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?”


“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.

Catharsis – Or 15 Ways to Know You Weren’t a Dork

But really were…

It’s rare to see a picture of yourself at the very moment of extreme catharsis. But there it is. Have you ever seen a person so disillusioned, looking so hard for the door? That photo is of the 1971 pledge class of I Felta Thi at the University of Oklahoma. Just before I put a series of events and beliefs in the social blender and pulled out my middle finger on all of it.

Catharsis is a great word. Way better than epiphany. The third definition of catharsis from Collins is Greek for a purge, particularly of the bowel. Amen. This is a photo of what the egregious Greek dump looked like about two days prior to blowing up the plumbing of 18 years of my life.

I write this because I read a lot of “I was an ugly duckling” humor, therapy and anger in blogs. Dorks, broke, ignored, how tough it is to become someone. Courage. Fear. Solitude. Look up there. That guy? He had nothing to complain about (except a long weekend without a blow dryer) until he discovered the racism, misogyny, and heartbreak involved in the realization of who people really were at the core of the American caste system. All in about six weeks. BAM. No place to be broke down, son. Move on.

How do you know you weren’t a dork in High School, based on the “was a dork” equations I’ve read? You weren’t if some of these apply.

  1. You have a reasonably new, cool, or acceptably cool looking car with a “get in trouble” loud stereo.
  2. There is no such thing as a dateless weekend after your sophomore year (when you got your driver’s license).
  3. You have two of those “drop” necklaces with your initials working at two high schools. At the same time. And a girlfriend in the shadows at another. But her father is a crazed ex-Marine who hates your hair, but she likes it. And likes you. So you get to meet Sunday afternoons in a parking lot somewhere which is cool if you know where to go after you hook up.
  4. You also have a backup of after-hours girls from Bishop McGuiness High School, that you discover 45 years later a friend of yours was also down with. We kept secrets well back then. Even ones we should have shared. Nah. Non-dorks are selfish.
  5. You have brownies from one of those girls, a birthday card from another and panties you don’t remember where they came from under the front seat, two unexplainable, stolen from a motel blankets in the trunk and a roach in the ashtray of your car when your dad suddenly decides to borrow it. So you take his station wagon and get love funk all over your dad’s outgoing mail because you didn’t move it before you took advantage of the big-assed front seat. You tell him your date “spilled a milk shake, sorry.” And he makes a face but mails it! And tells you out of earshot of your mother to give the panties back to “the girl whose father I know is going to call me.”
  6. You make decent grades (3.6 to 3.75 out of 4.0) without busting a lot of ass or wasting time studying. The teachers that don’t like you are disliked by the teachers who do, and yours can kick their asses. As a result you rarely get hit up for “where’s your hall pass?” Plus, you know a female office aide every period who will pull your absentee slip before it gets logged if you decide to walk a class.
  7. You know where the right restaurants are, spread out all over town, to stay out of eye and ear shot keeping that girl business all together like the plate spinner on Ed Sullivan.
  8. You go to three proms. Well, only two your junior year. And you can’t think of what to do with who you go out with on New Year’s because everyone is everywhere so you bounce from dance to dance and go make out and wait to take them home so you can go burn one and party with the party people later.
  9. Christmas gifts for maintaining your “player” status eats up all the gift money you get from relatives before Christmas.
  10. You get rushed by half a dozen fraternities, only one of which is down to the brother of one of those girlfriends, and you pick the wrong one anyway, which wouldn’t have mattered in the long run, as you will see.ph-dirty-football
  11. You start either way when you play football, even if you don’t really care, and get suspended for a game because it was more important to help a girl get sobered up before she went home and her father beat her for being high than it was to narc her out and save face for missing practice.
  12. You take the console out of your Camaro because dates fit better between the seats with it gone and that’s more important than cosmetic appeal and a place to stash your occasional Marlboro and a joint.
  13. You have a custom eight track full of “chick” music for parking that you keep hidden under the seat so your friends don’t catch you listening to The Association or Joni Mitchell.
  14. You take two English classes at once and ace them both, get your pen and ink displayed with a ribbon at a city-wide art show and the 4 x 8 panel of plywood you paint to help the city cover up the construction fence for Urban Renewal makes both papers because it’s “controversial.” But they hang it anyway. You suck at math, but hell, you can always hire an accountant. And Geometry makes perfect sense, even if you cut class all the time to fly kites with a hippie chick, because you play music and that’s ALL geometry. At least to a space case.
  15. After 45 years, your old friends, the ones that will speak to you more than once, still find you mildly dangerous, or at least nuts, because of what you did after you weren’t a non-dork and weren’t like them anymore. They remember that transition time before you pulled out your middle finger at an entire state and decided to rock. Weirdo.

Dork is a state of mind, not a social reflection

So the non-dork who coasted socially and academically through the zit phase and too skinny for a swimsuit phase and long weekend bad hair phase took a girl whose brother’s frat I shouldn’t have pledged to a dance at said frat house. One of my future “brothers” spent the whole night talking about my date’s tits and telling me how proud he was of me and why hadn’t her brother hipped him to that little number? After that, and a confluence of other things, including bouts with over the top misogyny, I bailed. (The floor of her brother’s room was two waterbeds blobbed together with the equivalent of notches kept on the wall of their closet by him and his roommate to keep track of the girls they’d bagged in there.) My handler was sad to see me go because of all that plate spinning and picking up girls out from under them at bars during rush get-togethers and my bullshit artistry, but the hard sell to keep the book of secret handshakes, legends and myths didn’t work. And I immediately became a dork. I gave up most of my “friends” and a lot of that gratuitous freshman year inter-Greek sex for three months until I found my indie legs again. Poor me. There are still songs I can’t listen to because they played constantly in the Union and a bar I frequented feeling sorry for myself. Most of them are by Jim Croce, so I guess it doesn’t matter too much. Hello, operator?

Look, all of you “I was a dork” people, I asked for my social outcast beating. I asked to be marginalized, to be ostracized, to be outside looking in. Why? Because to me what was inside was an insidious fallacy, a giant lie being played out by the members of the club who smiled but shut the door on ethnicity, who bragged about taking advantage of and bopping chicks too wasted to remember, who placed “brotherhood” above self-respect and the respect of others, even family members. People who niched themselves with exclusionary visions. Girls who were attention whores and social climbers and would steal and screw their way into whatever they wanted to be, guys who would even pimp their sisters but fail to call it that to make a life-long “brother” whose true value might be to show up broke to sleep on their couch and hit on their wife. No thanks.

Whether you came by it naturally or had to ask for dork, celebrate it. Different? Celebrate it. Think the cool guys or the cool girls had it made? Forget it. I was even one for a while. Maybe some of them did have it made. Maybe some of them still do have it made. But at what price? We all play the game we’re destined to play, even if it kicks our ass, or we ask to have it kicked. Know this, dork brothers and sisters. Dork comes with the self-respect of knowing you didn’t leave too much shit on any innocent shoes after you got it figured, and who you are is you, not a photo-shopped picture of one of your retired millionaire “brothers” selling million-dollar real estate in the Town and Country sitting on some should be shame riddled sister pimp’s coffee table.

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…”