with the boy who fathered the man who just sold his house.

Ybor City, in Tampa, Florida, was once filled with people Ramon had known forever. So many lifelong friends had moved away or passed on.

Ramon’s neighborhood was gentrifying. He’d only just learned the term. Now it was happening in a moment. This was the sixth house in a year.

Many of the houses were dilapidated. Nearly a century old, his grandparents bought theirs new. Some were abandoned as unlivable. Buyers purchase cheaply for the land’s value. The deal closes and they demolish the house, or ‘remodel’ it into a palace. But how many palaces can fit onto one block?

Meanwhile, the sellers take the ‘best offer’ and leave their past behind. It’s just economics. But they’re blind to how cheaply they sold their sense of place and of belonging.

All I know is my old neighborhood is gone.

It seemed a particular curse that Ramon had reached this age only to feel so dislocated. Yes, he had his home. The only one he’d ever known. But this wasn’t just an address. He felt his life chipping away.

He kept the interior the same, with family pictures, a table cloth and fresh flowers in his wife’s favorite vase. A woman came to dust and wash his cup every week. He kept it simple.

He cherished being surrounded by friends and family with shared memories and values. He belonged here. And now he was alone. How many friends had he lost?

He felt untethered where he’d always belonged. He no longer recognized his Ybor City.

Sitting on his veranda, looking across the street, Ramon felt imprisoned. Even his children had moved away, busy building their lives.

It wasn’t a racial thing. His neighbors’ race was never the point. He got along with everyone. But they shared no history. He didn’t know them. Would he ever?

Should be called puppies, not yuppies, so few are house broken. Making a home but ruining the neighborhood.’

The next afternoon, he met his old workmate, Chico, at a new, franchise, coffee shop. The décor looked like Cuba got strained through a manga comic. Sitting under an umbrella they watched the crowd.

“Look at this place! So clean…” Chico ran his hand over the tabletop and examined his fingers.

“Yeah, but with none of the style of our old hang out. Hard surfaces and no heart.” Chico smiled. “Thanks for driving in.” Chico shrugged. “Where you live now?”

“By Clearwater beach. Nice. You should visit.” Ramon demurred. “Really… Sounds far. But it isn’t.”

Ramon nodded toward the other clientele. “Look at these hipsters, alone at their table, staring at a laptop. Nibbling a six-dollar scone.”

“For a scone?” Chico rolled his eyes.

“The world’s overflowing with strangers, Chico. No one talks anymore. Unless you count your six thousand friends on anti-social media you’ve never met.”

They sipped their coffees. Chico made a sour face.

Ramon said, “Right? We’re in Ybor City, for God’s sake. Think you could get a Cuban coffee?” Chico laughed. Ramon wagged a sugar packet. “What’s this white stuff? Give me a shot of molasses… and condensed milk… a shot of Heaven!”

Chico nodded. “Simpler times, my friend.”

“Ask for molasses. See the look you get.”

“You need a girlfriend, Ramon.”

They laughed loudly.

“Oh, no, Chico… That ship sailed.” He smiled with glistening eyes. “I miss Carmen too much. It wouldn’t be right…”

“I get it.”

“Ahh, the hours I spent as a boy, listening to my Abuelo and his friends talking and laughing over dominos. They let me keep score.”

“That club closed years ago. Is the building still there?”

“It’s a video game store. We worked when we were young. Video games didn’t exist.”

“Don’t I know…?”

“All those beeps and hums. I miss the click of dominos against each other.”

Ramon walked with Chico to his car on the far side of Jose Marti Park. A few shaded tables had chess players leaning into their games.

Wild chickens chased the crumbs Ramon scattered from his scone. He stooped and addressed the big white rooster holding court.

“So much history. Right, Colonel? Does anyone remember it, besides you and me?”

The rooster regarded him seriously.

Ramon rambled on. “My Nana worked in the cigar factory with her friends. Every night they’d walk home to their families. They laughed together. Shared the good and the bad. At bedtime, she’d tell me Don Quixote’s adventures.”

They got to Chico’s car and embraced farewell.

Chico punched his shoulder. “Hey… The new owners might be nice. You’ll make new friends.”

Ramon nodded. “Good point, Chico. Could happen. Thanks again.”

~

He stared at the moving truck parked across the street.

Ramon shook his head. ‘My people used to live here. Now they only come to work, cleaning and gardening. Where do they go at quitting time?

When the movers broke for lunch, he crossed to them. Ramon introduced himself.

“The new owners… how are they? They from out of state? They treat you well?”

They said they kept busy. Everyone is selling, starting new lives. “You could sell that house for a ton.”

Ramon said, “True. But where do I go then?”

A voice called out, “Boy!”

The new owner gestured at him.

Ramon offered his hand to shake. “Ramon… Welcome to the…”

The man ignored his greeting. “Tell my wife when you unload the ‘kitchen’ boxes. ‘ You read English?”

“I’m Ramon, your neighbor from across the street. Welcome…”

The man walked away.

Ramon looked at the workers. “He called me ‘boy.’” They laughed. “He ever call you ‘boy’?”

One guy said, “No. We’d drop his stuff.”

A week later, Ramon noticed a line of cars dropping people across the street. In party clothes, they carried gift bags, wine and platters.

