Bobby B – Gator Bait

Carrie Louise screamed a split second before the shotgun blast. Birds exploded from the cypress canopy, the surface of the water boiled with leaping frogs, crickets, surprised fish and a lone gator. The sound and accompanying activity rolled away across the bayou in an expanding halo. Bobby couldn’t look down where he hoped his feet still were, saw the look of sheer panic in Carrie Louise’s eyes, steeled himself and waited for the blast from the second barrel. CL was shaking so hard she couldn’t pull the hammer back. Bobby took a second, glanced down to see the snake that had dropped into the boat from the tree branches overhead slither through the new hole in his dad’s old, flat bottom swamp skiff. CL screamed bloody murder again when she couldn’t make the sawed-off shotgun work, started to launch it into the swamp after the snake when Bobby snatched it away.

The silence in the aftermath bordered on church-like except for the soft gurgle of the swamp slowly filling the boat.

“Dayum, girl.”

“Dayum yourself, Bobby B.” CL, white as a ghost, held her legs out straight in front of her above the encroaching water, narrowed her eyes. “It was a, a…A snake. You saw it. I…And…You know how much I hate fuh, fuh, snakes.”

“Do for a fact.” He wiggled his feet to prove they were still there, whistled softly. “Dayyy-um.”

Bobby had no idea how deep the water was, but he dumped what had drifted into his dad’s waders, pulled them on and tied a knot in the shoulder straps while the boat slowly settled toward the water line. Carrie Louise cussed a blue streak of randomly constructed profanity under her breath, her heels now resting on the rusty oarlocks, the water closing in on her cutoffs.

He stepped out into water waist-deep on his average to a little tall, twelve-year-old frame, let the breath he’d been holding go. His dad’s waders were up to his chin, so unless a snake slopped over the top they were good. He sloshed the few steps to Carrie Louise.

“When I turn around, climb on my shoulders. Baby style, not piggyback.” He handed back the shotgun. “You see a gator, CL? Or another snake? Holler and let me shoot. Got it?”

“Okay. But you can’t drop me in, in there. In this…You can’t.” She looked over her shoulder in the direction the snake had taken off, climbed on his shoulders. She wrapped her arms around his forehead, her legs tucked under his arms, heels almost touching the base of his neck. “How far is it?”

“As far as it is.”

“Big help. Do NOT drop me.” She shivered involuntarily. “Please.”

“No need to get all polite, CL. You have the shotgun.”

Bobby took a minute to get his bearings, knowing how his dad was gonna raise all sorts of hell about the trolling motor. Once dad knew he could find it and the water wasn’t very deep they’d be back to get the motor, take it home, dry it out and rebuild it on the garage floor. He’d rebuild it, dad would drink beer and give bad advice, mom would put some vodka in her iced coffee or tea and read the latest and greatest from the library where she worked. And pretend to watch them like she cared while whatever was in the oven turned black.

***

Carrie Louise climbed off his shoulders on to dry ground and started screaming again when Bobby waded out. Another snake had hitched a ride, its fangs embedded in the thick rubber heel of the waders. Bobby saw CL point the shotgun at his foot and screamed with her. She shoved the shotgun into his chest, took off down the finger of two-lane ruts that cut through the swamp. Bobby picked up the shotgun, put the barrel against the snake’s head and pushed until the snake lost its grip and recoiled away. He had one shell in the sawed-off swamp boat gun, and he might need it for more than a snake dumb enough to hit waders.

***

Sheriff Sheridan Wylie, a little overweight in a uniform and life vest that fit a couple of years ago, swung Terrebonne Parish Swamp Patrol Boat number 2 alongside the finger of dry land and waited for the two stragglers in the shimmering heat haze headed his way, a .40 caliber pistol, safety off, behind his back.

“Well, I do declare. Carrie Louise Roche and Bobby Buisson. You might crack that shotgun open and hand it to me, young Mister Bobby. Go a looooong ways toward keepin’ my blood pressure under control.”

“Yes sir.” Bobby broke the sawed-off open, offered it butt first. “Sorry.”

“Think nothin’ of it.” Wylie took the sawed-off, holstered his pistol. “What’s a coupla lethal weapons between friends? Now, y’know, when I got the call about two kids with a shotgun wandering the Mauvais Bois, I thought maybe I had me some lost poachers or the next Bonnie and Clyde. Hell no, ain’t nothin’ to it but Houma’s own double trouble.”

The Sheriff unloaded both shells from the shotgun, dropped them in his life vest pocket, set the shotgun on top of the instrument and radio cluster. “You can give that sawed off I don’t know is the wrong side of legal back to your daddy after I’ve carried you two home. And you done told me about the spent shell.”

