The Black Glass between Us isn’t Ninja Proof
It’s another Zen-like morning when I wake up—my belly still full of pancakes and bacon—and I stay in bed to watch the sunlight move around my room as it warms up all the crevices and corners for the day. No phone calls, no interruptions, no hangover, and no one else around. Perhaps this is too perfect.
Once the sunlight reaches the bed and warms me out of the covers, I walk to the kitchen to make some coffee. There’s a note from Kat on the table, “Gone to class and going home tonight. See you soon. Thanks!” I pick it up and stick it to the refrigerator and then turn on the radio to see what groovy tunes the day has to play. “Bootleg” comes on and I revel in our dancing memory. Just as my mind starts to wander down ginger lane, the phone rings.
“Hey sister,” Audrey says.
“You working today?”
“No, it’s my day off.”
“Right on. Do you have any plans?”
“What are you thinking?” I wonder.
“The usual, I guess. I’m going to stop by the club tonight. I think they’ve got some half off deal on drinks for chicks.”
“Cool. I’ll see you later?”
“Ten o’clock?” Audrey confirms.
“See you then,” I hang up the phone and get back to my coffee.
After hours of lounging around my pad and soaking up plenty of solace, it’s time to put some kind of outfit on. I’m having a Kat day and can’t decide what to wear. Maybe I’m over-analyzing slightly because there’s the chance that Sydney might be at the club again, or maybe I’m hoping he’s there just looking for me. Either way, I think I am officially possessed.
At the club, I park next to a shiny, maroon Cadillac that looks nicer than all the cars in the entire parking lot. She’s a beauty and I have to admire the car for a few minutes before I go inside. Its’ glory takes me back to the Drive-In days and all the beautiful cars that used to visit that place. I glide my hand across the back of the trunk to feel the smooth paint job and then a violent thump comes from inside the trunk making my hand bounce off of the car. Confused, I stare at the trunk waiting for something else to happen. Thump, thump.
“Uh, hello?” I say, totally freaked out.
“Help me!” A woman’s voice screams from inside the trunk.
“Um, are you okay in there?” I lean my head closer to the car.
“Get me the fuck out of here, please. Help me!!!” she screams and cries.
“Hold on,” I say in panic and then look around the parking lot. Joe is outside, commanding the line, and I frantically run over to him.
“What the hell is going on?” he says, irritated. I grab his hand and pull with all of my strength. He doesn’t like being dragged across the parking lot by a tiny red head.
“That,” I say as I point to the trunk of the Cadillac. The woman screams again.
“Oh, shit,” Joe takes off running and then comes back with a crowbar faster than I can find my eye shadow. How did he do that?
“Jesus, where did you get that thing?” I say. He doesn’t respond, of course.
After a few moves with the crowbar, the trunk pops open like a jack in the box and a stunning woman crawls out. Mascara runs down her beautiful face like blackened, tarnished tears. She dusts off her outfit and wipes her face.
“Gracias,” she says.
The strange trunk woman then walks off into the night without any explanation or concern for vengeance. I keep watching her to see if she will turn around or say something, but she does not deviate from her path. I’m quite confused and look at Joe for answers.
Joe closes the trunk of the Cadillac, puts the crowbar back inside his own car, and then repositions himself at the front of the line. Poised and collected, he just nods at me when I walk past him and go inside. Audrey is at the end of the black light hallway calling to me.
“Man,” I sigh.
“What’s going on? Bad day?” Audrey wonders.
She takes my hand and leads me to a seat at the bar. I’m not really sure how I feel about that lady in the trunk. Who the hell would do something like that? And what in the hell did she do to get in there? I hope I never end up in a trunk like that. The thought is totally disturbing.
“I think I need a double,” I say.
“Jazz is on her way,” Audrey says, “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah?” I end with a high pitched tone like a question because I don’t even know what I feel at the moment.
“Is that a question?”
“What? Oh, sorry. Jazz has the night off?” I try to get back on track.
“She does and she’s in the mood for some trouble,” Audrey laughs.
“What’s new? Hey, do you want to smoke some grass?” I say.
We head back outside to visit Gloria. Joe stands in the same position as when I saw him last and he doesn’t even flinch when I walk past. Something about his demeanor is strange, like, it’s not the first time he’s opened up a trunk for someone. I don’t know. Is that a thing?
“Hey you freaks!” Jazz yells from across the parking lot and hops into the car with us.
“This is good grass, man,” Audrey exhales.
“Have you seen the red head again?” Jazz wonders, of course.
“Not since we were all here a couple of nights ago,” I pass the joint to Jazz.
“Did you ball him?” Audrey coughs and laughs simultaneously, holding onto the joint for a few puffs.
“Maybe,” I smirk.
“I am on the hunt tonight,” Jazz says, “And I am not leaving this place alone.”
Back inside the club, the girls disappear into the crowd on the dance floor and I revisit my seat at the bar. Creedence bumps through the sound system luring me down into my rabbit hole of desires again. That night at Sydney’s pad was so special. So uninhibited. I wonder if he felt the same?
“You ready for another drink?” Greg’s voice breaks me from my mental wanderings.
“Yeah, sure, man. How are you?”
“You know, I’m pretty groovy,” his brown curls bounce as he moves the martini shaker. “Try this. It’s my new creation.” He pours an orange martini in front of me.
