Do Rubber Band hot dogs really Exist?
“Hey honey bunch, are you going to sleep all day?” Sydney says. My eyes flick open at the speed of light due to the strange sounds traveling into my ears like an annoying alarm clock that won’t go away.
“Honey bunch?” I say.
“Norman says it’s time for breakfast.”
“Maybe you didn’t like those books,” Sydney scratches the top of his head as if he is solving the most complicated math equation. “Anyway, Plum Street is waiting for us. Thanks for letting me crash here last night,” he pulls me out of bed and into his gracious arms. I half forget that I’m naked or maybe I just don’t care.
“No problem. I have a weakness for red headed strays on my doorstep.” I get lost inside those damned lash traps again and try to send smoke signals from my brainwaves to invite the uniting of our lips, but it doesn’t work.
“Let’s get a move on this day, beautiful.” Sydney releases his embrace and heads for the living room.
“Honey Bunch and Norman, right, got it. Does that mean we can’t fuck?” Sydney stops in the doorway and turns around to look at me.
“What?” he says.
At this point, all I can do is smile. I know he heard me. He knows he heard me. Now what?
Silence ticks away increasingly louder as the wall clock thumps through the seconds. Sydney holds his stance in the doorway and studies my eye contact intensely. His unwavering stare is passionate and present, never indulgent of my bare skin buffet, and his demeanor glimmers like a late, golden, fall sun.
“You’re confusing,” I say.
“Man, I am confused,” he pushes me down onto the bed.
“Please tell me you’re not queer.”
“What are you asking?”
“Just kiss me,” I pull him close and then, for the next two hours, we ball. It’s experimental, it’s raw, it’s completely uninhibited and totally free; in the grooviest of ways, of course.
“You are wild,” he says.
“Did you get some LSD?”
“That’s why we have to go to Plum Street. I know this guy, Country.”
“Country?” I ask.
“Exactly,” Sydney jumps up, turns on the radio, and dances naked around my room—shaking and gyrating his man parts and exposed crevices like a comical mating ritual. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.
“So, next time you do that dance can you put on your fringe vest?”
“No, just the vest.”
When we get outside, Sydney’s raging smile is infectious to every passerby on the street. He walks in such a relaxed way that his body moves like the ground is Jell-O and his good vibes bump into each consecutive person that passes us—striking their psyche for a fleeting second, which is visible when their eyes widen momentarily. I am a few steps behind him silently reveling in the intoxicating vibe of our afterglow.
In the back of my mind I wonder if this energetic elevation will eventually fade and become awkward, but in the forefront I see nothing but free love and fun. The sexual revolution is cherry like that. We can just be, you know, and ball, and it’s all about the freedom to experience.
I am startled when Sydney grabs my hand and pulls me into running speed. We take off down the sidewalk, joined by a knot of fists, like little kids racing to an imaginary destiny. A few seconds later, he gives me a big grin and then yells, “Now skip!”
We start skipping like we’re off to see the wizard, eventually singing like Dorothy and the gang as they journey to the Emerald City, or in this case, Plum Street. Sydney’s grin widens and then he yells, “Fly like a bird!” and we break apart, our arms becoming white dove wings and we are flying for peace and love. I lose control because I can’t stop laughing.
I crash land on the same bench we shared with Carmelita. Sydney flies over and lands next to me.
“Am I having déjà vu?” he says.
“If you are, it means you’re on the right path.”
“Who said that?”
“And what else do you say?”
“I guess you’ll have to keep listening to find out.”
“Uh huh, let’s go. We’re almost there.”
“I’m ready, man,” I jump up, spread my arms, and fly down the sidewalk.
Plum Street is half bustling with bums and freaks and broken windows, but the sun is shining and our kundalini energy is unraveling towards the unknown journey that awaits us. Thick incense smoke curls out of the door of one head shop as we pass by. It sounds like an Indian temple with sitar music blaring from inside. The guy behind the cash register looks like Jerry Garcia.
Sydney stops next to the head shop at a bright pink and green staircase. Sensations of the temple fade as we reach the top of the stairs and a perfectly white door with a polished gold knocker guards whatever lies beyond this point. Sydney gives me a silly look and then grabs the knocker. He bangs the door in a pattern like a secret code.
