Authors: Eric Jerome Dickey
“Yes, you did. With a touch of a twang.”
“I’ve been in the South too long. I’m turning into one of them. Twin, they are so narrow-minded down here. Talk about countrified with a slave mentality. I expect to see us picking cotton by the middle of next week.
And this humidity and these damn mosquitoes. And the white people—don’t get me started. I bow down to
I don’t know what I was thinking when I followed Danny down here. I told him I’d give him two years to get his law practice going here. If it’s not working, I’m going back to L.A., with or without him.”
“You said L.A. isn’t a good place to raise your kids.”
“I’ll have to move to Westchester or something.”
“You love that man too much to leave ‘im.”
“Love has limits.” She laughed. “Hell, I miss the beach, miss it always being good weather, miss the Beverly Center, miss my friends from law school, and I miss you.”
“Miss you too.”
“This marriage and kid thing seemed like a good idea at the time. Hell, I want to be trying cases, not changing diapers. I don’t see how Momma did this shit and didn’t go crazy.”
I knew what Mye was thinking. In the two seconds of silence I knew. We were fraternal, but part of us was identical.
At the same time we said, “Did you—”
Then we both laughed. Apprehensive laughs in harmony.
I said, “Go ahead, Twin.”
“You haven’t talked to your daddy?”
“Nope. Your daddy hasn’t called me. You gonna call?”
“I’ve been thinking—”
I said, “You’ve been thinking since I’m the man why don’t I call and have a man-to-man?”
“Yeah. You call. Have a man-to-bastard conversation. You know I can’t stand that bastard and the air he breathes.”
I said, “He knows it too.”
“I hope him and all of his bitches go to hell. Check to make sure he’s alive, and if he needs anything, I’ll send it to you and you can send it to him.”
“Sure you don’t want to talk to him? I could do it on a three-way.”
“I don’t do three-ways. That’s why I broke up with Raheim.”
“Anything you want me to tell your daddy
“Not a goddamn thing
you call. If your daddy asks where I am, tell him I turned lesbian, married an African priestess, and I’m in Zimbabwe. And it’s against tribal custom for deceitful grandparents ever to lay eyes on their grandchildren.”
I laughed. “That your phone beeping?”
“Probably my hubby.”
“Take your call. I’m going back to work.”
She said, “Call your daddy.”
After I sat and thought for a few seconds, I opened my digital diary and keyed in B-A-S-T-A-R-D. My daddy’s name and number popped up. I picked up the phone, dialed the area code for Nashville, then changed my mind. Some other time.
A few minutes later I was in a meeting, talking about our latest plan to conquer the computer world, snatch Internet, and become kings of the information age. I shook hands with men and never saw their faces. Didn’t hear their words about making Dan L. Steel the key to personal computing for this and all generations to follow. I took a seat at the round table. Became one of the knights. Nothing they said about being in a battle with Microsoft and Netscape mattered. There was nothing they could say to hold me here.
Two hours later, I was back in my office, tie loosened, sipping bottled water, shuffling papers in between throwing silver darts at a rainbow hued dartboard with Bill Gates’ picture taped to the center.
There was a knock at my door. It was a few minutes before six. Minutes before everybody went home. Hated when people stopped by this late in the day. I sat up, moved a few things around my desk, wheeled my chair to the front of my computer workstation. Even though I frowned, I said a lively “Come in.”
Before me stood a brother in a dark blue suit and Steeple Gate shoes. Thick as a tree stump. About fifty.
His stomach spilled over his belt. Deep red patterned tie. Thin mustache.
He said, “Tyrel Williams?”
I stood and extended my hand. “Yeah.”
He was the one man I’d been avoiding for weeks on end. I gave my firmest handshake and best corporate smile and said, “Nice to meet you. I’ve heard good things about you. Plenty of praise for you in the company newsletter. You’re here from San Francisco to talk strategy?”
He took a seat in one of the two chairs facing my desk. I moved my Far Side calendar so I could see his face.
He said, “We’re familiar with your work. We know you’ve been here two years, did your undergraduate study at Cal State, did your master’s at Pepperdine.”