He helped them step off into the boat, handed them both life vests. Bobby told him about CL and snakes and the new hole in his dad’s old skiff while they cinched themselves into the vests. The sheriff and Bobby laughed, Carrie Louise moped. Satisfied with their vests Sheriff Wylie idled the boat around and out into the swamp in no kind of hurry.

“Either a you two been gone long enough anybody’d be worried? No? Best news I’ve had all day.” He squeezed the trigger on the mic. “Wylie. Armed poachers turned into a shallow water equipment failure rescue. No casualties, no prisoners, no medical required. Swamp rats name of Buisson and Roche need deliverin’. May take me a while.”

He hung up the radio mic, turned and leaned against the instrument panel where he could keep one eye on the swamp and one on CL and Bobby, held the boat on course with his forearm on the wheel. “I’m in no big hurry ‘cause I need y’all to spin me one hell of a good stow-ree about that spent shell. Tellin’ you now it better have a 15, maybe 20 foot gator and a witch and a toothless coon-ass pervert or two in it, ‘cause bein’ as we’re out here and it’s hotter’n hell an all? I’m stoppin’ at the marina for a ring-of-fire hot link, some of Louella’s fried shrimp bites and an Abita Amber just this side of ice. On the Parish dime. And I’ll need to write me up a nice report when I get back to justify burning a couple of hours and a bunch of Parish gas rescuing two born on the bayou kids who should know better than to blow a damn hole in the bottom of a boat.” He turned back, idled the boat up a little. “There’s water in the ice chest if you need some. Go easy, Carrie Louise. Ain’t nowhere for a girl to pee for a good forty minutes.”

***

An hour and a half later Sheriff Wylie dropped them at a makeshift dock on Bayou Black across the street from Bobby’s house. Bobby went home carrying the unloaded sawed off and his dad’s waders, Carrie Louise huffed off to her house next door carrying a greasy paper bag of leftover spicy shrimp bites.

Fifteen minutes passed before she banged on the screen door to Bobby’s kitchen. She’d been having an angry cry, most likely from a Momma Roche ass chewing. He toed the door open and she shoved a plate with a huge slice of peach pie and rapidly losing form in the heat whipped cream at him.

“Momma says she guesses thanks for saving me from bein’ gator bait. I told her it was snakes, but she said thanks anyway, even though a Houma girl dumb enough to blow a hole in a boat mighta been justifiably left behind. And to say I’m sorry about your dad’s boat and scaring you shitless with the shotgun and almost blowing your foot off.” She heaved a big sigh. “She’ll see that we make it right, when we can.”

Bobby could feel the sadness coming off her, along with leftover steam from how mad she’d gotten when he and the Sheriff laughed about her blowing a hole in the boat and not killing the snake, then Momma R piling on.

“I’m figurin’ I’ll tell Daddy I did it, CL. You tell Momma R not to worry.” He shrugged one shoulder, took the pie plate. “Dad’ll drop a couple M-80s to run the snakes off so I can fish the motor out pretty easy. And it won’t be near as bad a ‘Bobby you dumb ass’ sermon as telling him I let a girl beat me to the snake-and-gator gun.” He grinned, held the door open for her. “Come on. Pie this size needs two forks.”

“You sure? About the boat and all?”

“Yep.”

Sure sure?”

“Yep.”

“Like certain sure?”

“C’mon CL, do I look like I’m standin’ here air conditionin’ the back yard changin’ my mind?”

“No…” She stepped past him into the kitchen, opened his fridge. “So I guess that means you have a couple of new shots of Cool Whip or maybe some ice cream in here to go with that extra fork and this big ol’ piece of my momma’s blue-ribbon peach pie?”

True Value

Lamar pulled the creamy bean dip his way across the Formica imitating black shale table top, waited for Upjohn’s woman radar to make the entire room and come to rest across from him.

“Damn, Lamar, which of our asses you think they picked for those nachos?”

“I’m thinking yours. You have the broad beam of success, not me.”

“Shit, you just don’t eat right, don’t go out with the right women.” Upjohn took the restaurant fatigued spoon and fork out of a rolled up paper napkin and lifted a heap of nachos onto his plate. He picked up and sniffed all four of the small salsa bowls, sneezed after the roasted verde sauce. He set it down, tapped it with his fork. “Best give that shit some respect, Lamar. Set your ass on fire just knowin’ about it. You figure we could get Marshon through that door?”

“Marshon?” Lamar picked up a chip that was half a flash fried tortilla covered in all things chicken nachos, cracked it in half when he leveraged it to his plate, covered it with creamy, spicy bean dip.

“Marshon Lewellyn. Big ol’ gal.” Old Upjohn held his hands out a foot from his chest. “You’ll recall she worked at the Buick parts counter? Had to wear a man’s 3XL golf shirt to be part of the Buick parts team.”