The door swings open and a tall, blonde, chiseled man stands in front of us. He has an embroidered tunic hanging from his stature like a holy man’s robe and an enormous piece of amber swinging on his chest. I can’t help but stare at the glowing amber.
“Sydney, man, it’s good to see you,” he says with arms wide open.
“This is Star,” Sydney says.
“Righteous. I’m Country. Welcome.” His hand glides through the air and points to a purple couch in the next room.
“Got any groovy medicine?” Sydney says.
“Man, my guy just brought me some really good shit—like pure LSD, man.”
“Righteous. That’s what I wanted to hear.”
“How much do you want?”
“Twenty bucks, man.” They make the exchange and then Sydney tells me to stick out my tongue. I do, of course, and he places a piece of paper on the tip and then feeds himself an identical portion.
“Let it dissolve for a few seconds and then swallow,” Sydney says.
“Do you always talk to the ladies like this, Norman?” I know I should get my mind out of the gutter, but wait, should I? A wise person once told me that we must never ‘should’ ourselves. I think that definitely proves I am just fine walking through the gutter on a sunny day and enjoying the view.
“I hope you two have a great journey,” Country sparks up a thick joint.
“Hey Country?” I say.
“What’s on your mind, sister?”
“Is that really your name?”
“Funny you should ask, Star.”
“Good point. So, how long does this stuff take to work?”
“It’s hard to say, maybe an hour, but you will know when it does,” Country smiles and side glances Sydney like they share a funny secret that I am not privy to.
One joint later, but who really knows how long, we are peeling ourselves off of the purple sofa and heading on our way to a magical destiny.
“Later, man,” Sydney says.
“Peace,” Country waves.
“So, are you feeling anything yet?” Sydney wonders about me.
“I don’t think so, but were these colors this vibrant before?” The green and pink colors painted down the staircase feel so intense, as if their volume is turned on high like neon lights, and there is an underlying buzz of electricity that hums inside the brightness. A butterfly of excitement flutters inside the middle of my chest when I feel the colors surrounding me like warm, happy, vibrations. I’m sure the look on my face gives it all away.
“This is going to be fun,” Sydney says.
I get lost in the shifting colors and feel like I am riding an escalator down through the guts of a ripe watermelon. It’s weird and cool and pretty far out, actually. I haven’t felt this good in awhile.
“Wow! Do you smell that?” I say.
“Watermelon, man. This is far out.”
Sydney waits for me at the bottom of the staircase with the most satisfied look on his face. I know he’s entertained by me. It’s cool. I’m entertained by myself, too. Suddenly, I get attacked by uncontrollable laughter.
“Come on, cutie,” Sydney holds out his hand.
I feel confused and slightly disoriented. The ambiance of the head shop is confronting for multiple senses. Jerry Garcia smiles behind the cash register. We pass the open door to the store in what seems like slow motion. Time morphs. My super sonic hearing kicks in when I notice one miniscule drop of sweat fall from Jerry’s face and hit the counter. It echoes like it’s the only noise in the room as it splashes onto the glass by his elbow.
“Where are we going?” I say.
“You tell me.”
“Tell you what?” I start giggling again.
“You cool?” Sydney sits down on top of a red mushroom with white spots. It stands about two feet high and appears animated.
“I’m great but that mushroom is huge,” I start laughing and then realize it’s one of the trash cans painted like a cartoon mushroom. “Crazy shit, man.”
“Yeah, woman. Let’s keep walking.” Sydney loops his arm around mine and takes charge of our awaiting adventure.
The morning sun is alive and rising for the afternoon. Sydney and I walk with linked arms like two, silent, happy bubbles floating along the psychedelic breeze. An overwhelming sense of calmness possesses me into a surreal state of clarity and I feel at peace with the world and the universe and just being with Sydney. Everything starts to make perfect sense until we hit Michigan Avenue like slamming into a brick wall. It’s loud and busy and I start to get a little uncomfortable.
“If we go that way,” Sydney points, “We’ll make it to Belle Isle.”
“Isn’t Belle Isle far from here?”
“Do you have an appointment today? Don’t worry. We won’t walk the entire way, but if you want to get into semantics, it’s only about five or six miles from here.”
“Semantics? Whoa, I feel funny.”
