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.”

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.