Revised THE GOOD OL’ BOYS
No, sheet, I ain’t never seen nuthin’ like it. What with their drinkin’ all the time, callin’ ‘em forth. Lucky’s ma’s and ol’ man’s drinkin’ and the concern I have for ‘em and them drinkin’ all the time, with their kitchen countertop filled with bottles, more of ‘em empty than full, and unwasrhed glasses and the necessary jiggers and all the dishes and the pots and the pans in the house, all of ‘em durty all at the same time, fillin’ the sink and counter waitin’ there for somebody to lift a gotdamn finger. I was thunderstruck by it but aimed for it not to git in the way of my relationship with Lucky, so I wasn’t gunna say nothin’ about it. How somebody keeps their house is their own business and who was I to say that my house where everything had its place and everything out of place usually got put back immediately who was I to say that it was inny better and that the way we lived was inny better than the way Lucky’s family lived when Lucky and me was barely in our teens.
Lucky’s ma was well known for her Agnes Moorhead voice (the Agnes Moorhead I know from Citizen Kane), offen sported a towel wrapped around her head, with her lips all painted red I thought she looked like the movie star just comin’ out of the shower; given the heinousness of choices I’d chose Lucky’s ma over Agnes Moorhead any day ‘cause Lucky’s ma was there in the flesh and Agnes Moorhead wasn’t; had several snapshots of his ma in his wallet Lucky did; showed them to me more than once, that showed just how proud Lucky was of his ma when she was all dolled up and ready to go out and dressed up just like Agnes Moorhead.
We was white boys, red-blooded Americans to this day and at home and when we went somewhere we was noticed; once was we sure and once was we smooth and once was we in the driver’s seat, and once we drove around with our arm out the window; we turned heads and the women looked our way; we had a swagger to our step that said who we was; dared each other to knock our hats off as we stood up for ourselves before; was to take a girl for a soda, was to take a girl to the picture show, was to smooch and go almost all the way; from the boondocks to the drive-in we was smooth operators; big shots, into cars and girls amid those who didn’t have cars and girls, casting moonbeams brilliant upon their dreamy eyelids; threatening rain and thunder on the day of our parade, when the homecoming queen sat on her float and the DJ played “Moon River” and we slow-danced the night away, by the light of the moon and searched the dance floor for a lady; dirty dancin’, risky business, burnin’ rubber, speedin’, talkin’, smokin’, kissin’; crusin’, cussin’, acting smart, etcetera, etcetera, lovin’, and the way you turn me on, I can’t think, and those were the days and we was their heroes, sweet!
Makin’ a meal of it. Makin’ a meal out of buttermilk and saltines, crumble the saltines into a tall glass of buttermilk, sweet! Is with a long spoon the best way to eat it? If we’re to believe our grandparents, to our grandparents and parents we owe everything; everything arranged and attained, listed and approved, given to us and sacrificed for us, bought us a snazzy car for graduation and endorsed our desire to go to college; it took brains to go to college, handed us an education, got to go to the college of our choice.
Called us to dinner, indulged ourselves, lemon moraine pie and fried chicken and chicken fried steak, sorrow and heartburn was much the same thing, while beans and franks was more like it; showed we was common folk when we chose beans and franks over chicken and chicken fried steak.
How does some ice cream sound? That the more peaches you peeled, the more milk ya’d need, or do ya prefer half of it to be cream, the more bananas ya had, the more ya could stretch it, and the more freezers, the more crankin’, the more sugar, milk, bananas, ice and rock salt ya’d need.. The person who owned the cow could bring the milk. Added a child to sit on top, and had Lucky turn the crank and the more he did that, the less likely he’d end up in trouble, so makin’ ice cream was wellworthdoin’.
Politics aside and still the garbage disposal plant survived; was a drop in a bucket worth fighting for, and Edith McKinney (bless her soul) fussed and fumed after she swerved to miss a feral cat and drove her brand new Ford Roadster up a light pole; was a discussion whether the fault laid with the cat or Edith McKinney, bothersome, shouldn’t there be a law, something on our books; agreed upon by our city council that would keep old ladies and feral cats off our streets, hold their feet to the fire, and in no uncertain terms, they count sure but for the record; existing records reduced to old high school annuals, and to our detriment the law passed; was overreaching; and we all eventually paid for it.
Now go back and look at the pictures in the Mirage of ’38 and bask all over again in all of our high school years, when our motto was “to be rather than to seem.” If those carefree gay student days could be relived, and we had plenty off time on our hands, we’d be dreaming great dreams. On homecoming our queen would reign, and where at this junction our lives would be in flux, we would attributed it to our growin’ up too fast and to ambitions that far exceeded our prospects.
Now back then we was a small town, and our main street was no more than a block long. The post office sat on one end and a drugstore next to it. Our water tower located us. Noted for skunks, we was also known for football. Go gophers! It was with great satisfaction that we skunked our rivals.
Our dog was a collie. She loved to chase cars. She thought she was herding sheep instead of cars. Part collie, mostly mutt her features were more of a collie than any other breed. She exhibited next her speed. She’d follow me around all over town and chased cats and rabbits whenever she saw them. What name do you think we gave her? Bear! Bear! Come here, Bear! She had become unhappy and wouldn’t mind us. And loved the funeral blues. Mercy! We all loved the blues. And the most beautiful girls I knew got the blues sometimes. That didn’t mean they was unhappy. Bear! Come here! Bear! Fetch!