“Wouldn’t know her. Never owned a Buick. You checked out that shirt for size, did you?”

“I did. Never know if a woman might need a gift of casual clothing to set her at ease. What I’m sayin’ is there was never even a Buick made for her backside. Thing needed two lanes and a couple of double-wide escort trucks were she to get out on the road. I’m thinkin’ we get her through the front door and these people are good to their word, we be eatin’ nachos till the Good Lord calls one of us home.”

“You think she’d come out from behind that Buick parts counter with you, knowing you were going to use her that way?”

“No tellin’ what a woman might do to be out with a handsome man for an all-you-can-eat ‘till you die Mexican hors d’oeuvre dinner,. You plan on stakin’ a claim on that bean dip, Lamar? Goddam. You gonna start spittin’ shit when you laugh you best ask that girl in the cut-offs running up her crack for another napkin.”

“You thinking about the size of her nacho plate?”

“Man could starve to death eatin’ that girl’s nachos, Lamar, and turn his mind to pudding trying to talk to her. Man needs to know a woman’s true value. She’s good for the napkin and a cup of coffee and a lonely man’s prayer she bends over facin’ the other way.”

“That’s awful close to sexist, Upjohn.”

“I start lyin’, stop me.”

“So there’s a woman in your world for just about anything? Barely legal eye candy waitresses in illegal cutoffs for napkins and coffee, and a woman with a backside bigger than a Buick for when you need more nachos than you can eat?”

“You find a problem with my logic?”

“No. I’m sure the ladies would.”

“That’s part of bein’ female, findin’ fault with how we think. Now there’s men out there will tell you a man should learn to figure women. I’m tellin’ you, a man should learn to appreciate the figure of a woman, and leave it be. Sexism comes down to natural selection.”

“Natural selection? How the hell do you ‘figure’ that?”

“The manager naturally selects skinny young girls who don’t know no better to stand around in push-up bras and short cut-offs so tight they crush their cell phones against butt cheeks they don’t have, just to keep us coming back. And naturally I select Marshon to keep me in nachos that let me sit here longer so I can watch, and she naturally selects to join me because her fat ass ain’t doin’ nothin’ but sittin’ around watchin’ Dr.Phil on the DVR. Ain’t never gonna fix sexism till both sides stop participatin’. And this place comes up with another gimmick that don’t involve asses in any way, shape or form. You ask that girl for some more bean dip when she brings the napkin. When she does, tell her you dropped somethin’ and your back’s out.”

“No way, Upjohn. You keep it up you’re gonna have every woman in the world down on us.”

Upjohn looked up from doctoring his nachos, raised a bushy gray eyebrow and flashed the store-bought smile. “Why God invented fat bottom girls and the blues, Lamar. So you have somethin’ to sing about, something to do, you think nobody loves you.” He shook with silent laughter. “And to keep you from starvin’ when you come in a place like this.”

Looney Lunes – Crazy Monday #101

Something new for Mondays since friends send me the most interestingly stupid tidbits. Looney Lunes, Amigos!

“Every barrel of oil that comes out of those sands in Canada is a barrel of oil that we don’t have to buy from a foreign source.”

Texas (ex) governor Rick Perry

This guy ran for president, people. Twice.

Chesterfield’s Woman

“You sure about this place, Lamar?” Upjohn’s squint through the windshield wipers only deepened the furrow between his bushy gray eyebrows.

“Sure as it’s rainin’. Problem?”

“Little ol’ Texas town like this? Like women’s nylons, Lamar. They either black, brown, or suntan. Ain’t up to no mix your own toffee color goin’ on.”

“You’ve been black since it was illegal, Upjohn. The county courthouse is across the street, and we’re close enough to civilization you can sit where you want. I’ve been plenty of places with you I shouldn’t have been. Come on. The peach pie with glazed walnuts will give you diabetes.”

“You told me they had themselves a chicken-fried steak sandwich worth the drive.”

“That they do. Worth bein’ thrown in shackles for. You bein’ Old Black Blues Upjohn and me bein’ seen with you. We make a fine pair of old jailbirds.” Upjohn could see Lamar’s smile reflected in the GPS screen.

“You understand, Lamar, I put enough gas in my car to run the air conditioner and carry me some cash money when Sonic brings steak sandwiches back ever so often. They’re gettin’ rare as hen’s teeth, ever’body livin’ so damn healthy.”

“This place’ll put some serious hurt on Sonic.”

“That I can believe. This place bein’ all smiles for black folks, not so much. And I’m about to get wet, and I hate to get wet, so you’d best not be lyin’ about the sandwich or the pie.”

