It came to my attention that I show an affinity for waitresses and bartenders in my stories. I looked at each story and these men and women have walked in to every tale with a stiff drink, coffee, food or flirt.
An excerpt from Further due out 2016
I made it to Buster’s at 4:45 ahead of a 5 0’clock meeting and had the place to myself. The manager, an extra-large black woman everyone called Miss Sheline, was my waitress. She closes at six, before the drunks find the place, and is usually the last person on the floor that late in the afternoon.
She waved when I came in, grabbed a pot of coffee and waddled her way to my table. She flashed her pearly whites at me as she poured a cup and said.
“Somethin’ to eat, Vin?”
“Aww! Come on now. Fine young man like you, you need your portions! Oh…or
is it business today?”
“A’ight then. Someday I’m gonna give you some business. Mmmm mmm, you have no idea…” She let that trail off as she winked and laughed and steam-rolled her way back behind the counter.
An excerpt from Rusk
I walked by a sign over a door that just said “Drink.” I was ready for one. I had never been much of a drinker, but since I arrived in New Orleans a couple years earlier, I liked it more. I had spent my life in the most antisocial circumstances, but drinking helped me communicate with other humans. I tried to understand them.
It was 9 a.m. and I would have had the joint to myself if it hadn’t been for the bartender. He looked at me when I came in and did a barely perceptible double-take. I ordered a double rum and coke and studied his face for a moment.
“Do I know you, pal? Seems like you know me.”
“Darkest big Negro I ever seen come by here a couple days back and described you, told him I wouldn’t serve his kind, but he gave me a buck to pass you a message.”
He opened his cash drawer and handed me a note. Thelonius, Tom Anderson’s house man, was looking for me here in Memphis.
I put the folded note in my shirt pocket, grabbed my untouched drink and tossed it over my shoulder. Glass, ice and liquid flew everywhere, and the bartender almost came over the bar. Almost.
I caught him by his hair and jerked his head back.
“Hey! Hey! Hey! What the hell? What gives?”
“That man you wouldn’t serve? He was more of a man than you’ll ever be. I served with him in the French Foreign Legion, survived five days stranded in the Sahara with no food and the only water was what he shared from a half-full canteen. I fought side-by-side with him, trading shots with Egyptian slave traders. He was born a free man, had his education at Oxford paid for by the Archduke Ferdinand himself, and is one of the world’s best fighting men both with weapons and hand-to-hand. You’re not fit to wash his skivvies. Let’s call that his drink laying there. Now, clean it up
“He’s dead! Swanson was in there!”, he heard from a bystander as he approached the scene. A Fire Wagon, pulled by a four horse team with the large bell mounted by the driver clanging loudly, passed by Luke Rob as he continued on past the explosion site without slowing down and on towards a sign that read Alfie’s Eats. He edged past a young fresh-faced girl in an apron at the door gawking down the street and tipped his hat on his way by, smiling politely. He nodded at the cook, a giant of a man with a keen look in his eyes and forearms the size of hams, who was deftly deboning a large hunk of beef on a long table behind a low dining counter. “Sit where you will, Mister. Angie will be along,” the cook said in a heavy Finnish accent loud enough for the girl at the door to hear.
“Oh My! So sorry, Mister!” Angie said. As she approached him across the dining room she decided that she liked the look of this stranger. A black unusual Stetson type hat atop very dark well trimmed hair with salt and pepper in the side-burns. Striking green eyes, with just a hint of crow’s feet at the corners shone from a deeply tanned face. His back was straight and his shoulders were broad, straining a little in his well- tailored black suit made of a material she had never seen before, but knew must be expensive. A very striking man, she thought.
The restaurant was painted in gaudy shades of purple, gold and green and the customers ranged from low budget travelers, to high powered business men and women. All present were in good spirits, and a live jazz band in the corner kept the mood up-beat.
When his waitress came by, Vin ordered a Hurricane, his first alcoholic drink, and a sampler platter of Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters Creole, and Oysters Manhattan, all baked on the half-shell.
His dinner proved to be one of the best he’d ever had, and the twenty-four ounce Hurricane, now half empty, was fast becoming his favorite drink. He liked the fuzzy feeling of his first buzz. Colors seemed brighter, the waitress was getting cuter, and the musicians were now semi-gods.
This truck stop was a place I had been to twice before, and I had a melancholy moment of coming home. Before I was a Robineux, I was a 16 year old kid that spent nearly a year hitch-hiking around the country, on the road for the deed I had done to my bio-father, and never stopping anywhere for more than a few weeks. I had spent my entire childhood moving around the country in an RV and it was in me to keep moving. In the Toolies held all those memories for me. I recognized two of the waitresses- the young farm fresh cute one, and the tall rode hard and put away wet cougar with a two-inch scar that started under her eye and went over her cheek bone. We sat in her section.
“Well, you must be him.” My eyes had adjusted just enough to see the skinny, colored bartender. This was another joint that I would have had to myself if not for him. I was beginning to realize that folks started drinking late pretty much everywhere besides New Orleans.
“I might be him.”