We thought when we was cruisin’ with the top down it was sweet. With nowhere in particular to go, we’d go sometimes as far out as California Crossing and sometimes out to the Little League field (and it was when we and they were seniors), which was sweet. At the same time our parents worried ‘bout us gittin’ mixed up with the wrong crowd but little did they know that Lucky and me was the wrong crowd. And we had our reputations to protect, so we’d sneak off, go to the Little League field, where I smoked my first cigarette and drank bathtub rum from a flask I kept hidden in a special place under the dash of my 1929 Ford convertible. And as I was tooling around in a dream, half-dozing as I drove, I thought I knew what the future held for me but I didn’t see how my small town would grow into a midsize city and how I could’ve taken advantage of it if I could’ve seen that far ahead. Jake! Jake! I couldn’t wait to git grown. With my spurs and deep base voice, I’d learn to ride a horse. Yes, this was before zoning came to my hometown. And way before television. And lo, when we boys was looking for somethin to do we’d drive down to the levy. Now, it was sweet to go fishin’; now who went fishin’ to catch fish. When look, we was boys and when boys was boys, I must admit that we liked to hunt. Ah, the unlimited space for chicken and cows and horses ‘till the town grew too big (that was my folks opinion, not mine ‘cause I had as much ambition as the next guy). Who would ever dream our little town would git so big? If we had, we would’ve bought up as much property as possible. Yes, we would’ve, that’s who. Blessed assurance and Jesus was mine, we was religious too. Yes, Lucky who so often held sway over me. Lucky, who often convinced me to do something wrong. Me! Me prompted by a pro. He in his beret and his old dark brown velvet coat, with fake fur trim, yes fur (remember it gits quite cold there in the winter), and he’d talk me into drivin’ north to the California Crossing Bridge and, after we crossed it, to the Bloody Bucket. Only we was too young to git in the Bloody Bucket. Oh, what a painful realization it was when we found out that we couldn’t git in the Bloody Bucket.
All of the horrible awful, awful poverty we all knew…por not like por kids these days (ah, then we had the Felicity Welfare Club, the Relief Cannery, and the WPA!) rather than (and the hundreds of thousands Hoover stocks daddy burnt, and Hoover steaks and Hoover pockets) have us thieve out of old man Baker’s apple orchard. Shame on us.
Those were the days!
Had I a dime for every complaint that I hear these days I dare say that I’d be a very rich man but back then we didn’t complain that much. Yet I thought that Lucky in his old dark brown velvet coat with fake fur trim, Lucky in his beret, (this during a time when most of us had to make do with clothes made from flour sacks, feed sacks, and three-year-old cotton gabardine) looked very sweet. Only problem was that he thought he looked sweet too. Now my mama wouldn’t have none of it. She was more down to earth ‘cause she canned, made jam and put up fruit, crocheted, darned, yarned, and knitted. And what we wore yesterday, we made do with for the whole year and the next. We kept chickens and cows in our backyard ‘cause there was no zoning then. Then in between butcherin’, milkin’, egg gatherin’, washin’, ironin’, neck wringin’, boilin’, pluckin’, there was housecleanin’ and managin’ of the household for her to do.
Now Mrs. Avery (Lucky’s mom) never did none of that.
Had I a picture of Ann Marie Avery alongside my mom, I give you my word that Lucky’s mom compared to my mom looked like a million, if there was a person with a million in those days. What? Now there’s no doubt that she looked grand when she got all dressed up to go to work. There was no mistakin’ her dimples when she smiled. She was one who’d keep her job throughout the depression ‘cause what she did was needed. If she had been out of work, she still wouldn’t have been like anyone else ‘cause of the glances she got ‘cause of her dress. The essence of sweetness! And she dressed like that just to go to work. She was slim, slimmer than any other woman who had had a baby, a switchboard operator, out of sight, most of the day was inside and out of sight. If you want to know, it was during a time when telephone rates increased to $2.25, which nobody could afford but paid anyway. (A two party line cost you $2.00, and for 50 cents more you could git a wall extension and for 75 cents more a desk extension).
Now Mrs. Avery must’ve thought that she’d spun the Wheel of Fortune and won, and she let everybody know it by the clothes she wore. There was no doubt that she was pretty. At least I thought so. And admired ‘cause she was the town’s emergency operator and admired ‘cause everybody knew it. We was in the hands of this five-foot-three redheaded pistol whenever some crazy yahoo cut loose, and she had the calm finesse generally needed to keep the situation from gitting out of control before the police or fire department could git to the scene. It didn’t matter whether it was respondin’ to heart attacks, car crashes, stabbin’s, robberies, or little Tommy Turner fallin’ out of a tree. She had a knack for it and could almost anticipate somethin’ before it happened, which was a blessing for all of us, and to Lucky, (he was prejudice, of course) she was the best mom in the world, except when she was drunk. For her heart was as big as herself, so it was, yes, and bigger. And the best mom ever. While she served everybody regardless who they was, and that included the niggers who lived ‘cross the river in Sowers.
Since I was very, very young, going back to when I was as innocent and naïve as I’ve ever been, I’ve heard black people called niggers. From the mouth of my father, from the mouth of my mother, from mouths near and far, it came out in every day conversation and without, to my knowledge, there being any actual hatred involved. And no oftener than around my town where not a single nigger lived. And it was somethin’ we all was comfortable with.
We luved our Little Black Sambo. And luved our Auntcha Mama Pancakes with real butter and Auntcha Mama in her red-poked-dotted apron and her kerchief that matched. And that big grin that we all associated with delicious, yummy pancakes and maple syrup, ” From the clay we all came from to the wrong doin’ that led from time to time to a lynchin’ (actually the Forks never lynched nobody ‘cause this wasn’t the Deep South).
And it was asked:
…does it mean that we was all prejudice? Lucky would never answer a question like that, even as he grew smarter, since him and me grew up close to where people say, or just past where they say, “this is as far as we dare go.” Over there, across the bridge, “it’s too rough. It ain’t safe.” Sure enough with memories of shootin’s, stabbins, robberies, and stuff, while addressing ourselves as superior and complaining that they should do better with what they have.
Well, I’m literally disgusted from seeing myself in this light. How all too unworthy I am, a good ol’ boy from North Central Texas, a por member of the workin’ class, with no land and without a title, for such eminence would never stick, rather to be more exact, I’m down to earth while you and me know that nothing should be handed to us. I speak for me, only for me and not for those niggers across the river.
