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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
I Used to Work on a Liquor Truck
by Terry Jacobus
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I quit teaching highschool because I kept leaving my body. So I took a job on a liquor truck down by the stockyards. It was sorta ironic. One day I was in the classroom, the next day on the street. They paired me with an American Indian named Calico, a full-blooded Cherokee who had a personal attraction for Four Roses. One day while we were on the road we passed a black sedan with tinted windows.
     "You know who's in there?" Calico says.
     "Indian assassins."
     "What do you mean?" I said.
     He just stared at me and took a hit out of his pint.
     "I used to teach," I said.
     "I'm from real school," he replied, smiling to show off the gold cap he had up front.
     We made three downtown stops but most of our liquor action was on Chicago's West Side. It was Christmas time, so tension and tempers were running high.
     So now we're headin' west and it's startin' to snow while Calico is nearin' the end of his first bottle. We finally stop in front of Happy Liquors when he asks me to pick up another pint as I waltz in with a two-wheeler stacked with VO. The place was packed. The boys lined up at different intervals like pinball bumpers. I was catching eyeballs from deep beneath the eight-ball rack as I did the barroom slalom avoiding any accidental contact. My scanners were set on one of the boys who was playin' with a broken beer bottle until the bartender caught my attention.
     "Hey boy, I didn't order any of that liquor."
     "That liquor's free," another guy added.
     "This stuff has to be signed for or I've got to take it back," I said.
     "Leave the booze and take yourself back," somebody said.
     General laughter.
     Now I didn't want to be a stupid hero, but something deep within me didn't want to be joker for a day either. I was determined to complete my VO mission, so I pressed on.
     "Where you think you're goin'?"
     "I told you, you don't sign, I gotta take it back."
     "Let me see what you've got," the bartender said. "Maybe I can use it."
     I knew they were playin' but I didn't know how far the game could go.
     "Look man, I don't want any trouble, I'm just a white guy on welfare."
     "Ain't no white people on welfare unlessin' you trash and your teeth to white to be trash."
     "I'm a blues man," I said.
     "Oh, a blues man too. This boy's got everything."
     "I think we should test this blues man for his liquor," an eight-baller added..
     I stood in well guarded silence.
     "Okay blues man, who wrote Mojo ?"
     "McKinley Morganfield," I said.
     "You don't know shit. It was Muddy Waters."
     "Takes a sliver of a blues man that don't know Muddy Waters."
     "Muddy Waters' real name was McKinley Morganfield," I replied.
     "Blues men don't have real names," the bartender kicked back.
     "We should hurt this smart white bitch!" A yuletide voice shot out.
     "Who did Bad Sign ?" the bartender says.
     "King," I say.
     "Which King?"
     "King Albert."
     "Robert Johnson."
     "Okay white heat how bout' Spoonful?"
     "Willie Dixon. Can you please sign now? We've got a lot of stops to make."
     "Youse askin' him white blues. You gotta make it harder."
     The storm clouds gathered and growled. But in the spirit of the times, the bartender was satisfied and signed the invoice.
     I unloaded the VO thinking of B.B. King's Never Make Your Move Too Soon.
     As I wove my way back outside everyone seemed to freeze with anticipation.
     Outside the snow made everything seem clean and different. Calico was asleep at the wheel, so I gave him a hard nosed wake up call.
     "Lets get the fuck out," I said.
     "Did you get my pint?"
     "Forget about that, I got nothin' but trouble."
     "What's the matter?"
     "Black man on warpath." I said.
     He gave me the gold toothed smile, started up the truck and we took off.
     I told him what happened inside was mostly harmless jive but it was better to be on the safe side.
     "We were on the safe side before the white man came," Calico said, with that Four Roses look in his eyes.
     Two weeks later, on New Year's Eve, Calico took two in the chest. I would have been with him that day but some German driver picked me as his helper first. We worked the northern suburbs and ended up at a place called Brenda's for a New Year's celebration.
     Brenda and I became close New Year's friends.
     There were two people at Calico's funeral, me and some Native American elder who never spoke. They cremated Calico in Uptown and even though it was against the law they scattered his ashes in Lake Michigan.
     Sometimes I go to that spot and meditate when I need to get in touch.
     Sometimes I hope prayers and blues can really make things better.

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