***

“Two, gentlemen? Little early for lunch, little late for breakfast.” She was petite, fifty-something, still going on twenty, tight t-shirt, tight jeans and all. “Table or a booth?” Lamar deferred, Upjohn took a table close to the noisy lunch counter that stretched across the back.  Lamar waited while Upjohn rattled all four chairs for stability and settled.

“Feelin’ any better?”

“There’s a black fella looks a lot like me back there cookin’ with those skinny tattooed kids, don’t know if I trust him or not. But these folks out here mix it up like we were in a real town.” He nodded toward a booth by the window. “Sixty years gone those two overalls boys mighta come to see me play and tried to lynch me after. They way too old to be dangerous now, so other’n that we’re okay. You like that waitress?”

“Could have been a cheerleader who never got over it that I went to school with.  Her jeans get any tighter we can text 911 for a fire truck on that iPhone in her back pocket, next time she walks by. Cool you off a little.”

“I knew I taught you somethin’. I tell you I had Chesterfield stayin’ with me for a while?” They held up the menus, waited while the coffee slid in with the dinner rolls and butter.

“Nope. Chesterfield’s one from yesterday. He have a real name?”

“I never heard it if he did. Chesterfield was all there was. Chain smokin’ sax man. Orange fingers and orange reeds. Can’t believe he’s not dead and gone and buried in an ashtray.”

“He still keepin’ his clothes in the case with his sax?”

“Damn straight.” Upjohn chuckled, pulled a dinner roll apart. “Two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, a shirt and a cheap backup suit. Man lived his entire life like he was on the road.” He smoothed a knife full of butter on half the roll, tried it, talked through it. “Which he was. Road goin’ to nowhere when he called me.”

“I thought his kids left him a house somewhere. St. Louis, maybe.”

“No, that’s Clifton, the harelipped trumpet player with the crooked mustache, that’s who you’re thinkin’ about. But St. Louis, now, it was one of the places I recall had a real chicken-fried steak sandwich. Back then we had to wait for the white folks to go home to get one, but it was worth the wait. Other one worth eatin’ I remember was a little place on the barely legal side outside Altus, Oklahoma. Looked like a counterfeit Dairy Queen with a metal barn behind it. Gravel and grass and rust. The flyboys from that airbase would come in and drink, throw some dice, listen to us blow and talk up the hookers they rotated in out of Biloxi and N’Awlins. Kept those girls in the woods out back in an old Airstream set up on cinder blocks.” Upjohn spaced and Lamar could see a young Upjohn sitting in that Airstream, drinking cheap bourbon, smoking a cigar, playing cards, talking shit with the ladies till the sun came up. Upjohn drifted back, stuffed the remains of the half a dinner roll in his mouth. “Anyway, Chesterfield pulled up at my place for a couple of weeks. He moped a while, tightened up his money situation, and got gone to Florida.”

“He have a story on how he got to where he was?”

“Nothin’ much to it. Told me someone stole – Good God amighty, Lamar.” Upjohn looked at the fried steak sandwich that had just landed, flashed his snap-in smile at the waitress. “Could you be as sweet as you are pretty and bring this old man a knife? A sharp knife?”

“My pleasure.” She smiled, big, walked away like she was on a mission.

“Upjohn, you’re gonna throw your neck out eye-following that business.”

“Just seein’ if your goggles were on straight about the iPhone.” He waited for the waitress to smile again when she set his knife down, on a fresh napkin. “You’re an angel.” He watched her second retreat as closely as the first. “Jesus, Lamar. Only way to eat this damn thing is cut it in half.”

“I told you.”

“Didn’t tell me it was a goddam cow on a loaf of bread.” Lamar took the knife from Upjohn, split his own sandwich while they listened to the busboy bang a couple of gray trash buckets of ice into the drink machine, watched a couple of furtive young waitresses hold their phones low behind the counter and try to text on the sly like the noise distracted everybody.

“You were sayin’ somebody stole somethin’ from Chesterfield. That why he was stayin’ with you?”

“Shit, Lamar. Nobody stole nothin’. Man’s too old to be shook up about how somebody stole his woman.”

“You told me once that any age is too old to be shook up about that.”

“True. Nobody never stole anybody’s woman that the woman didn’t want herself to be stole in the first place. They park themselves downtown on the front seat of an unlocked car with the windows down, dressed up and lookin’ for all the world like a handbag full of money or the only surviving bootleg tape of the Beatles reunion. I told Chesterfield it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d gone on and rolled up the windows, locked the doors and bought himself an alarm. Woman wants to be stolen, she’ll get stolen.” He used his thumb to stuff a thick tomato slice that was trying to escape back where it belonged between a lettuce leaf and the bun, stuck the gravy covered thumb in his mouth. “Now a man loses his guitar or his saxophone to leavin’ it out of his control, that’s stupid and larceny. Ain’t no man ever got a woman under control, no matter what he thinks. Time comes she gets herself stolen, ain’t no need to call the po-lice, either, ‘cause she was gone ‘fore she come off the front seat. Man needs to understand that as natural fact.”