“It’s delicious. What is it?” I smile.
“Secrets,” he winks, “But it has vodka.”
“So, what happened to those blonde twins you were hangin’ with?”
“Ohh,” he laughs, “You mean Susie and Sally. They’re around,” he says vaguely and then moves to another part of the bar to greet some new customers. He’s just so cool, man.
I spin around in my chair, holding the stem of my orange concoction, and scan the crowd for familiar faces. No sign of the red head. No sign of Audrey and Jazz. I spin back around and stare into the wall of liquor bottles behind the bar, contemplating trunks and crowbars and mysterious women.
“Hello,” a man says, sitting down next to me. I turn to see who it is and he’s just some dude. He reeks of booze as he wobbles all over the bar stool. I nod my head to acknowledge his existence but am not really interested in a drunken stranger at this moment.
“What’s your sign?” he says. He then falls off the stool and crashes onto the ground, hiccuping and mumbling nonsense with his face pressed against the floor. Two random dudes sitting at the bar rush to the drunken bastard and pick him up.
“What is going on here?” A short, stocky man in an expensive suit says.
“He’s loaded. He’s got to go,” Greg says, pointing to the door .
“Get him out of here,” the short guy says. “Miss, are you okay? Was that guy bothering you?”
“He wasn’t sitting on the stool long enough to be a bother,” I laugh.
“Okay, good. Hi, I’m Jeffrey,” he says.
“Jeffrey? As in Jeff, the owner?” I shake his hand.
“Yeah, but I prefer Jeffrey,” he sits down next to me and orders a Manhattan.
“I’m Penelope, but I prefer Star.”
“Well, thanks for coming into the club, Star. Enjoy your night,” he grabs his drink and walks away.
Jeffrey walks through the crowd holding his Manhattan like he’s maneuvered through a dancing crowd once or twice before. I notice he doesn’t make eye contact with any of the staff and he just minds his own business. He seemed pretty nice to me, but then again, I’m still a bit confused about what Jazz was saying the other day.
“Hey Greg, do you know that guy?” I point with my eyes.
“Jeff? Not really. He doesn’t engage much with employees, man. As long as everyone does their job and guests are happy, he doesn’t find a need to communicate with a lot of us.”
“What about Darryl?”
“How do you know about Darryl?” Greg’s eyebrows shift curiously.
“I don’t really, just know the name.”
“Darryl spends most of his time in a secret room upstairs that overlooks the entire club. See where that black glass is?” he points to a corner of the room, “He’s behind that.”
The black glass stretches across the entire width of the wall. It’s funny I’ve never noticed it until now. But now it looks huge so it must be a gigantic room. I wonder who hangs out up there? Is it, like, super VIP?
“Does he ever come down?” I ask.
“He does sometimes after last call.”
“What does he look like?”
“Oh, you will know. Just be aware if you do.”
“Be aware? Is he dangerous?” I am so intrigued now.
“I’m not really sure. I am just giving advice,” Greg shrugs his shoulders.
To try and change the subject, Greg places the second orange concoction in front of me. I stare at it for a few minutes. My budding intoxication reminds me that I should slow down my quest for thirst before I develop double vision and go in two different directions. Yeah, still no sign of Sydney, which is probably fine considering I am devoid of any inhibitions at the moment.
I can finally see Audrey and Jazz through the crowd on the dance floor. Audrey’s shirt clings to her sweaty, perky breasts and she doesn’t notice all the eyes watching her bra-less wonder because the only person she is looking at is Jazz. The two of them dance at arm’s length but their energy is very close together. It looks pretty sexy, but that could just be my orange beverage talking. I swear they must hear my thoughts right now because they start walking towards me.
“Hey chick! How’s the view?” Jazz winks.
“You chicks look bitchin’,” I say, giggling uncontrollably.
“Wow, how many drinks have you had?” Jazz says.
“Maybe a couple.”
“Um, give me your keys,” Audrey says, “You are not driving home.”
“Fine, fine. You should try one of these orange things that Greg made,” I offer my drink to taste.
Jazz and Audrey try Greg’s new libation. It seems to be a hit because they both order the same thing. Greg is diggin’ the vibe and smiling like he’s pretty proud of himself, but I suppose having your creativity appreciated is pretty bitchin’. I mean, having anything appreciated is cool.
“Miss Jasmine!” a man’s voice with a Southern twang comes from the end of the bar. It startles all of us. I have a feeling I already know who it is.
“Hey Darryl,” Jazz says. I start scanning the dude.
The first thing I notice is his alligator, gold toed boots. If that isn’t enough, he’s got a green fur coat and a purple hat on with an orange feather. Garish gold jewelry shines all over his body. Diamonds drip from his ears and decorate many of his fingers, while uncountable gold chains of all sizes hang from his neck. When he smiles, his right front tooth sparkles like the miniature diamonds it is filled with and the left side of his body is propped up with a silver tipped ivory cane.
“How you doin’ tonight, sexy?” he grabs Jazz’s hand and kisses the back of it. She pulls away quickly.
“I’m fine, Darryl,” Jazz sighs.
“And who be these sexy creatures?” he licks his lips.
“My friends, Star and Audrey,” Jazz says.