It was so close that as a general rule we knew almost everything that went on over there, knew of the killin’s and the rapes that occurred most every Saturday night, or at least we thought we knew. But as fate would have it, the river acted as a natural border and on each side there was two separate towns as distinct from each other as any two countries that shared a border, with our side relatively quiet and sleepy and their side the exact opposite. But we formed our opinions without really knowing each other, typecasting each other as sure as anything, utterly and it was literally like the pot calling the kettle black, it was all we knew (later disgusted with ourselves when we thought we knew better) in a rocky place we loved, once covered up to our knees in prairie grass, and when they had the best black river bottom land imaginable. And look at them! Compare them and us! Them and their shacks! And us.
By then it was too soon to be settling down and too late to be innocence. By then we had hung up our scooters and Lucky had invested a hundred dollars in fixin’ up an old Alco tourin’ car he found mostly buried in a crik bed. It made him the leader of our troop, and I became more of a friend of his…not that I was ever less of a friend. I can remember like yesterday the good times we had in that old car when we’d all pile in and just ‘bout fit. Those was simpler, carefree days when we shared so much, and because of the car we could go almost anywhere and get almost any girl and what Lucky did I’d try to repeat, for we said we didn’t care what people thought but we did, deep down we did. Deep down we had high hopes of amountin’ to somethin’ ‘cause that was what was imprinted on our brains. Tune in, be with it, ol’ pal, and we’ll git there someday. We was buddies. Be mature! He ate all the time, imitated me, like he had a hollow leg. I was very fond of him, as you can see. On a dare we we’d do things. Really. Really. Really. We became Junior Federal Men and came from the right side of the river. I ought not to brag like I do, but we was something else, and Blackie Flint never stood a chance. I still take off my hat to Lucky, our chief. But he was no Boy Scout. And how did I know? ‘Cause he and I was like twins, and where did he stand? I know where ‘cause I stood in the same places. First like I said he stood on the right side of the river, and last he stood on the right side of the law. Take those niggers over in Sowers that would sell us licker. We was all underage, but they didn’t care. And shame and shame on ‘em again. Sure enough they was on the wrong side of the law. We was no angels, believe me but we was on the right side of the law. And yes, we may have slipped up once or twice. Gracious, give us a break. Your honor. Give us a break. He was only a nigger. Caught us a nigger. Made him pay. But, Judge, he was itchin’ for a fight. I’ve always heard that we have the right to defend ourselves. Down by the river on our side. Not his side. Nothin’ major. Somethin’ minor. Yes, I admit that I was there. Yet I can swear that nothing happened that wasn’t well deserved. He started it. We wasn’t the invaders. Never crossed the bridge. Never got close. We didn’t git a chance, sir.
But even if my life depended on it, I couldn’t have identified the nigger, who it was, though I got a close look at him, to begin with, ‘cause they all look the same to me.
“He swung at me first,” Lucky replied, with a voice that sounded convincing and with a cowlick he couldn’t control, while his temper was just about as bad. That’s right. Lucky had a temper and always carried a comb with him. Oh, darn it. It did no good. The comb. His temper always got him in trouble. How was them niggers! Lord, have mercy. They was never up to no good. Troubling, very troubling. Hobos that came through town on the train didn’t always know which side to jump off of. Our side or their side? I recommended our side. My greatest cross though, and a heavy one it was, was when, with things the way they were, an outsider came to town and criticized things that had always been the way we did things. And I was the first one to tell ‘em that they didn’t have a brain in their heads. No sooner did I do that than I found myself defending our way of life and tellin’ ‘em that people who lived in glass houses shouldn’t throw stone and quoted the Bible and Rev. Black. I think Rev. Black had preached on the subject…for the benefit of us all…for ain’t he attemptin’ to improve us and makin’ us believe that there wasn’t a better place to live than right cheer and without anybody sayin’ otherwise. I had the highest regard for Rev. Black and happened to think that he knew what he was talking about. Then somebody would come along and try to sabotage everything.
Then we tried to explain what we was doing goin’ out with a Mexican lady.
“Now wait a minute before you jump conclusions. Now wait a minute,” Lucky repeated as he moistened his lips.
It was not what I wanted to do. That is I didn’t want to criticize somebody else and from within myself I was lookin’ for the power to restrain myself, but in my mind there wasn’t much difference between niggers and spicks, even though they was ladies, and so as it was becoming uncomfortable, I thought more than once about excusin’ myself since Lucky and me was best friends. It left more than a bad taste in my mouth. “’Tis a sin,” the reverend said. Almost might I say of myself, while keeping on the right side of the law, that I was tempted ‘cause she was an attractive Mexican lady, but I was becoming about fed up over havin’ to make excuses for Lucky when he decided to have (what he called) “some fun, ‘till it was gittin’ where I couldn’t tell the difference between a lie and the truth and was actually compromised once and gave into temptation once, and once was enough to teach me a lesson ‘cause I didn’t really want to be seen with a Mexican lady. The Holy Grail of adolescence and behind it all: nookie the imagined heaven. Flesh was flesh, but nope! Nope! Nope! Nope! Not with a Mexican lady! Wouldn’t it have been better to have saved yourself for a cheerleader or the Homecomin’ Queen? Holly sheet, Lucky! A Mexican!
Then I got to thinkin’…achin’. I was thinkin’ I was ready, I was. Let me be her Rudolph Valentino! The Sheik! Al Jolson, The Jazz Singer. Bella Donna! Me, the Beloved Rogue! Cha-cha! The Tango! Olay! Let me be God’s gift to women. But with a Mexican, a gotdamn spick! Then dang! What the hell! Touchdown! Compared notes. How we scored. Struggled with eyes and hooks. A missin’ button that could’ve gotten us in a trouble, in big time trouble.
And it was taboo. Yet one slipup, dear friend, don’t necessarily mean the end of the world. But with a Mexican, we confessed, as we pointed out how we got away with it.
