THE GOOD OL’ BOYS
by Randy Ford
Sheet? Sheet. Sheet!
No, sheet, I ain’t never saw nuthin’ like it. Nuthin’! What with drinkin’, drinkin”all the time, callin’ ‘em forth. Lucky’s ma’s and ol’ man’s drinkin’, drinkin’ all the time and concern I have for ‘em and them drinkin’ all the time, with a kitchen counter-top filled with bottles, more empty than full, and unwarshed glasses and necessary jiggers and all dishes and pots and pans in the house, all of ‘em durty, all durty at the same time, fillin’ sink and counter waitin’ for somebody to lift a gotdamn finger. I was thunderstruck by it. I was thunderstruck when I saw 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 mmediately, 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 (Agnes Moorhead I know from “Citizen Kane”), offen sported a towel wrapped ’round her head, with lips painted red I thought she looked like a movie star comin’ out a shower; given heinousness of choices I’d chose Lucky’s ma over Agnes Moorhead any day ‘cause Lucky’s ma was there in flesh and Agnes Moorhead wasn’t; had several snapshots of his ma in his wallet Lucky did; showed them to me more than once, showed how proud Lucky was of his ma when she was dolled up and ready to go out and dressed like Agnes Moorhead.
We was white boys, red-blooded white American boys, red-blooded white 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 a driver’s seat, and once we drove around town,we turned heads and dames looked our way; we had swagger, 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 dame for a soda, was to take a dame to a picture show, was to make woopee … murder, wow … woopee and go almost all the way; from boondocks to drive-ins, from my rumble seat, we was smooth operators; big shots, into cars and dames amid those who didn’t have cars and dames, casting moonbeams brilliant upon their dreamy eyelids; threatening rain and thunder on day of our parade, when a homecoming queen sat on her float and listened to “You Made Me Love You,” and sweet mamma come to me, makin’ woopee by light of the moon, cussin’, crusin’, making woopee in my rumble seat, hoppin’, rompin’, murder, murder, murder! Wow! ’, etcetera, etcetera, lovin’, and way you turn me on. Murder! Wow! Getting your batteries charged. Murder! Wow!
Makin’ a meal of it. Makin’ a meal out of buttermilk and saltines, crumble saltines into a tall glass of buttermilk, sweet! Is with a long spoon 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. Had to work our way through.
Called us to dinner, indulged ourselves, lemon moraine pie and fried chicken and chicken fried steak, sorrow and heartburn was much 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 more peaches you peeled, more milk ya need, or do ya prefer half of it cream, more bananas ya had, more ya could stretch it, and more freezers, more crankin’, more sugar, more milk, bananas, ice and rock salt ya need.. Person who owned a cow could bring milk. Add a child to sit on top, and had Lucky turn the crank and the more he did it, less likely he ended up in trouble, so makin’ ice cream was well worth doin’.
Politics aside and still 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 fault laid with cat or Edith McKinney, bothersome, shouldn’t there be a law, something on our books; agreed upon by 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 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 dream great dreams. On homecoming our queen would reign, and where at this junction our lives would be in flux, we would attributed it to 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. 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 collie than any other breed. She exhibited next her speed. She followed me ’round town and chased cats and rabbits whenever she saw them. What name do you think we gave her? Bear! Bear! Come, Bear! She became unhappy and wouldn’t mind us. And loved funeral blues. Mercy! We all loved blues. And most beautiful girls I knew got blue sometimes. That didn’t mean they was unhappy. Bear! Come! Bear! Fetch!
We thought when we was cruisin’ with top down was sweet. With nowhere in particular to go, we’d go sometimes as far as California Crossing and sometimes out to Little League field (and it was when we and they were seniors), which was sweet. At same time our parents worried ‘bout us gittin’ mixed up with wrong crowd but little did they know that Lucky and me was the wrong crowd. And we had our reputations to protect, so we snuck off, went 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, … makin’ woopee … murder! Wow! … sport in my rumble seat. 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 saw that far ahead.