“Good thing about bein’ a piano player. Nobody’s stupid enough to try and steal one.”

“No one with a lick of sense would steal a woman, either. She’s sittin’ there all lipsticked up, man should know it ain’t the first or last time. What looks like treasure just gonna find a new home it comes time to be stole again.”

“Pie, gentleman?” She smiled, leaned into the back of an empty chair on the heels of hands, wrists out. “Oh my. You have a ways to go with that sandwich.” She put a hand on Upjohn’s arm. “Now, if you promise you won’t short my tip for not eatin’ all of it here, I’ll bring a to-go box. But you have to think about me when you have it for supper.”

Upjohn flashed his own store-bought smile again. “I have to tip you extra and ahead of time for that?”

“Don’t be silly. You only have to tip when you come see me. Which I know will be regular from now on, right? Pie?”

“Two. You got a scoop of butter pecan in this place, might have my name on it?”

“See what I can do.” She winked, squeezed his shoulder when she walked off.

“Upjohn? Damn man. Can’t you ever eat pie without ice cream? And turn around. You’re gonna need a chiropractor when we get out of here.”

“Ice cream’s a requirement for restaurant pie. And that girl could sell ice to Eskimos, Lamar. Bet she’s been stolen more than a time or three. Back when? She could have played me like the radio while she was sittin’ there with the windows down, waitin’ to be snatched away.”

“Well, she’d have to. She couldn’t play you like the only Beatles Reunion bootleg tape.”

“How you figure?”

“There was never a Beatles reunion.”

“Maybe not.” He moved his napkin for the warm pie with a huge scoop of ice cream to land, turned around again. He turned back, wagged his fork at Lamar. “And maybe?” He nodded in the direction of their waitress who was off working the old overalls guys. “Maybe there was and it’s like that little waitress of ours and Chesterfield’s woman. It’s only a fact that tape ain’t available ‘till it turns up sittin’ on the front seat waitin’ to be stole. Again.”

Romantics

Deanna reached out with her first two fingers, touched the painted plate at 17 Molton St, London, left them there as big, silent tears rolled down her cheeks. People stared, she didn’t care. She’d ridden the train, by herself, from Cambridge to London for this visit to the last of William Blake’s original residences, only to discover it was another commercial address, not a shrine. She finally dropped her fingers, lowered her head in disheartened resolution.

“‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’” A black wool coat covered arm ending in a manicured hand reached out, touched the plaque where Deanna’s fingers had been. She looked up and an elegant man, easily her father’s age or older, had taken up residence on the sidewalk beside her.

“You know about Blake? Really? That was him, the opening to London. I’ve always read it as bleak, but it was beautiful, how you quoted it. Sorry…I never…” She looked down again, the cloud over her returned.

“One needs to stand in a man’s shadow to understand his journey, and his poetry.” He handed Deanna a clean, folded, white handkerchief. “Dry your eyes. That was his story, his London. Commerce and need ruled the day in Old London Town, then as now. Blake knew that, as should you.” He took in all of Deanna, from the savage scissor attack of her hair to her ill-fitting jeans and bulky sweater, the ski jacket tied around her waist and well-worn running shoes, her pale complexion and sad eyes. “Student, or…” He wondered how a man his age should address a possible street girl or one of the thousands of foreign kids “finding themselves” by riding trains, smoking hash and sleeping in the growing number of hostels.

“Student. Newnham, Cambridge.” She turned, grabbed his coat behind his elbow, and glared at him. “It’s a bar, mister whoever you are. Blake’s house is a fucking bar! How can they do that?”

“It’s not him in Westminster Abbey, nor St. Mary’s. Nor any other place where they’ve hung a plaque with his name. Blake lives here,” he touched his chest over his heart. “Which I daresay is where he’d much prefer to reside with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. As much as we can know a dead man’s wishes. Step inside. It’s a landmark, not a grave. My treat?”

“NO. It’s a —”

“Fucking bar. Yes, you’ve said. And I said one should trod the path of the man and salute his memory. Sandwiches and expensive drinks with a French flair make it no less Blake’s. I’m on my own today and it has been an age, several ages, since I’ve enjoyed a lively discussion of Blake with an overly serious young woman.”

“Are you a professor or something?”

“Or something. If it will put you at ease, I ask only for conversation. I am not, as is commonly observed when men my age seek to engage with young women, ‘a dirty old man.’”