“Me too. Let’s jam,” he whistles so loudly every head within a mile of us turns in our direction, I think. A cab missing hub caps pulls up and we get in. The inside of the car smells like fried chicken, curry, and mold all wrapped up into one pungent concoction. I don’t like it at all.
“Where?” The cab driver says.
“Belle Isle, please,” Sydney says.
Watching the approaching traffic through the windshield is a strange thing. It’s like watching a movie for a moment and then the cars seem like they’re space ships and it feels like we’re flying in space, too. This is a little unsettling at first and then it’s just fucking hilarious.
“Did you see that?” I buckle over and laugh hysterically.
“Is she okay, man?” The cab driver says. I keep laughing.
“Oh yeah, she’s just a happy person,” Sydney says.
We get out of the cab in front of the infamous fountain and I am bombarded by images of Darryl—soaking wet, crying mercy to the stars—and a few tears well up inside my eyes and descend from my cheekbone down to the ground. A few seconds later, I am moving on and twirling to the fountain like I am Leslie Caron in a green dress dancing to Gershwin. There are no other people in sight and it’s like we have the whole island to ourselves.
The bottom of the fountain pool sparkles in the sunlight from random wishes that have been tossed in over time. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful before. Sydney sits down on the white marble and dunks his hand in the water.
“Wishes are beautiful, aren’t they?” I say.
“What do you wish?”
“I want to be a songwriter. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, you know. My old man thinks I am being stupid if I talk about it, so I keep it to myself. He refuses to know about it and instead wants me to work at the shop.”
“I would love to hear your songs sometime.”
“Thanks. I love sharing when I get the opportunity. I’m not much of a performer but I do like the words.”
“You know, your old man means well.”
“I don’t know about that. He threatens disowning me a lot, man.”
“I guess I don’t know what that feels like.”
I wonder if it is better to have an old man that threatens you or not have one at all. I never realized how estranged I feel about so many things in life until my confession at the bed-in. Not knowing my father has left so much uncharted territory in my world. It makes me realize I don’t really know much of anything at all.
“Where is your old man?”
“I have no idea. My mother never said much about him while I was growing up. I just know that whatever happened between them caused her a lot of pain.”
“Do you want to find him someday?”
“Do you think he’s dead?”
“I don’t know but I suppose anything is possible. I think you should keep writing and prove your old man wrong. I know you can do it.”
“I hate having to hide my dreams from him because in every other way we are very close. He can be so rigid sometimes, you know. He actually thinks that songwriting is for women.”
“I know. So old school, man.”
“Well, let’s make a wish right now,” I say.
I get two nickels out of my purse and hand one to Sydney. I kiss my nickel before throwing it into the water. Sydney crosses his chest and throws his silver coin into the air. Two consecutive splashes later, our wishes are cast into the marbled depths below. It is cathartic to watch them sink.
“Where do you think the wishes go?” Sydney takes off his shoes, rolls up his pants, and puts both feet over the edge into the water. “I mean, eventually, someone has to clear them out, right, because otherwise there would be too much change.”
“What a horrible job—being a wish cleaner,” I say while the idea still bends my mind. “I’d rather be a wish bather. Like instead of a fountain of youth a fountain of wishes. It would be like bathing in groovy vibes, you know?!”
“Haha. Groovy.” Sydney kicks his feet and splashes water. The rippling effect forms an intriguing pattern that continuously blends into another sequential pattern.
“Kick the water again,” I laugh.
In this juvenile moment, I feel very connected to Sydney. It’s probably the insane chemicals I have floating around in my body, but I have this overpowering sense that we have a divine connection and purpose. I wonder if he thinks the same way. I don’t need to ask. I just feel so at peace with everything, man, and I love it.
“Is it getting hot?” Sydney says.
“I think so.”
“I still don’t see anyone here,” he looks around a few times and then jumps into the water. I am totally inspired to jump in. After a few rounds of splashing, my legs turn into a long, glimmering mermaid tail and I feel a mystical power moving through me. I leave Sydney to swim around. I find a friendly turtle floating in the sun.
“Hey, ma’am, where did you come from?” the turtle says.
“Over there,” I point to the downtown skyline across the river.
“But how did you get here?” the turtle says.
“You are a beautiful creature,” the turtle says.
“And you are a kind turtle. Who’s that guy up there?” I point to the lion sitting above the turtles on another tier of marble.
“That is Roy. He’s grumpy today,” the turtle says.
