Sonic Boom

Brian at Bonnywood Manor wrote a post with a great scene in it (See #4) that I plugged into a throwaway chapter. Thank you, Brian. I might turn it into a series. Meyers – Mercenary Detective? Nah. It was a dark and not so stormy night…

Cambridge, U.K. – Early October 1982

Meyers checked his watch, thought about a cigarette for the hundredth time in the last half hour. And food. Food would be good. But he’d have to step out of the phone box and into the drizzly Cambridgeshire soup. It didn’t look like much, but it got right through everything but a wharfman’s oilskin and right down into your bones. His not so new, or all that clean London Fog was perfect for playing the “Mercenary Detective” on his business card. Or baby sitter, which was what he was. On this job, anyway. Regardless, the overcoat wouldn’t keep him dry, and he had to wait for his charge to appear. He’d stay smoke and food free for a while, pick up what he needed walking in the shadows behind her if she ventured back out tonight. Assuming she made it home in one piece.

Why anyone gave a rat’s ass about a skinny American girl who could get knee deep in her own shit simply walking down the street going to Cambridge for a grad degree was beyond him. Was she pretty? He’d seen pictures. She had a Gran’s porcelain doll look to her. So yeah, before the hair cut with pinking shears, and back when she maybe ate occasionally. The American who handed her off said it would help if she didn’t dress like Redneck Lesbian Barbie most days, all in thrift shop men’s clothes that she threw an oversized old lady dress over. He’d been told she was smart, too. Couldn’t prove it by him. He was starting to question his own judgement to take up station in the phone box and wait for her to make it home. The silly cow was always getting into –

“About bloody time.” He rubbed a peek-a-boo hole in the fogged glass of the phone box so he could see her, checked his watch again.

Deanna fumbled with the door latch. She knew it was going to piss her off, like always. Dammit. Everything in England was a hundred and fifty fucking years old, at least. And that Stonehenge thing? Don’t even. How could anyone not know how it got there? Like it just appeared in some farmer’s back yard? Jesus. How stupid was that? Someone had to know. And Blake’s house on Molton Street in London? It was a fucking bar. With French sandwiches, which really meant yukky, fatty English ham, tasteless hydroponic tomatoes and runny mayo on a croissant. And sweet, colorful drinks. She’d been. Once. Gotten thrown out. That had been a long afternoon. She’d met a lot of nice police women, but that was it.

“Come on. Godammit, open.” The cold drip from the useless, narrow awning over the door was going straight between her collar and her neck. She looked around for a place to set the paper bag full of off-fresh veggies she’d bargained for at the green grocer’s, settled on the basket of one of the half dozen bicycles on the tiny strip of sidewalk in front of her flat.

Meyers’ gentleman instincts kicked in, but there was nothing he could do to help her. “Let her screw up until it gets dangerous,” the woman had said. “Stay out of the way and off her radar. If you need to show some horny, overly enthusiastic asshole the big book of manners, do it in the background.” What the hell. The girl drew her fair share of ‘Bohemian Babes are for me’ horn dogs, but none of them were very dangerous. Questionable taste in women, maybe, but not dangerous. He didn’t get it. The people who hung around colleges. Forever. He was starting to feel like one of them. It paid like a real job, though. He stuck a stick of gum in his mouth, hoped it lasted longer than two minutes, checked his watch. Again.

“If you don’t –” She bumped the stubborn door with her hip when she twisted the key and the solid wood door with a thousand coats of paint banged open, dropped her into the flat on her hands and knees. She straightened her legs, butt in the air, brought the rest of herself up like a mechanical mime and stepped out into the soup to grab her veggies. When she turned back she kicked the door and yelled “Cock sucker!” loud enough for Meyers to hear it inside the phone box.

His handler had told him that back in the States she’d grown up with a brother who played linebacker in the NFL and she had lived with a musician. She had a mouth on her to prove those up. And despite dumping the musician on her way to the airport bound for England’s green and pleasant land she was still in love with him. “Poor bastard,” he’d said. The woman said not to feel too sorry for him, he was getting a well deserved vacation and that he was the only bloke who could wrangle her. Meyers could use some advice on that shrew wrangling. The girl was a bad judgement accident magnet with feet.

***

Deanna decided to come out again, looking almost female. Meyers dutifully followed her to a posh, second floor flat further north up the Cam. There were no convenient phone boxes so he decided to drink cheap wine while doing his best to blend in at a party of obviously not very discriminating people of varying ages. Who were only there to drink some rich Spanish kid’s free, sweet, shitty white wine. And eat his free, greasy, shitty oven-fired hors devours that kept popping out of an oven somewhere around a corner before being put up on a table strewn with paper plates, balled up dirty paper napkins and empty plastic wine glasses. The greasy bites were delivered by a thin, underage pimply faced boy who, if he were to wash his hair more than once a month, would see his complexion miraculously clear up.