Deanna could tell by the long wool coat, open scarf, creases, shiny shoes and hair cut he wasn’t dirty, or too old. Too old for that, but not too old to eat lunch with like a professor. And he had quoted Blake.

They followed the hostess to a small table at the back wall where he held her chair with one hand while he draped his coat over his own, sat down across from her.

“Okay.” Deanna felt trapped against the wall. “No funny business. I don’t do that.” She watched as he settled his napkin on his thigh and pushed his menu aside. She allowed herself to absorb some of his relaxed demeanor.

“A tired girl a long way from home, who has so obviously spent her food allowance on a train ticket to London only to arrive and discover desecration of what she thought Holy, then proceed to carry on crying about it, I wouldn’t think a ‘funny business’ type.”

“How do you know? Do you look for ‘funny business’ types?”

“No. I have daughters. One of them a hopeless romantic. I cried here myself when I was seventeen. Not so anyone would know, but there I was, just as you were. Would you prefer to sit on this side, and I on yours?”

“No. No that’s…I’m okay. Now.”

“Good. Blake and a double ham croissant are on order, I believe? Swiss or?”

“Yes. Yes, Swiss. Please. Did you know…”

***

Evan Drucker stood in the entryway of his Dawson Place home, handed his wife his coat and scarf, kissed her longer than the usual peck.

“So is it takeaway or some other mischief you fancy?”

“Takeaway? I might do. I took a walk and ate out once today.”

She dropped his coat over one arm and reached for a hanger in the closet she’d opened. “You’ll have me ask again?”

“No. Have you had a call from either of the girls?”

“Not midweek. I wouldn’t, would I? They have school and lives of their own.” She hung the scarf over the coat and closed the closet door. “Now I’ll have that ask, if you don’t mind.”

“I ate lunch with our Avey today.”

“Avianna? Where?”

“Having a quiet cry at Blake’s on Molton.”

“You took her there often enough. The two of you banging on like a pair of Romantic rabblers.” She picked up the faraway look in his eyes. “Our Avey’s away at school in the States, Evan. So who was it you saw shed tears for your Blake?”

“Her name was Deanna Collings, or so she said. An American girl studying in Cambridge, come to mourn at Blake’s. Seemed quite bright and deeply informed. She was a mess of a pretty young girl, though, and scared to death. Called what’s behind Blake’s plaque ‘a fucking bar.’”

“Ah, with the mess of a look and the language then it was our Avey.” She smiled, tugged on his tie. “I hope you’re both the better, having had Blake on for lunch. The kitchen’s cold and I fancy a curry. You?”

“I fancy a prayer for all our faraway romantic daughters, and a drink.” He reached one arm around her, leaned and kissed her on the forehead, checked her expression when he let her go. “Right. And a curry.”

Clean Your Glasses

Lamar reached over the bar, picked up the remote, pushed the “return to last” button and CNN changed to a Spanish Language soap opera. He read the subtitles long enough to find out Ramon, the guy in the jet-black hairpiece, had been sleeping around on a very exotic looking woman with big, pouty lips who was pushing near R rated breast exposure in a seriously flimsy blouse. He punched in the Weather Channel. He knew all about last night’s storms because that was all every local station covered with their roaming interns standing in front of trashed houses interviewing old ladies with pocket dogs and tattooed chainsaw men who spit tobacco. He pushed the number he thought would give him a Hart to Hart rerun on the oldies channel and got Mr. Rogers on PBS. He set the remote down.

Neeko reached in front of him, put the remote back behind the bar. “Reagan’s gonna look up, see that sweater and know it was you.”

“Only place I can think of where the neighborhood is having a lovely day. And he’s dead, so what’s that say?”

“Fred was a hell of a piano player. Always wanted a pair of his slippers.”

“My dad had his sweater. Not the same, somehow.”

“Would you have wanted Mr. Rogers for your dad?”

Lamar pushed the bowl of Low Sodium pretzels towards Neeko. “No. We had a train set, though. Wasn’t very magical. Dad kept changing up the layout and cussin’ when there was a short in the track somewhere. Only ran right about half the time.”

“Sounds like the government.” Neeko made a face and pushed the pretzels back. “Things taste like cardboard, Lamar. We didn’t have a train set at my house, but I was told by my mother that my sisters pooped rose petals and all girls were princesses. And that we should all try to get along and do something constructive with our day. I think she might have been Mrs. Rogers.”

“That’s it right there. Do something constructive.” Lamar waited until the handful of cardboard pretzels he’d popped were gone. “Damn I’m sick of politics. Everything is push back. People trying to push the culture back fifty years, people having duck shit hissy fits about keeping things they didn’t want five or ten or twenty years ago. Enough, you know? Shut up, put the phone down, go to work, fix it.”