“O murder, how did you hear?” Lucky asked, after I told him that I knew (it’s just like you couldn’t keep anything like that to yourself), and if I knew it surely almost everybody else did. Well, so be it. Then the gloom set in. If I knew about Lucky and the Mexican lady, then Lucky knew about the Mexican lady and me, and if we found out what each other did, then everybody knew. But I was unwilling to confess, yes. Still my shame was there for all to see. I did it. Definitely I did. I admitted I did. Down with hypocrisy! And I was afraid that it wouldn’t be the last time because I liked the gal. See! She was nice. So see I jumped at the chance. Like the horny bastard I was. After Lucky planted the seed in my head. But as guilty as he was? Somebody may perhaps hint that I had been willing. That was obvious. I never made a bigger mistake. Excuse me, one of us could’ve gotten her preg-nut. What a good time is to you may be a nightmare to me while you think we’re equally to blame. But it could’ve meant the end of the world, me a white guy, as everybody in town would agree, as they must, or offend everybody. What I won’t tell is where I took her. New experience for me! And she wouldn’t let me take her bra off. And it was where we could’ve been discovered. And there was several agonizin’ minutes when we came close to gittin’ caught (when a priest walked through) from such a close call at sucha hour on sucha and sucha night at so much cost. Like I knew that it was wrong.
How lucky I was that I didn’t git murdered by her brother, them being Mexican and all! But do you mean murdered for what we did? There’s substantial evidence that we could’ve been.
It is more than speculation to say so, certainly it had happened before, when her brother was naturally incense after he found out about it. And not to mention what we did to ourselves. How could I be feeling besides loathing myself? It was more than I could fix, for I could’ve caught the clap. So let’s you and me now kindly drop it, angry man! It was too late. What was done was done. You can take it from me. What was done was done. Understand me when I tell you that it was too late (and I ask you not to tell nobody else) that there was others to consider. I may want to git married someday, when it was so deeply deplorable by anybody standards, particularly to girls who mattered most, girls we’d marry like Charlotte Owen, our Homecommin’ Queen (I was thinking of her in a bathing suit.) All be they blessed, all of the girls on my short list, those I’ve dated and those I haven’t, none put out (the wrong timin’ I suppose) except the Mexican gal. I will say it was also one of my most avowed intentions, believe it or not, was to remain a virgin ‘till my weddin’, pure for the one I’d eventually love (when I wasn’t prepared to say no), when my juices kicked into play, to compound a hard time I was already havin’. And I’d still be okay if it wasn’t for the force of destiny, if my best friend hadn’t introduced me to her and my best friend hadn’t gone first.
Oh, the memory of disgrace, how it ruined homemade dreams of marryin’ our high school sweethearts as virgins, Molly in Lucky’s case, and Charlotte mine. The now defunct Molly who (to half the girls-in-school’s defense) was warned and mine was warned about me too; and with them being best friends too, they should’ve been able to compare notes. Charlotte was the nicest person in the high school, and I certainly didn’t deserve her after what I did, only too nice, used to being nice, really nice, when nice really meant nice and not just nice on the surface. She wasn’t overrated because she was really, really nice, and there’s not much more that I can say ‘cept she was very nice and sweet. And everybody who knew her agreed.
1942 A.D. Lucky married Molly, and her father gave her away. Just as Pearl Harbor started a war, so did marryin’ Molly. A simple weddin’, the bride, the groom, and the bride’s parents. A Justice of the Peace, a repented mobster. After the war, settled then, owed on a three bedroom house; drove a Chevy, purist blue you’ve ever saw, 53, a good year for blowin’ rods. Blowed his stack every time he blowed a rod! (What I wouldn’t kill to own that car now.) Up to their eyeballs in debt. Who wasn’t?
No kiddin’. Up in our eyeballs in debt, Charlotte and me too. Who was we foolin’ with two kids and a mortgage to pay? No kiddin’. Trips to the store. Drive or walk? Drive! A few pennies saved ain’t worth a drive ‘cross town. Who was we kiddin’? . Little League. Ballet. Boys. Cars. Molly worries gotdamn. Bleached or tinted? Remember bleachin’ leaves black roots. No kiddin’. How ‘bout a wig? Less trouble. No kiddin’. Who’s kiddin’.
Lucky loves old cars. No kiddin’. Have you ever heard of the Russo-Balt K? You know nuthin’ ‘bout it? Leave it to Lucky to know. Russian, no sheet. 1913, 1914, some year like that. 4 cylinder, 24 horse power. Convertible two-seater, imagine that. Russko-Baltskij vagonnyi, Riga.
Whaat? Who was he joshin’?
No kiddin’. No, not at all. Heavens, man! We had intended for just a few to come when we set up our TV set in the backyard and invited our neighbors over. Since we had a big yard though we had more or less room for everybody. By the way, how is Mrs. Humphreys? All of us, I might say, liked Ike, and over the radio listened to the blues and watched baseball and the Indians play in the World Series on the television, and we saved Indian Head Nickels for luck. O joyous time, it was the New York Giants over the Cleveland Indians (4-0) (and forgit all those ill-wishers and spoiled-sports, Mrs. Humphreys!) The Giants won, and that was that. In the over all scheme of things that year it was huge. With Bob Lemon, Early Winn, and Mike Garcia, how could the Tribe lose? But they did. Also among our basic tenants was the idea that I was the breadwinner and head of the household. What I said (as the breadwinner and the head of the household permit me to tell you if you’re uninformed) was never questioned. Nor did I have to worry about housework. It was a rule. Charlotte took care of it, and it worked as long as Charlotte stayed home and took care of the kids. And this brings me to the point I’m trying to make: those was simpler times. We didn’t lock our doors then and our kids more or less minded us, and if they didn’t…well, we spanked ‘em. And thank God, by and large, niggers stayed in there place, but we still worried ‘bout our children marryin’ one. It had nothin’ to do with prejudice. Now! It was just the way it was.
Our biggest worry then was communism. Thank God for Joseph McCarthy. Be on the lookout! For communists! Hold fourth! For democracy! I apologize for mentionin’ it, but I’d rather play it safe than be caught sleepin’. Let us not forgit the Russians. Soviets! We must respond now!