“Hello, fine women, I am Darryl. The pleasure is all mine. Oh yes it is,” he says. Darryl puts an elbow down on the bar and taps his cane three times. Tap. Tap. Tap. “Ya’ll have plans for the rest of the evenin’?” he bites the bottom of his lip.
“We were just about to split. You ready?” Jazz says, pulling me out the door.
“That guy is a character. Why is he dressed like a pimp?” I say.
“Did she just say what I think she said?” Audrey laughs.
“Yeah and you don’t want to be friends with him,” Jazz says, madly.
“I met Jeffrey tonight, too,” I say.
“You mean Jeff?” Jazz says.
“Why are there two owners?” I say.
“Man, I don’t know. Can we not talk about work right now?” Jazz changes the subject again.
I wake up to the phone ringing before the sun even starts investigating my room. The air outside of my blanket wonderland is cold, so I pull the phone under the covers with me. I don’t even know why I answer.
“Hello?” I say.
“Are you still sleeping? What is your address?” Sydney’s voice comes through the receiver.
“You need to know my address before the sun comes up?” I say.
Lying under the covers, talking to Sydney, my smile starts to hurt my cheeks. He does a really good job at convincing me to come over and make me breakfast. I’m still half asleep and tell him I need one more hour. I mean, after all, they call it beauty sleep and I need to be as beautiful as I can if that fox is coming over.
“See you soon.” Sydney hangs up the phone and I fall instantly back into dreamland. Five seconds later, the phone rings again.
“Morning, sunshine,” Sydney’s upbeat voice reminds me of our earlier conversation and that it actually happened instead of just dreaming it.
“It’s only been 2 minutes,” I say.
“It has been an hour and a half. I’m coming over. Be ready in twenty.”
“Okay, I’m getting up.”
“Star?” Sydney says.
“Yes, Mr. Vasquez?”
“Are you going to tell me your address?”
“Right, sorry. I’m at 2441 Fillmore Ave.”
I jump out of bed like a popcorn kernel in a skillet filled with hot oil. I don’t have time to take a full shower so I make due with a face and armpit washing—the shower of champions. By luck or grace, my bed head is styled perfectly, so I leave it messy and go for it. I’d say it’s another genre of the wind blown hair, or maybe the afterglow hair, and it’s got character. Definitely.
The doorbell rings. The only thing I can see through the eye hole is a bag of groceries, but I open it anyway.
Sydney bursts through the door holding two huge grocery bags. He warns me that he’s going to make the most bitchin’ breakfast ever and he hopes I like eggs. And pancakes. And bacon. And french toast. And waffles. And then I stop him.
“Okay, maybe just eggs and bacon,” Sydney says.
“How did you get here this early?” I’m so very curious.
“I had a real nice walk.”
“You walked from your place?”
“That’s just a long walk, man. Can I help you with anything?”
“No, I’m cool,” he says as he looks in every cupboard before finding the right pan.
It’s charming to watch him fumble around my kitchen and be persistent about doing it alone. He does this little wiggle while he cracks the eggs into the pan. The sizzling sound it makes is probably how my brain sounds while I’m staring at him. I’m about to go ape, but somehow I keep it cool.
“I was at the club last night and I’ll lie and say that I wasn’t hoping you were there.”
“Really?” he says.
“But, I’m done with lying for the day.”
“But, I dig pathological liars,” Sydney laughs.
“Is that because you like compulsive behaviors?”
“Maybe that is the raw human part. We all have these personal obligations in our lives.”
“Maybe,” I ponder for a moment before I dive into my eggs, “And what are your so-called personal obligations?”
“Well, that’s an interesting question. Most compulsive behavior is covert for a reason. And maybe we don’t even realize it.”
“Uh huh,” I’m thinking and chewing.
“Sometimes I call my grandmother to tell her that I miss her even if I am not really missing her at that moment. It’s more because I think she wants me to do that. Or we tell our friends something that we think we should.”
“So we’re all kind of like pathological liars?” I say.
“Maybe more like covert ninjas of truth. Hey, do you want to go on a walk after breakfast?”
First he comes to make me breakfast. Then he wants to go on a walk with me. I must be dreaming. Thank god it’s a good dream. I don’t want to wake up.
Sydney returns to the ninja notion and then starts talking some silly comedy about how we can pretend to be ninjas on our walk. You know, just some ninjas going for a morning stroll in Detroit. Maybe we can even save a grandma from some robbers.
“What do you want your ninja name to be?” Sydney asks.
“Arikuna,” I say very fast and slice the air with my stiff, flat hands. Sydney laughs at how quickly I respond and get into character.
“You’re so boss,” he grins.
“Hiiyah,” I gently side slice his gut with my hand, “Who are you?”
“Tamoruko. Hiiyah,” he pounds his hands down on the table so hard the forks bounce off of our plates. “Let’s go.”
It’s a beautiful spring day outside. Daffodils hover along the sidewalk edges, bending down to the ground, and tiny pink buds pop out of the tips of random tree branches. There are only memories of snow now, but the ground is cold and wet and the air smells like fresh, churned dirt. Little pockets of ice lurk in the shadows and crevices untouched by the warming rays of the sun. The sky is a crisp, baby blue and there isn’t a cloud in sight.