Lucky! Lucky! I couldn’t wait to git grown. With my spurs and deep base voice, I learned to ride a horse. Yes, this was before zoning came to my hometown. Before it was an actual town. When my hometown had one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. And before everyone had television. And lo, when we boys was looking for somethin’ to do we drove to the levy. Now, it was sweet to go fishin’, sweet to fish, sweet to eat fish, fried fish. Well look we was boys and boys was boys, I admit that we liked to hunt. Ah, unlimited space for chickens and cows and horses ‘till my hometown grew too big, my hometown incorporated and zoning began (that was my folk’s opinion, not mine ‘cause I had as much ambition as the next guy). Who would ever dream our little town would git big? If we had, we would’ve bought 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 was religious. I was religious. Yes, Lucky was religious, 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 in my hometown in winter), and he’d talk me into drivin’ north to 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 we was too young to git in the Bloody Bucket.
All horrible, awful, awful poverty we knew… por but not like por kids these days (ah, then we had Felicity Welfare Club, Relief Cannery, and WPA!) rather than (and hundreds of thousands Hoover stocks daddy burnt, and Hoover steaks and Hoover pockets) have us thieve out old man Baker’s apple orchard. Shame on us.
Those were the days!
Had I a dime for every complaintI hear these days. If I had a dime I dare say that I’d be a rich man but back then we didn’t complain 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 sweet. Only problem was that he thought he looked sweet 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, yawned, and knitted. And what we wore yesterday, we made do 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 a household for her to do. She was a sweetheart too.
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 dressed for work. There was no mistakin’ her dimples when she smiled. She was one who kept 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 glances she got ‘cause of her dress.
Eessence of sweetness! Sweet. And she dressed like that just to go to work. She was slim, slimmer than any other woman who 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 thought that she played craps and won, and she let everybody know it by clothes she wore. There was no doubt that she was pretty. There was no doubt that she was beautiful. There was no doubt she was on a winning streak. At least I thought so. And admired ‘cause she was town’s emergency operator and admired ‘cause everybody knew it. We was in hands of this five-foot-three redheaded pistol whenever some crazy yahoo cut loose, and she had enough finesse to keep 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 a tree. She had a knack for it and could almost anticipate somethin’ before it happened, which was a blessing for us all, and to Lucky, (he was prejudice, of course) she was 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 best mom ever. While she served everybody regardless who they was, and that included niggers who lived ‘cross the river in Sowers.
Since I was very, very young, going back to when I was as innocent and naive as I’ve ever been, I’ve heard black people called niggers. From mouth of my father, from mouth of my mother, from mouths near and far, it came out in every day conversation and without, to my knowledge, there being 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 Aunt Jamima Pancakes with real butter and Aunt Jamima a 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 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 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 niggers across the river.
It was so close that as a general rule we knew almost everything that went on over there, knew of killin’s and rapes that occurred most every Saturday night, or at least we thought we knew. But as fate would have it, our 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 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 a pot calling a 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 best black river bottom land imaginable. And look at them! Compare them and us! Them and their shacks! And us. Them and us.
By then it was too late to settling down and too late for innocence. By then we hung up our scooters and Lucky had invested a hundred dollars in fixin’ an old Alco tourin’ car he found mostly buried in a crik bed. It made him leader of our troop, and I became more of a friend of his … not that I was ever less a friend. I can remember like yesterday good times we had in that old car when we piled in and just ‘bout fit. Those was simpler, carefree days when we shared so much, and because of cars we could go almost anywhere and get almost any girl and whatever Lucky did I tried to repeat it, for we said we didn’t care what people thought but we did, deep down we did. Deep down we had high hopes of ‘mountin’ 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 did 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. He was no Boy Scout. Lucky 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 place. We was like twins. We went to the same places. We went together. We went together to 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. We stood on the right side of the river. We lived on the right side of the river. Take niggers over in Sowers that sold us licker. We was underage, but they didn’t care. And shame and shame on ‘em again. Sure enough they was on the wrong side of the law. They lived on the wrong side of the river. 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. Everybody slips up every once and a while. 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 right to defend ourselves. Down by the river on our side. On the levy. Not his side. Nothin’ major. Somethin’ minor. Yes, I admit that I was there. What was he doing on his side?Yet I can swear that nothing happened that wasn’t well deserved. He started it. We wasn’t invaders. He was an invader. Stayed on the levy. Never crossed the bridge. Stayed on the levy. Stayed on our side. Never got close. We didn’t git a chance, sir. He came to us, sir.
But even if my life depended on it, I couldn’t identify the nigger, who, who, who, who … well … though I got a close look at him, to begin with, ‘cause all niggers look the same to me. He invaded us. We didn’t invade him.
