I was a sixteen-year-old boy walking down the short main street of a northern Minnesota iron mining town, looking for friends or trouble to get into. I saw a new bone-white Lincoln Continental parked, facing me, on the street just ahead of me. I took a couple steps closer and saw that inside was a woman in the passenger seat. She was alone and looking directly at me with a slight grin. I stopped then, and if anyone had been around to see me, they would have wondered why I stood frozen on the sidewalk for what seemed like…it seemed like…time stopped.
She was a black woman in a land where one could drive a hundred miles and not see another, but that wasn’t it. It was her breath taking, exotic, sensual beauty. I swear her eyes were made of dark chocolate and gold, and her skin was a copper tone that I had never seen in a movie or magazine. She wore a white felt narrow brimmed Fedora with a feather sticking from the hat band. The longer I stood there, the bigger her smile got, but neither of us was uncomfortable. Just in the moment. I took in the whole image of her in this fine chariot and I knew that my life had been changed.
It was at that moment when the rest of the world found me, and I found the rest of the world.
I didn’t appreciate who you were, but I’ve come to understand. Over the years I would see you on this show or that and my impression was that you were a bit too precious and over the top. You had the diction of a Northeastern blue blood and I my assumption was that you came from a privileged up-bringing. Your whole persona seemed affected and that chilled my interest in who you were or what you had to say.
I heard ‘Still I Rise’ without being aware of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. I’m not sure a white guy raised in Minnesota could appreciate one without the other. I didn’t know that you shared the stage with James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett Jr., and Cicely Tyson, (All of whom I’ve always thought highly of).
I have come to understand what black entertainers like you, Ozzy Davis, Sammy Davis Jr. Harry Belafonte and all the others had to go through being well loved entertainers, yet having to come and go through the servant’s entrance of the venues that you were playing.
I’ve been shot at and nearly run over by bigot crackers because I was traveling with my ‘road dog’ Chris who was also the best man at two of my weddings. I’d forgotten at the time that he was black, but the world reminded us. He apologized to me once that I had to endure this with him and I burned with shame so deeply that I could taste the ash in my mouth. I tell you this only so that you know that I get it…as much as I’m able.
I’m sorry, Doctor Angelou. You were regal, and proud, and your respect was hard won. Forgive me for not knowing. You have a place of honor in my soul, Ma’am.
When I first started picking you up you had a 12 year old son, now he’s 22 and you gave my number to him. Legacy.
I sat in your driveway for half an hour while you cried about… everything.
I carried your drunk ass up to the second floor and tucked you in on your couch.
You needed me to make it to the airport 65 miles away in 45 minutes. I did that.
You’re only a $6 ride but, a 95 year old woman from Ipanema, Brazil with nearly a century of stories can call me every day of the week for 6 bucks.
You bled in my cab, but I got you to the ER.
Your colostomy bag broke. I didn’t say a word.
I tuned in your vibration as you tried to explain to me what bush you were under at 3 a.m. I found you.
I was a guest at your wedding. When people asked who I was I told them, ” I’m the driver.”
I watched you ride the roller coaster without judgement, and I’ve always been here to catch you when you fall. Loyalty.
We have a thing going on,
By E.A. Cook
Jovetta earned degrees in medicine and languages, and at 20 years old she returned to Louisiana and rented an apartment in the heart of Storyville. When she wasn’t cooking and singing at Jazz joints, she gave the call girls medical attention treating scabies, getting care for the girls with herpes or gonorrhea or syphilis and she tended to their broken bones and bruises inflicted by the rougher trade. Spanish Flu was sweeping the nation but, somehow, the Red-Light District had been spared. A little grace that was welcome in that nowhere land.
She had been around for four years and had earned her street credentials and the respect of every musician, hustler, bartender, doorman, and everyone else who made their living after the citizens went to bed. And then she fell into Tom Anderson’s nightmare and everything turned to shit.
By E.A. Cook
Scarface Billy saw me before I saw him. “Hey Roll-Yer-Own. What’s up, tramp?”
I said “Hi” with my chin, and set my duffel down by his park-bench.
I didn’t expect to see a familiar face in Portland when I crawled out of the boxcar that morning. Night Eyes was sleeping off a drunk under an over-pass when I slipped away and hopped a freight out of Seattle the night before. She wouldn’t cry when she woke-up. Citizens cry. Tramps just move on.
Scarface aimed the neck of his bottle of Thundebird at the other end of the bench, and said,”Sit and light. Chief’s sittin’ there, but he went on a wine run. Been gone awhile.”
I took out the makings, rolled two smokes, and flipped one at Billy. He caught it with his left hand, his right was lifting the bottle to his lips.
“Drink?” He offered in a wine-whisper between swigs. I nodded, reached for the offered bottle, lifted the bottom to the cold, over-cast sky, and let the medicine burn it’s way past my cold heart, into my damaged stomach.
Scarface looked sharply over my shoulder, said”Chief! No!”, when the ham-sized fist found my temple. I half-turned in time to get a glimpse of the big indian before the grey washed over me.
On the way to the ground, I heard “My spot!”. Then the blackness came.
It was dark when I woke up on the ground, right where I fell. Cold rain hit my exposed cheek, while dried blood glued my other cheek to the grass. I hissed the pain through my gritted teeth as I peeled my head from the ground. A young couple on an evening stroll down the bike-path stepped wide and away as they saw me rise from the shadows. Their arrogant, dis-approving eyes watched me closely until they were safely away. “Nasty.” I heard her say. Bitch.
Citizens cry. Tramps just move on.