Since the riots in ’67, walking around downtown scares some people, but I don’t even think twice about it. I am not scared, man. In the last two years, a lot of white folks have moved further out of the city to escape blacks integrating into the neighborhoods, but I’m pretty sure most of them are scared of their own shadows. Fear of something drove the whites out to the suburbs or keeps them locked inside their houses, looking through windows with metal bars—upgraded cages for their American dreams— but the real Detroiters, like us, don’t run away from the tension and the soul. We keep it alive by not giving up.
“Who is Sydney?” I say.
“That’s a huge question. What do you want to know specifically?”
“Did you go to college? I don’t even know how old you are, either.”
“Well, I graduated last year with a degree in journalism and I’m 23, but I’m not really using my degree. My old man is a mechanic and he thinks I should be learning the family business.”
“So you’re working in the car shop with your old man now?”
“No. He wants me to and we fight about it all the time, but I don’t want to measure my worth by how long it takes to scrub the oil and grime out from underneath my fingernails everyday.”
He goes on to tell me that his parents incessantly beg him to work at the shop and carry on the family tradition, but they never raised him to be a mechanic and now they suddenly expect him to change his life. To change his dreams. Maybe even to change his personality.
“You don’t seem like a mechanic to me,” I say.
“Yeah, I know. It’s more fun to apply for all the random jobs in the classifieds. I even play some solo gigs, too, but not anywhere you’d know about.”
“Yeah, I play the guitar. What about you?”
“I was going to beauty school, but I didn’t finish.”
“You don’t seem like the type,” Sydney squints his eyes.
“Exactly, I’m not. I didn’t fit in with those girls and I didn’t want to. My mother wanted me to do it.”
We share a few moments of silence. I start thinking about that damned beauty school. I mean, what a stupid concept. I never liked it. My mother was so demanding about that career path. I think it was more that she wanted to do it, though. Living life vicariously is all some people get. Isn’t that sad?
There’s a wooden bench up ahead. Sydney stops, reaches for my hand, and we sit down. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. His eyelashes are trying to grab me.
“Sooooo, why Star?” Sydney turns to face me.
“I don’t really know. Maybe she wanted to live vicariously.”
“No, I mean, how’d you get the name Star?”
“Ohhhh!” I laugh and lean my right shoulder into him, tilting my head so that my neck is exposed, and then I pull down the right side of my shirt; revealing the star shaped cluster of freckles.
“Nice freckles,” Sydney runs along the spot with his index finger. His touch feels like an electric shock.
“Sometimes people think it’s a tattoo.”
“Or a personal constellation,” Sydney slides my shirt back onto my shoulder. I can’t tell if he’s tempted or oblivious because I am distracted by someone approaching us.
A stunning woman walks up and rests next to us on the bench. She releases a huge sigh as she sits down and puts her hands on her lap like she is defeated by a force we are not privy to. She appears to be an echo of last night’s debauchery—warped makeup, scuffed high heeled shoes, torn dress—and we can tell that she probably hasn’t had decent sleep for a couple days.
“Hola,” she says.
Her eyes look slightly bloodshot as if she spent the last few hours crying about something and no more tears can fall out; except for that very last one that falls down her cheek when she smiles at us, like it was stuck in the well of her eye socket and it is finally pushed over the edge by a single moment of contentment. That is when I remember the vulnerability in her face and the blackness of her tears.
“Do I know you?” I say.
“I don’t think so,” she says.
“I’ve seen you before. I am sure of it.”
“Honey, there’s a lot of hoes that look like me.”
“Did I help you out of that trunk?”
“Oh shit, that was you? Thanks for getting me out.”
“Why were you locked in the trunk of that Cadillac?”
“Because that fucking bastard put me in there. I don’t know why I keep goin’ back to him. He is no damn good.”
“Darryl, my pimp. He does not appreciate his hoes. Someone should’ve peeled his ass a long time ago,” she says, snapping her fingers for exclamation.
Well, I guess it’s all making sense now. I’m not super educated in the ways of pimps but I was thinking the other night that he dresses in a strange way. I guess putting gorgeous women in trunks of Cadillacs is a thing. I wonder how many times that’s happened to this poor woman. She looks too nice to be treated like that.
“What is your name?” I ask.
“Does he do this to you a lot?”
“Honey, he is always trunkin’ his bitches. That’s how he disciplines us. Some other pimps like their canes, but not Darryl. He wouldn’t ruin that ivory cane for any bitch. You know, I wasn’t always working for Darryl. Someday I won’t again.”
Her eyes fill up and threaten tears but they do not fall. Somehow this woman has a fierce strength. She looks at me in search of something, but I don’t even think she knows what that is.
“What were you doing before?” I really want to know a lot of things now.
“I was a bartender at the club. That’s how he sucks you in. A lot of his hoes used to work for the club bartending or cocktailing. He watches everyone from that room and constantly has a pulse on who is hot and who is sexy, and then he plans his next bitch.”
“He didn’t just walk up to you one day and ask if you wanted to be his hooker, did he?”
“Not at all. Darryl is quite the charmer when he wants to be. When he notices you, he starts to socialize more and then turns on his southern gentleman charms. He’s very cordial, you know, and before you realize it you are spending time with him and accepting his favors. Soon, the favors become things you feel obligated to return and then you are hooking and you can’t figure out how to get out, or how you got there.”