Meyers was reaching for some Americanized eggroll looking thing when he was jolted out of his shampoo reverie by a sonic boom that had probably been heard across the channel.

Everyone was staring at the balcony sliding glass door, and Deanna, as her face slid down the glass. The slow trip pulled her upper lip off her teeth in a comic snarl and left a smeared streak of icing from the piece of cake she had been eating in its wake. Meyers waited to see if she slumped, or got up. She stayed down. Dammit. He set his wine glass with fifteen others on an end table whose varnish had long since worn away and took a step, stopped and picked up his wine while he still knew which glass was his. Sheridan, the gay theology guy in the clergy cassock with contrasting white button trim, who followed her and other attractive female misfits around for reasons unknown, was already on her.

“Deanna? Dee-anna! Miss Collings?”

“Mmmphhh?”

“Good. You must stand up Miss Collings. Please. This is, um, unbecoming. Please.”

“Mmmnguhhhphhhumpin?”

“Yes, exactly.” He put his hands under her arms, straight and stiff, karate chop style, to avoid a couple of handfuls of her boobs. More for show, Meyers thought, but it was decent of him. Gay and soon to be priestly. Or making a good show of both until he got out into a pasture full of sheep in need of shepherding. Smart lad, and well played if that was his game.

Deanna stood, dazed, with what little lipstick she wore in a red line from the left corner of her mouth to up under her eye. Her upper lip and both nostrils were covered in blue and white cake icing, which had also managed to find her eyelashes and eyebrows. Picasso clown meets Sixties movie vampire. In pastels.

“Didn’t you see the door?” Sheridan wiped a finger of icing off her left eye lid, sucked it off his finger.

“Mm-hmm. Fuck me yes I saw it. Up close, didn’t I? Where am I? Whose house is this?”

“Dimas. From Spain? Early Shakespeare, last spring?”

“Dumbass? He had a party?” She rubbed her nose. “Ow. Fuck me.”

“You’ve said that, love.”

“Said it again, Father Fag, ‘love.’ And no one’s taking me up on it, are they?” She shook her head, looked around, cleared her eyes and pushed back a step from the glass door. “God. What an idiot…” She put her hand on the aluminum frame, stuck her head around the side of the glass door.

“Dimas! Hey! Dumbass! Motherfucker put some little stars or butterflies or unicorn sticky thing decals on this door, ‘Kay, asshole?” She rubbed her lip, came away with a touch of blood from her nose mixed in the icing, held it up. “Jesus, you know? I could have fucking killed myself.”

Meyers heard the mumbled “Don’t we wish” comments from members of her various study groups float around him like gnats on a moldy orange. Good thing she knew she couldn’t drink or she’d be a right mess.

He reloaded his wine while priest-to-be fawned all over her, working the icing out of her nose with a paper napkin wrapped pinkie finger. She was swatting at him, telling him to fuck off, rubbing her lip and nose looking for more blood, giving anyone who stared at them too long the finger. Meyers checked his watch. She’d be in bed soon enough after this little number, and he’d have an early night of it. This job did have its perks. Decent hours. Occasionally chatty girls on the periphery of whatever Deanna was getting up to. Unless tonight was the night priest-to-be offered to bathe her. That would fuck everything up, having to be discrete about knocking him into the shrubs or the Cam with enough force to send him back to gay for a while. He’d keep his head down, blame the fog for his bash into the black frock. He’d run off with her swearing at him, the priest —

There she went, wiping cake all over the priest-to-be’s frock and calling him a boob honking pervert for trying to wipe the cake off the front of her dress. Shit. What he needed was a standard issue who’s shagging the other divorce case. Motel rooms, half empty champagne bottles and forgotten panties instead of a profane, clumsy female grad student who rarely shagged anyone. And if she did she never left him flat, room temperature champagne. Or her panties.

She was getting her raincoat, and the priest-to-be was staying. Good. He glanced at his watch again, and at the greasy, disgusting, thumb sized cold egg roll thing making his fingers shiny. He flicked it out the open patio door and over the balcony rail like it was the butt of a cheap cigar. Which reminded him that he still needed a cigarette. And food. Real food from a reasonably attractive, friendly and zit free waitress would be good.