Ramon bought a party-sized, traditional Cuban sandwich at his favorite deli. His mouth watered at the perfume of juicy, roasted pork, ham and salami on the sliced, fresh Cuban bread. A feast.

Ramon rang his new neighbor’s doorbell. A woman opened the door. Music and laughter poured out.  

He presented his gift. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

The woman called a helper to take the platter.

She said, “Thank you. I didn’t see a card. Who sent it?” She offered Ramon a ten-dollar bill.

He pushed the tip away. “It’s from me. I’m Ramon, your neighbor, across the street.” He pulled a Cuban cigar from his jacket. “For your husband. Welcome!”

She recoiled at seeing the cigar. “Oh. My husband doesn’t smoke. We don’t buy tobacco.”

“I’m not selling. It’s a welcome gift, the best Cuban…”

“Thank you, but no. Not necessary.” She held the door defensively.

Ramon got the message. “I see you have company. I’ll let you get back. Welcome…”

The door shut. He turned toward his house and placed the cigar back in his pocket.        

Sitting on his veranda, Ramon smoked his cigar in the deepening gloom. He watched the banana palms sway gracefully. Only the cigar’s ember and drifting smoke revealed his presence. His neighbor’s party went late. Ramon went to bed without turning on a light.

The next morning, Ramon arrived early at Jose Marti Park and claimed a shaded table. The chess hustlers would arrive later. He laid out his dominos and smiled. He scattered corn meal to the chickens and greeted ‘the Colonel.’ Sipping his Cuban coffee from a thermos, he waited.

A boy ran up and pointed. “Mister, what are those?”

“Dominos. My favorite game.”

“Oh… dominos. Will you teach me? Can I play?”

“Of course.”

The boy’s mother approached. “Don’t bother the man, Roy.”

“No bother. He wants to learn. Care to join us in a game? I’m Ramon.” He gestured for her to sit.

“Hi, I’m Rachel. Can three play?”

“Yes... Up to four friends can…”

Emil ran to the playground to enlist another friend.

She sat. “It’s been so long. I played when I was little.”

“I learned when I was your son’s age.”

“You come here often?”

“Daily, except in hurricanes. We’re the Jose Marti Domino Club.”

“Really? I’ve never seen you.”

“This is our first day.”

She laughed. Emil brought two friends. Rachel winced, unsure of how to navigate the situation.

Ramon smiled at her. “I’ll keep score.”

He got the game started, sipped coffee and sat back with his score pad. The sound of clicking tiles punctuated the quiet conversation and laughter of friends. Ramon felt loved.

August 10, 2023 17:20

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10 comments

Amanda Lieser
13:44 Sep 21, 2023

Hi John! Oh this story was just as heartwarming as your Elvis piece. I adored the way your narrator had to work through the definition of friendship. It does so change within our lives. It was a spectacular example of people needing people and finding the ones we need. Your description of everyone was vivid and the dialogue felt heavy with history-you clearly knew these characters’ hearts very well. Nice work!!

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John K Adams
14:47 Sep 21, 2023

Thanks, Amanda. This was definitely a labor of love. I lived in Tampa when finishing college. My last visit to Ybor City, I barely recognized the place. A friend of mine, still there, agrees with you. Thank you for spending so much time responding to my stories.

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Delbert Griffith
13:46 Aug 11, 2023

First, congrats on the shortlist for "Behind the Door." Well done, my friend! This tale is such a superb example of painting a masterful picture of a neighborhood. Not just the buildings and homes, but the heart and soul of the place. The times, they are a changin'. You did a wonderful job of getting that message across. Beautiful piece, John. Nicely done. Cheers!

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John K Adams
15:04 Aug 11, 2023

Thank you, Delbert! I went to Ybor City in the '70s and again, a few years ago. Talk about change! I've always led more of a nomadic life, never lighting for more than a few years here or there. So my story also reflected a nostalgia for what I've never had. I'm glad it resonated with you and others.

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Mary Bendickson
01:11 Aug 11, 2023

Charming story. Unfortunate the new neighbors didn't have a clue. Happy note about the new domino club.🎲🐔

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John K Adams
02:31 Aug 11, 2023

Thanks, Mary. I appreciate that you always comment on my stories.

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Bruce Friedman
17:51 Aug 10, 2023

John, great job. A warm, nostalgic piece reflecting back on the old days in Ybor City. Great choice of words and the kind of tempo I like. Remarkable phrases like: Hard surfaces and no heart. You're a pro and your stories read like that.

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John K Adams
18:04 Aug 10, 2023

Thank you, Bruce. Sounds like it resonated with you. I lived in Tampa in the '70's and it still had that small town in the big city feel. I'll read more of your stories and get back to you. Love it when writers support each other.

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Bruce Friedman
18:53 Aug 10, 2023

Capturing the vibe of that time is very worthwhile, most certainly for yourself. I'm 82 and feel battered by the end of each day by news and new technologies that I may sometimes have trouble mastering. My memory may be selective but I don't think I had similar days 20-30 years ago.

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John K Adams
21:55 Aug 10, 2023

And so much of it is noise. Now I'm supposed to be in a panic over a UFO from 1974? A lot of distractions from corruption in the here and now, if you ask me. As, Thoreau said, 'Simplify, simplify, simplify...'

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