“Shit.,” I blurt out. Then I look at Sydney. I try to signal to split but Carmelita just keeps talking.
“Sometimes I love Darryl. He can be so compassionate. It’s goin’ on nine years, I think, but I have to get out. I can’t keep messin’ around with this bastard.”
“So, uh, well, why do you do it?” I ask.
“Shit, a lot of reasons, amiga.”
Carmelita’s facial expression goes from stern and determined to weak and sad like a branch bending so far in the wind it snaps. Only love can do that to you. Love is the kind of thing that can break people in half, or at least leave them hanging on at breaking point, forgetting what it’s like to stand tall for way too long. Her demeanor seems haggard from this kind of love.
I’m really glad Sydney interrupts our conversation. I don’t know if spending a lot of time with this woman is the best thing today, or ever. The company she keeps is way too complicated for me. I kind of didn’t want to know any of that information and I’m not sure what to do with it now. I’ve got the creeps.
“Did you really help that woman out of a trunk?” Sydney says when we get a few blocks down the street.
“Yeah, it was crazy. The door guy helped me. He had a crowbar.”
“Did you tell anyone about it?”
“No. I’ve been letting it settle into my mind. It was too heavy for me.”
“Well, you’re more of a ninja than I thought you were, Arikuna,” Sydney slices the air with flat hands.
“Hiiyah!” I whip my arm into his stomach and we both start laughing hysterically.
The mid-afternoon sun shines bright from the clear sky and I am content to wander the streets while time slips away with Sydney. Other than that strange bench interaction I’d say things are going pretty smooth. I think he feels the same way, too.
Before the riots, San Francisco had Haight Ashbury and we had Plum Street. It was our little bohemian vortex where the counterculture, arts, and groovy vibes loitered, and the community of like minds could have a place to call home. Choice smoke, groovy music, hip heads, and cool shops filled the area and gave it a psychedelic heart beat that was infectious. The trash cans even paid homage to the vibe by being decorated with wild colors and trippy designs—luring those who are more likely to defy the lines and bend them in the name of exploration. Now, maybe eight shops remain—clinging to the remnants of the groovy memories that still linger in the air—and change waits around every corner like shadows from the moving sun.
“Have you heard of Led Zeppelin?” Sydney asks.
We stop in front of a small, yellow building. The swirled lettered sign above the door reads, The Turning Times, in the shape and design of a record. The front window display is decorated with old records hanging from the ceiling and dangling over a scattered mass of records below it. It’s like the heavens are crying music or the gods are playing one hell of a Frisbee game. Either way, I dig it.
“I don’t know that band,” I finally answer him.
Sydney is inside thumbing through the records by the time I catch up to him. He’s reading the titles intensely, and with purpose, like a serious musical mission. I can’t imagine which record is so desirable but now I’m curious. He sure digs music.
“How many records do you have?” I wonder.
“Hmm. Maybe somewhere around 267?”
“Wow! That is quite a collection.”
“I don’t really spend my cash on anything else,” Sydney laughs.
“Except Bab’s in black light, huh?” I can’t help but think about that hilarious poster.
“Yeah, yeah. If I can’t tell when you’re ordering roast beef and potatoes, how will I know when you’re making advances?” he says.
“What?” I say.
“Have you ever even seen the movie? That’s a quote.”
“I don’t think I have,” I begin to say and then he interrupts me.
“Don’t think you have? Well, Led Zeppelin might have to wait then.”
Late at night, Kat stops by for some advice because, for some reason, she thinks my blunt opinions are like reverberations of the Torah and that all good girls follow the scrolls. My advice is far from the quality of the old paper rolls, but I never resist any temptation to share what I think.
“Star, I am taking this history class and my professor is the cutest Jew.”
“Don’t even say it.”
“I know you, sister. Don’t even think about it.”
“Really? But he’s such a mensch,” Kat whines.
“They always are,” I respond with rolling eyes.
“But, Star,” she says.
“Look, he’s your professor and it’s illegal for him to have relations with you because you are his student. Hello?”
“What about when the semester is over?”
“No. Keep on truckin’.”
“You’re always so responsible,” Kat says. “You want to order Chinese for dinner? I’ll buy.”
“What? With your trust fund?” I laugh so hard it offends her. Maybe I even snort.
Kat is surprised by my seriously funny comedy act, but let’s get real, she isn’t even Jewish nor does she have a trust fund. Aren’t I such a good friend for even entertaining this kind of nonsense? Oy vey, I know, someone’s gotta do it.
“What did you do today?” Kat breaks the two seconds of silence that I was thoroughly enjoying.
“I met a hooker named Carmelita. That was far out,” I say.
“Oy yoy yoy, are you serious?”
“Oy yoy yes. And her pimp is one of Jazz’s bosses.”
“No way. Does Jazz know?”
“Well, yes and no. I think she knows that her boss is a pimp, but she doesn’t know I met one of his bitches. Carmelita referred to herself as just that, so I feel comfortable using it, too.”
Kat’s attention is focused on locating the Chinese menu and her overflowing wallet. I thought she’d be a little more shocked at my encounter, or that Darryl is a pimp, but I suppose I’m the only one who didn’t know. Sometimes I can be so naive. Sometimes it’s better that way.