I swim past many more turtles before I find my way back to Sydney. He’s floating with arms and legs spread wide smiling at the sun. I feel like this particular part of the pool is a safe haven from life’s demons, and maybe even, lions. The silence in the air turns into angelic arias that weave above our heads like golden, Celtic designs. The clouds are the puffiest marshmallows I’ve ever seen.
“Sydney?” I say. I gently move my hands under his head and cradle his thoughts like a precious stone resting in my joined palms.
“I can feel the thoughts inside your head right now.”
“Really? What do they feel like?”
“Warm, electric,” I laugh at the notion.
“This is a good journey,” he flips over and sits up, facing me. “You are an interesting chick.”
“Um, I would kiss you right now but I don’t know if it will freak me out, so maybe it’s not a good idea,” I say.
“Freak you out?”
“Well, you know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t.”
“How long will this last?” I say.
“It could last a long time,” Sydney says.
“What is a long time?”
“Wait, are you talking about the trip?”
“Yeah, man, what are you thinking?”
“It can last twelve hours sometimes.”
I look into Sydney’s eyes again. His lash traps are doing that thing they always do. It usually makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but in this state, I feel fine. I think his eyes are so totally dreamy, dammit. Help me.
“Hello,” a strange voice speaks. Sydney and I look at each other with baffled eyes because we know the voice is neither of ours.
“Hello?” I say.
“Hey, up here,” the voice says.
“Uh, God?” Sydney says.
“I ain’t no God, son, just an old marble lion,” the statue above our heads speaks as water flows out of his mouth.
“Oh, hello, Roy,” I say.
“Roy is on the other side. He’s the grumpy one. My name is Hercules,” the statue says.
“Well, hello Hercules,” Sydney says.
“May I ask you a question,” Hercules says.
“Go ahead,” I say.
“Well, for many years I have sat here and watched the city from afar. A long time ago, we had visitors with happy faces and children making wishes. Not so long ago, I watched the city blazing with flames and screaming with sirens. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on but I could feel the pain and the struggle. Now, the city looks sad and quiet and we don’t get as many wishes. It can be very lonely,” Hercules says.
“The riots,” I say.
Memories explode inside my retinas. Flames and screams move around in my ears and the pain aches in my bones so deep down. These memories will keep the riots echoing in eternity as a constant reminder of what we can overcome. A constant reminder to keep hoping for the best in people, in situations, and for our beloved city.
“Riots?” Hercules says.
“Yes, that’s what you’re talking about. A couple years ago there was a war in the city. A war of hate and color. Some people left the area. Some of us struggle to stay and survive now. It’s vulnerable and tough in the city but it’s still got a lot of soul,” Sydney says.
“I can feel it and if I wasn’t stuck here I would do something about it,” Hercules looks down at his marble paws. “A tricky situation, isn’t it?”
“You do have a great view,” I say.
The marble lion lets out a long sigh, and just a few moments later, Hercules is hard as marble again and there are no remnants of his vitality. I look at Sydney, he looks at me, and we both know it’s time to split. Plus, all the good vibes bathing has pressed into my fingers and made them look like prunes.
“I think I was baptized at least three times today,” Sydney says.
“I know what you mean.”
“Back to my pad?” he wiggles his eyebrows.
Sydney’s pad seems just right for now. My buzz is past the peak but it’s still there. The clock on the wall reminds me that time can exist and I calculate that it’s been about six hours since we were sitting in Country’s apartment. It seems like light years and seconds morphing together as if time could just be a rubber band stretching and shrinking over and over. I hope I never forget this rubber band time in all of my rubber band years. Or Hercules.
Sydney attacks the record spines with his thumb while I stare at good ol’ Babs. The cat like eyeliner and the angles of her facial bone structure persuade me to believe she is definitely elfin. I never noticed before but now it seems so obvious.
“Do you remember what you said on my bed last night?” I say.
“Not really. Was it bad?” Sydney says. We stare at the crazy poster for awhile.
“It was heaviness about not being able to do something anymore, and then you passed out.”
“Shit, sorry, man. I came to your place after I had a huge fight with my folks.”
“Cool. I was a little concerned. Is everything fine now?”
“No, you know, but hopefully the gap is getting thinner.”
“What do you think? Elfin?” I point to Babs.