Reagan draped her bar towel over her shoulder, leaned both hands on the bar. “I go to the kitchen to see why it was taking them fifteen minutes to get a gourmet hamburger out during business lunch and what do I find? You two still here and Mr. Rogers. Jesus, Lamar. I thought you were a Hart to Hart man.”

“I’m a Rockford man, actually.”

“A clumsy, inept, step on your dick then shoot yourself in the foot three times getting where you need to go man? Sounds like our government to me.” She looked around the bar, none of the lunch stragglers were paying attention to the televisions. She picked up the remote from behind the beer taps, pointed it at the cable box and switched back to the soap, set the remote down on the back bar out of reach. When she turned back she caught the looks from Neeko and Lamar. “What? They wear the best clothes on this one. I wonder if guys in Mexico really walk around in bullfighter pants like the Mariachi’s at El Fenix, only without shirts.”

“According to the girl with all the hair and not much blouse they all have one or two too many girlfriends.” Lamar drained his lemonade, picked up a few more low sodium pretzels.

“It’s the bullfighter pants.” Neeko winked at Reagan. “Makes them irresistible. Maybe we should get you a pair, Lamar. They’re so tight it would give you something to bitch about besides politics. And the extra girlfriends would put your wife right up your butt.”

“Funny guy. I’m not bitching about politics, I’m tired of hearing about politics. It sounds like an unsupervised grade school playground. Like they all need to watch Mr. Rogers, get on the train, get their shit sorted in the magic kingdom and realize they’re getting paid to run the country, not tweet their brain farts and refuse to engage in some kind of constructive dialogue. All the talking heads and their bullshit opinions and speculating and theorizing. They’re no better than the Ancient Aliens people. We don’t know how it got this fucked up, we can’t seem to fix it, so we’ll blame it on each other or little green men or immigrants or the Russians or the right or the left and it’s just a giant babbling blame fest.”

Reagan wiped the bar with one hand, gave Lamar a fresh lemonade with the other. “It’s all over the internet. People unfriending each other, claiming to turn off the TV and stop the constant barrage and getting sucked right back in. I read where depression has cranked way up. It really is almost too much non-information.”

Neeko held up his empty glass for a refill. “It is depressing when all you get from your leadership is drama and everywhere you look the ‘Oh me, oh my God, it’s the end of the world’ crowd gets into it. I unhooked from a lot of websites myself. Re-blogged hate and blame and conspiracies. Couldn’t handle it. Whine, whine, whine. The worst thing is nobody is trying to fix it. They just bitch and point fingers and whine. What’s so funny, Lamar?”

“I worked for a man one time…” He twirled the straw in his drink, slowly. “Let me back up. We had this guy, all he could do was complain. About everything. Manufacturing, marketing, admin. The dealers. Bitch, bitch, bitch. No solutions, just complaints. His whole world was a righteous, unproductive, incompetent mess that was everyone else’s fault and he let everybody know. He was a real no rainbows kind of guy. One day, after a couple years of that, we’re in a meeting and he doesn’t say a word. Not a damn thing except ‘thank you’. It was like we’d done a meeting and didn’t feel like we needed to Febreeze our brains when it was over.” Lamar hit his lemonade, chuckled a little.

“So?” Reagan cocked her head to the side. “A little long on fond workplace memories, way short on point. You need to take a nap, adjust your medication?”

“Right.” He pointed a finger pistol at Reagan, “Bang,” acted like it kicked. “I was in the owner’s office a couple of nights later, doing a midnight save-the-world over an expensive scotch meeting, and I mentioned Steve, the no rainbow guy’s, turnaround. Asked the boss if he had anything to do with it. He nodded, said ‘I told him a little story I like to tell when folks around here get all doomsday. When I’d just started this place we were broke, the bank here in town wouldn’t loan me the damn money to buy a van to run parts between two old barns we were using for plants back then. I was feelin’ mighty sorry for myself, close to throwin’ in the towel. I went to eat dinner out at my Daddy’s house. I bitched and moaned, told him how bleak my world was, how nobody gave a rat’s ass if I made it or not. I was just some crazy redneck boy with a soldering iron and I’d never amount to nothin’. Daddy, he thought a minute, said ‘Son, there’s always hope. You just have to figure out how to fix it.’ Well I bitched and moaned some considerable bit more and asked him, thinkin’ he’d tried to pass me on down the road with some light at the end of the tunnel platitude bullshit, ‘how the hell am I supposed figure that out, how to fix it?’ He looked at me like if was still young enough he’d have bent me over his knee, and he says ‘Don’t know how the hell you ever gonna see how to fix anything, boy.’ I was an upstart young smart aleck back then and I said ‘You know what my problem is, old man, why don’t you tell me?’ Well, Daddy just sat there, looked at me like I was dumbass personified. He popped the top on a nasty Falstaff, I remember this clear as the day it happened, and he pointed the foamy top of that can at me and said ‘You keep lookin’ at the world through shit colored glasses, son, what the hell do you expect to see?’”