“Do you think he’s Jewish?” Kat uses that tone that is mischievous.
“You gold digging, little vixen. He’s nothing close.”
“Hey, just wondering. You actually met him?”
“Yeah, I did last night. So, what do you want to order from the Chinese place?”
“It doesn’t matter to me. I’m so hungry I could eat the whole menu.”
Kat stands up and pulls the phone over to the couch. The curly cord is stretched as far as it can go. It looks like it’s just about to snap. She holds the receiver one foot away from her face and yells when the guy answers. The fact she doesn’t move her face closer to the phone is illuminating. I understand so much more about her now.
“Hey Kat,” I poke her in the side when she hangs up the phone. “How much do you charge?”
“Way more than Carmelita, I’m sure. The Yenta’s are over-priced.”
“I don’t think anyone would argue with you about that.”
“Oy vey! I’m schvitzing!” Kat whines.
“You aren’t schvitzing, Gidget. Schvitzing is sweating. You don’t sweat when you’re hungry.”
“Not even if I’m really, really, really starving?”
“I’m not convinced.”
“Gidget, huh?” Kat looks at me for an explanation. She hates when I call her that.
Pam greets me with sausage breath when I walk into the diner and Deb reeks of that Faygo already. It is only 7:30am and I am like a sitting duck in the middle of a death breath battle. I think I would rather inhale copious amounts of arsenic than spicy sausage and candied grape chemicals all day long. The modern world reeks of stupidity and poor choices and we’re all like sitting ducks in the middle of our own little wars.
“Hey,” I nod.
“Hey girl,” Deb smacks her gum.
“Where you been?” Pam says.
“Well, sometimes I do get a day off from this place.” I walk over to the coffee machine and brew my first pot of the day.
“Did you see the red head again?” Deb slurps her soda and then stuffs her apron with a new par of straws.
I’m not in the mood today. Sometimes this grease pit is the last place I want to be. But maybe all places are like that. What is that thing that people say? Routine is deadly. Maybe it’s not the actual routine but the state of mind. Shit, maybe that’s the secret to life. Change your state of mind and be happy with anything.
“Good morning, Penelope,” Mr. Baxter says as he walks up to us, handing out daisies like placing magical treats in each one of our palms.
“Happy flower day,” Mr. Baxter smiles with so much love and then goes to his usual spot. I drop off the paper, verify his order, and pour some decaf coffee into his wobbling cup.
“It is always good to see you. Where have you traveled lately?” I say.
“Well, I was hoping you would ask.”
He pulls out a stack of postcards from his jacket pocket and fans 5 pictures on the table like lying a royal flush down to brag. The Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, a turtle, a sunset bursting through the sillhouette of palm trees, and a pod of dolphins are the five pictures presented on the table. In some way, his collection reminds me of Tarot cards.
“Which card do you choose?” he says.
“I think I like the sunset.” I point to the exact card and he pulls it out to examine and remember.
“Ah, yes. This is a beach in Fiji. The sand was so fine it was almost like powder and the kava was tasty. Yes. I enjoyed gazing out into the sea there. It was a very peaceful place.”
“It looks nice.” I can almost feel the warmth of the sun on my skin when I stare at it and imagine. “Were you there alone?”
“Oh no, I was with my Mildred.”
“Oh dear, she was my lovely wife. I can still feel the sand between my toes when I look at this.” He sets the postcard down on the table and sips his coffee.
“Your breakfast will be ready in a few minutes.” I turn around and walk back to the kitchen. I’m a little lost in my own beach thoughts and then I wonder if Mr. Baxter was actually there with his wife once upon a time or if it is another one of his famous fabrications. It doesn’t really matter because I enjoy hearing the story and reliving the dream whether or not it is just dreaming.
I check out the rest of the post cards. The one with the turtle on it really catches my eye. I’ve always liked turtles. They seem peaceful and steady. I want to be peaceful and steady. Does that exist? Or do I dare digress?
“What about that one?” I say, pointing to the turtle picture.
“Ah, you like turtles?” he shakes his head as if he’s learned a very revealing fact about me.
“Did you see turtles somewhere?”
“I was supposed to see turtles when I was in Hawaii but they never came, so I bought this postcard to capture what I missed.”
“Penelope?” he says.
“Yes, Mr. Baxter?”
“Have you seen any good nose crinkles yet?”
“What?” It takes me a few seconds to realize what he is talking about. “No, not yet, but I will let you know.”
Nose crinkles? Nose crinkles? I’ve seen a lot more than nose crinkles lately. I still see lots of things in my mind, too. In fact, my thoughts are so plentiful I’d rather chew on those than food at the moment.
“Excuse me, what are you doing?” My boss grabs my elbow and pulls me into the back room of the restaurant.
“What is wrong with you?” I pull my arm away from him.
“Why are you spending so much time at that table?”
“I’m giving our guests a more personal experience by caring about their lives. Isn’t that what you always preach to us?” I fold my arms and tap my foot with impatience.
“Well you can’t just ignore your other tables,” he raises his voice.
“Yeah, well, maybe if you were here for more than five minutes a day you would see that I don’t have any other tables yet. Mr. Baxter is my first table. Are we done?”
“You better watch what you say.” He points his finger at me like a gun and his bracelet twinkles when he pulls the trigger.
