Evan Who?

“Evan who?” The gray haired black man of indeterminate “old” age looked up  from his plate of Southern fried shrimp and across the table at Lamar.

“Not a who, Mr. Upjohn. Evanescent. It’s a word. Like ‘poof.’ You know, here it is and ‘poof,’ it’s gone?”

“Damn, Lamar. You was a kid I woulda never heard nothin’ like that come outta your mouth.”

“True.” Lamar pushed the basket of large cut pub fries that had come with his club sandwich toward Upjohn. “I was too busy sittin’ on the floor watchin’ you make grown men cry and grown women sweat with that fat boy guitar.”

Upjohn pushed the basket back. “I didn’t get this old eatin’ compliments or shit like them greasy ‘tatoes.”

“How the hell you got as old as you are is a miracle. Other men’s women all over the place. Fried chicken straight from the skillet drippin’ fat and bootleg whiskey that tasted like lighter fluid. Shit liked to killed me and I was only sixteen.”

“You were fourteen, boy.” Upjohn flashed his snap-in dental work and his eyes sparkled. “Lyin’ to your momma about libraries and such. Stayin’ out late in the bars with bad black men and hookers, tryin’ to get you a taste of the blues. What was that five-dollar word again?”

“Evanescent.”

“Shit.” Upjohn pulled the tail of a fried shrimp out from between his teeth. “I ‘spose you wanna go on and explain it?”

“Tone. Simple as that.”

“We had us some talks about tone, now, and there ain’t nothin’ simple about that. This Evan Essant fella, he’s down with tone?”

Lamar grinned, drank some lemonade. “He is tone, Mr. Upjohn.”

“You pushin’ sixty yourself now, Lamar. You drop the Mister, hang it on this man you met claims to be tone personified.”

“You used to say tone was everything. Finding it, looking for it, getting’ it. ‘Harder to find good tone than a good woman,’ you told me.”

“‘Deed it is. Hard to find as a good one, lasts ‘bout a long as a bad one.” He chuckled with his whole body. “You look for it all the time, you reach out, hit that note and you can feel it vibrate in your bones…” He closed his eyes and air played a magic note with his middle finger, thumb up off an invisible neck, rocked a big, slow vibrato. “That’s tone…” His eyes and hand popped open. “An then it’s gone. And it’s such a high you know you gotta go find it again. Big tone is the drug of players. We just used that nasty whiskey and women and some other things to take the pain away from tone bein’ a bitch of a mistress.”

“That’s evanescent, Upjohn. Tone. Poof. I think it’s a great word. Rare to find a really good one, you know? Say ‘great tone’ to a ballet dancer, or a painter, or a writer or any artist doin’ anything, and you’ll get that ‘what the fuck, weirdo?’ look. But evanescent? Yeah. Dancers know the instant it’s danced, it’s gone. You know they’re looking for tone in every move they make. I stood in the art museum last week, three feet from genius. Tone? Man, I could feel it coming off the canvas. Every time the brush went down you know that man was lookin’ for big tone. Evanescent is the best word for all that stuff we think is invisible. All I’m sayin’.”

“That instant you feel a hug from someone who means it. When you hear God callin’. When your heart jumps. You sayin’ all that’s down to this Evan cat?”

“You could say that.” Lamar tightened his lips, shook his head before he let out a quick smile. “Evan? He knows all about that magic, invisible instant in everything where tone happens. How it feels when all those hours of practice disappear and for a split second your entire soul is free. All those fleeting moments are Evan. Evanescent.”

Upjohn set his fork down, looked Lamar in the eye. “You getting’ damn near poetic about this Evan fella, Lamar. Look here. Add ‘em up. All the time we spend lookin’ for tone and those rare times we find it? Those all be the fleeting moments of life itself.” He gave that time to weigh in, picked his fork back up, shoveled a bite of coleslaw. “You know the woman makes this slaw?”

“I do.”