“Do Jewish Elves exist?” he says.
“Do Irish Mexicans exist?” I laugh.
Sydney disappears into the kitchen. A very soft drum beat comes from some place behind me. At first, I think it’s a record playing, but then figure out I am mistaken when I see the turntable empty. An Otis Redding album sits next to the player waiting for Sydney to return. I hope he does.
Boom. Boom-boom. Boom. Boom-boom. The drum beat is relentless but so very quiet. I follow the noise above the stacks of records and find nothing but the Dali poster. It’s mesmerizing. The colors are vibrant and the image is fascinating to me in this state.
The drum beat becomes progressively louder as I scan the perimeters of the picture. The fine lines drawn seem to be hovering a millimeter above the paper, breathing. Boom. Boom-boom. Boom. Boom-boom. The center of the picture vibrates with every beat, and as I look closer, I realize that the people in the painting are dancing to the same sound. I become infected with their primal groove.
Suddenly, I am there with them, dancing gods and goddesses, and we are so free. Flailing limbs, echoing chants, expressing ourselves with the music in our souls. I am a wild woman pounding the ground with my passionate feet, stomping the earth so it can feel my intentions and hear my cries. Each strand of my hair becomes fiery flames adorning my head like Medusa’s snakes. Sweat and passion rip off my clothes and the drum beat guides the cosmic power inside of me. I am primal fear turning into primal love.
“Hey, are you hungry?” Sydney’s voice breaks my trance like nails on a chalkboard.
“You haven’t eaten all day. Your body needs nourishment, my dancing goddess.”
“You saw me dancing?”
“I saw more than that.”
“Sydney, do you think my father is looking for me?”
“Yes. Do you think my old man will relax?”
“I know he will. You just have to help open his mind.”
“Try this.” Sydney hands me a slice of a juicy pear. The flavor and texture are out of sight.
“This is the best pear I’ve ever had.” I moan.
“Yeah, man, I know.”
Many hours go by while Sydney and I lounge on the floor and stare at the ceiling together. We bounce ideas around like ping-pong mind games and toss around shared visuals like a game of catch. It’s funny and liberating and so free of expectations. I could go on forever in a world like this.
Eventually, dusk seeps in through the window, dimming our reality, and reminds us that the day keeps moving forward. Time stops for no one. Not even two red-headed freaks wearing their birthday suits.
“Will you put on your vest?” I say.
“No, just the vest.”
Sydney finds his fringed friend and puts it on like a slow strip tease in reverse. He walks with a purpose over to the Otis Redding record and slides it back into a stack, promising a loud to return to it again. A few minutes later, he pulls out a new record and turns around.
“Are you ready for this?” he points his index fingers in the air just as the first note travels through the speakers, like he controls the music with his hands. The funky melodies of ‘Hair’ fill the apartment and I am humbled and amused while watching Sydney dance around the room—the fringe swishing like extensions of his personality dangling in the effortlessness of fun.
I kiss Sydney on the forehead and leave him snoring like a baby in bed. I feel slightly sad to leave him before he wakes but I have too many things on my mind to let another day melt into the horizon, even if the day is accompanied by ballin’ and groovy conversation.
I walk over to Jazz and Audrey’s pad. Their apartment building is completely representative of the architecture around the city. Tall, red, and white brick walls filled with carefully crafted arches around windows and doorways that make even the passerby bums feel like royalty when they try to walk inside. Next door is a classic Tudor Revival home fully equipped with sparkling cars in the driveway and a fountain percolating in the front yard. At first glance, I think Palmer Woods might have a runaway, but then I realize it’s not quite that nice.
A tall man dressed in a fancy, gray suit with shiny, black, Ferragamo shoes closes Jazz and Audrey’s door. He nods at me and continues on his way. His class and grace is exhibited by the angle of his jaw.
“Good morning,” I knock on the door. Audrey opens it and yawns. “Who was that bourgeois white guy?”
“That white guy is my old man, sister,” Audrey says.
“Oh, sorry. Is Jazz home?”
“Yeah, she’s in bed. I’m going back to sleep. You have fun.” Audrey leaves the door open and walks back to her bedroom.
“Hey blondie!” I say.
“Huh?” Greg’s head pops out of her covers.
“Greg?” I yell.