The silence in their little circle was weightless. Reagan switched the television back to Mr. Rogers. “The only reason I put up with you two gents is the stories. You know that, right?”

“We tip okay, too. For disenfranchised old white guys who didn’t vote the way everyone thinks we did.”

“Voting is what matters. I need to put this place back together for dinner. Both of you, get out of here, put on your Mr. Rogers sweaters and go tell everyone what a lovely neighborhood it would be if they all voted.” She grinned, threw the bar towel at Lamar. “And clean their glasses while you’re at it.”

 

No small hat tip to Hartley Peavey
Photo from the internet. If it’s yours, holler.

So is Fire a Real Problem?

There’s nothing wrong with the car except that it’s on fire.
auto racing announcer Murray Walker

I got a calendar for Christmas full of stupid comments people that weren’t me have made. That one reminded me of a story.

This is what I travelled with as a synthesizer “Prophet” in 1983 (maybe ’84) except for young Nana Ballet. And a couple of cases that were out on loan. Airlines weren’t busting us for excess luggage back then so film and video crews and musicians could take a butt load of stuff. Fortunately time marched on, gear got smaller and smarter for all of us and modelled versions of what’s in all of those cases will run on an iPad Air. Also know that the “portable” MIDI equipped Commodore SX-64  had the distinction of being the first full color “portable” computer with a whopping five inch 16 color display. “Portable” was BS. Carrying it for any length of time would dislocate your shoulder.

I flew into the Midland International Air and Space Port, with these cases and a few more. I was afraid they would make me a little ostentatious, until I checked out the new, quarter million dollar Rolls Royce sitting in the airport lobby. 1983 dollars. Six hundred and twenty grand today. Ouch. Oil and money have been friends since the dinosaurs died. Long haired guys with flight cases were insignificant.

I loaded up, took the long walk to National, always the furthest rental car counter before the end of the world, to pick up keys for my not six hundred grand Cutlass, and grab a one page map. (Remember those?) Nobody wants to be lost in the Permian Basin.

The rental car gal was a true West Texas kinda girl. Tanned and a little leathery and bottle blonde, curious about the cases. I said “Electronic Music” and she made a face before she told me where “everybody” went dancin’ and drinkin’, if I was interested. Because most people were interested in that, you know, where to have a good time line dancin’ and drinkin’. I wasn’t interested, but thanked her anyway. I needed some of those drinkin’ and dancin’ fools at a synthesiszer clinic to cut down on what I feared was going to be a tumbleweeds and dust evening, with a few pocket protector guys thrown in for good measure. She handed me the keys, said “Honey, even if you can get all that stuff in a Cutlass, I’m not sure it’ll haul it. Good Luck.” She gave me the keys and a professional, not invitational, down home Texas gal wink.

The damn car caught fire before I was out of sight of the terminal. I mean right down the divided road on the way out. I stopped, pulled all the cases out and stacked them in the median about ten yards away. So they’d be safe in the event the Cutlass decided to go big BANG. I mean there was one of two existing prototypes in that pile of cases. Nobody was coming or going at the Space Port, so I hiked back to the counter. The rental girl didn’t even look up.

“Somethin’ wrong with your car, honey?”

“Yeah. It’s on fire.”

“So is fire a real problem?” Like people complained about her cars all the time looking for a discount or a free upgrade on a flimsy excuse. A dirty ashtray or gum on the brake pedal, sticky hair products on the headrest. She finished what she was doing, looked up and I pointed out the window to where the Cutlass was belching flames from both sides of the hood. “Well if that don’t beat the bugs out of a Motel 6 bedspread. Thought I’d heard every whiny ass complaint there was. Honest to God car’s on fire is a first.” All hell broke loose on the radios for a minute before she handed me the keys to a new Lincoln.

“I’ll take care of the contract, honey. You hurry back out there and load up your electric music things before the fire trucks have the whole damn road blocked off. You won’t be going nowhere for a while if that happens.” She grabbed another radio and added a little twinkle to the professional wink when she hip bumped the employee door open. “Told ya one of these new Cutlasses wouldn’t haul all that crap.”

The early Eighties were a terrible time for American made rental cars, except for Budget’s $29 deals on Lincolns. Trust me. Air and Space Port is the actual name of the Midland Airport.

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 ’em 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’ve 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 been’ 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  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.