The Texas State Fair was always the biggest state fair in the United States. (Everything has always been bigger in Texas.) We always had the most fun on the Midway, or, if not it was because we ran out of money, money for food, for games, for rides and for shows, and we’d sneak in where we could, so that we could have more money for more food, more games, more rides and more shows. We’d of course spend most of our money on serious eats such as Frito pie and corn dogs or the latest widgets and whirligigs. It took all day to see it all, the statues, the barns, the science exhibits, and the famed Cotton Bowl, and…and…and… Or, if we wanted a little excitement we could take in Joie Chitman’s Thrill Show or the Sky Review; or for music go see “The King and I,” which had just come to the music hall in 1954. Sometime around then they brought Big Tex up to date. They made him talk. Then before you knew it they put him on WRR, broadcastin’ live from the State Fair of Texas. You could also catch the Blues. “This is WRR broadcastin’ live from Fair Park and we’re proud to present Mr. Ray Charles.” Whereupon the best we could do was acknowledge how big Mr. Ray Charles really was.
There was something more. Something about those days at the Texas State Fair. I mean to tell you! All I can tell you, my friend is that during all those years that we went to the State Fair of Texas I cain’t ever remember running into a nigger. Come now! Come now! Come now! But if you want to know the truth, we never thought about it. Where we lived, we never saw a black face, so when we went to the fair we didn’t think about it when we didn’t see a black face except for a few that worked there. I kaint believe I remember a single time, while a black man sang on the radio, which was broadcast over loudspeakers. Face it head on. They had their day at the fair, we had all the rest of the days. And there was somethin’ to the idea. Nigger day at the state fair? Nigger day was no different than the rest of the days at fair, except it was for niggers. No embarrassing situations that way. . And with signs tellin’ ‘em where they could go and where they couldn’t, there could be no mistakes. You hardly expected white people to drink out of the same water fountains or use the same toilets, would you? Take Lucky’s take on it. The first thing was it took most of the worry out of it. With “you don’t want no trouble” second. Someday and someday and someday. Someday it may be all different but at that time there was the way they lived, and the way we lived, and it was totally different. The truth was you had to keep niggers off the Ride and Laff. In there amongst creepy rats, snakes, and a vulture, we screamed and laughed, frightened by a real live sparrow that somehow got loose. Now we didn’t want no trouble.
Hurry you ‘cause there’s still the OU-Texas football game to see, and we won’t git a second chance to see it.
So we hurried long past the Dart Throw and the Ring Toss, the guy who could guess your age and the one who could guess your weight. Well the cheese grater and vegetable slicer was wonderful in their own way. Won! Won a plastic poodle. A sawdust-stuffed velour bear. A white stuffed weenie dog! Now fightin’ our way through the crowd, past the rides. Past the Tilt-a-whirl, wormin’ our way past the Ferris wheel, and sideways past the merry-go-round. Past the con games. Pretty hot still in the midday sun. Who wouldn’t pay to see a fetus in a bottle or the freaks with extra toes or the cow with an extra head. Elsie the Cow, where was she?
Well, the corn dog stand well was in the way and so was the lemon aid stand and the French fries with vinegar but I preferred corn dogs every time. Mountains of yellow mustard and, with one in each hand, I relished each bite. But I still had room for Frito Pie, as good if not better than homemade. The proof was in the tastin’. Give us a couple more bowls, please. Don’t forgit the please! That was damn good! You couldn’t beat it. I enjoyed the crunch and the onions just fine, I did, more than…Oh, man, (sublime!), the best damn chili I ever ate, Texas chili (with beans or without) chili you would die for if you’ve acquired the taste with my gotdamn stomach in an uproar and hereby warn you that it wasn’t wise to eat a third bowl. For relief we brought our Tums. Okay. Oh Lucky! When I die and go to heaven, I sure hope they have corn dogs and Frito pie. When you die and go to hell… he interrupted me…you’ll miss the chili. And with the pie go heavy with the cheese. Then a syrupy drink, make it sweet, make it tall. Hurry now, we don’t want to miss the next show. Save some for later Lucky, for the Midway was always crowded and was always hot for October.
Teasin’! Bump and grind. But we saw nuthin’ that we hadn’t seen before. Bump and grind. Step inside and you’ll see even more. Bump and grind. In fairly prompt order, she’ll take it all off for you. Fig! Because of the mix crowd, it was no longer “fuck.” Boys, step right up! and take a look! Take it off! Bump and grind. Take it off! Here’s none other than, Miss Panama Seniorita, straight from South America and ready to be plucked, with nothing on but three roses statically placed. We tried to restrain ourselves and not go in ‘cause we’d seen it all before. What Charlotte and Molly and the kids didn’t know we thought wouldn’t hurt ‘em. Why a little sin in our lives was healthy. Enjoy life more and live a little longer and for that rejoice for maybe for it you can fit in an extra trip to the Bahamas. Wouldn’t it be nice? The Bahamas? Which would go to show that vitamins work and you’d still have the strength and stamina to endure a full day at the fair. Still I’m strong as strong as I ever been and it’s off to see what we normally saw since we’d been comin’ to the fair ever since I could remember, and if you can understand that you can understand how we was drawn to Dunk the Nigger.
Every year we’d try our skills at dunking the Nigger (it wasn’t as if we practiced for it all year either) and it seemed like the harder we tried and the harder we threw the ball the more we lost control and the more we lost control the madder we got, which meant we’d try even harder. (Well, here’s lettin’ you save face without lettin’ nobody know that you really enjoyed dunkin’ the nigger.) I knew what the nigger was doin’. That he was gittin’ us mad on purpose so that we’d miss the target so he wouldn’t git dunked. I know that I enjoyed it, I know that Lucky enjoyed it; and it looked like the nigger enjoyed it too ‘caused he’d laugh and laugh, tease us and laugh each time we missed the target. But then would come the payoff when we’d cause the seat to collapse out from under him and we’d watch him fall into a tank filled with water.