I walk away without saying anything because I really don’t give a damn what that chauvinistic bastard says. Pam and Deb are standing by the coffee machines. They give me a look. You know the look.
“You okay?” Pam says.
“Did you hear all of that?” I say.
“I think everyone did,” Deb says.
“Yeah, he’s a real groovy guy, isn’t he?”
I push the button on the coffee machine hard—imagining it is his face—to start brewing another pot. I’ve lost track of the number and I can’t wait to get out of this grease pit for the day. Pam and Deb float back into their sections and flirt with the regulars while I stew in my mind about my inconsiderate boss who isn’t boss at all.
To distract my mind, I visit Mr. Baxter’s table to clear his plate. He lifts his coffee cup and begins to whisper between sips. I lean in a bit closer to hear him.
“I’m sorry about that, Miss Penelope.”
“Oh, that? Don’t you worry about it. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “Hey, Mr. Baxter, what is your first name?”
“Walter. My name is Walter.”
“Thanks for the pretty flower, Walter. Is it cool if I call you that, or do you prefer Mr. Baxter?”
“No one has called me Walter since Mildred passed away. I would love it.”
“You have yourself a groovy day, then, Walter. I’ll see you soon?”
“Okay, Penelope. You be careful when you’re out there having fun.”
Thirty-one pots of coffee later, I am officially home and starving. The leftover Chinese food in the fridge sounds like a perfect idea until I open the containers and find one piece left in each box. Thanks, Kat. It’s like the people who leave one splash of milk or juice in the cartons with no regard to the hope others feel at the vision of such an option. It’s a cruel tease. After two measly bites of food, the phone rings.
“Hey chick, do you still plan on making it out to the club tonight?” Kat says.
“Yeah, I think so. Maybe next time we order food, you can just finish the last bite of everything.”
“What’d you say?”
“Forget it. What time are you going to be there?”
“Maybe 9 o’clock. We can get in before the crowd.”
“Groovy. I’ll see you there.” I hang up the phone and eat a bowl of cereal to satiate my deceived hunger.
Later at the club, Audrey and Kat are already sitting at the bar when I walk in. Greg and Jazz are behind the bar shaking and making delicious libations—laughing and playing off of each other like some vaudeville act. The crowd is small and relaxed and the vibe is real mellow. It’s a nice change from the loud bump and grind, but it’s only a matter of hours before the dancers heat this place up.
“These orange things are so boss,” Audrey says. The perimeter of her Afro glows in the black light like she is a psychedelic angel.
“I guess I’ll have one, too,” I say.
“What do you call these things?” Kat lifts up her martini glass to inspect it.
“You can name it.” Greg leans in closer to us. “Hey, do you chicks want any ludes tonight?”
Jazz suddenly jumps into the conversation with her usual sassy attitude. She asks me where Sydney is, but I don’t know either. Maybe this wondering is a bad track in my mind. Or maybe sometimes the wondering is actually how we get lost or found depending on the situation.
“What about Agent Orange?” Kat laughs.
“WHAT?” falls out of our mouths simultaneously and we all stare at her for an explanation. I’m not sure if she thinks it’s funny but it seems like it.
“Okay, maybe that’s not the best idea. Sorry,” Kat says.
“Come on, the only downer I want tonight is in the form of a little, loving pill, man,” Audrey says and then Greg puts two pills in her hand.
“Unless you both would rather have a Black Beauty?” Greg smiles.
“I’ll take a lude, man,” I say.
“I think I’ll pass this time,” Kat says.
“Now look who the responsible one is?” I elbow her as I pop my pill and wash it down with my nameless orange drink.
“Maybe Orange Bliss is better,” Kat blurts out.
“I’ll take it,” Greg says.
“Um, you might have to drive me and the Bug home tonight,” I giggle.
“I know,” Kat says.
“I could melt into one of those couches,” Audrey points.
“See you there.” I grab my drink, nod at Jazz and Greg, and nestle into the soft crannies of the upholstery.
I know my lude starts working when I feel way too relaxed for only having one drink. The homely looking guy at the bar seems sexier than before and I just want to crawl into the pillows of this couch and fall asleep. Audrey falls down next to me and we both giggle like school girls high on too much candy.
“This song is totally groovy,” Audrey says slowly, as if she is enjoying pronouncing each syllable that comes out. The Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away” heats up the vibe in the room, or maybe that’s just my lude, again.
“Well, well, well. Look what foxy ladies I find restin’ on my couch,” Darryl says. “It is Star and Audrey, right?” He picks up his ivory cane and lays it across his lap, gently sliding one hand down to the silver tip and then reclines in his position.
Audrey says hello but I don’t really want to get too involved in any kind of interaction with him. After meeting Carmelita, I’m pretty convinced he’s a tricky man, so I’m cool being aloof. What does he know, anyway?
“So, ladies, what does The Dragonflower owe for such luscious company this evenin’?” Darryl’s pearly white teeth glow in the black light whenever he smiles—like a beacon of bright light piercing through the shadows.
Audrey distracts the infamous Darryl by talking about Greg’s new cocktail. She’s doing a great job but it doesn’t mean I want to join in on the conversation. I’m still pretty suspicious of the guy and I can’t wait for him to go do something else except sit with us and hover. Ick.