I am totally confused. Jazz sits up like a crack of lightning. Truthfully, I don’t really care who the hell is ballin’ who around me, but don’t come knocking on my door preaching love for the person you are not ballin’. It’s just not integral, or something. I don’t know.
“Oh, Star, hey!” She bites the corner of her lip and shrugs her shoulders like she’s explaining everything by taking passive responsibility in silence. Things always just happen to her.
“Don’t sweat it, man,” Greg says.
“No, it’s cool. I thought you were into Kat,” I say.
“I am, you know,” Greg says.
“Uh huh,” I say.
“Well, ladies, I think I’m going to split so you can have some girl time,” Greg says.
Greg gets out of bed and frantically searches for his clothes. It’s sort of funny watching him hop around naked. His awkward movements make me so glad it’s not me under pressure with my genitalia swinging around.
There’s a loud knock on the door. I decide to follow Greg, and when I open the door, a beautiful black woman with a half-smile stands erect and proud on the doorstep. She does not seem lost.
“Is my daughter around?” the black woman says.
“Hi, I’m Penelope.”
“Hello, my name is Josephine. Audrey is my daughter.”
“Ma, what are you doing here this early?” Audrey yawns.
“Girl, look at your hair. There ain’t nothin’ good about it. At least he could’ve given you something,” Josephine shakes her head as she picks into Audrey’s fro.
“Woman, stop touching my hair. It’s too early.”
“Can you please ask your father for some money? I am behind on rent.”
“Yeah, ma, I’ll ask him,” Audrey says.
Josephine dusts off her outfit, nods her head, and then vanishes again. The abrupt, curt, and unfriendly encounter makes me think maybe my mother isn’t so bad after all. I suddenly feel terrible for Audrey. Imagining how she’s endured that woman all these years is so depressing. It’s no wonder she doesn’t like herself.
“I’m going back to bed,” Audrey says.
“Wow, what was that all about?” I say.
“Man, Audrey has some weird luck,” Jazz says. “Did you know she grew up in Palmer Woods? Anyway, back then her old man was a lawyer and Josephine was his maid. They had an affair for years. He finally broke it off when he married some white chick and she moved into his house. Shortly after the marriage, Josephine found out she was pregnant and wound up on their expensive doorstep with a huge belly.”
“So he left his wife?”
“Nope, the wife freaked out when Josephine came claiming his seed and they banned her from the house. After that, he met with Josephine in secrecy to give her money from time to time and to see his Audrey.”
“Her mom seems tough.”
“Yeah, if birthing a rich white man’s child in 1940’s Detroit doesn’t make you tough, I don’t know what does.”
Anyway, I’ve had enough of this drama and I’m starving, so I split. I follow my hunger pains right to a table in the Lafayette Coney Island. I’m wagering the options of a Coney hot dog or a Coney hamburger with chili cheese fries and then a heaping plate of the prospective fries floats by on a mission to another table. The steaming visual is just enough to sway my decision and go for the gold.
“Penelope?” Mr. Baxter’s voice startles me. “I didn’t know you were a Lafayette girl.”
“I guess we have more in common than we thought. How are you, Walter? It’s nice to see you.”
“I am doing fine. I come here about once a week because I’m friends with the owner. He is a good man.”
“This place has been around forever,” I say.
The Formica tables and cramped interior give it a special charisma. There’s usually some interesting characters hanging around, too. Lafayette is a townie staple.
“Have you ever been next door?” I say.
“No, no. I would never.” Mr. Baxter says. “We go to Lafayette or to American. We never go to both.”
That’s exactly how it goes around here. I’m so guilty of this cultural phenomenon that I’m pretty sure I don’t actually know one person who goes to the American Coney Island instead. Families pass their Coney loyalties down through the generations and it’s like a caste or a religion for some people.
“I noticed your car isn’t outside. May I give you a ride somewhere after our meal?” Mr. Baxter says.
I don’t know how he can talk with all the chili and cheese between us. It turns out that he likes to eat the same kind of food I do here. Mr. Baxter always surprises me with his sharpness and wit. He is more observant than most people my age and that is tragic for my generation and awesome in terms of his own health.