Well, he’d get our goat. Like I wish it wasn’t so and wish we wasn’t drawn to the African calls over the PA system. The unceasin’ chatter. The chatter, chatter, chatter. Him chattering like a chimp. Missed! And we’d go back more than once. Yeah man! Me mad gittin’ madder and madder. Lucky, you can’t stop, can you? Oh, shut up! And cursed in vain when we missed again and cursed in vain until we was red in the face and all tired out. Devil if he cared. With our shirttails hangin’ out, we’d forgit the good time we was a havin’ and would git down to the serious business of dunkin the nigger! If I had a quarter ever time I missed the red round target, I’d be a rich man. That’s for sure. We’d play agin and agin, workin’ up a sweat and that damn nigger makin’ us madder and madder so mad that we couldn’t hit the target for nuthin’ and just had to..had to… Let him take his shot, I’m ready. Come on, nigger! I’ll teach him some manners. Console yourself, come on. Can’t you see that he’s doin’ a number on us? Next time duly, next time truly I’ll…I’ll dunk him. Look at us always when we’re at our worse and we’ll miss every time. A tear or two for us honey when we lose the rest of our money honey. Too bad, too bad, he saw us comin’, didn’t he? Then it would come down to our last quarters and our last balls, and by then he would’ve gotten us so damn mad that we’d throw our balls directly at him. Don’t worry we never hit him…only rattled the cage he was in.
Yes, yes, my pet. We were too happy before we began playin’ with the nigger. Lucky knew somethin’ would happen to him when he got home. I understood but listen he shouldn’t have been trusted with his paycheck, while you knew he’d spend it all when he got a chance. Honestly I tried to intercept, pull him back, but I couldn’t stop him, and I know, Lucky, he tried his best, but he just couldn’t. Listen, next year you should be forewarned. Gotta keep us away from dunkin’ the nigger. We was like all those out there, you included and some others who kaint always be expected to control our urges. Of course, dear, I’m ashamed of myself for him (let me clear my throat) for us spendin’ so much of our hard-earned dough, which we’re sorry for now. And we spent the biggest part of it on what? Corn dogs, Frito Pie, almost naked women, and dunkin’ a nigger. Well, it was just money. All the same, listen, Lucky, I don’t in no way blame you ‘cause I was as much to blame as you was. We was just talking about money. There are more important things in life than money, more important things like home and family and you know between us we all know it, that’s the beauty of it, see, we know what’s important in life. It’s perfectly priceless our families. And, listen, now that we’re on the subject, what upset our wives more…most was our Sunday love affair with the Green Bay Packers, and of course, we never made a big deal about it, only on Sundays, and please kindly remember, and never forget that we worked hard all week long.. Ahim. And that was the stupidest thing for ‘em to get upset about…us wantin’ to relax on Sundays with the Green Bay Packers. It was the one thing we shared with our sons. It was the one place where the color of a guy’s skin didn’t matter. Women just don’t understand (you know, dicey). So she thought she’d go crazy, speak of it, and we didn’t hear her. A new Westinghouse mixer would’ve gained us a few points. We could’ve used a few. Let us spend money on them. Harbor no more ill will, Molly. And cease your fummin’ Charlotte. Yes, em, life is too short. We was like most men. We liked our beer and our football. Besides you’ve got your house. Let us have our football.
Only be sure you don’t catch a cold and pass it on. And don’t stay out all night and come home drunk. Molly won’t put up with it. And this, Lucky, a warning is to remind you to mind your p’s and q’s. It’s tough to watch what’s happening. Someone should tell you the truth. Of course, Lucky you know you can depend on me, through hard times and good, mercy, after we’ve screwed up, lost a bet, wrecked a car, put our foot in it, not always pretty of course, and it’s never fair, apart from our helping each other. Of course, we’ll keep it between us, won’t we? You know that you can count on me, 100%, until the very end we’ll be friends, and, thank you for it, friends since we was in diapers and your mom was friends with my mom, and we got spanked for throwing rocks at cars. I’d be so curious to know what they was thinking when they spanked us ‘cause it didn’t do no good. We was always gittin’ in trouble, but we was basically good kids, in case you think otherwise. And thanks so ever so much for not givin’ up on me and for treatin’ me as a brother. I know I’ll never forgit you as long as I live, even if somethin’ happens that changes everything, as I am given to understand that shit happens so don’t expect life to be perfect ‘cause you and I know it’s far from perfect, and I’m happy as long as I can make a livin’. I’m gittin’ a reasonable wage and don’t want nothing that ain’t mine and we live pretty simply, and we’re all pretty happy. Well, here’s to motherhood and wifedom, part and parcel and in many ways one and the same, for my guess is that it will be a long time before things really change, then in increments, out of frustration, partial revolt, more because of economics than anything else, perhaps under the guise of a movement and out of sync with Betty Crocker and Dr. Spock. So we can’t tell what’s gunna happen. What do you think? Listen, since! Lucky! So you live ‘cross town from me, and we never see each other now. You have your life and I have mine. Rats! Someday I’ll jump in my car and drive ‘cross town, and we’ll go for a beer and rehash ol’ times and I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world and you can tell me I’m wrong. It would cheer me up, I’m sure. And I know we have a lot to be thankful for. Yes. Yes, I know I complain too much when I really don’t have nothing to complain about. We’ve got the GI Bill, got an education, new homes, and the start of an interstate highway system. There’s Arthur Godfrey, Dinah Shore, Uncle Milt, and Friday night boxin’. Breakfast with Godfrey, enjoy him, and enjoy Dinah Shore just as much, with our wives havin’ a definite bias ‘gainst boxin’. What more do you want? And Charlotte, I have to love her for how well she manages. Simply stunnin’ the way she fixes her hair! I call her my pet because she’s sassy while I try to be sweet to her and she says why don’t you give me a hug while I say scratch my back and she talks about how I don’t never want to go nowhere and that’s not quite true ‘cause the places that I’d like to go don’t particularly interest her; she’s good at saying what she wants and she loves to tell me off. Truthfully, she’s terribly nice really, and I wouldn’t trade her for nothin’. Not once have I betray her or no more than I betrayed myself. Can’t you understand? Lucky, I love her. Oh brother, Lucky, I have to tell the truth. The other day I done something that I wouldn’t have had I been thinkin’. I cursed in front of her. She likes me a lot ‘cause I normally don’t curse in front of her