“She single?”

“Never asked. You should try her onion rings sometime.”

“She old and black and got an opinion like me? Them rings got the taste of Evan in every bite?”

“Just like you, and every bite is evanescent. Perfection and gone. Poof.”

“You need to introduce me. Maybe she needs to know a hungry old gi-tar player with perfect teeth.”

“I don’t know, Upjohn. She thinks the whole NASA thing was a lie and all that moon business happened in the desert out by Vegas. Hate to hook you up with crazy.”

“Woman’s crazy after my own heart ’cause it sure ‘nuff did happen just like she said.” He picked up his napkin, winked. “You can see the wires where they’re flyin’ ‘em around.”

“Bullshit. Plus, you still liked to killed me on purpose when I was –”

“Fourteen. Tryin’ to run your scrawny young ass off. We been down that road. How ‘bout I tell you I do believe you’ve found a five-dollar word for the blues? That push you right some in the introduction direction?”

“Tone is tone, and love is love but I’m not havin’ you go to lyin’ for coleslaw on my conscience.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, boy. I’ve thought on it all through this fine shrimp lunch you bought me, and maybe there is a five-dollar word for the blues. Evan.” He twisted his mouth up, worked it out. “Evanescant.” He looked across the table, flashed his dental work again. “Goddam, Lamar. That’s one big assed ol’ mouthful a word for tone, ain’t it?”

Photo Credit – Gypsy Tea Room, Deep Ellum, 1930s. The Dallas Public Library digital archives.

If It Itches…

“You never know where you’ll get a rash…”

She thought about stopping the elevator door with her foot so she could escape, but she had on new shoes and the balls of her feet were already killing her. And she’d have to spin around with her pharma-rep briefcase on wheels, the laptop case not strapped to the handle… She checked him for the telltale white wire dripping from his ears, or a Bluetooth locust on one of them. No. He was talking to her. She scanned him for drool or a wet spot on his slacks. Nothing. Some good news. She put on what she thought was an appropriate amount of business woman attitude.

“Your comment was directed at me?”

“Not really.” Lamar was tapping his fingers on the brushed aluminum handrail that ran around three sides of the car, glad the elevator had stopped, and someone had actually gotten on because it stopped pretty often for no reason. “Just saying. But you know, rashes are weird. And you never know where you’ll get one.” He lifted his right foot and put it on the rail. “My name’s Lamar.”

“Greta. Nice to meet you, Lamar.” She knew that right here it could go from strange, to bad, to worse, depending on what he did with his hands. Goddam, why the new shoes today? She could have been so out of here in the black boots. But the boots chafed her calf and –

“Like lately when it’s been dry, and cold, and everyone is running their heaters?” He pulled his pants leg up a touch, scratched just behind his ankle bone. “I get these red patches in places that you wouldn’t think would be sensitive. My shins, too. And cowboy boots? Forget that. Ring around the calf. I spend all day on one foot scratchin’ my leg with the other one.”

Thank God. He was just a talker and left his pants alone. Her boots did the same thing, kind of, but —

“Just weird, where you get a rash this time of year. Happens to you, too.”

“What? No, it doesn’t. I don’t have rash issues. And it’s none of –”

“Then why are doing that with your finger right along the top of your skirt, in the back?”

“I was checking my blouse. This jacket hits right at my waist, and I can’t walk around looking like a box of Kleenex from the…” She caught a glimpse of his “bullshit” grin in the mirrored button panel, turned back his way. “Okay. You’re right. It just itches, though. It’s not a rash.”

Lamar raised his eyebrows.

“I have a tattoo back there. It’s a rose, in the middle of an oval, like a cameo. And curly vines going out on both sides.”

“Those all look like the new Chrysler badge to me. But it itches, and you can’t see back there, so how do you know it’s not a rash? You put something on it?”

“I use a moisturizer, but it still…And anyway, because I know, that’s why. I don’t have rashes. Anywhere. It’s the tattoo. I never had this itching thing back there until I got it. It dried out my skin or something.”