I nodded. “Yes, I did. And you’re out of Cornell, pledged the black and gold, mastered at NYU, been with the company twenty-five years, worked the Paris office for two years.”
“Closer to thirty, and I was in Paris for four. You sound like a man who has done his research.”
“So much buzz is circulating about you that I feel like I’ve known you for weeks. We want you to come to San Francisco.”
That undesired offer was why I’d been avoiding his E-mail, faxes, and nonstop messages for the last six months. I’d already told his peons I wasn’t interested. I told them no, but sometimes a simple word wasn’t easy to understand.
I said, “This conversation may not be appropriate. Before you go any further, have you spoken to my superior?”
“The chain of command has been thoroughly respected. You can feel free to verify.”
He went into the benefits, the substantial salary increase
I’d get, a tax-free bonus, my new title, how the company would relocate me. About thirty other perks.
I said, “With our new assault on Microsoft, I’m in the middle of something here.”
He smiled. “Bring her with you.”
“Nothing like that. I don’t make decisions like that.”
He chuckled. “Take your time. Don’t give the thought up. Mull it over. Either way, don’t rush to judgment. Keep in contact. Let me know how the career is going. I’ll always have room for you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
He lowered his voice and spoke with passion, “One black man to another, I’ve been all over this country, and it makes me proud to see somebody like you. You’re highly regarded in this company.”
Those few words carried weight. Had real meaning to me. I opened my middle desk drawer and dropped his card in with fifty or sixty others I’d collected.
Joshua’s footsteps faded. Then I heard a new commotion stirring in the hallway. Sounded like everybody was leaving at the same time. Most of the women went to Evelyn’s aerobics class at the Hilton—part of the company’s effort at keeping employees well through fitness. I pulled my bag from underneath my desk. There was another knock at my door. Fast, playful taps. It opened before I said come in. It was Leonard, dressed in a jean shirt, beat-down 501s, and baseball cap. A red gym bag was over his shoulders.
Everybody always got excited when he showed up. After he had the hallway laughing, he sighed when he stepped in and closed the door. I knew the man beyond the wall of jokes. He knew me beyond the smile I had on my face.
I said, “You don’t look like you in the mood to work out.”
“But we have to.”
“Yep. Give me a minute.”
Leonard dropped his gym bag next to my desk and went over to the window. He did a brief pacing thing,
kept stroking his mustache, then stared out the window. Leonard had faded. Lost in thought. He didn’t blink for long moments. Then he came back to life and smoothed out his jean shirt, adjusted his clothes. He sat down and tapped his foot to an unheard rhythm.
I said, “Guess what?”
I tossed my Gold’s Gym bag to the side, opened my top drawer and took out a jar of jelly beans. Leonard smiled. I slid the jar toward him.
He said, “Oh, shit. The gourmet kind?”
“Damn right. I don’t buy lower end.”
He poured himself a handful and put his feet up on my desk. I poured myself a handful and kicked back too.
I read the uneasiness in his face. “What’s wrong?”
He bobbed his head and replied, “Scared.”
“I need to make a decision about whether or not I’m gonna quit my part-time and do comedy full-time. I could, but you know how flaky the business is. Clubs book you, then close down, movies get postponed, TV shows get canceled, agents and managers rip you off. Not exactly a guaranteed paycheck every Friday.”
“You know I got your back, I could take a loan against my 401 to float you for a while.”
“Man, hang on to your security. I’m not struggling.”
I told him, “Just say the word, and the cash is yours.”
He waved me off, then vented a little more, saying. “Then there’s Hollywood.”
“What you mean?”
“It don’t take but one person to like you and you’re set. But on the other hand, it only takes one person to hate you and you’re a has-been before you’ve ever been. What if I make a movie and screw up? I mean, it would be on a ninety-foot screen looking jacked up. Or even worse, it might get edited out.”
“Kevin Costner was edited out of his first film, and look at him. Mega-star writing his own meal ticket.”
“Even though he freaked him some Whitney Houston in that movie, he ain’t exactly a brother in the business.
You know they let us in one at a time. Then they pit us against each other.”