“Thelonius, he say, watch for a big scary-lookin’ white man who walks into this Negro joint like he just don’t care.”
“Can’t tell this is a Negro joint.” I looked around at the empty tables and stools.
“Will be, shortly. I expect Thelonius will come by soon. He usually shows up around ten. What’ll you have?”
I ordered my second rum and coke of the morning, hoping that maybe I’d get to finish this one. I told him to make it a double. I needed to make up for the last one.
I nodded, hoping he would not want to talk.
“Wasn’t called Beale Street ‘til last year. Used to be Beale Avenue.”
My hopes exploded into flames.
“W.C, Handy, he wrote that ‘Beale Street Blues’ and it caught on all over the country, so the City changed the signs.”
“That Handy, he never did come around here. Too good for us, I guess. Always went down the street, went to all them blues places. Swanky places. Too good, that’s what he is.”
I got up, turned my back on him, walked to the back of the room and squeezed my oversized frame into a booth in a corner where I could see the front and back doors.
Forty-five minutes passed. I had made my way back to the bar for another double, then went back to squeezing and snapping my way back into the booth before Thelonius walked in. Just as I did, he stepped to the side just inside the door until his eyes adjusted. Men who lived on the edge were always cautious, never wanting to have our backs to a door, not wanting to enter a dark place blindly, observing and evaluating everything and everyone around in one visual sweep. Letting your guard down could mean death.
He didn’t stop by the bar but made his way straight to me. He was taller than me by a couple inches and twenty pounds of muscle heavier than me. He tried to join me in the booth and the booth screeched, snapped and clattered apart, sending both of us in a shoulder roll away from the wreckage.
“Awww, sumbitch!” came from somewhere behind the bar. We both dug in our pockets, laid a fin apiece on the wreckage to pay for the pile of cushions and lumber, went to another corner and found a free-standing table and chairs.
They brought their coffee with them and I ordered one from the fluffy middle aged waitress with one milky eye. The three of us got up to smoke outside and as we passed my waitress carrying my coffee, she flashed me a smile showing off a grill of five teeth. They looked like burned corn kernels. The movies, especially the ones made in the 80’s, glamorized the people of the streets, but reality was my waitress.
October 5th, 1976
Coop died last monday. I met him the day before in a tramp-camp by the railyard in Grant’s Pass. I had just dropped out of an open box that I rode up from Klamath Falls, and headed straight in the Hobo Jungle in search of some wine and a roll-yer-own.
Coop was sitting on a log by the fire when I “Helloed” the camp. He had wine and tobacco but no papers, I had the papers and a union of souls was born.
He was older, so I listened to him tell his tales of living on the rails for five years. He was a west-coast-tramp, never riding any other line but the north/south BN and UP railways. He liked the west coast and said he never wanted to leave.
He never told me how he ended up on the skids…but I know now. He was larger than life to me. When he spoke, his education was obvious as was his toughness. He had a great sense of humor, but occasionaly got quiet and morose as we drank wine, smoked and enjoyed a night around the fire. Two other tramps wandered in the camp, but saw that we were tuned into eachothers rap and eventually they found another place to land.
It was after midnight when we polished off the wine and we were both getting ready to lay out our bedrolls. ” I’m all done, son.” Coop mumbled, then he handed me a map.
“It’s a treasure map, boy. Believe me when I tell you, that treasure has been a curse to me. Ruined me. I can’t go home to my family becuase of it, and without them what have I got? What have I done?!” He mumbled something else and turned his head, and I could see by the rise and fall of his shoulders that he was sobbing quietly.
I took the map, and without looking at it, I put it in my pack and passed out on my bedroll. I was stone drunk and so was he and I didn’t think much of it. Tramps drink, tell stories, and pass out. It’s what we do.
When I woke up Coop was gone, but all of his gear was still around the camp. It happened alot. Some road dog would wander off drunk in the middle of the night, but they always came back for their gear. I stoked the fire, made some coffee in a soup can using a clean sock for a filter, and smoked the stub of a cigarette while I waited for it to boil.
I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to leave Coop’s stuff for the vultures. I got up and followed the path out to the yard, hoping I could catch sight of him. I did, and I was horrified. What was left of him was on both sides of the fast rail that trains blew through town on. He had done it on purpose, I was sure of it. I thought back to what he said before we passed out, and I knew he had ended himself.
I had to get out of the area, not wanting to answer any questions from the local law. I went back to camp, removed the map he had given me from my pack, and looked it over. It was simple and well made, and explained well how to get to a spot in the hills east of the I-5 about two miles. He had marked the spot with an X.
It took me all day to get there, over rough country and two streams. Behind a thick grove of Ponderosa Pines grown up on the side of a hill, I found a small cave barely 3 feet high and eight feet deep into the hill. Using my lighter for a torch, I crawled to the back of the cave and found the “treasure.” It was a small duffel with a mother of pearl tie pin attached to the handle. Inside was stacks of money!
I scrambled out of the hole and sat on the pine needle covered forest floor and began counting. $123,000 dollars and a newspaper clipping from 1971 with the headline: MAN JUMPS FROM COMMERCIAL AIRLINER AT 30,000 FEET.