We look at each other and then continue devouring our messy heaps of Lafayette magic. Twenty minutes later, we are lethargic, gassy, and bloated. It’s funny and stinky and purely disgusting, of course, but we find the greatest humor in our shared flatulence. A few bombs later, our waiter comes over to the table to clear our plates. His nostrils wiggle as he processes our Lafayette stench and then he silently looks down at us in disbelief. We crack up like six year olds rebelling against the world around us, or at least, the world around the beautiful Formica tables.
“Hop right in,” he opens the car door for me.
“Do you have any children?” I say.
“I do. I have a son. He works with Berry Gordy in the music industry. I don’t see him much.”
“Oh, he sounds busy.”
“Honestly, Penelope, he was never very close to Mildred and me and, when she died, I think he took that as an opportunity to disappear.”
“I’m sorry he doesn’t appreciate you.”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think he was hooked on some kind of drug. He changed one day. The look in his eye went hollow and distant and he never returned to his old self. I always thought he was hooked on something and Mildred never wanted to believe it.”
“Forgive me, but since you bring it up, have you tried any drugs, Walter?”
“Oh, not really, but I would’ve tried some of that marijuana,” he laughs. “I just never came across it. I guess you could say I spent time with a lot of squares back then.”
“Well, you’re safe now because I am not a square,” I wink.
I step out of the car and wait on the curb until Mr. Baxter drives off into the neighborhood. When his little red car vanishes, I swivel around and walk to my home. My building isn’t nearly as glorious as Jazz’s but it’s always soothing to return to it. There are lush green vines that crawl up one side and it always looks so mystical to me.
As I approach my front door, I notice it is slightly open. Panic starts to move through my blood. Who the hell has broken into my pad? I don’t even have a weapon with me, so I push the door ever so slowly to investigate the scene. To my good luck, or not, it’s the most usual perpetrator.
“Valerie! What are you doing here?” I say.
“I am not Valerie. I am your mother.” She puts her hand on her hip. “I came over yesterday and let myself in. Where have you been?”
“Wow, mom, you really know how to respect one’s privacy.”
“I’m sorry, dear, but sometimes it gets so lonely at the house, and you know what the neighbors are like. I haven’t heard from you in a while, so I thought we could spend some quality time together.”
She is right and I am guilty. Time flies when you’re working and partying and ballin’ and dancing, but I can’t tell her any of that. At least, I don’t think I can jive with her like that. I don’t think my extra-curricular activities would pass the “Lawrence Welk” test.
“Who dropped you off?” Valerie says.
“He’s a nice regular from my work. We met at Lafayette earlier.”
“That was gracious of him, but why don’t you have your car?”
“Man, he’s in his 80’s and is still rocking the clock. I want to be like that in sixty years.”
She exudes her generation with the interrogative, full name approach. I don’t know what it is about people her age but they really know how to make a name sound unpleasant. I recoil when her voice drops into that elongated, slow tone. It’s really uncool, you know?
“Sometimes I walk places. Just because this is the motor city doesn’t mean I have to use my car every single day.”
“Well, anyway, I made some coffee if you want any.”
At this moment, all I can do is pass her and go straight for the shower. I’ve got to rinse off these old layers, and who the hell knows what was in that fountain water that I baptized myself in. Dirty wishes do exist out there. I know I make them sometimes.
I get a sudden inspiration to confront my darling mother about my mysterious father. I’ve never pressed the subject before and it’s been heavy on my mind since the bed-in. I think today is as good a day as any.
“So, Mom, why did my father leave?” I blurt out. Her eyes look as if they go to the boundaries of her memory and are unsatisfied with what they find. “I know you never want to talk about him but I feel like I’m old enough to know something now.”
“Really? Is that what those long hairs are putting into your mind?” She says the phrase ‘long hairs’ like she is talking about the plague.
“What did you say?” I get pissed.
“You heard me.”
“I don’t even know who you are right now. Leave my friends out of this.”
“Your father was selfish,” she says.
“Is he alive? Does he live in the city?”
“I haven’t seen him since he walked out of the house 25 years ago. I haven’t looked for him and he hasn’t tried to contact us once. Maybe he is dead.”
“Did you ever meet his parents?”
“No. We were supposed to but it never happened.”
“Did he have an affair?”
“Penelope! Of course not,” she squeaks. “I think I’ll be on my way now. Glad to see you, honey.”
She grabs her purse and disappears. Her timing is impeccable, of course. I don’t know why my mother has to be so boring all the time. Maybe it just comes with the job.