or the kids like I do in front of you and the boys. Oh, me! My pet! You wouldn’t say she is beautiful, but she is to me. Why I love taking her out to someplace we can afford. Yep, Lucky, I do. You’ve heard me say I love her. I fell for her when we was in high school. I felt her kindness, her strength, and her specialness. She’s a special, ordinary woman. I suspect you’ve heard all this before from me more than once. And, of course, dear friend, she can’t hold a candle to your Molly. You can trust your Molly would come to your rescue, just as I trust my Charlotte would do the same for me. Never mind whether we deserve it or not. Like I said I wouldn’t trade my Charlotte. You can be certain of it, Lucky, but for the love of money don’t take me for a saint. That’s somethin’ I ain’t, you villain, and I wouldn’t want to be one, or I’d embarrass you by doing somethin’ embarrassin’, you swine. You don’t deserve my respect, you swine. And it’s about time I told you. You won’t like it. You’ll be furious. Swine! It’s a cutthroat world where we stalk what we’re after. Where best friends race to see who’ll git there first. And I’ll git there when I git there but who knows when? When we say we’re gunna do something we better do it. Can we trust each other? When we’re game playin’? When we’re out for blood? Are we havin’ fun yet? But the river will run dry before we actually do somethin’ significant. Who ever heard of such a thing? Waitin’ ‘till the river runs dry. So we make it up as we go along. And I write down what I absolutely need to remember. And I’ll remind you everyday if I have to, every day until it gets done. (But don’t tell ‘em and spoil it for everybody.) Lucky, what’s that I wasn’t supposed to tell? O I understand. I can keep a secret. And as the years go by I resemble you more, more and more all the time. And listen, Lucky, don’t be annoyed at me. If you won’t be annoyed at me, I won’t be annoyed at you. And never mind me tellin’ those bad jokes and laughin’ at whatever. About this hour, I’m always sorry ‘bout whatever I’ve done during the day. I was all nerves when I drove over here.
One of the sadder situations still talked about three years later was the Lewis/Marciano fight. What if, instead of the other way around, Lewis had knocked Marciano through ropes in the 8th? Undoubtedly since then, over tall ones in bar after bar, the illustrious boxin’ career of Joe Lewis, includin’ his defeat and his final bout, has been held up there with the greatness of Jim Thorpe, our Oklahoma Redskin who we all know stuck it to the Nazis. Go Jim, go Joe. Give ‘em credit, but Joe was still a nigger.
For as often as the subject was brought up, placin’ all prejudice aside because of the color of his skin, before some idiot made a big deal of it (no doubt some people did), Joe’s fight with Rocky Marciano ranked up there with the greatest defeats ever. And more awful and wretched, substantially more devastatin’ to Lucky than anything that had ever happened at home! Christ!
“Men!” Molly exclaimed loudly in frustration, imitatin’ other women around town and her justification for the outburst seemed correct to her. A sock on the floor, see, a sock, see, see! Crumbs left on the counter, see! Forever pickin’ up after him while molehills become mountains. And we truly are cherished slobs. Also he wants, um, sex and she wants intimacy. Ain’t the two the same? He asks. Well, ladies and gentlemen, maybe they are and maybe they ain’t, so let’s argue and see where it gits us…‘cept we don’t never talk about such things, heaven forbid. Livin’ under the same roof and never sayin’ what we think. Lucky! What! A stiff dose of medicine for someone who thought he had it down pat, a coup over the dinner table that he didn’t see comin’ as she one put one over on Lucky. Molly, don’t git in one of your weepy moods. To git you in the mood he’d do almost anything. Like breakin’ out the best champagne, givin’ her her favorite flowers, and surprisin’ her with candy. Be game. Roll the dice. Add a little sugar and spice. Do something different. Why not tonight? I swear, why not! Hot and sweaty! Git inside her undies and she’ll love you forever. And talk dirty, if you think it’ll do some good. I’ll never prove that I’m a man of your likin’ so long as you don’t let me try. Not tonight, honey.
So, by golly, Lucky por Lucky! Well, I’m not forgettin’ the inner man, what we tell ourselves about ourselves, when we leave our old self behind for good, for I’m tryin’ to change, but we men have to try or be left behind. Let’s hope we’ll arrive at a place without losing our manhood. We’re tryin’, and that should count, so stop quibblin’ over things that ain’t important. Now Molly kaint no longer be judged by her meatloaf. Long ago she acknowledged she wasn’t a great cook. Mother of latchkey kids and a Bandstand girl, as her children passed the test of reliability: more Slim Willet and Don’t Let the Stars Git in Ya Eyes but no opera. Hank Williams? Hell, yes, he’s daddy’s favorite. Vaya Con Dios. Required readin’: Macbeth. Moby-Dick. Loved Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in High Noon. So much for the movies and growin’ up too fast. Lucky is the greatest bull-shitter of the bunch. Be sure and link him, me o my, as often as you can to Ralph Kramdon. Be fair and please don’t encourage him to cry. But wait! Can’t be. He don’t talk. Sometimes he mumbles. Sometimes he’s intelligible. Now! The return of the working stiff. Now what do you expect after he’s worked hard all day? Who can match his stress? Ain’t he the provider? so stay off his case. Ain’t our town a small place after all? I knew I smelt garlic on your breath. Why, bless me Charlotte. I smelt garlic on his breath. Here I am, darling, like I’ve always been with garlic on my breath. Comin’ home workin’ all day and expecting a kiss (even with garlic on my breath). Comin’ home and zonin’ out on the couch and watchin’ the news and later expectin’ more than a kis. But she could be in her cycle, ever think of that, and in a bad mood, of course it’s ‘cause she’s in her cycle. I could go through it blindfolded and on and on ‘cause it’s happened so often! He’s not too timid or ashamed to try anything and not above beggin’ for it, and when he gits some braggin’ about it. We all understand. We’ve been there. He’s like us, our altar ego and our excuse we say is that we don’t understand women, and we can’t be expected to be romantic all the time, even as good as we are, forever tellin’ ourselves that, and since we’ve taken our vows seriously. And it’s not a laughin’ matter. Lucky has some novel ideas about it though, but he’s not always on the mark, I admit, but believe me, he’s a man of his word, but events conspire and his timin’ is off (Molly says always off). He may be enormously full of himself, and she may be out to make him say he is. Got his goat again, suck the life out of him, one word, the wrong word does it. Cry baby! I hate him. I love him, the lug. I love his curly hair. I love her…um… There’s the natural temptation to complain about every little thing, but it just don’t work to try to be nice all the time. And we’re the closest chums.