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Mighta Shoulda Woulda

“Me? You askin’ me about true love?” Old Upjohn squinted across the table. “Lamar, you too old to be high this time of the mornin’.”

“Not high. Lookin’ for insight. Figured you might have some. You had a Mrs. Upjohn.”

“I had four Mrs. Upjohns. Not one of ‘em sends me a damn Christmas card. ‘Course now two of ‘em are dead, so they’re off the politeness hook. But the other two? You’d think they’d have softened up some.” He shook out his napkin, dropped it on his thigh. “Well hell. I say that an’ last time I saw Janelle she’d softened up like a vat of unset chocolate pudding.”

“Cold shot, Upjohn.”

“Gots to call like you see ‘em or you’ll end up lyin’ ’bout everything.”

Upjohn flashed his dental work when he saw her coming. The waitress smiled her best clip art smile in return when she eased up on their table. She glanced at the unexpected white man across from Upjohn. “You doin’ alright this mornin’, Mr. Upjohn?”

“Just fine, Miss Deevers. Two of your best customer size slices of warm peach pie. And you can lean a little harder on the butter pecan than you did last week.” He winked, took her temperature by telepathy. “Lamar’s okay. I brought him along to lighten the room up a little is all.” She said nothing, Upjohn turned to watch her walk away. “My, my, my.”

“That right there how you come by four ex-wives?”

“Lookin’ never killed a man. The changeable nature of True Love, what you asked me ’bout. That’s how I come by four.”

“You loved all of them the same, just changed names?”

“Love ain’t never the same, Lamar. Just as good, but different. But now two of those exes, only one of ’em dead, are down to true love. Down to that one you ain’t heard from forever, calls you in the middle of the night, you’re right next door to dreamin’? The one turns your mind into a possum that rolls over and plays dead and the rest of you is aftershave and a hard on and you’re out the door barefoot in the snow. You married your N’awlin’s girl, that right?”

“That I did. I’m a lot of things, with fool right on up there, but not about her.”

“Well, see? You were smart. N’awlin’s girls…” Upjohn got his time machine in gear for a couple of beats.

“You lost two wives to a New Orleans girl?”

The waitress set two plates of pie, and two coffee cups down with more noise than necessary. “Pie’s too hot to eat, gentlemen. Too much ice cream to be healthy for a man your age, Mr. Upjohn. Pie is all? Mmm.” She tore off the green check, slipped it under Lamar’s plate. “Two wives to a New Orleans girl? Something I need to stand around and hear?” She was gone before she got an answer, and took Upjohn’s attention with her.

“New Orleans girl?”

“Miss Aida Marie Charpentier. Should’ve heard her say it. Shar-PEN-tee-ay.” Upjohn kissed the tips of his fingers and opened them like a flower. “The color of expensive milk chocolate. Long, wavy hair. Said her people were from the islands. She never said which ones, exactly, but my money was on the Caribbean somewhere. Or a Frenchman at the back door, maybe. She was all kinds of French. And sass? Damn that woman could talk. She’d talk and men would listen just to hear her voice. She put olive oil on her hair every couple of weeks, slept in it like that before she washed it out. Made it softer than silk. Threw her pillow away after and expected whatever man she was seein’ to buy her a new one. She was the one. In my mind, anyways, but not hers. Long time gone, that one.” They listened to plates and glasses clinking, the hum of conversation and the ice machine for a few minutes while they hit their pie and coffee.

“You think maybe how we feel about somebody isn’t always reciprocal?” Lamar caught half a fork of peach and ice cream trying run down his chin.

“Ain’t enough room in your mouth for some pie and them damn fifty-cent words, Lamar. You mean do I think how they feel about us is the same as we feel about them? Nah. People have their own minds. Even if it’s close, it ain’t ever the same. Most times it’s all kinds of lopsided. Nothing fair about nothin’, usually. Love most particularly.”

“So we’re bangin’ around out here, and we carry a piece of whatever we knock into with us? Maybe they carry as big a piece as we do, maybe not?”

“What I’m sayin’ is people remember how you hit them, not how they hit you. Whatever you hit, don’t matter if it’s a ricochet or a full-on wreck fucks you up like the time down in Alabama Tommy Thorson drove that old Buick with all of us in it smack into a water tower. The Buick and the water tower and all of us? We all carry the marks till sooner or later somebody comes along with a bucket of paint, the casts come off. But the dents and dings and scars just get covered up, they don’t go nowhere. And mind you, the water tower come out quite some better than us and that Buick.” He forked up some pie crust dripping with butter pecan. “You recall a bass player name of Talon?”

“Shit, Upjohn. Talon? Where’d that come from?”