“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. Yes Lucky had a temper and always carried a comb with him. Oh, darn it. It did no good. A comb. A comb was his signature. Lucky’s temper always got him in trouble. … always. How was them niggers! Lord, have mercy. They was never up to no good. Troubling, very troubling.
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’, bride, groom, and their parents. I was Best Man. A Justice of the Peace, a repented mobster. After the war, settled then, owed 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 intended for just a few to come when we set up our TV set in our backyard and invited neighbors over. Since we had a big yard though we had more or less room for everybody. By the way, how is Mrs. Humphrey? 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 television, and we saved Indian Head Nickels for luck. O joyous time, it was New York Giants over Cleveland Indians (4-0) (and forgit all those ill-wishers and spoiled-sports, Mrs. Humphrey!) Giants won, and that was that. In the over all scheme of things that year 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 breadwinner and head of household. What I said (as breadwinner and head of household permit me to tell you if you’re uninformed) was never questioned. Nor did I 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 our 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. Worrisome.
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 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 snuck in where we could, so that we could have more money for more food, more games, more rides and more shows. We of course spent most our money on serious eats such as Frito pie and corn dogs or latest widgets and whirligigs. It took all day to see it all, statues, barns, science exhibits, and 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 was to become. Yes, we guessed it.
There was something more. Something about those days at the Texas State Fair. I mean to tell you! Something more. 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 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 those that worked there, those that work there such as waiters. I kaint believe I remember a single time, while a black man sang on the radio, which was broadcast over loudspeakers do I remember seeing a black face except for someone who worked their. Face it head on. They had their day at the fair; we had other 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 the 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 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” Someday and someday and someday. Someday it may be different but at that time there was the way they lived, and the way we lived, and it was totally different. 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. We didn’t want no trouble in the Ride and Laff.
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 Dart Throw and Ring Toss, guy who could guess your age and one who could guess your weight. Well cheese graters and vegetable slicers was wonderful in their own way. Won! Won a plastic poodle. A sawdust-stuffed velor bear. A white stuffed weenie dog! Now fightin’ our way through crowd, past rides. Past the Tilt-a-whirl, wormin’ our way past Ferris wheel, and sideways past Merry-go-Round. Past con games. Pretty hot still in midday sun. Who wouldn’t pay to see a fetus in a bottle or freaks with extra toes or a cow with an extra head. Elsie the Cow, where was she?
Well, corn dog stand well was in the way and so was lemon aid stand and French fries with vinegar (vinegar?) but I preferred corn dogs every time. With 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. 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 enjoy crunch, Fritos, and onions just fine, I did, more than … Oh, man, (sublime!), best damn chili I ever ate, Texas chili (with beans or without) chili you would die for if you’ve acquired t 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 Tums. Okay. Oh Lucky! When I die and go to heaven, I hope they have corn dogs and Frito pie. When you die and go to hell … he interrupted me … you’ll miss Texas chili. And with Frito Pie go heavy with cheese. Then a syrupy drink, make it sweet, make it tall, make it two. Hurry now, we don’t want to miss next show. Save some for later Lucky, for the Midway was always crowded and was always hot for October.
Teasin’! Bump and grind! Bump and grind! But we saw nuthin’ that we hadn’t seen before. Bump and grind. Step inside and you’ll see more. Bump and grind. In fairly prompt order, she’ll take it off for you. Fig! Because of 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 Senorita, 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 saw it before. What Charlotte and Molly and kids don’t know we thought wouldn’t hurt ‘em. Yes, we was grown men. Yes, we was married men. 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 still have 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 tried our skills at Dunk the Nigger (it wasn’t as if we practiced for it all year either), and it seemed like harder we tried and harder we threw the ball we got madder and lost control and more we lost control we got even madder, which meant we tried harder. (Well, here’s lettin’ you save face without lettin’ nobody know that you really enjoyed dunkin’ a nigger.) I knew what the nigger was doin’. That he was gittin’ us mad on purpose so that we missed 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 laughed and laughed, teased us and smiled and laughed each time we missed the target. But then a payoff came when we caused the seat to collapse and watched a nigger fall into a tank of water.