“Your scenario is different. You’ve got talent.”
“How you know?”
“You ever have to fuck somebody or let somebody fuck you to get an audition or a part in something?”
“I rest my case.”
He smiled like a kid at Disneyland. “Thanks, bro.”
I adjusted my tie, slipped on my size ten-and-a-half Steeple Gates and picked up my gym bag. We headed for the door, chomping on gourmet jelly beans.
If it would help, I’d liquidate my assets to get him where he wanted to be. He’d do the same for me. On many a summer night we’ve sat around 5th Street Dick’s in hard-back chairs, sipped Kenyan coffee, played chess, and talked about the future, envisioned the warm days and brisk evenings we’d kick back and watch our wives do the things that women do. And while we held on to the women of our dreams, we’d watch our children romp around together. Smile while they played some of the same games we did, see them grow up together, bond down to the soul, and become the best of friends for the rest of their lives.
We can do a lot for each other. But even true friendship has its limitations. I think about that from time to time. No matter how good of friends we were, no matter how much brotherly love we shared, only one of us would be able to be a pallbearer at the other’s funeral.
I said, “Slow down before you kill me.”
It was almost midnight and I was in a mood. Shelby drove like she was flying an airplane. Telling her to slow down made her speed up. She hit her high beams, made
people screech out of the way. We had the T-tops off, 94.7 jazz, jean jackets on, living in a cool breeze that had traces of ocean air, underneath a full moon and a gray sky filled with twinkle-twinkle little stars. We’d just left the Playboy Jazz Festival and were so tanned that when I took my glasses off, I had raccoon eyes.
I said, “I want to go to Roscoe’s in Hollywood.”
“Denny’s by the crib. Take it or leave it.”
“You are such a bitch.”
“Bet your bloated ass’ll drive next time.”
“You’ll be bloated next week. We’ll see who’s tripping.”
We stopped at a red light in Culver City, on Jefferson, right underneath the 405 freeway overpass. I glanced up at the concrete and hoped we didn’t have a freeway-shattering earthquake right about now. To make it worse, we were trapped behind somebody’s loud music. Another rude-ass loud-ass. Music so nerve-racking I forgot what I was fussing about in the first place.
I snapped, “There goes another stupid brother who thinks everybody wants to hear what he’s listening to.”
Shelby slapped the steering wheel. “
, quit complaining.”
I shook my head. “My day is going every way but the right way. My stupid Unocal card got denied. Hell, I pay my bills on time. I’m calling their service center as soon as I get back home. But right now
I am hungry.
Some older white people were in the next lane in an Infiniti, windows closed tighter than Ericka should have kept her little legs, and the way their faces were turned up, I knew they didn’t appreciate the brother’s misogynistic noise either. That public display of ignorance and disrespect made me feel ashamed.
Shelby blew her horn and got their attention. When they looked our way, Shelby shouted, “We don’t know him.”
They cringed and eased their car up a foot.
The light changed and Shelby had to blow the horn to get the fool to drive through the intersection. The Celica pulled into the same parking lot we did. Drove
in a circle, flashed his damn headlights right in my face. Parked two spaces down toward the Unocal and Lucky’s grocery store. Damn Unocal. They rejected my card for no reason.
Noisy’s car cut off, but his headlights were still on. I glimpsed his way. He peeped my way. I shivered and looked the other way. Late night and broad daylight brought out some of the rudest people in L.A.
I grabbed Shelby’s steering wheel Club from the floor. I pulled it loose and handed her one side of the metal.
Shelby said, “What are you doing?”
“In case that brother steps to us acting crazy. You use that side as a club, I’ll use this half as a bat. Do like we did when we played softball and knock the living—”
“Give me that.”
She clicked it back together and put it on the steering wheel. Snoop Doggy Dogg music thumped from the brother’s car. Hearing gangsta rap was not a good sign.
I said, “Shelby, let’s cancel this.”
“Hell, no.” Shelby adjusted her Old Navy baseball cap. She snapped, “After the way you’ve been bitching about how hungry you are. You will get out and you will eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.”