The years moved swiftly, too swiftly. Together thirty-seven years and Lucky and Molly are still married. By now they know each other very well. It’s no longer a mystery, and they know the answers to most things except…’cept why the country is goin’ to hell in a hand basket. .
Notice how we’ve changed. As aware as you of the changes. It’s a pity that we can’t do nothin’ ‘bout it now ‘cause we did nothin’ ‘bout it to begin with. A big dark cloud now hangs over us, still hangs there as we speak. Holy smokes, what are we goin’ to do? The most smartest men! Where have they been? Woo, I say it’d take the most smartest men to figure out how to stop it. The invasion, what it has done to our neighborhoods and all. How can we take ‘em back? Don’t say there’s no way now. So the day has come that I hoped would never come…the day they moved next door, so we have to live with their hot links, and barbecue, and Playin’ the Dozens. Not that Lucky knows ‘bout Playin’ the Dozens, he don’t. Now we have to call ‘em Colored. Fine! So they’re Colored. Is it Colored or is it Blacks? And they’ve moved next door and there’s nothin’ I can do about it but move and what happened on the football field and the baseball diamond is now happenin’ all ‘round us, and why is it happenin’ where we live? We want to know. Ah, it would take a genius to figure it out, I guess, when I guess we’re not geniuses, or else this wouldn’t have happened to us. But to say something now out in public would let the world see how we are really. We are really! Lucky when we hear somebody spout off ‘bout somethin’ they tell us we should know, what do you say? Welcome to the real world buddy! But we’ll have to see, won’t we?
And here’s how a recent exchange between our neighbors would’ve gone had we felt free to say what we thought. Give us your attention! You may be tired of hearin’ from us, but you’ll hear from us anyway. Ah! It ain’t fair! It’s plain wrong. It’s not right. And did you like how they didn’t ask us? And if I’d felt free to say somethin’… Was Charlotte, my own love, more sympathetic to them than I was? Them? Our new neighbors. Pretendin’ that there was nothin’ wrong with it when there was? What we never said. This has been our home for generations. We’ve raised our kids here. Now who’s goin’ to speak for us? Who’s goin’ make it right? There’s nobody goin’ to. Nobody. Nobody who’ll compensate us. We’ve heard all sorts of explanations, but none of ‘em makes sense to us. How we’re suppose to carry on with our lives. Wake up, go to work, and sleep at night. And bowl and eat? What we’re not sayin’…that we can’t sleep at night. And they’re threatin’ war, and we’re supposed to lay down and let ‘em run over us. Not fogittin’ how it’s affectin’ our property’s value and the extra expense of private schools. We can’t afford to join a country club just so our kids can go swimmin’. And we could organize and form an association, but would it do some good? I’m afraid they’ve opened a door that can’t be shut. We’re proud people, gotdamn it! Be introduced to ‘em, no!
Over there is the Jeffersons, and over there is next door, and there used to be a river between us, but now there’s a hedge. He used to be a garbage man; now he’s a sanitation worker, and it beats me what the difference is. That’s his daughter. She’s ‘bout the same age as my grandson. But he’ll know that he’s not suppose to talk her. Well, what’s with you? What are you lookin’ at? What do you expect? Come on, you can’t git away from ‘em bein’ colored folk. Always ravin’ about somethin’ now there’s this. Don’t tell me it don’t matter! Well, there was plenty of room for ‘em where they came from? And their schools was as good as our schools. They could better themselves there. Raise their kids there. Enjoy themselves there and not bother us. Let us be honest and them being the same, I bet they’d say that they don’t like us very much. So they think that we should fall in line when we’re bein’ had. And there’s nothin’ like bein’ had without being asked.
Molly, caution! You can’t call ‘em niggers no more. Black people they’re called. Black people, colored people, I don’t know which. No way can we keep up with it. And then…like we’re learnin’ that they ain’t bad folk. You can see they came here determined to change places with us. If I was one of ‘em, I’d probably want the same thing. But I’m not one of them. Now we’ll see. I meanwhile have a ringside seat.
The Jeffersons’ unappreciated joy in life is their yard. They edge and cut the grass themselves. There’s never a blade out of place. There’s no crab grass, only green, dark green grass, green from waterin’ just the right amount. They invest in appliances. They don’t accumulate junk. Every tool has a place. It’s there when a tool is not in use. They always own new cars. They never sale one without a trade in. Horny toads don’t stand a chance in their yard.
Lucky lets Johnson grass grow in their ditch. They don’t cut the grass. They don’t pick up the yard. They let the paint peal off the outside of their house. They don’t got no sidin’ like the Jefferson’s do. They don’t invest in their home. They don’t take pride in it. They allow junk to accumulate. It’s scattered all over the place. It looks like a junkyard with a couple of old cars left out back. And I repeat the Johnson grass has taken over. With crab grass and goat heads, it’s a gotdamn mess ‘cept the horny toads love it.
So the Averys has to catch up with the Jeffersons. They tear in and out of the driveway, as if they have just filled a book of Green Stamps.