Well, he got our goat. Like I wish it wasn’t so and wish we wasn’t drawn to African calls over a PA system. Unceasin’ chatter. Chatter, chatter, chatter. Him chattering like a chimp. Missed! And we went 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 face and all tired out. Devil if he cared. With our shirttails hangin’ out, we forgot the good time we was a havin’ and would git down to serious business of dunkin a nigger! If I had a quarter ever time I missed that red round target, I’d be a rich man. That’s for sure. I’d be a rich man. We played agin and agin, workin’ up a sweat and that damn nigger makin’ us madder and madder so mad that we couldn’t hit a target for nuthin’ and just had to .. had to … dunk a nigger. Let him take his shot, I’m ready. Come on, nigger! I’ll teach him 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 rest of our money honey. Too bad, too bad, he saw us comin’, didn’t he? Then it came down to our last quarters and our last balls, and by then he got us so damn mad that we threw our balls directly at him. Don’t worry we never hit him … only rattled his cage.
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 when he got a chance. He knew his paycheck was spent before he got it. Honestly, I tried to intercept, pull him back, but I couldn’t stop him, and I know, Lucky, he tried his best, but he 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 caint 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 on what? Corn dogs, Frito Pie, naked women, and dunkin’ a nigger. Well, it was just money, just more money. And there was more of it where it came from. All the same, listen, Lucky, I don’t in no way blame you ‘cause I was as much to blame as you. We was only 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 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 … upset our wives 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 … worked all week long for our money and deserve … Ahim. And that was the stupidest thing for ‘em to get upset about … us wantin’ to relax on Sundays with the Green Bay Packers after working hard all week long. It was one thing we shared with our sons. It was one place where the color of a guy’s skin don’t matter. As long as they can play ball, it don’t matter. Women just don’t understand (you know, dicey). So she thought she’d go crazy to speak of it, and we didn’t hear her. A new Westinghouse mixer would gain us a few points. We could 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 for fummin’ and ill will. We was like most men. We liked our beer and our football. Besides you 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’m 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’. Yes, I’m satisfied if 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 happy. Well, as happy as can be expected. 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 change, then in increments, out of frustration, partial revolt, more because of economics than anything else, perhaps under 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 about the world. It would cheer me up, I’m sure. And I know we have a lot to be thankful for. Yes. Yes, I know we have a lot to be thankful for. I cain’t complain. Can you? We’ve got the GI Bill, got an education, new homes, and 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’. And don’t forget the Packers. What more do you want? And Charlotte, I have to love her for how she manages. Simply stunnin’ 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 true ‘cause places that I like to go don’t 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. I love her. You wouldn’t say she is beautiful, but she is to me. Why I love taking her out someplace we can afford. Yep, Lucky, I do. You 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 heard this before 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 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. The Trinity will run dry before we do somethin’ significant. Whoever heard such a thing? Waitin’ ‘till the river runs dry. Waitin’. Waitin’. Waitin’ for the Trinity to run 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 years go by I resemble you more, more and more. 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. Lucky, 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 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 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 ever happened at home! Christ!
“Men!” Molly exclaimed loudly in frustration, imitatin’ other women ’round town and her justification for the outburst seemed correct to her. A sock on the floor, see, a sock, see, see! Crumbs left on a 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 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 put one over 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 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. Do something nice. Why not tonight? I swear, why not! Hot and sweaty! 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. I have a headache, honey. I have a headache, 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, 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 cain’t 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 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 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 Cranden. 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! 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, zonin’ out watchin’ television, and watchin’ news and later expectin’ more than a kiss. 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, sucked life out of him, sucked life out of him with one word, one wrong word does it, one encouraging word does the opposite. Cry baby! I hate him. I love him, the lug. I love the lug. I love his curly hair. I love her … um … I love the lug. There’s 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. 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 answers to most things ‘cept…’cept why the country is goin’ to hell in a hand basket.
Notice how we’ve changed. As aware as you of 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, a mushroom cloud, what are we goin’ to do? Most smartest men! Where have they been? Woo, I say it took smartest men to figure out how to stop it. We wasn’t smart. We let it happen. We live in a Democracy and let it happen. An 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 a day has come that I hoped would never come … the day they moved next door, so we have to live with hot links, and soul food, 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 Lucky! 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 think. 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 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 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 Millers, 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 Millers’ 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 paint peal off outside of their house. They don’t got no sidin’ like the Millers 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 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 Millers. They tear in and out of the driveway, as if they have just filled a book of Green Stamps.