“That’s no on Talon?”

“Yep. This is one I haven’t heard?”

“Just like when you was a boy, Lamar. If you ain’t heard it, you need to listen up.” Upjohn waited for the coffee cups to get reloaded, turned and watched his waitress again. He turned back, dropped a spoonful of the ice cream into his coffee. “Where was I?”

“Bass player named Talon?”

“That’s right. Talon, he played bass with one finger. One finger, a thumb and a sometimes useful nub where his little finger used to be.” Upjohn held up his left hand, folded two fingers and half his pinky away to illustrate.  “Indian boy. Told a story about some accident workin’ for the railroad, hookin’ up boxcars together or somethin’. Lost two and half fingers, both hands. I’d never seen him before and he turns up on a pick-up job one night, backin’ up some half-famous slick from Dee-troit. I say to the man, you know, can you play the blues, your hands fucked all up thataway? He told me if I didn’t have the blues, he’d give me some.”

“Did he?”

“Damn straight he did. Man could play.”

“Seriously, Upjohn. Talon has something to do with what?”

“Out back in the alley, after the slick had hit it? We was drinkin’ together, havin’ cigars we got as parting gifts from Mister Dee-troit. I ask this Talon fella how it would it have been to have all his fingers and not be flyin’ all around up and down the neck like he did. He said ‘If what mighta been shoulda been, it woulda been.’ And see, it had always been his dream to play music, not hook up box cars. Maybe the man’s only way outta the train yard was cuttin’ off some fingers. You got a big word for that?”

“Fortuitous? More likely some of that invisible business.”

“More’n likely invisible than fartawhodumas.” The grin lit up his face. “Look here, Lamar. Aida Marie? I didn’t go runnin’ out in the snow barefoot, but there for a time my mind did still turn all possum whenever I’d go down Aida’s road. Thinkin’ how she smelled after she washed the olive oil out of her hair. How she smiled sittin’ at a N’awlin’s café table. How she laughed. Just that much of her in my mind was enough for two wives to quit me. That’s how it works out. One of you thinks it coulda and shoulda, and some of that invisible gets in there like a brick wall and turns coulda and shoulda into never woulda, so you have to let it go. And after a while you hope what shoulda bangs into you goin’ ’round a blind corner.”

“You still think about mighta been with Aida?”

“Nah. Mighta done run its course a long time ago. Never really was much mighta there, I look straight on it. But I could pick up a guitar right now and go on down Aida Marie’s road a ways.” He reached across the table, put an index finger on Lamar’s chest, over his heart. “It all comes from right there, Lamar. Can’t play the blues ‘less you have some. Can’t tell stories if you don’t have none. Nothin’ happens that you don’t carry the blues of it in your suitcase and know the story goes with it. Less you got ice in your veins or live some kinda way so as you always have money in your pocket and don’t never set up to get your heart broke.” He guided the leftover melted butter pecan ice cream from his pie plate into his coffee cup, stirred it. Eyeballed it a second and motioned for another refill.

“The Talon fella? It don’t matter he lost some fingers, he got what he truly wanted. Me and Miss Aida Marie Charpentier? It don’t make no difference who wrote the song I’m playin’ when I think on her, I put her in there. So truth told about true love?” He reached, tapped Lamar’s heart again. “We all write our own fairy tales, my brother. And we all sing our own blues.”

 

Photo – The Absinthe House, New Orleans.

Love Your Pink Pumps

“‘Welcome to Texas. Check your vagina at the border.’ Plywood, three times the size of the speed limit sign. I kid you not, Reagan.” Lamar held his hands up for emphsis, three feet between them.

“Just a sec.” Reagan draped her bar towel over her shoulder, changed the Pandora channel on an iPad sitting under the backbar display bottles to something besides business lunch background. “Now where was this?”

“Inbound, at the Oklahoma border. Thought my wife was gonna drown blowing coffee through her nose.” Lamar had gone back to elbows and forearms on the bar, fishing in his basket of low salt pretzels.

Reagan took a deep breath, adjusted to her empty bar post lunch rush version of herself, leaned into both of her hands on the bar opposite him. “You know whoever put that up there has a valid point.”

“Yeah, yeah, but there’s more to it than the sign. Check this out. My neighbor just bought his four-year-old daughter a toy shotgun. I was thinking about one for my granddaughter, but I don’t know. It’s so politically incorrect these days.”

“My brothers all grew up with toy guns, and I always got in trouble for taking off with that Little Joe rifle of Billy’s.”

“Little Joe?”