“Maybe. But with rashes this time of year? You never know if it’s an allergy or dry skin or what. The air dries out and BAM. It could be dry-cleaning fluid or detergent or fabric softener. Rashes places where you wouldn’t think. Underneath socks, behind your knees. He reached inside his jacket, about halfway down his ribcage on the side. “Even here.” He rubbed his hips and then the top of his butt cheeks. “And here. Women and all of your itchy, under-the-hood things, and those clingy yoga pants –”

“They’re tights.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Yes. Yoga pants are…Well, they’re for Yoga. And shorter, and made out of a different, athletic type fabric.” And waaay more expensive. God almighty, fucking drop the rashes.

“So, tights don’t itch? Like behind your knees or where they grab you by the ankles?”

“Yes, they itch. Sometimes. And they stretch out and sag no matter how cold it is if you get up and down a lot, but I get out of my car and walk these office towers all day. They make me sweat, but where they make me sweat? We aren’t going there.” She tried to glare, but he was one of those older guys who seemed impervious.

“Sweat is a whole other thing,” Lamar said. “You know where a summer rash is going to hit you.” He stuck a hand in the opposite armpit. “Here.” He ran his hands around the edges of his groin at the tops of his thighs. “And here. Heat and underwear do that one. But not here,” and he grabbed a handful of his junk. “Maybe a little, but no one wants a rash there. It’s different for women. My wife used to hate it when pantyhose were the uniform of choice. She always got the ones with the cotton crotch because if she didn’t –”

“I get it, Lamar.”

“In the summer, I have to run a trim down there because that old saying about having a wild hair? Well, I get them, and along with that undies rash I’ll spend half my time not mowin’ the yard and unhookin’ sweaty Velcro business if I don’t knock it back.”

“I’m certain that can’t be any fun for you. And I can sympathize with your wife. Back when we could let our bikini line go over the winter —”

“Road Kill. When we were teenagers and looking for that kind of thing? We called that one ‘pantyhose road kill.’ You know, all smashed out, and being trapped in there all day.”

“That is the most disgusting thing you’ve said yet. Road kill?”

“We were fourteen, fifteen. Maybe a little older, but we quit looking when we started trying. Did you wear panties with your pantyhose? Some girls did. Seemed redundant. And girdles. Why wear one of those things with pantyhose? Who invented girdles, anway?”

“A man, I’m sure.” What happened to her floor?

“One summer I went out with this girl, she was no bigger around than this handrail. And she had on pantyhose and a girdle.”

“Self Defense tactic. Back then the harder it was and the longer it took, the more likely you were to let up or give up, or curfew started knocking harder than you. Or her mother made her.”

“You know some secret about mothers and girdles?”

“Mine made me wear one and pinched my butt on the way out the door to be sure, but it ended up in my purse by the first stop sign.”

“I always wondered, the way they were like Lycra and elastic chastity belts, did girdles give you a rash if you got, you know ‘wound up’ or it was summer? I mean talk about something that didn’t breathe.”

“NO. I don’t know about any other girls, but they never gave me a rash because I pulled mine…And, well, they did give me a rash, that’s why I…What’s really giving me a rash is –”

The elevator dinged, and the female robot voice intoned “Basement Level. Threshold Tavern and Parking, Level A.”

“Best of the rest on your day, Greta. Great story. Good luck with the doctor’s office managers.” Lamar stepped out, held the door for a younger guy and a forty-something woman just like the one who’d ridden the elevator with him right past where she needed to go, rolling briefcase and all.

Greta watched Lamar turn toward the bar, waited for the door to close before she checked out her car mates. The guy ran his finger around the back of his collar, the woman pulled her foot out of her shoe and rubbed her calf with it. Greta landed on the button mirror, acted like she was checking her lipstick.

“You never know where you’ll get a rash…”