“Star? Sweet child? Are you okay?” He looks at me because I’m staring into space and am obviously not paying attention to him or their conversation.
“What do you think of Nixon?” I blurt out boldly even though I really mean it to be a secret thought. “Do you have any friends in the war?”
“Wow. She’s in some deep thoughts right now.” He laughs and then picks something out of his jeweled tooth with his pinky finger, pulls a tissue paper out of his jacket pocket, and wipes that finger before he rests his hand back down on the shiny cane.
“Are your toes getting tingly?” I whisper into Audrey’s ear. She pokes me softly in the side so that I keep cool.
“Do you feel like you’re floating?” Audrey whispers back at me. We giggle.
Our giggles echo inside my head. Darryl’s lips keep moving but I can’t hear anything except the music, and it sounds muffled. I want to get up and dance but I can’t seem to get off the couch. I’m about to go ape.
“My cousin, Jeremy,” Darryl says.
“What?” Audrey says.
“He’s in Vietnam right now. He got sent over about a month ago.”
“Well, bless him,” Audrey nods. “How long have you been in the night club business?”
“Honey, I’ve been in this business a long time,” his tooth sparkles.
The private conversation in my mind starts running wild. It takes all the strength I have not to roll my eyes until they fall into the back of my head. God! This guy is a piece of work. Poor Carmelita.
“Are you two fine things accompanied by anyone tonight?” Darryl says and waves his hand at the bartenders.
Jazz walks over to the couches and caters to her boss. I don’t like watching it. He then orders three more of Greg’s Orange Bliss cocktail but I’m not really interested in another drink. I just want to melt into this couch and forget he ever existed. The music feels way better than his presence or conversation.
To my luck, Kat walks up to join in on the fun. I’m glad to see her because maybe she can rescue us from this character. Either way, she’s another distraction and any other variable is good at the moment.
“What’s going on over here?” Kat says. She sits down next to Darryl and stares intently at the details of his outfit. She looks as surprised as I did the first time I saw him.
“And hello to you, too,” Darryl licks his lips.
“You must be Darryl,” she says, “I’m Kat.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” he says, grabbing Kat’s hand and kissing the back of it.
“How are you two doing?” Kat says, laughing. She obviously has figured out that we’re high on something, if not life.
“Well, I will leave you fine, young women to your own conversations. Please do let me know if there’s anything I can ever assist you with.” Darryl stands up and walks away, probably disappearing into the black glass above.
Two minutes after the pimp leaves, Jazz arrives with three drinks. The orange martini glasses glow like they are buzzing with strange chemicals, too. I don’t know if I should have one. I’m tripping on everything at the moment.
“Darryl left,” I say.
“Yeah, it’s starting to pick up in here and he doesn’t dig being on the floor when we’re busy,” Jazz says.
“Nice vibe in here tonight,” Audrey closes her eyes.
“Let’s dance.” I take Audrey’s hand and then Kat’s and pull them out onto the dance floor.
That familiar Creedence sound hums through the speakers and then I realize ‘Bootleg’ is reverberating all around the room and inside my limbs. Kat and Audrey get wild—spinning, twirling, jiving to the tunes. I start doing the twist, getting funky, and laughing because I feel so mellow and in love with the moment.
We’re the only people on the dance floor when the song begins and then our dancing bodies’ triple half way through. Greg even joins us for the song—his curls bouncing to the beats and twisting with the movement of his torso. I shimmy my shoulders, Kat twirls her hands, and Audrey shakes her hips as we dance for ourselves, and the moment, and the love all around us. We dance to celebrate and commemorate our brothers and sisters across the seas. Please come home.
The song transitions into Marvin Gaye and Greg goes back to making his drinks.
“What a great song,” Kat says, still grooving to the music.
“I can really feel the war tonight,” Audrey says.
Sydney appears on the dance floor. I gasp internally. I wonder if he knows I’m, um, intoxicated? Who the hell cares, anyway. This is me. Here I am, Mr. Vasquez.
“What are you doing here?” I say.
“Looking for someone,” he pulls me close.
“You are trouble.”
“You are driving me crazy and it’s a special day in the universe.”
“What is so special?” I wonder.
“John and Yoko got married. I am inspired.”
“Inspired to do what?” I lift an eyebrow.
“Do you think that you can get three days off next week?”
“I think so.”
“Ask any of your friends, too.”
“What are we doing for three days?”
“I’m hosting a bed-in,” Sydney says proudly.
“It’s a war protest from my bed. John and Yoko are doing one for their honeymoon next week.”
“What do we do in bed?”
“We talk about and promote peace in a non-violent way.”
“You are inspired,” I laugh and throw my hands behind his neck. He slides his fingers down my back in a suggestive way that feels so totally groovy to me in this state.
“Can I see your constellation?” Sydney whispers in my ear.
He spins me around so that he’s pressed against my back with his hands on my hips—both of us still moving to the music. I pull down the corner of my shirt to reveal my secret cluster. Sydney kisses my shoulder a couple of times and then spins me back around to face him. I feel like Jell-O and want nothing more than to dissolve into his chest.
“Do you want a lude?” I stare directly into his eyes, hoping that he interprets me the right way, although I’m not even sure what that is at this moment, anyway.