“Michael Landon was dreamy, Lamar. Just like Dr. Kildare.”

“Dr. Kildare was gay.”

“When you’re eight years old and it’s a hand me down lunch box, you don’t care. Or even know about all that. All you know is that Barbie likes Ken the same way mom likes dad, or whoever mom’s dating, and Dr. Kildare is right in there in the swoon zone with Ken. And Little Joe is the same thing, only he has a lunch box and a rifle.” She paused, signed something a waiter pushed under arm, checked Lamar. “I see the Dr. Kildare proctology kit joke coming. Bag it. He was my big crush and he stays that way when I go back to little girl land.” She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows to make sure he got it. He choked a little on a pretzel and she knew it was from holding down more tasteless Dr. Kildare business.

“So you’re telling me Little Joe Cartwright, or his dreaminess Michael Landon and the forbidden rifle are why grandmother’s carry guns and aerate wannabe burglars?”

“Lots of people have concealed carry permits, Lamar. For lots of reasons that have nothing to do with Michael. I have a Ruger Nine no bigger than a Saturday Night Special. I walk out of here in the afternoon with the deposit in one hand and my other hand is in my purse wrapped around that baby.”

“Is it pink?” He looked up, grinned and waited for it.

“What? My Ruger? Hell no, it’s not pink. What kind of sexist bullshit question…Lamar, some days I don’t know –”

“The kid’s shotgun is. Pink, I mean. A pump shotgun done up pink and girly. Barbie goes thug busting.”

She relaxed back off the bar a little, thinking about a fourteen-inch tall pink box with Handsy Thug Buster Prom Barbie inside, rotated a little and put one hand on her hip. “So it’s a pink princess shotgun? I wish I’d thought of it. And you don’t believe little girls should know about shotguns or how to use them or grow up understanding gun safety and the consequences of firearm ownership?”

“No. I wonder about the marketing logic, that’s all. I figure there must have been a male supervisor at Academy asleep at the wheel.”

“Now sneaky women are behind your pink shotguns? You’re on fire today. How many suburban moms do you know who can tell a shotgun from a garden hose, Lamar?”

“Maybe more than we think. Why I figure a woman is behind the whole thing. You and I and the entire country know the politicians in this state are making it damned near impossible to be a female Texan. Cattle and dogs have more ready access to species specific medical facilities than women. And here we are with all that goin’ down, and some buyer at Academy picks up pink shotguns for little girls?”

“What, are you scared that little girls with toy shotguns will grow up and learn how to use the real thing and start blowing smart ass old guys away?”

“I’m not scared. But if I was that fool in Austin with the two-tone saddle oxford hair who spends all his time shutting down women’s clinics and worrying about who can go to what restroom where? I would sure as hell be looking to retire somewhere far, far away.”

“And why is that? Besides the stupid hair.”

“I’d get gone before any of those pink shotgun girls turned up pregnant just because they couldn’t get off work to drive five hours for affordable birth control.”

Reagan put both hands back on the bar, leaned in a little. “Do you know if those toy pumps come with pink plastic shells?”

“Don’t know. I could ask.”

“Do that. If they don’t? I might get into the accessory business.”

“You think it matters if they have pink shells?”

“I think it matters that every pink princess shotgun toting Barbie in Texas should know to load it as well as hold it. I could advertise them like ‘Pink Shells for your new Pink Pumps’. Whattaya think?”

Something about the way she raised her eyebrows that time…Lamar could see the billboard. My Body Belongs to Me Barbie in a white with blue star Dallas Cowboys t-shirt and black Yoga pants, pink shotgun on each hip, sensible pink pumps to match. He took a long look at his Collins glass, half full of ice and lemonade, drained it.

“You know, Reagan. I think I’m damn glad I never considered going into politics.”

Evan Who?

“Evan who?” The gray haired black man of indeterminate “old” age looked up quizzically 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, now.”

“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 over that. “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, rocking a big, slow vibrato. “That’s tone. And then it’s gone. And it’s such a high 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 call. When your heart jumps. You sayin’ all that is 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 times we spend lookin’ for tone and those rare times we find it? Those all be the fleeting moment 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 of 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…Shit. She checked him for the telltale white wire dripping from his ears, or a Bluetooth locust on one of them. Even for drool or a wet spot on his slacks. Nothing. 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 arm pit. “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…”

 

Thanks to Brian Lageose at Bonnywood Manor

30 Fun Things to Say to a Complete Stranger on an Elevator

 

Merry Christmas

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

— Mother Teresa —

Make all the difference you possibly can in 2017, everybody.

Merry Christmas!